Last Friday’s post introduced the Red Wall MP Marco Longhi, who represents Dudley North in the Black Country area of the Midlands.

The Black Country is so-called for its long coal mining history.

On March 31, 2022, Marco Longhi gave an excellent interview to Nigel Farage on GB News, which shows the measure of the man — level headed, polite and pragmatic:

Longhi said that having served in local politics — he was mayor of Walsall for two years beginning in 2017 — was a good way of preparing for becoming an MP.  His maternal grandfather Wilfred Clarke was also mayor of Walsall in 1978.

Before that, Longhi served as a local councillor in 1999.

The conversation between him and Farage turned to the 2019 phenomenon of the Red Wall seats that voted Conservative for the first time.

Longhi, whose mother’s side of the family had a career history of working in the mines, said that miners were overwhelmingly Labour voters. However, by the time the Brexit referendum came about in 2016, they started to question their allegiance for Labour, which seemed to be ignoring them.

Longhi’s Dudley North constituency voted to Leave in the referendum: 72 per cent. In subsequent elections, he and Farage agreed that Labour’s dominance began breaking up, with voters turning to either UKIP or the Brexit Party.

Longhi said that, when the historic December 2019 election came around, Dudley North’s voters rallied around Boris Johnson’s premiership. Of Boris, Longhi said that the PM was:

able to sprinkle that little bit of gold dust.

Farage, not wanting to miss an opportunity to criticise the Conservatives, asked Longhi about their Net Zero policy. Farage mentioned the fracking company Cuadrilla, which was awaiting permission from the Government to begin extracting shale gas in the North of England. To date, they still are.

Longhi said that, while he supported the general push towards decarbonisation, he said it has to be done ‘pragmatically, step by step’.

Farage said he was concerned about the cost of living. Longhi agreed and hoped that the Government could do something about reversing their new taxes, brought in to help pay for the cost of the pandemic measures, e.g. furlough and business grants.

Longhi agreed when Farage expressed concern that the Conservatives could lose the next election. Longhi said that the pandemic had truly paralysed Parliament for two years — acknowledging that the public would not accept that — and that two years to make up lost ground was not long enough. Longhi said that, when he was elected in 2019, he foresaw that it would take two Parliaments — ten years — to get the Conservative policies from the manifesto in place.

Therefore, he said he has been trying to set voters’ expectations for the next election.

Farage said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is positioning himself as a safe pair of hands. Longhi agreed, saying:

I have been talking about this danger since the day I was elected.

I am pleased since the recent shake-up at Number 10 [post-Partygate] they are more receptive, there are different people in place, and I really hope, for all of our sakes, that those changes are going to be acted upon.

Longhi said that being an MP is

the best job in the world

and that he enjoys helping out his constituents wherever he can. He says that the occasional thank you note he receives in return adds to that personal satisfaction.

Boris

Unlike other Conservative MPs, Longhi has not made any pronouncements about Boris Johnson.

Instead, he, as the UK’s trade envoy to Brazil, tweeted his delight at meeting one of the country’s former presidents:

He also tweeted his support for shale gas:

We now move on to looking at Marco Longhi’s participation in Parliament.

Mayor of Walsall – mental health

On May 8, 2018, when Longhi, not yet an MP, had become mayor of Walsall again for another one-year term, the Conservative MP for Walsall North commended him in a session on Health and Social Care (emphases mine):

Eddie Hughes: I hope the Minister will join me in congratulating the mayor of Walsall, Marco Longhi, whose mayoralty has raised a significant sum to support WPH Counselling and Education Services, which provides adolescent mental care and counselling in Walsall.

Jackie Doyle-Price responded on behalf of the Government:

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter, and I very much welcome the contribution made by the charity to support teenagers in his constituency with psychological therapies and to help to address their mental health conditions. I join him in extending my congratulations to the mayor for choosing this very important cause and for endeavouring to raise so much money for it.

Committee appointments

As a new MP, on March 2, 2020, Longhi was appointed to two parliamentary committees: the Environmental Audit Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee. The latter monitors progress on Brexit.

Trade

On May 20, 2020, Longhi participated in a debate on the post-Brexit Trade Bill:

The Trade Bill we are discussing today is a framework that allows us to continue to trade as a nation state with those countries who already have a trade agreement with the EU. It enables UK service providers to seek out business in Government procurement markets worth £1.3 trillion, and reshores from the EU those protections available under WTO rules to support British business against unfair trading activities under the new trade remedies authority.

Why is that important? It means that we will harpoon yet again the ill cited arguments that we will crash out and fall off a cliff edge through Brexit. It means that we can seek out new business, and it means that we can finally take effective action ourselves against rogue nations who do not respect international trading conventions. Let us remind ourselves of the EU’s impotence when China dumped its excess steel on our markets, and the jobs it cost us here in the UK.

It is an undisputed fact that open markets and free trade generate wealth and our new-found and hard-won ability to seek out new markets will grow our economy. Covid-19 has brought about a global tendency towards protectionism, which we know has the opposite effect. We must not be drawn into this trap at any cost, as we shall be poorer for it. However, what covid-19 has shown is that for all their rhetoric, the EU’s institutions fail to respond effectively, if at all, and its constituent members immediately behaved as a collection of nation states. They offered a shallow apology to the Italian people for leaving them to their own devices while protecting their own. I must ask, was that not entirely predictable? That begs the question of how, as a nation at this historic junction, we consider the strategic implications of a future crisis. Should we be more self-reliant in key areas such as energy, food and medicines? Many large corporates are now reshoring as they understand the total cost of outsourced activities, including problems with quality control, the cost of unreliable supply chains and the carbon footprint of products, just to name a few. That is why I was delighted to hear about our investment to produce 70 million masks in the UK and create around 450 jobs at the same time. It is about taking a risk-based approach and understanding the total cost-benefit arguments of decisions that we take in the key areas that affect our national resilience.

Globalisation is here to stay. As we harness the great opportunities presented to us by Brexit and FTAs, our biggest challenge is how we do so. The area that I represent in Dudley and the many areas that my new colleagues represent have not always benefited. Globalisation has seen benefits, but also a race to the bottom with a low-wage economy in traditional manufacturing and the loss of jobs in the sector. Buying a pair of boots for a few pounds less is not a huge benefit if there is not a job to go to.

Analysis shows that there are between 250,000 and 350,000 businesses that currently do not export but could. My plea is that we target those businesses, with a special focus on those in the Midlands, with determination, enthusiasm and strategic focus, and at real pace, so that we can add value and bring new jobs to these areas while we also minimise the devastating impact of covid-19 on local economies and people’s lives.

On June 24, 2021, Longhi participated in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership debate, led by Liz Truss, who was, at the time, the Secretary of State for International Trade:

Longhi: Does the Secretary of State agree that if British business is to invest it needs confidence, and that that confidence will come by restating our commitment to free trade by diversifying our trade offer, generating new jobs and bringing more stability to the jobs we already have?

Truss: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A key benefit of the CPTPP is increased resilience. It means that our exporters will not have all their eggs in one basket. They will have options about where they send their goods. It will also mean our importers are able to rely on strong relationships in countries which follow the rules and have good standards in areas such as the environment and worker protection.

He then intervened in Liam Fox’s speech on protecting free trade, which, in turn, helps consumers:

Does my right hon. Friend agree that consumers will therefore have cheaper access to white vans and St George’s flags, which particularly our self-employed make use of in the construction industry?

Fox did not want to go there:

I cannot think what my hon. Friend is alluding to, but it is certainly true that consumers will have access to far greater choice …

Labour’s John Spellar — one of their few good guys — attempted to intervene and finally succeeded:

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am very supportive of trade and trade agreements. Equally, I was rather surprised by his response to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi). Should we not be encouraging people to buy white vans made in Luton, and trying to ensure that St George’s flags are made and sold in the United Kingdom?

Fox batted that intervention away in short order:

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that we should ensure that as much is made in the United Kingdom as possible …

International aid

The temporary 0.2% reduction in international aid post-pandemic has been a long-running issue amongst Conservative MPs and arises again and again. Half the Conservative MPs, it seems, strongly disagree with the reduction while the other half support it, because it is only temporary.

On June 30, 2021, in the Opposition’s Official Development Assistance and the British Council debate, Longhi said that MPs who made a big deal about the reduction were virtue signalling:

Foreign aid spend has frequently been a way for politicians to compete for moral righteousness in the public eye. My Dudley residents care not for this type of posturing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell)—he is no longer in the Chamber—who is a near neighbour of mine, referred in his closing remarks to his electorate, implying that they agree with his stance on foreign aid. I would make two points on that. First, my constituency is literally just down the road from his, and I can categorically assert that a significant majority of my residents do not agree with him. Secondly, I gently point out to him that, on average, two thirds of all people polled in this country very recently did not agree with him either. Just the other day, on GB News, he used the majority view argument to support assisted dying, so perhaps he might consider being consistent with his rationale, instead of imposing his moral virtues on the country’s majority view.

Virtue signaller Anthony Mangnall, a Conservative, intervened:

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. It is fine if that is his argument, but surely he believes that it is right for this House to have a vote on the issue, because we are all representatives of our constituencies, and of the views of our constituents. Forget the polling and allow this place to have its say. Does he not agree with that sentiment?

Longhi replied:

I might refer my hon. Friend to votes on Brexit in previous years, when a significant number of elected Members did not represent their constituents and voted the opposite way to them.

Labour will always oppose what the Government do, even if they tripled foreign aid. Having only ever averaged a maximum spend under 0.4% of national income when it was in office, compared with the 0.7% that we achieved, Labour’s protestations are somewhat shallow, if not risible. People will see Labour for what it is: out of touch with working-class people and totally clueless about their priorities.

I am concerned about some of my colleagues. They are being so generous with other people’s money—a notable socialist behaviour, I might add. Perhaps they can explain to my Dudley North taxpayers why we should spend £15 billion overseas when my residents cannot find council houses and when we still have homeless people on our streets, some of them brave veterans.

Longhi went on, refusing to take further interventions:

I would like to make progress, please.

Covid has given rise to exceptional circumstances, and the Government were entirely right to reduce aid and focus on rebuilding our country. Charity begins at home. That said, I do not agree with reducing the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income; I would scrap the target altogether. Foreign aid should be and needs to be completely reformed. A fluctuating number each year that bears no real link with need, priorities or actual outcomes is no way to plan or act strategically. It is not how a household would budget, it is not how a business would budget, and it should not be how a Government budget. Which other Government Department do we fund as a percentage of national income?

Mangnall succeeded at last:

It is on that point—I can give the answer. We committed in our manifesto in 2019 to funding research and development at 2.7% of our GDP. We commit to NATO spending at 2% through the Ministry of Defence. The list goes on.

At that point, Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) said that, as many MPs were leaving the chamber, she would be lifting time limits on speeches.

Longhi concluded, refusing to take another intervention from Mangnall:

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I will respond by saying it is not the way we fund policing, education or health here at home. Surely a more sophisticated approach that is outcome-focused and delivers measurable change in very poor countries by employing some of our own local and UK-based companies is a far better approach than the arbitrary and unaccountable system that we continue to virtue-signal about.

I would ask two things of colleagues wanting to reinstate the 0.7%: let us focus efforts on achieving much better outcomes by reforming foreign aid, and, while we are at it, focus on challenging the EU and other wealthy countries that consistently fail to meet their own targets and do not measure up to what the UK is certainly doing

By any measure, the UK already does far more than most, both in cash terms and in areas not captured by our foreign aid spending. Certainly my constituents know that very well.

Yes!

Buying a house

On October 7, 2020, Longhi put forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill, a type of Private Members Bill, about reforming Conveyancing Standards.

I do not know what became of it when it was debated, but he made good points about the pitfalls of house buying:

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish minimum standards regarding searches and assessments of risk for solicitors and licensed conveyancers acting on behalf of purchasers of residential properties; and for connected purposes.

The main aim of this Bill is to help protect people who wish to buy a house—sometimes their first home—from being exposed to risks that currently are not sufficiently visible or understood at the point of purchase. The Bill does not propose radical changes to the conveyancing process; nor, indeed, does it propose changes to the development control system, although some may argue that that might be desirable to further de-risk the process for homebuyers.

I will set out two examples to illustrate the types of difficulties faced by homebuyers. Both are real cases of people who have been let down by a system that has not kept pace with an industry that has become increasingly cut-throat. The system does not offer enough consumer protections for people who are about to make possibly the single most important investment of their lives, while the transaction itself is mired in documents and legal complexities that are rarely fully understood.

My first example is of a developer who purchases land and applies for planning permission, which is granted subject to conditions. Those conditions are wide ranging and set out requirements of the developer in order for them to receive final planning certification at the end of the development. One such condition may be that soil sampling is undertaken to establish whether any contamination is present; another may be that properties must not be occupied until planning conditions have been fully satisfied.

That developer set up a limited company for the sole purpose of the development and started marketing the site almost immediately. Some properties were sold off-plan; some were sold when the buildings were largely complete. When the final plot was sold, the developer immediately liquidated the company. That means the legal entity that sold the properties no longer existed.

It became apparent immediately that a significant number of planning conditions had not been met: no soil sampling, no preventing of owners from occupying, and no top coating of road services or pavements to bring them up to council adoptable standards. Drainage was not connected properly, and the new homeowners had a huge list of unfinished works and complaints about poor standards of work.

At that point, the homeowners turned to the council for help, in the expectation that it would have the ability, as a local regulatory body, somehow to fix things. It transpired that any regulatory liabilities relating to the properties transferred to the property owners at point of sale, and that if the council chose to enforce breaches of planning, it would have to pursue the new homeowners.

It is important to note that the current system places no requirements on local planning authorities to pursue developers to evidence compliance with planning conditions. The expectation is that a developer will want final planning certification, but that is all it is: an expectation. What if a developer does not care about obtaining the certification? Their objective is to build, sell and maximise profit. So here we are; we have just purchased a property in good faith following the advice of the conveyancing solicitor—who, by the way, was recommended by the developer—and the property does not have planning permission. Certification costs could be extremely significant, and we have no recourse to the developer because they no longer exist as a legal entity.

My second example is probably more widespread than my first, and I suspect that similar examples may be present in several MPs’ casework folders. Imagine we are very keen to buy a property. At the point of purchase, our solicitor handling the conveyancing might highlight the fact that there is a contract for maintenance of green spaces on the estate—grass cutting, hedge trimming and so on—as well as that those areas do not belong to any of the properties and the cost is about £100 per year. Do we still want to buy the property? Of course we do. That is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, and if it means securing the property of our dreams, of course we will pay it.

What is not discussed with sufficient clarity at the point of conveyance, if at all, is that the small print of the maintenance contract will state that contract owners can increase the price as and when they wish, and there is virtually no recourse within the contract for poor workmanship or lack of clarity. The fee of £100 per year may soon become £500 per year, and the grass cutting may be once a year instead of once a month. These areas remain unadopted by local councils—something that I find a little too convenient. How would you feel, Mr Speaker, if you paid an even higher council tax for services you did not receive, compared with a neighbour around the corner who pays less and gets more?

Usually, when a service is not rendered, one may choose not to pay. That cannot happen here, because these contracts state that a charge will be placed against the property, so it cannot be sold without payment. Furthermore, homeowners cannot complain to anybody, because an unresponsive contractor is virtually unaccountable and has plenty of legal cover, while homeowners are usually bounced around from contractor to subcontractor to developer in a never-ending merry-go-round.

Those two scenarios are real. The same thing has happened in Dudley and to other people from the Black Country whom I have met. People find themselves financially exposed. The system is being gamed by unscrupulous developers and contractors, because it is not transparent enough to shine a light on the potential risks to people when they are buying a property. People might feel that the very fact that a solicitor is handling the conveyance means that they are sufficiently protected. They employ a solicitor not just to carry out due diligence for them, but to highlight any potential downsides. That is not happening with enough robustness, and that is why I propose the Bill.

Crime and Labour

In a Business of the House session on June 16, 2021, Longhi lamented that Labour MPs voted against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

I am sorry to say that it came as no surprise to me when Labour voted against tougher sentences for rapists and child rapists this week. My constituency of Dudley North has been waiting for a new police station in the centre of Dudley for many years, as was promised by the Labour police and crime commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend agree to explore this issue with me, and perhaps with the Home Secretary, and agree to a debate on the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners more generally?

Jacob Rees-Mogg, then Leader of the House, replied:

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The socialists, as always, are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime, and they have shown their true colours in the recent refusal to support tougher sentences for violent criminals. Unfortunately, socialist police and crime commissioners have been failing their constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to hold his local PCC to account and at the highest level, because the Government are continuing to back the police and to support the public in fighting to bring down crime.

… We are taking the landmark Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through Parliament at the moment, which will tackle serious violence throughout the country. We have hired nearly 9,000 additional police officers and are well on track to meet our target of 20,000 new officers this Parliament. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) for the important issue that he raises.

Marco Longhi gets it, as it were.

I will conclude with more of his policy perspectives next week.

The voters of Dudley North should be pleased with him. He cares about them.