Tulip Siddiq MP: 'Nurseries are at the brink of collapse'

Tulip Siddiq

Tulip Siddiq - Credit: Tulip Siddiq

"I can shout from the sidelines...but in the end we have to win. We have to get into government."

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq is on a mission to raise the profile of what she calls a "crisis" in childcare, but she is clear a priority for Labour has to be winning the chance to govern.

Tulip is the guest on this week's Ham&High Podcast, where she also discusses life in a working family in lockdown and the inequalities the pandemic has exposed.

As Labour's shadow minister for children and early years, she warns that early years providers and nurseries are "at the brink of collapse".

"I know the government's had a lot on it is hands - I do understand and I do sympathise - but a quarter of all early years providers are facing closure by summer, after a decade of underfunding...This is a sector that's been underfunded for years and years, and what coronavirus has done is shine a light on the fact that it's been underfunded," she said.

Nurseries have lost income, with enforced closures through lockdown and families keeping their children home at other times.

"When our nursery closed in the first round, my husband and I decided to keep paying the fees because we could afford to. That's the truth of the matter. 

"Even when it was closed in the first lockdown, we decided to keep paying because we wanted the nursery to survive. I don't blame other parents who couldn't keep paying the fees, even when the nursery was closed down, because they obviously just couldn't afford it. And that's the time when I think targeted support and financial assistance would have really helped because nurseries just couldn't cope at that stage."

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As an example, Tulip says additional funding has been provided to schools during the pandemic, but it hasn't been available to nurseries.

Tulip Siddiq MP with husband Chris and their newborn son Raphael in 2019

Tulip Siddiq MP with husband Chris and their newborn son Raphael in 2019 - Credit: PA/Kirsty O'Connor

It is not just nurseries about which she feels protective. This week the children's A&E was due to return to the Royal Free Hospital, having been moved to the Whittington as preparations were made for the second wave of coronavirus.

Tulip has experienced first hand the work done there on several occasions, not least when medics saved her son Raphael's life.

When he was just three months old he became limp and unresponsive.

"I didn't even think about it," says Tulip. "I just grabbed him. I just got into the car, said to my husband: 'Just drive straight to A&E, to the Royal Free.'"

She continues: "It really reminds you that it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what your name is, where you live, if your child is sick, the nurses and doctors just drop everything and look after your life, save your life."

The health authorities have said that any permanent change to the children's A&E at the Royal Free would only be made after a public consultation.

Tulip makes clear that any move to close it would result in a battle.

"If they want to close it permanently, they're going to have to face me and all the campaigners and when we want to, our local campaigners know how to run a good campaign and we will definitely be lobbying. There's no way we're letting it close. It's too important  a resource."

Since 2015, when Tulip won the seat previously held by Glenda Jackson, she has twice been re-elected, but she has still not experienced governing.

In the past she has rebelled against the Labour whip on votes, including opposing HS2 and the Article 50 Brexit bill, and though she is a supporter of Labour leader and neighbouring MP Sir Keir Starmer, she says they will not agree on everything.

"I came into politics to make a difference, and if there are times when I feel like speaking out is the right thing, I'm going to do it," she said. 

"Keir is my friend - I'm definitely an ally - and I think he's a strong leader, but if there are times when he makes decisions that I don't agree with, I will speak out.

"There have been internal conversations where I didn't think a right approach was taken to a policy, and I've spoken out about that. I think that he expects that from me. I don't think he'd expect anything else." 

Tulip Siddiq at the Ham&High's hustings at UCS Hampstead

Tulip Siddiq at the Ham&High's hustings at UCS Hampstead - Credit: Polly Hancock

Asked whether she will one day be prime minister, she said: "I certainly hope not. It would be the worst job in the world.

"I mean, the amounts of stress of being a constituency MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, and representing 80,000 very independent, determined people with very strong opinions is stressful enough. I'm not sure about being prime minister.

"What I would say is I would like to be in government though. I have now been an opposition MP for six years and by the time of the next election I would have done nearly 10 years in the opposite benches, and I want to be in government. 

"I want to make legislation, whichever brief it may be. It may be in education, which is where I am, or I'm also interested in housing. Whichever brief I may be in, I want to make actual legislation that impacts people's lives in 2024. I do not want to go back and sit on the opposition benches. That's what I would say to you. I'm very ambitious about that. 

"I can't spend my whole career challenging and fighting and not getting to implement laws."