Post Office closures – Labour majority slashed as 11 Tories go AWOL

by Stephen Tall on March 20, 2008

The Government narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat in the Commons last night of their plans to close 2,500 post offices – Labour’s majority was reduced to just 20, with Lib Dems and Tories voting together.

Sarah Teather led the Lib Dem attacks on the closure programme– you can follow her arguments in Hansard here (and an extract of her Commons speech is copied below).

The Government majority would have been even tighter, of course, if the Tory leader, David Cameron, and 10 other Conservative MPs had turned up to vote. But as the Daily Mail’s Ben Brogan notes on his blog, the point of the Tory motion was not to reverse Labour’s post office closures – to do that, the Tories would need to have an alternative proposal for saving them. Which they don’t:

This was an Opposition Day Debate, after all. Nothing was at stake, save Government pride. To call this a rebellion is to give it more credence than it deserves. After all, if it had really mattered, David Cameron would have turned up to vote along with – by my count – 10 other Tories who were somehow absent from their own show. If they had, the PM’s majority would have been down to single figures. Pointless, yes, but worth having on the score sheet. Mr Duncan said tonight: “The hunt will now be on for all those Labour MPs who have pretended to support their local post office and then done a runner when they had a chance to make a real difference.” But what about the Tories who missed “a chance to make a real difference”? As I say, a jolly wheeze, but that’s all it was.

The division list from last night’s debate can be found here – worth looking through to see if your local Labour MP stuck to party lines last night.

And here, as promised, is an excerpt from Sarah’s speech:

The truth is that the Government are presiding over the managed decline of our post office network. They are choosing to do that because they totally fail to understand the social value of our post offices to the 2 million vulnerable individuals who do not have bank accounts, for example. Those people rely on the post offices to access their benefits. The Government also fail to understand the role of the post office as a social hub for the community, or the economic value of the post office to the surrounding economy.

Those of us who have had post offices closed in our communities know that the death of the post office often spells the end for the shop in which it has been housed. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, too, mentioned that. The death of the main shop on a street can often spell the end for the nearby parade of shops as well. In Brent, in my constituency, the post offices are just part of a long line of services facing the chop. The process started with the health centres, as the primary care trusts struggled to scale in their debts. Then police station closures were announced, followed by the closure of job centres. There is a sense that Labour is shutting up shop in our community.

These closures will rip the heart out of the community. They are the places that people value for getting face-to-face advice, with centres on the high street. They provide vital local services. It is as though Labour is shutting up shop in the very heart of our communities.