Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Watching out for your neighbours

Last night a few local residents and councillors met the police. With 2 days left until Christmas this was our quarterly chance to brainstorm about Crime in the neighbourhood and help plan police priorities for the months ahead.

The police were pleased that Christmas drink driving seems to be down (is this because we're not partying so much this year?), but there are still spates of break ins and anti Social behaviour about - as well as the repeated concern that many "crimes" that we know of on the grapevine are not being reported.

We agreed that one of our actions for the new year is to try to start up some more Neighbourhood Watch groups in the area. These seem to have lapsed in many places in recent years. I have no doubt that 2009 will be a time when we all need to care for our communities more in many ways.

If you are aware of good Neighbourhood watches in your area (especially in isolated rural communities) please do let me know. Ideas and sharing of good practice would be very welcome.

Monday, 22 December 2008

What about our next generation?

A friend just told me they had a letter from school... Dated the 9th Dec, posted 19th Dec. Aged 16 and after 11 years in formal education, 5 years at secondary school, their daughter HStar has finally been proclaimed a "gifted and talented" student.

You have to laugh or cry.

HStar's life at this school will finish in 6 months (they don't do post GCSE). She is set up for A Levels in English, History and Maths - but today she is "Gifted and Talented" for the first time in her life and is suddenly told her exceptional skills are in "Science".

HStar is of course totally perplexed.

We need to build our way out of this recession we need to encourage a skills pool for the future, but is this any way to give careers advice to the best and brightest of our next generation?

Christmas Thoughts

I've been wrapping Christmas Presents - Like everyone else we've cut back this year. The High Street Gizmo Gift to my sibblings has given way to a hamper of home made sloe gin, Chutney and other wares helping local producers. Each one also contains a gift or two supporting a charity and a pic'n'mix from Woollies.

It was Blitz Spirit last Friday with Woolworths Staff in my local store. They could not have been more helpful or kind, whilst facing huge uncertainty.

Today Rowan Williams has asked us to care for those whose jobs are lost, on the line or whose savings uncertain.

I am also worrying for

Charity Workers, where donations may be running down, they often are the front line in caring for the most needy

Our International Aid Projects, where the Exchange Rate collapse has impacted our already small assitance overseas

School and University Leavers this year, who fear they may hit a brick wall in the jobs market.... Not a lot is being said about this group by politicians at the moment...

My Local Communtity, where there has been a spate of burgularies... and a very fearful community as a result

BUT there is Good news.... This Christmas I have seen amazing generosity of local people in difficult circumstances. The annual Tory christmas bash also helped to support a local church and my own open house sent money to seven different charities. I am very proud of my local community.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Criss-Crossing the East of England

Last night I was soundly ticked off by a friend ... "you've not been writing on your blog" she said "what have you been doing?". So I explained that a few weeks ago I decided to set myself a personal challenge to visit as many of the 58 Westminster Constitunencies in the East of England before next year's European Elections. I guess I've been quite busy...

On Monday I heard from a friend of a friend who had just had to tell his 41 employees that their jobs were gone. On Friday I was in Mid Bedfordshire. Nadine Dorries MP had just come from a constituency surgery where she said every constituent was in tears. On one hand she's helping to deliver practical advice to those who have lost jobs with the other hand she holds the box of tissues. Local councillors were telling me about the plans to merge councils next June. Its going to be a difficult period for them... restructuring creates more job uncertainties both in the public and private sector.

Last night I was in South Cambridgeshire. Big debates here are happening about the desire to keep council services supported but keep the tax low. I learnt how private sector computer software businesses are being impacted by the current fear of investment but in the public sector I leant how Defra computer systems are still outdated despite massive spending.

Today I have been in South Suffolk. The conversation ranged from an expert in preventing pollution explaining how nuclear waste is managed, pensioners telling me how the interest rate cut has left their incomes highly precarious, but a leading Estate Agent told me that since the last rate cut he was seeing signs of buyers coming back into the market. The rural part time fireman also had a word on property prices - he explained how difficult it is to man the rota in villages where young people can not afford to buy homes. There is fear for the pound but the couple who manage holiday homes in rural England were hopeful. The expensive Euro means they predict better bookings next year.

This recesssion throws up a complicated jigsaw of issues. Gordon's VAT cut does not solve the problems. If you're going to throw money at a problem you should make sure the money is well spent - and I'm not convinced that is happening.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On Fish Stocks and New Industries

It was a timely coincidence that the day the EU announced plans to help protect cod fisheries was also the morning that Peter Aldous, Conservative Candidate for Waveney had invited me to visit Lowestoft with him. Anyone who enjoys fish must have been concerned by the disgraceful stories of unnecessary fish discarded overboard due to the inflexible "EU quota" system.

The fish market starts at 7am. A few years ago this would have run on for hours, now you have to be there by 7.15 or the market is over. Lowestoft, once a major exportor of British caught fish, has been through a decade of decline. There was good news however on the dockside this morning. The fish caught in Lowestoft are all caught on the line so there is very little unwanted stock to discard. The quality is higher than net caught fish and the fishermen believe this much more sustainable. They have also noticed stocks of cod increasing since trawling stopped off this part of the coast.

Arguements over the "quota" are on hold locally this year. A government scheme is allowing some boats to catch unlimited fish on the lines in order to measure stocks. There remains great concern for the future when the scheme ends next year.

In the meantime, we heard about plans to recycle local seamanship and manufacturing skills in the renewable energy industry. At the docks two long-standing local shipbuilding companies have diversified. We saw wind turbines being made in the UK for wind farms in our waters, the specialist ship that helps erect the turbines and a first prototype wave-power project.

The Orbis Centre opened last month. It plans to be a business centre bringing together companies involved in renewable offshore energy and thus bringing new work into an area where the economy desperately needs it. At the most Easterly edge of the UK and underneath the largest onshore turbine, this project was spearheaded by the (Conservative led) County and District Councils with large grants from the EU.

Not everything was golden though. Lowestoft like many other parts of the East of England has a major road infrastructure issue - after 10 years of dithering the government is only now starting to discuss the desperately needed new river crossing. Yet another case of an important re-generative transport project that could have been funded in the boom times now being back as a possible "promise" .... but only the far side of a general election.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Supporting Small Businesses

I was pleased to hear Cameron's suggestion that small businesses should be given some breathing space by the VAT man in these difficult months ahead. All too often it is the tax payment that is the final death knell for small companies when cash flow is squeezed. This is the sort of practical suggestion that should be leapt on by the Government not just dissed and dismissed.

A few nights ago I was invited by the Federation of Small Businesses in the East of England to join their representatives for dinner. The Labour, Lib Dem and Green candidates were also invited. I was firmly told that all the food was local and from small producers!

In preparation I had spent some time talking to every small business owner I could find.

One head-hunter said "I always thought I would be recession proof as I don't work in finance, property or retail but if people aren't moving house they aren't moving jobs." On the other hand a property manager told me he was doing "fine" since he has committed tenants and the painter decorator said "I don't mind if the phone doesn't ring until Christmas - not this Christmas next Christmas. People know I do a good job and I am booked up that far in advance".

I even popped into my local cobbler to check out the news story that cobblers are doing well from the credit crunch.... "I've been doing well for the past 21 years" was the response!

Whilst many many small businesses are having a tough time, these stories help illustrate that many are unique operations, often with long histories and nearly always with incredibly hard working people behind them. These are the sorts of businesses that are often incredibly hard to start-up but can face closure in an instant. We should support them.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Understanding Brussels Bureaucracy

I've just returned from 2 days fact finding in Brussels - flying into a country in the midst of a major strike is not great fun. No trains, schools, buses or trams but still the bureaucracy of the system grinds onwards.

I went with a delegation of elected councillors from across the East of England - as a member of the European and Foreign Affairs committee on the Regional Assembly. The regional assembly is another unwieldy bureaucracy but (whilst its there) my view is that is better to try to steer it than hide from it. Hearing about the strike I'd tried to get out of the meetings but when I realised we were discussing over £300 million of British Taxpayers money that is being pulled back from the grips of the EU back into the East of England I decided I had to find out more.

It is a maze of money (our taxpayer's money) peppered with acronyms and jargon. In two days of meetings I have only a marginally better idea of where some of the money is going; the £94,000 towards a wild game processing facility "to meet a market gap for locally sourced and processed game" seems pretty easy to understand ditto the £400,000 for Southend on Sea to improve public transport. However there were lots of other projects where I could have raised question after question - the £15 million which aims to help target groups "not eligible for mainstream provision" find jobs by offering "individually tailored provision which provides a full and inclusive range of support" sounds worthy - but at a cost of £1,600 per customer does it work? A heated debate was had about the lack of any new funding for migrant integration in education.

In the meantime big issues like our overcrowded roads and railways get drowned out in the detail. The dithering of the Department for Transport allowed over £100 million of EU money to be left on the table last year - it could have been used to help get freight off the roads.

Part of the problem is that although we were given a lot of information, the elected local representatives and even the MEPs actually have very little opportunity to influence decisions. My conclusion (and this is just after a first tasting) is that one must use each of those opportunities to influence as loudly as possible!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Why not try out some Conservative Policies?

I admit to being wound up by Jacqui Smith's on Question Time last night. "Cameron is a nice guy but he doesn't have any policies" line- This is my rant back tonight to the UK's home secretary.

You, Jacqui, are responsible for combating crime, in a country where violent crime has nearly doubled in 10 years, where our prison service does not act as a deterrent (88% of inmates are re-offenders) and 27 young people have been murdered on the streets of London this year. No wonder many people I speak to feel their local police are not in control. Surely you are prepared to at least listen to some alternative ideas?

What about the Conservative suggestion for locally elected police chiefs? Whats wrong with the idea that instead of drug addicts being offered more drugs one might try supporting abstinence rehab programs? Why should a sentence of 1 year not mean 1 year in prison?

Are you not worried about family breakdown? We have the highest rate in Europe. I know that most kids from single families are fantastic (my father died when I was 10). But Jacqui, as Home Secretary surely you know that a quarter of those in prison are children who have grown up in the care of the state? What is wrong with the Conservative suggestion to stop paying parents to live apart?

And then unemployment - surely as home secretary you are concerned about the 1.7 million people unemployed. Why not try the Conservative policy that if you are on "employment" benefit if you turn down a job, another job and then another job you might just not get your benefit.

Oh and NEETs, three quarters of a million young people not in employment, education or training - not a neat way to start a life. So why do you rubbish Conservative suggestions for a renewal of apprenticeships, careers advisers in every school and would you try National Citizen Service? - the 16 year olds I speak to are prepared to give it a go... why not you?

Perhaps as home secretary you have never met a person who is worried about their impending operation in case they catch MRSA or C-Dif? If you were you would have spoken to a doctor or two. They would tell you that to beat infections we must not only wash our hands and clean under the beds but ALSO isolate every infected patient. Conservative policy for single rooms in hospitals is not because a hospital should be a hotel but because having some single rooms saves lives.

Possibly as home secretary you have a driver to fill your car with petrol - and so have no interest in the fair fuel stabiliser? If you ever got out of the car you might have noticed that public esteem for politicians is at an all time low so why don't you give the public the referendum on the European Constitution that you promised?

To be fair you didn't meet the two mums that I did today who were at their wits end. Both their husband's companies have just announced a new round of redundancies... big businesses are packing their bags and upping sticks to lower tax countries and small companies are facing having their bags packed for them by administrators. What is wrong with reforming our arcane bankruptcy laws and cutting bureaucracy to make our corporation taxes more competitive?

Jacqui/ Alistair / Gordon we are in a global economic crisis and Britain's national debt is the worst in the world except for Pakistan, Hungary and Egypt. What do you offer? Nursery school for 2 year olds, home computers for 8 year olds and free theatre trips for 18 year olds.

Wake up - its not working - why not try out a Conservative policy?

It's late - that's my rant over and I could find a whole lot more weblinks if you wanted but remember Jacqui Smith MP for Reddich has a majority of only 2,716 votes.....

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Highs and Lows of Party Conference

I've just returned from 4 days at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. It was good to see old friends but also many new faces. It was noticeable that from the top MPs to the lowest first time delegate this conference was less about moans and gossip and more about professional rolling up the sleeves for serious solutions.

Conference can be like living in a bubble away from the real world. Not so this year - delegates crowded round the TV screens to pick up the latest news from the markets and America. Cameron's impromptu speech on Tuesday offering support and suggestions to help stabilise the economy was exactly the right message at the right time.

My personal low point was coming back to the car after 3 nights in the local NCP to find the passenger window smashed. Its a long drive back home without any glass but a personal reminder of crime rates.

Another friend and Parliamentary candidate had a very worried face. She told me that one of the largest employers in the constituency she seeks to represent had just gone into bankruptcy. A profitable manufacturing company that has suffered from the lack of bank liquidity. Just a few hours later on that one issue, I was pleased to hear Cameron's plans to reduce burdens and taxes on businesses and reforming the bankruptcy laws could not happen soon enough. (Of course - I thought it was all a great speech - but I would!)

Off the main stage, from early morning to late night, I attended in depth meetings on foreign policy, International Aid for developing countries and food production/security. I met up with our other candidates for next years European elections and heard from Councillors across the UK their desire to keep council taxes down and the issues they face. This was definitely a conference dominated by serious discussions over cups of coffee.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Mutual Aid

Conservative Home's recent survey suggests that many of our parliamentary candidates are concerned about the lack of mutual aid coming from "safe" Tory seats.

On Saturday I went out canvassing with Chloe Smith, candidate for Norwich North. Aged 26, Chloe may be the Conservative Party's youngest female candidate but I have met politicians twice her age with half her wisdom, maturity and energy. There is some precedent for younger MPs making a difference - Winston Churchill first stood for parliament when he was 24 and was elected the following year!

The reception on the doorstep to the Conservative rosette was excellent - yet residents have real concerns, from money worries and crime to local litter hotspots. There is a lot of work for a good candidate to get their teeth into - Chloe has a good team but more volunteers always means more can be done.

Afterwards we discussed some of my experiences in the last general election regarding mutual aid and organising action days for both local and visiting volunteers. Here are some of our thoughts.

Don't Panic. It is still a long way from an election and more help will come as the election draws closer. Activists in "safe" seats have been working hard to assure local election victories and flocking to national by-elections like never before. That is important too.

Do Encourage. Publicise your action days well in advance, send out reminders letting people know who else is coming so they see a team building, make sure volunteers are briefed clearly, fed, watered and thanked.

Do keep an active website. I certainly found that all the younger volunteers had a good peek at my online offering before offering physical help.

Do be creative. With high fuel costs people may not be able to travel far but willing to help from home with e.g. fundraising, writing letters, telephoning.

Do share ideas. Candidates are a bright bunch and its always worth talking to neighbouring seats about what is working for them.


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Why don't girls do Science?

I have been glued to nuclear physics today - every time I got in the car I was straight back on Radio 4 to hear the latest from the control room in CERN. Even "woman's hour" got involved debating how we could entice girls to go into science careers. I hope that my daughter's friends don't have my experience.

When I was at school I was a bit of a science geek and was encouraged to enter the National Physics Olympiad. I was awarded a silver medal and sent a worthy tome.

The book plate reads "to Victoria, in recognition of HIS achievement......". This did not exactly deliver the message that the world of high science welcomed female applicants. I put aside pinging protons and dropped physics.

A generation on, the statistics show the record of girls going into science careers in the UK remains poor.

One of the UK female physicists interviewed today described her project as involving 2,500 scientists from 37 different countries. Yet the discussion on careers advice was entirely UK centric. If we want to learn from the CERN project we could start by discovering whether all those countries have similar failings, and if not can we can learn from them.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Missed Pension payments

I've read the press stories about students not receiving their grant cheques. I had a very worrying phone call from a pensioner (Mrs P) this evening. She told me the following.

Mr P is 90 years old. He has Alzheimer's and has not received his state pension payment for 3 months. He is now due over £1,700 in back pension payments. They are obviously stressed.

Mrs P has done more than everything to put this right before calling politicians. She has logged each call. On August 26th Mrs P was promised the money would be in their bank account within 5 working days. It wasn't. Mrs P made follow up calls to the pensions office today and again has been promised the money is coming.

Mr and Mrs P don't blog - so perhaps stories like this are not being reported as quickly as students issues. I would like to know if this is a one off or if others have heard of similar issues. Thanks

Update 5 Sept - I have been told by a benefits expert that the pensions office are notoriously difficult when it comes to discrepencies like this - Mr P had been recieving his pension for 25 years when it suddenly stopped. Surely this is the one most needy group who really have earned a decent level of service from the authorities.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Update on the roads

I've realised that I haven't blogged for a while - but its been a busy few weeks. I've been meeting local people across the East of England from Hatfield on the A1 to South Essex, Suffolk and deepest Norfolk. Many issues that come up some affect just a few - like the distressed farmer's wife discussing the incompetence of Defra over TB, and Dunstables by-pass issues. Other issues come up again and again. These are the economy, house prices, petrol and oil prices and our crumbling deathly road network.

Locally, in my area, our dreadful rural road has claimed 6 tragic lives this year. Including an horrific accident this weekend. Three teenagers have died this year. This is a tiny community and a tiny 10 mile stretch of road. At one local school there is a child in every year who has lost a parent, grandparent, sister or brother or been involved in a fatal accident themselves. If it was a motorway or an urban road I believe it would have been sorted out years ago. The East of England that has contributed so much to Britains growth in the past decade but our back routes are left to suffer. I'm trying to speak out about this at every single opportunity I can.

We have been promised improvements but in my mind and those of other campaigners these are not enough. In the meantime the government wants to drop another new town at the end of the road. We can not take any more.

Off the roads this evening I joined George Freeman, the parliamentary Candidate for Mid Norfolk on the river Cam at the Bumps. George was entertaining clients, friends and family and then dashed off to stroke an eight on the river. He's moving house up to Norfolk next month (where many of his family live), finding schools for the kids and making new friends as well as running his business supporting scientific innovators and planning his election campaign. I am so glad there are people like George ready to take up the mantle in the next general election. Boy do we need their energy.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Eco-Town or Eco-Con?

This week I joined protestors from across the country to lobby Westminster about proposed Eco-Towns. Whilst the protesters were not objecting to the need to building environmentally sustainable homes, it appears that many of the proposed Eco-towns will be far from that.

The nearest Eco-town proposed to me is Hanley Grange, to be constructed on a prime green field location. It is not "in my back yard" but the impact will be felt on our already overcrowded roads and infrastructure. The A1307 has already claimed 3 lives this year and, like many rural roads, simply can not take any more traffic. Developers claim that 40% of journeys from this Eco-town will not be by car - but that still means the majority will. This town has already been turned down twice purely because the location did not meet sustainability tests.

There is a need for affordable housing for local people, but 40% of the 42,500 homes already planned around Cambridge will be affordable. That is nearly three times the number of people currently waiting for housing.

All new homes should be built to higher environmental standards - but the sustainablity standards for Eco-town homes appear to be dropping below that expected of others. The government has back-tracked from its initial promise that the one town already approved (ie Northstowe) will be an Eco-town. The more I learn about this fast tracking through the planning process for Eco-towns the more I believe that this is being driven by political headline grabbing rather than a desire to go green. More Here

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Planning issues and green space

My local village is on the side of a hill. At the top of the hill there are plans submitted for a windfarm, at the bottom of the hill are plans for an new "eco" town, but circling round above the hill are plans for a giant new aircraft stack. Which of these protects our green hills for the next generation? No wonder local people are confused.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Helping Zimbabwe

I've been asked to promote this website, the by a friend who writes

"I don't normally ask those I know to support a cause, but I cannot let
what is going on in Zimbabwe pass without doing something. I am saddened
and angered by the way people who just want the right to vote are being
attacked and intimidated. They shouldn't be ignored. That is why I have
gone to the website and made a donation. If you could
too then that would make a world of difference to people who have the
courage to fight for a better life. Will you give them your support too?"

I have made a donation, Iain Dale has more information about the website verifying its legitimacy. Only 3 years ago my local UK supermarket regularly stocked produce from Zimbabwe. I remember questioning this at the time... but today the country is decimated without enough food to feed themselves let alone export.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Three Cheers to Ireland

Thank you to the voters of Ireland

Thursday, 12 June 2008

What price has Gordon Brown paid?

Yesterday I met one of my heroes. Michael Gallagher was one of the founders of the Omagh victim support group. 10 years ago the Omagh bomb killed 29 people. It remains the largest single act of terror in the UK. Michael and others have made sure that this incident is not forgotten. He has travelled the world raising awareness and making contact with other similar groups. Yesterday Michael was one of a number of international speakers at conference arranged by Geoffrey Van Orden MEP to highlight the issues faced by victims of terrorism. We had lunch.

Whilst I was talking to Michael, Gordon Brown was back in Westminster (reportedly) cutting a deal with the DUP to save his back on the 42 day detention bill. Even though I was born and spent my childhood in Omagh I still find the nuances of Northern Irish politics difficult to gague from "across the water". However, this "deal" worries me. Since the 2005 election Northern Irish politics has been dominated by the parties on the more extreme ends of the Protestant/ Catholic divide. The tensions are still very high. I, along with many others, had hoped that the next election might bring the return of more moderate views. I suspect that any deal Gordon may have made yesterday this will be much more difficult.

Friday, 6 June 2008

How will the Irish vote?

Lots of people have asked me recently how I think the Irish will vote in their referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I have always said that I think a "yes" vote is not a done deal in Ireland. Latest polling data shows the "no" campaign is edging ahead.

Since I was a child I have regularly visited the remote west of Ireland for my summer holiday - I remember when this part of the country was so, so poor, shoeless children pouring out of tumble down cottages, donkeys being used to carry turf and ancient tractors etc etc. It has changed so much and a lot of that has been due to EU investment. However I also remember the anger of local residents at the post-Euro inflation they suffered in everyday prices and last year hearing great concern about the pace of recent change. I will not be surprised if they vote "no".

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Understanding the East of England

It is now 12 months away from the European Elections. I want to know that, if elected, I can try to hit the ground running and be, if possible, a useful Member of the European Parliament. How would you prepare?

Over the next few weeks I am going to join meetings or speak to Conservative and other groups in Letchworth, Swaffham, Newmarket, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Dunstable, London Colney, Ely, Epping Forset and Ipswich. I find these sorts of meetings extremely useful, helping me to understand local concerns - issues like our creaking overcrowded roads and housing growth keep coming up. We clearly need long term investment in infrastructure.

I'm also going out to Brussels for a couple of days to sit in the back of meetings and understand better how the system currently "operates". I will take the train. My business experience is that time spent in due diligence is rarely wasted... I hope the same will be true about this trip.

This Thursday I'm looking forward to meeting over 100 farmers from across the region and hearing their views. I'm keen to meet more of our larger employers and business groups and also keep up with my old financial friends from banking to understand what they are seeing at the cutting edge of pan-European business negotiations.

Any further ideas are welcome ... I want to use the year well.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Next Stop Henley...

After the success of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election I thought that Conservative party workers and activists would need a break. Not so. The team has headed off to Henley and from what I saw today they are loving it.

At 8.55pm yesterday evening the Henley association chose Boris Johnson's successor, Cllr Dr John Howell, as their next Conservative Candidate. Overnight the printing presses rolled. By 9.45 am this morning when I arrived in Thame with a car load of helpers from the East of England we were warmly greeted by the high spirited if sleep deprived by-election team. By 10 am we were fully armed with leaflets to deliver across the constituency introducing John Howell.... and the ink was dry!

During the day I stopped to talk to residents. Lots had seen John on the local news last night, others who had missed the TV wanted to know about him. Many voters took the leaflets and immediately stuck it in their windows to display the Conservative logo, others asked for posters. Everyone I spoke to knew the by-election is coming, even though the date is not yet set. Praise for Boris amongst his old constituents was unanimous.

Each time we drove back to the office to pick up leaflets for our second and then third delivery round we kept spotting busy Conservative deliverers. And the stacks of leaflets in the back room were rapidly diminishing.

The atmosphere was, as ever, efficient but this time it was also stress free and relaxed. I had time to catch up with friends from the West Country, the West and East Midlands, other MEP candidates from across the country and old friends.

I know that Henley is supposedly a "safe" Conservative seat but anything can happen in by-elections and even here there is a huge amount to do. Volunteers are needed. If you spend a day helping in this by-election I guarantee you will enjoy it!

p.s. yes I'm still working as a local councillor and running round the East of England meeting people too... I will blog with news but do readers want to be inundated with the aftermath of important rainy drains issues that hit every councillor's inbox after downpours like last weeks?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A Crew to Crewe

Yesterday I joined John Flack - one of the Eastern Region's other MEP candidates and a group of others on a day trip to Crewe and Nantwich to help support the parliamentary by election.

We were detailed off to the outlying villages around Nantwich. A beautiful day in a beautiful part of the country. Canvassing a relatively new estate of mixed housing we found many Conservative supporters and many former Labour supporters who will not be voting for Gordon next week. I was left with the clear impression that Gordon Brown is right to panic - I'm glad that he has finally done something about his 10p tax rate fiasco but believe it was only political panicking forced the u-turn.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

A Great Day

A great day Boris is mayor, the Conservatives have won not just locally but right across the country and my son's village football team have today topped the under 8 league. He deserves a picture on the blog.

To cap it all the cricket season has started. I was doing my annual duty preparing the teams quintisentially English Cricket Tea today. In fact the only downside of today was having to explain to the team that we have to increase the tea budget. Credit crunch hits cricket.

A lot of this week's election result has been due to the economic reality facing voters - whilst I celebrate great election victories with all my Conservative friends I know we would rather have a booming economy.

Conservative Councillors across the country and Boris will be facing the frontline difficulties of providing public services in a falling economy with falling revenues. It is tough.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Election Day

One minor election count that might be worth watching tonight is Cambridge City. The Conservatives don't currently hold a single seat in Cambridge or Oxford - winning back just one seat in the very Liberal Democrat dominated Cambridge would be a major morale boost. Last year we were within just 18 votes in one ward. I've been canvasing there this week and helping to deliver early morning reminder slips today. The doorstep reception to Conservatives is positive - but it's too close to call and the weather matters!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

What do posters tell you about Local Elections?

It may be childish but my top moment of this weekend was Saturday morning canvasing in a "Safe LD" ward in Colchester. As a tide of young blue rosette bearers hit the patch I cockily knocked on the sitting LD councillors' door. "I'm just canvassing for the Conservative Party" I piped as the team passed by. 11.30am on the Saturday before election day and he was putting his feet up at home. You should have seen his face when he realised we were on his home turf. I was told that the Greens are picking up lots of LD protest votes and judging from the huge number of Green posters in his neighbours' windows there are a large number of disaffected LDs. We ran through our entire stock of Tory posters by lunchtime and had to send back for more.

The night before I'd been canvassing in another LD stronghold in S Cambridgeshire. Lots of LD posters around but in two hours I didn't meet a single LD voter... only Tory or undecided.

Talking of posters, given the global credit crisis, I've been dreading a moment when I turn a corner and become overwhelmed by FOR SALE posters. There are a lot more about and I hope that this is not a sign of things to come, these were in Harlow on Saturday afternoon. There I found another buoyant Conservative team and a lot of disaffected Labour voters - many of whom just said they wouldn't bother to vote.

The weekend rounded up in North London today Backing Boris with Richard Fuller, our candidate for Bedford. In five hours canvassing no posters (any colour) seen but I found a great election buzz, everyone said they are going to vote. Many have already, the vast majority I spoke to were for Boris - and I was stopped on many doorsteps to discuss the intricacies of the second preferences.

I know that just a few hours in each constituency doesn't give a full picture, posters don't vote but Thursday's result will be very interesting.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The cost of Gordon's U Turn

One bit of me is pleased that Gordon U turned and will give money back to the 10p tax payers. They need to keep that money – but what will his solution cost?

Taking with one hand through income tax and giving back to exactly the same people with the other through credits is a woeful waste of money.

A troll through HMRC’s last report shows the cost of collecting income tax is just 1.25p per £ but the cost of returning it ranges between 3.42p and 4.58p per £ - the higher figure being when you also build in the cost of preparing for new credits such as the one suggested.

Therefore for every pound Gordon taketh and giveth back he chucks down the bureaucratic drain around between 4.67p and 5.83p.

So the offer is I'll take your money throw 5% away and give it back in a while (without interest?).

Furthermore the wastage must be even higher since these are based on average figures, yet the cost of administering tax collection must be higher when dealing with a large number of lower income payers rather than a smaller number of higher income ones.

And is even more complicated since many younger people change jobs and working hours more often so all the credits will need frequent re-calculations.

To cap it all there is the concern that not everyone hit by the loss of the 10p band will be eligible for credit.

What a lot of questions.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Think before voting for single issue candidates

In the past few weeks I visted various parts of the East of England helping with local election campaigns. Dotted around there is the usual variety of "worthy independents" and single issue candidates. Think ahead - what will you want your councillor to do for you?

I've been a local councillor for the past couple of years - It has opened my eyes to the plethora of issues our councillors deal with.

So what has been in my inbox this month?

From the very local - trying to rehouse an elderly disabled couple, the planning issue that threatens to close a village pub, and do we protect our green lanes?;

To the mid sized - this morning's meeting helping to find a temporary home for the 80 children of the after school club while their building gets urgent repairs, will the post office be on the closure list?

To the big picture - brokering a meeting to get progress on our overcrowded killer roads, how should meagre handful of police officers prioritise their workload?, helping one of our largest local employers get their questions answered about threats to their industry.

To the massive - what do we do about the ludicrous location proposed for Gordon Brown's Eco Town? where do those 26,000 new homes go (that many just in one little district... 3 million in the Region),

Yes, local politics is about local people and local issues - but it would not be possible to work on so many issues without being part of a team - the team support provided by being a member of a political group is invaluable.

When you elect a councillor they will be with you for a number of years - no one can predict their future inbox contents - Think twice before voting for a single issue candidate or "worthy" independent.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Safety Petition

Please consider signing this petition on the 10 Downing St website re the A1307.... and do remember to click on the link in the return email to confirm your signature (I forgot .....).

I'm always in doubt about whether these petitions are listened to - and petitions have been put together about this tragic road before - but something must be done and hopefully this will help keep the pressure on.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Local Elections and the Internet Campaign

I do like this view from the duckpond on Linton Conservatives. The Website is packed up with a huge amount of local info and comment.

From the feedback on the doorstep this evening it has got local people thinking in an area that has traditionally been a LD stronghold.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

"Development" and its unpleasant consequences

One of the things I enjoy most about politics is the variety of different issues I see… no day is ever the same but often there is a common thread. The past few days have been all about growth and some of the less pleasant consequences.

On Friday morning I found out that one of Gordon Brown’s potential controversial Eco-towns in Cambridgeshire involves not only concreting all over green fields but also all over one of the East of England’s major aquifers. I'm not a geologist – but at a time when we are all concerned about increased flooding and the long term water supply as years get dryer it does seem rather foolish.

Later I went to Newmarket where people are worried about increased low flying aircraft. This is the home of UK horse racing and our bloodstock industry that together are estimated to bring in around £1 billion a year into the economy. It is a huge employer. I met with Jim Paice MP, shadow minister for Agriculture. We expected a couple of locals to turn up. Actually we were greeted by representatives of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the National Stud and numerous other Stud owners. They know that tranquillity is vital to their industry. For over 20 years the US Military have respected a 7,000ft “no fly” zone. Now our UK government's quango NATS are suggesting that every flight stacking for Stansted should be able come as low as 4,000ft right above their heads. Local people feel the NATs consultation is a pre-determined sham. It would be pretty easy for this industry to relocate overseas. I would rather keep the jobs.

Yesterday I was down in Thurrock helping for the local elections. Its one of the most marginal councils in the UK and again development is top of the agenda. 18,500 new homes planned across this part of the Thames Valley. Local election candidates also told me how parts of the district have seen a huge change in their ethnic mix just over the past two years. Uncontrolled immigration is a huge issue for them. A year ago I warned that as the economy dips resentment increases. I also got to see Steve Metcalfe, the candidate for South Basildon and East Thurrock. He has a fantastic motor!

This afternoon back to the outskirts of Cambridge. Cambridge City Council is currently a LD stronghold. The Conservatives do not have any councillors and are fighting hard. On the outskirts of the City I met our candidate, Peter Hase, a successful local businessman and father. Residents have become resigned to the thousands of homes that are being built just across their garden fences BUT they want to have local councillors who make sure there are still green spaces around their homes, places for their sports and someone who will stand up for them against the developers. A bit of opposition will help to keep everyone on their toes.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Enjoying seeing the police around

I popped out this evening to help Roger Hickford, one of the Conservative party's excellent local candidates for May 1st election.

We were in Hildersham, a small village a few miles outside Cambridge. Here elderly residents in a quiet close were recently the subjects of a frightening distraction burglary. One of a series across large stretches of Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk.

Whilst we were there the police arrived. This evening they had special permission to stop and question each car entering the village and were near the close. Local people here often complain that there are not enough police around, we know that Cambridgeshire Police are very short of resources.

People this evening were very pleased to see the police, they stopped and chatted and passed on local news. Roger had a chance to update the local officers on some recent events in the larger villages. Even if the distraction burglars are not caught this evening, having a few police around has helped make people feel safer. I wish it could happen more often.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Good News and Very Sad News

Firstly thank you to everyone who voted for me in the Euro-Selection election. I am very honoured to be offered the highest possible ranking and I know that there will be a lot of work to do. At the initial selection meeting I asked the audience what they would want from their Euro MP ... again I throw that question to my blog readers.

On my way back from holiday I received the devastating news that another teenage young life has been lost on our local road. A girl that I remember as a beautiful and highly talented child. She died crossing the road after getting off the bus to go home.

This accident happened on exactly the same stretch of road where another teenager died last year. Tragically work on the safety improvements approved since the first accident will not start until this summer (that is nearly 18 months on).

In my very local area I'm trying to arrange a cross party meeting of locally elected representatives prepared to think out of the box, to try to find some ways our road can be made safer. How long does it take to arrange a meeting??? - quite a long time as the road covers not only district but also county boundaries. I have yet to hear of a council that has spare money for its highways budget but there must be ways to speed up the decision making process and to think across county/district borders.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Avoiding the Easter Traffic, local issues and crime

The family are going away for Easter. We want to avoid the traffic. Aeroplane stacking is a hot topic in my area thanks to the Nats consultation on new flight paths. I am a big supporter of train not plane - where practical.

We will travel from Cambridge to Kings Cross, across the road to St Pancras for the Eurostar - dinner in Paris and then the night train down to the Alps. I first made this journey a few years ago when the youngest was 3 years old. I do recommend it.

Clearing the desk for a holiday is always challenging but there have been some positive results locally;

Yesterday my local council was declared as "improving with promising prospects" by the audit commission. This is a huge step forward from last year - It's been hard work and the first year of Conservative Control. It is not by any means perfect but it is good to have a third party tell you it is better!

Today we finalised the legal agreements for a final handover of Milton Country Park. They will be signed by the end of the month. 10,000 local people signed the petition to save the park so this will be welcome news locally.

Cambridge City Conservatives are also gearing up towards the local elections. Cambridge is the centre of Silicon Fen and very internet savvy so its good to see the local candidates using blogging to get their views across.

On the negative side, elderly residents in the area are being targeted by distraction burgulars pretending to be police officers. I have arranged a house swap so my home wont be empty. Please keep your eyes open for your older neighbours over the holidays.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

On blogging, banks and business - and where our money goes

Last Thursday I rocked up at the council cabinet meeting near Cambridge only to be accosted by one of the leading Lib Dems telling me that according to my blog I should be near Watford... it is possible to achieve more than one meeting in a day. It is possible to take an interest in regional, national and international issues without forgetting local concerns.

On Friday I took the East Coast Mainline to the Conservative Conference in Newcastle Gateshead. Great confereence but I came away with a local councillor's experience of the North South divide. The social action project was at a City Farm. I'm all for building bridges between rural and urban communities. I helped, but my southern council would never have the cash to even think about such a project. The cab driver told us he had just been ferrying OAPs to a "pampering day" at the Angel of the North on the council's expense... is that a good use of taxpayers money? Down here money is so tight we would never even consider this as an option but we do support volunteer and charity networks.

Whilst in Newcastle I received a message that my former employer of 12 years (JP Morgan) had taken over my former employer of 2 years (Bear Stearns). When I left Bear Stearns 4 years ago their claim to fame was decades of continuous profitability unrivalled in the international banking market. On the frontline we complained because Bear was so much more risk adverse than any of our competitors.

Bear eschewed "corporate giving" in favour of the individual donation. Every senior managing director had to give at least 5% of their earnings to charity. Money got to where it was needed and the donors sure made sure it was well spent. I hope that bit of the Bear ethos remains.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Across the East of England

This will be a busy week. Voting papers went out to all members of the Conservative Party in the East of England offering them the chance to rank their candidates for next years Euro-elections. It is a huge geographic area and we are trying to meet as many members as possible. A few days ago we were in Swaffham in Norfolk, yesterday we went South and were overlooking the Thames Estuary in Southend. We go back East to Ipswich tomorrow and then West of the M1 towards Watford on Thursday.

Today some of us joined the Eastern Region Conservative Women's Association conference. The topic was "growing older". The Chief Executive of Age Concern for Essex spoke not just about care of the elderly but about older people's concerns; isolation, fear of crime, rising food prices, heating bills, support for carers, pensions, lack of rural transport etc. He pointed out that in Essex alone the life expectancy can be up to 14 years longer between the most affluent and the most deprived ward.

Members of the Conservative Women's Association are a powerful group. It was good to see them unite members from across this wide area and to hear them focusing (yet again) on the key issues facing all our communities.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

More people vote against the EU Treaty than for their sitting MP

Congratulations to the people of Harlow and those across the country who voted so decisively against the Lisbon Treaty this weekend.

In Harlow 12,254 people voted against the Lisbon treaty. That is 88% of votes cast or 34.7% of the total electorate in this Ballot. In 2005 Harlow's Labour MP was elected with the support of only 26% of the total electorate. More people voted against the Lisbon treaty than voted for their sitting MP , as a proportion of those eligible to vote. The same is true in eight out of the 10 constituencies that held a referendum this weekend.

Campaigning in Bedford

Yesterday I went to Bedford. A coffee morning offered all the regions Conservative MEP candidates the chance to meet residents from across the constituency. The local Tories were an impressive bunch. I spent as much time hearing about the other charities they all support and the voluntary work they do as talking politics.

Fueled with caffeine, chocky bics and good cheer we then joined local councillor and blogger Andrew McConnell for a spot of canvassing in Brickhill. On the doorstep, I realised that Andrew has a strong local following, that people were genuinely impressed by what he has done to help them.

Antisocial behaviour was an issue (no surprise there). One resident showed me a bus stop that is regularly vandalised. It was daytime and the roadside was quiet but Andrew promised to return during the evening next week so that he can see the scene when its busy. An example of a proper hands-on local councillor.

Back in my own ward people are concerned about the changes to aircraft stacking and flight paths> I've been ploughing through the "consulation", talking to local residents and businesses. I have contacted the CPRE. They ask why planes can't stack over the sea.. That seems sensible to me. Any ideas welcome.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Queuing up for a Referendum

I have never been so happy to see such a long queue as the one today outside the House of Commons for the Mass Lobby asking for a Referendum on the European Treaty.

Early in the morning I had picked up a group from Cambridge. We hitched a lift on a bus from Harlow (meeting the BBC's Nick Robinson with camera crew in the car park. He was interviewing Coleen who is organising a referendum there). By lunchtime we were with thousands of others from around the country queuing up outside the House of Commons. Very good humoured!

At one point Tony Benn walked down the queue telling us all why he wanted a referendum. "Why are you still a member of this terrible, terrible Labour party then?" asked a lobbyist from Neasden. Tony proceeded to give a long story about how Labour had saved the NHS, how well his own wife had been cared for when suffering from cancer, how the dreadful Tories would have forced his wife to go private. "STOP IT TONY THAT IS NOT FAIR" I said. "My husband is an NHS consultant, an oncology (cancer) specialist - and it is because I am so concerned about what Labour has done to the NHS that I am so proud to be a Conservative Candidate." Big cheer from the queue.

Earlier my own MP Jim Paice, Shadow minister for Agriculture had come to talk to us in the queue. At that point I was talking to Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, the "black farmer", Conservative Candidate for Chippenham and campaigners from the West Country. They discussed the treaty's potential impact on UK Farming.
Three hours later the Cambridge contingent (seen here front of photo looking concerned) were still waiting to hear from their Lib Dem MP who appeared to have gone into hiding. The group from Harlow had also heard nothing from their Labour one. The right to lobby one's MP is an important part of our democracy. It was interesting to see which MPs cared.

Update "David Howarth was totally shockingly illogical" text message just recieved from the Cambridge student who eventually did lobby him. An interesting observation about a Cambridge Fellow turned Lib Dem MP.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Town and Country ....

Yesterday I went to Luton for a Conservative Action day. We were helping Jeremy Brier, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate by delivering an introductory leaflet.

My delivery area included the "Icknield Way". This is England's oldest road and also passes through my rural ward 42 miles away! In Luton it is an urban thoroughfare, built up, traffic lights, roundabouts, schools, congestion etc etc. In Cambridgeshire the Icknield Way is an ancient green lane through open countryside. But even here there is antisocial driving. Just the day before I had been with our local MP Jim Paice and council officers looking at the devastation caused by off-roaders and other vehicles. Pointless damage and a lane now impassible to others.

A small number of people have trashed the environment for everyone else, they've moved on before anyone could catch them, they can be intimidating so local people don't want to confront them, residents are asked to keep records but little action seems to come of it, people tell me where drugs are being taken.... Its so frustrating because this is really a great part of the country. Does this all sound familiar? Antisocial behaviour, bureaucracy and lack of police etc

Sometimes the problems of town and country seem a million miles apart. Sometimes it seems like the same old story.

Monday, 18 February 2008

I want a referendum...

On Saturday I went down to Harlow to help the "I want a Referendum" campaign. Harlow is one of only 10 constituencies in the UK that is holding this unofficial referendum. It will ask whether the Government should hold our promised national referendum and thus allow the people to decide whether the EU Constitution is right or wrong.

There was an excellent turnout of supporters - some of us canvassed, some delivered leaflets, and another large group spoke to people in the town centre.

I was impressed by the awareness of local residents on the issues. Many had already voted. There is going to be a mass lobby of parliament on 27th February. I hope there will be a good turnout!

Friday, 15 February 2008

Time to Review Taxes (Again...)

Two years ago I helped write the opening chapters of the Tax Reform Commission. It was a great piece of work at the time. The work needs to be kept up to date and we need to focus on how tax reform is effected. I am glad that George Osborne has announced today that Geoffrey Howe will lead that work.

I'm also extremely glad that George keeps hammering home the comparison between the UK economy and the Irish economy. Only a few years ago Ireland was the poor relation over the sea. Now we look like being left behind. Part of that is due to business friendly taxation, part of it is due to excellent education and part of it is due to Ireland getting a decent share of EU investment over many years. All important lessons for the UK.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Half term at the farm

It's half term week in Cambridgeshire and today I took a large group of school children to my neighbouring farm. James, the farmer, is exhausted - he is right in the middle of lambing. The farm is really all arable these days, his flock of 84 ewes is less than half what it was a couple of years ago and I can't begin to count how many times he has told me that he's going to give up the sheep for good.

2007 was a dreadful year for livestock farmers. Foot and mouth and blue tongue worries on top of pitiful prices, escalating feed prices etc etc. James even took over the local butchers shop to try to secure a market for his produce. The pride and devotion that I saw in his eyes as we discussed last night's new arrivals makes me think he won't give up yet. Many others have already been forced to.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Campaigns update....

An overdue update on the various campaigns I have been helping/leading/supporting...

Road Safety (A1307) - good news is that improvement work on our most dangerous junction will start this year... 7 years of lobbying by residents later. Other improvements are coming but very very slowly.

Police Funding - I met the deputy chief inspector last week. Cambridgeshire is the lowest funded police service in the country but have huge pressures due to growth and migration. They have had positive meetings with ministers and believe their case is being given a reasonable hearing. (They are still furious about their pay settlement fiasco though).

Saving Milton Country Park - the handover date for the park from the local council to the new trust is set for Feb 29th. Lawyers are still passing papers backwards and forwards of course! This week I met representatives from the National Lottery. We are hoping they will support the trust's plans for an improved education/visitor's centre and new cafe. This would be a great facility and will help to bring in revenue to secure the parks future.

The Girubuntu Orphanage in Rwanda. The school is growing and growing. They need funds. I'm going to be giving a talk about the project to a local (non-political) group in a fortnight. I'm trying to find a cheap way of shipping out loads of books that people have given me - ideas welcome!

Supporting Junior Doctors This year is going to be even more brutal than last for junior doctors. Across the country I've met so many doctors (junior and senior) and other medical staff who are deeply frustrated with the way their professionalism and commitment to patients is being undermined I will continue to support the junior doctors' campaign .

Rural Transport - We sent surveys out to 2,000 residents in 8 rural villages. The results are still trickling in... lots of good ideas, but now we will have to see if any are affordable.

Update 8 Feb - have heard that the police have not got additional funds for this year. I should stop trying to hope that sense might prevail. The government says they are re-considering how growth areas are to be treated in the future.... does not sound good.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Why cars drive fast and government goes slow..

I spent all evening at a public meeting about my local road. (Rural road, growing towns at each end, too many cars, 22 deaths in 10 miles - It is a familiar story up and down the country.)

We asked who wants a lower speed limit. Parish councillors want it, district and county councillors want it, the MPs want it, we even surveyed local residents over three quarters of them want it. That was nearly a year ago.

The simple solution might be to knock up a few 50 mph signs and send out an occasional copper with a radar gun....

But that's not how things are done.

Government protocol means the road must be subdivided into identifiable segments, accidents and traffic movements must be analysed in each segment, engineers must collate the data and benchmark against national guidelines, cabinet papers must be prepared and voted on. The new limits must be advertised, consulted upon, any complaints must be deliberated at partnership meetings. That's the bureaucracy bit.

Then for the policy - we learn that today you can't just drop a speed limit, trust most people to see the signs and obey the law (with a bit of help from the police). The caring nanny state means that the speed limit will only be dropped if traffic calming measures are introduced so that drivers can't speed. This might make sense on short stretches of urban roads but through miles of countryside?? Of course funds aren't available, bids need to be submitted. Our last bid took 7 years to get approved. I feel another year or two slipping by.

The Highways department are working overtime, they are doing a great job, many man hours are being spent on my road --- but the tangible results? Suffice to say that we left the meeting last night with an agreement on the timetable to produce a timetable. It was a major achievement.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

What skills does a candidate need?

I've just got home from the Maidstone and the Weald selection - leaving the association executive mulling over which of the final 5 applicants to chose as their candidate. It was great to be in the final 9. I've discovered a beautiful part of the country, learnt a lot and met some wonderful people. I have also been involved in a highly professional selection process.

James Brokenshire MP summed it up a bit like this.... "The Association has clearly defined what skills they are looking and is properly testing each of us on each of those those skills" (actually James described it even more intelligently than that). During the past 6 weeks we have drafted press releases, door to door canvassed, met representatives from the voluntary sector, and been interviewed and questioned at least twice. Ian Hislop was the question master this morning - I asked him if he felt better or worse about politicians after his experience. "Much better" he said. He went on to explain that he thought all the candidates were of a far higher calibre than he had expected.

There has been flak in the papers about the number of men and women in this selection - it was even suggested that I was there as a token girl. I've enjoyed this selection, enjoyed meeting all the candidates and will be sorry if the stories in the press distract from the most in depth selection process that I have been involved in.

p.s. have just heard that Helen Grant has won the nomination - she was charming and intelligent and will make a great MP

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

No time to be bored............

The wonderful thing about being involved in politics is that it gives me an excuse to get involved with lots of interesting things. Tomorrow I'm visiting Maidstone hospital. I wrote about C-diff being a killer many months before the media highlighted the problems at this hospital. I'm looking forward to meeting professionals on the ground and hearing their ideas about how we can do better.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Traffic, traffic, traffic GRIDLOCK

On Friday I spent 4 1/2 hours in traffic jams travelling less than 90 miles. I was going to write a blog on this but I was too cross.

Averaging 20mph I would have been better off (and happier) riding a horse. This was not London, Bangkok or New York gridlock. Most of it wasn't even motorway gridlock. This was just typical South / East England rural gridlock with a smattering of rain. Too many houses without decent transport links.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Why I support local A&E departments... A Christmas Story

When I was growing up there was a standing family joke that someone always ended up in the casualty department over the Christmas holidays. We were quite active out-door kids but sod's law always seemed to load the injury odds into the holidays.

I thought those days were long behind me but this year I was back in the A&E.

The Risk Assesment experts could write case studies on my accident. The scene was a Boxing day game of Kick-the-Can in the dark with loads of children. On the sensible side I was wearing trainers and the wine was still in the fridge. But in a race to free the homeside from opression, I tripped and landed thumb first.

The trip to the local casualty department was a good 20 minutes even in the rural solitude of Boxing day eve. I wasn't critically ill, I was not a major trauma case, indeed it turned out that I hadn't even broken my hand - but IT HURT and all I wanted to be at the casualty department NOW. . When we got there the staff were fantastic. x-ray, examination, strapping, home. This is the NHS at its best.

All across the country I have heard about rural A&E services under threat. Patients are told that their "local" A&E department has not got the modern equipment to cope with major trauma cases and everyone will be better off if casualty departments are centralised. My own experiences, over many years is that these are valuable services and should not be undermined.

Vicky's rule of (still very sore but unbroken) Thumb - Be really nice to Doctors, Nurses, Policemen etc etc --- you never know when you might need them.