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.