Rochester has been badly let down by both Labour and the Conservatives in local government. Under John Major and Tony Blair, Rochester was stripped of its historic city status, which dated back to 1211 under King John. The Conservatives have since pushed instead for Medway city status, but never delivered. So I was delighted to welcome UKIP leader Nigel Farage to town to back my campaign for city status to be restored to Rochester. We also dropped in to Computer Cabs at Rochester station to hear the concerns of local minicab drivers who are being let down by Medway Council.
My campaign to save the Hoo Peninsula from 5,000 new houses on a bird sanctuary continues to gather pace. I was joined in the village of Hoo St Werburgh over the weekend by some of UKIP’s rising stars who lent their support to the campaign and demonstrated UKIP’s commitment to local decision-making.
Over years speaking with doctors and nurses in the local NHS I’ve met countless professionals of immense goodwill and dedication. We all know however that serious issues still need to be overcome to prevent our health service failing people. These failures are always human tragedies and often shocking. The case this week of Rochester’s Luisa Guerra highlights what cannot be allowed to happen again. She died only in her thirties of cervical cancer despite gruelling chemotherapy after she was diagnosed too late, despite it is stated having visited her GP surgery 50 times. Her family have my deepest sympathies and I will not rest while Medway NHS services still stand in need of urgent improvement.
Defending the NHS locally involves being a strong voice for sustainable economics nationally. We need sound economic management in Westminster and Whitehall so that critical budgets such as the NHS are not made vulnerable in the future. This week’s figures on the deficit are truly alarming, despite Conservative claims that they have brought the situation under control. When we are still borrowing £100 billion a year, going deeper into debt all the time, that claim simply cannot be squared with the numbers. Of course, our daily borrowing would be lower if we exited the EU – as only UKIP proposes to do.
Speaking of which, I was interested to hear Ken Clarke say that Eurosceptic Tory MPs belonged in UKIP, not the Conservatives. He’s right, of course, and new additions to the growing UKIP team can be sure of a warm welcome if they come aboard. But it’s no small event when a Conservative of Clarke’s stature confirms what I, Douglas Carswell, and many others have said – that joining UKIP is now not only a necessary but also a very natural step.
UKIP is gathering support from former members of Labour and the Conservatives but also from the Liberal Democrats. I was very pleased to welcome Garry Harrison recently, formerly vice-chairman of the Liberal Democrats in Rochester and Strood.
UKIP’s website has been named as the most popular party website in the country and latest news is always going online at UKIP.org. Our Facebook page has just passed 275,000 likes and is also a great way to keep up to date (https://www.facebook.com/TheUKIP). I’m putting campaign news from Rochester and Strood online through the day myself as well, on Twitter at @MarkReckless. There’s lots going on so feel free to drop by.
If you want to join my campaign, there are always ways to help out, whether you’re a seasoned campaign hand, or, like so many of the UKIP Rochester and Strood team, joining a political campaign for the first time. You can get involved by helping to get our leaflets through letterboxes, coming along on a door-to-door canvass, or lending a hand to the work of keeping the campaign busy and active. Every vote matters, and every effort counts. We need all hands on deck to get the UKIP message out for our big actions days this week on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
To find out more, just call by the UKIP campaign shop at 30 Rochester High Street from 10am and you’ll be most welcome indeed.
Over the last financial year 1830 people locally started apprenticeships. This takes the total to 8580 since April 2010.
Unemployment in the Wokingham constituency is below 1%. It is good news that many more young people are gaining access to skills and job opportunities through the expanded apprenticeship schemes. The Conservatives wish to provide 3 m apprenticeships in the next Parliament if they win the election, compared to the 1.9 million apprenticeships started so far in this Parliament.
Detailed planning proposals for a new fire station in Hexham will be submitted to the County Council this week.
It follows a nine-week public consultation on plans to relocate Hexham Fire Station to a site at Hexham General Hospital. The Fire Station is currently based down at Tyne Mills Industrial Estate. The project will involve altering and extending the existing buildings at the rear of the hospital site.
The consultation raised some concerns about fire engines leaving the site with blue lights and sirens on onto Maidens Walk which is a residential street. The County Council says it has taken these concerns on board and redesigned the plans to ensure that all fire engines will now exit the site onto Corbridge Road and only return to the Station via Maidens Walk.
Speaking about the plans Alex Bennett, chief fire officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: “These plans provide us with the opportunity to provide a dedicated community fire station on the hospital site which would bring a number of benefits for both the service and the local community. The consultation exercise has proved very useful and we thank everyone who got involved. It also allowed us to address some of their concerns by redesigning the plans and reversing the traffic flow to and from the site.”
The plans will be considered by the County Council’s planning committee early next year.
To see the final consultation report go to: www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=16544
Sir Tony Baldry has welcomed new figures showing 750 new apprenticeships were started by people in North Oxfordshire last year. In total 3,560 new apprenticeships have been started in North Oxfordshire since 2010.
This means more young people getting the skills they’ll need to get on in life.
Across England more than 1.9 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010 – with the number of apprenticeships having more than doubled in this parliament.
As the Prime Minister announced on Monday a future Conservative government would go even further: making a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and end youth unemployment, funded by reducing the maximum amount that can be claimed on benefits from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting young people’s access to housing benefit.
Sir Tony said:
“These figures are great news. 3,560 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in North Oxfordshire getting the skills for they’ll need for the future.
“I’m pleased a future Conservative government would go even further, with a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and to end youth unemployment.
“By making sure, as part of our long-term economic plan, we deliver the best schools and skills for young people the Conservatives are ensuring the next generation have the skills and opportunities they’ll need to get a good job – so they can have a brighter, more secure future ahead of them.”
Here’s a statement from Jane Ellison MP and me, following the sad passing of Efua Dorkenoo. Also available on Huffington Post.
We learned with very great sadness of the passing of Efua Dorkenoo OBE on Saturday 14 October.
We had the honour of working closely with Efua for some years, and she was deservingly known as ‘Mama Efua’, the mother of the movement against FGM. Efua worked tirelessly for many decades, most recently as Programme Director for the International Social Change campaign, The Girl Generation’.
But Efua’s pioneering work began in the early 1980s and since then, she dedicated her career to the cause, and was a powerful voice for the rights of women and girls, ensuring that FGM survivors and girls who need protection remained at the heart of her life’s work to eradicate FGM.
Her vision and leadership has brought us all to the position today where FGM is recognised as a grave violation of human rights, as well as a health issue with devastating consequences.
Thankfully she lived to see her dream of an African-led global campaign realised.
Efua enjoyed a long and varied career, including working as an adviser to the World Health Organisation. In 1983, her services to women and girls were recognised when she received an OBE (Order of the British Empire). She of course also authored the groundbreaking publication ‘Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation’ (1996).
Efua was a truly inspirational woman, and it was a great honour to work with her.
We will continue to remember her, in our work to achieve her vision to end FGM in a generation.
Surely there can be no greater tribute to her than this – that we work tirelessly to protect future generations of the girls she cared so deeply about.
Our thoughts are with her husband Freddie and her family at this very difficult time.
Thanks to St Modwen's for Saturday's strirring visit to a place that is both new and familiar to me. High quality new homes have been built on the old steelworks site. The transformation is wonderful.
Two resting Gwent Dragons, Matthew Screech and Cory Hill, oppened the fine new houses. The start of a great day when their fellow players beat Stade Francaise by 38 points to 22.
"From natural beauty to industry and now back to natural beauty.
Before the Llanwern steelworks arrived the site was a beautiful part of Wales' only fenland. In 1962 it was transformed into a massive four mile long steelworks. The ancient drainage of willow-lined reens survived modified into the industrial landscape. The steelworks protected the site as far as and added a new lake that rapidly became a wildlife habitat.
The loss of skilled well paid jobs is bitterly regretted. But having worked at the steelworks from 1962 to 1984 it is deeply satisfying to see new natural beauty emerge. St Modwen has earned the gratitude of Newport with the sensitive development of a new community which will combine lakeside living with fine community amenities. Croeso Glan Llyn."
How the dream faded
Extract from my book 'The Unusual Suspect'.
'Our first awkward nervous negotiation for a pay increase succeeded beyond our fevered imaginations. We gained a rise of nearly 25 per cent. We had asked for 40 per cent. My role placed me, psychologically, in conflict with the managerial tribe. There was no chance of any promotion. Shop stewards were cast as agents of antagonism and confrontation. One dispute about the safety of a new procedure for identifying nitrogen in steel resulted in a bitter altercation with management. My promotion goose was cooked. For the rest of my time at Llanwern I became resigned to my fate working under bosses for whom I had decreasing respect.
Work became a meaningless chore, which I performed with my mind and imagination detached. So what? I had the joy of witnessing the daily miracle of my two young children discovering their joie de vivre. I was content to prostitute my time in exchange for money to build the comfortable home that was the centre of my life.
The steelworks was a great national enterprise. A political fudge by Prime Minister Macmillan divided the giant plant between Ravenscraig in Scotland and Llanwern in Wales. Decades later, both plants suffered from that act of cowardice. The Llanwern steelworks had attracted an army of six thousand incomers from steel centres throughout the United Kingdom. The accents of Glasgow, Llanelli and Birmingham were heard more frequently than those of Gwent. In the early 1960s Llanwern enjoyed great publicity as a model, newly minted works with staff that were the elite of British steelworkers.
The dream faded fast. In the bleak, self-destructive spirit of the early 1960s the simple-minded union bigots ruled. Management was weak. The huge site encouraged the creation of small protective self-contained units. The management was remote in their hutted village on the edge of the site, at Lliswerry. The union empire built around the Cold Mill was four miles away, skirting the village of Bishton.
The works Balkanised itself into nineteen separate conspiracies all at war with each other and with management. Loyalty ended at the boundaries of each department. Success could only come from a united team, one that worked together from the point where raw materials entered in the west to the place where finished steel was dispatched in the east
New equipment saw production records broken. But the works were plagued by disputes, strikes and an endemic atmosphere of bloody- minded lethargy. At a Labour Party conference in the late 1960s Michael Foot, MP for Ebbw Vale, answered a debate in which there had been a routine demand for more investment for industry. Michael pointed to Llanwern. ‘They are up to their necks with investment there but they are not delivering the goods.’
The works were out of management’s control. It became a deeply unhappy place. Pride, excitement and hoped faded. Stories spread about the indolence and inefficiency of the workers. Demand for steel was falling and international competition was threatening Llanwern’s products in the marketplace. As a socialist and trade unionist, I was upset to see my convictions challenged. Justice for working people achieved through combined strength against greedy employers was a prime tenet of socialism. It was our answer to the bitter inequalities of wealth and power that created the cruelties of Crawshay Bailey’s work slaves and the victims of the potato famine.
Equality of power between union and management had been the aim of early socialists: the dream was that it would evolve into shared responsibility between self and community interests. At Llanwern I witnessed a cherished ideal metamorphosing into waste and abuse. Ill-disciplined union power was a bloated brainless monster. Cowed management retreated behind the barricades of their department’s defences. The worst union leaders surfaced, ignorant, self indulgent, naive and brutal. The arteries of that great works became clogged with futile contrived conflicts. Gloomy forecasts of doom were heard. The possibility of allowing the whole place to sink back into the marsh on which it was insecurely built was feared. Shock therapy was a long time coming.
In retrospect, I mourn for those wasted twenty-two years. All were on shift-work, the pattern consisting of shifts from 6.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m., from 2.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. and from 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 am. The one upside was that they were substantial numbers of shiftworkers in the local communities. That made our status as a sub-stratum of society bearable. The pattern of our lives was abnormal. The shifts undermined the routines of family and social life.
Nights out were marred because of afternoon working. The need for an early start the following day or having to leave events early to start a night shift imposed an untidy routine. Young children could not understand why father was sleeping in the middle of the day. I resented the tyranny of a life that was out of kilter with the rest of society. The shared misery brought shiftworkers together in a freemasonry of mutual interest. My work was undemanding and the long hours were made bearable only by the stimulus of intelligent companions. Overtime was regular and essential to build a decent wage. Half of my waking hours were spent in the company of the same ten men who shared my shift.
Life was monastic in its intimacy. Relationships were close, intense and potent. The spasmodic nature of the work allowed for hours of chat. We were part of a production process which had peaks of intense activity separated by periods of idleness. Friendships were forged and broken. Faults and irritating habits were magnified."
It really is wonderful to see yet another improvement in the unemployment figures, both for North-East Hertfordshire, and nationally. The long-term economic plan, though tough, is most definitely working. For the first time since the start of Labour’s recession, unemployment is down to below 2 million. Down 412 in NE Hertfordshire, and nationally, it dropped by 538,000, which is the biggest annual drop ever recorded. Nearly half of this is a drop in youth unemployment, which shows that this government really is getting young people into work. Also, the number of people on Job Seeker’s Allowance is down by half-a-million since the last election, which is a testament to our welfare reforms and the ability of Conservative economic plans to get people off benefits and into a job.
All these drops in unemployment are the best possible news to those to those who have now found work. The number of people in full-time work has increased by 1.26 million since the election, including record numbers of women, and over the last year, the UK had the highest growth in the G7. Britain is leading the way in the developed world in reducing unemployment, and we’re giving great opportunities to more and more people every day. I am proud to have been a part of these enormous economic improvements.
We had a productive meeting at which Heathrow expressed regret about the level of noise experienced by our local community. I fed in the scale and scope of concerns expressed to me in correspondence, and at the local meeting on the 24th September.
The key points I can now feed back to the local community include:
- The trials over Molesey and Walton will finish no later than 12 November, possibly earlier.
- When trials re-commence in October 2015, there may be other paths tested in the borough, but it is highly unlikely we'd see the same level of concentration along the same path as felt recently. Heathrow and NATS were at pains to convey that they had heard loud and clear - and appreciated - the level of concern felt locally.
- The reason these trials are being conducted is to design a new system that takes advantage of satellite technology to run flights on a tighter line in and out of airports. This new system is being tried and tested across all our airports, and indeed across the world. The potential gains from the new system include: better use of airspace, less emissions, less noise pollution for residents (because flights ascend quicker), and fewer bottlenecks on the ground.
- These trials would be going on whether or not there was ongoing debate about the 3rd runway at Heathrow. So, this is not some softening up exercise as a precursor to a 'done deal' on airport expansion at Heathrow.
- Heathrow, government officials and Ministers are now increasingly conscious - and data from these trials has reinforced the view - that it is unfair to concentrate flights (and noise) too heavily along one very narrow path. Whilst it may minimise the number of residents affected, it maximises the noise pollution they are subject to.
- The new system will be designed using data from all of the regional trials, and put in place by 2020. Before then, it will be subject to local consultation and approval will be required from the Secretary of State for Transport. So, the democratic process will ensure local views on the future proposals are properly fed in.
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At the moment almost one and a half million people receive the minimum wage in the country which is set at £6.50 per hour and in our area a high proportion of working people receive it. We want to make sure work pays and that it is always better to be in work then on benefits. This policy does exactly that and is a real boost to help the lowest paid and encourage people into work.
By raising the threshold to £12,500, over one million extra of the lowest paid people will be taken out of tax and thirty million more given a tax cut. This tax cut builds on an earlier announcement by George Osborne to look at raising the minimum wage to £7 per hour. Whilst a balance has to be struck and small businesses also need help in order to take on more people, this could be a welcome boost to get wages more in line with inflation and help people struggling with costs in Cornwall.
I was also pleased to see a clear commitment by the Prime Minister to scrap the Human Rights Act. While I agree with Human Rights I have long argued that the European Court is having unintended consequences and needs to be sorted out. As part of the coalition agreement, the Lib Dems insisted that British courts should play second fiddle to the European Court but after the election, a Conservative government would now sort the issue out.
The ECHR was established after the last war with the aim of getting internationally agreed principles and it is a list of perfectly laudable but broad aims which most people would support. The trouble is that since then a succession of clever barristers have made ever more creative arguments citing human rights that has made a mockery of the original idea. I think we need a British Bill of Rights which explains to the Courts what the ECHR means within Britain. This is what will happen with a Conservative government elected next year and it will make clear when human rights laws should apply, that rights should be balanced with responsibilities and it will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals using human rights to prevent deportation.
With the party conference season now over, the battle lines for the next General Election are drawn. It is certainly going to be close.
South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt meets with Surrey County Council Leader in Farnham to discuss pedestrianisation of the town centre
Following the victory in his referendum on pedestrianisation in June, Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, met on Friday 19th September with leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge and County Councillor for Farnham Pat Frost in order to press ahead with establishing a viable pedestrian-friendly plan for Farnham and what the next steps might be for developing a scheme.
I gave up going to Conservative party conferences several years ago. Why? There never seemed to be many Conservatives. The lobbyists outnumber the activists. The fringe debates seemed so sterile.
Compare that to what I found at UKIP's gathering in Doncaster. There was a real buzz. Supporters from all over the country, and all kinds of backgrounds, were genuinely enjoying each other's company. New friendships were being formed all around me. Not a lobbyist in sight.
"What do you think of Grant Shapps?" asked a journalist, hoping I might say something rude. I like him, and I've made no secret of my admiration of him in the past. If he has had to say some fairly strong things as Conservative party chairman over the past few days, he is doing it because he is Conservative party chairman.
I know Grant is a thoroughly decent person and have always enjoyed his company. I might have changed parties, but I'm not going start pretending that everyone that wears a blue rosette is bad. Grant is one of the good guys.
Government used to be accountable to Parliament, and Parliament once answered to the people. Slowly but surely this has changed.
MPs have lost the power to amend budgets or meaningfully control what ministers do with our money. The executive controls the legislature, rather than the other way round. Political parties have "safe seats", which they treat as fiefdoms to reward A listers and insiders.
The result is that we are governed by tiny cliques, each competing to sit on the sofa in Downing Street – and none of them much in tune with the country over which they preside.
Not so very long ago, to make such observations might have seemed a little wonky or obtuse. Dissatisfaction with the way Westminster works – or fails to work – is now so widespread, even Westminster is waking up to it.
Each week, as a constituency MP, I would pick a couple of streets at random – and go and knock on the doors.
"Hello. I'm Douglas, your MP" I'd say. "I'm in the neighbourhood and wanted to introduce myself". I got to make a lot of new friends and drink an awful lot of tea.
During this by-election I've been knocking on many of the same doors again. I've had to say many a polite "no" to tea this time, but the friends are still there.
The internet and iDemocracy will overturn many of our assumptions about politics. But not perhaps the way some pundits imagine.
A big part of the problem with Westminster is the whipping system. Party whips hold far too much power. Instead of answering to the electorate, too many MPs end up answering to whips.
Whips are able to influence MPs in all sorts of ways. But their power stems from their one ultimate sanction; they can withdraw the whip.
Withdrawing the whip from an MP means, in effect, that the MP has been sacked. Unless they grovel, they are out and cannot run as a party candidate again.
What if instead of whips being able to sack MPs, MPs were able to sack their whips?
That this House;
Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq, including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christian and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis it is causing;
Recognises the clear threat that ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq, and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;
Further recognises the threat ISIL pose to wider international security, and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and it's murder of a British hostage;
Acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East;
Further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat that ISIL poses to Iraq and it's citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq;
Notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign, and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament;
Accordingly supports Her Majesty's Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including use of UK air strikes to support Iraq, including Kurdish security force's efforts against ISIL in Iraq;
Notes that Her Majesty's Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;
Offers it's wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces.
The Home Secretary appointed Fiona Woolf to chair the child abuse inquiry on Friday. Since then, a number of people have asked for my views on the matter, some of them quite high profile survivors.
I’d never heard of Fiona Woolf until I saw the announcement but I know her type – successful, rich and married to a big Tory.
A number of survivors are concerned she’s too close to the establishment and seems to have some kind of social or informal links to Leon Brittan, the former Home Secretary who was recently interviewed under caution by the police.
Believe me, I understand the concerns of survivors but I’m supporting the appointment all the same.
The way I look at the situation is this:
A year ago, there was no chance of an inquiry.
Theresa May has done the right thing despite considerable internal pressure not to act. She has also listened to concerns of many survivors and MPs by assembling a panel of people who do not share the background of Fiona Woolf.
I’m desperate to see the inquiry get moving because I’m now convinced that members of organised criminal networks have evaded justice – and that some very powerful people need to be exposed.
As soon as the inquiry starts to take a look at documents as well as testimonies of survivors and former police officers,I believe the weight of evidence will be so great that even more will have to be done.
This might take the form of a bigger police inquiry team, made up of investigators from around the country but managed nationally. Then we really might see some powerful people brought to justice.
To oppose Fiona Woolf will have the effect of further delaying the evidence gathering, leaving survivors in limbo for longer and perpetrators evading scrutiny.
From what I’ve seen so far, we risk losing more with a delay than we do with a chair who has not yet won the confidence of a number of survivors. It’s for her to build trust with them through her leadership of the inquiry team.
I know enough about the panel members and their expert advisers to be certain that they will not tolerate an establishment whitewash. If more revelations come out about Fiona Woolf then I’m sure they will make their opinions known to Theresa May.
They should be allowed to examine the institutional failings of the past in order to understand how vulnerable children were abused by powerful people who were not held to account.
So, I’m giving Theresa May the benefit of the doubt.
It’s time for this inquiry to get moving. The team leading it should be judged on the tenacity of their research and the strength of their investigations.
I hope you can give them your support in what will be a very distressing inquiry.
Just by way of an update to Monday’s post… Another invite has arrived. WWF are the culprits again!
PRASEG & WWF-UK Event – The economics of climate change policy: what are the overall costs and benefits of the UK meeting its carbon budgets?
Wednesday 10 September 2014, 17:00 – 19:00, Committee Room 6, House of Commons
• Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test and PRASEG Chair.
• The Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
• Professor Paul Ekins, University College London
• Matthew Knight, Director of Strategy and Government Affairs, Siemens Energy
• Steven Heath, Director – Public Affairs and Strategy, Knauf Insulation
• Trevor Maynard, Head of Exposure Management & Reinsurance Team, Lloyds Bank
In March 2010, two months before the General Election, Labour announced they would close North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals and build a new one at Wynyard. The new hospital would have been smaller, but modern, and the project would have cost taxpayers £450m. Because of the haste with which it was announced, and the huge price tag, the new government cancelled the scheme.
Local NHS services for North Tees are run by an independent trust, so the government does not decide whether schemes like this should be considered. Government can, though, ensure a proper business and clinical case. If additional taxpayers’ money is needed to make a scheme work, it also controls that funding.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust is still pushing ahead with its proposal for Wynyard and has put together a revised application. The £350m new Wynyard hospital would need £100m of government money for the business plan to work. As our local MP James has arranged a number of meetings with the Department of Health about this and he wants to know what you think. The decision could be made soon. If you are concerned James needs to know your thoughts. We have set up a special online survey which you can complete here:
James can only take representations from people living in Stockton South so please ensure you live in his area before completing the survey.
On Saturday 13 September 2014, after an interval of four years, I will be taking part in the sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.
On Saturday 13 September 2014, after an interval of four years, I will be taking part in the sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.
This is an excellent charity under the patronage of the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher and the Bishop of Buckingham, designed to help the maintenance of churches of all denominations throughout the county.
This morning I unveiled a memorial stone to Captain Douglas Reynolds, on the hundredth anniversary of the action that led to him being awarded Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.
In this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War there will be many events around Britain and the rest of Europe. There will be further anniversaries to mark down to 11 Novemeber 2018, a hundred years after the Armistice on the western front that now sets the date for our annual Remembrance Sunday event for all conflicts.
The government is supporting a wide ranging programme of events over the next four years. These include battlefield tours for schools, where children will also be learning to play the “Last Post”. The Communities Department is providing memorial paving stones to be laid in the communities of origin of the recipients of the Victoria Cross.
There were 628 Victoria Crosses awarded to 627 individuals, as Noel Chavasse was the only man to be awarded twice. Over the next four years memorial stones will be laid across the British Isles, 361 in England, 16 in Wales, 70 in Scotland and 35 in Ireland, which at that time was all within the United Kingdom. The remaining 145 memorials will all be laid at the National Memorial Arboretum on 9 March 2015, Commonwealth Day.
This Commonwealth group reminds us of the fact that the war was the first truly global conflict. It was a clash of European empires, drawing in colonial soldiers from around the world. I have visited the memorials in Ypres in Flanders, where the name Singh is more common than Smith or Williams. There was also combat at sea and on land around the world.
Some people may ask why are we commemorating a war that is now outside the life memory of everyone. I think it is right that we do so. The First World War touched the lives of every community and family in a way not seen before. The wars of the nineteenth century and before were fought in the main by regular soldiers and sailors. The war from 1914 – 18 was a total war, particularly after conscription was introduced in 1916. As so many men were in uniform, the role of women was also changed profoundly, working in the fields and munitions factories. After the end of the war, the British social order was never the same, with the ‘ruling class’ weakened by taxes, the end of deference and the universal franchise.
I hope the paving stones and various events will rekindle an interest in the war in every community. There are war memorials in every town and many workplaces and schools, listing the names that could be brought to life by research. I hope to discover more about my great-grandfather Stephen Davies, who served and survived physically but died in a mental hospital years later.
Today’s event in Castle Park, Bristol, was to commemorate the sixth winner of the VC, the first from Bristol. Captain Reynolds was awarded his VC for an action on 26 August 1914, just three weeks after the war started. He led his men to recapture a gun at Le Cateau, Belgium Mons. He survived this episode but was killed by gas poisoning in February 1916 and is buried at Etaples. His VC is on display at the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich.
The next Bristol memorial stone will be laid on 20th November, the centenary of the VC being awarded to Thomas Rendle. The other six Bristol VCs are Frederick Room (1917), Hardy Falconer Parsons (1917), Daniel Burges (1918), Harry Blansard Wood (1918), Manley Angell James (1918) and Claude Congreve Dobson (1919).
Bristol has one of the very best commemorative programmes in the country over the next four years. See http://www.bristol2014.com for more details.
Summer recess, however, is a great opportunity to catch up, take stock, and get on top of things as best as possible, so here I am again with a new (Parliamentary) year resolution to get back to blogging.
I hope I still have at least one reader left!
First published by The Observer Parliament talks ceaselessly of “the next generation”. But, in Cumbria, where I’m an MP, voluntary activity and politics are generally driven by people over the age of 55. Every village seems to have a retired engineer attempting to build a community fibre-optic cable network and baffling the most confident civil servant […]
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Today (22 January) the coalition government's controversial 'Lobbying Bill' returns to the House of Commons after it has been debated and amended in the House of Lords. The government has been forced to make concessions in response to the strength and breadth of opposition. It is nevertheless likely that the Government will seek to overturn at least some of the amendments made in the House of Lords which have gone some way to improve this ill-considered Bill.It has already had to drop its proposals to cut the total that charities are allowed to spend on campaigning in the run-up to a general election and concede that the election period is specified as the period from the day after the referendum here in Scotland rather than a full 12 months.These changes are welcome but they simply make a bad bill slightly better. So far, the Government has refused to accept other amendments such as the one excluding background staff costs from the spending limits and requiring lobbying of special advisers to be included on the statutory register.I was pleased to see that both of these were passed in the House of Lords despite the Government’s opposition and I and my Labour colleagues will be voting to keep these two Amendments in the Bill if the Government seeks to overturn them.Charities are already forbidden to campaign in a partisan way by existing legislation on the way they operate and as a spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has pointed out, it is hard to see the problem that this Bill is seeking to solve.
There are many other things wrong with the Bill. It would have been even better if the
government had dropped it entirely and rethought its proposals after proper consultation
with charities, NGOs, and trade unions, but the Commons does at least have the chance
to make it a little better today.
In addition, the subject of MPs' accommodation arrangements in London continues to be the focus of some attention, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide an update on my own arrangements.
When first elected in 1997 I rented a room for a short period but it quickly became apparent that in the longer-term it would be cheaper to have a mortgage and claim the interest. Over the years I have stayed overnight and claimed mortgage interest on a bedsit or one-bedroom flat in Westminster.
Under the rules of the scheme, I would be entitled to retain any profit made from increases in the value of such property prior to the 2010 General Election. But I have made it clear that in my view the purpose of the scheme is simply to give MPs somewhere to live whilst in London and not to provide a profit. I have therefore said for some years that when I no longer owned a property in Westminster I would return any profit to the taxpayer. I am now making arrangements to do this.
In October this year I sold my London flat and am now renting (and ceased claiming for mortgage interest in July). I estimate that I made a profit, net of capital gains tax and legal fees etc. of around £22,000 through increases in the value of the properties on which I have claimed. I have therefore written to IPSA confirming that I wish to return this sum and asking for details of how I can return this amount to the taxpayer.
Speaking on the day that Greenpeace and NUTFA (the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association) launched their Manifesto For Fair Fisheries, Tom called on the government to take the lead in supporting small fishing communities. He said the case had now been made for a “radical overhaul” of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK.
Smaller “inland” fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers. But they are restricted from catching more than four per cent of the UK fishing quota, with 96 per cent being allocated to the larger industrial fleet.
Tom added: “Labour wants reform that tackles vested interests and rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers, should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.
“The Government should be taking a lead in supporting our small fishing communities that are the lifeblood of many coastal areas.
“The case has now been made for a radical overhaul of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK. The Government needs to issue a definitive list of who exactly owns the rights to UK quota, and begin urgent talks on significantly increasing the percentage quota allocated to the Under Ten fleet.”
Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s Challenge on Dementia – a new initiative to tackle one of Britain’s most serious health concerns. As Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, I believe that our approach to dementia care in Britain is unsustainable, with the figure of 800,000 people who currently live in the UK projected to rise to 1 million within a decade and 1.7 million by 2051.
Aside from the obvious human tragedy of the condition, which affects one in three people over the age of 65, there are serious financial consequences of dementia. Through increased healthcare costs and other expenses, the condition costs the economy £23bn, compared to £12bn for cancer and £8bn for heart disease which, per patient, means that a single dementia patient will cost the economy £27,000 – four times higher than a cancer patient and five times higher than someone with heart disease.
Despite this, research into the condition receives significantly less funding than research into other diseases. The Government’s announcement that it will double dementia research funding to £66m by 2015 is therefore extremely welcome and represents not only a fantastic opportunity for greater research into the cause, cure, care and prevention of dementia, but a greater recognition from Government that this is an issue that must be addressed.
The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was timely as APPG is investigating how to improve the rate of dementia diagnosis. The Group has heard from a range of people involved in the condition, including clinicians, social workers, those with the condition and those working to support them. The Government’s additional commitment to funding an additional £54m to help increase early diagnoses of the condition represents a fundamental appreciation of the importance that early identification of the disease plays in transforming dementia care.
There are important benefits to diagnosing dementia as early as possible and early diagnosis is key to living well with the condition. It means that GPs can work together with patients from an early stage to help plan their care and start treatment to slow down the progression of the disease. This can help to lower the risk of dementia-related accidents and complications, reducing both the probability that a patient will need to go into residential care as well as the overall cost of dementia to the health service.
Despite this, only between thirty and forty percent of those with dementia are diagnosed, with huge variations in diagnosis rates not just across the UK but within counties themselves. In Medway, for example, 44% of those with dementia are diagnosed compared to just 38% in West Kent. Additionally, only five to ten percent of diagnoses are made at an early stage of dementia, meaning that many of the benefits of its early identification are lost.
Some of the evidence that the Group heard suggests that a huge barrier to people coming forward for assessment is that stigma associated with dementia and it is essential that the media plays a role in helping to change the perception of those with the condition. The image of people with dementia on television is one of invalidity and ineptitude while it is often the case that a patient diagnosed early enough can live independently and with a high quality of life for many years. As with many medical conditions in the past, changing the image of dementia in the media to show it in a more realistic light is essential in getting people to visit their GP if they have concerns.
It is also therefore essential that clinicians are appropriately trained in recognising the symptoms of dementia and knowing which services are available to refer patients to. Amazingly, a quarter of GPs say that they do not receive enough training on dementia and it is therefore unsurprising that so many people with dementia slip through the net and get misdiagnosed with other conditions such as depression.
However, we cannot just rely on patients going to see the GP to get diagnosed because they are concerned about symptoms; professionals across a range of fields must work to actively recognise symptoms of dementia when interacting with older people. One of the doctors giving evidence to the Group pointed out that if a patient went into a hospital for an unrelated medical condition, it would be inconceivable for health care professional to notice potential symptoms of cancer and not follow it up, but that is not the case if they spot some early symptoms of dementia. It is only through this kind of proactive approach that we will significantly increase the rate of diagnosis.
While I look forward to the Group’s publication of the report in the summer, it is clear that we must take action to raise awareness about how important early diagnosis is and remove the stigma that stops people going for assessments while ensuring that all our healthcare professionals are properly trained to spot the early signs of dementia. The Prime Minister’s challenge to tackle dementia and improve both diagnoses and care for the condition is extremely welcome and, I hope, represents the turning point in the fight to end the unsustainable dementia status quo.
There are many groups and charities in Kent which can provide support for those with dementia and their carers. For more information, contact my office on 020 7219 2828.
Prior to the meeting, I had already been in touch with Network Rail, to strongly urge them to deal with some of the key issues around the station. Network Rail confirmed at the meeting that, as a result of my request, they had immediate plans in place now to paint the station, address the rodent problem, board up unused windows and clear graffiti They had also requested additional litter bins from Hounslow Council. At the meeting, St George's highlighted the work they had been doing too to clear up graffiti in the local area.
I am very pleased that Network Rail responded so well and are giving Kew Bridge Station a 'facelift,' which will help local residents. It will make the station seem cleaner and safer and I welcome their efforts to improve it for passengers. As a group, we are also in discussion regarding the future of the station building at Kew Bridge. As it is a Listed Building, it is obviously of architectural importance. It would be excellent if it could be restored to its former glory and put to good use.
The group is going to meet again within the next month to review progress and discuss next steps.
Maria said: “This new legislation will make a real difference to how local matters are decided. The Community Rights measures, for example, will give new rights to local community and voluntary groups to protect, improve and even run important frontline services that might otherwise close down, such as local shops, pubs and libraries,.”
Maria added: “This Bill offers great opportunities for Basingstoke. Among other things, it will radically reform the planning system so that local people have a greater say and influence over what Basingstoke looks like in the future. Giving local people the opportunity to shape the development of the communities in which they live is something that I have long campaigned for, and I am delighted to see it being enshrined in law.
“The Borough Council’s current consultation on the number of new homes needed in Basingstoke is part of this process of taking local people’s views into consideration in developing a vision for the future. I would urge all residents to let the Council have their views on this before the end of the consultation on 14 January.”
The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.
Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
This will be enough for the amnesty to achieve its real objective - photos of a smiling Minister in front of an impressive looking array of guns claiming that the government have "taken action".
But make no mistake the serious criminals will continue to roam the streets without any fear of being stopped and searched, (human rights) and knowing that even if by some chance they are found in poossession of a gun or knife the sentence will be minimal.
The toll of death will continue to rise.
One of the country’s most precious wildlife sites is under threat. Lodge Hill in Kent is home to nightingales and other scarce, declining and protected species. But the local council has approved a major mixed use development, which would destroy the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and damage nearby ancient woodland.
I’ve written to the Secretary of State urging him to ‘call in’ this planning application so that the implications can be examined at a full public inquiry.
As my PQ earlier this year revealed, the development at Lodge Hill would destroy more habitat in one go than the total loss of SSSIs to development in the last seven years. The Government says that there is a very strong presumption against developing SSSIs built into the planning system, but the Lodge Hill case is a key test of whether this presumption is effective.
The destruction of the SSSI at Lodge Hill would be disastrous, firstly due to the national significance of this site for nightingales and, secondly, because of the deeply worrying precedent it would set for the protection of England’s most precious wildlife sites, including ancient woodland.
This is not to say there isn’t a need to build new homes, but less environmentally destructive locations can, and must, be found.
You can read my letter here. Please take a minute to send a letter yourself to the Secretary of State too. You can find out more about Lodge Hill on the RSPB, Woodland Trusts, or Wildlife Trust websites.