Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey puts pressure on Secretary of State in a bid to guarantee plans for improved station car parking for his constituents

Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey puts pressure on Secretary of State in a bid to guarantee plans for improved station car parking for his constituents

MP for South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt, remains consistently focussed on securing adequate parking for his constituents at both Haslemere and Farnham trains stations.

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Yesterday, in Manchester, I launched the Labour Arts Alliance. You ca read the press release below. Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman MP, launched Labour Arts Alliance this weekend at Labour’s conference in Manchester. Labour Arts Alliance will make the case for the arts and campaign for the return of a Labour Government by: - developing a national network of people in the arts and creative industries - facilitating the sharing of objectives and best practice - devising a strategy for the growth of the sector - contributing policy ideas for the 2015 manifesto and beyond. Harriet...
Apologies if I have not got back to you - Scotland has taken up a lot of our time but spending several days catching up this week before heading north again on Thursday.

The Barnett formula was a fix to settle by how much bloc grant for Scotland rose each year, given the extent of the rise in comparable English spending.

It currently polls very badly in England. The reason is that Scotland can spend around one fifth per head of the population more than England. This enables Scotland to offer free tuition for Scottish students at university, and better terms for care for the elderly amongst other matters. Now that Scotland is around the same income per head as England, and now SNP Ministers are constantly telling us Scotland is a rich country, many in England ask why the favoured treatment?

The Barnett formula relates to changes in annual spending. If, for example, a given public spending item was allowed £100 million more spending next year than this in England, Scotland would be allowed £10 million more for the same spending. The English increase is multiplied by the proportion of population in Scotland to England to derive the extra amount. If some of the spending item is not devolved, then the comparability percentage is also applied, so Scotland only gets an increase for that part of the budget which is devolved. If only 50% of the extra £100m budget was devolved, Scotland would get an extra £5million.

Given that Scotland therefore only gets the same per head increase as England, why does she end up with an advantage in the total? The main reason is the starting or base budgets in 1979 where Scotland already was allowed to spend more per head. This has been compounded by the relative decline of Scotland’s population to England. This means that the per capita value of the base budget has gone up compared to England.

The 3 leaders have made two promises to Scotland on these financial matters. The first is that Barnett will continue to apply. As a means of changing the future spend it can still make sense, as it means parity between England and Scotland for the increments. I would advise my fellow Englishmen and women to calm down a bit about the formula for annual changes, as it can make sense which is why it has endured for so long.

The second promise is that Scotland can raise its own Income Tax in future, and maybe some other taxes. As long as this money is taken off the bloc grant and the money that attracts the Barnett formula, this could help sort out the imbalances and tackle some English resentment at Barnett, as Barnett comes to cover a reducing balance of spending. There is a lot to be said for Scotland taking responsibility for more of its own revenue raising, and accepting that more of its spending will depend on its success in levying taxes on its own taxpayers. What matters is a fair baseline budget and settlement this time round when the new taxes for Scotland make a big change to the bloc grant.

Thursday’s referendum result has shaken up the political kaleidoscope in an almost revolutionary manner. Never in my 35 years in Parliament has politics been more important. Our future is now more in
In the aftermath of the 'No' vote in the Scottish referendum, the debate has turned to carving out a new devolved settlement for the Scots. I have written a column for The Sunday Telegraph, here, arguing that any new deal for Britain must be fair for the whole of Britain - and what that involves.
 
I also discussed the issue on the Sunday Politics show this morning here.
 
 

Nick’s written an article on devolution which is 100% right. I couldn’t have put it better myself - which is why I am pasting it below. He says it all!

Within hours of the momentous decision by the Scottish people to remain in the UK, Westminster found itself once again bogged down in conventional party political point scoring.

I have seen for myself the way in which the vested interests in the two old parties can conspire to block reform – scuppering elections to the House of Lords and a clean up of party funding in recent years.

We cannot allow an exciting new chapter of empowerment and constitutional renewal to be held hostage yet again by a Labour and Tory pre-election stand off.

The Conservatives, in their rush to protect themselves from an attack from the right, are only concerned about English votes on English matters. Of course we need a solution to this dilemma but, by appearing to link it to the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, they risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people that, in the event of a No vote, new powers would come what may.

Worse still, if the Conservatives enter into a Dutch auction with UKIP over ever more extreme solutions to the issue of English votes they could jeopardise the Union they purport to defend. Surely we haven’t fought to save our Union in a vote north of the border, only to see it balkanised in Westminster?

Labour, by contrast, appears to have been taken by surprise by the unavoidable consequences of devolving sweeping new powers to Holyrood. They are choosing to ignore the dilemma of non-English MPs taking decisions on purely English issues – as a party with dozens of Scottish MPs they have the most to lose.

So, unless they’re careful, the Conservatives may end up turning their back on Scotland, while Labour ignores England: a recipe for stalemate when we should we working across political divides to renew our creaking constitution from top to toe.

We need action on three fronts.

First, delivering the devolution that has been promised to Scotland. No ifs, no buts. The package of reforms myself, Ed Miliband and David Cameron all committed to must be delivered on time and cannot be made contingent on other constitutional reforms, even as we pursue agreement on them in parallel.

We must deliver further powers for Wales as recommended by the Silk Commission while strengthening devolution in Northern Ireland too. And, on the divisive issue of English votes for English matters, we must start with the work of Sir William McKay, who has already done a lot of the heavy lifting after the Coalition asked him to look at this. Sir McKay suggested a number of ways of giving English MPs a special right to vet legislation where it only affects England, bringing in Welsh MPs where appropriate, in a way which avoids fragmenting the Commons.

Second, we need a much more radical dispersal of power within England.

In Coalition I have been determined that – against all of the instincts of central government – we hand back an array of powers to Britain’s communities and cities. But we need to turn this relationship fundamentally on its head. Currently the best local councils can hope for is to be granted new powers when the government of the day deigns to do so. Instead we must guarantee a new, legal right for local authorities to demand powers – decentralisation on demand if you like – with central government having to meet a much higher threshold before it can refuse.

My aim is a statutory presumption in favour of the decentralisation of powers away from Whitehall. I see no reason why we cannot publish draft clauses for this early next year alongside our other pressing reforms.

Finally, as we move towards a more federal system we will need to codify the division of labour between Westminster and the constituent parts of the UK and set out a clear statement of the values we all share. In short, what amounts to a written constitution.

I welcome Labour’s decision to embrace the longstanding Liberal Democrat call for a constitutional convention – but it needs a precise mandate, beginning next year and concluding in 2017. It should have a Citizen’s Jury at its heart, representing every corner of the UK. One area it will need to address is the future of the House of Lords which, in my view, would better serve people as an elected second chamber, in keeping with federal political systems across the world. Ultimately, however, it will not be up to politicians – this process will be led by the people.

Together these changes will rewire power across the UK. This opportunity cannot be hijacked by old fashioned ya boo politics. It would be a tragic irony if the stale and self-serving politics of Westminster that has fed the appetite for change now frustrates the possibility of radical reform. The Scottish referendum may have come and gone, but it’s legacy of UK-wide constitutional renewal still remains within our grasp.

In the end, the Scottish voters decided by a more comfortable margin than we expected that they preferred their nation to remain part of the United Kingdom. The canny Scots refused to follow the pied piper over the edge. Not enough of them joined in surfing the wave of emotion. Hopefully the repair work needed to mend the divisions created by such a ferocious debate will not be too difficult. This blog post is an early assessment of where go from here, and written from a Wales perspective.

We have learned that commitment to the United Kingdom by its member nations cannot be taken for granted. Leaders of the three main Westminster parties decided they needed to make a last-minute offer to Scotland before the vote. This 'Vow' must be delivered. No ifs or buts. And we now have to answer the West Lothian Question, which I've always thought best not asked. This all has a significant impact on the future governance arrangements for Wales, even though I expect this to be of only passing interest to the rest of the UK. But it matters to me.

The most concerning part of the 'Vow' was the commitment to an unreformed Barnett Formula, which gives Scotland significantly more than 'needs ' dictate she should have. While Wales receives more per head than England, it does not receive the level of funding justified by her 'needs'. Difficult to know the precise size of Wales underfunding, but a figure of £300 million per annum is usually used. It's very much my view that the Wales Office and the Treasury need to find a satisfactory way of addressing this Barnett deficit. It's not a huge sum of money in the greater scheme of things.

There will be a significant change in the tax arrangements/powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. In future 100% of income tax will be devolved. A huge change with no referendum, though there was one on the principle of devolved tax-raising in 1997. We are just going to do it. I very much agree with this change. To devolve powers without matching financial accountability is a recipe for division between the Scottish and UK Parliaments. It allowed the Scottish First Minister to play the victim card to great effect. It almost destroyed the United Kingdom. The same situation exists in Wales. My view is that we should transfer responsibility for 50% of income tax to the Welsh Assembly without any referendum. We have seen just how destabilising a devolved  government without fiscal accountability can be. We need to act on this now. If it's decided there must be consultation with the people of a Wales, this should be done through our 2015 manifesto rather than a referendum. I fully expect the Labour Party in Wales to do everything possible to stop this happening, thus retaining the happy position of only taking responsibility for one side of the ledger.

My final observation in this post is the proposal to prevent Scottish MPs voting on laws that apply only to England. Unfortunately, the anti-English tone of the Yes campaign in Scotland has made this inevitable. Personally, I do not like it one bit, believing it to be far more complex (to the point of being unworkable) than is thought. But it is much better than the appalling prospect of an English Parliament. I am not at all sure it can be applied to Wales in the same way, because the level of shared services across the border is so much greater. Again, Labour will do everything possible to prevent this happening. Already we see much discussion about a constitutional convention - a fairly blatant tactic to avoid anything at all happening.

I'd better stop. This post could become a long essay. I have just written as the words tumbled out. It's probably a bit jumbled, and I'll probably edit tomorrow. Inevitably, so soon after the referendum, all of our thoughts are a 'work in progress'. Writing it down helps firm me things up.

Conservative economic policy is easily recognised when stated as balanced budgets, low taxes and sound money. Today, these are a distant prospect. For all the work the Government have done, this year’s net financing requirement is £144.9 billion, larger than the health budget (£140bn) or education (£98bn). As my weekend brief explains, “The Government have delivered a typical tax cut of £705 for over 25 million people and taken over 3 million people out of [income] tax altogether”, however, please contact […]

From the Commons House Magazine

Labour Party Conference

by Paul Flynn

 

 

Eight heart stopping, stomach churning, mind-uplifting, morale pulsating months before victory or defeat strikes.  Plan for both desolation of failure and exuberance of success.  PFsmallpicEither prospect will quicken the flow of creative juices. Your contribution to the result will be marginal because voters choose mainly on national perceptions of parties and their leaders.  But prepare meticulously because results are often determined in the margins.

My six general election victories in a previously Tory seat are mainly attributable to national moods helped by a bad perception of Thatcher and a favourable one of Tony Blair. The party in Newport West did the rest and determined the result of the 2010 election where the swing against Labour was below the UK or Welsh average. Either of those would have unseated me.

The 2015 omens are good. Traditionally we are champions of depression - imprisoned in the neurotic endemic pessimism that is Labour’s incurable trait. But the facts disagree.  The poll average for the past 24 months all promise overall victory for us. The LibDems are in a tailspin. Right wing voters have two Tory parties to divide their votes. Firm traditional Labour loyalty can be topped up with footloose voters who recognise the cavernous failure of the Tory ineptocracy.  There is no new dawn of Tory popularity that an improved economy promised. Their horizon remains stubbornly mid-night black.

Vote magnetism

Politicians have not won back public trust after the hideous screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal. Grow a shell back to protect from the inevitable sneers and insults.  Build on the lingering goodwill of the loyal to establish your distinctive persona.  Individuality is prized over a party apparatchik image. Stress your out-of-politics hinterland. An accolade or two won in the ‘real world’ is worth years of distinction in the political pond life.

Candidates and the local parties know their patch.  The party nationally does not always know best. Use their advice sparingly filtering out the bland and banal statements of the Janet and John obvious written in patronising politics-speak. Only 8% read political leaflets. That’s not the % of voters but the % of party workers delivering them. Pictures always trump words. Invest lavishly in striking flattering pictures of the candidate and the constituency. Insist on a pleasing clean design layout where generous white space highlights images and is more eloquent than a thousand words.

Attune your antennae to the constituency’s mood. An impression made in the months before the election is more influential than a blizzard of propaganda during the final campaign. Seek to build a reputation on the bread and butter local issues.  Convince voters that you are linked umbilically to the constituency: your knowledge encyclopedic, sensitivity bottomless, affection maternal and enthusiasm inspiring. Big up on non-political voters’ worries. Big-down on heavy-duty political mega-issues.

On the campaign trail in 2001, I told dramatist David Hare that I did not approach voters because they all recognise me and can chat if they wish. He reported for the Telegraph: 'As we walk round, I tell Flynn that, for my sake, he must put his principles aside and approach an actual voter. The chosen victim admits reluctantly that he’s going to vote Lib Dem. ‘Good for you,’ Flynn says. ‘They’re very good people.’

Hare was baffled. Shouldn’t I have persuaded him to vote for me? My explaining the 65 major points of Labour’s economic policy would only have inflicted earache on the poor man. Instead we had a pleasing social encounter and an intelligent chat. It might deliver a vote, if not immediately, perhaps the election after next. The novelty of telling the plain truth is the best way of nurturing the seed corn. Nobody expects that from a vote-glutton. Voters flee the candidate’s harangue as they would the Vulcan nerve-pinch. A distant friendly half-smile will suffice.

In Alun Michael’s first election, The Guardian reported that ‘the agent thinks he is the candidate and candidate thinks he is the agent’.  The roles must be precisely defined and boundaries respected. Tempers swiftly fray when candidates’ neuroses are tested by inevitable foul-ups.  Cultivate saintly tolerance, calm and a benign love for all. Beatification will beckon.

If your seat is an unwinnable nursery one, treasure and gorge on the apprenticeship experience. The impossibility of victory creates worry free bliss. I was once dumped in a distant Tory area with no chance of winning or understanding local issues in a five-week campaign. My sole ploy to make some impression was to re-cycle and re-word the editorials in the local papers and submit them back to their editors as press releases. It never failed.

Stress need not bother those contesting seats we won in 2010. There are no pushovers but victory this time is a safe bet. Conventional advice is to dodge election Hustings as they elevate weak opponents to potential winner status. Forget that. Accept all invitations and relish meeting and winning the respect of your future constituents.

The thrilling fights are in the marginals that we lost in 2010.  Think 1997.  Recall the great clutch of new MPs triumphant in seats the party centrally had written off.  May 2015 will be the high flood mark for floating voters looking for a safe harbour. The Tories will be sinking deeper into the flotsam of the failures of the Big Society, welfare changes, depressed wages and dozens of privatisations from prisons to passports that have created New Tory chaos.

The metamorphosis from PPC to MP is richly rewarding and fulfilling. Seize the chance!

 

When we are at home in Oxfordshire, my wife and I worship at St Mary’s in Bloxham. However, from time to time, we will find ourselves in London on a Sunday or coming to worship during the week and we just cross the road from where we live to St Gabriel’s Church in Pimlico.

Here is a Church dedicated to an Angel, who in turn has been made a Saint.

And this got me thinking about Angels.

Not least because there seem to be a large number of references to Angels in the Bible.

They are clearly important in both the Old and New Testament narratives.

So where have they gone?

Angels are mentioned more than three hundred times in the Bible.

Angels are described as Messengers of God.

The name “Angel” describes what they are for.

”Angel” comes from the Greek word for messenger which is Angelos.

So an Angel is someone who is sent as a Messenger by God.

Angels in the Bible work in both Heaven and Earth.

Indeed there is an angelic hierarchy.

So Psalm 8 verse 5, describes the relative position of Angels and People and says that God has made them – that is us – people:

“A little lower than the Angels”.

And in St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews – chapter 2 verse 7 – Paul asserts that God who makes both human beings and Angels came to live amongst us as a human being in the person of Jesus where:

“Thou madest him a little lower than the Angels; Thou crowned Him with glory and honour and did set him over the works of Thy hands”.

So in the celestial hierarchy, the Angels are between us and God.

Angels in the Bible who are named include Gabriel – the messenger who gave Mary the news that she was to bear Jesus – and Michael the Arch Angel.

Other Angels mentioned include the two men who warned Lot of Sodom and Gomorrah’s impending destruction, the multitude who announced Christ’s arrival to the shepherds, the Angel who escorted John in the Book of Revelations and defeated Satan.

It was Angels who comforted Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening before his Crucifixion.

Abraham and Lot both met with Angels.

An Angel wrestles with Jacob and an Angel guides Tobit.

Guardian Angels are mentioned as beings who protect individuals or nations in both the Old and New Testaments.

And finally, it was an Angel or Angels – depending on which Gospel one reads – at the empty tomb who announced Christ’s Resurrection.

Angels enable us to show our longing for beings who are more powerful than ourselves and who care for us.

Angels enable us to demonstrate our desire to know that we are not the only rational and feeling beings in the Universe.

All of us are a mixture of the spiritual and the earthly.

Of course we are physical beings, earth bound in our perception and actions but we also have a spiritual aspect as our consciousness of ourselves and our perception of spirituality and divinity are reflections of the spiritual sides of our natures.

We become aware at a very early age that we have a spiritual side.

A favourite story of my mother’s was that when her father died when he was just 56 and my mother was in turn a young mother with two young children, who had already previously lost her own mother to TB when her mother was in her early thirties – so understandably my mother was somewhat bereft – one day shortly after my grandfather had died, she was taking my younger brother and I for a walk and burst into floods of tears.

I think I must have been about 5.

I don’t pretend to have been in any way precocious, I think this was just my early childhood impression because I said to my mother “Don’t cry Mummy, Granddad’s body is in Jesus’s garden but his sink is with Jesus”.

My mother turned to me and said – I think slightly gruffly in her distress:

“What are you talking about Tony, what do you mean his sink. Don’t be stupid – his sink!

To which I apparently responded slightly indignantly “His sink” and then tapping my head vigorously “his sink what he sinks with”.

So even at a very early age, I think children all of us recognise that we are both physical beings and spiritual entities.

- and it is as spiritual beings for which Angels have some considerable interest and fascination.

Our culture tends to have a particular perception of what Angels look like – with the exception of Gabriel and Michael generally androgynous or possible female looking, tall with elegant large golden wings and halos.

The other day I was sent a brochure for personalised charity Christmas cards for 2014. The early pages in the catalogue were understandably devoted to pictures of religious themes.

A sizeable proportion of those cards were devoted to Angels.

There was a card described as Angel Musicians and there was another card described as Musician Angels.

There was a card of an Angel playing a viola. There was a card of a Choir of Angels showing six Angels playing various musical instruments.

There were two different cards of the Angel of the Annunciation and a card entitled “Unto us a Child is Born” which had Mary and Jesus, slightly bizarrely just two Kings, four shepherds and seven Angels!

I think our perception of what Angels look like is because in the Christmas story, the Angels seem to be particularly apparent around the time of Jesus’s birth.

If you Google the phrase “Do not be afraid” up pops St Luke chapter 2 verse 10:

“but the Angel said to them

do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people”.

This was the Angels visiting the group of shepherds minding their flock in a field.

If you recall, there was a very bright light associated with the Angel’s appearance.

Not surprising that the shepherds would be afraid.

- that when the Angel appeared in front of the shepherds, he was surrounded by “the Glory of the Lord”.

The sense was of a very bright entity – indeed the shepherds’ eyes seem to have been so preoccupied with the brightness of the light that it took them for a little while for what the Angels were saying to sink in.

But judging by the number of times the phrase:

“Do not be afraid”

is used by Angels, if someone comes up to you and says “Do not be afraid”, I think one should ask is this possibly an Angel.

So that Luke 1 verse 13:

“that the Angels said to him Do not be Afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to call him John”.

And just a little later in the same chapter – St Luke, chapter 1 verse 30 “but the Angel said to her Do not be Afraid Mary, you have found favour with God”.

I think a perception has grown up that Angels were bright, large, dazzling and beings of which one should be afraid.

I suspect one of the reasons why Renaissance artists or Victorian artists or writers described Angels as glorious figures in white with bright light and large wings rather than looking like people simply like you and I is that of course artistically it is much more interesting depicting apocalyptic Angels.

Indeed a brilliant example of this genre is William Turner’s picture of the Angel standing in the sun, first exhibited five years before Turner’s death.

It is a compelling image.

It is apocalyptic and beautiful but it is of an Angel with large wings in the middle of the picture holding a sword and in the sky there are birds – possibly vultures (certainly birds of prey) circling – and below there are people but it is not clear whether they are burning, in flames or what is happening to them – it is a mystery but it is clear that Turner imagined that one would only see Angels if something dreadful was about to happen.

In fact, almost all references to Angels in the Bible are to wingless beings who have taken on the form of a man.

A winged female Angel is mentioned only once in the Old Testament in Zechariah chapter 5 verse 9 – otherwise Angels always seem to appear as male rather than female.

Moreover, many more of these Angel visits recorded in the Bible, the Messengers appear very ordinarily in the form of men.

There is an example in Genesis, chapter 18 – Abraham welcomes three Angelic guests who appear at first to be nothing more than some travellers.

And in the very next chapter, two Angels went to Sodom where they are assumed to be simply a pair of human visitors.

Abraham “…sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.

He lift up his eyes and looked and lo three men stood by him and when he saw them he ran to meet them from the tent door and bowed himself towards the ground. The three men were Messengers they carry a message from God.

They carry information about the future which could not be known through any other means that the child of Abraham and Sarah’s is to be the centre of the promises between God and Abraham.

These Angel Messengers are entirely ordinary in everything except that the message that they bring.

Jacob wrestled with an Angel.

An Angel which is not immediately distinguishable from any human being.

Jacob has done well since cheating on his brother Esau.

The time has come for the two brothers to meet up again.

Jacob sent all his party on ahead to the meeting place with presents for Esau doubtless hoping to placate his brother before they meet – and as Genesis chapter 32 verse 24 says

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until day break”,

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said “Let me go for the day is breaking” but Jacob said “I will not let you go unless you vest me”

So he said to him “What is your name?” and he said “Jacob”.

Then the man said:

“You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”

The fact is that Angels are everywhere in the Bible bringing messages – they have a sense of being strong, joyful and reassuring – and very often Angels in the Bible look just like you and I.

The Angels are entirely ordinary in everything except the messages that they bring.
Not surprising there is an old adage that we should be careful in case we find we are “entertaining Angels unaware”.

After all if Angels can be mistaken for human beings, then how do we know that the human beings that we are talking to aren’t really Angels.

William Blake in his poem “Holy Thursday” said

“Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green
Grey headed beadles walk’d before with wands as white as snow
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seem’d these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to Heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an Angel from your door

Then cherish pity, lest you drive an Angel from your door.

I think a contemporaneous explanation of Blake’s poem is that on Holy Thursday, i.e. Ascension Day, a somewhat clean scrubbed charity children of the City of London flow like a river towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

They are dressed in bright colours doubtless of Bluecoat schools and similar.

They march two abreast supervised by “grey headed beadles”.

(we all remember the beadles from Dickens’ Oliver Twist).

Once they are seated in St Paul’s Cathedral, the children form a vast multitude.

They remind the writer of a company of lambs sitting by the thousands and raising their innocent hands in prayer.

They then begin to sing sounding like a “mighty wind” or “harmonious thunderings” while their guardians, “the aged men” stand by.

And the writer moved by the pathos of the vision of these poor orphan children in Church urges the reader to remember that such urchins as these are actually probably Angels of God.

And that is where I am.

So I think the truth is that most Messengers from God – most Angels – probably look just like you and I.

Like the Angels that came to Abraham.

Nothing to distinguish them from any other traveller.

I suspect that there could be a couple of Angels in this room today.

How would we know?

So the consequence of this is I often find myself musing as I go around the underground that maybe the elderly lady sitting in a seat opposite is an Angel.

Is the particularly vexatious person in my constituency surgery really an Angel in disguise to check that I haven’t lost my sense of humanity.

Likewise the woman who comes up to me begging in the street in India or the Big Issue seller on the High Street in Banbury.

Is the patient in the hospital ward that needs help with personal feeding

– are all of these Angels in disguise to check our humanity?

The elderly lady living on her own – is she really an Angel in disguise checking on behalf of God who goes to visit her and care for her?

I fully appreciate that it is somewhat of a fantasy to be speculating which face in the crowd might belong to an Angel, which person in need might in truth be a Messenger from God but I also think that this approach makes a broader point – and sometimes may help us get matters into perspective.

Because I think there is a broader issue here for all of us.

We live in a world where modern communications – television, text, mobile telephone, radio, the internet – all combine social media, all combine the way which ensures that we are all – each and every day – confronted with the worst and the most terrible things that are happening anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Beheadings.

Crucifixions.

Mass kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Mass bombings of families and children in Gaza.

Mass murder in Syria.

Although we can – and I am sure all do – have views on such terrible events, I think we are all conscious that there is a limit to what any of us can individually do at any particular moment to bring relief to those who are suffering, to provide succour to those who are distressed or to abate in justice.

And I think there is a risk that because we feel powerless to deal with these big and desperate issues with which we are daily confronted, we give up altogether on trying to make a difference, on trying to be the change.

However, nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus or Paul exhort us to take on and solve the problems of the whole world.

We were given a rather more limited and immediate responsibility.

To love our neighbours ourselves.

Or rather more graphically as we remind you in St Matthew, chapter 25, the conversation goes something like this:

“Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink?”

“When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, naked and clothe you, sick or in prison and go to see you?”

The Lord will answer:

“I tell you solemnly in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these you neglected to do it to me”.

And they will go away to eternal punishment and the virtuous to eternal life.

The fact is that all of us in our daily lives can be catalysts for good.

- whether it is befriending someone who is lonely or helping someone who is elderly and perhaps can’t do everything that they used to do;
- volunteering in a food bank;
- helping a local social enterprise or charity

Indeed Church-goers throughout England every week give millions of hours of voluntary service to help others.

I don’t think that they always know it but I suspect that in doing so they are more likely to meet Angels.

These are not Angels in disguise.

We are not going to see a fiery Angel with big wings and a bright glow and a shimmering sword storming into our kitchen telling us to measure up to what is expected of us.

No these will be Angels that will look just like anybody else.

Just like us.

I suspect that God’s Messengers look very ordinary, which is why we don’t necessarily notice them.

So as we go about our lives, trying each in our own humble way as we catalyst for change, we should take confidence from the thought that however humble our service, however limited what we can do – if we are seeking to help others we are likely to meet Angels.

So if there is anyone who in any way doubts the existence of Angels, can I in conclusion remind such doubters that Jesus himself confirmed their existence.

Matthew chapter 18 verse 10 – “Take heed he despised not one of these little ones for I say unto you, in Heaven their Angels to always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven”

Or in the English standard version:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones for I tell you that in Heaver, their Angels always see the face of my Father who is in Heaven”.

Rt. Hon. Sir Tony Baldry
MP for Banbury
Second Church Estates Commissioner

I was very pleased to read recently about the positive impact that the Government’s special educational needs (SEN) reforms are already having on families. An independent report which has been commissioned following the implementation of a pilot pathfinder programme of the measures (run across 31 councils) suggests that these reforms are already significantly assisting those families who have children suffering from SENs.

The Government’s new SEND package includes a number of reforms to the existing system. Importantly, one of these is the replacement of SEND statements and learning disability assessments with a new birth to 25 education, health and care plan –setting out in one place all the support families will receive. I imagine it could be confusing about the support available to families trying to look after a child who has an educational disability, but the provision of one care plan should help simplify this. Another of the reforms is for the requirement for better co-operation between councils and health services so that the provision of services are jointly commissioned; this should help with a more joined up approach and ensuring a care plan is properly implemented. Personal budgets are also to be offered to parents and young people with education and health and care plans. This way families can be in control over the support and have more of a say about the decisions affecting their child’s future.

The reforms are already being received favourably. This bodes well when the Government’s SEND reforms are rolled out across the rest of the country imminently. Those interested in finding out more can do so by clicking here.


Quite a few people are unhappy with politics. In Scotland this has resulted in 45% of the country voting for independence with all of its potential problems.  I see that as being in part driven by increased alienation from politics more generally. I am in the end pleased that they have voted to remain part of the UK although I don't like the Barnet Formula.   I also support proposals to
Last week I attended the formal opening of a new extension at the Gooseberry Bush Nursery at Rosemellin. It has enabled them to expand their provision for two year old toddlers, open a cafe for young parents to meet and support one another, create more room for their breakfast club for children at both the nursery and Rosemellin School as well as provide additional space for the Children's Centre. They also had some new gardens and outdoor adventure play space.

I first met Gill Smith, the founder of the nursery, about three years ago and became persuaded of the overwhelming importance of early years support along the lines provided by Gooseberry Bush and others like it. We know that the first three years of a child's life are the most formative. Unless they learn to communicate, to share, to explore and to socialise with other children then they will often start school behind their peers and struggle to catch up for their rest of their childhood.

We have some amazing primary and secondary schools in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle areas but there has been a worrying trend. Virtually all head teachers in primary schools tell me that over the last twenty years or so they have seen a persistent rise in the number of children in need of speech and language therapy or other forms of intervention when they start in reception class.

The reasons for this growing problem are no doubt varied, but those like Gill Smith who understand these things point to problems caused by modern technology as being at least one of the contributing factors because it has changed the way some parents engage with their babies. In the past, prams would face back towards the mother so that a toddler had visual contact with their parents and there could be eye contact and plenty of verbal engagement. Now, it is most common for prams to face forwards so there is less such contact and parents are often on their mobile phones. These days, when a baby smiles for the first time, rather than see that engagement reciprocated, he or she is just as likely to see a camera phone put in front of them so parents can capture the moment.

The government has recently extended free childcare for low income families with two year old children in recognition of the fact the younger we offer support, the greater the impact. We also need to do more to help parents before children reach two and consider extending the support for toddlers beyond fifteen hours per week. Things like breakfast clubs also have a role to play by making sure children are eating well and teaching them to sit around a table and socialise and, yes, hold a knife and fork properly

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.
I've spoken to many people in Hyndburn who have told me that they are struggling to cope with the hated bedroom tax, introduced by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in Westminster. In the North West alone over 75,411 people have been affected – by far the highest of any region in the country.   This is a policy that unfairly hits hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, such as those with

Whichever way the Scots vote today, things will never be quite the same again.

Either Scotland votes to become an independent country, or – in order to save the Union – Scotland will have been promised what amounts to internal self government, or devo max.

Back in 2009, Daniel Hannan and I co-authored a book called The Plan, which suggested giving each of the different parts of the United Kingdom a form of devo max. What a pity that the option was never even included on the ballot paper.

My old party, the Conservatives, paid lip service to localism, but did little beyond toying with these ideas. By not making the changes, they have rather lost the ability to shape the change when it happens. How very sad.
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Herds of MPs and ministers are now wandering around Clacton. Balloons are being handed out. Local residents are being told, in friendly yet firm tones, that their views matter.

My own campaign team is made up of the "little platoons". Older folk from Holland-on-Sea take the bus to pick up leaflets. Sixth formers from Frinton put up window posters.

We seem to be holding our own against the big, corporate parties who have descended on us from Westminster. But we need more help. If you are reading this, and are a supporter, please come to Clacton this Saturday.
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MPs in Westminster, as we all know, are beholden to their party whips. Whips decide who gets made a minister. They select who sits on various committees.

Yet the whip's power ultimately comes from their ability to remove the whip from an MP. Lose the whip, and unless you grovel and get it back, you forfeit the right to stand for your party.

But what if MPs could sack the whips, rather than whips sack MPs? Suddenly the whips might lose their ultimate sanction. Shock, horror – MPs might then begin to represent those that elected them, rather than do the whips bidding.

Come to Clacton – help take on the whips!
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The jam making season in Essex is here again. I've not, alas, had much time to think about blackberries and pectin.

I have given a pot of last year's quince jelly to help raise funds for my new party at their conference in Doncaster. The label proudly says "Made in Essex".
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The Scottish referendum campaign also seems to mark the moment when the whole of the United Kingdom at last woke up to a stark, uncomfortable possibility; perhaps that cozy, complacent clique in Westminster, whose business is to govern us, aren't that good at it?

Those in SW1 ignore big public policy questions for as long as possible. Then, when forced to, they make key decisions on the hoof. They fail to think things through. Tactics are mistaken for strategy.

Surely we can do better than this?

Mark Reckless MP and local Conservatives in a joint letter have called on the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to reject the proposals green lighted by Medway Council’s planning committee to develop Lodge Hill. You can read the letter here:

Letter to Eric Pickles

It’s been a proud day for Swindon to see the first group of young people begin their studies at our new University Technical College. The fantastic campus at the heart of the Railway Village represents a £10million investment both in…
  The new school term started last week and so did the Lib Dem policy of providing every child in infant school in England with a free school meal. If […]
It was a real pleasure to welcome Alameda Middle School to Parliament yesterday. I hope they all enjoyed the tour despite getting stuck in traffic on the way down the M1. Our question and answer session was lively, fun and challenging for me! The y...

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.

Member of Parliament for Norwich North, Chloe Smith, today highlighted in the Commons the impact of business rates on small businesses in Norwich and Broadland. Chloe recently met the owner of...

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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

 Chair:
• Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test and PRASEG Chair.

Panel:
• 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

 

 

 


wynyard hospitalJames needs to know what you think before a decision is taken.

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:

www.jameswharton.co.uk/hospital/

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.

read more

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.

 


So, avid readers will notice that I've been a little absent in the blogging world over the past few months.  I've been busy, which isn't an excuse as we are all busy, I know, but writing a blog can't be top on the list of my priorities so posts on here have fallen by the wayside a little bit, sorry.

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!
In politics you get very used to promises and pledges; there's always a lot of talk and if something goes wrong, the emergency response is often to have yet another meeting or 'write a report '. It always reminds me of a certain scene in The Life of Brian ( fans will know which one I mean). Recently the national papers exposed not just my thighs in a picture of me in my old work outfit of a red swimming cozzy, but the fact I used to work on Cornish beaches as a surf life guard. In that line of work, talk cannot replace Action. So it is especially good to see actual physical action happening in re-opening the Lamplighters Pub. In a welcome break from paperwork, Cllr Wayne Harvey and I rolled up our sleeves and got busy in renovating the pub. Still a long way to go, but great to see Kathie and Dominic Gundry-White actually getting something done and bringing our pub back to life! 

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 […]

The post Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute appeared first on Rory Stewart.


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.

One of the welcome features of the new expenses system is that constituents can see all expenses claims online here, including everything from claims for rent on the constituency office, office phone bills or standard class rail tickets to Wesminster.

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.
Shadow Fisheries Minister Tom Harris has welcomed a campaign by representatives of the smaller fishing industry to win a fairer share of UK fishing quotas.

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.
I recently organised a meeting with a number of local residents about the upkeep and maintenance of Kew Bridge Railway Station. I met with representatives from Strand on the Green Association, St George's, Kew Green, The Kew Bridge Society, Express Tavern, West Thames River Group, a disability interest group, Friends of Stile Hall Gardens, Brentford Community Council and Network Rail.
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 Miller, MP for Basingstoke, has welcomed the Localism Bill published by the Government on 13 December. The Bill will give individuals, groups, and their local councils a much greater say in decisions affecting their local communities.

 

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.”

 

Starting with a Bang

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.
Desperate to prove they are doing something about the rising toll of deaths from guns and knives the government have resorted to the old idea of an "amnesty." This will enable a few aging war veterans who collected a "souvenir" and some farmers who forgot to renew their shotgun licenses to hand over guns that would never have been used for any kind of crime. Some of the younger "wannabe" gansters may also find that their weapons, usually replicas, are handed in by angry mothers.

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.