Sunday, October 31, 2004

X Factor!

Gemma (daughter) is home for the weekend and very excited by this programme. We are now all avidly watching the progress of G4 because Ben was (along with Gemma) a member of the Kings College London Gilbert and Sullivan Society and I have seen him in his role as Nanki Poo!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

On the Stump

There is a local council by-election in the constituency so the door knocking has become more concentrated.
Today was glorious weather and a good feeling on the door step. Last night was not nearly so much fun and I now know why elections are held in May. I looked and felt like a drowned rat and the canvass info was smudging everywhere . Not fun but as it was pouring down I was reminded of Jody Dunn's blog (when she canvassed on a dreary evening) and can report that I did not come across anyone drunk, half dressed or accompanied by an angry dog - nor did I expect to. .

I am one of those strange beasts who loves canvassing and talking to people. The perceived wisdom that it is only an exercise in voter identification but I guess I enjoy talking to people too much. I think if people have something they want to say to you then it is rude to cut them short but I am aware that some hardened political animals take great pleasure in detaining canvassers on the doorstep so sometimes a judgement call has to be taken.

Then, sometimes you come across someone who needs to talk because they have a problem or sometimes they are just plain lonely.

Friday, October 29, 2004

A reader who is not an angram or a pseudonym

Hello to Dave Lovell from the Ordnance Survey!
Nice to see a familiar face - The charming Dave works at the OS and has the dubious pleasure of dealing with me from time to time as part of his day job. It occured to me that he either gets paid for reading blogs of politicians or he blogs for pleasure and just can't stop thinking about work!
OS is not in my patch but a lot of its employees are so take a look at the web site as there is a lot of useful stuff on it. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly (I wasn't in the office at the time) Dave dropped around to give me a map of the constituency on the day after the by election victory.
How's that for service?

Men in Green (and women too)

I have developed a strong interest in the Ambulance Service - probably because one of the first issues I really got stuck into as an MP was ambulance response times. This was sparked by the death of a constituent in a remote area. The ambulance had taken well over the target time to reach the home and nobody knows whether the outcome would have been different had the ambulance arrived on time.
This happened in the village of Lockerley (a mobile phone free zone) and the villagers have been proactive in addressing some of the problems highlighted by the incident. They have introduced a first responder team and also improved street signing and tried to raise awareness that if your house has a name, rather than a numbe, then it is helpful if your house name is visible from the road.
I digress though - but the upshot is that I am now frequently contacted by ambulance personnel who want to "tell me what is going on".
This afternoon's meeting was interesting as it focussed on national issues rather than local ones. Number one on the agenda was, of course, money but the concerns appeared to be realistic ones.

Southampton City Council

Met with Brad Roynan (the CX) this morning to discuss issues connected with my part of Southampton (Bassett and part of Swaythling) but also some of the more general issues facing the Council.
I will pick up on some of the issues in future blogs but I was struck, as never before, by the number of pressures and thorny issues facing this council (many of them shared by others). The usual tale of lots of "must dos" from Central Government but little flexibility in how it can all be paid for - not helped by the direction from the Deputy Prime Minister that next year's Council Tax rises must be in low single figures or they will face being capped.
Could there be an election in the offing?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Walking in the Rain

Left Westminster early so that I could attend the LEAF event at Leckford. The Leckford Estate is, in effect, "The Waitrose Farm".
The Leckford Estate is now a show farm for LEAF - which aims to strike a balance between sustainability, profitability and being environmetally friendly and this achievement was being celebrated. Lord Selborne did the honours and then we all trekked off on a walk around the estate.
I was inappropriately dressed (suit, pale mac)- being on a tight timetable from London but as the boot of my car contains an emergency kit - including wellies - I didn't suffer too much. Once a Girl Guide always a Girl Guide.. Still, I think the guests who were constituents appreciated the slightly bizarre sight.

Performing poodles?

Earlier today I trekked over to Millbank (home of the Westminster media) to pre-record an interview for Meridian's Sunday programme. Partners in crime were - in the blue corner Nigel Waterson and in the Red corner - John Denham.
Subject? Proposed changes to trial by jury where Judges have more freedom to disclose prior convictions.
Interesting thing was that when the three politicians were chatting prior to broadcast there was hardly a cigarette paper to place between us. The interview went slightly differently as we all picked up on slightly different points and the viewer would have thought that we had real differences of opinion. We all knew that it would make really boring TV if we all said
"this is a bit if an old story"
"The judge has these powers already"
"could be opening the floodgates"

Perhaps - as honesty is the big thing at the moment we should have all agreed to agree and produced an extremely boring piece of television

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Most politically incorrect comment of the Day

David Heath during the Domestic Violence Bill commenting that "he woudn't buy a used car" from the Home Secretary. Seems to have forgotten that, for very good reasons, David Blunkett doesn't drive!

Messing around in the Commons

High Jinks around the Domestic Violence Bill and lots of messing around which seems impenetrable to the average outsider.
Let me try and explain.
We were mad. The Tories were mad. (Angry not crazy)
The reason?
A Home Office Press Release had announced a review on Murder - with a particular promise to look at so called "honour killings". A good thing but this release had been issued in the morning by the Home Secretary. Oh, and he also happened to mention that this initiative "had been announced during the Domestic Violence etc etc Bill"
But wait.
Discussion on the Bill didn't start until the early afternoon and there was no slot or amendment that seemed appropriate so the guess was that the Home Secretary was planning to come along for the Third Reading of the Bill and make his big announcement.

The mutterings started "Abuse of privelege" etc etc.
Then some clever soul (I think it was David Heath but may have been one of the Tories - Dominic Grieve or Cheryl Gillan) spotted that the timetabling of the discussion meant that we could scupper the Home Secretary's plans.

This is where it gets a bit nerdy. The Government love timetabling but this often means that discussion on certain areas of the Bill are limited. On controversial Bills there are suspicions that this is done by design rather than by accident.
The timetabling for this evenings business was odd as there was a cut off at 6:30 which only left half an hour for third reading (no time was given but there was a direction that the business should finish by 7).
A plan was hatched and suddenly a small amendment on "fitness to plead" attracted a lot more people wanting to speak and register their concern than otherwise might be expected. The ensuing vote took rather longer than might be expected and an extra vote was also called.

At this point the Home Secretary realised that he was not going to be able to make his big announcement and his face was a picture.

There followed numerous points of order, an impromptu vote on whether the house should sit in private (pure games by this time) and more points of order.

But the opposition benches were united in their indignation that Parliament was treated so lightly. In days of old (before my time in this place) Ministerial Announcements were made first and foremost to Parliament. Those days are rapidly going and we usually learn what is going on by listening to the Today programme.
Dangerous days for democracy when the Govenment hold Parliament in such disdain. If Parliament is to be taken seriously then perhaps we need to ensure that this is where "it happens" - not varying quirky press opportunities scattered around the capital.

Cutting The Mustard

Up at the crack of dawn to catch the train to Norwich as I was speaking at the National Care Homes association conference.
Decided not to be too party political as the provisional programme I had been sent had no mention of Labour or Tories (which I thought odd). When I arrived it was apparent that the other two parties had since confirmed. I decided to go ahead with what I had planned and my comments were well received although I expect that Stephen Ladyman, the Minister, didn't have quite such an easy time of it.
Ladyman's rhetoric seems to reveal that he has something against the care home sector and he is blindly passionate about something called Extra Care Sheltered Housing - Extra Care is a good thing but his blinkered attitude means that there is a gradual erosion of choice - beloved of Government in other areas of life but apparently not to be offered to the elderly.
The unfortunate thing was I had to turn back almost straightaway to London because of the Domestic Violence Bill.

In the end it was very frustrating as I only just arrived in time for the vote on the section around "protection of children and the vulnerable" so my colleague had had to cover for me. As the other parts of the Bill under discussion were sections that he had led on then I was left wondering why I had rushed back!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Domestic violence - your views

I am going to try something new but the timescales are probably a little short.
The Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Bill is back for its report stage in the House of Commons tomorrow.
Second reading is more appropriate to ask for comments but if there is anyone who has been vidly following the progress of this Bill and believes that there are points that have not been raised then please comment or e-mail.
I am not sure whether this is how people usefully use blogs but it strikes me that there is a potential for interaction.
Now off to prepare!


No - not a typo but some representatives from the UK Youth Parliament came to join in part of our Shadow Cabinet meeting today. Apparently a first for any political party but probably not surprising as we are smaller and have few hang ups about these things.
Very impressed with both Paul Dwyer (billed as the "young Charles Kennedy" - and was promptly challenged by some wag as to whether he was pregnant too) and Hannah Hedges who is our youngest parliamentary candidate.
What I particularly liked about them was that they were very relaxed about devolution and MYPs from each area were actively pursuing their priority policies.

Moments from the Monitor

Looked up last night and who should be speaking on the debate about Wind Farms? None other than Bob Blizzard

Back to business

Made a decision at the weekend that I was not going to comment on the "comments" on the blog. I may decide to pick up on points that people make but if anyone has any genuine queries I am always happy to be e-mailed at
The original aim of the blog was to inform, comment from Westminster etc so I shall try and get back to that.

Gidleywatch explained

Just for the record. Gidleywatch was set up by two individuals who were inspired to try to get MPs to blog! The individuals work under pseudonyms (anagrams of Sandra Gidley) and refused to reveal their identities to me. I have now discovered who one of them is - due to my skills as an amateur detective - but have no idea who the other is.

Will admit that it was with some trepidation that I logged on initially because I was aware of Libdemwatch which is entirely negative.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Oy, People, Leave my kids alone!

Politicians rapidly develop a thick skin ( But I am afraid to say that we still sometimes bleed) but few people give a thought to what it must be like if your mum or dad is a politician.

During the by election we had abusive phone calls to the home and my kids were on the receiving end of some of them. They learn to stick up for themselves at school etc but also feel that they "can't get into trouble" (good -says mum).

So, why the heck should my son have to put up with someone haranguing him about MP expenses? Especially when son knows that the consequence of my election means that I have been around less and he is not noticeably richer or supplied with more computer games!

By all means have a go at me - but leave my kids alone!

Our Expenses

Interesting reaction to the publication of expenses. The local media have been comparatively even handed with a recognition that we do deliver a service to constituents (probably because they are more aware of the sort of problems we regularly deal with) but some of the national media coverage has been very negative.

Eyebrows have been raised at some of the expenses and there have been two issues that have attracted more concern than others.

The biggie is the "London living allowance" and some of the MPs attracting the greatest flak are those within spitting distance of London who quite legitimately claim the allowance (and use central London accomodation). Most of the MPs bought or rented their flats when the sitting hours were longer and have found it convenient to keep them on. My personal view is that there will be increased pressure on this sort of allowance.

Less contentious (but with the potential to become more so) is the London living allowance for those who live within commutable distance. I suppose that I fall into that category as the journey is an average of two hours from home to office.I know that there are huge numbers of people locally who undertake what amounts to a four hour daily commute but I also know that I am far more productive because I don't have to do the journey every day. It all begs the question of what we want from our MPs (who are really public servants)

It isn't that great living in London and the reality (for me and a number of my colleagues) is that we tend to work in our Westminster offices until 10ish anyway, share a taxi back to our flats (not at public expense), frequently taking papers home to read for the next day.

The other interesting area has been the huge variations in postage and the comments of some of the highest scoring MPs that they "consult" their constituents regularly. This is interesting because my interpretation of the rules has always been that we cannot use parliamentary envelopes to write to people unless they have written to us first - or there is a clear constituency interest. It is obviously important to prevent mass mailings of party political propoganda.
So - you can imagine my surprise when Gordon Brown (in his capacity as Chancellor) wrote to MPs recently suggesting that we write to bodies in our constituency to inform them about X. Gordon may be a canny scot and prudent to boot but my interpretation was that this was not a proper use of parliamentary funds and the Treasury should be disseminating the information.

It is all as clear as mud but I do beleive that, despite the occasional raised eyebrow, the vast majority of MPs are not gaining personally from their allowances.

Local Democracy Week

The three Southampton MPs (my patch includes a part of Southampton) and three Southampton councillors were invited to Woolston school for a question and answer session with young people.

The young people concerned were all year 10 (age 14 to 15) and included representatives from a number of schools in the city. Questions ranged from what the plans were for Western Shore (I passed on that one as it is not in my patch) to "You all say that you make a difference but how can you prove it?"

Pitching these things at the right level is the challenge - an adult patronises at their peril but has to make the answer relevant. Can't have been too bad as a number of young lads gave me the thumbs up sign as I mixed in with them at the end of the event.

Either I connected with them on some level or I was showing too much leg. Hopefully it was the former.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Breakthrough Breastcancer

Nice relaxed drop in breakfast this morning in aid of this worthy charity and managed to raise over £100 for the cause. Now back to work

Romsey Advertiser

Well the blog has made the front page but it is a pity that all links to the Conservative candidates web log have been withdrawn and the blog appears to have been taken offline. Now, no one will be able to come to an informed decision about whether either of us can afford to take the moral highground.
So much for openness and transparency. We know what has been said - it is a shame that others are not in the same position.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The beautiful game -- and its players

Managed to arrive at St Mary's Stadium in reasonable time for The Princes Trust award evening for the South East.
I think I had been invited because I had shown an interest in the Trust following a presentation on some of the Prince's charities at Clarence House. It was good to be on Terry Ryall's table as I had met her when she used to be involved with the Guide Association (Irish, very lively and passionate about the potential of young people) and it was also good to see the involvement of Rupert Lowe - the Chairman of Saints.

Felt rather daft though when a young man plonked himself down next to me after shaking hands with everyone at the table and I asked who he was (in my defence he was not wearing a name badge) and whether the rather smart Saints shirt should give me a clue. He very modestly pointed out his name in the programme and I realised that I was sitting next to local legend James Beattie. Clang!

He turned out to be a very engaging young man who was brilliant with all the young fans and very nice about people and the only dangerous moment was when another dinner guest asked, "So is your life really like footballers wives?"
The reponse "I take it that isn't a serious question" was politely said but I suspect that this is a rather tedious question (for him) that is in danger of being asked once too often. Moved the conversation onto safer ground and it turns out that he is a constituent!

It is very nice meeting household names (I hope James is fully recovered and playing for England again soon) but the real stars of the evening were the young people who had been nominated for awards by the Trust. Some had overcome real adversity and others had displayed amazing business acumen. It was one of those evenings when I left an event feeling all was right with the world.

Continuing Care

After all the uncertainty of yesterday and where I had to be at six o'clock it was a relief to be able to come back to Hampshire for a meeting at the Strategic Health Authority and fulfil a commitment to a constituent.
I will not go into great detail on the problems of obtaining continuing care funding here but suffice to say that a number of constituents have been dismayed at the results of assessments of loved ones which mean that people who have dementia and considerable health problems are forced to find some of the funding for their care. The system is unfair and there is a great lack of transparency about how decisions are made.
The upshot of the meeting is that my constituent now (at last) has a clear timetable for action and I have been asked to go along to discuss more general aspects of the problem with the health authority as they are in the process of redesigning and reviewing the system. Hopefully I will be able to provide some useful input.

It's blogging war! Oh no it isn't!

A chunk of the morning has been wasted in dealing with the press who wanted me to comment on my political opponents press release which accused me of personal attacks on her.
A case of the kettle calling the pot black methinks.
My staff have read every posting on her blog and been irritated by the many snide comments (frequently aimed at me) on it. I commented yesterday that there might be an opportunity to compare two blogging candidates in the lead up to the next election.
It seems I spoke too soon as her blog has disappeared and by strange coincidence the square on the local Tory website, linking to "Caroline's Diary" has been removed.

It will be interesting to see if it reappears - and if it has whether it has been edited in any way.

She is quite right when she says that the public are turned off personal attacks in politics but there are occasions when comparisons of viewpoints are legitimate. No one occupies the moral high ground in this arena but I am torn between ending this blog in one of two ways.

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"

or "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen"

Dogs Bogs and Bins

A previous Head of Environmental Health at Test Valley Borough Council frequently maintained that all you had to do to keep the public happy was deal with the above.
i.e. Deal with dog waste problem
Keep the public loos clean and open at the right times
Make sure the bins are emptied.

I thought he was being trite and flippant but the longer I deal with the public the more I realise that he had a very good point.

With this in mind I had tabled a question to Defra about recycling in Southampton - It came up at number 15 so I wasn't expecting to be called but I went along to the Chamber anyway as there were some interesting questions.

Things went way and I was able to put the question but was disappointed that the Minister did not state his party's commitment to recycling but defended the petty politicking that has gone on on Southampton City Council.

That's politics I suppose.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Children, Young People and MAternity

As our health spokesman is away I had been deputed to speak in the debate on the National Service Framework. This is generally regarded as a "good thing" but there are some genuine concerns about how this will be implemented and whether it will become a priority of the Primary Care Trusts. The phrase "motherhood and apple pie" springs to mind.

We witnessed the slightly unusual spectacle of the same Government Minister (Stephen Ladyman) opening the debate and summing up on behalf of the Government but no one is quite sure why this was.

There was also the slightly more surreal note introduced by Andrew Lansley - the Tory Health Spokesman - who complained that his speech could have been better but his 18month old had scribbled on the original. Clearly a discerning individual with a great future ahead of her!!!!

Not the most contentious debate in the history of parliament but an important one nonetheless.

A policeman's lot

Meeting with the Police Authority today as there was a mass lobby of parliament. Hampshire were meeting in relative comfort as Sally, in my office, had booked a committee room for the afternoon but most other areas were found lurking in available corners around parliament.
The issue is the usual one of a potential deficit in funding (as featured on the Today programme). I can't speak for the Labour MPs (only because I haven't had a chance to catch up with them) but MPs of both other colours will be actively pursuing this issue. We may have political differences but all are agreed that the police need to be adequately funded for the services they need to provide.

Troops in Iraq 2

Apparently something is not afoot after all as we are now all allowed back to our constituencies and plan A1 has been put into effect so presumably something else if afoot. As I missed tonight's parliamentary party meeting due to duties on the bench I expect I shall find out tomorrow but I do not like being messed around by people - life is too short.

Today's PMQs

Atmosphere seemed strangely flat despite Bob Russell trying his best to liven things up. Labour whips were out in force standing behind the bar of the HOuse and heckling at every opportunity.
Only one phrase really stood out and those were Tony Blair's when he said that "The Black Watch would be home by Christmas".

I do hope those words do not come back to haunt him. As Ming Campbell said to me, "That's what they said in 1914"

Troops in Iraq

Something is afoot as we were all paged last night and asked to make ourselves available for a vote on troops in Iraq at 6pm onThursday.
As far as I can see the only item on the agenda is an adjournment debate on "Defence in the World" (I bet the powers that be are regretting the scheduling of that one) and we don't usually vote at the end of an adjournment debate.
I suspect Erskine May is being scanned and heads are being put together to work out how some vote can be achieved but the details are so far hazy.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

My opponent blogs too!

OK - now that the cat is clearly out of the bag - I will admit that my Conservative party opponent is a blogger too. Her blog is full of scintillating insights such as " I put my feet up this weekend" and a list of her meetings with..... other Tories!
It is fair to say that her efforts were part of the reason that many people thought a blog was a complete waste of time and tried to dissuade me.
It is also interesting to note that after a period which clearly displayed a lack of interest and some very lacklustre postings she has suddenly become re-energised. Could it be that she is aware of my blog?

Ultimately - we have the potential here for the first blogging dialogue and the facility for the electorate to compare their candidates.

Here goes.

Recently she made a snippy little comment that "It is very disappointing that when the leader of the County Council invited the Lib Dem MPs for the area to attend a similar briefing they declined."

Um actually she should get her facts right. An invitation went out at relatively short notice and most of us had constituency engagements which we were reluctant to turn down. The meeting was an all party one and was cancelled because of general "lack of interest". As the vast majority of Hampshire MPs are Tory I really don't think my opponent is in any position to take the moral high ground.

She has also completely overlooked the fact that MPs have numerous sources of information at their disposal and not just the County Council.

In future any such silly and ill-informed comments will be robustly challenged.

Age Concern in Wimborne

Most of the day was spent travelling to and from Wimborne. Had been invited to take part in the "challenging our futures" conference which had been arranged by Age Concern.

Very often these occasions turn into a bit of a rant with everyone talking about how hard they are done by but this occasion was very challenging as the workshops in the morning had generated some very thought provoking questions.

Underpinning the whole day was the strong feeling that, despite many people's best efforts, older people do not feel that they are adequately consulted about the services that affect them.


"We can sing a song about that"
although I have to say that the members of the British Healthcare Trades Association didn't look remotely like Village People.

I had been invited to one of their parliamentary dinners along with MArk Oaten and Michael Meacher. Michael and I have constituency interests and mine is a firm called Talley medical who specialise in pressure relieving mattresses and various other devices.

It was a pleasant evening but we were only really just starting to get to grips with the issues and concerns about the new purchasing arrangements when we were interrupted by the Divison Bell. This is something I shall be following up as it seems that no one in parliament is taking much interest in the issue. A big fuss is made if someone can't obtain the medicine of their choice but people don't seem to get quite so excited about medical devices. Odd when you consider that if people are properly equipped their quality of life can greatly improve.

Tales from the surgery 1

My first ever attempt at an open surgery was a disaster with lots of people coming along "just to have a look" at their newly elected MP. I felt like a prize exhibit in a zoo.

Since then my surgeries have been appointment only but frequently the problem can be sorted without an appointment.

Yesterday was a mixed bad including NHS dentists(how do you know they are telling the truth if they recommend an expensive treatment that is only available privately), NHS continuing care (battle to obtain), speed cameras (who is accountable to whom - it seems like another virtuous circle), discrimination against the homeless (I am still not sure whether a guy who is living in his car can be classified as a constituent but if I don't tey and help him who will) and a guy who wanted to talk to me about the effect of the moon on the weather. The last chap sent his apologies for not turning up but I am left pondering. MPs can do many things but I am not sure what effect I can have on the moon....

Farewell to Jack

I have been attending far too many funerals over the summer and yesterday it was time to pay my last respects to Jack Kemish who had been an independent councillor for Abbey Ward in Romsey.
It was nice to see such a good turnout in the Abbey - not just the great and the good but a lot of the people Jack had worked with over a number of years.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Political Honesty - A no win situation?

I recently took part in Question Time and one of the questions to panellists was whether we would prefer Bush or Kerry to win. It seemed like a fairly straightforward question and as the first question in the programme had been about honesty I gave a straightforward answer. Geoff Hoon and Liam Fox fudged with "we have to work with whoever is in power".
I don't think either of them answered the question.

I was somewhat surprised to read a letter in a local paper criticising me for not fudging the issue in a similar way.
It seems as if I am damned if I give a straightforward answer and damned if I don't. Sometimes I find the whole thing completely frustrating.

Keeping in touch

Spent part of the morning with some of the Valley Park and North Baddesley councillors. It is important to keep a perspective on local issues because local councils have such an effect on everyday lives. I feel much better informed about those parts of the constituency where there are Lib Dem councillors even though I have regular meetings with Council Leaders and Officers.

The job is made particularly difficult in the Romsey constituency because my patch covers part of four Councils. Test Valley Borough Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council.

At one stage I had councils of every political colour so if they all complained to me about the same issue then I knew that there was a problem and not just party politicking.

Conrad Russell - some personal memories

Reams seem to have been written about Conrad and we will all miss him dearly.
My first encounter with him was when he was the guest speaker at a constituency dinner. He was one of those people who you can guarantee will be engaging, stimulating and interesting.

I was also aware of him at a Conference when I attended a number of sessions on women in politics (I was trying to decide whether I should take the first step on the road to being an MP). He was often the only man in the room so he stood out just a little.

I first spoke to him during the by election campaign where he bent my ear about beta interferon for MS. Conrad was very engaging and he never got much canvassing done because his natural interest in people got in the way and he was very good at listening to people and acting on their concerns. He also never passed up an opportunity to share a cigarette with someone!

My favourite recollection of Conrad is during a Party Conference. The speaker (who remains unremembered) was ranting about eccentric peers. Cue Conrad, shambling through the Hall and carrying a carrier bag bulging with papers. I seem to recall that it was a Waitrose bag for life.

He lived in the Brent East constituency and I know that he was delighted to live in a Liberal Democrat constituency. The only shame was that he didn't live in one for longer.

Banned from Politics!

Joined some friends to make up a quiz team for the Scouts' District Quiz. A well attended and well organised event but the quiz had a slight twist. Each team was able to nominate a round that the adjoining team had to sit out of. Needless to say, I was spotted and my team were barred from participating in the politics round!

We came a very close second and there was the usual analysis of how we could have won if only we had listened to X instead of Y at any particular juncture. It was a fun evening.

Regional Conference

After a spell in Chilbolton arrived for the Lib Dem Regional Conference in plenty of time to deliver my speech.
The theme of the conference was "preparing fro the General Election" and there were lots of people attending training as well as listening to what was happening in the main Auditorium.

My speech was appropriately themed but I saw with my dismay that I was on shortly after lunch and after a riveting session on Constitutional Amendments! The fun never ends in the Liberal Democrats!!!

Decided to keep the speech light in tone and everyone laughed and applauded where they were supposed to (plus some applause I hadn't anticipated). Stayed afterwards to network and listen to Simon Hughes deliver the final speech.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A new campaigning tool!

Came across something called Votergasm in The Times this morning. I am a bit slow and have just realised that the title of the post is a bit of a double entendre.

And to think that I thought the electorate would be happy with FOCUS.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A tale of three schools

There is jubilation that the Romsey Infant and Junior Schools have been saved and the proposal for a joint school has been accepted. After my initial meetings with Officers at the County Council I believed that there was a fair chance of the proposal gaining acceptance.

Sadly, the fate of Ampfield School was always a bit more of an uphill battle. This delightful village school will close in two years time. This is despite the fact that the committee voted in favour of retaining the school and raised the hopes and expectations of all those who have been working so hard to try and breathe new life into the school after an unfortunate period of "leadership".

Don Allen, the Education portfolio holder at Conservative controlled Hampshire County Council, seems to think he knows better and has overturned the decision. This is a sad day for democracy, a sad day for parental choice and a very sad day for those parents who remain committed to the school.

It is one of those occasions when the consultation exercise has seemed like a sham. Belief in democracy has been shattered and the posturings of Michael Howard on choice in education have been shown to amount to empty rhetoric.

No wonder my Conservative opponent has been strangely quiet on this issue.

We have ways of making you join in

I may have left my cozzie in London but I did not escape the visit to the hydrotherapy pool in Chandlers Ford without getting wet.

The physio lent me a costume so I ended up joining the session. I usually have a bit of an aversion to water (unless its in a bathtub) but this was really pleasant and there was a lovely atmosphere. The wonderful thing about water is that it is difficult for anyone else to spot if you are not doing something correctly but it was clear that everyone got a lot from the session.
Me included.

A mile in someone elses shoes

Well, not quite a mile but as part of World Arthritis day I met Margaret Davy and her husband to go shopping in Waitrose.

I frequently shop there (it is sometimes like an ad hoc surgery) but the aim of today was to try and gain an appreciation of some of the problems faced with everyday tasks (such as shoping) by an arthritis sufferer.

Margaret is the sufferer and it was immediately apparent that her husband was necessary for the exercise as it is impossible to manage a walking frame and a trolley. It was interesting for me to see what posed problems and what didn't.

On occasion Margaret has to use a wheelchair and I asked her how useful the specially adapted trolleys are and she pointed out that you still needed someone with you because when you were sitting in a wheelchair you couldn't reach half the goods.

I shall be seeing them again this afternoon at the hydrotherapy session at the Nuffield. I realised that my cossie is in London but I was assured that they hadn't expected me to join in.

A Happy Event

I hate to say it but the news that Charles and Sarah are expecting a baby in April did not come as a complete surprise to me. My suspicions were aroused at the candidates weekend in early September and when I saw Sarah at conference my suspicions were pretty much confirmed but she insisted that she was completely well. She was not fibbing because I have always regarded pregnancy as a modified state of health rather than an illness.

In case you are wondering why I profess to be an expert in these things I will just say that I am probably the only qualified NCT teacher in the House of Commons so even though it is some time since my involvement one retains a nose for these delightful events.

I have had little opportunity to put my skills into use in the House of Commons although when I look at some of my contemparies I realise that the occasional relaxation session would not go amiss.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Look at Romsey

Attended this evening's meeting at the Town Hall. The Court Room was packed. The idea is to produce a design statement for the town but if all goes according to plan then Romsey will produce something rather unique. Three or four other towns have produced a design statement but those statements have been presented as a unified whole. Romsey is different inasmuch as the town has been divided into ten areas and residents of each area are producing their own statement.

The delight of these meetings is that I always learn something new about the town and I am proud to be part of a town where the citizens are so actively engaged in what goes on - although I suspect that the planners disagree. .

The third age

This afternoon I visited the Southampton Centre for the Third Age. Very uplifting as the centre was light bright and airy and aimed to provide a number of facilities for older people. Their pride and joy was the computer suite and I was intrigued to learn that one of the most popular requests was to learn about e-bay!

The bad news is that at the launh of the centre Southampton Primary Care Trust had pledged £15,000 to the centre but this money has mysteriously disappeared. Sadly there was nothing in writing but I shall be chasing up what has happened to the money and why the offer was withdrawn.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Reasons why MPs don't blog

I have mentioned the blog to a number of my parliamentary colleagues and the reactions have been illuminating

"For heaven's sake don't say what you really think about your constituents"

For the record - I love 'em all

"I have never been convinced of the value"

"What's a blog"

"No, no no - I really don't think you should. You will one day say something that will be used against you"

"Very brave"

It just about sums it up really. If a blog is to be useful it has to be immediate and honest but MPs appear to be paralysed (and scared stiff) that they just might say something that is likely to be picked up and commented on. Where is the honesty in that?

Prime Ministers Questions

Heavily dominated today by Iraq. Charles asked a very good question and I did feel that Tony Blair didn't quite know where to go with it as he started asking questions back (that's not the point!) but the most devastating question was a killer blow from his own side.

Tony's responses are always circuitous and the whole performance can be compared with a bar of soap - with Tony in top slot.
You know the scene - chasing the soap around the bath or shower and keeps slipping off in all directions.

Surreal moment on the bench..1

Sat next to David Chidgey during Prime Minister's Questions today and he started singing "You've really got me going?"
Was not sure why but the automatic reaction was to get going - off and away as soon as possible to escape.
To be fair I think that there was a joke in there somewhere but it eluded me. Probably a sense of humour clash but a taster of what we girls have to put up with.

Civil Partnerships

odd to be in the lobby last night surrounded by politicians of all parties. Someone commented that even as little as four years ago there would not have been many Tories in the lobby so things were changing.

A review of Hansard reveals that there were still a substantial number of Tories voting against the bill. With a few exceptions (well known for their religious convictions) all of the people voting against the bill were Tories. The Conservative party still struggles with these issues and my belief is that until they become more comfortable with 21st Century Britain they will remain a party of opposition.

A step too far

I am feeling virtuous because I walked into work this morning. A lot of us now have pedometers (courtesy of ITV and BBC) and some of the boys are really competitive. At conference I was comparing pedometer readings with Bob Russell and he was most put out that I had clocked up more steps

"How have you managed that then?" says he in disbelief
"Perhaps I've just walked more than you today Bob"
"I don't believe it! It must because you have shorter legs!"

Never ever think for a minute that this place isn't competitive.
But I was chuffed to find that there are 3,200 steps between home and the HOC chamber. I won't go on about this in future postings though because this could have the potential to become very "Bridget Jones"

Pedometer reading 10,635
Hugs 0
Press opportunities 2

I will stop the comparisons here though because I am not looking for a new man and even if I was there is nothing remotely up to the Colin Firth standard in Westminster. COme to think of it I am no Rene Zellewegger either.

More coppers

As I walked in this morning there were still a lot of police about so it can't just have been the hunting.
I was reflecting on the police lurking in corners and yesterday's comparison to a computer game. Unless the games have changed recently (I stopped playing some years ago when my son annihilated me regularly) you always knew where the baddies were going to pop up once you had played the games a few times. So - let's hope the police move their lurking positions from time to time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I'm a councillor get me out of here

Earlier today I e-mailed the chap who had first alerted me to Gidleywatch. He has a lot to answer for.
It turns out that he (or his company) has developed a site aimed at engaging young people. Take a look at this which uses the theme of evicting councillors on a daily basis.

It was disappointing that none of my local councils are taking part but it was good to see some familiar Lib Dem faces taking part on behalf of Islington.

I was concerned that female councillors appear to undergo a sex change on eviction but hope this glitch will soon be sorted out

Mixing business with pleasure

As MPs we get invited to all sorts of receptions, dinners, launches, conferences etc etc. You name it and we get invited to it. The temptation on first being elected is to dip into everything like a kiddy in a sweetshop but you rapidly notice those who may have dipped into the goodies once too often.

The trick is to try and retain a sense of perspective (not always easy) and only attend those events that are linked to constituency or portfolio or any specialist interests. OK - so there are the occasional invitations that are accepted just for the sheer hell of it. I would be less than human if I pretended otherwise.

Tonight was a classic example. I headed off to the Cholmondely roomto meet a couple of very nice constituents who had invited me to the reception held by the British Holiday and Home Parks Association. We had a very pleasant chat about some of the issues and challenges facing their business (as well as discussing the local theatre group). Hopefully as a result of the meeting they will be more inclined to contact me if there is a problem.

The pleasure? Well, I will admit to drinking a very nice glass of champagne while we were waiting.

A lot more policemen

Trip to Members Lobby to do a radio interview was surreal. Policemen seemed to be lurking in the shadows everywhere and there were even two policemen standing by the entrance to the chamber.
It was a bit like one of those computer games that my son likes - where a presence suddenly looms at you out of the darkness - and it felt distinctly unreal.

For a start - a lot of the policemen were wearing the new visitors badges so how on earth did they know I was an MP and that I was meant to be there? I wasn't wearing my pass but did probably look as though I knew where I was going.

I was wondering what the point was so asked one of the the doorkeepers (not men in tights but the men who rushed into the chamber last time there was a disturbance) what the police could do that they couldn't.

"A very good question ma'am and one that I can't really answer!"

A reassuring presence?

We are now all back at Westminster. Came in on the bus this morning and immediately spotted four policemen. Within a minute I had walked past or spotted another eight. Did somebody know something I didn't?
When the police presence increased after 9-11 I was told that it was something called "Operation Calm". The effect on me was anything but - because to me an increased police presence means that trouble is suspected.

It was also noticeable that the nature of the police around the parliamentary estate has also changed since I was first elected. In 2000 we were surrounded by friendly types who were happy to pass the time of day, quickly knew everyone and were often seeing out the remining time to retirement. It was a comfortable world.

Now we have gun toting macho types (why are they all men?) who look as though they would be really handy in a fight. I know that I would welcome their presence if there was ever an incident but something about the place changed and it makes me sad.

I have not yet wandered along to the Chamber to see the new security measures that are in place there but I remain convinced that we should all wear our passes and the Prime Minister should set an example. Many of my colleagues think they are too important for such practicalities but this puff-headedness means that we do not have a pass wearing culture here at Westminster and, to my mind, that is a bad thing.

I have just realised why the police were out in force. Fox hunting (bill) is in the Lords today.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Women's wisdom

I hope there are no chauvinists out there who may have thought that that was an oxymoron.

The name refers to a new organisation that has been set up and I attended today's launch at Chilworth MAnor Hotel.

The idea is to provide help, encouragement, mutual support for women who want to set up their own small business - although some of the women I met were clearly only starting small.

It struck me how similar the aims (and identified needs) were to that of the Gender Balance Task Force. This is a horribly macho name for the group thatwas set up by the party to help encourage, train and mentor women candidates (we saw Jody Dunn first!) . I used to chair the group and we greatly increased the number of female candidates during my period in office.

Although they are not everyone's cup of tea a lot of women benefit from all female events - as one woman pointed out today. "It's an environment in which we can admit that things aren't perfect and we can ask for help."

Don't knock it - it works and I look forward to hearing more about Women's Wisdom in future.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Snippets from an MPs casework box

It was supposed to be a day off but staff holidays and shortages have meant that I ended up in the constituency office dealing with a mountain of case work. This is the name given to the mountain of letters received from constituents that haave to be dealt with and answered - whether there is an actual problem to tackle or someone is just seeking my opinion.

Here is todays snap shot of correspondence

Drop the debt (2)
Mental Capacity Bill - concerns about euthanasia (quite a number)
Problems with a war pension
Problems with the INland Revenue
Dispute with Jobcentre Plus
Letter to tell me a problem pathway was going to be cleared (success!)
Chain letter scam
Animal welfare Bill (problems with)
Car parking problem
reduced VAT on listed places of worship
NHS prescription charges of
Non vocational adult education
Wind energy (no - not MPs - renewable energy sources)
Tax credits (thanking me for help and success)
rural wreckers (weekend country dwellers)
Speeding traffic
hearing aids
Civic partnership Bill (on the agenda for next Tues in HOC)
Special educational needs (a perennial problem)
plus a few letters from my regulars who seek my opinion on the world the universe and everything but cannot be quietened with the answer "42".

Friday, October 08, 2004

What would Dr Finlay have thought of today's NHS?

And so to Stockbridge to meet with the local GPs. The meeting was arranged following concerns about the out of hours services (mainly mine on behalf of constituents), new arrangements for orthopaedic operations and introduction of orthopaedic triage in the area (mainly theirs) so we decided to get together.

As is always the case with these things there were other matters that they wished to raise so the meeting was useful as an opportunity to highlight some of the issues facing primary care. Although we discussed the above and other issues (NHS IT services, booking systems for cataract operations, palliative care, the future of Andover hospital, car parking at the local hospitals and waiting times for diagnostics) there was actually a clear theme that linked many of these subjects together.

Above all it was clear that the formation of the Primary Care Trusts has not led to any more engagement with GPs and they all felt that things were happening around them and their views were never actively sought.

I did promise to take up some of the issues that were discussed but they were realistic about the fact that a single MP cannot change the world overnight (much as we would all like to) . As I left one of the GPs commented that it had been an opportunity to get things off his chest and another commented that it was a sort of therapy.
An interesting point because MPs are expected to be public speakers, advocates for their constituency, legislators etc but the role of MP as therapist is rarely mentioned.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Let the train take the strain?

Only - it appears _ if you can arrive at Southampton Parkway at some ungodly hour. I was due in London so duly got up early and drove to Parkway and was there just before eight. Not a parking space in sight - not even one of those dodgy ones where you can squeeze in hopefully on the end of a row and just pray that everyone else will drive carefully and not scrape you.
Undaunted I decided to drive to Winchester (despite my recent experience at mid day there are usually spaces for a longer length of time). Big mistake - it took me nearly one and a half hours - by which time there were no parking spaces there either.

I am a great believer in public transport and driving to London is equally frustrating and a waste of time as it is impossible to do any work in the car.
Let's put aside for one moment the frustrations when you get on the train but if all the car parking spaces have gone well before eight in the morning I am left wondering how all those other car drivers resolved the problem and what happened to them?

In my case I missed taking part on a panel discussion for The Mens Health Forum . Doubly frustrating as it is a good cause and I hate letting people down.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The ScaryGuy and hugs

This is not Michael Howard but a very interesting scary guy from the USA. Check out the web site but to cut a long story short this chap does not look like your average do-gooder and comes into schools to talk about how we can eliminate prejudice and hatred.

I travelled up to Andover to join in a session during which he spoke to a group of kids on the youth offending programme. To start with the girls were giggly and the lads were sullen and I wasn't sure that he was getting the message across because it was one for which the kids had few reference points but it was amazing to see that the penny had started to drop by the end of the session.

Apparently I was the first UK MP that he had met but I also learnt something. Apparently the average human being needs 16 hugs a day to remain balanced. Scary guy used some audience participation to reach his quota and it was interesting to observe how his male "targets" indulged in a lot of manly slapping on the back to justify the exercise.

Got me thinking though. I certainly don't achieve 16 hugs a day at Westminster and I suspect few politicians do. I don't think Westminster should go as far as replacing daily Prayers with a group hug but it certainly gave food for thought.

A Bedroom Farce

No - this is nothing to do with my private life but just to say that I enjoyed this production at The Plaza last night.
This may sound like a plug but I have to let down any cynics who are reading this and may be thinking that I am on commission - the production is fully sold out.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Painting the town blue (a one off!)

Off to North Baddesley first thing to talk to some of the community service "volunteers" who were redecorating the Baddesly changing facilities. Paint provided by B & Q as part of their community grants scheme.
It was clear that community service is not a soft option but what struck me was that quite a few of the people I spoke to thought that prison did nothing to help people rebuild their lives but with community service some of the people were able to hold down a job and support their family. As the community was also gaining a newly decorated sports facility it is clearly a "win win" and something to be thought about by the "lock em up and throw away the key brigade"

So please tell us which political parties are campaigning for dirty hospitals?

Listened to Woman's Hour as I was driving between appointments and heard Eleanor Laing the Tory Spokesperson for women.
You can listen to it yourself but I was amazed that she could not come up with a single positive Conservative policy that she thought would be attractive to women. Instead she burbled enthusiastically about women wanting clean hospitals and that was a Conservative policy so if that was what women wanted then they were clearly Conservative voters!!!

Words fail me but it seems that Eleanor in her enthusiasm for this ground breaking policy was seemingly unaware that Lib Dems and Labour MPs are not exactly going round saying "we want more dirty hospitals and less cleanliness".

This is a classic case of all political parties actually wanting the same thing - why this is suddenly a differential policy is completely beyond me. It's certainly a classic case of why politicians should stop underestimating the commonsense of the electorate.

Monday, October 04, 2004

It's all hush hush

I thought I was privileged to have Roke Manor Research in the patch. The local newspaper once wrote about them and compared them favourably to Q branch in the James Bond films. So, I was quite surprised to visit a business this morning and discover that they specialise in security - particularly secure buildings.
Learnt a lot about the lack of legislation to ensure that safety is incorporated in to our public buildings from the outset and came away with a number of action points.

I also learnt that there are very few organisations in this line of work and it made me wonder who was looking after parliament. This is not the place for me to give the lowdown on security at the Palace of Westminster but it doesn't inspire confidence when it took the House of Commons authorities several months to realise that anyone delivering to the kitchens in Portcullis House had access to the whole of the parliamentary estate.

We now have a swipe card system but as most MPs seem incapable of remembering to carry their card with them it is not uncommon to see British politeness coming to the fore and doors being held open......
And they wonder why people get in so easily???

Back to school

Started the week with a visit to Cantell School in Southampton. My mobile surgeries in the summer had highlighted a number of problems but I thought it only fair to give the new Head a few weeks to settle in and get used to the place.
It was a refreshing meeting as she was very open and honest and candid. She was very determined to tackle the problems and had a clear vision of what needed to be done. She clearly means business so watch this space. If she achieves her aims then the local residents will be delighted.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

When "gentleman's agreements" just don't work

Late on a Saturday evening!
Had a strange pager message asking me to ring someone urgently. I can't go into full details but the long and the short of it was that a couple had been duped and were now sitting outside a flat (that they had thought they were going to move into) with all their worldly belongings - and it was pouring with rain.

It turned out that they weren't actually constituents - there appeared to be some sort of glitch in the constituency locator at Parliament - but it clearly wasn't the time to get officious about it. Managed to organise some temporary help and I later found out that the guy had made the post code up (because he couldn't remember the full one) so perhaps the constituency locator is working after all.
I'm also pretty sure that Alan Whitehead will be very glad that I didn't pass the problem on to him!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The benefit of hindsight

I have just re-read my previous post where I comment that "I was on official duty and Charlie was presenting prizes so a good turn out of dads was expected"

I hasten to add that the good turn out was all down to Charlie Dimmock and little to do with me!

Romsey's other redhead

Charlie Dimmock - who else?
We were both at the speech day at Embley Park. I was on official duty and she was presenting the prizes so a good turn out of dads was expected (last year was George Aligiah so the mums made sure that attendance was high).

Charlie disappointed as she was wearing a smart suit and not her usual more casual gear but mainly delighted everyone because she was as charming as ever and did not want to make a speech so no one was left sitting on uncomfortable chairs for too long.

The occasion turned out to be more political than usual as the school is set to merge with another school in the area - The Atherley and the parents and pupils were only made aware earlier this week.

Some interesting parochial news as I left. I recently wrote to the school about a fatal accident that had occured just outside it and had followed up on the subsequent reply. It appears that the County Council Highways department are now going along to "review" the situation - It's nice to know that I am making a difference!

Boys Toys

And so to the grand fundraising event for Leukaemia Busters - a very worthy charity which raises money for medical resarch. Their way of working has been threatened by an EU directive and I had got involved (along with Alan Whitehead, John Denham and a couple of MEPs) in trying to get across the message that the proposals posed a real threat to the way we carry out some of our trial sin this country (namely a collaboration between academe and the NHS).

I usually turn down invitations to balls and charity dinners as they are not usually my cup of tea bit as I said earlier this is a worthy charity and the event was a themed one - a "Top Gear " dinner dance and charity auction held at Beaulieu. There was an anti factor as I thought that Jeremy Clarkson might be there but when I learnt that that was not on the cards I knew that I would be able to attend without raising my blood pressure.

It was actually a fun evening. There was an opportunity to look round part of the museum prior to the dinner and although I had visted a number of times in the distant past there were some entertaining additions to the collection such as Uri Gellers car (covered in bent spoons) and the old Trotters trading three wheeler - as driven by Del boy.

The auction was our down fall and I ended up bidding £85 for a picture of David Essex (my childhood heart throb) but was spectacularly outdone by hubby (Bill) who bid a silly amount of money for a Jame Bond gold DVD. Little does he know that I shall be approaching him for donations to the campaign fund.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Hartlepool - the monkey wins it!

It's a real shame about Hartlepool as the team worked brilliantly and a swing of nearly 19% is no mean feat but sadly that means nothing because it is the result that people remember.

The negative campaign run by the Labour party was an absolute disgrace but even more worrying is the fact that, according to the Guardian, local members of the Labourparty are not behind their candidate and were predicting that even if he won there would probably be a deselection.

I am positive that it is not the last we have seen of Jody Dunn. I didn't see the count because I was travelling back from Brighton but I heard that Fathers for Justice were up to their usual tricks and threw some sort of paint over Jody.

I hope that she has not been too put off by the negativity and will give some serious thought to what step she will take next with regard to her political career. POlitics needs more people like her and I wish her luck.

Behind the scenes at Question Time

Question Time is, I think, the hardest thing a politician has to do. Everybody thinks that we all know the questions in advance but this is far from the case and we really are put on the spot. Even though you can often predict the general themes that will be discussed the questions are sometimes worded in a way which makes pat answers impossible. I am told that even seasoned performers are sometimes sick with nerves.

It is also difficult for the programme makers to predict the chemistry in a panel - particularly when an element of show biz is added into the mix.

I am a Casualty fan so appreciated the opportunity to meet Kwame and he seemed to be a very genuine and nice bloke.
Ruth Lea I had not met before and all I knew was that she worked for a right wing think tank and had, in the past, expressed some fairly extreme views. I actually liked her but what a lot of people don't appreciate about politics is that we can be friendly with people who don't share all our political views.
Liam Fox was his usual smooth self but Geoff Hoon was the guy who really surprised me. Before the show he shook hands with everyone and seemed very cool, calm and collected but afterwards, when he said goodbye, his palms were rather hot and damp!

After the show the usual drill is that panellists and team get together for a supper. It became clear that the production team had been aware that Tony Blair was going to be admitted to hospital but they had decided not to tell us in case we held back in any criticism of Tony. As if!

There was a bit of a post mortem and Nick Pisani, the producer, was clearly unhappy with the section of the programme where we had discussed the case of the very sick baby and the decision whether to keep the baby alive had reached the Courts. We had all said something similar and the mood had become very sombre -

My personal view is that this is healthy if it happens from time to time and makes a useful counterbalance to the rest of the programme. As ever - it apparently doesn't make good television if there is no disagreement.

Nick asked me how I thought it had gone - and the truth was that I was happier with some bit s than others (I am my own worst critic) but he commented that my comments had generated a lot of applause - so that can't be a bad thing.

Reaction afterwards has been positive but everyone commented on my red suit and that it looked nice on TV! This is fairly standard because apparently research shows that the biggest influencer on the impression you make is appearance and a relatively small proportion of the overall impression is because of what you actually say.

POliticians would like to think otherwise but I am assured that we are not exceptions to this rule!