Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Private Members Ballot

Went and put my name down for this - it is amazing how many MPs like to bag their "lucky" number.
Most MPs quite like the idea of being responsible for their own little bit of legislation and Private members Bills are often the only way that this can be achieved. It has been deemed that the fairest way forward is to hold a ballot. The outcome is that (if you choose your legislation carefully) there is a good chance that the first few names out of the hat will see their bill become law.
The bad news at this stage in the parliamentary process is that it is very time consuming and there are also things like elections to be won.

Apothecaries Hall

Had been invited to the triennial dinner of the National Pharmaceutical Society. As there was no vote I thought it would be nice to go along and catch up with some old faces - although it was worrying that I didn't recognise someone I once knew well.

Rosie Winterton gave the key note speech but it was a bit worrying that she has been in post for some time and couldn't quite manage the word "apothecary". This was before the meal and wine! Having said that, full credit to her because she has done a lot of work on the new pharmacy contract and kept pharmacists on board. She also managed to receive a round of applause - unlike the person who was in her job three years ago.

Elder abuse

This subject has taken up a big chunk of time at the beginning of this week. Trotted off to The Royal College of Physicians for the launch of "Hidden Voices" which was a report about Older People's Experience of abuse.
A very worthy subject but the media coverage was dominated by stories about David Blunkett - my personal view is that it is a shame when the media can't judge what is the bigger scandal.

Today, a copy of the report was handed to 10 Downing Street along with a petition, signed by about 10,000 readers of the Daily Mirror. Chatted to the Mirror reporter for a while yesterday as we ended up sitting next to each other but, strangely, the paper did not send a reporter or a photographer - yet this was a campaign that the newspaper had run over a period of some time. In fact, they are the first national newspaper to devote much time and attention to this issue so it is even more strange that they were absent today.

Perhaps something more important came up - such as another minute twist on the Blunkett story perhaps?

Overcome by guilt....

Have been very tardy in keeping this up to date of late - it is normally easier to blog from Westminster as there are lots of computers that can be used to while away five or ten minutes waiting for something or other. Less easy when at home and round and about in the constituency.
Will try harder!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Saints at School

Jason Dodds (Captain of Southampton football club) was presenting the certificates and prizes at Mountbatten School this year.

Format was much as usual but a very engaging little speech at the end from Verity Nottingham who opened her remarks by thanking Jason and commenting that "it must be nice for him to get his hands on some silverware for a change".

She then went on to admonish him slightly and pointed out that when one of his colleagues had presented the prizes a couple of years ago all the girls had received a certificate and a kiss. This remark obviously ensured that she was the only girl to receive a kiss that evening as a smacker was landed as she presented him with a thank you gift.

Four recounts and some bubbly

Interesting day and Romsey seemed to be swarming with Tories at one stage.

Couldn't get to the count at the beginning because of an engagement but when I arrived it was clear that things were close - so was somewhat surprised when the agent hinted that the provisional result was a victory by a margin of 200 votes - our guesstimates are not usually that far out.
I gather some surprise was expressed at the result but was surprised when there was suddenly a second "Could we have a word with the agents?" announcement.

Returning officer announced that some bundles appeared to have been mixed and the margin was actually 15!! To us..

More recounts followed by which time our candidate, Sally, had lost all her nerves and was past caring about the result (or so she said).

Final result a majority of 19 to us which was good news as we were in third place at the last local election (behind the Independent and the Tory) and the Tories chucked everything but the kitchen sink at this one.

Then off to the Tavern (Sally's local) for a celebration drink and much hugging was done by all.

Embarassing moment

Had just sat down in the front row for the presentation evening when an announcement was made about a car that was blocking others.

Realised with horror that it was my number plate that was being read out but everyone seemed to think it was quite amusing.

I swear that I wasn't blocking anything when I parked and that the car that came along next to me was the real culprit!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A by election in the town

As there is relatively little going on in Westminster I decided to come back to the constituency and help out with the local by election. So many people give me help that it is nice to return the favour from time to time.
The other advantage is that an afternoon in the fresh air delivering leaflets is clearly much better for the health than sitting at a desk throughout the parliamentary party meeting!

Spent some time on the phone this evening. I didn't introduce myself (I was under orders not to because people invariably want to chat if I introduce myself) but a number of people recognised my voice and some others spontaneously (no prompting) said nice things about me. However, it has to be said that tonights task was to ring the converted so it is only fair to say that the response would probably have been different if I had been given the task of ringing Tories....

This much I have learned tonight

Burning the midnight oil because I decided that I ought to learn a bit more about Haloscan which hosts the comments section of this blog.

I noticed that I can access the IP addresses and a little googling took me to a site that enables you to look up IP addresses (I can't completely find out who is who so if anyone knows a site that can pinpoint people more accurately then please let me know) .

I managed to establish that many of the comments were coming from the same source. For example - good old Clive appears to emanate from the University of Southampton but also has a BT address so presumably he blogs from work and home.

Other bloggers from the same University (can't quite establish whether they are all the same person) include "Martin", "Charlieboy", "Simon", Ed and "Richard Allcock" - I wondered what had happened to him. Not to mention Chris, Hugh, Baz and John. I am a little suspicious that some of them might be the same person as Hugh also appears to have the same BT address as Clive!

I can only conclude that there is someone who is strangely obsessed with this blog or there is a very active Conservative Society at the Student Union.

Even more strangely it appears that "Freedom", "Crap", "Alex", "Concerned", "David", "Chris Owen", "Chris", and "Janet Edwards" all share the same IP! I am a little disappointed with David who purported to be a first time visitor to the site!

I am all for free debate but I can't understand why people can't be honest and open about who they are. I am looking to see if there is a method of ensuring that only those who are willing to leave their e-mail address can comment.

I don't think that the same two or three people continually sniping is the sort of thing that encourages MPs to blog.

Oh - and for those of you who wonder why I was "wasting" my time on this I will just point out that the scientist in me hates things that don't add up so I decided to delve a little.

I shall be delving a little more to see if I have made the right assumptions

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

What a shower

Sitting resumed at 2:30. By tradition there are speeches by two back bench members to kick off the debate. One is usually an old hand - this year it was George Howarth. The second speech is usually by someone in their first parliamentary term so this year it was Meg Munn (previous years have included David Lammy and Oona King). There is usually a light hearted flavour to the opening two debates and today was no exception and Meg Munn gave us a fascinating insight to her post tap dancing shower.
(I shall try and remember to link to Hansard tomorrow)

These two speeches were followed by Michael Howard who was not at his best. Yes I am biased but I am curious to know how this his speech will come across on the news. He started to talk about restoring the pension link to earnings and a Labour MP pointed out the huge amount of money this would cost by 2050. Michael Howard steam rollered on but a second intervention (Gordon Prentice) pointed out that Michael Howard was in the Cabinet that first cut the earnings link.

The response?

Michael Howard retorted that that was the right thing to do then but restoring it was the right thing to do now!
Cue collapse of non Tory honourable members into hysterics whilst the Tory troops remained glum and stony faced.
How the Tories expect to have any credibility on this issue I don't know

Tony Blair was his usual self and was followed by Charles Kennedy who seemed to adopt quite a laid back style this year. At one point there was an interesting change of views between CK, T Blair and John Bercow. It wasn't a major point scoring exercise but seemed almost like a proper debate. It probably won't get much coverage but to me, moments in the House of Commons such as this are when we are at our best - rather than the political knockabout - which we can all enjoy but doesn't move the agenda forwards a single inch.

Pomp, pageantry and politics

State Opening of Parliament today and sitting in my office this morning we could hear the military bands on Whitehall - a real sense of occasion.

People sometimes carp because I am quite happy to modernise some of the procedures around parliament. My feeling is that there is a time and a place for preserving tradition and the State Opening of Parliament would be top of my list. The procession is wonderful, the House of Lords looks spectacular with all its glittery splendour (although I am told that there were a lot more diamonds before the hereditary peers were reduced in number) and there is always a real sense of occasion.
State occasions such as this are something that I really do think the British excel in and we should be proud of this part of our heritage.

There was one moment of humour at the beginning of the day and, for once, it was not provided by Dennis Skinner.
Black Rod was announced. This announcement is usually followed by the arrival of Black Rod in the Chamber but today who should scuttle in - looking a little sheepish - but Tory Chief Whip David Maclean - who always has along cane with him to help him keep his balance.

As to the speech itself - there were few surprises as much of the material has been drip fed to the press over the last week or so. What is slightly depressing is that some of the legislation appears to be a second or third stab at addressing problems such as anti-social behaviour etc. It seems that nothing is allowed to bed down and be given a chance before there is further tinkering at the edges.

Was particularly pleased to see the equalities stuff but there was no mention of age discrimination. It could be that this will be included but it is particularly disappointing to see that it wasn't deemed important enough to be mentioned.

It looks as though the Home Affairs Teams are going to be particularly busy as they seem to have the Lions share of the action. It also looks as though some of those Bills will be among the most controversial so we could have some interesting times ahead.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Off White and the Seven Dwarfs

After the lights it was an evening off and I arrived just in time for the start of this production by the Rotary Club of Romsey Test - my husband is a member of the club and our home had been producing some rather strange props over the last few weeks.

The most fun is seeing upright members of the community in a completely different light. Local solicitor was far too convincing as a virginal young maiden and local auctioneer made a rather unlikely, but very funny, Robin Shagwell (yes - it's that sort of humour). Star turn was a well-known local architect in the role of Buck lapin - a rampant French rabbit with wiggling ears. Names have been withheld to protect the innocent.

A plug for the Christmas lights

Forget Blackpool. Forget Oxford Street. Romsey is the prettiest place in the world when it comes to Christmas lights so come along everyone and have a look.

For the uninitiated I will just say that there is nothing brash and flashy - just lots and lots of simple light bulbs. Nearly all of the shops also have small Christmas trees above their shop fronts, also decorated with coloured lights. The place retains an olde worlde feel and every year I plan to take some photos but I have never quite got round to it.

The lights were switched on last night and there was a good turn out despite the fact that it was damp and drizzling. The Chamber of Commerce tried something different this year with a lorry in the town centre acting as a stage so that the public could see what was going on. Music was provided by Mountbatten School and The Old Cadets and a good time was had by all.

The nether regions

Delightful drive to Nether Wallop yesterday to talk to some residents about what they consider to be a land scam. Need to do more research before I comment further but there is potentially a very interesting issue here.

X Factor! Update

Daughter and her boyfriend were home for the weekend so we recorded this to watch late evening.
As explained earlier - Gemma knows Ben from G4 so we are all keen to see the lads do well but even one of their greatest fans was convinced that they would be singing for survival. We all have very different musical tastes in our household but none of us could believe that Cassie and Tabby had scored the lowest votes.
As Sharon Osborne had apparently been saying all week that she would not choose between her two acts we did rather wonder whether the whole thing was engineered.

Any bets that each of the judges will miraculously have one of their acts through to the final?

And what on earth was going on with Rowetta - she looked really upset?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Breast feeding

Received a slightly odd phone call from a national journalist who had been following this subject in Scotland. I am sure that she said that "you now can't make it a criminal offence to breasfeed in public in Scotland" - I had never been aware that it was a criminal offence but the point of her call was to ask me whether there were any moves afoot in the UK parliament to introduce something similar!

Had to tell her that I knew of nothing and as we hadn't even been able to achieve acceptance of breastfeeding in the House of Commons it was unlikely that anyone would be rushing to change the law nationwide.

Don't hold your breath.

Maths just ain't what it used to be

With the dust settling around the final votes of the last parliament I wended my way home. Up bright and early to the Concorde Club for a "stakeholders" meeting organised by BAA?Southampton International Airport (or Eastleigh Airport as it is referred to in Eastleigh Borough Council Territory).

Much of the meeting revolved around various aspects of the recent flight-routeing experiments. Most of the presentations were credible but I had a problem with the "market research" - probably in the same way that most people have a problem with politicians.

I can fully accept that it was an independent firm (even though the occasional worrying little phrase such as "get the answers we wanted" slipped into the presentation) and that the research had been done in good faith. Sadly, a number of comments meant that I had serious concerns about the research.

For example - there were two comparitor groups of 500 people each. When talking about one factor (can't remember which but let's call it X) the figures were 6% in one group and 7% in the other. The presenter then claimed that this meant that 13% of people agree with X!
Now, when I was at school the answer would have been 6.5% and I don't think maths has changed that much.

My main impression from the meeting was that most of the public did not have a clue what was going on in the trials. There were also relatively few complaints but could this because the explanatory leaflet did not include an address which you could complain to.

Lots to talk about when I have my one to one meeting!

Had to miss the networking lunch at the club but managed to grab a sandwich in the office and discuss urgent items before moving on to my surgery.

First person did not turn up which is always frustrating. Quite an unusual surgery in many ways because there was no sight of the CSA, a housing problem or a request to sponsor a visa application!

Back to the office for an hour or so before setting off for a private meeting in Nursling to discuss some of the problems with antisocial behaviour. The parish council had already been involved with trying to sort the problem (over a number of years) and the problem has diminished because of the cold weather but we came up with a couple of new avenues to pursue.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Oh for the electronic age

Yesterday was a typical day for this stage in the parliamentary cycle and I have to say that my time could have been much more productively used.
So here is a step by step account (and there were a lot of steps racked up on the old pedometer to boot)
Walked to Millbank Studios for 8:30 re-shoot of piece for Daily Politics Show as they had had a rethink about how they wanted to present the item. Finished at 9
9.05 In House of Commons chamber reserving my seat for "prayers" (convention dicatates that if you are present in your reserved seat for prayers then it is your seat for the rest of the day. Many people like to reserve a prime slot for Prime Ministers Question Time)
9.10 In office and switch on lap top. Fill in survey while waiting for it to become usable
9.15 Write piece for Romsey Advertiser
10.00 Researcher is off sick so open a mountain of post. File 90% of it in the bin, check constituents letters to see if any require immediate action and are worthy of queue jumping and decide which invitations I am going to accept.
10.45 Phone calls to constituents who have contacted me plus attempt to catch up with a local journalist. Frustratingly most are out but manage to read a few letters from Govt departments whilst I am waiting.
11.20 Walk over to HOC chamber for prayers (visiting whips office en route)
11.30 Prayers
11.33 Stay in Chamber for Questions to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and also for Prime Ministers Question Time
12.30-12.37 - listened to points of order
12.37 to tea room for a salad lunch
12.47 interrupted half way through by division bell - went to vote
1ish- finished lunch - back to office to deal with in-tray
1.55 Division - Civil Contingencies Bill - voted
2.10 Back in office- dealt with some outstanding e-mails
2.43 Division - civil contingencies again - voted
3ish - back in office and start writing a particularly sensitive e-mail. Just getting into it when..
3.30 - Division - more civil contingencies - voted
Another vote is expected at 4 so try and obtain copy of report into gulf war illness so that I have something to read. Strangely it is not available so I fill out the form to order a copy and then visit library and log onto a computer so that I can deal with a few more e-mails
4.02 Division - voted
4.10 Back in office and try and pick up thoughts on tricky e-mail that I started earlier. Business has now moved on to housing bill and it is not clear whether there will be further votes.
more e-mails but still haven't completely cleared the in box. Manage to catch up with local journalist who has been trying to reach me.
5.10 CSCI have dropped off an advance copy of the star ratings. Leg it over to Members Lobby to pick up the copy. Try and get the gist of a 200 page report in 10 minutes reading (their executive summary is all sweetness and light so not very useful) before ringing press office to decide what we are going to put out as a press release. This makes me late for the 5:30 parliamentary party meeting.

Business is currently suspended as we are awaiting further messages from the Lords.

Read more CSCI report while keeping an ear on the parliamentary party meeting which was realtively routine

6:30 Drink with colleagues in the Pugin room - who should be there but Margaret Thatcher - the Lords are out in force because the opportunity to vote on civil partnerships and hunting in a single day seems very exciting for some of them.

7.00 - Business motion so that we could sit beyond 7 but that is a technicality. It was as clear as mud what was happening when so a little later we decided to eat in Members Dining Room. It was packed - quite like old times but unfortunately the staff have been cut back so service was understandably slow. In the Paddy Ashdown days I am told that everyone ate in the dining room on Wednesday as Paddy was there and was happy to discuss anything. Although Charles does not adopt the same approach the habit has remained to a degree and on Wednesday evenings it is a good chance to catch up with colleagues. During the rest of the week we are all very busy with our own agendas so it is good to make some time for a bit of networking.

Division - Pensions Bill

It then became clear that there would be no further business so had a coffee, grabbed some papers and went home.

I recount all of this to try and give an indication of how disruptive the divisions can be. Those of us with offices on the furthest reaches of the parliamentary estate spend a lot of time and energy trotting backwards and forwards. The place is resistant to the use of technology to streamline the process but I can only say that the opportunity to lobby Ministers/colleagues has been tested to the limit by the time we are trudging through the lobbies for the sixth time in a day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Fox hunting

We are here later than usual this evening because of the vote on fox hunting. I have received a small flurry of letters on this lately (pro hunt) but over half of them have been from outside the constituency. Even taking the latest letters into account my postbag has been overwhelmingly anti hunt. A small number of hunt supporters contacted me 3-4 years ago and this was useful because I was still making up my mind on the issue and it did give me an opportunity to consider their points and ask general questions.

So, if tonight I vote as I always have, I can say that I will be voting according to the balance of opinion in my post bag - by some considerable majority

In the past week I have also received an invitation to visit kennels (not in the constituency) but the big question is why similar offers were not made when we were discussing this issue four years ago.

Right to read

Popped in to the RNIB right to read campaign this evening. This was raising awareness of the fact that if you are blind or partially sighted you only have access to 95% of available books (an even lower percentage if you want to know about sport, gardening or cookery). Even then there may be a wait for a new and popular book to become available and with some formats the work is abridged.

The campaign is supported by a number of famous authors including Jilly Cooper and Nick Hornby and Jacqueline Wilson was doing the rounds tonight.

I asked the gentleman from talking books whether Iain Duncan Smith's novel was available. He couldn't recollect entirely accurately but said he didn't think it was. He was more sure about the works of John Major and William Hague - whose works apparently are available. It may have been appeasement but he told me that political biographies are rather popular.

Making Healthy Choices Easier

This is the subtitle of the Government White Paper on public health which was the subject of a Ministerial announcement earlier today.

Unfortunately, much of the content of the document has been leaked over the period of a long weekend - reinforcing the widely held belief that the present Government has scant regard for parliament.

A lot of it is well meaning but some of the paper verges on the gimmicky. Why do we need lifestyke advisors? I have long thought that most people (providing they have been to school) have a fair idea about what is a healthy diet and what isn't and most people know that they should be exercising more. We all know that we shouldn't smoke or take drugs and should only drink moderately but everybody chooses how to live their lives and takes the consequences.

I was lucky enough to be called to ask a question after the statement and asked about cold/damp housing conditions for the old and the elderly which contributed to poor health. The Minister agreed with me on that but claimed it was covered in the report.. Haven't managed to read all 200 pages yet but if it is there it is certainly not jumping off the pages.

On the shoulders of giants

Interesting meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee last night.
Were shown some figures relevant to levels of investment in microelectronics in 2002.
If you divide up the global investmnet then it seems that 62% of such investment was funded by SE Asia, 20% by America, 10% by Japan but only 8% from Europe.

The point was made that we would be foolish to regard E Asia merely as a location for low cost manufacture as companies over there are now investing heavily in research and development.

I was aware of the upsurge in activity in Asia but was not aware of the scale of the investment.

Monday, November 15, 2004

A tale of two churches

Nobody ever told me that politics would mean that I spent more time in church.

This morning it was the Remembrance Day Service in Romsey. Congregated with the civic party at the Town Hall, marched (ambled is a more accurate description) to the war memorial for the build up to the eleventh hour and then a service in the Abbey.

We are usually handed Orders of Service at the Town Hall but this did not happen this year. Commented to the vicar that when we sang "For those in Peril" at the War Memorial we might be able to cobble together the first verse but after that it was likely to be a collective "John Redwood" moment.

Lovely day so there was an excellent turn out in the Park and at Romsey Abbey afterwards.

In the evening I attended All Saints Church in North Baddesley to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. A good number of the congregation had come dressed as saints. I was greeted by St George but his wife tells me that she had put her foot down when requested to come as the dragon. It was also quite disconcerting to be sitting next to a lady dresses as St Sebastian who had a fake arrow through her head - which posed a health hazard every time she turned her head.

A nice atmosphere and just what was needed to lift me out of the fairly sombre mood of the remembrance weekend.


I am not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of the sacking or his behaviour. The one thing that has worried me about Boris all along has been the tension between his role as a shadow Minister and his role as Editor of the Spectator.
I just don't see how he can remain loyal to his party and retain his editorial freedom. This was highlighted recently when Michael Howard sent him to Liverpool to apologise for comments made in his editorial capacity.
It is also difficult to see how Boris could do both jobs justice.
At least Boris does have a skill in the real world. What worries me is the growing trend of career polticians who have little experience outside the Westminster bubble. Yes, I know that my own party leader became an MP at a very young age but in those days it was fairly unusual.
There is now an ever increasing number of wannabees whose whole working life has been devoted to working for an MP or a political party. Some are very good but it doesn't add to the richness of expertise in the House of Commons.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Oh What a lovely war!

A sobering evening at the Plaza. I was not familiar with this work so came to it fairly fresh.

The show is a satire of the First World War, in the form of a series of sketches seen through the eyes of soldiers, civilians and leaders. A counterpoint to the sketches is the visual display at the back of the stage which displays words and images.

One moment the audience was laughing and the next moment gasping in shock and at one point I was moved to tears (and I don't blub easily).
One stat displayed on the screen (and I think for many the most powerful) was that the average length of service of a machine gunner was four minutes.

This year marks the 90th Anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 and I hope that we will never see anything remotely on that scale ever again.
But although the scale is different there were moments when I realised that, with war, there are always similarities. Early in tonight's play the comment was made that the troops would be home by Christmas.
Where have I heard those words recently?
Later a comment was made that the wounded were being brought back at night and this made me reflect on why I couldn't recall seeing any recent media images of wounded or dead being brought back into Britain. Is the media not interested or are they not being told when or wher this is happening - or is the simple truth that families want it this way?

I usually leave the Plaza feeling cheerful and uplifted but tonight I left in contemplative mood and couldn't stop making comparisons between 90 years ago and now.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the news because I just feel unbearably sad.

Ginger Prejudice

What have people got against redheads?

My hair was a much brighter red as a child and it was a character forming experience. I was called numerous names - ginger, gingernut, carrots, carrot top being the more polite and repeatable and I can remember babysitting once and breakfasting with the family the next morning. The little girl turned to her dad and asked, "Daddy, why is Sandy's hair orange?" Father was mortified and couldn't think what to say although "Some people have orange hair" would have been a perfectly adequate answer.

As an adult I have grown to like the colour of my hair and I am amazed when people think it is perfectly OK to be rude about it. I am not alone because there is a web site devoted to the subject. I suspect I have a bit of viking ancestry because my maiden name was Rawson and my parents hailed from the east coast of England.

Come the single equalities act I think I would like to outlaw an extra form of prejudice!!

Friday, November 12, 2004

St John's College Political Society

Off to Portsmouth this evening for the society's annual "any questions" session. Mary Fagan, the Lord Lieutenant, was on the panel and had the advantage of not expecting to take a particular viewpoint. She does do her job exceptionally well though.

I had expected questions on Palestine, hunting and other topical issues but had not been prepared for a few diehards who seemed to have come along to ask fairly oblique questions which all seemed to be having a sideswipe at Mike Hancock. I am sure that those particular questions were a bit off putting to those in the audience who were not from Portsmouth (the society attracts people from a wide geographical area) and who probably were not aware of the nuances of some of the questions.

I can only assume that there was a certain amount of jealousy involved as Mike is an extremely succesful politician and is very prominent locally.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Valley Park

Attended the AGM of the local Residents Association. As expected most of the issues really fell within the remit of the local council (Cllr Alan Dowden coped admirably) but there were other concerns which I was able to explain (dentists) and demonstrate what I had been doing or request further feedback (flying patterns of aircraft over the area).

The dentist saga is a particular irritant. Locally there have been a proliferation of cases where local communities bend over backwards to give planning permission etc etc to a new dental surgery promising that they will provide NHS services - only to find that a couple of years down the tracks the dentist announces that s/he is "going private" but will take on children under the NHS if the parents enrol as private patients.

I have raised this in parliament and the response has always been that "dentists are actually private contractors and are free to do what they like" and the professional bodies do not appear to think that this practice is unethical.

To be fair to dentists (and to try and provide a balanced picture) they would tell you that the NHS is severely restrictive and as adults have to pay 90% (?) of their costs anyway (for a reduced and restricted service) there is actually a benefit in encouraging dental plans etc and being able to access the best quality services (apparently not always possible on the NHS). Maybe, but the flaw in this argument is that withdrawal from the NHS is all very well for those patients who pay but services are eroded for children, those on benefits, pregnant mothers and pensioners.

The Minister tells me that the DOH are in the process of recruiting foreign dentists and I think I heard someone say the other day that they are Polish - very appropriate.

Lest we forget

Had to leave Westminster early to get back to the constituency but I would have loved to have been on the Terrace at 6 this evening. The plan was that a number of bridges would be illuminated, key buildings would have images of poppies projected on to them and a Dakota (or 2?) would fly along the Thames dropping a million poppies.

I am sorry I could only be there in thought,

Sikhs, osteoporosis and "women in parliament"

Oh - and a vote or two on "Family Doctor Services" thrown in for good measure.

In other words a typically schizoid day in the life of an MP.

I have a small but vocal number of Sikhs in my constituency so met up with some of them in Central Lobby for a brief chat. Was pleased to see that our new Sikh MP, Pramjit Gill, was already chatting happily to them when I arrived and that he knew one of my constituents well.

Then had to re-tune brain to talk to a pharma company about their new product for treating osteoporosis (they had noticed that I had tabled a lot of questions on the subject). Refreshingly, they didn't want me to do anything but just wanted me to be aware of their situation (this has to be a first!).

Another quick re-tune and then I met with a student who was undertaking a research project on women in parliament. She mentioned that she had spoken to a number of Labour MPs, I was her first Lib Dem but she had had difficulty in arranging something with a Conservative MP. I think she was just unlucky because it is a question of contacting the right MP who is willing to talk to people. I say this because a young intern I knew (who had to provide an interview tape as part of the selection process for a journalism course) asked William Hague for an interview and was gob smacked when he said yes. Even though this was shortly after the 2001 General Election many would have assumed that he would be too important to "waste" his time on a student. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen unless you ask the question - I would also add that persistence often pays off.

The interview was finishing just as the Division Bell rang and a couple of minutes later it was back to the Attlee Suite to listen to some of the speeches during the Sikh lobby day.
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay until the end as I had to get back to the constituency.

Spikey Launch at the Groucho club

You may not have heard of a spikey but you will.
A spikey is a small gadget that fits into the top of a bottle and is designed to prevent drink spiking. It is the brainchild of a guy called Ray Lockett whose daughter, Marilyn, had her drinks spiked on ther 21st birthday.
Happily, Marilyn was with friends who made sure that she was taken safely home so her story has a relatively happy ending but other women (and sometimes men) are not so lucky.

I had been contacted because I have been told (and I find it hard to believe this) that I am the only MP who has asked parliamentary questions on the subject.

I have become convinced that this problem is greatly under reported. Take a look at the Roofie foundation website which has some harrowing stories.
I suspect that the crime goes largely unreported because most victims only have a hazy recollection of what happened to them, feel stupid for having been duped and the Crime Prosecution Service will not bring a case to court because the witness does not have a full recollection of what happened.

I spent some time last night reading some of the stories on the web site and I was filled with horror. I had assumed that this was a problem in clubs but as I read I realised that there are many parallels between drug rapists and paedophiles.

In a significant number of cases the perpetrator was someone known to the victim - a work mate or someone who had dated a few times. People are lulled into a sense of false security as they believe they are out with friends. Spiking can happen in a pub just as easily as a club but people are often more relaxed in a pub environment.

Once the deed is done then women sometimes have a vague recollection of being forced into practices that they would not normally consider (group or anal sex being the most common) and the act is often filmed or photographed - thus fuelling the porn industry. There is a very dark side to this problem.

The party season is fast approaching and it is vital that women are made more aware of this problem.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Some silliness

My volunteer alerted me to this website where you can discover a whole new George Bush. It is a very silly website but makes most people laugh even if they are Bush fans.

Draft Mental Health Bill

Re-elected a joint chair of this all party group although I will freely admit that Lynne Jones does more work than Virginia Bottomley and I put together.

Interesting meeting discussing some of the incompatabilities between the mental capacity bill and the draft Mental Health Bill. A lot of service users attend the meetings and they were very sceptical about some of the ministerial promises with regard to compulsion re treatment etc.

Lynne and I took a couple of key people off for a rink in the Pugin room afterwards to discuss how we could raise the profile of the group. The bottom line is that this would cost money and there is a bit of a reluctance to accept drug company money (even though we know that this comes with no strings attached) until we know the outcome of the current Health Select Committee enquiry into the pharmaceutical industry.

Work life balance

Speaking on this subject to the British Federation of Women Graduates.Other panellists were Theresa May, Laura Fitzsimmons, Baroness Finlay and Shirley Conran.

Theresa went first and I was dismayed to learn that she has picked the same anecdote out of the same book (I don't know how she does it - by Allison Pearson) to illustrate a point.
It set me into a bit of a spin.
Am I turning Tory?
Is Theresa really a Lib Dem?

Quickly realised that the key factor was that as female politicians we sometimes have a lot more in common than we might like to admit and we do instinctively appreciate some of the problems facing women.

Interesting afternoon although there was manic laughter from the female politicians present when Shirley COnran mentioned that we should all carry around a daily postcard with only 3 phone calls to make and 3 major action points.

Tuesday morning

Allowed myself a little extra sleep after the ball (didn't get to bed until gone 3) so what with the shadow cabinet meeting and Foreign Office Questions the morning was soon gone.

One of those rare mornings when I felt that although my time had been usefully occupied I hadn't really achieved anything very substantial.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Having a ball

Glad rags on for the Lib Dem Ball

What I enjoy about these occasions is the opportunity to catch up with a lot of people I have not seen in a long time.

Most bizarre point was reaction to Charles Kennedy's tartan trews.

Sycophants and those with an eye to the future made complementary noises.

Others, such as Sarah Teather, tried to make a virtue out of being honest (and saying they didn't like them)

I hadn't realised that they were new and were a talking point (until after the introduction line) but a quick poll of the girls revealed that we preferred kilts to trews although I am told that tartan trews are the smart thing to wear. This is probably true as Ming (absent last night) wears them - but he does rather look as though he was born in them.

And Charles?

Hey, as far as tartan trews go his were quite nice as they were a fairly subtle tartan and they did grow on me as the evening progressed but the truth is that I was more interested in his speech than his dress sense. Also, if people had come up to me and told me that "in the interests of an honest relationship" they felt duty bound to tell me that my dress was horrible I would have been upset.
It's a cruel world!

Local stuff

Monday started early with a meeting at Southampton City Council. Adrian Vinson (Leader) had invited John Denham, Alan Whitehead and myself to discuss West Quay 3. The meeting had started as a private briefing but the Echo at the end of last week soon put paid to that as they revealed a number of the plans.

Basically the situation is that the development of West Quay 3 (as preferred by the Council) seems to hinge upon the provision of a casino.

Now what was I saying last week?

Then a dash to Eastleigh to discuss a number of issues - mostly planning but also an update on more strategic issues such as what's happening with the local health trusts, Southampton airport and a number of other issues.

Guilt Trip

Am feeling guilty because this is the longest length of time that I have not posted since I started this blogging lark.
Those who have been rude about blogging politicians (not me in particular) may be relieved but I have to ask why these people are trawling the blog sites if they think that MP blogs are so awful :-)

Sunday, November 07, 2004


Very interesting conference in Southampton this afternoon - arranged by this group who provide support for adult women who are vistims of childhood sexual abuse. This particular conference was aimed at improving understanding among workers who might come into contact with this problem.
My role was fairly minor in chairing the afternoon session but I learnt a lot. I was delighted to see the Chair and the Chief Exec of the local mental health trust devoting the best part of their days to being there and I gained the impression that they had learnt a lot too.

This subject really does seem to be the last taboo and is rarely talked about publicly.

Chilling statistic: One lady announced that she was the newest member of the group, which is Hampshire based. Her membership number was 699 which leads me to believe that this problem is far bigger than many people dare think.

Phyllis Chapman

In Kings Somborne earlier today for the memorial service. John was previously a LIb Dem Borough councillor in this patch and they both recently moved away from the area to more suitable accomodation. Sadly, Phyllis died very shortly after the move. Lovely service though and the hymns took me back to my childhood.

Local History

Fascinating exhibition at the Crosfield Hall today - in conjuction with Radio Solent - and over 200 people through in the first hour.
The moment that brought a smile to my lips was seeing a picture of Roy Perry (past Tory MEP - probably lost his placing on the Conservative list due to his pro-Europe views) wearing tights.

Don't start rushing to search the internet though - I should add that he was wearing period costume.

Baroness Barron?

Delighted to learn that Cllr Liz Barron has made it to the Lib Dem interim peers list.
What's that I hear you ask?
Well, it is the system that the party has chosen in an attempt to make sure that selection process for the House of Lords is more open and transparent. Charles (or any other leader) is supposed to choose people from this list.

That's the theory. The initial list was produced about 5 years ago and only a proportion of the elected people, at that time, are now in the House of Lords. There have also been some rumblings among the party faithful because Charles has often chosen more people who are not on the list than are on - ultimately it is his call.

So, this is no guarantee that we will have a Baroness Barron but there is certainly a fighting chance!

Saturday, November 06, 2004


Whilst in a relatively introspective mood I thought I would mention my thoughts on censorship and presentation of this blog. Best way is to indicate my reactions to the last couple of days.

Made what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial post re my feelings re US election result

A few hours later was quite shocked to read the first 20 posts or so.

Considered (momentarily) withdrawing comments
Rejected - I may be many things but I am not a hypocrite

Considered (for slightly longer) barring further posts
Rejected - I am all for free speech (Voltaire and all that)

Monitored the storm and noticed that other people were now coming to comment who had different views - it began to look more balanced even though it was clear that some people were still commenting in a highly emotive manner.

Noted Tim Ireland's comment about some piece of software that could delete "the shouty heads". Tempted... boy was I tempted. Ultimately, though, I would be uneasy doing this as censorship is not the name of the game. I am going to leave it for now but hope that I am not tempted down this route.

Noted Blogwatcher's comment. Now blogwatcher is clearly not a fan so the paranoia section of the brain kicks in and I set to wondering whether there was an ulterior motive in a political opponent encouraging me not to censor. Clearly my opponents would like any ammunition they can get hold of but ultimately I returned to my original premise that I was not happy to censor.

So - that's the way I feel about it at the moment. I am not the sort of person who cuts and runs at the first hurdle and hope that this can continue in the spirit in which it was intended.

Rethink? Not on your nelly

I want to make it clear that there has been absolutely no rethink on this blog. The Southern Daily Echo is now reading this blog and took the post "Blogging - lessons learnt" very literally.

That post was written with a tinge of irony when I was feeling a certain amount of despair at some of the reactions generated. I am all for debate/discussion/argument - or I wouldn't have started the blog- but some of the more abusive postings were deliberately unpleasant. The real lesson to be learnt is that a reader of a blog can not easily discern whether a post is deadly serious or written with a certain amount of irony.
My husband just says that I have a wierd sense of humour but I realise that I need to indicate in future if any post is not to be taken at absolute face value.

The following bit can be taken at face value:

I have absolutely no intention of changing the way I blog. Postings are all Sandra Gidley and the buck stops here. If this is to stay immediate and topical then the whole flavour of what I am trying to achieve will be ruined (the different between fresh milk and sterilised milk) so there are no lawyers, agents or advisors consulted. This is raw Gidley!!

What if I live to regret it? Tough - but my personal view is that the public has had enough of bland politicians who speak via spin doctors and present a sanitised face to the world.

Oh - and I hope the Southern Daily Echo (which does seem to take postings at face value)is big enough to make sure that this is made clear to the public.

Southampton Institute

After a quick trip to Moss Chemist to help promote Ask about Medicines Week it was back to Southampton for the degree ceremony at Southampton Institute. Since election I have received many invitations to such events but diary commitments have meant that I have not been able to take up any of them.
They were very welcoming and seemed pleased I had made the effort but I was surprised at the assumption by one lecturer that I usually attended "grander" ceremonies. The ceremony itself was very traditional in format but there were some lighter moments such as when one young man gave the President his card as he went to shake hands, made a gesture that she should phone him and then gave her a kiss.

Later in the evening it was a more formal dinner and I was delighted that Cllr Parvin Damani (last year's Mayor of Southampton) was awarded the first ever Citizen's Fellowship (I think that was what it was called) to be awarded by the Institute. Anyone who has ever come across Parvin will know that it is thoroughly well deserved.

More science than politics

Interesting morning at Chilworth Science Park. They now host the NHS enterprise hub and a number of medically related businesses are located in their business incubator unit.
First stop was OrthoView which is, essentially, a computer system that assists orthopaedic surgeons in deciding which hip, knee or shoulder replacement part to use. I was curious to know how they had thought of the idea (they used to be a web design firm) and it was the usual interesting story of a chat in a pub with a friend who made x-ray film and was bemoaning the move to digital. They saw an opportunity, went for it and now have a product with a global market.
It wasn't quite as easy as I have made it sound though because there were a number of problems in obtaining start up funding.

Next on the agenda was coffee and a chat about the new NHS Innovations network. The idea is to spread "best practice" in the NHS. It is not before time because, particularly when I was on the Health Select Committee, I frequently came across examples of good ideas and innovative solutions to problems but there was no mechanism for informing other people. Of course - the NHS don't describe it as simply as that - they refer to "commercialisation of NHS Intellectual Property"

Next was Englyst Carbohydrate Services. It was quite a technical presentation (although I think they were aware of my science background) but basically they are doing a lot of work analysing various components of various carbohydrate products to distinguish between healthy and relatively unhealthy products. There is a lot of work being done around the glycaemic index. I had always understood that products with a low GI (pulses, most fruits and others) were good and those with a high GI (refined starch products) were bad but it appears that the picture is slightly more complicated - I have been given some papers to read on the subject!
Interesting work at a time when Government and media are concerned about the obesity "epidemic".

Last stop was Ferring. This is a pharmaceutical company which deals mainly with hormonal products. The Chilworth site is R& D but I can't say too much about work in progress because of commercial sensitivities.

An interesting morning.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Special Needs

I am really quite unsettled following a meeting with constituents earlier. I can't talk about the specific case but the meeting summed up what is wrong with some aspects of local government and our very politically correct society.

The most challenging part of my work (and the most rewarding when it goes right) revolves around the problems people have in securing appropriate help and support when there is a problem.
I have sadly come to the conclusion that the prevailing attitude in local authorities is "how do we fulfil our statutory obligation to this child/person" rather than "How can we help this person achieve their potential?"

Then, throw in the very real problem that if a family knows the system or is capable of getting to grips with it quickly then a measure of help can be obtained. Woe betide the family who are nervous of the system, have difficulty understanding it or have a mistaken belief that they will be alerted if there is a problem and given help and advice to obtain the assistance needed.

Another complication is when children with problems become adults. This can then mean that hurdles are put in the way of well meaning parents because the politically correct view is that "X is an adult now and entitled to make choices". True, true but if the adult has the mindset of a child should that adult be allowed free rein to indulge in self destructive behaviour when if a little loving care and attention were available quality of life could be improved?

Ultimately, there are too many people that our society is failing and it shouldn't require a visit to an MP in order to access appropriate services.

Blogging - lessons learnt

Do not post when tired (have just about avoided this so far)
Do not post something short and sharp as it might inflame a reaction
Do not attempt humour
Do not dare to discuss anything politically provocative
Do not say nice things about your friends (e.g. Jackie Ballard)

The above is all the more important (by a factor of about 100) if you are a politician

For politicians add the following

Do not say anything that your political opponents can take down and use in so called "evidence" against you
...or provoke a reaction that could do the same
Always remember that your political opponents believe that they are the only thinking individuals on the planet.
Get everything triple checked by agent/lawyers and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all so that anything interesting, provocative or worthy of comment is edited out.

And they wonder why politicians are reluctant to blog?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

American Election 2

The results are now known as Kerry has conceded. I may not like the result but that is democracy and I have to live with it.
I was somewhat taken aback by the comments on the previous post - hey guys it was only an opinion! Am new to this blog lark but realised that I had effectively been "flamed". Is that still a relevant term to describe the response to my election comments?
What I will concede is that I was not entirely surprised by the result but was surprised by the strength of the popular vote and being a brit I struggle to understand it. Let me just say that I went to school with Americans (one school where Americans were in the majority in an International School and another where Americans were in the minority and attending a UK Forces school).
Whilst I had a number of American friends and got on with nearly everyone on an individual basis there was a much bigger picture which was much harder to get to grips with.
For example, in the US dominated school everything had to be done "The American Way". We Brits thought this was great when this meant having time off Maths (Math if you are American)to go see the football team/cheerleaders but we were less enthralled when our practices seemed to be over-ridden.
One thing struck me at a very early age and that was American Patriotism. How I envied it. One fairly trivial example was the reverential treatment given to the Stars and Stripes - let it touch the floor at your peril! It was clear that the Americans were American and proud of it and we Brits never had the same attitude towards our country. Yet, the vast majority of us were children of servicemen. By nature this should have made us all patriots but there were clear differences between the nationalities.

I still envy the Americans the pride they have in their country and think that we could all learn a lot from them. My puzzlement over the re-election of Bush is actually nothing to do with the war, religion or Republican politics. On a very basic level I just can't understand the attraction and I know that I am missing something on a very fundamental level. Clearly he has something that appeals to the electorate and something that Kerry must lack - but am I so wrong for admitting that the attraction is completely lost on me?

The annual round of MP self interest?

Timing of these votes - on MPs allowances was inspired. Has anyone actually noticed that there is a much bigger news story in town? Namely the American elections?
Am I being a cynic for thinking that the media might not pay us quite so much attention if their sights were elsewhere? Probably.

I voted against the big hike in office allowances as I was quite attracted by the proposal that MPs should only be funded for one member of staff in Westminster. There are those of my colleagues who like having their little entourages. I don't know whether it is because they act as a sort of security blanket but some of the MPs who always have a string of interns in tow do not really _need_ them???
The truth is that some London MPs could easily base staff in Westminster and take advantage of free phones, stationary, overheads etc - freeing up their office costs allowance to fund other items that could give an electoral advantage.

There is a case for some opposition spokespeople to have an extra London based researcher but this could easily be agreed on a party quota basis.

As usual I suspect that we will all be unfairly accused of feathering our own nests - if anyone notices with all the other stuff that is going on.

American Election

It looks as though it is all over by the shouting although the Democrats appear to be keeping hopes alive to the last.
I have made it clear that I wanted Kerry to win but I was never sure that he could actually pull it off. I always thought that it would be very close but what has really depressed me is the huge increase in the popular vote for Bush. I find it totally incomprehensible that a thinking public should re-elect him at all.
Can't see that there's much sport to be had in Prime Ministers Question Time on the back of this.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Open Government at the Department of Health?

Tony B and John R released "Better Health in Old Age"today. I thought I would like a copy of the document so Nic, my trusty researcher rang the Department of Health.
"It's on the website"
"Oh no it isn't" (it wasn't then)
On realising that the request for a copy of the report was from an MP the response was "I'm not sure we should be letting MPS have copies!"
A later request to someone more savvy produced a copy of the report. A quick scan has revealed it to be high on rhetoric but short on detail and completely silent on the Government's failure to achieve most of the targets in the nsf for older people

Health Questions

Went along but the odds against being called were always long as five Lib Dem questions featured in the top 11 on the Order Paper.
Dentists featured strongly but none of the points raised were new ones. Was highly irritated when one questioner cited the case of a child only being able to access and NHS dentist if the parent became a private patient of the dentist concerned. The Ministerial answer from Rosie Winterton implied that she didn't have many examples of this happening - I have certainly sent her plenty in the past which makes me wonder whether she reads her own letters.

Monday, November 01, 2004


PArliamentary reception in the Cholmondely Room tonight (House of Lords) and it appears that, having saved the fox (hopefully) we are now moving on to saving chickens. High spot of the evening was meeting up with Jackie Ballard, one time MP for Taunton, who took me under her wing when I first entered Parliament. Contrary to Lib Dem rumour she is very happy in her new job and has no desire to return to parliament - she tells me she now has a life!

Having a bit of a flutter

We're all in a bit of a flutter over the Gambling Bill. Had originally intended trying to speak until I realised that the chances of being called were slim anthat others would be raising the points I wanted to raise.
Itis rarely that I agree with the Daily Mail but in the case of the Gambling Bill I think they have a point. I have read around the subject and it seems clear to me that relaxation of the gambling laws in places such as Australia have resulted in an increase in the number of people who have become heavily addicted to gambling - with all the consequences.

The post bag has been interesting. Initially a lot of people echoing my concerns but a late flurry of e-mails and letters from publicans etc who cannot see the justification for a heavy handed approach to gaming machines in pubs.
The latter may have been vested interests but made me ask whether the reasoning behind this bill was at all joined up. Let me put it this way. On the one hand we have a Government who are saying that gambling is "a bad thing" and trying to regulate where gaming machines can be. On the otherhand they appear to be saying that these machines are perfectly OK if clustered together in large outlets and bigger (more addictive?) prizes are offered.
It may be a classic case of "doublethink" but the reality is this - there are many areas of the country where the provision of a casino will provide jobs and also be the mechanism by which other local amenities can be subsidised. There are some very seductive proposals in the offices of a local council near you. If you don't believe me just take stock of the number of Northern LAbour MPs who stood to speak in support of this bill.
Neither am I fooled by Tessa Jowell's supposed climb down. It seems to me that the saying that "no one will be forced to have a casino they don't want" can be translated as "let those areas where there is a lot to be gained go ahead - and never mind the consequences"

Ask about medicines

Have just been along to the launch of this at Richmond House (Department of Health). Good initiative and I hope to be more involved with next year's campaign.