Wednesday, December 22, 2004

White v Letts v Hoggart

Can't find a link to this but this is the story so far.

Hoggart denies being one of Kimberley's lovers.
Hoggart admits to same
Meanwhile Hoggart has written a book on the subject of the dreaded Christmas Round Robin letters
Quentin Letts of Daily Mail fame (?)(never knowingly relinquishes an opportunity to be snide and put the boot in) writes a spoof Round Robin letter
Michael White (he who tries to catch politicians out by ringing thema Sunday evening when they have probably had a "relaxing" evening at home) writes wonderful letter basically suggesting that Letts is an utter toad (he uses a much ruder word) and he has been telling Simon H this all along.

This was all in the Standard this evening and really livened up my journey home!

It will be quill pens at dawn.


The report into Blunketgate - or Nannygate - or whatever you want to call it wasn't quite the whitewash one might have predicted but am I the only person who also feels let down by the Civil Service in all of this.

I'm a scientist rather than a historian but my understanding is that the Civil Service was invented as a counter to corrupt Governments and for years the understanding has been that the service is independent of Government. So I wondered why there isn't a code of conduct. Ha ha - a small amount of research revealed that there is in fact a code of conduct.

The code is quite interesting and talks of "integrity, impartiality and honesty". So far so good and I wouldn't really expect anything else. The code goes on to say that it is the duty of a Civil Servant to provide the Minister with "honest and impartial" advice. I did wonder whether this ever included the line "Do you really want your friend to receive preferential treatment Minister?"

It really is quite worrying that Budd comments that civil servants had scant recollections of certain conversations. What's the matter with them? If the boss had a habit of putting letters in his red box then the problem is an entirely different one but that does not appear to have been the case. The application must have stood out as being unusual and I find it impossible to believe that a civil servant wouldn't have thought something along the lines of "Hey oop. What's going on here then?" If they didn't have that sort of enquiring mind then they shouldn't have been accepted into a position of responsibility in the first place!

Got that out of my system then - but on reading further I came across the line "should not deceive or knowingly mislead ...... the public"
I can only conclude that the individuals concerned are either stupid or devious.

If there is a code of conduct then there should be some means of enforcing it and I haven't yet had the time to look into that aspect. If this code is not enforceable then it is not worth the paper it is written on and this matter must be redressed immediately.

It saddens me that politicians are generally regarded as being dishonest but if we can't protect the integrity of our Civil Servants then we are surely doomed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

ID cards

Yesterday's big excitement all fell a bit flat in the end and it was just yet another parliamentary occasion which was hyped by the press and the threatened "back bench" rebellions failed to amount to much on either side of the Chamber.

Mark Oaten was on very good form and it seems that he is now much more comfortable in debate than he was when he first took on the Home Affairs portfolio

We were on a three line whip. I don't know what the whipping was for the other two parties but it was noticeable that there were a high number of abstentions. What is not clear was whether the absentees were conscientious objectors or were doing their Christmas shopping.

We haven't heard the last of this Bill yet but it will be interesting to see what their lordships make of it when it reaches the other place.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

David Blunkett says....

Well - you'll have to follow the link if you want to find out.

A poor state of financial health

That's the verdict on SOuthampton University Hospital Trust. A large overspend is predicted and so I finally managed to catch up with Mark Hackett, the relatively new Chief Exec. By sheer coincidence he was featured heavily in the Southern Evening Echo as a report into his previous hospital trust has been very critical of him personally.

What was clear today was that there will be a lot of changes ahead in the way health services locally are organised and I think it will be quite a challenge to get the message across to the public.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do Fathers for Justice deserve our sympathy?

Arrived at Waterloo this morning to find that all trains had been delayed because of some sort of action by Fathers for Justice, involving banners and Vauxhall bridge. As I was surrounded by hacked off travellers it did occur to me that such puerile actions do their cause little good and any sympathy or patience is stretched to the limit.

I am also bemused by the fact that I have offered to meet them face to face but getting a commitment to a meeting has been fraught with problems. Perhaps they are so engrossed in organising their Santa sit-ins that they have no time to engage with politicians and try and establish common ground.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Blunkett to go this afternoon?

This was the hot topic at our table in the tea room at lunch. Sarah Teather came in and "broke" the news but her thunder was stolen by Paul Holmes who said, "I knew that and the rumour is that Charles Clarke is being lined up as replacement."
Sarah seemed a little disappointed not to have been the first with the news as she had "got it from the press"

Archie Kirkwood reckoned that Paul had been wrong about Charles Clarke and that John Denham would be rapidly promoted.

As I left the tea room I spotted Andy Burnham, David Blunketts PPS, eating lunch and it did occur to me that he might have been with his boss if a crisis had been in the offing.

Came back to the office and switched on Sky news to be confronted by a picture of the Home Secretary joining in some carol singing. The comment was that a Labour back bencher had said "He is quite seriously unbalanced!"

Nothing quite like your own colleagues for really putting the boot in.

Prime Ministers Question Time

Tories were surprisingly (and worryingly) in good heart today and were loud in support of their leader. They loved it when Michael Howard presented Tony Blair with a book of Christmas reading - none other than the biography of the Home Secretary. Labour got their turn to cheer when Tony Blair read from Woodrow Wyatt's book - and mentioned a statement attributed to Michael Howard when he was employment secretary "Unemployment is not important".

Pathetic gestures at the end when the Prime Minister left the Chamber without picking up the book.
Cue childish chants of "book, book, book" from the Tories.
Enter Hilary Armstrong who picked up book and chucked it with some force at the Tory benches - I don't know whether she was aiming at Alan Duncan but she was pretty close!

Speaker refused to admonish Chief Whip.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mental Capacity

An interesting, and challenging, series of votes. The aims of the Mental Capacity Bill are worthy as the intention is to provide a clear legal framework to empower adults with impaired mental capacity to make as many of their decisions as possible and to clarify the scope of decision making power that can be made by doctors.
There has been a groundswell of opinion along the lines that the Bill is an attempt to introduce euthanasia by the back door but I have not been wholly convinced by the Government assertions that this is not the case.

My natural inclination is to be sympathetic to the concept of living wills and sympathetic to the idea that people may decide that they want some say into how their lives may end. Having said that it seemed to me to be completely wrong that any legislation should be tacked on to a Bill that essentially deals with some other matter. The issues surrounding euthanasia and the strength of the deeply held views mean that these are issues that demand clear parliamentary time in their own right.

My decision meant that I voted with people whose views I am not usually in tune with. They are the people who believe that life should be preserved at any cost. I believe that we should have an element of say in our own destiny. This afternoon, despite those differences, we voted for clarity in this Bill. It should have been a free vote but Government whipping meant that this was not the case.

Ask about medicines 2

Interesting meeting at Richmond House _ feeding back on this year's initiative and talking about the way forward.
Was slightly perturbed to find myself put forward as spokesperson for the professionals as I have not practised pharmacy since my election. However, I have maintained an active interest in the profession and in health matters generally so tried to provide a thought provoking over-view when asked to speak. Think it went OK as a number of people afterwards picked up on things I had said in a positive way.

Shadow Cabinet

Sharp and to the point. Rapid discussion of Iraq, ID cards, devolution and forthcoming business. Strangely there was no discussion of CKs forthcoming appearance on the Eastenders Christmas Show.
Is this a sign that we trust each other?


This is supposedly one of the "battlegrounds" of the next election and it is fair to say that we are little behind the other parties in developing our policy but a big part of this reason is that we like our policies to be fully costed and we also like them to be approved by all the departments that they will affect.
So, early this morning saw a group of us thrashing out some of the finer points of the policy. The wierd thing is that all our party policy still has to have the final stamp of approval of conference. A good thing for democracy but not such a good thing when it comes to policy keeping pace with the ever changing posturing of the other two parties and the demands of the media.

Monday, December 13, 2004

My weekend off

Last weekend was supposed to be my weekend off but I am not as good at keeping them completely clear of events. Christmas Shopping on Saturday included a visit to the Amnesty International Stall in the Marlands and in the evening I attended a concert in the URC - courtesy of Romsey Choral Society. However, it has to be said that the latter was by no means a chore and something that Bill and I would have gone to out of choice anyway.
An added extra to the evening were the delightful Christmas readings and the highlight was "The twelve days of Christmas" by John Julius Norwich.

Red or White?

Held a small drinks event for key activists after a campaign meeting. Bought equal quantities of red and white but was very surprised when the red was drunk in four times the quantity of the white.

Is this a Lib Dem phenomenon or have I missed something all these years?

Garage party

My daughter thought my taste in music had changed when she learnt I was going to this. Reality was that I was party to a small practical joke (in the nicest possible way) that some of the local Rotarians decided to play on one of its members.

Member in question had built a garage and the club members had had a brick by brick account. To celebrate the end of an era a little ceremony was planned. We all hid in his garage and revealed ourselves when he arrived home from a Saints match. Martin Radford had written a very funny poem in honour of the occasion and my task was to cut a ceremonial ribbon and hand over a commemorative plaque.

I am not sure that John knew quite what to make of the whole thing.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Late night shopping

Annual event and I held the usual coffee and mince pies event in the Town Hall. It caused ructions the first year that we did it but the idea was one of those pure coincidences. We had booked the Town Hall for a fund raising event and realised that attendance may be limited because the late night shopping is a very popular event in Romsey so decided to scrap the event, put on coffee and mince pies and give the public a chance to say hi to their MP.

It was a very succesful event but some of the Tories hated it. I was accused of "hi-jacking Christmas" and "abuse of the Town Hall!". I seem to recall that I was also referred to as a grinch and my helpers were referred to as gnomes.

We have repeated the event every year since and the protests have died down but as we are in pre-election mode I wondered if someone might have a little dig this year. We shall see.

It seemed a little quieter this year (both inside and outside) but we did run out of mince pies so I may be wrong on that.

The evening usually opens with the arrival of Father Christmas on one of the roof tops and the local retained firefighters take great pleasure in showing off their skills and rescuing him. This year the event had to be changed slightly and Father Christmas was rescued from the top floor of the Town Hall. This was because the firefighters did not have the use of the tallest ladders so had to compromise - in the best spirit of being British.

So, why wasn't the ladder available? The excuse that it might be needed in Winchester is a bit thin as we have had access to the ladder for the past few years. More worryingly there were mutterings about "the time clashing with a shift change over" and "working to rule" and I even heard Tony Blair blamed for the new contract.

I really do hope that they were just rumours and the spirit of Scrooge has not penetrated the FBU. Happily the good work and community spirit of the local retained fire fighters meant that the show went on. If anyone doubts the PR value they are kidding themselves because a lot of the children I spoke to had been more fascinated by the fire fighters than by Father Christmas.


I make fairly regular farm visits to try and keep in touch with some of the issues. I have done this since beeing elected and for as long as I can remember they have been concerned about the price of milk. So it was no surprise when the subject came up again today but it seemed to me that matters have now reached crisis point. The finger of blame was pointed at the supermarkets and this is probably accurate but ultimately we are all consumers now and most of us will not notice an extra couple of pence (minimum) on a litre of milk but we will notice if our milk industry disappears from the face of the land.

Friday, December 10, 2004


My voice has now recovered after being very croaky for a few days but the husky in question was a rather gorgeous puppy dog which was part of the props for a WWF photoshoot to highlight the problems of global warming.

Ended up having a fascinating chat (she did most of the talking) with a young woman who has her own huskies and is an Arctic explorer. She was telling me that she has been travelling through the area for some years and always seeks local knowledge to establish which are the safest paths. The knowledge has been handed down from generation to generation and has been constant over many years. She told me that there has been a distinct and very noticeable change over the past seven years and previously safe paths are now vast expanses of water. She was clearly very worried by the whole thing - and so was I after I had finished talking to her.


Not me - but as there were no Lib Dems at business questions (apart from Paul Tyler) I thought I would stay and ask a question. Decided to ask why no parliamentary time had been allocated to the recent publication of a report into the safety of SSRI antidepressants (eg seroxat). Peter Hain was not on top of his brief and claimed that the Select Committee were looking at the problem (they are not. The Select Committee is undertaking a broader enquiry into the pharmaceutical industry) and then said that I was free to table questions. With respect, it's not quite the same thing as having a debate.

Women's Questions

This sometimes feels like my monthly penance. Women's questions occupies ten minutes of parliamentary time every four weeks and the range of questions that MPs are able to ask is very limited so it often feels like we are going over the same subject matter time and time again.

This session I had decided to piggy back on the question about pensions. HAd intended giving a plug for Citizens' pensions - the LIb Dem proposal to provide a pension based on a residency qualification rather than NI contributions. This system was introduced in New Zealand and their level of pensioner poverty is 5% rather than our 20% so the system appears to have worked well. Indeed, many organisations have looked at our proposals and are now backing them or slight variations on them.

Decided to go on the injustices faced by carers. Minister agreed I had a point but was vague about any changes the Government may or may not plan to make.

Womankind Worldwide

So to a girlie type afternoon at a conference discussing 25 years of CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women). I had been particularly keen to attend the session on UN resolution 1325. I can forgive most people for not knowing that this is the resolution which states that women should be heavily involved in post-conflict resolution and peace-building because, sadly, not much coverage is given to this subject. However, I can less easily forgive Clare Short who when she was Secretary of State for International Development and I asked her what action she had taken on UN1325 replied that she was sorry but she didn't carry a list of UN resolutions in her head.
She made a decent stab when prompted with the word "women" but her answer clearly demonstrated that this is nowhere near the forefront of Government thinking.

Intellectual Property Rights

This was the subject of today's conference run by the Westminster Media Forum and I had been asked to chair the opening sessions.
Star turn before I had to hand over to Claire Ward was Estelle Morris who went down very well with the audience. Was trying to analyse why this was so and decided that it was because she speaks from the heart and is also not afraid to admit when she "hasn't got the answer". It is a shame that she is standing down at the next election but at least it is good for John Hemming - the Lib Dem in Birmingham Yardley.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Top Toady

Was bemoaning the style of the questions today when a colleague reminded me that the Guardian have a bit of fun with something called the Top Toady awards.

Prime Ministers Question Time

It is that time in the Parliamentary Cycle and things are becoming tedious but at least Michael Howard made me laugh today and it was one of those occasions when everyone was actually laughing with him.

He was very funny in the way he read out the comments that David Blunkett has allegedly made about his colleagues (widely reported in the press this week) - at one point in the proceedings David Blunkett put his arm round Gordon Brown who had just been described as a bully. I have to say that the Cabinet were fair game on this one and seemed to take it in good part.

But back to the tedium. Nearly every question emanating from mouths of Labour Backbenchers (apart from Hugh Bailey's impassioned question on chewing gum!) was formulaic in the extreme and went something like this.

1. Mention that his/her constituents are delighted because
2. Lots of Government money has been devoted to X Y or Z
3. Follow up with asking PM whether investment will continue or have a pot at the Tories for being meanies


cue Tony who can preen and pose and then take a swipe at the Tories saying that things would not be so rosy under them (many variations on this theme)

Sadly, I think this is how things will be until the election.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tory Trouble

This is the perfect antidote to Lib Dem watch. It was pointed out to me earlier today by someone who looks out for these things and it is my duty to bring you the link.

Health Questions

Paul Burstow kindly let me have the official response today and the plan was to go on waiting times for hearing aids - which is still an issue. Worst case scenario is a 130 week wait between referral and fitting of aid.
Tim Loughton asked an almost identical question to the one I had planned so a quick shift to plan B but the basic question can be summed up as "isn't this just another hidden waiting list?" Stephen Ladyman bluffed and went on the attack but John Reid stood up later in questions in kindly uncle mode and mentioned his desire to get rid of all these "hidden waiting lists" - shame he hadn't told his colleagues but Mr Ladyman did have the grace blush slightly.

Do they know its Christmas

Don't know if it is just me but wonder if anyone else was irritated by the BBC coverage of this single last night.
The original concept was great and raised awareness in a very unique way but the impact is not the same the second time round. I do not doubt the personal commitment of people like Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Bono but what really irritated me beyond belief was the sight of Bob G giving the performers a pat on the back and telling them how wonderful they are. There are many many people around who are committing time, energy and money to some of the causes that Bob has highlighted - far more than a few hours in a recording studio which is also a high profile media event.
It is easy to slag off politicians but many also do their bit in their own way and it is about time that Mr Geldof realised that - I have a good mind to set Jenny Tonge on him with her handbag!

Seriously though - I think people would be well advised to forget buying the single (unless they really happen to like it) and buy a few chickens from Oxfam or World Vision

25 years of Question Time

A gathering of the great and good (and the not so great and not so good) to celebrate 25 years of what has become something of an institution. It was fun seeing some of the old clips and there was an award for "the best question" which went to a delightful old lady in a green hat. She had a slightly germanic accent and was haranguing a Tory Minister for having too many jobs. Sadly, she has passed away so her daughter came to collect the prize. She was short and sweet - said that her mother would have been in seventh heaven if she could have been there because there was (from memory) lively argument, handsome men and lots of alcohol!

AIDS - again

This time in church on Sunday. The United Reformed Church on The Avenue in Southampton held a special service to highlight the problem. The service was very moving and personal and I thought that the young priest whose partner had died from AIDS was very brave to tell his story. Behind all of the figures and the research on this subject are the lives of real people - that's the bit that is sometimes all too easy to forget.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Jenny's a champion

Was delighted to learn that Jenny Tonge has received an epolitix charity champion award for her international development work.

Jenny has had a very difficult year and is currently having to spend as much time as she can helping with her grandchildren. As she is standing down at the next election it is particularly pleasing that she has received this as I know she felt passionately about many aspects of her brief.... actually I shouldn't have used the past tense because she still feels passionately

Secrecy and Lies

Interesting surgery in Chandlers Ford this afternoon and one of those where a box of tissues would have come in handy.

I am in something of a dilemma. Particularly difficult custody case and parent is unhappy with report by CAFCASS officer. Unfortunately I am not properly in a position to take this further as the report must not be shown to anyone other than a legal representative. If my constituent shows me then that is effectively contempt of court.

I can somehow tell that this is one of those cases where I am going to have to do more than a little background work and, apart from my constituent, there are wider issues here.

Warm Homes

To Bassett to visit a constituent who had benefitted from free insulation. Insulation (and sometimes heating) grants can be awarded to people on certain benefits but the reason for the publicity is that few people are applying for the grants and awareness is low.

Anyone interested in finding more can click on this link.

Constituent was also warm and friendly and there were numerous offers of tea, biscuits, sandwiches etc but sadly I could only take up the offer of tea because I had a surgery to get to.


Meeting with the Managing Director this morning to discuss flight noise -with particular reference to Valley Park and Chandlers Ford. Now have lots of work to do feeding back to constituents. The good news is that most people should notice an improvement over the next year because the small planes have now gone (they were responsible for a large number of complaints) and the budget airlines are introducing (supposedly) quieter planes.

Key message was that anyone with a complaint should keep precise details of times etc as it is now much easier to establish exactly which plane was where at what time because of a new tracking system.
Airport was packed because of the fog and as I left people were being bussed to Bournemouth. Five minutes down the road and it was bright sunshine!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Ballot for Private Members Bills

The list has been published. Patrick Mercer is number one and my name has not been drawn out of the hat -again.
Highest placed Lib Dem is Andrew Stunell at number 11. There is no justice as he was number one last year. I also noticed that Stephen Pound has been lucky again.
I know it is a random process - much the same as the procedure for being lucky in getting your name on the order paper for questions but nevertheless a bit disappointing,

Local Tory Paranoia

Had to laugh when I read this on their web site

Here we have their local Chairman shooting from the hip

The Liberal Democrats threw everything they had at this seat, including importing national Chief Executive and campaigning supremo Lord Rennard to Romsey, for what was a local council by-election. They clearly took the view that the MP's neck was on the line. By scraping home by just 19 votes in the centre of Romsey, a ward which has not had two Conservative Cllrs since the early 1980s, the Lib Dems have proved that it really is neck and neck in Romsey.

Chris was highly amused when I read this out to him because, as he pointed out - he hasn't been to Romsey since the by-election. He was also quite concerned in case he has a double - anyone who knows Chris will know that he is easy to spot and I challenge anyone to provide evidence he was in Romsey. They won't be able to because he wasn't here and I'm pretty sure we didn't even speak to him at any time during the campaign.

Unlike the Tories we did the work in house and didn't have the Regional Organiser overseeing the proceedings.

Surely it can't be that they are bad losers...... but I do object to completely false statements appearing on their web site

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Prime Ministers Question Time

Not very well attended today and - somewhat predictably, Michael Howard opened up with questions on standards in public life - a thinly veiled attack on David Blunkett.

It is clearly moral high ground time again but I still believe that the 92-97 Conservative administration was probably the most troubled by sleaze of any recent administration. Any one who doesn't believe me would be well advised to read the memoirs of Giles Brandreth called "Breaking the code" . This was a remarkably honest account of his time in the Commons and I really warmed to him as I read the book because a lot of it rings true to anyone who has been in this place. I was even sympathetic to his genuine shock and dismay as the Tories lurched from crisis to crisis.

But back to Michael Howard - it was odd that he chose to raise the subject of standards in public life on the day that one of his MPs was the subject of a special report.

World AIDS Day

It's today folks and the reason why I am wearing what I thought was a very pretty beaded red ribbon badge sent to me by World Vision - but described by one of my colleagues as "Christmas Decoration with Bar" when we were waiting for Prayers.

To more serious matters. I had hoped to pop in to a meeting of the All Party Group this afternoon as we were supposed to be putting pressure on the Minister to announce that tackling AIDS would be a priority during EU Presidential spell and G8 presidency. So was delighted to see the news. Seems that we're knocking on a very open door.

Parliamentary Choir

Had been invited to their performance of Verdi's Requiem last night - courtesy of BT. The performance was in Westminster Cathedral. I had never visited the Cathedral before but it provided a stunning setting for a very powerful performance.
The Parliamentary Choir is an interesting choir - it is all party and anyone with a connection with the parliamentary estate can join in so it is very inclusive. I would love to be able to sing in tune and join in but there are actually surprisingly few parliamentarians in the choir,