Monday, January 31, 2005

Tory election prospects

Today's Observer tells you all you need to know......

But the Indy is even better

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Chris Smith

Why all the fuss? The press today revealed that he is HIV positive but I had thought that this was the case since I was first elected although I will admit that this was based on a conversation with a specialist in this area who was commenting on facial characteristics that some antretrovirals can cause. It seemed no big deal either way as he was fully capable of doing his job.
Sadly though - there is a lot of prejudice in this area and I have been amazed by some of the examples I have come across since becoming an MP so I can understand the reticence in coming forward. The fact remains that Chris Smith is standing down at the next election so whilst I applaud his decision to go public it would be interesting to see the reaction to a sitting MP who intended to seek re-election.

A la recherche .....

We had been invited to a joint 50/60 birthday party and as we had a prior engagement had been enouraged to join th eparty afterwards. Slight snag was that party goers had been invited to dress in garb from the 50s and 60s but it isn't really appropriate to attend a play dressed as an ageing hippy!
It was great fun seeing the efforts people had gone to and quite an eye opener seeing some of the men with hair.
Good fun and was relieved to find that I could still do the twist but am convinced that the twinge in right knee indicates potential knee replacement (in the distant future) so let's hope that people vote for parties who are committed to keeping the NHS :-)


No - nothing to do with the Lib Dems but the name of the production by Thornden Operatic and Musical Society. The society aims to provide a link between Thornden School and the community but the majority of the performers were Thornden pupils. Follies is a Sondheim production and people with some experience find Sondheim challenging. At the beginning of the show I wondered how everyone would cope and was crossing my fingers for the young performers but by the end I was just totally in awe of how people so young could display so much talent. Awesome


Sat pm in the Toy Library in Bassett. It was quite an interesting one and thankfully there were no CSA cases or requests for rehousing (always the most difficult to deal with). Two cases were particularly unusual - one involving the way the American Embassy process visas and communicate with the public which should provide an interesting challenge and another involving the way bankers drafts can be abused when selling over the internet etc. A bit more research required on that one but a fairly typical example of how you never know what a surgery is going to throw up.

Roaming in Rownhams

Spent Saturday morning in the area with some activists - on the whole a very positive response. There are always some who decide that they don't like a particular policy of ours and decise not to vote for us - happily only one on Saturday and he was outnumbered by the people who said they hgad voted Tory in the past but were seriously thinking about changing because they couldn't see what the Tories had to offer.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Charlie and Chocolate

Quote of the day from one of the women who met Charles.

"He is really nice. I can imagine sitting down and having a nice chat with him. He's really nice - like chocolate!"

We never did quite work out where the connection came from

Charles Kennedy's visit

Had a visit from our leader today. We had already started organising an event in the town hall, aimed at finding more about the views of local women from all walks of life, when we knew that there was the possibility of a visit so we decided that Charles could fit around that.

The net result was that we were trying to co-ordinate a walk about/meet and greet with the event in the Town Hall (and I was trying to be in two places at once). Started well because South West Trains delivered CK to the station on time but timings went slightly to pot because it was bitterly cold and the usual leisurely walkabout became a bit more of a yomp through Romsey with a few unplanned stops on the way. These are the moments when you cross your fingers and pray that there are friendly folk around but all was well and we had a good proportion of the people in town go out of their way to approach us and say nice things.

All except one that is. Some guy shouting and claiming that he was once a Lib Dem and CK had turned him into a Tory!! Didn't believe a word with it because he just happened to be accompanied by a known Tory activist (who I know reads this blog). Funny thing was that this chap who was once a Conservative councillor announced that he wasn't a card carrying Conservative! He has joined the increasing number of people who are now ashamed to belong to the Conservative party.

So we took the rant with a pinch of salt and moved on to the town hall where Sarah and Sharon (two local publicans) were waiting to talk to Charles about the pubwatch scheme. They were joined by Sergeant Hardcastle who is a feisty irishwoman. She is also fairly short but even grown men are reluctant to mess with her. Quite a lady!

Charles then had to brave a room full of women and it went very well. He seemed at ease with the situation and liked the format. The added bonus was that one of the women came up with a killer question on ID cards. I am not going to repeat it here but I suspect that the question may get thrown at Tony Blair one of these days.


Spent a morning with the local RSPCA uniformed officer and very interesting it was too. Visited some ponies, a man and a dog and a boy and a dog! She also showed me some pictures of some of the things that she has to deal with - and some pretty shocking pictures which did not result in a prosecution.
It saddened me that in some of the cases the person involved did not realise that they might be guilty of any form of cruelty. It also struck me that in some cases the pet might look a bit bedraggled but they are actually loved and fed and taken to the vet when that is necessary. Anything that does not conform to people's chocolate box view of the world is likely to be reported and therefore investigated.
The job seems a more difficult one than one might imagine because the inspector usually has to gain the trust of the owner in order to have a proper look at the animal. An eye opening day and I am full of admiration.

How could they?

How could the Tories do this to this man who had been a loyal member supporter for many years?

NHS - Free or Fee

This is the title of a debate I was chairing at Southampton University this evening. It was a lively discussion and the students had plenty to say - which meant the whole thing went with a swing.
Chatting to some of the students afterwards was a very pleasurable experience as it is always good to meet young, lively people with an optimistic view of life.

At the end of the meeting I took a vote (well I had missed one earlier and one gets withdrawal symptoms) and there was a large majority in favour of "free" but interestingly nearly everyone also thought that the public had high expectations and there needed to be a realistic view (probably a public debate) about what should be supplied on the NHS and what should not.

Hopefully the NHS will be safe in their hands.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Women's questions and Labour spin

The usual tokenistic ten minutes. Strictly speaking there are only about half a dozen questions that you can legitimately ask but there was a question about care home wages which overlapped nicely with my "older people" work. We had dug up some figures showing huge numbers of people earning as little as £5 an hour so was stunned when the Minister (in response to initial question) said that "median wage was £8.25 an hour". It almost sounds like a reasonable wage when put like that.
I don't think that the Minister was expecting anyone to remember their basic maths lessons (median, mode and average can all be very different figures) but try explaining that to the house and getting your question in before the Speaker pulls you up for an overlong question. Had to settle for challenging the figures and settling up for ministerial fudge as reply.
Then up stood Patricia Hewitt and she announced that the pay gap was 14.5%. Funny that because the accepted figure is 18% and earlier this week she was at a conference where that seemed to be the case.

As soon as I was back in the office I tabled some questions so that I could establish the source for these rather spurious claims.

Connecting parliament....cont

Tried to put a link to Hansard and I must apologise to all of those Tories who did not oppose this but there were a very strange mix of people who did vote against - and not all were the usual suspects. Was also surprised to see that David Heath (one of ours) had joined the merry band.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


This is "women's week" at LSE so a number of LSE students were shadowing female MPs today. I had a delightful young woman called Frances who seemed to have enjoyed herself but I was a little uneasy as I had to desert her on a couple of occasions for meetings about the manifesto. Luckily she didn't seem to mind as there is always something going on here as an alternative sideshow.

I did explain to her that she wouldn't have an entirely accurate picture of a typical day as most days I spend some time on the laptop but I didn't think it was a good use of her time to watch me typing away.

Connecting Parliament with the Public

Now this is what I don't get. Also on the order paper today was a motion suggesting that the House of Commons should make itself more accessible and giving an indication as to how this might happen.

Good worthy stuff and who could possibly vote against such a thing?

Some of the Tories!

You may think "now there's a surprise" but I am looking forward to seeing the spurious justifications that they will no doubt try to come up with.

Tuesday turnaround

Parliament was doing what it loves best today and talking about itself.

For the past two years we have experimented with new "family friendly" hours. Actually the hours are only family friendly if your family is based in London and the consequence of the changes has been to try and fit more into a shorter working day.

The Modernisation committee produced a report claiming that the new hours had been a success and recommended that they be adopted permanently.
MPs had other ideas so a motion was placed suggesting that we revert to the old hours on a Tuesday and keep the new hours on a Wednesday. There was actually a reasonable majority of MPs voting for the later hours and some of these had originally voted for the earlier finish.

I am sure that the public will think we are mad but I knew I worked more effectively under the old pattern and if that is the same for the majority of MPs then I think we should adopt the hours that are most conducive to that.

Ampfield School

A group of concerned parents travelled to London today to lobby me about this. It is one of those frustrating occasions when there is a limited amount that an MP can do because the decsion is ultimately made by local councillors. Anyway I suggested a couple of things I could do tho try and help and they seemed reasonably happy but the more I think about this school closure the angrier I get.

The simple fact is that the committee voted (by a reasonable majority) to keep the school open. This decision was then overturned by the councillor who is the "Portfolio holder for education". Yet this is now quite legitimate behaviour - The new ways of working for councils were introduced in the early days of Labour Government and the more I see of the results the more certain I am that Labour has struck a blow against democracy.

There are other things that puzzle me about this as well. There is a presumption that rural schools should stay open and there is also a shortage of church school places in the area yet these very important facts do not appear to have been given due consideration. On top of all of this it is clear (and acknowledged) that the school had just suffered an unfortunate period when many children left the school for various reasons. The LEA did nothing to investigate why numbers fell quickly so must take some of the blame. I am confident that the staff, governors and parents will be able to turn the situation round and attract new children but the timing of the review is suspicious. It seems as if the school has been kicked whilst it was down and not given a chance to prove that the situation is reversible.

There was one lighter moment in front of the cameras.
Cameras were rolling as we arrived at Abingdon Green and we then assembled for a group shot. BBC journo asked the parents if they "had a chant" to be told
"We don't do chanting - we're from Ampfield"

I have to hand it to the journalist because after a short interchange of banter we all found ourselves chanting "Save our school" even though it was with a measure of self consciousness.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Eight million reasons to think green

After voting on vitamins I thought I would pop in on the Nappy Alliance reception. I had met with representatives from the alliance before and was unprepared for the zeal with which some of the attendees approached their subject.

I had to feel sorry for Jane form the alliance though as she described to me the problems she had in describing her day job to those who were unaware of the nappy alliance.

"Basically I have to tell them that I deal in s**t!" she commented.

I reassured her by pointing out that that was what people thought politicians did all the time but they didn't bother discovering otherwise.

Speeches were short and sharp and today's unfogettable fact was that 8 million nappies go into landfill daily. I have taken this matter up locally before and the only semi positive response was from the local maternity hospital who said that they would consider alternatives to disposable nappies.

As I was leaving I was surprised to bump into Michael White who told me that he was about to become a grandfather. He was displaying a great interest in the various products on display but I had great difficulty in imagining members of the press gallery comparing the merits of cotton bottoms, nappy republic and snazzypants.
Shame really because it is a subject worthy of greater publicity.

Shadow Cabinet 2

Interesting meeting this morning. Vince Cable and David Laws had been going over the James Report with a fine toothcomb. They were outlining some of the areas where there seemed to be an element of double accounting or even claiming that the savings made were larger than the running costs of the actual department/organisation being cut. David Laws pointed out that of all the money that was supposedly being "saved" the largest chunk had been ear-marked for redundancy payments. Hm, now remind me. What was unemployment like when the Conservatives were last in power?
Vince's favourite Tory "nutty idea" was the one espoused by "Two Brains" David Willetts who was claiming potential savings by scaling down Jobcentre Plus and running it on volunteers. Well - with all those people made redundant they will have plenty of time on their hands won't they but I somehow can't see "being a volunteer for Jobcentre Plus" being top of people's wish.

Computer clogged by vitamins

In more ways than one because my previous attempt to publish this post met with spectacular failure.
Switched on laptop this morning to find a host of messages asking me to "support Kate Hoey" and vote in favour of keeping looser restrictions on vitamins in today's debate. Fairness dictates that I should point out that the motion is actually part of Conservative opposition day and is headed by Chris Grayling (with Kate at number 2 position on the order paper). It made me wonder whether some very clever politically attuned lobbying had been going on.
Unfortunately, I could not send e-mails so had to delete a huge number of circulars and junk round robins before I was able to reply to everybody. Oh, the joys of technology.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Meridian at Whiteley

Went along to the opening of the new studios. Very flash, modern, clean state of the art stuff and all packed into a very small space so hot-desking is the name of the game .
Boss of ITV made a speech commenting that Regionally made programmes would be on the increase. Tackled someone from Meridian at lunch about this because I have been receiving cards from staff who are worried about the proposals to decrease regional programmes. How could both statements be correct? It seems that there will be more programmes made in the regional centres but these will be for broadcasting across the network. At peril are the locally made programmes (not news - that is continuing apace) which feature local issues. Some of these receive a quite significant audience share but most are broadcast at times when audience figures are low anyway so the people who make them feel that they haven't had the opportunity to try and win over a mass audience.

Am quite keen to know what others think of the sort of regional programmes that are under threat.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Kilroy Potts or Hylton Silk?

Has anyone else noted the uncanny resemblance between Kilroy-Silk and Rodney Hylton-Potts - the winner of vote for me? They could be brothers. Rodders said that people had been urging him to set up a new party and there are rumours that that is what KS is going to do. Coincidence? Probably. I would have thought that the Potts agenda was too extreme for KS seeing as it included a total ban on immigration and castration of paedophiles but then again it might be useful to think about the content of some of the "discussion" shows that KS has fronted over the years....... Does it still seem quite so impossible.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Political Diarists - turning the tables

Was quite surprised by the diary response to my question on services for older people who misuse alcohol. It was actually a very serious question but I will admit that there was an element of comic potential.
I am aware that it was commented on by four diarists - who are supposed to amuse and entertain - and the different ways they dealt with the subject were very typical of their differing styles.
Andrew Gimson (Telegraph) strung some thoughts together in a coherent way (as usually does Simon Carr of the Indy who didn't comment). Simon Hoggart (Guardian) let his imagination run riot, Ann Treneman (Times) made snide comments without actually managing to be funny and Quentin Letts produced - well, his usual obnoxious style of piece (but he does sometimes make me laugh against my better judgement).

So, I shall probably live to regret this but as a piece of therapy before I head for home I thought I would write a piece about the diary columnists - treating some of them in the way they like to treat us. So for a bit of fun let us imagine that they are on the floor of the House and the politicians have been tasked with writing the diary pieces for the next day. ........

A load of heels?

MPs may be rowdy in the chamber but they have nothing on the lads and lassies from the Press Gallery. Mr Speaker was struggling to keep order. "Ordure, Ordure" I thought I heard him say but this was only the cue for Letts (Daily Mail) to bounce to his feet. Well, Michael White has previously agreed with the Speaker's description and we don't think he is alone. Letts bounced to his feet with such enthusiasm that he is probably the only person ever to have outbounced John Bercow. He clearly can't decide whether he wants to stick with politics or head permanently for the glamour of Theatreland but he was relishing his moment in the spotlight and stuck to his favourite subject of women. But it is not clear that he actually likes them because he was begging the Minister to do something to regulate the height of stiletto heels. If Mr Letts has ever worn stilettoes he would realise that they make a girl's legs look better and longer so perhaps he should consider trying them for himself.

Hoggart (Guardian) was up on his feet like a shot. There is no love lost between these two and it was clearly biros at dawn. Hoggart does not need to wear high heels but his reactions were stiletto sharp on this occasion as he accused the Member for the Mail of wanting to make thigh length boots a compulsory part of the police uniform - for men and women. Heaven knows where this thought came from but the thought processes of the member for Guardianland are known for their random linkages and flights of fancy. I do hope he donates his brain to science.

"Order Order" The Speaker now had a grip on the usual vocabulary and called Ann Treneman (Times) to speak. This is a lady who is above this sort of thing. She works for the paper which still likes to think of itself as the "Top People's Paper" and clearly regards herself as a cut above the rest of 'em. A journalist version of "Top Totty". Rearranging one of her many scarves she lowered her eyelashes and breathily asked the Minister if he would "Reduce VAT on Jimmy Choo's?" What she was referring to was by no means clear but my richer friends tell me that they are a posh brand of shoe so presumably Times readers will have identified with her even if her colleagues couldn't.

It was left to Gimson (Telegraph) to restore some semblance of normality to the occasion by suggesting that all of this was irrelevant and they should really be discussing the obscene rise in the price of shoe leather since "this terrible Labour Government came to power" and, just as we all thought we were going to move on, up stood that clever Simon Carr (ind), who is that rare thing, a diary journalist who does not stoop to the personal. On this occasion he didn't need to as he calmly reminded his more excitable colleagues that this was health questions and they should have been asking questions about ACHOOS, the new Government body dealing with the unprecedented rise in the common cold since Labour came to power.

He should curb his ambition. He should not have pointed out the error in the shoes question because no one likes a clever clogs.

As a PS I just want to say that I hold out my hat to those who have to produce a diary piece every day. It is not an easy thing to do!!

On The Record

Did a pre-record for this with Caroline Dineage who is the PPC for Portsmouth South. Subject as usual was the women and children thing so it was a good opportunity for Caroline but a shame that the Conservative Spokesperson Theresa May (who is one of the Region's MPs) couldn't find the time to be there.

Before anyone accuses Meridian of bias by not having a Labour MP I must defend them and say that they were expecting one to turn up!!

Female researcher's lunch

Hot on the heels of the manifesto meeting yesterday came a lunch organised for the female researchers at Westminster. The idea was to provide them with more information about becoming an MP and we invited Jen Smith and Julia Goldsworthy to speak. Jen and Julia have both worked as researchers in the past and are now both Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. Jen is in Basingstoke and Julia in Falmouth and Camborne.

We had also arranged for Charles to pop in and much to my surprise he raised the subject of "positive action" - also known as the dreaded "all women short lists". Reaction was interesting as I expected him to be universally shouted down because young women in particular often do not like the idea of such things but was surprised that there was some support and some of the young women felt that there was a need to have more role models in the short term and that this should encourage more women to come forward in the longer term.

The good news is that we have some excellent women candidates in very promising seats but we will be judged by the proportion of women in the parliamentary party after polling day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Women's manifesto

Had a meeting about this today and there was an interesting discussion about what should be included. In some ways I find it odd that there is a perceived need for a women's manifesto but the need is there because there are a number of journalists asking what we are going to do "for women".
Much of the debate generated by the other parties has been centred around childcare provision but there are a large number of women who are not interested in this although it is certainly relevant to women (and men) with children.

It started me thinking about why I joined the party in the first place and if I am honest I must say I didn't think "oh, what are the policies on women?". The reality is that the policies on health and education had a real appeal and it was this that generated my initial interest in the party. This was at a time when I could see that the Tories were wrecking the health service and I wasn't totally impressed by their action on education either.

There is a real need to tackle inequalities generally but I think it is helpful for parties to look more representative in the first place.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Westminster Weightwatchers

As my waistband is feeling tight I thought I ought to renew my aquaintance with this drop in session which takes place on a weekly basis. When I saw my weight I realised that I will be trying to pop in every week from now on. I did try the well worn excuse "I am exercising more so perhaps the weight is due to increased muscle?"

Sadly they were not convinced and I think they have heard better excuses.

However I was impressed by the Minister who had lost weight and was horribly familiar with the number of steps between Westminster Office and Ministry Office. I am sure the tax payers will be pleased to know that they don't all use their cars all of the time.

Health Questions 2

Had tabled a question on the alcohol strategy and the "Law of Sod" dictates that I was succesful on the week that there were three other questions on the order paper that were relevant to my portfolio.

The follow up was to ask why the Government had not mentioned Older People in the strategy . I had read some research to show that the level of alcohol misuse in older people was on the increase but because it is often a hidden problem the Government pay it little attention. The Minister's answer was suitably vague but that is only to be expected because it seems to be par for the course.

Rosie Winterton claimed that the Government were making "radical reforms" in NHS dentistry and Steven Ladyman claimed that the reason that there were fewer podiatry appointments was because podiatrists were currently spending their time on more complicated procedures. Jenny Tonge was up in a flash wanting to ask him whether he could name those procedures but the Speaker didn't call on her so we will never know the answer to that one.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Speaking at one of their conferences today and there were a couple of interesting points raised during questions. One Care Home owner asked when hospitals would have to comply with standards as high as those in care homes and cited the number of pressure sores in hospital. There was a lot of agreement with her in the room so I have just tabled a couple of parliamentary questions to see if I can find out more.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Vote for me!

The result of this ITV programme has left me feeling very depressed.

What allegations do people make about our MPs?

"Crooks, opinionated, middle class, gift of the gab etc etc..."

So who do the public choose (when, it is fair to say, they are offered with a number of alternatives)

"Ex jail bird (fraud), middle class, gift of the gab etc etc"

So Rodney Hylton-Potts won with his manifesto of a complete ban on immigration (despite being told in Liverpool that he was living in Cloud Cuckoo -pron coocoo - land)

So much for Rodney - The only other Rodney I am familiar with is Rodney Trotter and it strikes me that the person who actually won the competition is really a Del Boy - but without any of the humanity or the compassion.

I had a brief moment of thinking that "If that is what the public want then I shall retire gracefully" but have now come to my senses and I will remain committed to fighting such intolerant attitudes in our society because I do not want to see the far right gaining any foothold in the fabric of our society.

Talking of ex PPCs

By sheer coincidence I came across Paul Raynes this week as I was consulting the Essex County Council website in order to deal with some casework. Doesn't look happy does he?

Google then provded me with this bizarre link which included Tim Palmer as well (Tory candidate in by election)

Just when Michael Howard didn't think it could get any worse

Robert Jackson MP has defected to Labour.

My immediate guess on hearing of a defection was that it was John Bercow although there are a number of likely candidates if you start from the position of looking for people who don't seem at one with the Conservative Party.

John Bercow is the ex International Development Spokesman and the rumours are that he resigned because of a lack of commitment to International Development. Ironic isn't it that, post tsunami, momey is now being found?

Next on the list would have been Robert Walter who recently tried to introduce some Private Members legislation to ban all male clubs. A shame therefore that the local Conservative club still has a restriction on women in the bar. I gather that Margaret Thatcher (when she visited during the 2001 election - thanks Maggie you helped in my victory) had to be deemed an "honorary male" and the then male PPC was quite proud of the fact that he had organised this.

I hope that times have changed because it must be odd to have a female PPC who can't fully bond with all the club members so I hope that someone will come and inform us that all is now well in local Toryland.

Fathers for Justice

The script in the office went something like this....

"I think I should meet FFJ"

"Ok - I'll arrange it"

"When am I meeting FFJ?"

"I have left messages but they do not get back to me"

(repeat xn)

4 months later

"When am I meeting FFJ?"

"Well, I am a bit hacked off about that because I have just had a message from X who tells me they have had difficulty engaging with LDs"


"OK I'll try the new contact via X and see what I can come up with"

"Good - keep me posted"

"Good news. I have arranged a meeting with FFJ at the office on Sat 15Jan"

"Hmmmm - can we rearrange to mutual territory? I have just read that they staged a sit in at JOhn Denham's office?"

"Will see what I can do. How about the White Horse?"

" That's fine"

"I have just contacted them and they will meet you there"

"Have you arranged anyone to be with me?"

"Why should I do that as you are usually happy to meet people by yourself?"

"Ah - one of them recently handcuffed himself to a Labour Minister"

"OK - see your point"

I have to report that it was actually a constructive meeting and there were more points of agreement than disagreement. Watch this space.

Christmas Cat and the Pudding Pirates

latest offering from RAODS at the Plaza. Entertaining. Go and see it if only to see how Mark Ponsford manages to move his legs - makes John Cleese look like an amateur....

Assorted Royals

Yestderday I was invited to the Vedic Temple in Southampton to be there when the Earl and Countess of Wessex arrived to talk to representatives from the SOuthampton Council of Faiths about their actions to provide aid to victims of the tsunami. I was slightly puzzled by the fact that there was a press officer from Buckingham Palace present who hadn't been noticeable on previous Royal visits. I assumed that I was witnessing a Royal charm offensive in the making.

It was a pleasant visit and appreciated by all who were there but it was only when I watched the evening news that I fully appreciated the intensive media interes. Unbeknown to we underlings who were waiting patiently in the temple Prince Edward was being bombarded by questions about Prince Harry's decision to dress up as a Nazi. I have to say that Prince E seemed to be capable of handling such questions on his own.

As I drove back to the office after the event I listened to the Jeremy Vine show on the car radio and, for the first time in my life, found myself agreeing with Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail. He was saying that Harry had been stupid but the press were getting this all out of proportion.

Harry is 20 and clearly has a lot of growing up to do but the media response to his party silliness raises a number of questions.

1. Is there an anti royal agenda?
2. Is this a way to divert press attention from the Brown/Blair spat?
3. Should young adult royals be protected from the press?
4. Aren't there more important things we should be getting on with such as the UK response to the effects of the tsunami?

Friday, January 14, 2005

The trouble with women

Was asked to do a pre-record for the Politics show and the subject was female representation in Parliament. The subject had been prompted by the deselection of Sue Catling who was the Conservative candidate for Calder Valley who halved the Labour majority at the last election.

I can only guess at the motivation for deselecting her but the press seem to indicate that the local party can't cope with a strong woman. There are probably many more layers to this story than have appeared in the press but some of the reporting has highlighted the way that women and men are reorted for ostensibly the same actions.

Men are assertive and women are bossy/aggressive
Men are straight talking but women are strident
Men will "storm" out of a meeting but women will "flounce"

The list is endless and most of the time people just ignore it all and are just able to carry on with the job. Even though I am not a Tory I find her deselection depressing. The BBC journalists I spoke to today said that they had visited the constituency and many members of the public stopped and commented on how terribly she had been treated. The name recognition was good and in politics that is a significant part of the battle.

So does it actually matter if parliament is testosterone heavy (and I am not talking about the wierd rumour that it is the hormone of choice for some female parliamentarians)? I think it does and some of the polling evidence shows that younger women think so too and are looking at all of the political parties with a jaundiced eye. Apparently even the Labour party cannot bask in glory because the signs are that if they lose seats then it is many of the female MPs who will be among the most vulnerable and the proportion of women among Labour MPs will almost definitely fall.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Women suicides in prison

Had managed to secure a debate on this in parliament today. I will freely admit that this is not a mainstream subject of concern in the constituency but occasionally as an MP you come across a problem or an issue that is not receiving enough attention and decide to do something about it.

May election?

Rumour has it that Government MPs have been told to expect a six week campaign and most have been encouraged to stay in their constituencies after the Easter break but the election will not be called until the return to Parliament in April.

Time will tell but knowing this place the rumours will have a different flavour this time next week.


I hope that today was not a taste of how things are going to be between now and the election. It was truly dire. Michael Howard wasted six questions - based around the theme of the Brown/Blair spat and Gordon apparently not trusting Tony.

It left me cold but some of the lobby journalists appeared to be lapping it all up. That is the trouble with the parliamentary lobby. It leads to a sort of incestual behaviour where everyone believes that what is happening in Westminster is the real thing. I believe that the majority of the general public are totally bored with such introspection and just want politicians to get on with the job.

Some hope..

Reduce the Risk

As I am a parliamentary champion for Cancer UK I popped in at the launch of their awareness campaign last night. Key messages are to exercise more, stop smoking, stay out of the sun, eat proper food and drink less alcohol. So I was curious to see what the catering would be like. Am pleased to report that there were lots of sticks of raw vegetables but it is not clear whether the dips were high or low fat. The organisers had decided that an alcohol free reception was going a bit far but had organised an exercise bike. I was making mental notes of congratulations and then realised that it was there for a photo opportunity.
Yes - I did have a go but I noticed a slightly sadistic tendency on the part of the photographer. The more overweight an MP was the faster he was exhorting them to pedal!

Happy go Lucky

Visited this club in Wellow when they were receiving a presentation from the Energy Saving Centre. Lots of advice about how to save money on your heating bills and the club members received a free gift of an electric light bulb.

Chatting to members it seems that most of them go for a bit of company but the lady in charge was worried about the falling numbers which is a shame as the club has been going for a number of years.

Back to..... normality?

Front half of the week I was busy preparing for today's adjurnment debate so have not had "spare" time to blog.
When I was doing multiple circuits of the lobbys on Monday night it felt as though all of the benefits of the break at recess had been negated. I looked around at my trusty colleagues (from all parties) and remarked how grey and tired everyone looked but come to think of it - it is the time of the year when everything looks grey.

Time for a quick update.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Brown and Blair and "the grid"

I am not sure who is advising Tony Blair but whoever suggested that he move his regular briefing so that it clashed with a speech being made by Gordon Brown deserves to be sacked. Over the last seven years the Government have tried hard (and I have to say with a huge amount of success) to manipulate the news agenda and have rigidly ensured that clashes such a the above do not occur. The press are not stupid and the clash stood out like a lighthouse on speed.
This is no way to lay the rumours to rest and the press will now be looking even harder for evidence of a feud. Of course those helpful back benchers such as Gwyneth Dunwoody have to wade in with their helpful bits of advice. Surely it would have been more helpful if she had spoken to them privately rather than via the media?

Tony Blair's holidays

There seems to be a certain amount of speculation about our PMs unusual reluctance to stride the world stage over the last week. Some are suggesting that he has had heart surgery and some are suggesting that the PM has had plastic surgery. All I can say is that if today's pictures of him are anything to go by then he certainly isn't looking any younger or fresher faced. He didn't look that well either considering that he has just had a long break in Egypt.

Thirteen year old drink drivers

My immediate reaction was "what is the world coming to?" - sounding worryingly like my mother and I can't help thinking that the kid wouldn't have been jailed if the judge felt that he had any other option.
Then it struck me that in all the news coverage I took in there was scant mention of parents. Surely they have some reponsibility in all of this?

One of the things that I have realised since I became an MP is that some people just really aren't very good at being parents and the main reason for this is that their parents weren't very good either. There have been generations of social service involvement but it is seen by the families as interfering and involvement is unwelcome. Social services departments do seem to be very hard pressed and only have time for dealing with active problems. Proactive work with young families is way down the list of priorities.

We can't carry on watching kids fail and then doing a very poor job of picking up the pieces. I shall reserve final judgement til I have read the papers tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Three minute silence

Why all the fuss? If people want to take part then that is fine and if they think the idea is misguided then there is no pressure to take part. I have been taken aback at the media minutes and column inches that have been devoted to people quibbling about what - in the grand scheme of things -pales into insignificance. I can't help wondering whether some of the empty vessels that are making the most noise are actually seeking some sort of publicity for themselves.

I was visiting Eastleigh Fire Station today (they do put out fires in parts of the constituency) and it turned out that they had arranged rather more than the chat I was expecting so I ended up observing the three minute silence alongside the firefighters. They had also been collecting money over the weekend and had raised over £10,100. Other fire fighters thought it likely that they might be asked to help and I will admit that I hadn't fully appreciated how useful our firefighters are on a global scale.

Most amusing Xmas pressie

Barbara and Derek (neighbours) came along for a post Christmas meal and presented me with a large box. Many unwrapping later I came across a postcard depicting James Beattie (see earlier blogs) written (presumably in his own fair hand) with the words "To Sandra, Hope this will help you recognise me next time! Best Wishes"
There was also a little kiss next to the signature but I bet he does that to all the girls..

Derek informed me that he just wrote to ask for an autograph and picture for me and the words were his own choice.

what a pity that he is going back up North.

Times when I am really proud of my kids

Phone call from Nick (son) in midst of New Year Eve activities describing a problem with one of the party goers and asking advice. Can report that all ended well.

So what do MPs do at New Year

Spend the time with friends and neighbours.
Because it keeps me rooted in reality and I can have a glass or two and walk home safely!

Usual routine in Sycamore Close (ever since we had a barbecue -yes you read that correctly - to celebrate the Millenium) is to gather in one of the houses, eat and play silly games.

Most years we have turned the telly on to get the timing right for friendly kissing and auld lang syne but this year we were all transfixed by the firework display. If it looked that good on telly then to be there must have been pretty spectacular.
Olympic committee - sit up and take note please - this is only a taster of what London is capable of and I am fully behind the campaign to bring the Olympics to London so it was particularly unhelpful tonight to hear that Radio 4 was broadcasting a programme about how terrible London is.
Why can't we learn to be a little more upbeat as a nation?


How I managed to restrain myself and refrain from posting I shall never know. Ultimately though there was nothing I could do except watch with horror like the rest of the world (and donate money like the rest of the world) . The one thing that has been appalling has been the tendency for the media and some politicians to carp and criticise. The one thing that has been truly heartening has been the public response. If there is any good to come from this disaster my personal wish is that people will have a greater comprehension of the problems of the third world and act accordingly.

In the mean time there are many families whose Christmas has been ruined because they have a friend or a relative who was on holiday in the disaster area.

Locally this has touched home because Romsey's favourite gardener - Charlie Dimmock - has still not heard from her mother and her father-in-law who were visiting Thailand. Most people who have come across Charlie will know of the particular fondness that she has for "her mum" (not to say that she isn't fond of others but the mother bond is very apparent as she often unwittingly mentions her). I am sure that we are all hoping that there is a happy ending to this story but I can't help thinking that this is the stuff of fairy tales.

Happy New Year

Apologies to those who looked at the blog over the Christmas period but I decide to take a break from all things political in order to recharge my batteries for the year ahead. It is now back to business as usual but first it is time for a quick update.