Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Up and coming Tory woman?

Was intrigued by a conversation I couldn't help overhearing last night during the vote. Justine Greening was talking to one of the new Tory men (doesn't matter who but he was clearly young and ambitious).
"So how come you're on Question Time on Thursday? " sez Tory Boy in sulky tone

My ears pricked up and I was half hoping she might say something like, "Well, I have obviously impressed them in some way" ---or "I am clearly the sort of thing the Tory party needs to promote" or something similarly assertive. Instead she almost apologetically said,

"Well, it's the young people's programme and they picked me"

The young people clearly have shown a good deal of sense and I wish her well - and hope she retains that sense of having her feet firmly on the ground.

ID cards

The arguments for and against these are well rehearsed and I have received quite a large volume of mail on the subject - I don't need to go into all of it here.
Best bit was when Diane Abbott's opening remarks were interrupted by an almighty clap of thunder. As one of the diary columnists remarked today - it was about the only time in living history that anything has stopped her talking.

The much trumpeted Labour rebellion came to nothing and I am beginning to think that the Labour party Whips have developed a system of managing these rebellions and retaining a majority. I don't really want to see this and sincerely hope that I am proved wrong.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Security Checks

For the first time ever I was challenged by a Member of Security who asked to see my pass and then made a record of my name. Thought that I would probably have my wrists slapped by the Serjeant at Arms but then realised that today is the day we will debate ID cards.
Conspiracy theorists could have a field day.

Running on Empty

This was the name of the report by a number of agencies, discussing what should be done about the fact that people with severe mental health problems are likely to die 10 - 15 years earlier than their other peers and there are often significant health needs which are unmet.
Hosted the breakfast meeting which launched the report.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Honing my bolshie" muscle

This took place at a meeting of the Federal Executive. There was a proposal to "rationalise" the position of the Gender Balance Task Force and incorporate the post in to our Candidates Office. Although I am no longer Chair of the group I could not help but feel that this was a retrograde step now that we have begun to find out what works and what doesn't. We won the argument and the status quo remains.

Chief Whip commented in the tea room that my skills in this direction were honed enough and needed no further sharpening. Whatever can he mean?

Nursing a grievance

Visited a local nursing home this morning - main problem was the incongruous situation whereby local councils appear to be happy to keep people in hospital (for the cost of an extra £700 a week) rather than pay an extra tenner a week to the nursing home.

Am taking this up but we also discussed problems around staffing and the impact of any bed closures at local hospitals on the nursing home sector.

Sometimes feel that these sessions are a bit like therapy because people are usually happier after being given a chance to get things off their chest.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Meeting yesterday to discuss recent meeting with Minister (Stephen Timms - I was not involved as there was only one member from each party and Chris Huhne represented the Lib Dems). When we met Malcolm Wicks earlier this year he was sympathetic to the APW workers but led us all to believe that the Government could not provide compensation for the lost pension schems because it "would set a precedent" and they did not know how many other companies might be affected.
It now transpires that there are only four or five companies involved so the potential bill for compensation is very limited. MPs from all parties are now co-ordinating efforts to shame the Government into providing APW workers with the compensation they would have received had this all happened a little earlier.

Friday, June 24, 2005

More on travellers

Managed to get in on business questions with this and got a more helpful response than expected from Geoff Hoon. Had already done some work on this but it might be worth taking him up on his offer of help. What is clear is that residents are sick and fed up and the place will need a significant clean up.

Women's Questions (yet again)

It was inevitable when the question on pay differential appeared on the order paper that people would want to comment on the fact that Meg Munn appeared to have been forgotten in the reshuffle (or at least the post for Women and Equality had been forgotten) and ended up agreeing to take on the post for no pay.

I had a little line ready prepared but a number of colleagues gently referred to before Eleanor Laing for the Tories went at her with all guns blazing - the only problem was that there was no other aspect to her question.

I judged it inappropriate to carry on chucking metaphorical eggs at an already overegged pudding and concentrated on a polite welcome before asking my question.

Meg responded by referring to the fact that Eleanor, Meg and I had frequently made up a threesome which caused much chuckling from the Tory men to my right. Sometimes I do wish that they would grow up just a little.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


This problem has been occupying some of my time this week. The frustrating aspect is that everyone claims that nothing can be done since Hampshire County Council closed down the dedicated site so there is now nowhere to move the travellers on to. Following up in a number of ways bit am particularly interested in the steps they have taken in Ireland to reduce this problem. There is some dissent about whether their action contravenes the Human Rights Act but local residents have rights too.

Woof woof

Received a letter from the organisers for the competition to find the Westminster Dog of the Year. Was rather concerned to learn that the award had been won by Vera Baird. It could have been better put - surely it was her dog that won the award?

Racial and Religious Hatred

Disappointing that there were few rebels and the vote was a healthy majority for the Government. There may yet be some voteable changes during future stages of the Bill to provide better ways of tackling the identified problems.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just an average day?

Managed half an hour in the Westminster office before I had to head off for a lunch with the International AIDS vaccine Institute.

Then had to catch up with the Chief Whip (How's it going, what are your plans? etc) followed by a meeting with someone from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation. We covered the use of snares, Lib Dem shooting policy and Driven Game Shooting. Very interesting complement to the leaflets from the League against Cruel Sports and it is always useful to try and listen to all sides of the argument.

meeting with the new health team was rapidly followed by pop ins to receptions with RCN, CMU universities and the England women's football team (not all at the same time).

The football meeting was particularly interesting as the MPs seemed to be mostly from the supportive female sector, constituency MPs or the young, single and male! Female footballers were not impressed by the head of EUFA claiming that women should concentrate on looks rather than football skills.

Would have liked to have followed the debate on the Relligious Hatred Bill a little more closely but the backlog of e-mails beckons and it will be quicker to speed read it in the morning.

The perennial parking problem

Following advice (not least received in the early days of this blog) I started the quest for a station car parking space some time after 9:30. Winchester did prove succesful on the first attempt but only after two circuits of both car parks. All success to the planning application at Parkway.

Breakfast in Stockbridge

Being a night owl I have never really understood the attraction of breakfast meetings. Was up at 6 in order to pack my bag for the week and be in Stockbridge for 7:30 for a meeting with local business people.

Seemed to go OK but was struck by how many people were offering services rather than products (Eddie - who invited me being one of the exceptions). Chatting afterwards one chap charmingly commented that he was an engineer by profession but now occasionally worried about whether he qualified to be on the "third ship" in Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Romsey Hospital

Had a meeting with the local Primary Care Trust about the future of community hospitals. There has been a lot of speculation about this in the local press following the publication of a draft consultation document which advocated reducing the number of community beds over a wider area.

The final consultation paper will be with us in July (if things go according to plan) - it is pointless to speculate until that time but I do think that the future of the hospital is secure but its use may change slightly. The one thing that seems to be lacking in all of the proposals is the element of choice - so beloved of Government - and it seems to me to be an artificial exercise to consult on blanket proposals - declare that on balance people would prefer health services to be delivered at home - and then to deny people an individual choice. It would seem that choice is OK only if it is the sort of choice that Government would like people to have.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A bit more about the by- election

We won - despite the most negative opposition campaign I have seen in years which did not mention a single, positive fact about the Conservative candidate.

More about that funeral

Before flyng off on holiday I sent a universal text reminding everyone that I did not want to be disturbed unless it was unavoidable.

On Moday I was upset to learn that Bob Waller had died. He was only 52. He had played a significant role in the election campaign organising poster sites and his wife, Jane, had organised the delivery network.

Sometimes you realise that you don't know everything about your helpers' lives and I will admit that it was only on the Sunday before polling day that we really cottoned on to the fact that one of Bob's other lives was as a Morris Dancer. He turned up to the campaigning meeting in white cotton shirt and breeches which is unusual garb for a Sunday evening in Romsey.

I don't know the full details but we gather that he died Morris dancing (or shortly after). I dashed back for the funeral but the train was slightly late so arrived at the Abbey to find that the service had started. With an ear to the door it was difficult to establish exactly what was going on inside ( I certainly didn't want to clomp in in the middle of prayers). When I entered it was to the sound of a folk song and this was swiftly followed by a Morris dance.

I will admit that I did wonder about the combination of Abbey and Morris dancers but this was more than adequately dealt with by the vicar. We were all presented with a sprig of rosemary- for remembrance - and went to the Hatchetts, in Sherfield English, afterwards.

Sad but very personal to Bob and any tips as to how to make a sprig of rosemary root will be more than welcome.

Two elections and a dinner

First election was for Chair of the Parliamentary Party. This was interesting because this position is always announced by the Leader - with a footnote to say that the position is ratified by the parliamentary party. To date this has never been challenged and past Chairs have been Malcolm Bruce, Mark Oaten and Matthew Taylor. each have fulfilled this role in very different ways.

Before my holiday there were rumblings that Phil Willis was going to put up a challenge but returned to discover that it was Matthew Taylor v Paul Holmes.

Paul won and this seems to be widely interpreted as a warning that the party must be democratic at all levels of the party.

Then had to return to Romsey on the Thursday to support the Town Council by-election and to attend the funeral service of Bob Waller.

A new office

The other advantage of going away is that I was absent from Westminster when the staff had to pack up everything for our move from Norman Shaw North (the old Scotland Yard building) to Portcullis House (PCH). All I can say is that if the offices in PCH really cost a million pounds each then someone, somewhere, is having a laugh. I can't quite see it...

Staff are very nice but are being very proscriptive about the sort of furniture we can have. At the moment we are only allowed desk and chair plus either two comfy arm chairs or a "cirular formal meeting table and four chairs". What most of us want (and many longer standing occupiers have) is the table and chairs and one comfy arm chair (there is plenty of room). I have been told that the Serjeant at Arms is now enforcing the rules rigidly but I do question what has happened to all of the surplus furniture which has apparently been taken out of the offices.

Finding a place for everything has proved interesting - even switching everything on was something of a challenge. I arrived to discover a disfunctional fridge and it took 20 mins to trace the socket. My vase has completely disappeared and the phones did not work (bear in mind here that they only move six MPs a day). Having raised the grumbles it was clear that the staff were trying hard so it was impossible to be too cross.

Still not completely settled in but things are coming along and the newoffice is actually quite nice.

A week off

had a last minute holiday as was feeling completely wrecked after months of solid campaigning. SO insisted so we went to Andalucia and the idea was that we had 5 days walking in the Sierra Nevada and a day visiting Granada - I was keen to visit the Alhambra. Went mostly according to plan but twisted my knee on the first day when I slipped on some scree so took the second day off.

This was hard (!!) as it meant that I had to relax for the day! I did have the opportunity to chat to our hostess - Carol - an Englishwoman who had lived in the area for many years and quiz her on the political (and financial) realities of living in Spain. The beer and wine may be cheap but there are other considerations - not least the hefty social security payments for the self-employed.

No one has realised that I have been to sunnier climes as the Tilley hat (only hat with a sun protection factor) and the suncreams have kept me looking "pale and interesting"

NTL has a lot to answer for

I apologise for those who have been logging in expecting an update but IT problems have frustrated me. In recess week I generally rely on blogging from home (trying to do so in the office crashes the case work system) and the system was unbelievably slow. I do not know what was happening but everything was failing due to a time out. Someone pointed out that NTL are trying to flog a superior service and may have somehow slowed down our current service in order to encourage us to upgrade. I really can't comment on this but eventually even my mild mannered husband became frustrated by the service and ran a test. He discovered that the download speed was a fraction of what it should be. I knew that matters were coming to a head when I heard him saying to someone on the "help"line,

"No you're completeley wrong. " pause.......

"Excuse me, I am an engineer and I actually understand these things!"

The long and short of it is that we decided to change systens (a big decision - not far removed from changing your bank) and we went on holiday for a week.

All is still not resolved but suddenly NTL is performing well and I am able to blog. Apologies for the gap in service but I can assure people that this blog has not reached the "end of its natural life"