Thursday, March 31, 2005

A day at the Office

Surgery followed by a day in the office - dealing with real people and real -problems to be interrupted by a call from the Romsey Advertiser. My Tory opponent has put out some press release accusing me of all sorts of evils (it will be slaughter of the newborn next week) and "challenging" me to a publi debate "on the issues"

There will be loads of opportunities for this during the election but what is really puzzling me is why she can't write to me or pick up the phone like 99.99% of the public manage to do?

Going to the blogs

Anyone heard Analysis tonight? A prog about political blogging with a number of bloggers featured.

Fancying Michael Howard

Had a session with an image consultant on Tuesday (well it was free!) as it is always useful to have an excuse (especially a political one) to shop...

Dee had bought along a lot of pictures and cheerily commented "Anything is possible - take a look at these pics"

"Gosh - he's quite dishy" says I and recoiled with horror as I realised that I was looking at a picture of a Michael Howard with no glasses, a bit more hair and a very casual style (smirk also replaced by a nice smile)

Dee laughed and informed me that it was not real it was "just something that had been mocked up by the (Sunday?) Times" but I will admit that it took me a couple of minutes to regain my composure.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Snide comments

The snide comment to this blog "do you think 3% is a good showing?" started me thinking about other snide comments and I was remind of an incident during the Romsey by-election.

Candidates (and minders) for the three main parties had to get up early to stand in the Watrose Car Park being invterviewed for Five Live (It's such a glamorous life). For some reason the Tory candidate (Tim Palmer) suddenly went into overdrive about how he (Dorset farmer, born in London) was the only truly candidate. Labour guy and I burst out laughing and presenter asked how that was possible when SG lived in constituency and he didn't. Rant continued and accompanying Tories clearly didn't regard this as the most helpful interview in the world.

Once the interview was over the Tory accompanying Tim came over to me and sneered, "Enjoy it back on the Parish Council won't you?" I was a Borough and Town Councillor at the time and asked what he meant.
"Enjoy it. Because that's what you'll be going back to after the election."

His attitude annoyed me so I told Mr Sneer that I was going to Parliament as well and then said

"You people just don't know how to be nice to other people do you?" and I was robustly informed by this guy that he "had no intention of being nice to people like you"

I can't recall quite how the conversation ended but was quite surprised to see on the lunchtime news that the then deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party was sounding off about something or other. I recall pointing at the screen and saying, "That was the bloke who was so rude to me this morning!" - it was none other than John Hayes MP whose first words to me when he saw me in Westminster were, "I see you've managed to find the tea room!"

To be fair - he did later approach me and give me a friendly little chat about how MPs really tried to work together in Westminster and what happened in the by election was a completely different ball game.

Psst...... Did you know?

It is a feature of the election build up period that we are sent anonymous letters, receive the occasional anonymous phone call and have people sidling up to us saying "I think you should know...."

Admittedly there was more of it at the last election but I sometimes wonder what people are expecting us to do when they anonymously provide information.

The nice one today was when a well wisher told me that he was sure that the Tories were "out to get me" and he didn't like it. Sweet of him to tip me off but it wasn't exactly news.

Birthday blues?

It was back to business today with a round of canvassing in Rownhams in the morning followed by envelope stuffing in the afternoon. There was a birthday cake and some fizz to help things on their way.

I had to ask myself how many other people would choose to spend their birthday in this way. Fellow politicians who share my birthday are David Amess and William Hague. I stopped believing in horoscopes when I discovered our birthdays clashed because I decided in the 2001 election that polling day could not be good for both of us...

Oh - and just to prove I am not completely sad I will point out I am going out for a nice meal shortly.

A day off!

Husband decided a break would do me good and booked me into the Sanctuary for a day. Blissful as spent most of the day having bits of me pampered and massaged and felt very chilled at the end of the day.

I decided I would read the glossy magazines while I was there which is a rare treat for me but at the moment it is impossible to escape politics even for a day - expected to be reading about things uniquely girlie but She magazine had an article about the three party leaders and in another mag (can't remember whether it was Vanity Fair or Tatler) there was an extremely interesting article about voting in Ohio.

I was a little worried that I might have finally "gone native" but then I reflected that it was good to see monthly magazines covering political issues. Whether it will engage people or not remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Just when they thought it was going well

We hear about Howard Flight - not sure why he has resigned because he appears to have been honest!

Actually - even the Tories don't appear to think they're anywhere near "breakthrough" if the conversation I overheard in the tea room was anything to go by.

Political weblog awards

Have just found this and was chuffed to be nominated as this blog is really quite basic and ad hoc. Very pleased to see a good Lib Dem showing.

Pressing lessons needed

Had an e-mail from Sarah T tonight commenting on the Parliamentary Awayday. Eight shadow cabinet members (7 guys and me) had to give 3 minute presentations on policy areas followed by a grilling.

Her comments were nice but I laughed when I read that I was the only one "wearing clothes which had been pressed and fitted". Was tempted to say that it was because I am a girl (and I do not claim to be a crumple free zone) but clearly someone needs to tell the boys which way is up when it comes to that hot, pointy triangular thing.


To the Oxo Tower on Monday for a "Meet the Specialist Press" event. I have to say that when we have run these in the past we have used awful halls, served fairly mediocre nibbles and lukewarm chardonnay and only ever attracted the real enthusiasts from less mainstream publications. So I trudged along with a sense of duty and a heavy heart but this time it was great. There were lots of people, edible food and drinkable drink and there was a real buzz to the occasion.
Spent some time talking to a Daily Mail specialist journalist and when I mentioned this to someone the response was, "Wow, that's great. We expect the Indy and the Guardian to come but it's a good sign if The Mail have turned up!!"

It was all very encouraging and the vibe is very different to four years ago. Clearly the party has a lot more money and a lot more support and being taken a lot more seriously by the media.

An interviewees nightmare

There was I all togged up and ready to go - staring into the green lights in the BBC studios at Millbank waiting to go live to talk about Labour's five point plan for older people.... only to be asked a question about the draft Mental Health Bill....

Split second decision to try and wing it as it was a subject I've taken an interest in. Just about coped and left the studio to be confronted by a cluster of worried looking people who said, "Err, weren't you supposed to be talking about older people?"

Obviously a case of crossed wires but they were very thankful that I had "gone with it" and hadn't spoiled the flow of the programme. Alls well that ends well but I am not sure whether it would have been quite so easy had I suddenly been challenged to talk about something I am less familiar with.

I have been a naughty girl

I haven't blogged for a week and I have had withdrawal symptoms but have also had a lot to do. The original aim was that this blog would be used in the election but, if 2001 is anything to go by, finding the odd minute or two to blog will be a challenge but I will try and rise to it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


This evening I was a panellist at the local RCN version of Question Time - although I have to say that the Chair was a lot kinder than Dimbleby and there was a lot less interrupting.

Other panellists were Desmond Swayne - in the blue corner - and Alan Whitehead in the red corner.

Desmond was the most sensible I have ever seen him (all things are relative) but I was pretty gobsmacked when he started talking about things like the importance of public health. I muttered that this was something of a renaissance and he agreed! The bottom line is that my political activism was awakened in the 90s because I was so appalled at what the Tories were doing to the health service and I really cannot believe that the health service will be looked after in the unlikely event that they get into power.

Alan was his usual relatively gentle self but he had the more difficult job of trying to defend some of the Government actions.

Nice to have some feedback after the meeting that I had shown a real grasp of the issues. The reality is though that there was actually quite a lot of agreement between us about some of the problems and we didn't come to blows.

Budgetting for an election

Well, I challenge you to deny that this was a pre-election budget. Lot's of nice little pre-election gifts - didn't upset the drinkers, smokers and motorists too much and a few little gifts for families and pensioners.
Howard seemed uncomfortable when he responded as his voice was uncharacteristically squeaky although the Conservatives did, at least, manage a cheer for him at the end.
Charles used the opportunity to get some of our ideas across which I think was a much better use of time but then I would, wouldn't I?

Alzheimer's Debate

Had been lucky enough to secure an adjournment debate on this subject and was expecting to face Stephen LAdyman who had been in the news over the weekend indicating that there would be a U turn on the decision to stop the prescribing of treatments for Alzheimer's Disease (AD). The Government whips were expecting Stephen Ladyman to answer so I was quite surprised to be facing John Hutton who nowadays is generally too senior to get lumbered with adjournment debates. Very odd and I can only guess at the reasons that Ladyman wasn't there.

I will try and remember to put a link to the Hansard for the debate but something very curious is going on. NICE were set up to make decisions that were independent of Govenment and they are now a very respected organisation. So, I am at a bit of a loss as to why a Government Minister would give the impression that he was going to make sure that unpopular guidance was overturned. Surely there can't be an election in the offing can there?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Age shall wither thine principles?

Have been pondering on this since my canvassing on Saturday. Came across a delightful couple who said they used to vote Lib Dem but probably wouldn't this time. Was curious as to why because most travel is in the opposite direction (aka "The other two parties have b******d it up so we might as well give you a chance).
Turns out that this couple in their much younger days were young socialists and they clearly still had a set of principles.
I asked them if they honestly thought that the Conservatives would look after them in their old age and they laughed and said, "Probably not but it won't affect us as we plan to leave the country"

The sad thing was the comment "All older people get a little more selfish and self centred in their old age"
The fiery idealism of youth usually does fade but I am not sure that I buy into the idea that people are more selfish.

Food for thought


Was asked to do a News 24 interview on the recent court case involving a cannibal! This is not relevant to Romsey, women or older people so declined the opportunity as I had been asked in my capacity as Joint Chair of Mental Health Group. Trouble is that this close to an election the press office gets very twitchy if one shadow cabinet member speaks on another person's portfolio area.

Radio Five Live

This morning they were supposedly discussing the women's vote and has invited assorted skirts on to the programme. I arrived to be put in a studio with Eleanor Laing (this happens to us a lot) only to find that Meg Munn (who seems to be being put forward as the voice of Labour women - due for a promotion?) had been on the programme earlier.

We commented that all three parties should have been treated in the same way but both of us found the programme oddly disjointed. One listener rang in with some very interesting comments about carers but we didn't have a chance to comment yet recent EOC research shows that this is a key issue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Weekend reactions

Out and about a lot this weekend and lots of people saying they were surprised to see me as they thought all MPs would be catching up on missed sleep. Informed them that we all got more sleep than the media coverage might have suggested but anyone who can't cope with occasional periods of sleep deprivation probably shouldn't become an MP.

That said I will freely admit that there have been occasions over the weekend when it has been difficult to remain fully alert.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Coping mechanisms

Funny how a change of routine affects people. There were subtle differences along this office corridor this afternoon. Richard Younger Ross's door had an ostentatious "Do not disturb" sign whilst Michael Fabricant (aka Micky Fabb) seemed to have over indulged in the after shave. His office is next to mine and the smell was overpowering - but I have to say that it was quite a nice smell.

The final countdown

It's all over bar the assenting. As predicted at the parliamentary party meeting the Tories claimed victory on the Sunset clause (but strangely it was us who were talking to the Government this afternoon and my spies tell me the Government and Tories weren't speaking to each other). The Tories did not support us on the burden of proof argument so the result is that we have a Bill that should receive royal assent later tonight. It is not a perfect bill by any means but it is a darn sight better than the one originally proposed by the Government.

It now remains for me to pack up my laptop and head for home. I am really looking forward to a nice hot bath and a good night's sleep before trying to pack three days work into a two day weekend.

Love is in the air...

Well, not love exactly but there were a number of interesting looking huddles during the recent votes, following the latest concession by the Home Secretary. Was standing by Labour rebels - some of whom thought it was time to stop voting against their government but Bob Marshall Andrews was heard muttering under his breath, "I don't believe a bloody word he says"

Time will tell but it looks as if the end is in sight.

House of Commons as Health Hazard

I really could have done without Martin Salter decribing the state of his socks on national TV - some of us have contingency plans for this sort of thing and the place doesn't smell that bad - yet!

A second blogging female member?

I happen to be sitting in the library next to Cheryl Gillan who asked me how I got my blog up and running. I directed her to blogspot and she is setting up "Chiltern Cheryl" as we speak. This is getting rather incestuous as she has just typed the words Sandra Gidley.

I won't link straight away as I am not sure when the blog is going live but Cheryl tells me that she has now mastered her blackberry and is mastering the art of blogging.

I'm still waiting...

As are we all and the worrying thing is that Sky News seemed rather more informed about the start time this afternoon than the whips office. However, even Sky got it wrong. David Laws clearly thinks we are in for a long wait as he was sitting in the chamber with "The Commission for Africa" report open on page 1. Not quite the parliamentary equivalent of War and Peace but not far off.

Made the decision last night to sacrifice comfort (and the possibility of missing the alarm) for more sleep. Two HOC arm chairs pushed together are more comfortable than one might expect and the Division bell is a very effective alarm.

This mornings session was followed by a parliamentary party meeting and an update as to what is going on but the meeting didn't wholly resemble what later happened in the Lords. We then all trooped off for breakfast to find that the tea room (shock horror) had run out of bacon! I have to say though that the catering staff have been doing their best to cope with the unexpected demand.

At the present moment there are no apparent signs that the Government is willing to budge and they are falling back on the argument that the Lords shouldn't block the will of the elected House of Commons. I am sorry Tony but you have had eight years to do something about the House of Lords if you really wanted to.

Don't let the sun go down on me

As I start writing this at half past midnight there is a sense of inevitability about the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. None of the earlier votes in the House of Commons was remotely close and their Lordships show every sign of wanting to see this through to the bitter end. Resistance is not exactly futile but clearly the Labour whips have been hard at work on some of the earlier rebels.

Some of the older coves seemed to be getting rather overexcited at the prospect of a late night sitting "Just like old times dear boy"

I now also know that the heating does go off overnight and am surveying the office furnishings for something warm to throw overmyself whilst I kip in the armchair.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Prime Minister's Qs

Rather bizarre and noisy today as the chamber was rather fuller than it has been in recent weeks (anyone would think there might be an important vote or two later today). Howard was at his most bullish and aggressive and the Tories were lapping it up but Tony Blair was excelling in his Cheshire Cat impression. Just what he has to be quite so horribly smug about is completely beyond me.

White arm bands

Just thought I had better explain why politicians had an air of the "traffic police" about them during International Development Questions and PMQs today. The white arm bands were to highlight the "Make Poverty History" campaign.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

International Women's Day

Attended a couple of events that were celebrating this and it seems to me that some of the women's issues are much higher on the agenda than previously. First stop was the NUT campaign to tackle domestic violence and the second was the Save the Children campaign on access to Education - particularly looking at girls. Germaine Greer was a lively speaker on the subject of education.

Youth in Romsey

Attended the AGM and it was good to see that "Number 23" is going from strength to strength. I can remember my daughter wielding a paintbrush in the early days and helping to decorate the place but it has had a makeover since those days.
The youth council is also going from strength to strength and it is always good to see active and commited youngsters - who never seem to receive the media exposure that the wrong us do.

Hob nobbing in Schools

Visited three schools in the constituency yesterday. Two were routine visits in Chandlers Ford to schools I had visited before but it was a useful opportunity to catch up on what is currently bothering teachers.
Last stop was Cantell school. The main purpose was to work with a lively group of pupils who are entering the Youth Parliament competition. My main aim was to give them some help and advice on things parliamentary but they had chosen a controversial topic to discuss (not sure any political party would touch it with a bargepole) so we spent some time discussing issues around their imaginary bill. Some hob nobs had been broken open for the occasion and I never cease to wonder at the capacity of teenage boys to eat.

Censorship revisited

I am instinctively uncomfortable with clicking the mouse over the "no comments" button before I post.
After a short trial I also find that I think the blog actually lacks something without the comments. Obviously I would prefer it if all comments were constructive rather than some of the stuff we have seen but reaction from others has been interesting. Some people really don't like it when they see negative comments about me but other supporters take the view that they are seen for what they are.

So - comments are back on the menu

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Final Rally

Had been asked to stay for this although I had been planning to come back early to do some local stuff. Charles made what, for him, was a very personal speech. He is clearly looking forward very much to being a father and Sarah (his wife) is absolutely glowing. When he said he had personally never felt happier or more fulfilled it was clear that a large part of that was down to her.
We all left Harrogate feeling very upbeat and optimistic about the next couple of months but also knowing that it is all going to be rather hard work.

What no Earl Grey

Moat House had run out of this essential brand of tea. Shocking!

Finally some food

A crowd of us with GBTF connection went out to eat and Liz Kershaw and cousin(?) came too. Liz was very interesting on the subject of being one of the first female DJs and it turns out that her mum was a politician. I could easily realte to some of the aspects of her life but it occured to me that female representation at Westminster is actually increasing but I couldn't actually think of a single daytime Radio 2 presenter so maybe the BBC is lagging behind.


To the Gender Balance Task Force (GBTF) meeting which was a lot more fun that it sounded.
CK came and made a brief speech and then I had to make a rather surreal presentation but I have to provide you with some background information or all will seem very strange.

At Autumn party conference we had a GBTF meeting. I had stepped down as Chair to concentrate on Romsey but volunteered to try and extort some raffle prizes out of my parliamentary colleagues. Simon Hughes made a rather unusual offering...

I will let you have the English Boxer shorts that I wore on the day the reult of the election for party president was announced but let me reassure you that they will be washed and pressed

Pressed? Now there's a man who knows where his iron is!
Not quite sure how it happened but when they came to auction there was also a promise that they would be signed by Sandra Gidley. The killer blow is that the auctioneer was none other than Lembit Opik (defeated candidate in the presidential election). It really is the killer blow when you are forced to auction your opponent's underpants.

Lembit joked to me that he woud know that he had arrived in the party when there was a pair of his underpants bearing my name. I related this tale to a couple of people in GBTF who then decided that an ideal thank you present for Lembit (who has been a great supporter of the work of GBTF) was to award him with a pair of welsh dragon boxer shorts signed by SG.

Plot hatched and the presentation was there last night. Lembit took it in very good part and insisted that Simon Hughes sign them as well.

Evening rounded off with a short but inspirational speech by Liz Kershaw.

Women Lib Dems Policy Fringe

Seven female speakers and each given the brief of speaking for three minutes on a topic (mine was health) and answering questions for three minutes.

Unfortunately the meeting was not tightly chaired and we spent far too much time on health at the beginning so felt a bit guilty that some of the later speakers had a bit less time than they should have done. Having said that it was clear that health was still very much a hot potato and subjects included

condemnation of the "Margaret's shoulder" approach
NICE review of anti-dementia drugs
Out of hours services
Booking GP appointments
Use of the private sector
Charging for eye tests and cost of spectacles
skewed priorities
Hearing tests
etc etc

Interesting to note that there were also a lot of men in the audience which is a bit of a first for a women's event but I think it was because there was a chance to bone up on policy.

Debate on older people

Had been given the task of summing up on this motion. This can be quite an onerous task as you have to bring all the strands of argument together into a coherent whole which isn't at all easy if the motion under debate is contentious.

Happily, this close to an election, the motions are never contentious so I decided to write a speech that I could deliver in a punchy way. I can't provide a link as I only had handwritten notes but was pleased with the feedback after the speech. It is always a good sign when people you don't know from Adam come and tell you they enjoyed your speech and an even better sign when colleagues ask if they can pinch a couple of your lines in the future.

Leader's Speech


Hit just the right note but left everyone tinking that they ought to be heading home immediately afterwards because his spech is usually the final spot of the Spring Conference.

Another fine example of honest Tory campaigning - or not

So what's all this with the poster advert in the Indy and the mobile poster van outside the conference centre?

The poster has a, not altogether flattering, pic of Charles Kennedy alongside the slogan along the lines of 'Lib Dems would abolish mandatory life sentences for murder'

So? It happens to be true.
The aim is to try and look as though we are "soft on crime" - which ain't true but just reflect on this scenario.

A couple have been married for years and one of them has a debilitationg, ultimately terminal, illness and begs the other to help bring that life to a peaceful end. The healthy half of the couple cannot bear to see their other half suffer so eventually (and almost certainly reluctantly in many cases) agrees.
The survivor is found out and taken to court and found guilty.

Are the Tories really saying that this person deserves a life sentence?

To us this issue is a case of deciding each case on its merits but to the Tories this is an alien concept and it is clear that "Compassionate Conservatism" is well and truly buried as an ethos.

The long drive north

To Harrogate for the party conference. Managed to arrive with just enough time to spare before heading off to meet the LGA. Interesting discussion about a range of topics but local income tax was high on the agenda.
Unfortunately the meeting took on a surreal quality as the dividing door between us and the restaurant kept being flung open by Hotel staff as they marched through to the bar (in our dining room). This disruption was tentatively queried - only to be sharply brought to order by a member of hotel staff saying "There's a lot of wine required through there"

So, one poor LGA staff member spent most of his evening bobbing up and down shutting doors so that we could hear the conversation. It was only at the end of the evening that we realised that the detour required by the staff (to avoid this kerfuffle) was all of three yards. Staff were well meaning but the overall customer service agenda requires some serious thought.

Was shattered after the journey so decided to forego the networking opportunities in the conference bar and get a good nights sleep. I must be getting old.

No Limits

Visited the centre in Southampton on Friday to launch the latest campaign which aims to highlight the problems of binge drinking among teenagers.

Campaign involves a group of perfroming students from Barton Peveril college performing a play in (I think from memory) 24 schools. Buses in Southampton are also carrying some eye catching posters delivering the same message but some of these are aimed at trying to inform parents.

Talking to the students I learnt that they had devised the play themselves and the aim was not to preach about alcohol but to get over the message that alcohol should be used safely.

One worker told me that she had interviewed a lot of young people about attitudes to alcohol and the lads had told her that they drank so that they could be more relaxed around girls (well we are a daunting lot...) and the girls didn't like it when the boys got loud and aggressive as a result of alcohol.
A vicious circle if ever there was one.

The event was toasted with non alcoholic fruity cocktails

Friday, March 04, 2005

The price of a cuppa

Off the Record is currently shot in the Cinnamon Club which is quite a nice venue and there is usually time for a coffee while we are waiting to record. Was shocked to learn that the bill on a previous occasion was apparently approx £150 fo 10 cups of coffee (I find this hard to believe and wondered whether this included a charge for room hire as well).
So, get this - we eventually had some tea etc today and the milk was off! Makes you wonder how muchthey charge for fresh milk.

On the record

Yet another pre-record. This time the subject was health and I was on with David Amess and Martin Salter. Neither of them are shy and retiring violets but I have shared platforms with each of them before and lived to tell the tale but I can honestly say that this programme ranked as one of the most surreal I have ever done and I am not sure whether David paused for breath throughout the whole programme so whether the viewers will be able to hear anything Martin or I said is a moot point.
Consensual politics it was not and Phil Hornby was laughing so much at the end that he could hardly bring the programme to a close.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

To question or not to question

I cannot, hand on heart, say that Women's Questions is the highlight of the parliamentary month and it is very frustrating that we seem to go over the same few questions month after month. Ten minutes is not very long and we usually only deal with two or three questions. Today I wanted to go on question number three which is about the pay gap and there was a question I particularly wanted to ask. The law of sod meant that we ran out of time which was very frustrating but at least the speaker took pity on me and called me early in business questions so it wasn't an entirely wasted spell in the Chamber.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Visited HMP Holloway with Paul Goggins (Prisons Minister - nothing to do with Greendale) and Jeremy Corbyn. This followed an adjournment debate on suicide amongst women prisoners and the Minister promised to visit Holloway. I was pleased to have been invited along.

Prison visits usually depress me but they are trying really hard at Holloway to improve the physical environment. More importantly there was a lot of work going on to try and use the prison experience positively. Seventy percent of the women who arrive at the prison go straight on a detox problem and a high proportion of the rest are referred to the medical unit. There are significant mental health problems.

The staff also do a lot of work to try and improve the self esteem of the prisoners - in the hope that it will help them cope with some of the pressures that eventually led to their imprisonmnet in the first place.

I was not sure that prison was the right place for many of these women and the depressing thing was that they received help in prison which was often not available on release. The re-offending rate is high so it seems to me that we ought to be trying harder to make sure that the women also receive some help on the outside. A humbling afternoon.


This is a web-site for girls but it's not all make-up and Manolos!

The serious bit is that they are working at trying to engage women in the political process and had launched a "Use your vote" campaign. The launch included a number of speakers from the three main political parties and Sarah Montague from The Today Programme oversaw the proceedings in a very lively way.

Patricia Hewitt and Tessa Jowell had been billed but were replaced by two back bench women MPs but Teresa May did turn up for the Tories.

Questions ranged from female icons through health/choice and included asylum. Hopefully the site will be arranging on-line discussions so it could all prove to be very interesting.

Cedar School

This is, strictly speaking, not in the constituency but is literally on the border. The school caters for children with physical disabilities but a number of the children, particularly the younger ones, have very complex needs.

I was shown around by two of the older students who seem to have enjoyed their time there very much. Hardly surprising really as there was quite a "family" feel about the place. The fascinating bit was hearing about their trip to London to the British Museum and their experience of public transport. Two taxi drivers had refused to handle wheelchairs which apparently they are not supposed to do but the rest were great but South West Trains did not come off at all well. Wheelchairs have to be booked in advance and as the party included six wheelchairs the school confirmed that the train would have ten coaches. You've guessed - there were only five carriages which caused a number of problems as there was not the right amount of space for the chairs.

The experience didn't put them off completely though as they are planning another trip and also planning to take the train again.

Reminiscences of Romsey

This event is organised by the Rotary Club of Romsey Test and they have been putting it on for the last five years. The original event was a Millenium one and aimed to provide older people with an afternoons entertainment. It was meant to be a one off but was so popular that it has been repeated each year with a growing number of participants. The Town and Borough Mayors turn up in full regalia and guests have an opportunity to have their photo taken with them.

The format seems to be one that works so they haven't changed it overmuch and it always seems like a happy and lively occasion.