Saturday, 31 March 2007

Springtime in Lordswood

I had a lot of fun on the doorsteps of Lordswood this morning. I had a new member with me today helping to gather support for our candidates in the local elections and so my job was to show her the ropes.

We were allocated a really lovely set of roads and as we pulled up I was explaining what I say and how important it is to try not to get engaged in long conversation otherwise you don't get all your canvass sheets done. So of course what happens is I end up getting engrossed in very pleasant conversation at several houses and we only managed to complete two streets! I didn't help that well over half the houses had dogs, which of course always means a pat for the dog and a quick conversation about breed etc. One house had a pure white fluff ball laying in the hallway which I was convinced was a cuddly toy for the border collie that had come to the door until it rolled over!

The major issue today was the proposed development in Capstone Valley, which I have previously written about on this blog. The petition against the development has been signed by thousands of people - as it was when Medway Magna tried unsuccessfully to get planning permission to build houses last time around. The residents I spoke to today just thought that the developers had ignored the opinions of people and were trying bully boy tactics to get their way. The Council is against these proposals and hopefully Medway Magna will fail again at getting planning permission.

At least two households told me that Blair has run this country into the ground and that they were thinking of emigrating. There is genuine dissatisfaction with this Labour Government on so many levels but one man stood out today after he told me that after Gordon Brown's budget he was £200 per year worse off -and as a pensioner who had worked hard all his life, paid his taxes and never broken the law once, he was pretty annoyed and who could blame him?

And finally I met another Crouch today. I didn't realise what a good Kentish surname I have!

All in all a good day's canvassing in the lovely spring sunshine.

Crouch crushes Arsenal

This is not a very girly thing to confess but when I was growing up I used to dream about scoring a hatrick against Arsenal, followed by those spinning newspaper headlines you get in cartoons or films about gangsters saying "Crouch crushes Arsenal" or "Crouch the Hotspur Hero". Alas, the dream never came true and instead the glory goes to Liverpool's Peter Crouch - Peter, feel free to send me today's match ball as a consolation prize!!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Don't bank on land

The BBC's Politics Show, South East region, ran an excellent story today on the dangers of so-called "Land Banking". Basically people are buying greenfields which they are told are going to be developed for housing and make a massive return (some are told up to 400%) on their investment.

One such greenfield is near Eccles where the Politics Show discovered that it is currently owned by people in four different continents and that it was being marketed on the Internet as a prime development location. Conservative Councillor for Eccles, Dave Davis points out on the programme that under the current Local Development Framework, this piece of land shall remain undeveloped until at least 2025, which should be quite worrying for those investors expecting any kind of return soon.

The transcript of the programme featuring Cllr Davis can be found HERE.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Gordon's Budget fails C&A

Sadly Gordon Brown's last Budget didn't quite match the build up spin and hype. Once you delve into the detail it is quite clear that the headline "tax cuts" aren't quite what they seem, which is therefore why it is unsurprising that the opinion polls are showing people don't believe they'll be any better off.

Indeed Independent experts have calculated that 3.5 million families will be worse off as a result of the Budget. The 2p cut in the basic rate, which dominated the following day's front pages, is offset by the abolition of the 10p income tax rate and an increase in National Insurance contributions - a move the Chancellor failed to mention in his speech.

The many single people in the constituency without children earning £16,000, like the NHS maternity care assistants at the Medway hospital or police community support officers, will pay more in tax, and not gain from tax credits. And given the cuts at the Maidstone A&E I am not surprised that Gordon Brown mentioned the NHS just once in his speech.

Equally as worrying is that the Budget has hit the many small businesses based in the constituency. Gordon Brown is raising the tax rate and increasing complex allowances for small firms meaning that many could end up going out of business.

Finally the Budget failed to increase stamp duty thresholds in line with house price inflation, increasing stamp duty by stealth. The average first time buyer is paying over £1,500 in stamp duty, and you only have to have a quick look at the KM's Home section to see that more and more homes are now being pushed into the punishing 3 per cent band (over £250,000).

The Chancellor tried desperately to trick us into believing that he had cut taxes but it has all turned out to be a con - a bit worrying given that this man is expected to be our next Prime Minister. Fortunately the public are no fools.

A hill of a delivery

A friend from London joined me today to help deliver our latest leaflet in Princes Park Ward. I told him delivering leaflets is a great form of exercise and will save him a trip to the gym this weekend. After today I am not sure either of us need to go to the gym for the rest of the week...or next week for that matter!

We arrived to pick up the leaflets, and after being given some toast and coffee, were given a box of 650 leaflets and a map. Off we went...and it was when we arrived that we had been given the area with the most hills, most steps and weirdest layout of housing in the whole constituency. Almost every house had steps leading up or down to the letterbox, and the roads themselves were pretty much set at a 45 degree angle. Three hours after setting off we finished, windswept, rosy cheeked and extremely hungry. After all his effort I bought my friend a delicious albeit late pub lunch to say thank you - and also sorry!

Sights of the day: a house completely painted purple; kids forgoing a game of football in the streets for a game of golf instead; and the huge dog trying to bite my fingers off as I put a leaflet through the frosted glass front door...

Monday, 19 March 2007

FA cup frustration part 2



They say you should never blog in anger but if I didn't write something about tonight's FA cup replay result, I know I'd get bombarded with emails tomorrow.

Spurs have a pretty poor record against Chelsea but after losing a 3-1 lead in the first round, and never quite getting into the flow of the game this evening with few shots on target, it is hardly a surprise we are not in the Semi-finals. I am disappointed to say the least. And, whilst I am a huge fan of Jol, I am not quite sure why he was playing Lennon in midfield in the first half - he is at his most dangerous on the wings, as demonstrated in the second half.

So now our only hope of silverware is by first beating the best team left in the UEFA cup. Hmmmm. At least Aylesford Girls Under 12s are still undefeated in the league and look set to win something this season.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Bob Woolmer

I was very sad to hear about the death of the cricket legend Bob Woolmer this evening. Bob played for Kent throughout his county career, making his debut in 1968 with a 50 not out. I never saw him play but a friend of mine once played in a game against him and spent the whole game diving around in the covers trying (unsuccessfully) to stop balls whizzing past him to the boundary.

The farce of the No 10 E-petition

This morning I was out in Eccles, a small rural village campaigning against Southern Water's proposals to expand its nearby sludge and treatment works. Interestingly, opposition to the plans is not about the actual expansion of the Works but about Southern Water's current proposals to send HGV lorries through the village, past a school and recreational facilities, to the Works creating a huge threat to the safety of residents - particularly children.

The County Council rejected Southern Water's proposals, but the company are appealing so villagers have until 3 April to register their continued opposition. No date has yet been announced for when the appeal will be heard.

Under these circumstances you'd expect villagers to use every possible resource available to them to campaign against the proposals, and indeed that is what they have tried to do with the much vaunted No 10 system of E-petitioning. The only problem is that their request to post a petition was rejected because it is "outside the remit or powers of the Prime Minister and Government". How ridiculous! The case has been referred to Ruth Kelly's office at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who was the last time I looked, in the Government.

For those who are interested, matters which ultimately put children in danger of being run over by a HGV lorry might be out of the remit of a No 10 E-petition, but petitions you can sign include:
  • allowing the sale of elephants in UK pet shops
  • replace the National Anthem with "Gold" by Spandau Ballet
  • make banger racing an Olympic sport and
  • recognise fetishism and sadomasochism as a sane sexual practice.

Obviously these are issues which tax the minds of parents and residents of Eccles far more than HGVs speeding through the village. Whoever recently called the brains behind the No 10 E-petition a "prat" was absolutely spot on in my opinion!

UPDATE: This evening I attended a packed public meeting held at Eccles school. The strength of opposition against these proposals is incredible. The residents are gearing up for a real fight to defend their village, and most of all protect their children from huge lorries speeding down a narrow lane towards the Treatment Works.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

More A&E

I have been out and about in the Aylesford end of the constituency today and the number one issue on the doorsteps is the A&E. There is genuine concern from people of all age groups about how the decision to downgrade the service is going to affect them. From what I can gather, it seems that once these changes are implemented - which could be as early as September - someone who has a heart attack will probably go to Maidstone A&E, but if someone has a car accident on the M20, even if it was at junction 5 closest to the hospital, they would still have to go all the way to Pembury in an ambulance. Even a blue light would be pushing it to get to Pembury from the M20 in less than 20 minutes - for a normal driver it is nearer 40 minutes.

This is a ludicrous decision and I sincerely hope that an appeal to the Secretary of State will be lodged soon.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Maidstone A&E

I am disappointed to learn that West Kent Primary Care Trust have approved plans to downgrade Maidstone A&E and instead send most emergency cases to the Kent & Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells.

The protests of many people in Aylesford and neighbouring villages have basically been ignored. I joined 100s of people in Mote Park in early December to campaign against this proposal because people are genuinely worried that if they suffer some kind of accident which requires emergency care they will not be able to get to the Tunbridge Hospital to be treated quickly enough. A&E consultants themselves told the PCT Board that up to 60 lives per year could be lost if they downgraded the department's services - and yet they have been ignored.

These cuts are being driven simply by the need to meet budgets, not to provide adequate health service care for residents in Maidstone and the surrounding areas. For the sake of all those who unfortunately one day might need to use the A&E at Maidstone Hospital, I urge KCC to refer this decision to the Health Secretary at the earliest opportunity.

Monday, 12 March 2007

A bright idea...but not an original one

I have just seen the news for the first time today and was surprised to see that Gordon Brown's leading idea to combat climate change is to get rid of the traditional lightbulb and replace it with energy-saving bulbs.

The reason why I am surprised is not because I am particularly opposed to the idea (I already use energy efficient bulbs where possible), but because this was agreed at the EU energy policy summit last week, attended by Tony Blair. So really it is quite incredible that the best plan or policy statement that Gordon Brown could come up with in order to match David Cameron on environmental issues is actually just a re-announcement of a Europe-wide agreement taken 3 days ago!

Incidentally the EU agreed to have all bulbs converted by 2009, unlike Gordon who wants high energy lightbulbs phased out two years later by 2011.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

FA cup frustration

The first time I cried after watching Tottenham lose a football match was when I was nearly 12 years old and we lost to underdogs Coventry in the 1987 FA Cup Final. I don't know why I cried but it was probably through pure frustration - we should have won and we didn't.

Today, we conceded a 3-1 lead at Chelsea to end up with a draw and an unwanted replay. I am hoarse from shouting at the TV - why did Jol take off Berbatov and Lennon when they were playing so well? Why did he bring on Mido who is a lumbering lazy idiot at times? Why play 3 at the back when Chelsea were on an all out attack? It was the Carling Cup semi-final all over again - we had a 2 goal lead and we end up losing it. Am I frustrated? Yes I am. Did I cry? No I didn't, but my car is sparkling clean after a very aggressive wash and wax!

Saturday, 10 March 2007

A little litter pick makes a lotta difference

One of the biggest issues raised in our recent constituency-wide survey was the problem of litter. Not only is it an eye-soar, but people are genuinely very concerned about their children's health. So today, as part of a nationwide initiative by the Conservatives, Council candidates and volunteers joined me on a huge constituency-wide litter pick.

We wanted to demonstrate that not only have we listened to people's concerns, but that we are willing to put our wellies and heavy duty gloves on and show that we want to make a real difference in the local community.

Hats off to Burham, Eccles and Wouldham candidate Dave Davis who proved he hasn't lost the skills learnt in the Army by dropping onto his tummy and crawling sniper-style under a walkway to recover bottles, sweet wrappers, a bundle of newspapers and one item inappropriate to mention on this blog!






A quick thank you to all those that helped today - not just from me but on behalf of everyone who raised the issue of litter with us on the survey. Our activities today are not the solution - people need to take personal responsibility for their litter and use the bins - but I hope we made your area a bit cleaner and a healthier environment for your children to play in.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Gordon's donkey

A tax man just sent me this - just in time for Gordon Brown's last ever Budget!

A young man named Gordon bought a donkey from an old farmer for £100.00.

The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day, but when the farmer drove up he said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news... the donkey is on my truck, but unfortunately he's dead."

Gordon replied, "Well then, just give me my money back."

The farmer said, "I can't do that, because I've spent it already."

Gordon said, "OK then, well just unload the donkey anyway."

The farmer asked, "What are you going to do with him?"

Gordon answered, "I'm going to raffle him off."

To which the farmer exclaimed, "Surely you can't raffle off a dead donkey!"

But Gordon, with a wicked smile on his face said, "Of course I can, you watch me. I just won't bother to tell anybody that he's dead."

A month later the farmer met up with Gordon and asked, "What happened with that dead donkey?"

Gordon said, "I raffled him off, sold 500 tickets at two pounds a piece, and made a huge, fat
profit!!"

Totally amazed, the farmer asked, "Didn't anyone complain that you had stolen their money because you lied about the donkey being dead?"

To which Gordon replied, "The only guy who found out about the donkey being dead was the raffle winner when he came to claim his prize. So I gave him his £2 raffle ticket money back plus an extra £200, which as you know is double the going rate for a donkey, so he thought I was a great guy!!"

Gordon grew up and eventually became the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and no matter how many times he lied, or how much money he stole from the British voters, as long as he gave them back some of the stolen money, most of them, unfortunately, still thought he was a great guy.

The moral of this story is that, if you think Gordon is about to play fair and do something for the everyday hardworking people of the country for once, think again my friend, because you'll be better off flogging a dead donkey!

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Pupil Power

As a result of lots of hard work by the Medway Youth Parliament, pupils will soon be able to travel to school on half-fare bus tickets before 9am. The Council have agreed to subsidise bus tickets after a year long campaign by the Youth Parliament. Conservative Councillor and Finance Portfolio holder Alan Jarrett announced that the £250,000 subsidy would begin with the new school year in September.

This is a fantastic victory for the Medway Youth Parliament. I think it is brilliant that schools across the authority are not only getting together engaging in politics and democracy and making proposals on issues like this, which genuinely make children's lives better, but also that their voices are being heard and taken seriously by their elected representatives.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Go Girls...

I have just read a wonderful story in the junior football section of the Kent Messenger. Aylesford Girls Under-12s recently recorded their 16th straight win with a 7-0 victory over Dartford, giving them a 100% record in the Kent Girls League Division 2. From the match report it sounds like the girls played superbly despite extremely muddy conditions. Well done girls.

Sadly I am unable to find any online and up to date record of either the club or the league so I will have to wait until the KM comes out this week to find out if they have continued with their winning form.

It is wonderful that the facilities and training are available to girls of all ages these days. At primary school I was not allowed to play football and I went to an all girls secondary school where despite having acres of wonderful playing fields, we could only do netball, hockey, tennis and athletics. I had to wait until I went to university to be trained properly or play competitively. Now, women's football is the fastest growing sport in the UK, and it is grassroot level clubs for girls, like Aylesford's, that will hopefully propel the sport to a new competitive and trophy winning high.

Mini-Motorbikes

One of the major complaints I am hearing on the doorsteps and in surveys regards mini-motorbikes. It is quite clear that when youngsters drive these bikes up and down alleyways, roads or through fields the noise can be incredibly loud and highly annoying.

So this evening it was interesting to read the debate in Parliament last Friday proposing registration of mini-motos. A new piece of legislation was being introduced (although is unlikely to become law) but whilst it is admirable that this extremely important issue was raised, the answer to the problem is not more legislation but enforcement of existing legislation. The Conservative Transport Spokesman Owen Paterson listed the powers already available including the Road Traffic Act 1988; the Police Reform Act 2002; the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003; the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and even the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

The Motorcycle Industry Association estimates that there are 300,000 mini-motos in circulation around the country. Different councils have experimented with measures to combat the illegal and annoying use of bikes. Medway Council and Tonbridge & Malling Council have worked closely with Kent police over the past year to combat the problem, and with some success. More undoubtedly needs to be done, otherwise the complaints from the doorsteps and surveys would cease, but the resource needs to be made available for existing legislation to be enforced. I intend to campaign for this problem to be dealt with for the peace of residents in Chatham & Aylesford.

If you are having or have had a problem with mini-motorbikes in your area, please feel free to write to me at 200 Canterbury Road, Gillingham, Kent, ME7 5XG

Fantastic Response to Residents Survey

I would like to thank the thousands of people who completed the Chatham & Aylesford Residents Survey.

During January, volunteers across the constituency distributed our questionnaire to 12,000 households. I was delighted at the response rate and would like to thank all those who took part.

Included in the findings were the following:

*The Health Service, Crime and Immigration are the top issues causing concern for local voters

*Only 37% of respondents support the introduction of ID Cards

*77% of respondents believe Inheritance Tax should either be significantly reformed or abolished completely.

*78% believe a future Conservative Government should continue to oppose the Euro Currency.

*92% of respondents did not believe that local A&E services were adequately funded by the Labour government.

Hundreds of local issues were also brought to our attention with graffiti, vandalism, fly tipping and litter at the top of the lists. Wherever specific problems have been reported we have done our best to get these dealt with. I will personally continue to raise these issues with whoever is appropriate in order to get them dealt with. Watch this space...

Sunday, 4 March 2007

The rising cost of living

Since Christmas I've spent almost every weekend in Chatham & Aylesford and have left my bills, bank statements, letters etc piling up. So today with the rain pouring down I spent the whole afternoon doing my domestic duties and paying bills.

As I was looking at my own bills I was reminded of a conversation I had yesterday whilst out door knocking about the rising cost of living. Many people are finding it increasingly difficult to pay rising gas, electricity and water bills, as well as bigger council tax bills, which have nearly doubled since Labour came to power (although thankfully Conservative-run Medway Council still has the lowest in Kent). All this is particularly troublesome for those on fixed incomes like pensioners but it is not easy either for families or low income households who have also had to pay more for their mortgages in recent months. The overall proportion of income taken in tax is forecast to reach its highest level this year since 1986. According to a report by the Tax Reform Commission, the OECD the average tax burden is 39% falling to 37.9% in 2007, but in the UK it is set to rise to 42.7% in 2007 - no wonder personal debt is at a record level.

I will wager a bet that none of this is mentioned in Gordon Brown's forthcoming Budget when he will no doubt tell us yet again how we've never had it so good!

A close shave


My friend Iain Dale asked me if I wanted to go to the West Ham v Spurs match this afternoon but I would be sitting in with the Home fans. Thankfully I couldn't take him up on his offer because if I had I would probably have endangered my life and the lives of all those around me. There is no way I would have been able to contain myself as Spurs fought back from being 2-0 down with an injury time goal to win 3-4. It was end to end football and I think on the whole Spurs played pretty poorly - at 3 all I was ready to settle for the point but when Stalteri scored the 4th goal after Green spilled the ball and I ran around the living room cheering, it was then that I realised I would have been beaten up at Upton Park!!
I don't hate West Ham like some Spurs fans but I fear their fate has now been sealed. However, I hope that Sheffield Utd and Manchester City stay up - I think Neil Warnock and Stuart Pearce are refreshingly honest in their post-match commentary, something Wenger should learn.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Out and about in the winter sun...

Yesterday and today I have been out and about in a winter sun-drenched constituency - and it has put me in such a good mood. I have been out delivering leaflets and knocking on doors in Snodland followed by a delivery in a rather hilly part of Chatham! I really feel the cold so on winter mornings like today I put on my layers, scarf and gloves but within 5 to 10 minutes I was taking them all off again.

It was great to be joined today by one of our newest council candidates Les Withey. He only got into politics a few months ago and today was his first time out on the doorsteps. He was paired with me and so having introduced him to the art of knocking on doors he was off with incredible and impressive enthusiasm. Before he could say "I am calling on behalf of the local conservatives..." the main issues vexing local residents were being explained and repeated at almost every doorstep. Rather than shy away in fear of what the job entails he made his notes and promised to do something about it. Good man.

It is clear from conversations on the doorsteps that people are getting really fed up with the Labour Government - or as one lady put it "as soon as that Gordon Blair [sic] goes the better".

I met a fellow Crouch on my rounds today - no relation - and had a lovely chat. And another asked me if I was related to a different Crouch who used to live in Snodland: it seems there is a good strong Crouchy link in the town - I wonder if my Dad knows?!

No cakes this week, but I did kick a stray football back rather spectacularly to a group of lads much to their surprise and amusement. Even now I still think boys reckon girls can't kick a ball!