Saturday, 28 April 2007

Canvassing and Earthquakes

What a day! I woke up this morning to the news of an earthquake in the town in went to school. Growing up near Folkestone I experienced not one but two hurricanes, amazing thunderstorms and regular flooding caused by a stormy Channel, but never an earthquake! My gran still lives in Folkestone and she said the tremors nearly threw her out of bed - fortunately she is OK albeit a little bit shaken.

So onto Aylesford where the team were being met by our MEP Richard Ashworth and his wife Sally. The Lib Dems hold Aylesford with a very slim majority but John Balcombe and Dave Smith have been working very hard and are involved in some extremely controversial local issues. I am sure their hard work will pay off on Thursday. Richard and Sally joined us for a few hours and we managed to canvass a large part of the patch as a result of the extra hands. Unfortunately I forgot to put some sun cream on this morning before leaving the house, so I am rather pink this evening.

After canvassing I headed up to Chatham. I often hear people say that there is not very much for children to do, which is why they end up hanging around street corners causing trouble. So it saddens me to learn that tomorrow a huge indoor (and supervised) skate park, used by hundreds of children, is being closed tomorrow. One of the skaters asked a question at the Council recently and rather eloquently made the point that whilst there is another outdoor skate park a mile or so away it is unsupervised, it is not all-weather and it ends up covered in graffiti, glass, needles and other unsavoury materials. I hope that the skaters' protests will be heard and that a satisfactory solution is sought, otherwise we'll just end up with more bored children hanging out on the streets - precisely what everybody complains about.

Finally, I was trained on the new computer system used to calculate how many of your pledges have voted on polling day. Gone are the days of the No Carbon Required (NCR) system - the system I was politically weened on. It is going to be strange in the Committee Rooms on Thursday without the ruler, multi-coloured paper, pens and coded maps. Oh, I feel old!

Friday, 27 April 2007

McJobs for MPs


I was heartened to read the diary story in today's Telegraph about a Tory MP and a Labour Minister who during question time in the Commons both confessed to working in McDonald's.

I worked in McDonald's during my A-Levels and University in order to earn some extra money for my studies. And before anyone asks, yes I did get all my gold stars and rose to become a floor manager before I eventually left for full time employment in London. I loved working at McDonald's. The people I worked with had different educational, physical and social abilities but the training standards and working flexibility meant that everyone was a part of one team - and usually a very happy one at that. And since my sister married my manager, McDonald's remains a very large part of my personal life.

I challenge anyone who mocks McDonald's employees to go work a busy lunch shift, produce hot burgers, fries, drinks and apple pies to a hungry queue of people in less that 2 minutes per customer. I bet you won't mock again.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

The UK's next Gold Medallists

I have been in Birmingham today to present medals to young athletes competing in the UK final of the Norwich Union Sports:Hall competition. Sports:Hall is one of the grassroots schemes that make up Norwich Union's sponsorship of UK Athletics and today's final was a competition between the best under 13s and under 15s from throughout the United Kingdom.

Over 2.5 million children have competed in the competition so far this year and today saw 500 young athletes pack the National Indoor Arena to compete in regional teams in a variety of indoor track and field events. Whilst there is a serious side to the competition, which has seen the start to athletic stardom by the likes of Kelly Sotherton, Denise Lewis and Mark Lewis-Francis, there is a certain element of fun to it as well.

I know I am being slightly biased here, but it is these sorts of schemes that get children excited about athletics - you end up doing all the activities so you are not rated on just one race. I watched one kid come last in his sprint race, but then go on to win Gold in the Shot. I also watched a 12 year old high jump 1.77m - which was incredible!

So the slow train journey there and back was pretty tedious but the running, jumping, throwing, cheering, and medal presenting made the day absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Wasps and underpants

Out early this morning with Richard Allan, our candidate in Ditton. There have been some problems with anti-social behaviour in some of the streets we canvassed today and almost every door we knocked on raised the issue. Was a good opportunity to talk about the Conservative Party's proposals to reform the police which will get them out from behind the desk and on the streets dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour.

I am not sure if it is to do with the warm weather but I had more people than usual answer the door in their dressing gowns, and two chaps answer the door in their underpants! One was a first time voter who had waited ages to be able to cast a vote (I sympathised - I was 18, a year after the 1992 General Election); and the other was a middle aged man who poked his head around the door and said "I've only got my pants on" to which I quickly replied "It's OK, it's not the first time that's happened!!". Anyway he said he was going to vote Conservative so I didn't need to stay on his doorstep for very long.

Then a few doors down I was talking to a rather disillusioned voter and midway through him telling me he thought the Falklands War was a mistake and a HUGE wasp decided to attack me (OK, it might have just buzzed nearby but it was definitely eyeing me up for a full scale sting operation). Having run around like a bit of a numpty, the man came to my rescue and swatted it away. I made my excuses, a little bit embarrassed by my pathetic behaviour, and left the chap to his musings about the war...

After lunch, I headed up to Walderslade for an afternoon canvass. I ended up being given the cards for a street which had street level houses on one side but on the other the houses had an average of 20 steps to each front door. At least four houses I knocked on had 54 steps to climb up - and I think all but one were out!! One lady, who I would estimate to be in her early 60s, opened her door to me and just burst into laughter at the sight of someone with a clipboard catching their breath back! Thankfully she was a "probable" so at least it was worth it. I've worked out that 65 houses, with an average of 20 steps to each front door, means I have climbed 1300 steps today...which in my mind justifies the cold glass of white wine I am now sipping happily.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Medway Council - Questions on Capstone

I attended Medway Council this evening and asked the (Conservative) Leader of the Council what it is doing to protect Capstone Valley from the proposed Medway Magna housing development and whether the believed, like me, that one of the greatest problems we face is our protests being ignored because of the Government's determination to concrete over Kent.

The Leader said that the Conservative led council were very much against the proposed development and would do absolutely everything possible to prevent it from going ahead. It was a shame that whilst he gave his reply the Labour group were being incredibly noisy giving the impression that they were not supportive of any defence against the development.

A bit later on, and elsewhere in the proceedings, a Labour Councillor stood up and advised that the local Labour MP had "phoned a Minister whilst holidaying in Devon, who answered his phone and gave some answers". What those answers were nobody was told? The identity of the holidaying Minister during term time was not revealed? And why the local MP feels he can have a word with a Minister on this planning issue, but not on the Eccles sewage works, because as he told a packed public meeting it doesn't work like that, is also a mystery.

Thousands of people have signed the petition against Medway Magna's plans to turn Capstone Valley into a massive housing estate. The Valley rightly deserves to be labelled an area of outstanding natural beauty and, politics aside, should be defended and protected from development.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Local Elections - Conservative Candidates by Ward

The following candidates are working hard to become your next councillors at the Local Elections on May 3rd.

MEDWAY UNITARY AUTHORITY

Chatham Central
Denise Jarrett
Peter Jenkins &
Denise Wildey

Lordswood & Capstone
Alan Jarrett
David Wildey

Luton & Wayfield
Alan Bevan
Mike Franklin & Adrian Gulvin

Princes Park
Matt Bright
Pat Gulvin

Walderslade
David Brake
Kathy Doody

TONBRIDGE & MALLING BOROUGH COUNCIL

Aylesford
John Balcombe
David Smith

Blue Bell Hill & Walderslade
Peter Homewood
Allan Sullivan

Burham, Eccles & Wouldham
David Davis
Roger Dalton

Ditton
Richard Allen
Carol Grant

Larkfield North
Hazel Dalton
Mary Davis

Larkfield South
Gillian McDermott
Peter McDermott

Snodland East
Barbara Brown
Dave Keely

Snodland West
Sonia Boakes
Anne Moloney
Les Withey




Failing drugs policy

A report commissioned for today's launch of the new UK Drug Policy Commission has found that current Government drugs policy has had a very limited impact on drugs use. I find this so desperately sad. Drugs really are the scourge of society and are the basis of so many other problems in our communities ranging from gun and knife crime to shoplifting in order to raise funds for the next fix.

I remember from my days working for Shadow Home Secretary David Davis we had many people write to us telling us their own family experience, which quite often started with people smoking cannabis and either developing schizophrenia or leading onto harder drugs. Some of the letters were heart-wrenching and were often read in frustration because Government policy was failing to prevent or deter drug use - particularly amongst the young.

The report today confirms other reports that the UK has the highest levels of problem drug use and the second-highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe. The total value of the UK market for illicit drugs is estimated at £5bn a year and with around one fifth of all people arrested thought to be dependent on heroin, the total cost of drug-related crime in England and Wales alone is estimated at more than £13bn.

The report also says that imprisonment of drug offenders is failing to have a positive effect on drug use and calls for further government effort to be focused on the development of treatment and harm reduction programmes, which have been shown to have an impact on the levels of crime, ill-health and death linked to drugs. This is what the Conservatives have been saying for many years. We researched the issue at length before the last election, spoke to families and the very many excellent drug treatment charities. It seemed a no-brainer to us that the impact of proper rehabilitation and treatment for drug offenders would be positive.

If it takes an independent Group to finally get the Government to listen and do something to tackle drug use then so be it - but if we are to prevent future generations from taking drugs then let's hope that policy is changed sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Only the Conservatives want to save Capstone Valley

Conservatives are the only political party to fight against the proposed Medway Magna housing development in the Capstone Valley and now Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative Environment Secretary, has joined our campaign. Peter has been arguing in Westminster against housing development on greenfields so that areas like Capstone are protected.

This issue is one that has been raised with me and council candidates many times on the doorsteps and thousands of people have signed paper and online petitions to save Capstone from becoming a massive new housing estate bigger than Lordswood, Princes Park and Walderslade combined.

You too can join the Conservatives in their fight to save Capstone by signing the petition HERE.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Grand National Sweepstake

I got Numbersixvalverde in the work sweepstake. This horse has put on some weight since last year's win but still, fingers crossed!

UPDATE: Darn...

Sunny Saturdays...

I always think that the time a politician looks their healthiest is during an election when they spend hours outside whether it is raining or glorious sunshine like today. This morning I was out canvassing with Pat and Matt, our two council candidates in Princes Park, and with the sun shining, everyone I spoke to on the doorstep was in an excellent mood. I have spoken to some really interesting people today about issues ranging from the need for better fencing around the local children's play area to increasing pressure on household incomes. On the whole our support was solid in the streets I went to, but with everyone coming to the door with short sleeves on, and cars pulling up unloading charcoal bricks for the barbeque, I think minds were concentrated more on making the most of the sun in the garden than local politics. Now where did I put my sunglasses...

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Exit from Europe



Am too disappointed to write anything deep and meaningful this evening. Spurs played poorly in the first half, better in the second, but still not firing on all cylinders. Jenas gave the ball away far too many times; Berbatov looked slow and off colour; and Lennon too afraid to run with the ball. It was good to see Ledley back from injury. So that's it for our cup run this season...maybe next time.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

No gold star for new school behaviour guidelines

I am pretty appalled by the new guidelines on how to deal with bad behaviour in schools, issued yesterday by the Department for Education, which say that pupils should be praised five times more than they are criticised or rebuked. The new guidelines also recommend that disruptive or difficult pupils should be praised or given prizes for improvements in behaviour. Quite rightly this prescriptive approach from Whitehall has been heavily criticised by teachers as nonsense.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, told the BBC Today programme that "Crude guidelines which say praise in proportion to punishment of five to one simply aren't helpful. It's a nonsense - it takes away any sense of professional autonomy, professional respect and professional judgment for teachers. The principle of rewarding someone for being good... that principle I wholly endorse and support. But if they are behaving badly then you have to deal with that behaviour and any sense of ratio of five-to-one simply is a nonsense."

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham said the approach being recommended might encourage perverse behaviour. Children who had previously behaved well might play to try to win rewards.

I believe guidelines of discipline and codes of conduct for pupils and parents should be left to the Headteachers to draw up, depending on their own school's environment, performance and make-up. It is time for the Secretary of State for Education to get out of the classroom and leave it to the professionals.

Unpaid Fines

Unsurprisingly, some might say, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that many criminals do not pay their fines. The Government started to use more on-the-spot fines for offences including anti-social behaviour and shoplifting in order to alleviate pressure from the courts and prison service.

However, and despite being warned over and over again by Conservative MPs that this would happen, of the £350m worth of fines issued, only £222m has been collected. But the Constitutional Affairs Department responsible for the collection of fines has now admitted that it does not know the true extent of unpaid fines.

This issue makes a mockery of Tony Blair's call to be "tough on crime", and from my conversations with people on the doorsteps, it seems like the last people to realise this are the Labour Government.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Saturday Surgery

This morning I attended Cllr Dave Davis' regular surgery with him held in the villages of Burham, Eccles and Wouldham. Being Easter Saturday it wasn't one of the busiest of surgeries but it was extremely satisfying to be on hand to help. I really hope that, with the will of the electorate, I will be able to hold my own soon!!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Clever Aunty Tracey!

It is my niece's 2nd birthday on Saturday, so this morning I have been building her present. I won't embarrass myself by saying how long it took to build her new Fifi tricycle but it was harder than I thought it would be!!!

The rise and rise of girls football

After delivering leaflets and various meetings during the day, I spent an extremely pleasant evening on the sidelines of several astro turf pitches watching more than 50 girls from Meridian Girls FC at football training.

Girls football is massive in the constituency - there are clubs for all ages in practically every village - and the clubs, like Meridian, have had to overcome big political issues ranging from booking pitches to ensuring the availability of toilet facilities which most boys clubs have not had to deal with.

It is sad that girls clubs still have so many more hurdles to jump before they can get up and running. The support from external organisations is still not particularly forthcoming which is a great shame because football is not just about sport - it keeps girls fit and healthy and off the streets; and it teaches some valuable lessons in life such as how to work in a team, other people are better than you, and you will sometimes lose.

I was very impressed with what I saw. The talent of girls of all age groups was mixed, and that is something the club encourages, but ultimately all were having great fun. It is lovely to see little under 8s running around kicking a ball and then suddenly doing a little cartwheel just to remind you that you are in fact watching little girls!

I came away slightly envious at the facilities available to girls today - I learnt my football on the streets and wasn't allowed to play competitively until University. But most of all I came away confident that some of the girls I saw training will end up playing at the highest level and eager to support this and other clubs around the constituency as best as I can.

A job well done


I spent Tuesday evening with a group of dedicated Conservative activists who have spent the last few months conducting telephone surveys throughout the constituency. As a result of their hard work over a twelve hundred people have been contacted and asked what they are concerned about locally, and where we can we have tried to sort out the problem. The team have done a brilliant job and dinner at the Golden Eagle in Burham was well deserved.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Spurs - "Football's Only Good Guys"

Just back from White Hart Lane from watching Spurs dominate play in a thrilling one nil win over Reading.

But more impressive than the win is a story in the Matchday Programme about a new long term charity commitment in Africa which is being funded by monies received from players' fines. What a brilliant idea. Apparently five years ago the Club elected to ring-fence players fines rather than absorb them directly into the Club's accounts. Now they intend to use the money to support SOS Children's Villages in South Africa, a children's charity for orphaned and abandoned children.

And now it is reported that Tottenham are registered the most charitable club - or as one headline read the other day: "Football's Only Good Guys". According to the Premiership Giving League, Spurs donated over £4.5m, or 6.1% of its annual turnover, to charity last year. Middlesbrough, Everton, and Sheffield United were next in the League, followed by Charlton Athletic who do a great deal of local community work in Kent.

Unbelievably the Premiership's richest clubs - Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal, all gave less than o.o6% of their turnover with Arsenal only 0.02%. In fact, what those 3 clubs gave to charity in the whole of 2006 would barely cover Shevchenko's salary for 3 weeks.

The Spurs fans left the Lane today proud of the players who fought for 90 minutes to win the game and take us up to sixth spot. Based on all the community and charity work the Club does, the fans should be proud to support Spurs every day.