Saturday, 26 May 2007

FoI - the unpublished press release

I've always said that my blog should in no way be a substitute to more traditional means of communicating with the electorate. So last week I refrained from commenting on this blog about local Labour MP Jonathan Shaw's support for a proposed Bill which will exempt MPs from Freedom of Information legislation and instead sent a press release to the local Kent Messenger. Despite the Tonbridge & Malling edition carrying an informative piece on last week's Commons vote, they have failed to include my comment. So in order to ensure that my views are properly recorded on the issue, here is the press release sent to the KM last week:

Released by: Tracey Crouch
Date: 21th May 2007


OUTRAGE AT MPs SUPPORT FOR SECRECY BILL
Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Chatham & Aylesford Tracey Crouch today condemned Labour MP Jonathan Shaw for supporting a Bill which would exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act, and thereby keeping their expenses secret.


Tracey Crouch said, "Many residents will be shocked to discover that our local MP has given his backing to this legislative assault on open government. I believe that the public have an absolute right to know exactly how much our elected representatives are costing the taxpayer and to know exactly what they are doing in our name. I am appalled that our local MP saw fit to support this anti-democratic measure.

"It can surely be no coincidence that this Bill has come so quickly after MPs travel expenses were revealed following a Freedom of Information disclosure. Clearly, there is a need to keep personal correspondence between MPs and their constituent?s private, but this is already covered by data protection legislation. I hope that this proposal will now be defeated in the House of Lords.

"Whether or not the Bill passes into law, I pledge that if elected to represent Chatham & Aylesford at the next election I will make all my travel and office expenses fully public."

ENDS

Friday, 25 May 2007

Change the Definition

McDonald's has launched a petition to get the dictionary definition of McJob changed. At the moment the Oxford English Dictionary describes a McJob as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector". The campaign is being supported by Sir Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI and currently the Government's Skills Envoy, as well as politicians from all sides. I too very much support the campaign as someone who financed myself through university by working in the Folkestone store during recess.

As McDonald's put it themselves "This definition is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly is insulting to those hard-working, talented and committed people who serve the public every day in the UK. As the namesake for this derogatory term, this prejudice is felt most sharply by the 67,000 people who pursue careers and jobs at McDonald’s in the UK".

You can sign the petition HERE.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Lady T and me

Tonight I attended a fantastic function at which I met Lady Thatcher. I have met her before - once during the 1997 Election when she re-visited her famous "Walk in the Wilderness" in Teeside, and more recently at a function at the Guildhall in London. She asked me where I was candidate for and when I replied Chatham & Aylesford, she reminded me she had herself been a candidate in Kent for the Dartford constituency. I am told by a local councillor that she also tried to become the candidate for Maidstone many years ago but was laughed out of the room for being a woman!

Despite her age and health she circulated the room like a pro - she had men and women of all ages held in utter awe as she engaged in small talk. And I was reminded as to why when I was a school girl she was admired by many women around me - not necessarily for her politics but for her achievement in such a male dominated industry. She is an inspiration to female candidates (quite possibly across all political parties) and it was wonderful to meet her again.

David Cameron's Sports Lecture

Last night I attended the annual Sports Industry Group Annual Dinner and Lecture, at which David Cameron was the guest speaker. David immediately confessed to not being a sports fanatic but instead a sports enthusiast, and indeed it was quite clear that he had witnessed some pretty spectacular sporting occasions in his youth. He also confessed to being an Aston Villa fan which I hadn't realised [note to self: read Cameron biog that has been sitting on coffee table for past month], but then apart from him, Prince William and the Governor of the Bank of England, I don't think I know another Villa fan.

Sports policy is currently being developed by Cameron's incredibly able shadow Minister and Kent MP, Hugh Robertson. Many in the sports industry know and like Hugh for being a politician who listens to their issues and often acts in a non-partisan manner when taking up a sporting cause.

During his lecture David Cameron covered a wide ranging set of issues and I was pleased to hear him he say that a Conservative Government would return the levels of Lottery funding for sport back to its original state, since money previously allocated for sporting good causes is now going elsewhere. Furthermore, I was delighted to hear him pledge to end the "all must have prizes" culture, whereby everyone is awarded for taking part diluting a sense of competition from an early age. It is an issue that business is equally concerned about so I am sure will be well received outside last night's lecture audience.

As a sports fanatic I was really pleased to hear David's views last night. I think there is a lot more to come and I for one am very much looking forward to hearing it.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Chatham is changing

Medway Council today announced consultation details for the next phase for the regeneration of Chatham. From Monday 21 May, the public will be able to view plans for a period of six weeks the three key areas proposed for development - Chatham Waterfront, Station Gateway and The Brook.

The Consultation also seeks views on the future of Chatham's transport system, including proposals for better public services - an issue that many people are concerned about locally.

The regeneration plans will see the investment of nearly £1bn into the area, much of it from private investors, with a view of making Chatham a bigger and busier place to live, work and shop. These are exciting times for Chatham.

Full details of the consultation and all the plans can be found HERE.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Carrot Cake on your hands...

Apparently in last week's The Apprentice, the challenge was to learn how to barter on a list of items in an attempt to show negotiation skills. So as afternoon hunger pangs for something sweet arrived later than usual in the office, we decided to test whether competitors passed the challenge with the help of a camera crew or whether it was something that really could happen.

Our very own apprentice was dispatched to the nearby coffee house with a £5 note to see how much cake he could get at a cut down price. And to our surprise he returned with FOUR pieces of Carrot Cake thus paying £1.25 per slice - a whole 75p less than the usual retail price and making an excellent saving of £3.

However the cries of excitement and anticipation amongst the female quarter of the office were quelled somewhat when the aforementioned apprentice told us that his cake bartering seems likely to have led to the telling off of a poor coffee house worker.

The unfortunate cake barter tale goes something like this:

Apprentice: Can I get those 4 pieces of carrot cake left for £5?

Coffee lady: hmmm, I don't know if I can do that.

A: oh go on, it will save you cleaning up at the end of the day...

CL: oh ok then.

Apprentice hands over money in exchange for yummy cake

Meanwhile Coffee Man arrives...

CM: what are you doing? you can't do that?

CL: er..it is ok...

CM: [raised voice] no it is not allowed...

CL to A: just take them and go...

A: are you sure?

CL: yes, don't worry it is fine.

A: OK...thanks...[leaves quickly with goods]

* * *

Our apprentice, who is one of the nicest Lib Dems I have ever met, and who also has a sweet tooth as impressive as a girl's, is now unable to eat any of the carrot cake because he feels SO guilty about the poor coffee lady. So while he survived the challenge, it looks like the lady, in the words of Sir Alan Sugar, could be FIRED.

ps - our apprentice is popping by coffee house on way home to check employment status of lady.

pps - we have saved him some carrot cake for tomorrow...

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Europe beckons...



...obviously I am not talking politically but about Tottenham's 2-1 victory over Man City that put us in fifth spot and back in the UEFA cup next season. Hurrah! Last season I failed to travel to an away game but not for lack of trying - this season I am determined to go even if it is just once. Come on you Spurs.

Winning Cups at Cobdown

Exasperated by Brown, I jumped in the car and headed to Cobdown Sports Club in the pouring rain. I was planning on going to watch England Ladies play their UEFA qualifier at Gillingham Football Club but local girls' football team, Meridian Girls FC, had 3 teams - the under 10s, 11s and 14s - in a huge cup tournament so went to watch them instead. It was amazing. Despite the driving rain, hundreds of girls and the travelling support from parents and friends turned up to watch teams from across the county compete.

I know I have said it elsewhere on my Blog about the quality of football but again I saw some wonderful skill and determination from young girls, some of whom I am convinced will reach the highest echelons of girls football. I saw girls of ten and eleven run down the wings and float perfectly weighted balls into the box; I saw goalkeepers make amazing saves; and I saw one Meridian player score a goal Robbie Keane would have been proud of. All helped by the wonderfully well kept football pitches at Cobdown.

I always loved playing in the rain and today I enjoyed watching some brilliant football in it too. And as for Meridian Girls FC: the under 10s and under 14s both won trophies, but unfortunately the under 11s just lost out in extra time. Nevertheless they all played fantastically - well done girls.

Consulting Brown

I watched Gordon Brown on BBC's Andrew Marr programme this morning and grew increasingly irritated by his proposals for greater consultation with the general public.

First he tried to give the distinct impression that one of the most radical reforms he was going to introduce is allowing for consultation on new legislation - well this already happens, it is called Pre-Legislative Scrutiny. We have Green Papers, White Papers, and quite often now even Draft Bills go through Parliament before the real Bill is introduced.

Second he then said that he was going to allow for consultation on the Queen's Speech. This is ridiculous. It is a waste of taxpayer time and money. Not least because we already have already had a consultation on what should be in the Queen's Speech - it is called ratification of a manifesto via a General Election.

Basically what Gordon Brown is trying to address is the problem of voter apathy in the UK - and it is an issue which is worth trying to deal with. But his way of "consultation" is a very Westminster Village and patronising approach towards tackling voter apathy, and is doomed to fail - what if the public had an opportunity to consult on tuition fees, or ID cards, or a tax on air travel and didn't like it? Would the Government have abandoned these? I doubt it.

I don't think anyone has ever said to me on the doorsteps "the reason why I am not going out to vote is because I never get to comment on legislation going through Parliament". Many people feel they have made their contribution to government by simply voting. People cast their vote based on a manifesto of policy and commitments - once the box is in the square, they want their politicians to get on with it, whether it is at parish, district or national level.

We all know that Brown has no mandate to govern - the opinion polls in today's papers make that pretty clear - so if he wants a consultation on what legislation he wants to introduce he should do the right thing and call an election.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

KCC refers Maidstone A&E proposal to Secretary of State

Below is the press release issued by Kent County Council yesterday.

Kent County Council NHS Overview and Scrutiny Committee today (Friday 11 May) threw out plans to remove emergency general surgery and emergency orthopaedic surgery from the A & E department at Maidstone Hospital. The committee voted by eight to five to reject Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust's plans to concentrate those services at Kent & Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. It would mean 49 emergency patients a week travelling to Tunbridge Wells, 21 to Ashford, seven to Medway and seven to Dartford or Bromley.

After a lengthy and at times heated debate, KCC's NHS Scrutiny and Overview committee voted to refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt for her consideration. During the meeting today Members of the KCC committee heard from patients, the ambulance trust, West Kent Primary Care Trust, doctors in favour of the change, doctors who have reservations about the change and Maidstone Borough Council as well as the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

I am delighted that the Scrutiny Committee took this decision. The proposals put forward by the Trust are pretty much opposed by everyone I talk to, not least because of the poor transport links to Tunbridge Wells, which many feel will put people's lives at danger. An excellent summary of the problems of the proposal can be found HERE.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

A decade of broken promises

We took time out in the office today to watch Tony Blair's resignation statement on TV. Like every office, we are a politically mixed bunch, but no-one shed a tear. It was quite an odd speech in many respects. Blair was unapologetic, unemotional and pretty disingenuous. In fact, the ticker across the bottom of the screen that first reported Jose Mourinho's blast at referee Graham Poll and then the Bank of England's interest rate rise to 5.5% encouraged more conversation that the content of Blair's speech!

I don't need to be out long on the doorsteps to get the feeling of disappointment from ordinary people who had once believed in Tony Blair and the New Labour project. Looking around them they see their local hospital A&E under threat of closure as well as other cutbacks in their health services; an increase in violent crime but policemen tied to their desks rather than out patrolling the streets; tax rises impacting on their take home pay and savings and yet little evidence as to where it has all gone; chaos in our immigration system, and prisons so full they are bursting at the seams.

The worrying thing is that Blair's departure leads to Brown's arrival...be afraid, very afraid!

Tough on crime?

Two headlines caught my eye this morning -

"Jail's the wrong place for burglars, says our new justice minister"

and

"Facing jail, the civil servant who leaked Bush-Blair secrets"

Now not sure about you but I think I know who I'd prefer to see behind bars.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Full Council results for Chatham & Aylesford

The full results of last week's local elections are available for Medway Council HERE and for Tonbridge & Malling Council HERE.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

A weekend off!

After a busy but worthwhile end to the local election campaign, I took my first weekend off since before Christmas and headed down to Wales for a weekend of long walks, fresh air, great local food and rugby league! A very good friend of mine is a lifelong Leeds Rhinos fan and so I ended up watching all three games on Sunday of the Super League competition at the Millennium Stadium, culminating in a thrilling Leeds v Bradford derby. Although I am not as passionate about rugby as I am about football I do like going to watch it, not least because the behaviour of the fans and players alike is so different to football. We had several Bradford fans sitting in front of us, and when Leeds won, albeit under controversial circumstances, there was none of the fighting or verbal abuse you'd expect at a football match - just a simple "well done mate" and a handshake. It was great fun.

But whilst I have been away there has been a lot going on:
  • John Reid's decision to leave the Home Office: in my view it is a shame that John Reid has put his own personal politics above sorting out the Home Office which he himself described as not fit for purpose. So another Home Secretary leaves the Department and yet crime continues to rise, immigration policy is still a mess, drugs continue to blight communities and the prisons are bursting at the seams. So much for Labour's commitment to be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy wins the French Presidential Election: I think that the most amazing thing about the French election is that the turnout was an incredible 85%, making democracy the biggest winner. The UK General Election in 2005 only had a 61% turnout, and last week's local elections, despite being vitally important, are likely to only have seen a turnout of around 37%.
  • The second incredible thing about the French election result is Tony Blair's YouTube message of congratulation in both French and English! Why?? Yes, it is important to wish a new premier the best of luck, but why broadcast it? Could someone be about to embark on a lecture tour...?
  • And then there was the issue of the top and bottom of the Premiership finally being resolved. In my view, Chelsea ruined their chance to win the Premiership a few weeks ago when they only drew with Bolton but it just goes to show that big bucks don't always win football games. And finally I took no comfort over Spurs' win last night against Charlton, which saw Charlton relegated to the Championship. Charlton run excellent grassroot schemes across Kent for young boys to keep them off the streets and interested in sport and hope that the financial cost of relegation to the club doesn't affect these extremely worthy projects.

Now the long weekend is over so it is back to business as usual, and with the expected resignation of Tony Blair what a week it will be...

Friday, 4 May 2007

Count #2 - Tonbridge & Malling

I am writing this post completely and utterly delighted with the outcome of this morning's count for Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. Not only did our sitting Councillors get re-elected with increased majorities but we have two new Councillors in Aylesford beating the sitting Lib Dems by over a 100 votes; a new Councillor in Ditton; and all five Labour councillors in Snodland lost their seats to Conservatives. Every single Conservative candidate put their heart and soul into these elections - they all deserve the success they have achieved, and I know they will all work jolly hard in their new constituencies.

3AM update - a good start

I have two counts - Medway tonight and Tonbridge & Malling tomorrow morning. In the Chatham & Aylesford constituency the key target wards in the Medway half were Walderslade and Princes Park. Tonight we won both seats in Princes Park with Labour trailing behind and we won one of the two Independent seats in Walderslade. So three out of our four targets won - which is great. Encouragingly the two Lords Wood & Capstone candidates increased their majorities quite substantially and our three candidates in the safe Labour ward of Chatham Central polled a combined 1700. At the time of writing the overall make up of Medway Council was still to be declared but in the meantime I send my warm congratulations to new Conservative Councillors Bright, Gulvin and Brake and re-elected Councillors Jarrett and Wildey.

UPDATE: The Conservatives have increased their majority on Medway Council whilst Labour lost 3 seats. The turnout was higher than expected at 37.5%.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Poll Day

It is a grey chilly day here in Chatham & Aylesford which is usually great news for Conservative candidates across the constituency! Normally, Conservatives will vote come rain or shine whereas fairer weather suits other parties. The campaigning is complete, the new computer system is working and the first telling slips are in, so it is all go now.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Sunburn!

Argh! Forgot to put some sun cream on this morning before spending the day delivering pledge letters reminding people to vote Conservative tomorrow. As a result I have a sun burnt neck, arms and face. I didn't even realise I had got burnt until I was in Sainsburys and the check out boy said "I can see it was another nice day again"!

An early night calls tonight ready for a long and busy day tomorrow, followed by an overnight count for Medway Council and a Friday morning count for Tonbridge & Malling. Who needs sleep anyway?!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Countdown to Polling Day

I am now out campaigning in the local elections for the rest of the week so today was my last day in the office until next Tuesday. So whilst I frantically cleared my in-tray, with the assistance of my wonderful team, candidates throughout Chatham & Aylesford were out delivering final leaflets and doing some last minute canvassing gathering support in advance of Polling Day.

If votes simply reflected the candidates' hard work, then every ward in the constituency would have a Conservative councillor with huge majorities. The enthusiasm and energy that all candidates have demonstrated over the past few months has been incredibly impressive. They are all really dedicated and deserve to be elected to Council. I wish them all the very best of luck for Thursday.