Sunday, 30 March 2008

Feedback on 2008 Crime Survey

Hundreds of people have already sent back the crime survey from my latest newspaper and the results are staggering. I am genuinely shocked by the number of people who say they have been a victim of crime but that the no arrest or prosecution followed.

Of the 18-44 age group only 2 people (both men aged over 25) felt it was safe to walk around Chatham town centre at night, and only a handful more felt safe in Maidstone Town Centre. Only 3 people aged over 45, out of nearly 500 responses, felt safe in Chatham Town Centre at night. This is so sad - both Chatham and Maidstone have the ability to be really vibrant town centres with good restaurants and entertainment venues. But if people are too scared to walk through them at night - as I was myself after a recent dinner at Yoons Restaurant - then they won't go out into town at the expense of the local economy.

Almost every person who replied wanted to see a zero-tolerance approach on all crime, and the majority thought it was wrong to reclassify cannabis (there is an excellent article on the dangers of cannabis in today's Kent on Sunday). What surprised me most about the latter answer was that the strength of opposition to the reclassification by under 25 year olds - those often portrayed as pro-"soft drugs".

Only 7 under 44 year olds agreed with the new 24 hour drinking laws - and unsurprisingly the majority of those were under 25! Only 6 respondents over 45 agreed but the vast majority thought that all day drinking has led to an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour and the law should be reviewed. Unfortunately this Government is in denial on the whole issue of 24-hour drinking. The statistics from the police, local authorities and hospitals all show that the relaxation of licensing laws was a bad policy decision - and all the stats were predicted by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis when I was working for him over 3 years ago.

I shall be sending a summary of these results to David Davis for his information, but in the meantime I thank all those who took the time to fill out the survey and send back to me - it is much appreciated.

Friday, 28 March 2008

A school truly at the heart of its community


I was really impressed by what I saw in Aylesford today - two generations at different ends of the spectrum bonding over a fish and chip lunch.


Aylesford School, a specialist Sports College, invited pensioners from the Royal British Legion Village to come and have lunch with some of its pupils. Not only was it a brilliant idea which will no doubt help bridge the barriers between young and old, but it totally demonstrated how the school is genuinely at the heart of the Aylesford community.

The pupils I spoke to were incredibly bright and not at all shy to talk to the pensioners that were bussed over for lunch. And the pensioners loved getting out of the Village for a few hours.

I spoke to one Legion resident who had been at the school herself in the 1930s and was telling the children, who listened with their mouths open, that where the houses are around the school were once all fields. She had walked to school along hedgerows and, despite Kent facing regular air-raids, had stayed in Aylesford and at the school during the war. Mind you given the millions of pounds spent on rebuilding the school recently as part of its specialist status, I think it is fair to say that it has changed quite substantially since her day!!

The Headmaster told me he wants to do more initiatives like this - I hope he does - today's lunch was a fantastic idea.

Pride in our troops


This morning I joined local Conservative MPs Ann Widdecombe and Hugh Robertson, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, councillors, school children and thousands of ordinary people in cheering troops from the 36 Engineers Regiment as they paraded through Maidstone having returned home from Afghanistan.

The local media outlets are reporting that over 2000 people turned up to line the streets of Maidstone to cheer and wave flags despite the pouring rain. I managed to stand quite near the Town Hall, facing the troops as they turned and saluted the civics on the podium. Their eyes were full of pride and some broke their military resolve and couldn't help but smile as they marched passed. Retired gentlemen turned up with their military ties and caps and were cheering as loudly as the primary school parties that had arrived with their union jacks.

It has been well reported locally that 2 of the regiment didn't return home and the parade today was as much for them as it was for those who stomped through the cobble streets in their desert fatigues. As they marched passed, I felt quite moved. The parade reminded me how young some of these men and women are; how they go to dangerous places to fight in wars they might not even believe in; and how sometimes they don't return safely. I am glad I went and could show my appreciation. They deserve it.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

My 200th Post: A moral dilemma

To celebrate my 200th post on this blog, I thought I would highlight the moral dilemma that the MP John Redwood faced recently, which he wrote about on his blog. He was offered a used car parking ticket which still had time on it, which is apparently in breach of car parking regulations - should he a) accept it b) lie and say he needed more than an hour or c) politely turn it down explaining why?

I didn't know that giving someone else your parking ticket with time left on it was not allowed and I personally always do it believing it to be an act of kindness. It seems like general acts of kindness happen less and less these days so it makes me really sad that something as simple as handing over your car parking ticket has also been outlawed.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Kent's Post Office Closures

Yesterday, the Conservative Party held a debate in Parliament on the planned closure of 2,500 Post Offices across the UK, highlighting the vital role that they play locally. It is clear that many people still rely on their local Post Office for the multiple services they provide. Across Kent 58 Post Offices were ear-marked for closure. Last night, all of Kent's Labour MPs voted against the Conservative Party's plea to save them, including our own local MP. It is little wonder that ordinary people are losing faith in politicians when they cry crocodile tears locally over Post Office closures, but are not willing to stand up and defend them when the opportunity arises in Parliament.

When a local Post Office closes, often the last shop in the community closes too and it is the vulnerable and elderly who suffer most. You can sign an online petition HERE to register your support for the campaign to keep Kent's Post Offices open.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Bash the Trash 2

Having joined the Council initiative to "Bash the Trash" a few weeks ago in Walderslade, I joined a team of volunteers today in Snodland to do a repeat exercise. You might not be surprised to learn that all the volunteers were local Conservatives who, unlike others, are happy to put words into action and donned on the high visibility jackets before setting off in different directions to clean up the local environment. I was part of a 4-man team who headed up towards the station to clean up a verge that had enough litter on it that it filled up nearly 10 bags alone! A lady walked past as we were finishing and thanked us for our efforts - but then you can really see the difference we made:



Friday, 14 March 2008

Duffy

I have pretty eclectic taste in music and have a huge CD and vinyl collection (the latter thanks mostly to my dad) ranging from classic rock through to modern day pop, all of which sits alongside a respectable amount of classical music and opera. And I believe that the UK has the most amazing musical talent in the world. I have no idea how much music we as a nation export but I am pretty sure it is more than we import - something we should be really proud of. However lately I haven't really been that excited about what's "out there". Nothing really caught me by surprise and made me want to immediately buy the album and play it to death a la David Gray's White Ladder, The Stone Roses' Stone Roses, Thirteen Senses' The Invitation or even James Blunt's Back to Bedlum. Well that was until now. I bought Duffy's debut album and it is amazing. Her voice is gorgeous and her singing Dusty Springfield style. I could listen to it on repeat over and over again. I hope she makes it to Radio 1's Big Day Out in May at Mote Park - and I hope I haven't played the album to death by then...

A new Conservative Councillor in Snodland

Yesterday Luke Baldock was elected to serve as a Conservative Councillor on Snodland Town Council. Up until recently Snodland was one of Labour's safest areas but following the local elections last May, the area now has 5 Borough Councillors and a Conservative controlled Town Council. Luke's victory yesterday demonstrates even further how fed up local people are with Labour. Ironically, this election need never have happened. As I have previously written on this blog, since it was a Town Council by-election, the Conservative administration were very happy to follow usual practice and co-opt a Councillor but a Labour Councillor insisted on an election at the expense of local taxpayers. This result is therefore the right result. Luke will make an excellent Councillor and I am looking forward to working with him in the future.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Budget Reaction

Well not only was the Chancellor's Budget speech dull yesterday but it was dire as well. The millions of hard working people who have paid their taxes (and the stealth ones too) are the ones who are finding that their cost of living is increasing and it is becoming even more difficult to make ends meet. But don't just take it from me!

In recognition of the political importance of Chatham and how it is "fertile ground for a resurgent Conservative Party", the Financial Times dedicated its series of "My Budget Verdict" to residents from across Chatham. You can read the verdicts of the Entrepreneur, tailor, the regeneration specialist, pensioner, doctor, and professor all online but below is the verdict of the the brewer.

* * *

Chatham was, it is said, the only naval dockyard without a working brewery - an oversight being addressed by the Nelson Brewing Company. Owner Piers MacDonald bought the micro-brewery in 2006 after he left the pub trade, fearing the smoking ban would damage business. He feels vindicated as sales of bottled beer have risen from 5 per cent of the company's £200,000 turnover, to more than 25 per cent, indicating that more people are drinking at home. Mr MacDonald, 41, believes there is a future for cask ales and he is infuriated by the argument for raising beer duty to curb binge-drinking. "Traditional cask ale pubs are just not where the binge-drinking culture is. And for those businesses that sell alcohol products as a loss-leader, just bumping up the duty won't stop them selling it at a loss." Mr MacDonald is also worried about the direction of the economy and the "huge debt burden", which will mean that people will have less money to spend when "it's getting harder for pubs to make a living". Not a Labour supporter, he says there is "nothing they could do now to make me vote for them".

VERDICT "You do despair. We have been getting lots of lectures about tackling binge-drinking and had been looking for some long-term vision from the government. But lifting duty across the board just raises more cash for the government - and will not prevent drink being sold by supermarkets as a loss-leader."

So now we know what ordinary people from Chatham think of the Budget too - and they weren't impressed either! A tired Budget from tired Government - its time for a change.


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Taxing Alcohol

The perceived wisdom is that the Chancellor will raise duties on alcohol quite substantially in tomorrow's Budget as a so-called way of dealing with binge drinking. Of course we all know that this is actually a revenue raising exercise by a skint Chancellor and that it is the at-home-wine-drinkers that are going to be the ones that get hit rather than the drunken youths who litter our high streets on a Friday night.

If the Chancellor was serious about using fiscal measures to act as a disincentive he would consider introducing Conservative proposals to deal with the problem. George Osborne announced recently that he would target tax rises on alcopops, strong ciders and other problem drinks associated with binge drinking. The extra revenue raised will be used to reduce taxes on low strength beer and cider - wines, spirits and 90% of beer and cider consumed in Britain would be unaffected. The Shadow Chancellor said the aim of the package was to discourage young, binge drinkers, and that "the vast majority of law abiding, responsible drinkers" would not be hit.

A far more sensible approach to the problem...which is perhaps therefore why it has not been thought of by this Labour Chancellor!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Labour Government vetoes referendum on EU Treaty

Tonight the Conservative amendment calling for a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty has been defeated in Parliament. Despite promising a referendum in their 2005 manifesto on the EU Constitution, the Labour Government has ignored the fact that this Treaty is almost identical to the Constitution and said it won't hold one - probably because it knows it will lose and that will cause huge embarrassment to Gordon Brown.

An absolutely excellent Q&A on the Treaty can be found HERE. Our only hope now is that the House of Lords, where the Bill implementing the Treaty now passes, will hold the Government to account for their manifesto commitment and vote for an amendment calling for a referendum.

UPDATE: Our local Labour MP, Jonathan Shaw, voted to deny the British people a referendum on the EU Treaty last night - something I am sure will be remembered at the next Election.

Frozen pitch fees

Local Conservatives have shown their commitment to health and fitness by freezing all sports pitch fees, a move opposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Pitch fees for football, cricket and bowling greens were set to increase in the Council's 2008 budget to reflect the higher utility charges being faced because of recent inflation busting increases announced by energy companies. Instead the Conservative Group voted to freeze fees this year to ensure Medway’s adults and young people can continue to afford to enjoy these recreational grounds. This is good news and a great way to encourage people to take up a sport and increase their fitness and health.

Monday, 3 March 2008

How the credit crunch has hit plans for new hospital

The Financial Times reports today that the crisis in the American Bond Insurance market may impact negatively on the private finance initiative project to build the new hospital proposed by the Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells Trust. What this effectively means is that instead of issuing bonds to fund the project - the cheapest funding option available - the consortium in charge of the project will have to rely on bank loans instead. And given the bank markets are having a rather tumultuous time as a result of the credit crunch, the cost of completing the project may increase. Other PFI projects have been halted because of similar problems with bonds - since enough money has been spent already on the new hospital project it would be a shame if it became a terminal victim of a slowing economy.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

A cleaner Kent

Yesterday I turned up to support an excellent joint initiative being run by Tonbridge & Malling Council, Medway Council, Maidstone Council and Friends of Taddington Valley to clean up litter in around Walderslade. It was great to see members of the public, who had been leafleted about the event, turn up to help alongside council officials, the local PCSO and others. They provided all the heavy duty gloves, the high visability jackets, and litter pickers and all I needed to do was put on my wellies and start filling my black sack. I helped Bev clear up around Tunbury Primary School and together we cut back all the brambles along the Walking Bus route and filled several bags with crisp packets and sweet wrappers. A couple of hours later with a cup of tea and a jaffa cake in hand we stood back exhausted but able to admire our handiwork - it looked fabulous and hopefully others will notice the difference.