Monday, 29 December 2008

Thank You

This afternoon over 50 local helpers ventured out into the freezing winter's day for a get together at the Robin Hood pub so that I could say thank you for all their hard work over the past 12 months. It was great to see so many people, some of whom came despite suffering this dreadful flu that has been going around. I had several new people turn up who have only got involved in the last few months and it was great to be able to welcome and introduce them to the team.

The activists are the life blood of the Conservative Party and indeed are vital to my campaign to win Chatham & Aylesford at the next Election and so I couldn't thank them enough for what they do essentially for me and the Party. If you would like to help then please contact Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives at caconservatives@btconnect.com for further information.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

My Hinterland

This month's Total Politics magazine features an article I wrote about my "hinterland", a term used by Dennis Healey's wife to describe the interests a politician has to keep themselves happy. The article describes how my coaching gives me some valuable down time and can be read in full HERE.
The magazine is available in all good newsagents and features loads of excellent articles including an interview with Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party; what's in store for us in 2009; and key facts about the Czech Presidency of the EU. It also includes this fab picture of me looking like a seal!!


(copyright TH2)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

My Dartford campaign is mentioned in Parliament!

Yesterday, the Hornchurch MP James Brokenshire held a debate in the House of Commons on the Dartford Crossing charges, during which he mentioned my campaign to scrap the stealth tax to cross the Thames.


This is a huge step forward in my campaign to represent the concerns of residents in Chatham & Aylesford at Westminster. I'd like to thank James Brokenshire for raising this important part of the debate.





Monday, 15 December 2008

Scrap Dartford Crossing charges

I am today announcing my support for the campaign to scrap the Dartford Crossing charges. Local residents who use the Crossing for work have been in touch and are fed up, not least because the charges were supposed to be scrapped once the Crossing had been paid for - which happened five years ago!!

One gentleman who has been in touch with me pointed out the inconsistencies of the new charging scheme. If he lived in Thurrock but worked in Medway, then he would get to cross for free but with it being vice versa he has to pay. Residents of Medway working in Thurrock are being unfairly penalised simply by going to work. In a further inconsistency the same gentleman is registered disabled meaning if he were to drive into London he would be exempt from the congestion charge - however this is not the same for the Dartford Crossing.

This campaign to scrap bridge crossing charges is not the first - two bridges in Scotland have had their tolls removed because it was considered unfair by local MP Gordon Brown. At the moment Medway's motorists are being betrayed by this stealth tax. The charges are clearly just a road toll and not a measure to reduce congestion and it is about time the Government owned up to it. And if tolls are unfair in Gordon Brown's constituency then they are unfair here too.

Register your support for the campaign HERE.

A February General Election?

There is a very interesting article in today's Sun on whether there could be a February General Election. Gosh I hope so!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Jumping on the X Factor bandwagon

OK I admit it - I was one of the 8 million people who voted in the X Factor final last night! And who did I vote for? Well half of Meridian Girls FC won't like it because one of the girl's best friends is the cousin of one of the boys from JLS (tenuous I know but they are teenage girls!) but I voted for Alexandra!

My mum and I were on MSN having an X Factor argument - she voted for JLS - but I thought the most talented person won. Alex can clearly sing (although to be fair JLS are excellent singers too) and I have no doubt her version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah will head straight for No.1 - not least because it is in my view a much better rendition: Cohen's is too slow, but Alex's is similar in tempo to the excellent Jeff Buckley's. I am not a huge fan of Simon Cowell but I have to say it was an ingenious idea to pick this particular song for the winner to release: oldies love the original version(s) and kids know it from Shrek. Am I ashamed about jumping on the X Factor bandwagon? Not in the least - and I am off to download the song right now...

House calls

Yesterday I made house calls to people who have been in touch regarding problems that they need help with. This is by far one of the most rewarding parts of the job and was reiterated to me by one long serving MP recently who said in 21 years he still enjoys doing casework and the minute that stops then he'll call it a day. But as rewarding as it might be it is also still quite upsetting and one visit I made yesterday highlighted how desperate people are by the time they get to ask for help.

A problem I dealt with yesterday regarded disability living allowance which essentially involves a gentleman losing his allowance despite having never received written communication that this was going to happen - the first he knew about it was when the charity which provides him with a car called to tell him they were coming to collect it. Ironically his claim was originally reviewed because he started doing some light part time work - something the Government actively encourages. It is quite clear from the fact that he can barely walk that he has a case but all he wanted from me was to help him write a letter because he was worried he wouldn't do it properly. It took me no time at all to help him but if his appeal is successful then it will bring him a huge amount of mobility support that will enable him to continue to work and play an active role in his family. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Tracey Chatham

Leading political blogger Iain Dale was on the Politics Show South East today talking about the poor use of the Internet by politicians. When you look at how Obama used the Internet in his election campaign you can see why he, and many others, would say that. There are huge opportunities for e-campaigning which are currently not being harnessed but Iain gave this blog a big thumbs up during his interview.

He did however call me Tracey Chatham before quickly correcting himself! It was very funny. You can watch the interview HERE - the relevant section is about 25 minutes in.

Mulled Wine & Mince Pies

I used to be a bit of a Grinch when it came to Christmas - well not Christmas itself but the long (and getting longer) run up. But today, I went to my first Christmas bash - a mulled wine and mince pie fundraising event - and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not least because the homemade mince pies were absolutely delicious and although I didn't drink any mulled wine because I was driving over to Whitstable for my Mum's birthday, it smelt heavenly. I wish I had the time to make mince pies but since I don't I scoffed down quite a few before leaving so I have probably had my seasonal fix anyway!
So now I am over my Grinch phase, when is my next Christmas event...?




Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Walk in our Shoes

One of the best things about being a candidate is you get to learn about issues you didn't even realise you knew nothing about! Tonight I have been at Woodies Youth Centre observing the Medway Autism Group and Information Centre (Magic), as part of the TreeHouse "Walk in our Shoes" campaign.

Before tonight I am ashamed to say I knew hardly anything about autism - and a quick straw poll in my office before I left showed that I was not alone. But over 2 hours this evening I learned an incredible amount about the condition and left Woodies far more aware of the challenges and needs not only of the children I met and saw this evening, but also those of their parents. Magic's support centre is as much for the mums and dads as it is for the children and it was really interesting to listen to them, and hear how they learnt about autism and the roller coaster of emotions they went through as a consequence. What is very clear is that there a very few state supported services which help parents in these circumstances which yet again demonstrates the value of the third sector.

In Medway there are nearly 1000 known cases of autism out of a national total of 90,000. The importance of special education is obvious but as always the cost to local government is an issue. However what I discovered this evening is that many of the changes that authorities, Government, and even society needs to make are relatively cost-free. So for example, teacher training on how to deal with autistic children is extremely poor - in fact I was told that only half a day is dedicated to all disabilities. It is quite clear from speaking to parents that this is not anywhere near enough. Spending time at centres like Magic would help increase the knowledge base of even the most experienced teacher.

Another aspect is awareness. As I said at the outset I was ashamed with how little I knew about autism - but tonight I found I wanted to learn so much. Others will remain totally ignorant about a condition that affects the communication, social understanding and behaviour of 1 in every 100 school aged children. If you knew what you were looking for, you would recognise autistic behaviour in supermarkets, playgrounds, shopping centres etc every day of the week but instead you, like me, probably think what you see is a child being naughty or disruptive, cast some sort of aspersion about the parent's lack of control before moving on. Increased awareness can happen through programmes like Walk in our Shoes but longer term awareness is also about inclusion. I have often thought that inclusion should happen at a very early age. Rhys, my eldest nephew, was at a nursery school in Hythe with a child who had Downs Syndrome. As a consequence of his everyday attendance and inclusion at nursery, Rhys, now ten, has absolutely no issue with disabled people. Unlike many children his age, if he sees someone with Downs Syndrome or another obvious external disability, he doesn't stare and ask awkward questions. Why not? Because he doesn't see anything "different" - as far as he is concerned, or certainly when it comes to Downs Syndrome, he understands that sometimes things happen but it is not something that is necessarily frightening or harmful so why should he be afraid or treat them in any other way. If children are introduced to autism at an early age then why would they be frightened of it? Why would their only view of autism be like mine, and those of the parents I spoke to tonight before their children were diagnosed - that autism means aggressive behaviour and rocking back and forth? Well it wouldn't - because children at a young age become conditioned and if something is considered "normal" by those around them, then it becomes normal to them too. But this is in the long term and in the meantime one of the volunteers was talking about the need for reverse inclusion - i.e children from mainstream education going to special education centres and doing things like mentoring, buddying, or simply playing or learning. And funnily enough what I saw tonight at the Youth Club was 30 odd children running around playing games in the same way that if I went tomorrow to the Youth Club I would see 30 odd children running around playing games. So I went through my own reverse inclusion process tonight - I don't really know what I expected this evening, only what I saw and heard wasn't it - it was much better.

Much of what could be done to transform the lives of children with autism is cost free but the benefit it would bring in the long term would be invaluable. I learned a lot about autism tonight, and yet I believe I only scratched at the surface and I am looking forward to learning a great deal more in the future.