Friday, 29 December 2006

New approach to drug policy

I'm pleased to see Humfrey Malins MP's paper on conservative home about a "fresh look at drugs policy".

Last year I was very humbled when invited, with David Davis, into a charitably run drug rehabilitation home Three former addicts told us their history with drugs. Each had started off stealing alcohol as a 10-14 year old, moved on to cannabis and then to "harder" drugs. All three had been “clean” for over 6 months and described the battle to get that far – but each also stated that staying off drugs is a continuous battle.

This month we read bios of each of the victims of the dreadful murders in Ipswich. This rammed home again the message that all-consuming drug addiction is not confined to poor housing estates. It can take hold of a young person from any walk of life.

I agree that a new approach must be taken to drugs policy and that cannabis is much too dangerous to be a class C drug. Residential rehab is vital – but so a long term support network once the residential part is over. Charities and voluntary workers must be supported.

From the stories that I am told across the country, I believe that we are at a tipping point in our attitude towards drugs. Unless more serious efforts are made to reduce drug addiction now, the situation will become uncontrollable.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

What do Doctors think of the NHS?



Today I spoke to a recently retired and much respected hospital consultant. He said "you know secretly, Vicky, I would quite like Labour to win one more time. Then Gordon Brown would have to live with the mess he has created. He'd be doomed for ever..."

I come from an NHS family and frequently talk to doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Many of the medical professionals I speak to are devastated by what is happening to our health service. I would love to hear more of your views. Email me vford@btinternet.com or blog here.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Happy Christmas

Oh no! Christmas is nearly here, the children have broken up, and there are still presents to buy and cards unwritten. Many of my friends are in the same panic - we want to enjoy our family Christmas but struggle to find the time. Actually it’s not just at Christmas time that many find there is a work-life imbalance. Where parents have grandparents, aunts and uncles living nearby they can often get the balance more easily. I would like to see more policies, both housing and tax policies that help to keep families like this together.

I confess that this year, the big doc and I have no-one but ourselves to blame for last minute Christmas panic. With just 10 shopping days to go we snuck off and left the country for a few days. Beautiful, caring, intelligent Anita was married this weekend in her family church in Austria. We joined friends form all around the world to wish her and Michael healthy, happy marriage. There has been much in the news recently about the risks that women run when putting off children for their careers. If Anita has children she will be an "older mother". We should encourage businesses to support women who wish to start families earlier. Too many women are forced into a corner to choose between families and careers.

Another confession, I boarded a cheap flight to get to the wedding. It is many years since I was in Stanstead Airport at 4.30 on a weekday morning ..... IT WAS BUZZING. There was no room to sit in the waiting rooms, no room to stand on the transits, and triple queuing through security. My flights had cost next to nothing. This time even Gordon’s taxes didn’t seem high. I am told about the environmental done by aircraft and would have been happy to pay more for my occasional flight for a very special trip. I do feel very sorry for all those currently stranded because of foggy airports, but in the longer term if we are do tackle global warming we must all take fewer planes.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

and again - drugs

News today is that Labour minister Richard Cabourn thinks sports people should not be banned for using "social" drugs including cocaine. Does he not realise that we live in a country where the words of a footballer’s wife are frequently listened to more than that of the prime minister? I have no problem with people who say their past should remain their past, but once in the media eye one becomes an ambassador. OK I'm not perfect (I have a few points on my driving licence) but I think that it is unacceptable to take illegal drugs. Sports stars are held in awe by so many children and young people. They are also often funded by the state. There should not be one rule for "stars" and another for the rest. Thank goodness most of our sports stars realise this too.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Drugs - again

The East of England is rocked today by the knowledge of a serial killer in Ipswich. Three young prostitutes have died - but despite warnings from the police, it is clear from tonight's interviews on Newsnight that at least some women are still on the streets to feed their heroin habits. We heard from one young woman willingly putting her life at risk for her drug. We owe it to all our children to help fight back against drugs.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Car Crash - and unfair taxes

I went down to London yesterday to go to the Candidates conference. I should have been greener and gone by train - but my last experience of weekend trains took nearly 4 hours from Liverpool Street to Cambridge, so I decided to drive.

I was pulling up to the traffic lights at Westminster Bridge. BANG - a car shunted into my beloved Rover from behind. Michal, the Polish driver, could not have been more apologetic or chivalrous. Passers-by rushed up to help and the police were with us in seconds, moving on the traffic and sweeping up broken glass.

The CCHQ candidates’ dept picked me up with sweet coffee and I sat down to listen to Tony Juniper from Friends of the Earth. He not only spoke about global warming and species loss but moved on to speak about British Industry. "Why do our wind turbines come from Denmark? Our Photovoltaic panels from Germany? Hybrid cars from Japan? Britain has a history of Marine engineering excellence - why are we not leading the development of off-shore power?" Good to know that environmentalists care about more the economy too not just the environment.

Michal's insurance will pay for the damage to the car - but I do think it’s unfair that my insurance costs will now rise next year. Bernard the local milkman had one of his floats stolen. He thinks it’s unfair that he had to cough up £200 to get it out of the car pound when the police picked it up. Hidden taxes aren't just government taxes they are all around us.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Global warning - the farmer's view


I stopped to visit David my farming friend today. He is meant to have retired but like many farmers he keeps going. David had a bad fall on Monday and has just come back from hospital full of praise for the paramedics, doctors and nurses - but he won’t stop his Bupa sub no matter how bad farming gets.

Of course the conversation quickly moves on to the farm and he's had time this week to catch up on lots of reading. He will be delighted if Gordon Brown allows them to put up a small wind turbine without going through the costs of planning permission. Though he's not so sure about the giant ones! The farm uses a lot of energy in the workshop. He is furious about the hidden taxes that have been put on red-diesel, and as for the "bonus" payments that have just been paid to Defra officers - well I cant repeat the full words! "The farm payment system is the worst cock-up in farming I have seen in my lifetime" said David.

Did you know it has been the warmest winter for 300 years? We discussed the Ducklings that hatched at Halloween and David sent me off down the road to see Narcissi in bloom. They should not be here until the spring and we haven't even had Christmas yet. I thought you might enjoy the photo. It is a local warning of global warming.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Margot James selected for Stourbridge

Margot James has been selected for the key West Midlands marginal seat of Stourbridge. It is a wonderful town and they have chosen a truly feisty woman who I am certain will be the next MP. All the other candidates were deeply impressive. Our chat in the waiting room covered everything from the future of the army to the Stern report, the pre-budget report, how to get community trusts to regenerate market towns, equal rights in the workforce and reigniting the conservative party in cities throughout the country. I am very proud to be in such excellent company. Good luck Margot!

On the economy

It was good to wake up to hear George Osborne expressing some doubts about the Chancellor’s rosy view of the UK economy yesterday. Sometimes we need to be told the difficult things.

Every year for the past 4 years a group of local mums have got together to go out for a Christmas dinner. The group includes teachers, doctors, the local midwife, teaching assistants, charity workers, scientists, lawyers, part time workers and me. This year the consensus is that we can’t afford it. Everyone is coming for a “girls night in” at my house instead. Is it because of the rising mortgage rates? Or because they are worried about the financial year ahead? I will find out more on Friday.

In the meantime I’m off to Stourbridge tonight where many people have doubts about their long term financial future.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Post office robbery

My local post office was attacked last night by 3 masked men at cashing up time. Steve, the post master always tells his staff that if they attacked they should just hand over the money - but when he was on duty last night, he found that he could not let his business go undefended. They bashed through the door with a crowbar - he still would not let them in. They couldn't open the door so they hit him through the broken door with their crowbar Steve spent last night in the operating theatre because he would not give in. Perhaps he was foolish but I am so proud of him.

I have spoken today to the police, councillors, many others. They all try to do what they can but again and again today I have heard "this sort of thing always happens at this time of year". That is no excuse. We must be vigilant and stand by the Steves of this world. We must not let crime like this be acceptable.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Passports on Panorama

I have just watched Shahida Tulaganova, a Panorama reporter, demonstrate how to pick up illegal passports from 20 different European countries - including the UK (Britain fails passport test). She then used an illegal passport to get into the UK (twice). I used to say "I think immigration is out of control". Now I know it is.

The 007 approach to Crime Reduction

Went to the Bond movie last night. As ever a rip-roarer. James taking no prisoners and just getting out there to seek out the bad-guys.

Followed this morning by 3 1/2 hour meeting of "Crime and Disorder Partnership". I know that it is important that we look at the data - but so much is time spent worrying about the targets and being reactive not proactive.

We have had a lot of arson - everything from Kids setting fire to bins to major "Stack" fires all across the district in the summer. Do you remember all those fires during the heat wave last summer? It is Distressing to hear that the Fire service is having to cut back the work they do in schools about the dangers of arson. Programs like that can be so much more useful in getting the message across than time spent monitoring the statistics. We did approve some grants for some technical wizardry to help track down a few crooks (Q would approve) but not enough in the pot to pay for more squad cars.

The big doctor (my better half) was a bit worried about the very obvious brand promoting during the Bond movie. Lots of Sony equipment and Gordon’s gin etc. The kids are busy writing to Father Christmas for all the plastic junk that has been forced down their throats through the TV but sadly no matter how beautifully the big doc asks he won’t be getting an Aston Martin in his stocking.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Cambridge, Congestion Charging and Public Services

It was good to be back in my student haunts of Cambridge today and meet local association members. They are a very positive thinking bunch - despite not having a Conservative MP since 1992. We had a long discussion about the A list and there was strong support for the need to have more female Conservative MPs but not for a "Blair's babes" approach.

In my opinion many of Cameron's "new" style focuses are rooted in old Conservative values. It is right to worry about work-life balance since Conservatives have always believed in supporting families and that children need time with their parents. It is right to discuss global warming - Conservatives always have believed in caring for their local environment, but if we are to protect our local environment for the future we must try to protect the planet. Having said that there is a lot of anxiety in Cambridge about congestion charging, none of my friends from outside Cambridge City ever face the City traffic unless they really have to. Public transport does need to be improved - a concern is that the money from charging will not go towards those improvements. Cambridge is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, with thousands of new homes planned. It is also a major driver of the Eastern region economy. The Conservative County council have started work on the guided bus but that is still a while from being a reality.

Baroness Perry gave us an excellent summary of the work that she has been undertaking with the public services commission. Their interim report is HERE It is good to hear that so many senior professionals in the health and education are engaging in the debate with the Conservative party about the future of our services.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Helping the elderly through this winter

On the way up to Stourbridge this morning I was listening to the reports from Age Concern that the winter fuel payments will not go nearly far enough towards meeting heating bills this year. This is something that has worried me since the fuel prices hiked up this summer.

Older people often feel the pinch of Labour taxes more than any other group. On top of the pensions crisis, council tax and fuel rises hit them far harder than many of the rest of us - as these bills are often such a large percentage of their spending. I did like the Tory policy in the last election that every household of over 65 year olds would automatically get a 50% discount on their council tax. This seemed to me a very simple way of putting more money in older people's purses.

However we are stuck where we are this winter as Gordon Brown has signalled no intention of additional financial support. Age Concern make a lot of useful suggestions. Some are very simple, for example changing to energy saving light bulbs in order to safe fuel bills. However again these are an expensive investment for many on lower incomes. There is also the option to shop around for cheaper gas and electricity. Surfing the web I find switching to an "online" tariff can save over 20% of your fuel bills but lots of older people aren't so internet aware. Perhaps the fuel providers should be encouraged to make simpler fuel discounts for older people? Age concern publishes some good advice which you can find on www.ageconcern .co.uk. Help the Aged has a list of “top ten tips” but I cant get their website to work tonight!

Many of my older friends are incredibly good at making those pennies stretch and we should all make sure that we are helping them this winter. When I was at school we were encouraged to do “granny visiting” as community work but I understand that this has lapsed in many areas. I’m not sure what the older people thought but I know we all benefited from their wisdom and kindness.

Stourbridge was great. A packed room and interviews by Julie Kirkbride MP for Bromsgrove. There was a very positive sense of working together by all present.

Friday, 1 December 2006

On the road to the Casualty Department

You can tell that I’m now an addictive blogger. Waking up this morning and getting the children breakfast I was cheering on Andrew Lansley as he exposed the outrageous plans to close up to 29 different A&E departments across the country. We visited the Royal Orthapaedic hospital together last year. He is amazingly knowledgeable.

I come from a large medical family and all the doctors frequently tell me how bigger hospitals are better. I also have 3 children. Number 1 son, Edward, went through a phase as a "casualty kid" - is that what 5 year old boys do? When he broke his collar bone, cut open his eyelid, got stung by hornets it was horrible. All I wanted to do was get him to A&E as quickly as possible and I was grateful that it was only 25 minutes away.

There may be good medical arguments for making sure that A&E departments are only in hospitals where there is a full raft of Orthopaedic surgeons and intensive care beds, but the decision about the A&E's future should be made on those medical grounds. At the moment it feels as if decisions are being made solely on the grounds of short term financial accounting.

I have for a long time thought that the health service is too important to be left in the hands of politicians who only have 5 year vision. But I also believe that the health service is one of the most important (and expensive) things that we trust our government with. The buck stops with the PM.

Keep Working

Many friends have sent me messages today saying bad luck in Basildon but suggesting I can enjoy a quiet rest with the family until after Christmas. Actually I'm off to Stourbridge tomorrow for the 2nd round there, Stourbridge is a key West Midlands seat and just a stones throw away from Birmingham Northfield where I stood in last year's general election. Many of the issues in Stourbridge are the same as those we face in more southern seats - but on top of all that there is the issue of business decline in the West Midlands. Stourbridge used to be the centre of the worlds glass industry but now it is more like token production.

On Sunday I will go to the Cambridge City christmas lunch as their guest speaker. Cambridge City Council is now fully controlled by the Lib Dems and there is no Tory council representation at all. They need all our support and help to get back some blue this May.

Some people mutter "the A list isn't working" - well I say this A lister is working - very hard. And loving it! I'll let you know more over the weekend.

Steve Metcalfe for South Basildon and East Thurrock

We had a great evening. Steve Metcalfe, Essex born and bred and a hard working activist for the conservative party has been selected. It is really good that this key seat has a strong local voice fighting for it. Steve is a great guy, with a wonderful family and runs his own business. He will be a superb fighting MP. The sort of MP we need in westminster.

All the issues that people have spoken to me about in the past 10 days are ones that I care about. We must sort this country out. I will keep fighting - and Im now turning into such a blog addict that please keep being heard on this site.