Thursday, 30 April 2009

Time for Gordon to go?

Today I saw this poll in the Times. Even though in some ways I'd love him to stay as he is a walking train crash for the Labour Party's electoral hopes, I don't think the country can go on any longer with him as PM. Along with 88% of those polled so far, I voted GO.

I only hope the voting will be similar on June 4th and the country will send a crushing message to him in a real poll

A day out in Norfolk

I'm not going to promise to blog every day on the European Election campaign but will try.

Today I saw a cross-section of Southern Norfolk. Andrew Mitchell, MP the shadow Secretary for International Development came to join me. Andrew took me on a trip to Rwanda to understand developing countries so I reckoned that he should come to Norfolk to understand rural East Anglian communities.

We started the day visiting a world leading Norfolk manufacturing company - yes some still do exist, this one was in Thetford. (After all if we are to give money to international development we need to make money here). Trox makes air conditioning systems and is leading research in making their products less energy intensive. We met long serving employees and new apprentices both determined that their company will be a survivor. They already export across the world. If I am elected to the European Parliament they have asked me to help them expose areas where other countries are being protectionist in their industry. They also discussed with their local council candidates how to help inspire and develop their local area.

After that, in Diss, we met with the volunteers who run a very busy Oxfam shop, Andrew was able to update them on what he has seen at the frontline of Oxfam's work in extremely difficult countries. (Andrew bought a very improving book on Africa and I bought a nice necklace and a box of tissues in case of swine flu).

Next the local retained firefighters told us of their work as volunteers to help their local community in emergencies- I was pleased to update them on our recent victory on the working time directive that would have made their work impossible. The local rotary club told us of the work they do - they not only support local charities but have also been networking across East Anglia to funding the building of wells in Zambia.

I also had a chance to brief a shadow cabinet member on the vital contribution of agriculture in our area and the need for decent infrastructure. Tomorrow I'm back in Norfolk again but today was a good day.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

First Blood of the European Election Campaign

It's not just postmen that get bitten by dogs... Today I was helping a local county council candidate deliver some letters to constituents. I lifted a letter box, pushed the envelope through and bang - jaws on finger.

As a dog owner I have never really believed other victim's tales of the sneaky dogs that lie in silence just waiting for that juicy deliverer's morsel - surely one must hear their mutley sniggers? - but I swear this dog gave me no warning. Does he/she/it only go for Conservative fingers or are all parties equal targets?

I'm OK - it's only a small bite. Not like a volunteer in Luton who lost her finger in a similar incident a few elections ago. I marched past the HUGE sign on the GP's surgery door that now tells everyone with flu symptoms to stay away - The district nurses were great; they checked my tetanus, gave me this smart bandage and told me to come back pronto for antibiotics if there is any sign of infection.

The highly observant of you will notice that I am not wearing a wedding ring. Hugo and I are still very happily married but I have taken it off for now in case of swelling. Perhaps I'm paranoid but we did start our wedding night in A&E having Hugo's signet ring cut off ... but that's another story.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Improving Rural Roads... With Limited Cash

With public spending under pressure and purse strings needing to get tighter it will become even more important that public money and time is well spent. A few days ago I met all the Conservative candidates in Hertfordshire for a briefing in the run up to the Council elections... we discussed everything from schools to hospitals to the Lisbon treaty but the debate on potholes was the one attracting most public comment. Rural roads in East Anglia are not only a major issue but often a tragic one.

I went to check the signs on my local road. I have campaigned for improvements on the A1307 for many years. Over a year ago I wrote about the frustrations of seeing hours of public sector time spent on the road but no action. Last year 5 people died in on a ten mile stretch of this small road. Since then after much lobbying a safety campaign started and the signs pictured were erected. Whilst the road still needs substantial improvements it is going to become even more difficult to find that sort of money. However, these signs and the safety campaign have not cost vast amounts of money - but may have saved some lives, only time will tell. But we are all hopeful that the silence of ambulance sirens over recent months will continue.

As I talk to people around the East of England I continually hear frustrations about local roads. When I mention Europe people ask why other countries appear to have mile after mile of new tarmac provided by the EU but no investment happens here? Over recent years the UK has not benefited from the same EU investment in roads and railways as other countries. Some of this is simply due to the Department for Transport in the UK failing to prioritise bids for these funds. It seems to me that in the tough economic times ahead we must get our fair share of every penny available - and make sure it is well spent.

Helping Developing Countries

At Conservative Party Spring Forum this weekend I was asked by a number of people about my experiences with Project Umubano and Conservative volunteers in Rwanda. I told them all that if they get a chance to spend even a few weeks offing volunteer time in a developing country they should grab the chance.

Two years ago I joined 60 Conservatives in Rwanda. My project was to restore and enlarge a pre-school at the Girubuntu Orphanage. Since I left the orphanage has re-located to a larger site- but there are now plans to start a new building. Last year Andrew Mitchell MP led over 100 Conservatives back again, this time to do many more projects. This year he plans an even larger group and to visit two countries.

Tomorrow Andrew Mitchell will be joining me campaigning in Norfolk. We will be finding out what it is like to be a volunteer in an Oxfam shop as well meeting local people who, despite tough economic times, are continuing to raise funds for those less well off than themselves.

Where is all your EU Money going?

This Friday there will be a meeting of the East of England's European and International Affairs Panel. I do not approve of regional government or quangos but this quarterly meeting is the only local scrutiny of the hundreds of millions of British taxpayers' pounds that are sent off to Brussels and then recycled (with costly bureaucracy) before being spent by UK quangos and government departments in our own local area. Sadly the panel has no decision making power but it is at least an opportunity to question.

For the nine months, I have attended these meetings and put my questions. Our leading Conservative MEP has also used this opportunity to question. BUT for 5 years our two UKIP MEPs have never shown their faces or asked a question - despite UKIP constantly claiming how they will stand up against EU waste.

As I am no longer an elected councillor I can't ask my questions this week. But I have read the papers and forwarded my questions to Conservative Councillors who will be there. I have many.

Not only is the information incredibly poorly presented (it is almost impossible even for someone who is experienced in unpicking financial statements to get a clear picture of budgets - I've been saying this since my first meeting), but I also have detailed questions about where our money is going.

One example - last week the UK Arts council of the UK announced that it will not be funding any new projects in this recession, but EU money has just been allocated to "a programme of cross-channel contemporary arts tours" and "to exploit the film archives of the regions of East Anglia and Haute Normandie ...for communities to better understand their joint history".

Is it any wonder members of the public are so cross about where their money is going?

Monday, 27 April 2009

More on the EU Working Time Directive

This weekend I attended the Spring Forum. I was delighted to hear that the leadership of the Conservative Party reaffirmed our commitment to bring key parts of employment legislation back to Westminster from Brussels. Here are my thoughts on the one size fits all EUWTD

Friday, 24 April 2009

Why I read the Lisbon Treaty on St George's Day.

Yesterday was St Georges Day and I spent part of it reminding myself exactly how proud I am to be British - and, in preparation for the upcoming elections, in reminding myself just how much I dislike parts of the Lisbon Treaty and why I have campaigned for a referendum.

I'm not a lawyer - but unlike the Labour minister for Europe at least I have spent time reading the treaty.

My own copy kept my printer busy for ages - why should residents have to pay E40 if they want to order a copy of the treaty that could have such an huge impact on their lives. As I read I found myself scribbling huge "NO"s beside certain sections.

Clause 27 - on a common Foreign Policy "the Union shall conduct, define and implement a common foreign and security policy" NO - Why should the UK become subserviant to a common foreign policy - we have the UN (ok its often not perfect) but this also seems huge extra bureaucracy to me.

Clause 49 - On an EU Army - "Member states shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defense policy" NO - we already have NATO, our British Troops are already hugely overstretched and other EU countries haven't exactly rushed in to help them in Afghanistan. Again this seems completely unnecessary.

Clause 4 - "The Union shall establish and economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro"..... That got a big NO from me too.

I could go on....

We were promised a referendum. The Conservative Party does not want these new rules and is committed to rejecting them either by offering the British People referendum (if that is still legally possibly by the time a general election occurs)... or if it has already been turned into law by re-opening negotiations. We can not let this rest here.

Being a councillor

Yesterday I stood down as a district councillor. I have really enjoyed representing my community for the past 3 years and there have been many successes. It is a huge honour and I have learnt masses, not only about my local community but also about local government.

All too often we find that decisions that we know are right for our local area are impossible because of heavy handed legislation from Westminster or Brussels. On June 4th I will stand as a candidate in the European Elections - I see this as an opportunity to help roll back the bureaucracy, unnecessary legislation and financial waste that is so often imposed by Europe.

I am not complacent about this election - I have already visited nearly all of the 58 Constituencies of the East of England over the coming days our candidate team will be helping campaign in all of them - but I do know that if I am elected I will have far less time to represent my area on council issues. My area deserves strong and continuous local representation. A mid-year by-election would be expensive. I know how totally frustrating mid year by-elections can be for voters and I don't want to put my community through that.

By stepping down as a councillor yesterday a by-election will be called on the same day as the County Council and European elections. My neighbours will have the opportunity to chose who represents them at every level of government - bar Westminster.... How I wish that they had the opportunity to make that Westminster choice too!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Darlings debt just cost children another £1,000

I suspect I am not alone in trying to grapple exactly what the mountain of government debt announced by Darling today means for my family.... but lets look at it this way.

The last estimate I heard was that each child born in Britain today has about £20,000 of government debt. Today's news will put that higher.

Darling also said that his forecasts show no return to government surplus until at least 2017/18... i.e. 8 years before we even start repaying it.

As the government announces higher borrowing forecasts, investors see the increased risks and demand that government pays higher and higher interest rates. Today the gilt market has fallen again so the cost of the interest has gone up again --- The yield on benchmark 10 year gilts has gone from 3.02% a month ago to 3.42% and rising when I just checked a few minutes ago.

0.4% may not seem high alone but annualized over 10 years on £20,000 means nearly £1,000 of extra interest per child. Add to that the debt per child is now higher and the actual time to repay the debt is probably longer. Whatever your assumption it doesn't make the extra £20 a year promised for child tax credits look generous.

Various commentators have also raised the question of whether the UK's AAA/Aaa credit rating could be threatened. We should pray not. Ireland has just lost its. That of course would push bond yields and the long term interest bill for each of us even higher.

With thanks to for the graph of 10 year gilt spreads.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Focus on Fishing....

Today as the French trawlermen lift their blockade of channel ports, holiday-makers can start to return from their elongated Easter breaks. My family is peppered with amateur anglers (myself included) but over recent months I have learned that the issues surrounding fish stocks are far more complicated than is often reflected in the news. Many UK politicians with a short term view don't want to enter the murky waters of fishery policy but the resources of the sea are too important to be neglected. Centrally run quotas from Brussels have not succeeded in protecting fish stocks - the scandal of "discards" is just one example of its failing.

Today's cave in by the French authorities to offer more subsidies to French trawler fleets may have re-opened the ports for now but does not solve the long term problem.... and yet again puts the decimated UK fishing industry at a disadvantage.

On a winter's visit to the dawn fishmarket in Lowestoft, local fishermen told me that the East Coast cod stocks are on a high, that their line fishing technique was totally sustainable, and that this was local food at its best... though on closer questioning I discovered that the bait for their hooks was caught off the Falkland Islands (they said by Spanish trawlers) and shipped half way across the world.

A few weeks ago I was collared by another fishermen in Canvey Island at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. He explained that Dover Sole catch in the Channel was at his lifetime low - and he blamed the Belgians.

This is not a local industry.

Decision making needs to be more local - but can not be done unilaterally because the proximity of our coast to that of other countries means that we have to work together. The Conservative Party has suggested local fisheries boards - bringing together interested parties from each affected country in each local fishing area.

This is a system that on the whole works well for inland fisheries in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but just as a salmon river can be perfectly run by a fishery board but have its stocks destroyed by netting or fish farming in the estuary which is beyond their control, it will be difficult to influence the key players in the global fishing industry with a purely European solution.

Somehow we need to balance the needs of local communities and small local fishing fleets with the economics of the factory trawlers. As with the Common Agricultural Policy, the unthinking subsidy of the industry such as those proposed by the French Government today will not provide a long term solution

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Little things...... sometimes add up

I have now been a local councillor for nearly 3 years ... its often a thankless task with heavy wadges of bureaucratic papers and endless meetings but from time to time it is also the chance to do little things that just might help.

I live in a middle sized village, and as a councillor I represent seven smaller neighbour villages too. We are very rural - it is ten miles to a bank, further still to a police station but there have been a number of frightening break-ins. How does one reduce crime?

The public transport here is useless for commuters so cars are a necessity. Our village's carbon footprint is frightening... how do we reduce it?

Like many communities we struggle to find people with time on their hands to give to voluntary work.

Last month I put two notices in the village mag. I wasn't holding high hopes. One was to find volunteers for neighbourhood watch schemes. The second was to find people interested in helping to save power.

I'm glad to report that the village has come up trumps. Tonight's meeting set up four new neighbourhood watches.

On the "carbon" issue; working with the district council I am promised a handful of electricity monitors for use by residents. Within hours of the village mag hitting the doorstep three village volunteers have offered to run a library scheme so their neighbours can work out what's eating their electricity.... and today I had an email from a village nearly 20 miles away in a different county asking how they could do the same.

Small things....

Monday, 6 April 2009

Working Together

This weekend I went to Basildon which has been in the national news over the past week as workers laid off by Visteon have been protesting for better redundancy pay from Ford.

I joined our Westminster candidate, Stephen Metcalfe and many local councillors. Steve told me that unemployment in Basildon was already up 70% by the end of January and that workers at the job centre are struggling to process new applications. This is before the news from Visteon. He, local councillors and a committed team of helpers have been hand delivering a door-to-door survey to ask people how the economic downturn has affected them personally and what more they think government or local council can do to help.

Here, where the economic downturn is biting hard the proclamations of last week's G20 leaders are a million miles away. Steve's team hope that local people will come up with some practical suggestions to help them at their own local level. People I spoke to were glad that someone was listening to them.