Sunday, 29 March 2009

Watching the Bulls

Having watched the little ladies play and win this morning, I headed down to Aylesford Bulls Rugby Club to watch the Ladies 1st XV play a crucial match against Wasps. I sat and watched them warm up for an hour and totally admired their determination and commitment to the game. As regular readers of this blog know, I played football for many years but I should report that I often came off the pitch after 90 minutes the cleanest player in the team. I hardly ever had contact with other players and rarely went in for a sliding tackle! Why? Because I am a total wimp and it is fair to say that these ladies had more mud on them in the warm up than I probably had in an entire season!

Watching these ladies today was impressive. They were in on every bone crunching tackle. They scrummed well and their backs were damn fast. You soon forget you are watching a group of ladies of all different ages and I got totally immersed in the game, cheering on the team with the husbands, parents and children. Sadly I had to leave at half time but the ladies were winning 7-5 so hopefully they held on to their lead. If you have a spare Sunday afternoon and want to watch some good honest contact sport, head down to Aylesford Rugby club and watch the ladies 1st XV – I promise you won’t be disappointed by their ability and commitment to the game.

UPDATE: The Bulls won 14-12!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The curse of Blue Bell Hill!

Every time we plan to canvass Blue Bell Hill there is inclement weather! Previously we’ve had snow and ice, strong winds and one time the sun was so strong that I got burnt to a crisp. So I could have predicted rain and cold wind for today just by looking at the campaign diary. Nevertheless we all turned up on time at the meeting place and started our canvass session with genuine enthusiasm. But I was standing under the porch of the first door I knocked on having a very nice chat about the dreadful state of the world, when the heavens opened and my campaign manager came bounding up the driveway to tell me the troops were revolting (cue Morecombe & Wise joke…). Less than 10 minutes into the canvass we packed it in and headed for Mickey’s Diner for a fry up and a mug of hot coffee.

I am not complaining mind – the only door I knocked on pledged 3 votes (100% return) and I spent the rest of the morning eating poached eggs on toast and having a good old chin wag with the team. The sun came out long enough for me to deliver some letters in Larkfield and then we called it quits. Short but sweet.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Dartford Crossing – response from Government

Number 10 Downing Street has issued a disappointing response to the petition to scrap Dartford Crossing Charges, as mentioned previously HERE. The full response from No 10 is copied for ease of reference below:

Thank you for your e-petition.
The Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing is a vital transport link for both the national and South East economies which has brought huge economic benefits and opportunities. However, more vehicles want to use the Crossing than it can accommodate, and studies indicate that without any charge traffic levels would be 17% higher leading to even more extensive congestion.
That is why, using powers agreed by Parliament and following a full consultation, a charge replaced the existing toll in 2003.
With continuing traffic pressures and the prospect of demand rising in the longer term The Department for Transport consulted on a change to charges in December 2006 including the removal of overnight charges, and a new charging structure that offered greater discounts for those who pay be electronic DART-Tag. The consultation also sought views about the possibility of creating a local resident discount scheme. . In April 2007, the Department for Transport responded to the consultation, announcing that it would develop a local discount scheme. A further consultation in February 2008 sought comments on the local discount scheme. The new charging structure and the local discount scheme came into operation on 15 November 2008.
To deal with each of the three specific points made in the e-petition in turn:
· To say congestion is largely due to the effect of the toll booths is incorrect. For much of the day the Crossing is operating at or above its capacity. The tunnels could not handle any more traffic than the toll plaza can process. Under the new charging structure there are no charges at night when traffic is lighter – and there are incentives to encourage people to pay without cash. With more people using the Dart Tag, traffic flow through the charging booths will be smoother, helping to reduce unnecessary delays at the barriers. But barriers will always be necessary to manage traffic flows.
· Traffic modelling has also suggested that lifting the charges would dramatically and seriously worsen pollution on the Crossing. Air Quality Management Areas have been established adjacent to the A282 approaches to the Crossing. These require action to meet mandatory EU limits by 2010. The Highways Agency also monitors air quality annually.
· Anyone – regardless of where they live – can continue to pay the old rate of £1.00 by using an electronic Dart-Tag. Lorries and vans using the Dart-Tag will also benefit from significant reductions. During the 2006 consultation, local people made a strong case for a local discount scheme and we listened. Residents of Dartford and Thurrock are entitled to a tag which gives them 50 free crossings per year on payment of a £10 annual administration fee. Thereafter crossings will cost 20p each.
In the longer term we expect demand for use of the Crossing to grow, and we have commissioned a study to look at addressing this growth, including the possibility of a new crossing in the area.
Revenue from the Crossing comes to the Department for Transport and is spent on maintenance/operations costs of the crossing and transport investment both in the local area and nationally.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mother’s Day musings

Having just got back from my mum’s in Whitstable after a nice afternoon spent with the family to celebrate Mother’s Day I was really interested to read on ConservativeHome comments by two fellow PPCs about how their children influenced their entry into politics. I was intrigued because I don’t have children so for me it is definitely my mother who has more to do with me going into politics than she realises.

My mum is totally non-political. Like many people she does not understand politics and nor will she care to learn. She politely asks me how my campaign is going but that is more out of love for her daughter than any genuine interest. However her influence on how I think, what I can achieve in life, and why it is important to do all you can to make the world a better place is massive.

Despite our differences over the years I have always been incredibly impressed that she managed to bring up two young children pretty much alone whilst putting herself through college to get her social worker qualifications. As a social worker she dealt with children and families, which can be a pretty horrible job at times, and from that she instilled in us a desire to help those who were less fortunate than us. Not that we were well off financially but we had reasonably good health and lots of love and laughter – something that many of the women and children my mum saw on a daily basis did not have.

Whilst she also had pretty liberal views on social issues – a real live and let live attitude – she was pretty tough when it came to doing well in our own lives. Both my little sister and I were bought study books to help us pass the 11 plus and strict homework regimes in order to help us get into the local grammar: mainly because she regretted not making the most of her own secondary education and didn’t want us to make the same mistake, but also because she could see that the world was changing and a good education was an essential part of future success.

So I am where I am now – on the cusp of achieving an ambition I have held since my late teens. I am the only member of my direct family to go to University, I have an interesting job in the City and now I count down the days to the General Election in the hope that I can begin doing a job that I know will help make a real difference. Many politicians realise too late that a significant majority of the job is “like being a social worker”. For me, that is one of the main reasons I want to be an MP. People say they go into politics to “change the world” – I simply want to change the worlds of those who come to me for help.

One very long-serving Conservative MP said to me that he loves the social work side of the job and the day he stops loving it will be the day he calls it quits. I couldn’t agree more, and as she prepares for the week ahead back at work helping children get placed in foster homes or training people to spot signs of abuse or neglect, it is ultimately my mum I thank for that.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Greenacres Estate…and noise barriers again!

We had a team of 8 out this morning for a canvass session in the Greenacres Estate and despite the large number of “outs” I was pleased with the returns. So many people are now vehement in their dislike of this Government that, as previously recorded from other recent canvassing, are willing to change their voting habit of a lifetime and support the Conservatives – or at least not go out and vote Labour, which has pretty much the same effect. I knocked on one door and when the guy rather said “I’m a true red” and went to rather aggressively shut the door in my face, I couldn’t help but retort “well it is nice to find one”, before tittering to myself and going next door.

However the canvass returns aside the most interesting aspect of this morning was the local MP has circulated a letter to residents of Greenacres, Teapot Lane and Hall Road with a “noise barrier update”. The way the letter has been worded has incensed many residents because it is felt that he had very little to do with the installation of the barriers, and actually local Conservative Councillor Dave Smith did all the hard work, including sitting down with engineers and running through plans in detail, and getting confirmation of proposed works in August of last year. It was Dave who went out in the pouring rain to get a petition signed by residents, or kept them informed with updates printed out on a home computer, and it was Dave who organised resident meetings with the appropriate officials. A number of residents gave us their copy of the MP’s letter because they didn’t want to keep it…and as for Dave, he is spitting blood!!! I am not sure what the MP was trying to achieve but it appears to have backfired somewhat and maybe it is worth remembering that people don’t like it when others take credit for something they didn’t do. It is often better to recognise the work everyone did than glory hunt for one’s own gain. Dave will calm down, but Greenacre residents won’t forget the hard work he put in to ensure that the noise barriers were erected and the trees were replaced.

After canvassing I was delighted to hot foot it up to London to meet my little sister who today travelled up from Lenham to a ceremony to recognise her “outstanding” achievement as a childminder. Only 5% of all early year’s provision is considered “outstanding” by Ofsted and so I am feeling really proud of her. She had her photo taken with the Chief Inspector and got a bag of goodies. Hopefully she’ll retain her “outstanding” status at her next inspection but in the meantime she gets to celebrate her achievement with a lapel pin, certificate, and mug…

Sunday, 15 March 2009

New European rules will cut fire services

I am really concerned to learn of new European Union regulations that could lead to cuts in Kent’s fire services. The European Parliament, including the local Labour MEP for the South East, has voted to impose new red tape through the EU’s Working Time Directive.

As if our local fire services don’t have enough to worry about with the proposed control centre move to Hampshire, the new EU rules will abolish firefighters’ rights to opt-out from the working time rules. Under the rules, employers would have to ensure workers work no more than 48 hours a week and ‘On-call’ time in the workplace, even when inactive, would be counted as working time. This will have a devastating impact on retained part-time and professional fighters, who double up their fire work with other jobs. This will cut the number of retained firefighters on active duty (especially in rural communities in Kent) and there will be reduced local fire cover. My concern is that response times will increase as firefighters have to come from further away, and more full-time firefighters will be needed which may well end pushing up the fire levy on council tax bills. The Local Government Association and Chief Fire Officers’ Association have already attacked the plans.

Currently, in Kent, there are 716 retained firefighter posts and only 667 posts are filled, reflecting difficulties in recruitment. I genuinely believe that the shortages will get worse if Labour’s Euro-MPs get their way.

I also find it a bit rich that Europe is dictating what hours our local firefighters do. It is disappointing that Labour MEPs have backed these measures which could well see a cut in local fire services, putting lives at risk. Given this, and the plans to move the control centre away from Maidstone, I am not surprised that there are posts vacant in our fire service. Firemen do a brilliant job but the mounting red tape and hassle is going to make it increasingly difficult for them to continue to serve their local communities, like Chatham & Aylesford, in the future.

Weekend off

We had a weekend off from the campaign and clearly timed it very well with regards to the weather! I have managed to do a little bit of constituency paperwork but otherwise I have spent most of my time outside doing domestic duties like cleaning the windows and hanging out the washing. Normally my poor other half has to deal with all the chores whilst I am out knocking on doors but this weekend he got to watch Wales on the TV instead and I did all the hard work! Although I still managed to get read a book of American Presidential speeches and watch 2 episodes of the West Wing so it wasn’t exactly all work work work…

Today with the girls having a lunch time kick off I went to watch my 10 year old nephew play football in Lenham this morning. They play a rather odd set of two games with each game being split into 7.5 minute halves. I don’t understand why they do that but never mind Rhys played well and they only lost 1 nil in one game and drew 0-0 in the other one. I haven’t been able to watch him before because his games clash with my team’s so it was a real treat for me. After his game finished I dashed off to Bearsted where our girls battled hard but lost one nil and then I managed to make it back just in time to watch England in the Rugby followed by Spurs’ win over Aston Villa.

So after a relaxing weekend in the glorious Spring sunshine, it is back to work tomorrow on the campaign for change.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Aylesford Youth Club is officially opened

Last night I attended the official opening of the new Aylesford Youth Club in the Capel Morris Centre. It was very exciting to see the outcome of the hard work of all those involved in ensuring that the Club could use the centre in the Royal British Legion Village and enabling the local youth to have a bigger facility for them to use.

Edwin Boorman and Parish Chairman Joyce Gadd made two short speeches which were well received by adults and teenagers alike before the fun and games really could begin. Talking to some of the volunteers – there are an impressive 19 in total – it was quite evident that for them the opening was an emotional end to a long campaign but that they still had many plans for the future. And the great thing is that the teenagers are very much involved in the development and future of the club. I was most amused to see on the list of things the youngsters wanted organised including diving with sharks! Not sure that’s going to happen at Mote Park just yet…

I was delighted to have been invited by both youth members of the committee and the Parish Council and am really pleased I went. I would definitely like to see more youth clubs in other parts of the constituency. I was, however, itching to have a go on the table tennis, as was Edwin, but sadly it would have involved kicking off one of the youngsters – and that kind of defeats the object of the club!!

After spending an hour or so at the Club, I headed up to my association’s AGM in Lordswood and was delighted to welcome local MEP Richard Ashworth to the meeting. It was interesting talking to some of the activists after the meeting ended and hearing what their friends and neighbours are saying about the Government and in particular Gordon Brown. He is clearly being viewed now as an uninspiring and unelected prime minister who has sailed Britain down a creek without a paddle. Definitely time for a change.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Bananas in Pyjamas

Meridian Girls Under 10s and 11s went to training this evening in their pyjamas in aid of Comic Relief. I reckon we’ve probably managed to raise nearly £400 which is absolutely brilliant. Thank you to all those who sponsored me to wear pyjamas to training – as promised, here is the evidence!!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Canvassing Wouldham

We had a slightly smaller team of 8 out today for our morning canvass of Wouldham. However we still managed to knock on over 600 doors and covered all but 3 roads of the entire village.

Another good response from people and I personally only met one solid Labour voter but even she had major concerns about a local issue that no-one appears to be doing anything about – I promised to look into it for her. Other Labour voters said the same curious thing to me today as some said last week “I’ve always voted Labour but maybe it is time for a change”. I also had one wonderful chap, who was a little bit deaf, tell me that he voted Labour last time but he reads the Sun and if the paper tells him to vote Conservative then he probably will! The power of the media should never be underestimated!

We were all pretty exhausted at the end of the 2 and half hours of canvassing so went to the Red Bull in Eccles for lunch – I treated myself to the steak pie before skipping off to do more paperwork.

Monday, 2 March 2009

A disappointing weekend of sport

Every team I supported this weekend lost: Wales (the other half is Welsh) and England in the Six Nations; Spurs in the Carling Cup; Leeds Rhinos in the World Club Challenge and even the girls lost 3-2 in a thrilling derby match against a brilliant Walderslade team. Am feeling slightly hoarse, and emotionally exhausted, today!

A&E; reprieve

Having joined the campaign to stop Maidstone Hospital’s A&E being moved to Pembury, I was delighted to read over the weekend that the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust has decided to delay its decision until the new hospital is opened in 2011. I think this makes perfect sense and although hospital chiefs talk about them listening to the concerns of local people, I wonder how much of this has to do with the credit crunch? Several articles appeared in national newspapers today saying that a huge number of PFI deals were being axed because they were no longer affordable (and there is no money available) so whilst I applaud this act of common sense from the Trust, I can’t help be a bit cynical about the timing.