Friday, 29 June 2007

Festival fever

I had a meeting in Snodland last night, which our Kent MEP Richard Ashworth joined me at, and it is clear that the town is gearing up for the forthcoming festival. Banners cross the streets, shops and notice boards display flyers for events, and everyone is counting down the days towards a carnival of floats proceeds through the the high street. It is very exciting but there will be some traffic disruption on the opening day so look out for local information. Details of the full programme of events for the festival can be found HERE.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Severe Weather Warning for the Weekend

After the widespread flooding across Yorkshire and the Midlands earlier this week, the bad weather is due to hit Kent this coming weekend. The Met Office have issued a severe weather warning which for those living in flood risk areas is worth heeding. You can find out your flood risk rating by going to the Environment Agency website and typing in your postcode or village name. This is a picture of Aylesford’s risk:

As you will see, flooding can occur beyond the flood defence (the pink line) so it is important to protect your personal belongings. Your insurance company can replace furniture, flooring, electrical goods etc but what they can’t replace are your photos or other sentimental items. Put them in a plastic bag and take them upstairs for safe keeping. Make sure you have your insurance details in a plastic bag somewhere out of the way, but even if you don’t your insurer will have your details on file.
At the time of writing there are no flood warnings in place for Kent, but it is always better to be safe than sorry, especially as this week’s floods have shown that flash flooding can wreak havoc and our flood defences have been unable to cope.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Great news for Eccles

After months of hard work by Gill Hurley, John Walrond and Cllrs Dave Davis and Roger Dalton, Southern Water have today announced that it is going to withdraw its planning application to expand the Eccles Sewage Works. This is great news for all the residents of Eccles who have campaigned hard against the proposals which would have seen hundreds of HGV lorries go through the village, as was previously described at public meetings reported HERE. Well done and congratulations to all those residents who have worked hard to secure this result.

Afghan heroin production out of control

Three years ago, the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis warned that the Government were failing in their international obligation to bring Afghan opium production under control. At this point heroin made from Afghan opium poppies was already flooding the British market and was on the brink of becoming the main supplier to the rest of the world. Today a report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has confirmed those fears with more than 90% of the world’s heroin being produced in Afghanistan, compared to 30% in the 1980s.

So why should we care in Chatham & Aylesford? The Government’s failure to meet its obligation to curb opium production has led to mass supply which in turn means cheaper heroin for users. Heroin addiction quite often leads to crime but most of all it leads to misery, pain, sadness and often tragedy for users and their families. And the sad fact is that despite launch and relaunch of drug strategies, drug use in the UK is still high.

So what should be done? In my view something needs to be done on both the supply and demand side. Concentrating on one aspect of the equation alone will not work. Taking the supply side first, on Afghan opium a fresh look needs to be taken at how we can prevent opium poppies grown the other side of the world ending up on the streets of Kent or elsewhere in the UK. Suggestions such as offering farmers incentives to grow other crops are destined to fail because they will never earn as much as they do on poppies. I personally like the idea of Governments paying the same price for the poppies as the drug barons and then either destroying them or using the plant for medicines. In the long run it will probably turn out cheaper than the continual failed attempts to destroy fields of crops.

Alongside the actual destruction of the plant we need better border controls ensuring that the drugs don’t get into the country in the first place. And for those that do, the demand side needs to be tackled too. We need a better system of residential rehabilitation, giving help to addicts under a similar system of court supervision which has worked so effectively in the USA. We need stronger and tougher drugs education highlighting to youngsters the impact on themselves and society of taking hard drugs. And we need stiffer penalties for those who deal drugs, especially to teenagers and children – at the moment a dealer is likely to serve short stint in prison and will probably walk out onto the streets and pick up where he left off.

It is quite clear that the Government have failed in their drugs strategy both at home and abroad. Something has to be done or we’ll see this same report next year and the year after from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and quite simply hard drug use in the UK will continue to rise.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

A weekend in Istanbul

I had the weekend off and have just come back to a rainy UK after a short break in Istanbul where it was a sultry 34C. I have never been to Istanbul before and it was wonderful. It is such a diverse city and whilst we visited all the “must see” sights such as the Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque, we also rode the tram to the Grand Bazaar (where you get hassled to buy a carpet at every turn), ate boreck in a park, visited an ancient Roman cistern where ghostly carp swim in token water, and tried out the local wines in a restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus, which carves the City in two. Sadly I didn’t get time for a Turkish bath, and despite the hot sunny weather I didn’t get a hint of tan due to the extra layer of factor 35 suncream! If anyone is looking for a weekend of culture, good weather, and wonderful food and drink, then Istanbul is certainly somewhere worth considering.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Cat and Dog fur imports to be banned

An EU-wide ban on the import of cat and dog fur is due to be approved by the European Parliament this week. And about time too. Nearly two million dogs and cats are brutally killed in China every year and their fur and skin made into coats, fur-trim for gloves and boot-lining. Quite often customers don’t even realise they are buying real animal fur because of poor labelling.

A petition was set up 8 years ago to ban the trade, and now after millions of people signed the petition across Europe, Conservative MEP Straun Stevenson and his colleagues have finally persuaded the European Parliament to support the ban, which should come into effect by the end of 2008.

This is a great result for all those who have campaigned for many years, for consumers who have been duped into buying cat and dog fur, and of course for millions of cats and dogs who will be saved from being slaughtered.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Well Done Mum!

Yesterday my mum ran in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life and completed the Folkestone 5km course in 40 minutes. Whilst there is no photo evidence, I am really proud of her achievement and am today £10 lighter as a result. Well done mum!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Preparing for the Snodland Festival

On 7th July, a fabulous 2 week festival to celebrate the town of Snodland begins. The festival has a fun packed schedule with events including a picnic in the park with the Drifters; a classical spectacular with the Rochester City Symphony Orchestra; a dinner with Spurs and England hero Jimmy Greaves; an art gallery and a Masters chess evening. The complete schedule can be found HERE.

So in preparation for the Festival, the Snodland Conservative Action Team grabbed a black bag and went on a litter pick. I joined new Town and Borough Councillor Les Withey on Potyns Field, the venue for the opening day Carnival, and got stuck in picking up litter around the all weather sports pitch, around the park itself and as the pictures show below into the surrounding bushes filling our bag easily.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Getting rid of graffiti

This morning, despite the occasional downpour, I joined Councillors Gulvin, Brake and Wildey on a graffiti clean up. We started off with a street sign to test out the equipment before hitting a wall tagged by “L B” on a busy roundabout, some lamp posts, a bus shelter, another street sign, some recycle bins tagged, and finally another street sign. Some required more scrubbing than others but it was well worth the elbow grease when all the graffiti had been removed – it felt good to stand back and admire how nice it all looked again.

(Sadly, the graffiti on the windows behind is on private property so we couldn’t clean it off too).

(hmmm not a very attractive sight!!!)

(All gone…)

(sparkling clean!)

Friday, 15 June 2007

Home Office cuts community police officers

BBC Kent reported today that Kent Police Authority has lost its fight to prevent Government funding cuts for community police officers. Kent Police force had budgeted for an extra 474 community officers by April 2008 but will now only be able to deploy 273 after a lower settlement was announced in November. Whilst community officers are no substitute for real police officers, they provide an invaluable service in neighbourhood policing and Kent Police were right to try and increase their numbers across the borough. However, the Government have made major funding cuts which ultimately jeopardise Kent Police’s attempts to cut crime and put ordinary people at risk.

If the Government hadn’t wasted £2m on reorganising Whitehall Departments, as outlined HERE, maybe we could have had funding for a few more police officers!

Looking good for future of Indoor Skate Park

After lots of hard work, commitment and determination from the parents of young skaters at the Unit 1 Indoor Skate Park, it looks like they have been awarded the grant needed to keep the Park open. This is great news, not just for the skaters but for the community at large. I am often told on the doorsteps that “kids don’t have anything to do” but the Park provides them with a place to go and prevents them terrorising the high street or other places on their boards. The decision by Medway Council is the right one and very welcome for all those involved.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Commons v Lords Tug of War

Last night I went along to the annual spectacle of the Commons v Lords Tug of War. This year’s Tug was the 20th anniversary of the event which sees MPs and Peers of all shapes and sizes put on their shorts and t-shirts and pull a piece of rope in front of hundreds of cheering and laughing people, all in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief.

As the event has grown in popularity, more teams have participated in this tomfoolery including the press v broadcasters who, not to be outdone by the parliamentarians, field famous political names and faces grimacing and grunting their way to success.

Cheerleaders include Mariella Frostrup and Jeremy Vine comperes the entire event. A fun dinner and auction follows the Tug, which last night saw over £25,000 raised for Macmillan Cancer Relief. Everyone who takes part is basically mad, but it is all in a good cause and is ultimately a brilliant event enjoyed by all.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Blue Planet Live!

A spectacular event is coming to Kent and is not to be missed! A one-off performance of the famous The Blue Planet Live! is to be staged in the grounds of Tonbridge School this summer. Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council is working with concert production company Musical Associates, BBC Worldwide and Tonbridge School to bring the show to Tonbridge on Sunday 26 August in a unique event being staged to raise thousands of pounds for charity. Further information can be found HERE.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Keep Indoor Skatepark Open

Earlier this year I attended a public meeting of Medway Council where a teenage boy asked whether the Council would try to keep the Indoor Skatepark open on the Rochester Industrial Estate. The park has a zero tolerance policy towards drugs and alcohol and is supervised, giving skateboarders a safe place to go and skate whatever the weather.

I was so impressed by the young man that as soon as I was asked by the parents organisation working tirelessly to keep the park open if I could help in any way I immediately jumped on board, writing to a number of people asking for their support. The issue has been raised with both Medway and Tonbridge & Malling Council since it is right on the boundary, and I raised it in a meeting with Kent County Council on Friday. The Medway Youth Forum and the Council’s Scrutiny Committee are looking at the issue this week so one way or another we will find out about the park’s future.

I believe it is vital the indoor park is kept open. It provides a supervised environment for youngsters to skate – in all weather – which basically keeps them off the streets. I had a skateboard when I was younger and with no where else to go, the local high street became our skate park. No-one wants that anymore so the financial grant required is in my view a small investment for a lot of community harmony. And now with the International Olympic Committee considering giving skateboarding its Olympic debut in London 2012, the park may well be the practice ground for a future British gold medallist. It is for these reasons I wish the parents organisation success this week, for I believe it will be an incredible shame if local youngsters from across Medway and Tonbridge & Malling lose this wonderful community facility.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Only a month until Le Tour

In just four Sundays time Le Tour de France, the world’s greatest cycle race, will weave its way through Kent. Millions of people across the globe watch the race which this year will see the first stage start in London and end in Canterbury. The race will pass through Chatham, Wouldham, Burham and Eccles and further information on road closures can be found on Tonbridge & Malling and Medway Council websites. The full tour route for the Kent stage can be viewed HERE.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Hurrah for Lee

After a busy day of constituency and family engagements I have just sat down with a glass of wine and watched the final of Any Dream will Do. I love Joseph – we used to sing it at school and then after the score found its way miraculously home my sister and I used to perform our own tone deaf version using our dressing gowns as technicolour dreamcoats!! I am glad Lee won – he was my favourite from the start. If I was Lord Lloyd Webber I’d let Lee do a year as Joseph and then put him on stage with Connie, star of Maria, and watch them perform to packed audiences night after night.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Student politics

This morning I went to my mum’s old FE college, Mid-Kent College, to meet students on a course about public services. Many of the students plan to enter uniformed public services and part of their course teaches them about politics so I was delighted to be able to play my bit in their learning. I must confess though, speaking to students is somehow more nerve wracking than speaking to politically active adults. Anyway off I went into the classroom, and after a short introduction, the question and answer session begun.

Do I enjoy my job? (yes) What do I do in my spare time? (watch football, go to white hart lane – got a small cheer…or was it jeer?) What will I do to help public services? (cut red tape, targets and let the professionals get on with their job) What will I do about the high teenage pregnancy rate in Medway? (erm…er…not sure what I can do personally)

It was fun. There was some spontaneous questions and it was clear who in the class were really interested in wider political issues but it was great to see (because I didn’t know before) that students who are thinking about going into some sort of public service are being taught what their relationship will be with politicians and politics. I enjoyed it and look forward to going back.

Mayor Widdy?

Tonight I joined my neighbouring association Maidstone for a dinner to celebrate Ann Widdecombe’s 20 years in Parliament. During the evening, Ann and Iain Dale did a local version of their highly successful and extremely funny UK wide tour of “An evening with Ann Widdecombe“.

Ann and Iain work very well together on stage with Iain asking the awkward questions and Ann answering them in the straight but witty manner which everyone loves.

Guests were treated to a wonderful recital by the Maidstone Operatic Society, which Ann is President of, and who kicked off with a song especially for her…yep you guessed it…”Music of the Night”. And the evening ended with Lord Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, a key activist and President of Maidstone Conservative Association, making a speech in which he rather mischievously suggested that after Westminster Ann might like to consider one more job in politics…Mayor of London. Ann versus Ken…now that really would be the political contest to end on contests! She’d have them all sorted out in the Greater London Assembly in no time. Violence on the streets of London – I reckon she’d put Guilliani to shame. She shook her head but I wonder if she could be persuaded?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Joining the Olympic logo debate

The new London 2012 Olympics logo is, in my opinion, ghastly. It took me a while to actually recognise that it spelt out 2012 and even after that I don’t really understand what it is supposed to portray – although there have been some rather rude suggestions in and out of the office today!

To be honest I am not sure why we needed a new logo in the first place. What was so wrong with the original London 2012 logo? But even more annoying is that it a cost of £400,000 of taxpayer to design! Surely this money could have been better spent on grassroot sports schemes which will help prepare young athletes for the Games and get others involved in sports as part of wider policies to combat crime and obesity?

There are much better designs to be found HERE, many of which highlight iconic images of London, would probably have taken half the time and for half the cost, and would at least have been appreciated and understood on the world wide stage.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Bagpipes in Chatham!

Back in Chatham this afternoon for a meal to celebrate the success of Conservatives across Medway in the recent local elections. Restaurant owner Peter Jenkins kindly allowed us to take over his establishment and as the last one in walked me to my table playing the bagpipes! Everyone was clapping in time and I followed behind with not a Scottish bone in my body unsure precisely if I was supposed to be walking or dancing a reel! It was a wonderfully unusually way of being shown to your seat in a Chinese restaurant!! Everyone was in good spirits, and so they should have been – their hard work paid off and today was a way of celebrating their success – plus the food was delicious. An excellent Sunday afternoon by all accounts.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

What the Dickens?

At last! After reading all the articles about the new £62m Dickens World theme park opening in Chatham Maritime, I finally got the chance today to go along and enjoy the fun for myself. I dragged my good friend Claire, and fellow Dickens fan, along with me and off we went together back in time to the 19th Century.

We entered unsure what we were going to find and were greeted by two flower ladies in bonnets and long dresses singing to themselves as they walked through the dimly lit courtyard. Passing quickly by them we headed into a small alcove only to discover that we stood outside the classroom of Dotheboys School. A tall man in with a mortar board and cloak spotted us and before we could run away giggling we were beckoned into a classroom and made to sit at the back of the class. Here we were given our “homework” – an interactive snakes and ladders which asked you Dickens themed questions to help you on your way up the board. We scored 40 and was told by the machine we had obviously done our homework and could even teach in the school (I think they are recruiting if anyone wants a Saturday job!). However, the teacher, who was an excellent Wackford Squeers, told us he’d seen better but at least we didn’t have to do detention. We scarpered onto the next bit.

Back in the courtyard, the queue for the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge was getting longer so we headed towards the prison, only to discover that this was the entrance to the Great Expectations boat ride. We began to get ever so slightly nervous when rain ponchos were distributed and the sign on the wall said “you will get very wet on this ride”…hmmm. In the boat we climb, assisted by a cheeky scamp who asked my friend Claire if he could take her for an ale at the end of the ride, and off we went into a dark tunnel supposed to be a sewer. We went high above the roof tops of London, past old Victorian houses with crying babies and bickering parents, before plunging (backwards) into the Thames – when the ponchos were required! We arrive back, having travelled through a very realistic cemetery, absolutely soaked.

By the time we disembark from the boat ride, the queue for the Haunted House is huge and now so is the 4D HD cinema so we head to the restaurant and bar. The food was delicious and after all the excitement of the ride was much appreciated. We gave up on the queues and headed back out into the sunshine.

It was great and I loved it. It was less educational than I thought it would be – no real insight into Dickens or his works but even so it was fun and all the children skipping in the courtyard looked like they were enjoying their day out in Chatham.

And just in case you were wondering just how cool you look in a poncho – here is the proof:

I am telling you, it is all the rage on the Milan cat walk…!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Tax Freedom Day!

Today is ‘Tax Freedom Day’, the point calculated by the Adam Smith Institute as the day when the average taxpayer has earned enough to pay off all their taxes for the year.

As the Institute explains, overall the government takes more than 40% of national income. This means that the average UK resident has to work a full five months of the year solely to pay that tax bill. Last year, that meant working from 1 January to 1 June – just to pay taxes! And the March 2007 Budget did nothing to change that so Tax Freedom Day 2007 once again falls on 1 June.

For much of the last few years, however, Tax Freedom Day has been coming later and later. In fact, it falls a full week later now than it did back in 2002. That is an extra week of working for the Chancellor. At this rate, it will not be long until we spend longer working for the government than we do working for ourselves!

Tax Freedom Day is calculated by taking the UK’s net national income and calculating how much of that is taken away in taxes. These taxes include not just income tax, but VAT, inheritance tax, stamp duty, car and fuel taxes, excise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, taxes on companies and employment, and many more.

However, there are regional variations on when Tax Freedom Day falls so for those of us who live in the South East, we don’t start earning for ourselves until 3rd June. Further details of regional variations can be found HERE.