Saturday, 28 November 2009

Santa visits Snodland

Santa visited Snodland this evening, accompanied by the Mayor of Tonbridge & Malling, and the local children (and parents!) had a great time. There must of been at least 200 people singing carols before the sleigh arrived and after the Mayor had finished her rock star moment of waving the mic when the music stopped, conducting the crowd to the rest of “I wish it could be Christmas everyday…” she began the countdown to the switch on of the lights. Santa delayed the departure of the sleigh by insisting on shaking the hands of every small person within an arms length of the sleigh before precariously balancing on a ledge worrying Mrs Claus, who was standing next to me as she watched it return to the Town Hall! Thankfully the rain held off until the fun had finished and all the little children left even more excited about Christmas. I think it is fair to say that Santa loves Snodland, and Snodland most definitely loves Santa!!!

Cutting Ribbons and Kissing Babies

I was honoured to be asked to cut a ribbon and officially open the new conservatory of the Robin Hood pub. Landlords Dave and Jo have worked really hard to turn the conservatory into a modern venue with excellent, locally sourced food. As a team we go regularly to the pub for lunch after a morning’s canvass so it felt great to be standing in front of their regular Friday afternoon punters and welcome them into the new dining area. Their baby boy was there so I got to kiss a baby too!
This morning I joined local councillors and residents in Burham to Bash the Trash. The initiative, which TMBC promotes, has really taken off especially in the villages. I went round the edges of the recreation ground before heading off to join Kent Conservative Future who had come over to help with some canvassing. We had a good team of 20 out in total and finished off in the cafe in Walderslade village for some bacon butties to warm up after. I then popped over to Luton for the Church’s Christmas Fayre. It was nice to see how busy it was – fingers crossed I have guessed the right number of sweeties in the jar!!!
Off shortly to see Santa and the Mayor turn on the Christmas lights in Snodland and then back home to prepare for an evening in of X Factor (Go Stacey) and emails.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Karting fun with Aylesford Youth Club

The Aylesford Youth Club is going from strength to strength and last night was a demonstration of how successful it has become. Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and the generosity of Buckmore Park Kart Club, 32 youngsters enjoyed a go-karting session and the internationally successful Kart track. Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button won competitions at the track owned by motor racing legend John Surtees and I think many of the youngsters, both boys and girls, were wondering after if they were going to be a future Formula 1 champion!

It wasn’t only the kids that enjoyed it! Having been told I was too old to race in a kids kart (which I am!) I thought I was only going to get to sit and watch the fun. But (thankfully for me) one of the 16 year old lads was too big for the kart and since he was old enough to go in an adult kart we both got to have a whizz around the track. It was the fastest 10 minutes ever and Tom, my opponent, managed to save face in front of his mates by not losing to a woman – albeit due to some pretty hilarious cheating…!!! I have raced around Silverstone in an E-type jag before but this was much harder and certainly more raw. In a car you feel safer (for starters you are strapped in) and you know if you crash, roll, spin etc there is at least some metal between you and the track. The kart is open, heavy and fast and very very close to the ground. But in the words of some of the kids last night – it was awesome.

To add to the excitement, whilst we were there Buckmore Park Kart Club received notification that it had been awarded third in the whole of the UK in the Motor Sports Association Club of the Year Award. This is wonderful recognition for a club that does so much to promote participation by younger members and has a relationship with Mid Kent College as part of the Lets Go Karting initiative. The Club does a lot to ensure that people who cannot ordinarily afford to participate in motor sports can access schemes in order to open up new avenues to them. The Club also does a lot to help improve literacy and numeracy through schemes as well as teaches vocational skills to some youngsters. My congratulations go to the Club for this well deserved award.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Are we about to see some common sense?

The Medway photographer “Monaxle” who was arrested earlier in the year under terrorism legislation for basically taking photos has published a post on his website giving an update on the matter. By the looks of it we are about to see some common sense prevail…You can read Alex’s post HERE.

Education, traffic and active retirement!

I have had an excellent 24 hours. I visited Kingfisher primary school in Princes Park yesterday morning and was very impressed by the hard working and dedicated Headmistress and her team. The foundation class is exactly what early years should be about – play and social integration. The school also has a tiny but much needed Sure Start centre and following an afternoon meeting with several Cabinet members of Medway Council, I was able to confirm to the Headmistress that despite the delay on the original timetable, it will be extended early in the New Year.

The meeting with portfolio holders was interesting. It is always useful to get an update on some of the current and future issues affecting Medway. Schools were obviously top of the agenda!

This morning I had a meeting with a resident about issues in Chatham – it was a very informative meeting and there is lots for me to follow up on with the Council and other organisations. Although whilst getting my car parking ticket I noticed several rats scurrying through piles of litter and food waste and immediately reported it so that it can come and get cleared up and the rats dealt with.

And now I’ve just come back from the inaugural meeting of the Aylesford Active Retirement Association. There were over 90 people in the Capel Morris Centre and it looks like from the opening meeting that it is going to be a well supported group. I rather am rather envious of all the activities they have planned! Now I am about to get into my jeans and head up to Buckmore Park with the Youth Club for an afternoon of go-karting. Watch out the Stig!!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Temples and Health Trusts

Am off from work (Aviva) this week so am spending the week meeting people and organisations that I don’t get to see when campaigning is limited to the weekend. Today I met with a gentleman who is lobbying for a Hindu temple/community centre and I have to say he made a very compelling case! After a good lunch in Chimi Changas, I headed off to the Medway Maritime for a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Kent Mental Health Trust followed by an update meeting with the Chairman and Interim Chief Executive of the Medway Maritime Hospital. Both were hugely helpful and am really pleased I blocked out the afternoon to spend time learning more about the challenges facing the local health services.

Tomorrow, down to Folkestone for an interview followed by carpet fitters, telecanvassing and dinner with my neighbour!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Protect pensioners from Brown’s plans to scrap benefits

I was alarmed to learn that the small print of Labour’s plans to create a National Care Service reveals they will scrap Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance for pensioners to pay for it.

An average £3,400 a year will be snatched away from 2.4 million pensioners – equivalent to a quarter of the average pensioner’s income. In Chatham & Aylesford this would affect a shocking 2,670 pensioners. Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance are based on need; they are not means tested and are intended to cover the extra costs arising from the impact the disability has on the life of the disabled person. The key feature of these benefits is that they can be spent by disabled people how they wish, without restrictions, to best support their individual care needs.

It is clear that Gordon Brown has chosen to penalise one of the most vulnerable groups in our society for the sake of another of his eye-catching announcements. As with every Labour initiative, someone has to pay and, as with many of them, it is once again those who are least able to afford it who are hit by Brown. These benefits provide vital support for disabled pensioners, giving them the chance to lead an independent life with the freedom to tailor their care to their needs. Of course, we need to do more to help people with their care costs, but it is completely wrong to do so at the expense of disabled pensioners.

David Cameron has made it clear that the Conservatives will protect Chatham & Aylesford’s pensioners and fight against Gordon Brown’s plan to scrap benefits for the disabled.

A week is a long time…

This week has been incredibly busy starting with a dinner on Monday to celebrate the retirement of John Blundell, the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs. David Davis MP and journalist Simon Heffer spoke well about the policies that John has advocated over the years and the impact they have had on global economics. I was lucky enough to be sitting next to two Sky journalists and the future Director, a former Lib Dem staffer, who I think was rather daunted at the task ahead by the end of the evening. Amusingly I was accused of not being a free marketeer after questioning the amount and value of money in football – i.e. was Ronaldo really worth £80m?

On Tuesday, I joined the team at the phone bank for some telephone canvassing. My sheet was Larkfield and I had a really positive response, as did my colleagues telephoning in other areas. One chap called me an angel but a huge number of people said “we gotta get this lot out”! The team came away feeling positive and looking forward to next week’s session.

Watching the Queen open Parliament on Wednesday, I felt embarrassed for her. The State Opening of Parliament is a major constitutional function and yet it felt like it was all about the Labour Party saving itself, not serving the country. Gordon Brown has nothing to offer except a series of half-measures aimed at partisan point-scoring – even Cabinet Ministers admit that their programme is about playing politics not improving people’s lives. There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech for the hard working man, woman or family in Chatham & Aylesford. A point, Sir John Stanley MP made as well on Thursday when I went to speak to his Executive Association. I had (have) a dreadful cough and rather rudely disrupted the proceedings with my spluttering before croaking my way through my own speech! Having tweaked my hamstring at training on Wednesday, I felt a tad crocked!!

The hamstring isn’t feeling too great tonight after delivering our latest newsletter with Tashi to probably the longest road in the constituency – Churchill – before going up to help in Blue Bell Hill. I am however getting lots of sympathy at home so have my feet up watching my sister’s best friend from school, captain the England Ladies Rugby team against New Zealand at a rainy Twickerham.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dinner with the Chairman

Tonight, Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives had its annual dinner at the Larkfield Priory Hotel and we were honoured to have the Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles as our guest speaker. Eric gave a thought provoking and inspiring speech about what we need to do to win the next General Election – returning a Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford is an essential step on that road to victory.

It was a wonderful evening – the food was delicious, the company excellent and we raised vital funds for the campaign ahead.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Charity Rugby at Aylesford Bulls

At training last night it was announced that Meridian Girls had won, for the second year running, the silver medal at the Medway Sports Club of the Year awards. The club, and especially the management, deserve nothing less as they all put in hours of voluntary time to make sure that everything runs smoothly. In the meantime my girls are third in the league with a game in hand – we have a crunch game on Sunday against Bearsted…I am not sure it will decide the outcome of the league but it is pretty important!!

After training, I went to a charity Rugby match at the Aylesford Bulls between a President’s XV and an Army team. The “Poppy Day Match” was played in aid of Help for Heroes and was extremely well attended by supporters of the Club, the Royal British Legion, the Parish Council and local residents. I only managed to get to the last 30 minutes but at least I saw an Aylesford try! I don’t know how much the game raised for Help for Heroes but with very persuasive army personnel collecting money from the supporters I imagine it will be a significant sum.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

May we never forget

I went to two different but very moving Remembrance Services today. This morning I attended the Service at St Peter & St Paul Church where the vicar had invited a serving soldier to address the congregation. The soldier from the Royal Engineers spoke about his time in Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of two soldiers in his regiment; he then took questions from the children attending the service which ranged from how high had he parachuted from through to did he think there would be a World War III. It was poignant how interested the young children were in him, his uniform and his medals – I saw a beautiful young girl staring in awe at him from her mum’s lap and it reminded me of the photographs you see of youngsters looking up at World War II veterans and wondered if today’s brave soldiers will be similarly respected in 50 years time.

This afternoon I attended the Service at the Royal British Legion Village. Sadly, there were fewer men marching this year but I was told later by Edwin Boorman, President of the local British Legion that there were 250 people at the ceremony. I sat next to some veterans who were shivering as they braved the cold wind in just their jackets with their medals proudly pinned to their chests. It was clear that this Remembrance Service meant more because many had fought in World War II and had lost friends and colleagues. You could hear their voices break when they repeated the words “we will never forget”.

The sombre ceremony was broken by Squadron Leader Des Butters loudly asking everyone who returned from laying their wreath if they were going for a cup of tea after – Janet, who read a poem during the service, and I found this so surreal that we started to chuckle into our scarves and coats. Des, who wears hearing aids in both ears, was totally oblivious to what he had started.

Litter picking in Luton with Tashi

After a Friday night at the Snodland Quiz, it was fabulous to get out in the Saturday winter sunshine to go litter picking in Luton with Tashi and the team. We were planning on meeting at Christchurch and heading up Luton Road, Upper Luton Road and Beacon Road but when we arrived we started speaking to the church steward Dave Boss and decided to concentrate our efforts around the church grounds and its local environment. Within an hour we had filled 10 black bags! I found £10 in a bush which I donated to the church box and Tashi stood in for Tony Goulden who hadn’t arrived for his surgery when someone turned up to see him. So all in all it was a good morning!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Speaking to law students

Last night, Rehman Chishti, the PPC for Gillingham, and I were invited to speak to some law students at the University of Kent. Although I read law at University, I never went into practice despite my then-held ambition to become an international maritime lawyer! Instead I was more interested in the constitutional and philosophical side of law and so my political journey began. Reh on the other hand is a practicing barrister so whilst he was able to give them a lengthy insight into what it is like to stand up in front of a judge and what the law and Conservatism have in common, I focused my speech on the time, as Chief of Staff to the then Home Secretary David Davis, I watched a legal and constitutional nightmare unfold – i.e. the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill through Parliament. I spoke of how it felt to be sitting discussing legislation that could have stripped away centuries of civil liberties, enshrined in the Magna Carta, in order to detain suspected terrorists that under legislation would effectively be put under house arrest on the say of a politician not a judge.

Preparing for the speech reminded me of the all night sitting, the tension between the Commons and the Lords, the fear from all sides that we were about to ancient freedoms, that a draconian Bill would be introduced with no prospect of any future review – it was an extraordinary 3 weeks, dominated entirely by this piece of emergency legislation introduced not because of an act of terrorism, but by a Law Lords ruling on the incompatibility of previous legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights. By talking about the Bill I hoped to demonstrate the brilliance of our system of checks and balances – the Executive were held to account by a mutinous Parliament, and then the Act when passed was considered by an independent judiciary. In this case, the emergency legislation proved (as all rushed legislation tends to be) bad legislation and so the process began again with a new Bill…

Anyway I am sure the law students found it more interesting to hear about how to address a judge but I certainly enjoyed talking to them and hope that I bought the constitutional law that they are currently studying to life.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Collecting for the Poppy Appeal

The weekend started off with the delivery of my latest newsletter in Aylesford which actually gave me an opportunity to check out the progress of the new crossings on Station Road. The crossings are a hard fought victory for Cllrs Dave Smith and John Balcombe – especially the one at the exit of Medway Court which was supposed to be built at the same time as the estate over 6 years ago. The weather held off yesterday which meant the road surfacing work was speeding along (is it wrong that I love the smell of tar?) so hopefully it will be finished within the few days.

After lunch, John and Dave joined me for the first day of the Poppy Appeal stand at Aylesford Sainsbury’s. We manned the stand for a good two hours and did a roaring trade – it was not only amazing how many children were encouraging their parents to get a Poppy but also how much people were donating. A few people came over to talk about the report in the paper yesterday regarding the lack of helicopters/military equipment and others mentioned the shocking state of our rehabilitation services. I met with the Royal British Legion recently and pledged “to do my bit” for Service Personnel and their families, the bereaved, veterans and dependants. I hope yesterday I’ve done that little bit extra for the Appeal.