Monday, 29 December 2008

Thank You

This afternoon over 50 local helpers ventured out into the freezing winter’s day for a get together at the Robin Hood pub so that I could say thank you for all their hard work over the past 12 months. It was great to see so many people, some of whom came despite suffering this dreadful flu that has been going around. I had several new people turn up who have only got involved in the last few months and it was great to be able to welcome and introduce them to the team.

The activists are the life blood of the Conservative Party and indeed are vital to my campaign to win Chatham & Aylesford at the next Election and so I couldn’t thank them enough for what they do essentially for me and the Party. If you would like to help then please contact Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives at [email protected] for further information.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

My Hinterland

This month’s Total Politics magazine features an article I wrote about my “hinterland”, a term used by Dennis Healey’s wife to describe the interests a politician has to keep themselves happy. The article describes how my coaching gives me some valuable down time and can be read in full HERE.
The magazine is available in all good newsagents and features loads of excellent articles including an interview with Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party; what’s in store for us in 2009; and key facts about the Czech Presidency of the EU. It also includes this fab picture of me looking like a seal!!

(copyright TH2)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

My Dartford campaign is mentioned in Parliament!

Yesterday, the Hornchurch MP James Brokenshire held a debate in the House of Commons on the Dartford Crossing charges, during which he mentioned my campaign to scrap the stealth tax to cross the Thames.

This is a huge step forward in my campaign to represent the concerns of residents in Chatham & Aylesford at Westminster. I’d like to thank James Brokenshire for raising this important part of the debate.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Scrap Dartford Crossing charges

I am today announcing my support for the campaign to scrap the Dartford Crossing charges. Local residents who use the Crossing for work have been in touch and are fed up, not least because the charges were supposed to be scrapped once the Crossing had been paid for – which happened five years ago!!

One gentleman who has been in touch with me pointed out the inconsistencies of the new charging scheme. If he lived in Thurrock but worked in Medway, then he would get to cross for free but with it being vice versa he has to pay. Residents of Medway working in Thurrock are being unfairly penalised simply by going to work. In a further inconsistency the same gentleman is registered disabled meaning if he were to drive into London he would be exempt from the congestion charge – however this is not the same for the Dartford Crossing.

This campaign to scrap bridge crossing charges is not the first – two bridges in Scotland have had their tolls removed because it was considered unfair by local MP Gordon Brown. At the moment Medway’s motorists are being betrayed by this stealth tax. The charges are clearly just a road toll and not a measure to reduce congestion and it is about time the Government owned up to it. And if tolls are unfair in Gordon Brown’s constituency then they are unfair here too.

Register your support for the campaign HERE.

A February General Election?

There is a very interesting article in today’s Sun on whether there could be a February General Election. Gosh I hope so!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Jumping on the X Factor bandwagon

OK I admit it – I was one of the 8 million people who voted in the X Factor final last night! And who did I vote for? Well half of Meridian Girls FC won’t like it because one of the girl’s best friends is the cousin of one of the boys from JLS (tenuous I know but they are teenage girls!) but I voted for Alexandra!

My mum and I were on MSN having an X Factor argument – she voted for JLS – but I thought the most talented person won. Alex can clearly sing (although to be fair JLS are excellent singers too) and I have no doubt her version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah will head straight for No.1 – not least because it is in my view a much better rendition: Cohen’s is too slow, but Alex’s is similar in tempo to the excellent Jeff Buckley’s. I am not a huge fan of Simon Cowell but I have to say it was an ingenious idea to pick this particular song for the winner to release: oldies love the original version(s) and kids know it from Shrek. Am I ashamed about jumping on the X Factor bandwagon? Not in the least – and I am off to download the song right now…

House calls

Yesterday I made house calls to people who have been in touch regarding problems that they need help with. This is by far one of the most rewarding parts of the job and was reiterated to me by one long serving MP recently who said in 21 years he still enjoys doing casework and the minute that stops then he’ll call it a day. But as rewarding as it might be it is also still quite upsetting and one visit I made yesterday highlighted how desperate people are by the time they get to ask for help.

A problem I dealt with yesterday regarded disability living allowance which essentially involves a gentleman losing his allowance despite having never received written communication that this was going to happen – the first he knew about it was when the charity which provides him with a car called to tell him they were coming to collect it. Ironically his claim was originally reviewed because he started doing some light part time work – something the Government actively encourages. It is quite clear from the fact that he can barely walk that he has a case but all he wanted from me was to help him write a letter because he was worried he wouldn’t do it properly. It took me no time at all to help him but if his appeal is successful then it will bring him a huge amount of mobility support that will enable him to continue to work and play an active role in his family. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Tracey Chatham

Leading political blogger Iain Dale was on the Politics Show South East today talking about the poor use of the Internet by politicians. When you look at how Obama used the Internet in his election campaign you can see why he, and many others, would say that. There are huge opportunities for e-campaigning which are currently not being harnessed but Iain gave this blog a big thumbs up during his interview.

He did however call me Tracey Chatham before quickly correcting himself! It was very funny. You can watch the interview HERE – the relevant section is about 25 minutes in.

Mulled Wine & Mince Pies

I used to be a bit of a Grinch when it came to Christmas – well not Christmas itself but the long (and getting longer) run up. But today, I went to my first Christmas bash – a mulled wine and mince pie fundraising event – and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not least because the homemade mince pies were absolutely delicious and although I didn’t drink any mulled wine because I was driving over to Whitstable for my Mum’s birthday, it smelt heavenly. I wish I had the time to make mince pies but since I don’t I scoffed down quite a few before leaving so I have probably had my seasonal fix anyway!
So now I am over my Grinch phase, when is my next Christmas event…?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Walk in our Shoes

One of the best things about being a candidate is you get to learn about issues you didn’t even realise you knew nothing about! Tonight I have been at Woodies Youth Centre observing the Medway Autism Group and Information Centre (Magic), as part of the TreeHouse “Walk in our Shoes” campaign.

Before tonight I am ashamed to say I knew hardly anything about autism – and a quick straw poll in my office before I left showed that I was not alone. But over 2 hours this evening I learned an incredible amount about the condition and left Woodies far more aware of the challenges and needs not only of the children I met and saw this evening, but also those of their parents. Magic’s support centre is as much for the mums and dads as it is for the children and it was really interesting to listen to them, and hear how they learnt about autism and the roller coaster of emotions they went through as a consequence. What is very clear is that there a very few state supported services which help parents in these circumstances which yet again demonstrates the value of the third sector.

In Medway there are nearly 1000 known cases of autism out of a national total of 90,000. The importance of special education is obvious but as always the cost to local government is an issue. However what I discovered this evening is that many of the changes that authorities, Government, and even society needs to make are relatively cost-free. So for example, teacher training on how to deal with autistic children is extremely poor – in fact I was told that only half a day is dedicated to all disabilities. It is quite clear from speaking to parents that this is not anywhere near enough. Spending time at centres like Magic would help increase the knowledge base of even the most experienced teacher.

Another aspect is awareness. As I said at the outset I was ashamed with how little I knew about autism – but tonight I found I wanted to learn so much. Others will remain totally ignorant about a condition that affects the communication, social understanding and behaviour of 1 in every 100 school aged children. If you knew what you were looking for, you would recognise autistic behaviour in supermarkets, playgrounds, shopping centres etc every day of the week but instead you, like me, probably think what you see is a child being naughty or disruptive, cast some sort of aspersion about the parent’s lack of control before moving on. Increased awareness can happen through programmes like Walk in our Shoes but longer term awareness is also about inclusion. I have often thought that inclusion should happen at a very early age. Rhys, my eldest nephew, was at a nursery school in Hythe with a child who had Downs Syndrome. As a consequence of his everyday attendance and inclusion at nursery, Rhys, now ten, has absolutely no issue with disabled people. Unlike many children his age, if he sees someone with Downs Syndrome or another obvious external disability, he doesn’t stare and ask awkward questions. Why not? Because he doesn’t see anything “different” – as far as he is concerned, or certainly when it comes to Downs Syndrome, he understands that sometimes things happen but it is not something that is necessarily frightening or harmful so why should he be afraid or treat them in any other way. If children are introduced to autism at an early age then why would they be frightened of it? Why would their only view of autism be like mine, and those of the parents I spoke to tonight before their children were diagnosed – that autism means aggressive behaviour and rocking back and forth? Well it wouldn’t – because children at a young age become conditioned and if something is considered “normal” by those around them, then it becomes normal to them too. But this is in the long term and in the meantime one of the volunteers was talking about the need for reverse inclusion – i.e children from mainstream education going to special education centres and doing things like mentoring, buddying, or simply playing or learning. And funnily enough what I saw tonight at the Youth Club was 30 odd children running around playing games in the same way that if I went tomorrow to the Youth Club I would see 30 odd children running around playing games. So I went through my own reverse inclusion process tonight – I don’t really know what I expected this evening, only what I saw and heard wasn’t it – it was much better.

Much of what could be done to transform the lives of children with autism is cost free but the benefit it would bring in the long term would be invaluable. I learned a lot about autism tonight, and yet I believe I only scratched at the surface and I am looking forward to learning a great deal more in the future.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A week is a long time…

I promised earlier on in the week that I would post more about the general public’s reaction to Pre-Budget Report, but in a way it almost feels unnecessary. There has been so much negative comment in the papers that it hardly seems worth reporting that almost everyone I have spoken to thinks it was all spin and no substance.

Those that work in shops were telling me that people are walking into their shops, looking around and then walking back out again – this reminds me of a report I saw on the BBC news of lots of people in a shopping centre but hardly anyone carrying bags. If people are worried about their jobs – which they genuinely are – then it is hardly a surprise that they are not making frivolous purchases.

The temporary VAT cut appears not to have fooled people into thinking they have more money in their pockets and most now know that it could go up as a high as 20%. I am not sure I have met one person who thinks they are going to be better off in the long term because everyone knows that with all the debt building up we are going to have to pay it off somehow and sometime soon.

And if the sceptical reaction to the PBR wasn’t enough, the arrest of my former boss Damian Green has caused total consternation – especially amongst those I was talking to in Snodland this afternoon. Damian received and revealed information that 5000 illegal immigrants were working in the UK…and promptly got arrested for it. Everyone I spoke to think that he was doing this country a service, not committing a crime and the running joke now is to say “ssh, they are listening…” every time someone talks about Damian. It is ridiculous but sadly not untypical of the Big Brother Government we currently have. The sooner the election is called, the better.

Snodland’s Christmas Lights

The team took a break from campaigning today which given the poor weather was probably a very good thing. So instead of knocking on doors I went down to Lenham Primary School to help my sister, who is on the PTA, set up the “messy room” and spoil my two nephews and niece whilst mummy wasn’t looking. And it was great!!! At one stage, and thankfully there is no photographic proof, I had 3 little ones painting my nails all different colours on a glitter covered table. I was trying not to enjoy myself but it is incredibly hard being a grouchy Crouchy when you are being asked to help make a peg angel with wet, badly varnished fingernails by some small child with a painted face, jumping up and down with the excitement of being able to use glue and glitter with impunity.

Anyway after having more fun than I let on, I headed off to Snodland to watch the Christmas lights get turned on. Despite the cold and drizzle, half the town turned out to watch the Mayor of Tonbridge & Malling arrive on Santa’s sleigh. Unfortunately in the process of getting to the sleigh the Mayoress slipped over and hurt herself. Thankfully the paramedics arrived quickly and were able to patch her up so that she could continue with the ceremonial duties. I managed to get a couple of shots of Santa before he headed back to Lapland – he was at Lenham Primary School too so he has clearly had a very busy day!

With so much early Christmas cheer it is no wonder I can’t get Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer out of my head…”then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say…

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Andrew Rowe

I was very sad today to hear the news that Andrew Rowe, the former MP for parts of Chatham, passed away on Friday. I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew who served as the MP for Mid-Kent from 1983 to 1997. He had a keen interest in the voluntary sector and was a keen campaigner on both local and national issues.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.

Pre-Budget Report – a visual response!

More on what local people have said to me about the Chancellor’s statement later this week. So far, it has not been good! Put it this way…they have not been fooled.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Out in Ditton

This morning I joined County Council Candidate Peter Homewood and others for an enjoyable canvass in Ditton. I had canvassed the same area myself last year during the local elections so was pleased to hear about some of the improvements with anti-social behaviour thanks to the hard work of the local warden, the community officers and the council – but also the residents themselves who have come together to take responsibility for some of the issues in their specific streets.

Although pretty groggy from a heavy cold I was really interested in hearing what people on the doorsteps had to say about the national political scene. If you believe everything you read in the papers or watch on TV it appears that Gordon Brown is universally considered the world’s economic saviour. Well clearly the people of Ditton haven’t been asked what they think.

I spoke to a number of people who said that whatever happens they “won’t be voting Labour again” and another who said “you work hard, you try to bring up a family, and all you get is grief”.

Clearly the credit crunch is beginning to hit hard but most recognised that there is still worse to come. Let’s hope the Government is listening and that they use the forthcoming Pre-Budget Report to help hard hit families, like those in Ditton, through the tough times ahead.

Snodland Quiz

Last night I attended the annual Snodland Quiz which this year took place at the Methodist Church. I both love and loathe quizzes – which basically means I love it when I get the answers right but hate it when I don’t! Thankfully I was on a good team and my lack of knowledge about musicals or stars from the screen was more than made up for by my colleagues. We ended up coming a respectable 5th but the winning team were the same lot as last year…and the year before that (mental note – join their team next year!).

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dinner with Nicholas Soames

Last night local Conservatives met for their annual dinner with this year’s guest speaker Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid-Sussex and of course Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson. We had a very enjoyable evening at the excellent Kits Coty restaurant, nestled into Blue Bell Hill with wonderful views over Aylesford and beyond, where we heard a fabulous speech from Nicholas which ranged from the current economic crisis to the wonderful work of the armed forces. I am delighted he came to visit not least because he was affectionately reminiscing about his childhood cricket lessons just down the road at Mote Park – it felt like he was enjoying being back in glorious Kent!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Walter’s War

I have just watched the most amazing programme on BBC4 called Walter’s War. It is about a young black man born in Folkestone who after playing for Tottenham Hotspur (during which, as my Spurs encyclopedia tells me, he scored 2 goals in 10 first class games) went on to become the first commissioned black officer in the Army to lead British troops in World War I. He died in the second battle of the Somme. I am ashamed that as someone who was educated in Folkestone and previously took a real interest in the history of the area, and of course as a committed Spurs fan with numerous books on the club, I had never heard of Walter Tull. I hope that someone with influence in Folkestone was watching and maybe generations to come will be less ignorant about Walter Tull and what he achieved.

If you missed it you can watch it on BBC iplayer HERE.

A day of remembrance

As I previously reported on this blog I helped the Poppy Appeal earlier this week and today I, along with hundreds of other local people, wore their poppy with pride in remembrance of those who lost their lives in World War I. I went to two very different services – one in Aylesford church this morning and one at the Royal British Legion Village this afternoon. Both were packed and far busier than last year which I think is down to it being so hard now, with so many young men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to think about those who have more recently lost their lives – something that the Poppy Appeal now reflects in its assistance programmes. I was talking to a lady whose son was stationed “somewhere in Afghanistan” who wanted to celebrate his service by remembering those who had died on duty. She found it comforting to be with people who understood what the call of duty meant and I found her courage and focus incredibly inspiring and I wish her well.

And as I sang the national anthem and watched the lowering of the union jack by a young army cadet I felt incredibly proud to be British and silently I thanked all those who had died to keep our country free. We shall never forget.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Poppy Appeal

This afternoon, alongside local Councillors John Balcombe and Dave Smith, I joined volunteers outside Aylesford Sainsbury’s to help sell poppies before next week’s Remembrance Day. The Poppy Appeal is a hugely important campaign and each year the nation expresses it support for the work of the Royal British Legion through the appeal. Millions of poppies are sold every year and the poppy itself has become such an important symbol of reflection, remembrance and of course hope. Getting involved today made me really appreciate the support our armed forces of past and present have from ordinary members of the public – people were not just putting notes into the bucket but were commenting on what it meant to them. And what I found even more touching was how many children were coming up and putting money into the bucket in return for a poppy – and knowing what it meant: it was nice to hear a young child nagging their parents for a poppy rather than sweets!

It was always nice to be supporting such an important national charity which has a huge local presence. With the Royal British Legion Village and Royal British Legion Industries being based across the road from the Sainsbury’s, it genuinely felt like I was doing more for the cause today than just turning up at a service on Sunday. The Royal British Legion provides financial, emotional and social support to 10.5 million people in the UK and because of the continued underfunding from the Government the Poppy Appeal provides a significant proportion of the funds. I hope that my two hours selling poppies helped raise a little more for the vital service that the Royal British Legion continues to provide.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A football high

What an amazing week of football. The Arsenal v Tottenham match on Wednesday was phenomenal but then to watch Spurs beat Liverpool last night made it a wonderful week for Harry’s Hotspurs. I spoke to a friend who had been at the game and he could hardly talk because he had lost his voice cheering, and then one of the older Meridian girls was telling me that she had been to the match with her Dad and that it was awesome.

But despite all the excitement at Tottenham during the week, I still thought today’s under 11s game was the best match I have seen all week. We won 11-nil but it was the passing and movement off the ball that made us all feel like the coaching sessions are beginning to work. I have never seen so many smiles on the faces of the players and parents alike (apart from one of the dads who always promises a tenner for a hatrick – and today there were two!!). Well done girls.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Shoebox Appeal

It is only November and I hate to use the C word so early on in the year, but today I did my small bit for the Christmas appeal being run by the The Church of Christ the King in Princes Park.

The annual shoebox appeal, organised by Blythswood Care, sends thousands of donated shoe boxes filled with gifts to people around the world who are less fortunate then ourselves. Since 1993, the scheme has delivered over 500,000 boxes to countries such as India, Romania and Albania.

I took two boxes along, one for a girl and one for a boy. It is amazing that a few small items like colouring pens, a teddy, a skipping rope and a packet of marbles – as well as some haribo – will bring such huge joy to someone somewhere. And I am told that often our shoe boxes are the only presents that a child might receive. Wrapping a shoebox is harder than you might think but the thought that on Christmas Day a boy and girl in a country far worse off than ours is opening up a few gifts from me makes it all worth it.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Chatham Central

It was a beautiful, crisp Autumn morning and so we managed to muster up a huge team for a canvassing session in Chatham Central. The team included a group of friends from Croydon who had put their own canvassing for fellow candidate Gavin Barwell (who also came) on hold to come help us in our Action Day. In a couple of hours we managed to cover two large polling districts and I now have a number of issues to follow up on over the next few days. Having met in Chatham Town FC’s car park, I had hoped to get back in time to watch their game against Hillingdon – but alas my meetings this afternoon over ran and since Chatham lost 1 nil maybe it was for the best!

Kent Fire & Rescue

Yesterday I joined fellow Kent candidates Helen Grant, Gordon Henderson and Laura Sandys for an informative session with operators at Kent’s Fire Control Centre. We went along to the Centre which is based in Tovil, Maidstone, to demonstrate our support for the centre and staff because it is currently under threat following Government proposals to move it to Hampshire! It is quite clear to us that Kent’s Fire & Rescue Services need a control centre that is based locally and staffed with people with an enormous amount of local knowledge – not in a county miles away with little understanding of the geography, the road network, the road works or the special services required for areas like the Channel Tunnel and Bluewater. Yet again it looks like cost cuts are coming before common sense and what we saw yesterday was a service dedicated to the people of Kent which we all believe will be lost if the control centre moves to Hampshire.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Better Life Assembly

I joined others this morning at the Better Life Assembly in Chatham High Street for the celebration of Cultural Day and I had a great time. There was so much energy and enthusiasm in the room that you couldn’t help but join in singing and clapping with everyone else. I had been asked to speak on how do we achieve cultural cohesion. I only had 5 minutes but this is what I said:

Can I begin by saying how honoured I am to have been asked to join you today. I didn’t hesitate to accept your invitation and have been looking forward to the service ever since.

You invited me to speak about cultural cohesion and how it can be achieved. But I see much of the answer right here in front of me. Your excellent website speaks of the Better Life Assembly as an independent, non-denominational, multi-ethnic church. You are already the embodiment of cultural cohesion bound by a firm belief that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God. Christianity has played and will continue to play a huge role in creating cultural cohesion.

The Church of England enjoyed a monopoly in its early history and we had laws restricting the rights and freedoms of Roman Catholics, Jews and even Protestant dissenters. Out of the struggle of those years came the principle of tolerance and religious freedom under the rule of law. A principle that I believe is one of our country’s greatest gifts to the world.

And thank goodness because British society today is a mosaic of many nationalities and faith communities. What should give our diversity strength is an acceptance and tolerance of each other’s differences. Every time you open a national newspaper you see that many Countries remain violently divided by race or religion. We are not violently divided but nor have we yet achieved true cohesion.

The church does play an important role in our community. And in many respects you are often better placed to deliver cohesion than us politicians. Your vision – life satisfaction, spiritual growth and community enhancement – to which I subscribe to wholeheartedly – gives us a purpose for cohesion but what is the solution?

Well I fundamentally believe that the solution to cultural cohesion is to be found locally. It is about people learning to live alongside each other in their local neighbourhoods, accepting each other for who they are not what they look or sound like. It is about local councils who are closer to their communities knowing their area best and understanding what might work and what won’t work.

I lived for a few years in Brixton in South London. There are projects I have seen run in black communities in South London that would not work here in Medway. There are problems within those communities that are not prevalent here. Local government should change from being the agent of centrally dictated services, and instead become the enabler of local solutions. It is not about central Government dictating to diverse communities on how to behave, how to work together, and who with. The State should not be a substitute for the community.

I also believe that the education system has a key role to play. The Conservative party is very much in favour of faith schools – and has already committed to supporting the expansion of faith schools not least because of the contribution they make to tolerance in society. In addition policies have been and continue to be announced which support and strengthen the family unit which we believe is another fundamental aspect of cohesion. The value of a good education system and a good family unit should not be underestimated and are two areas that my party puts a lot of emphasis on. There is a lot of policy work being undertaken which aims to fix the physical and spiritual breakdown of society that has been caused by an increasingly relaxed attitude towards violence, drinking and gambling. If we can fix these then we are well on our way back to a better society.

I have been asked to only speak for 5 minutes so time is running short but I wanted to finish with one final thought. My company operates in 25 countries and employs over 50,000 people worldwide. Despite the differences in time, language, race, or expertise we are all joined together by one employee promise. That promise is “I am recognised for who I am and what I contribute”.

For true cohesion to be achieved in our family, our community and our country, we should all aim to be recognised for who we are and what we contribute and we should recognise everyone else for who they are and what they contribute. And for exactly that reason I thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and explore our shared hopes for the future.

Every week the Assembly hosts a lunch of traditional foods and this week it was Zambian food so I joined other members of the congregation for some hot food. I think they were slightly surprised that I insisted on having a taster of everything and apart from one side dish, which practically blew my head off, I cleaned my plate. I shall definitely be going back!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Messy Playtime

After lunch I went along to the Children’s Centre at Lordswood Infants just in time for Messy Playtime! Donna, the Centre’s co-ordinator, is amazing. Her sheer energy and enthusiasm for the Centre was incredible and I asked her several times when she found time to sleep! The number of programmes she runs is phenomenal and the support services that the Centre gives are clearly invaluable to many parents in the local community. The Centre’s aim is to provide a stimulating environment for children and their families from birth to five. As a result they want to contribute towards a better start in life for all children, with new opportunities for parents and carers and create a stronger and safer community. Given what I saw today I have no doubt they will achieve that aim. And of course, everyone looked like they were having such a great time that I couldn’t help but have a little go at Messy Playtime myself:

Health survey

This morning I went to the Medway Maritime Hospital for a meeting with the Chief Executive Andrew Horne and Chairman of the Foundation Trust Vernon Hull. It was my first meeting at the hospital and it was extremely encouraging. Both Andrew and Vernon are delighted at their Foundation Trust status, and rightly so. Being a Foundation Trust really brings the hospital closer to its patients and the local community and it is clear that its status reflects the high standard that staff strive to deliver.

I learnt a lot about the hospital, how it works and the services it provides, and took the opportunity to share with them some of the results from the Health survey in my last newspaper. They were rightly quite pleased with the results – although they were very open about how there is always room for improvement – most people who had been in the Maritime were either very or fairly satisfied, whereas only a handful were not satisfied. I imagine that these survey results, although only small in their number in comparison to the huge number of people they see every year, reflect the time and effort that the hospital makes to consulting with patients on their needs – and long may it continue.

Udder Chaos!

GREAT story on the Princes Park blog about how our local MP in his previous role at DEFRA lost the records of 20,000 cows!! You can read it HERE

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Will common sense prevail?

Below is a self-explanatory letter from Aylesford Councillors Dave Smith and John Balcombe to Kent County Council. Let’s hope the Council heeds their warnings and notes the number of parents who have signed the petition to get a proper crossing that will make it safer for children to get school:

Dear Cllr Ferrin

Please find enclosed a petition from parents whose children attend Aylesford Primary schools, Teapot Lane and St Peters, in relation to the need for suitable and safe pedestrian crossings for Station Road, Aylesford.

Over a year ago Cllr John Balcombe and I had site meetings with Highway engineers regarding safe crossings for Aylesford residents and school children.

On Monday 15th September 2008 we received a 10 page email from Highways informing me that they were going to install a Puffin crossing outside Aylesford Railway Station, what great news we thought! Some one has listened at last, we immediately informed the local Schools of this good news.

The next day we phoned Highways to thank them, only to be told that it was a typing error and that we are not having a Puffin Crossing but they are going to install a refuge island an uncontrolled aid for pedestrians?

KCC Highways have started work today 6th October 2008 outside Aylesford Railway station, to install another refuge island which doesn’t give pedestrians priority over motorist enabling them to cross the road safely.

The government are promoting the use of public transport, cycling, walking to help reduce carbon foot print etc, which we are in favour of, but what’s the point of the public using a bus or train only to find that when they disembark the transport, they can not cross the road safely to reach there destination, (it’s like building a house with out foundations) A school walking bus consists of 8/12 children and 2 volunteer adults, how many children can you get on a refuge island? A walking bus has no authority over traffic, it is a high risk for any adult to try and cross that amount of children on an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing, as it’s a high risk for all those young adults who use this route who attend Teapot Lane Secondary School.

As Borough Councillors for the ward Aylesford, we listen to the issues and problems the residents put forward to us, we try to resolve and do our best as we have a duty of care for the people, that’s why we were elected, but when we have to tell them for new road schemes, you need points for PIPKIN, then try to explain what PIPKIN is, the answers we receive and expressions on peoples faces say’s it all, and always the main question is, were is the duty of care?

At the end of the day we both realise that costing will always be an issue, but we feel that a Zebra crossing or Puffin crossing is the most realistic both for the flow of traffic and pedestrian safety. It would be cost effective and anything else will be a waste of tax payer’s money, especially if it needs to be redesigned or altered at a later date.

Commonsense in these issues should prevail.

What KCC should be promoting is consultation with local people to find out what they require, which intern will give KCC cost effectiveness’ and value for money for the tax payer.

Kind Regards

Cllr David W Smith

Cllr John Balcombe
Borough Councillors for the ward of Aylesford

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Big Brew Up

I joined local people at Christ the King church in Princes Park this morning for “The Big Brew Up”, a fundraising coffee morning in aid of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. SSAFA has been serving the Armed Forces for over a 100 years, providing vital support to personnel and their families on a range of issues. The coffee morning at the church in Princes Park was being repeated all round the world so hopefully the combined effort will raise lots of extra money for the organisation – it is amazing how something as small as buying a cup of coffee and a fairy cake can make such a huge difference!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Mandelson – “It’s criminal”

We spent our second Saturday in a row in Larkfield but after yesterday’s Government reshuffle I decided to ask everyone I spoke to on the doorsteps what they thought of Peter Mandelson’s return to Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. I have heard lots from the political commentators so it was time to hear what the general public thought. The response was mixed – although none were positive. They were mostly apathetic, “not interested”, “this lot are a busted flush”; or they were totally horrified “It’s criminal” said one, “how can a man who has been thrown out twice be put back in a position of power” said another, “dreadful mistake for Brown” offered one chap, and finally one said quite sadly “I have been Labour all my life and now I feel that [Brown] has run out of ideas and bringing back Mandy says it all really…I won’t vote next time”.

I am glad I kept asking the question – from a Westminster bubble perspective, Mandelson’s appointment is interesting but the public were not moved at all by his return so maybe it is a gesture that is too little too late for Gordon Brown.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Buckmore Park

Before heading of to the meeting in Aylesford I was extremely disappointed to learn that the owners of Buckmore Park, Avondale South East Ltd, have gone into administration. The sports complex cost over £15m when it was first built and has had several million pounds of lottery funding in order to help it open but was forced to close in 2003.

It is such a shame because the site is fantastic and with over 230 acres and with close links to the M2 and M20 could easily have been used for the London Olympics. However it has thus far been overlooked and now its future is in doubt. Thankfully both the Scouts and the Kart Track have existing leases which enable them to continue to operate.

My worry is that the site will be sold to housing developers and yet again another of our last remaining green spaces will be fast-tracked into helping deliver the extra 3 million homes this Government wants to build. I sincerely hope that this is not the case and that a buyer can be found who is willing to use the site as a means of providing sporting facilities for local residents.

M20 Noise Barriers – Update

This evening I attended a public meeting in Aylesford regarding the upgrading of noise barriers between Junctions 4 and 5 on the M20. Previously the Highways Agency were intending to progress with works with very little consultation with local residents and were proposing to remove much of the vegetation between the motorway and the barriers. This has now been dropped thanks to the hard work and persistence of local councillors Dave Smith and John Balcombe, as well as the huge protest from residents. Now it appears that only a few trees will be felled although some will be subject to coppicing. Depending on how quickly the proposals are agreed work could begin in the next few weeks, otherwise with Christmas looming the work will be postponed until January.

Further work on the planned improvements can be found HERE.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Winning start

New season. New kit. New shirt sponsor. And a 3-1 victory!

The under-11s kicked off the season by coming 1 nil down to win. Leah scored a hatrick and pocketed £10 in the process from one of the dads!! Well done girls.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The story behind Luton Memorial Meadow

A few months ago I went to the dedication of Luton Memorial Meadow and a moving occasion it was too. Today, in advance of the Mayor’s visit on Thursday, I went to see Don Philips who, along with a few other veterans has single handed made the memorial meadow what it is. We spent some time together this morning looking through his photo album which rather brilliantly tells the story of its evolution from a field into a beautifully landscaped place to commemorate fallen soldiers from the Luton area. Not only has there been a lot of physical help but a number of kind donations from local Lordswood and Luton councillors, as well as private businesses.

There is genuine concern locally that the memorial meadow may become a victim of the obsession by central government to build houses on almost any remaining green space in the South East, but hopefully with common sense from Medway council and the huge support of local people (as well as the meadow’s most famous supporter, Dame Vera Lynn) any kind of threat to the future of the memorial would be quickly seen off. I would like to see this kind of area protected so that future generations will be able to pay their respects to those who lost their lives in the name of freedom.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Activity Update

Apologies for the lack of posting – I have had a few Internet problems which I have now managed to sort out.

On Wednesday I returned to football training with the now-Under 11 Meridian girls team. The team from last year have been split due to their ages but the Under 10s and 11s still train as one unit so it was good to see everyone after my month’s break. I am not sure if it was me, or the bag of sweets I took that made them appear pleased to see me too!! After training I headed around to Cllr Gulvin’s house for an update on the issues in Princes Park – her and Matt are doing a great job working hard for the local community and by all accounts had a busy summer as reported on their website.

On Thursday I sat in the public meeting at Chatham South School, hosted by the Council, regarding the proposed merger of Chatham South and Medway Community College into a new Academy. Many parents have already raised their concerns with me, which in turn I have spoken to the Council about, but it was clear from the public meeting and despite the supportive comments of Chatham South’s excellent Headmaster that they remain deeply unhappy with the proposal. The Council is going through a full and open consultation process which is due to complete by the end of the year. Details of future public meetings can be found HERE.

Yesterday 18 people turned out to help canvass Luton and Wayfield, a previously strong Labour ward in the constituency. Between us we managed to knock on around 2000 doors and the reception was fantastic. Whilst the Labour Party continues to fight amongst themselves it is ignoring the fact that people are fed up with high taxes, the rising cost of living and falling house prices. I spoke to one gentleman at length about the difficulties his small business faces, another about his concerns on immigration, and a lady about problems of anti-social behaviour and crime – she had just had her pot plants nicked from her front garden (why would anyone do that?). After a morning of hard work we all went to the pub for lunch where the landlady was telling me how difficult they are finding it at the moment. The extra 4p on a pint meant that people are not buying as much but she said it was the smoking ban that was “killing” them. Whilst standing at the bar another chap started to tell me about how he’d been forced to spend his hard earned savings to convert the downstairs of his home for his disabled son because he could no longer carry him upstairs. He hasn’t received any financial help and felt “diddled” because he sees so much abuse of the welfare system by others less in need – you only have to open the newspapers to see where he is coming from.

This morning I was back in my tracksuit and off to our home pitch for a friendly, after our first game of the season was cancelled due to Ebbsfleet not being able to field a team. It was the under 10s v under 11s and it finished 3-3. One of the managers thought it would be fun to decide the match on a penalty shoot out, which the under 11s duly won! Both sets of girls played brilliantly, although we all came away thinking there is still a lot to work on when we return to training at Holcombe on Wednesday. Now off to the in-laws for dinner…

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Burham – Kent Village of the Year

Congratulations to Burham for winning Kent Village of the Year. Thanks to the hard work of the Parish Council and local residents, Burham now goes through to the national final of the competition!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

M20 Noise Barriers – Aylesford – Consultation Required

This morning I emailed the following letter to the Highways Agency Minister, Tom Harris on proposed improvements to the noise barriers on the M20:

Tom Harris MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
Department of Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DR

27 August 2008

Dear Mr Harris

M20 Noise Barrier, Aylesford, Kent

I am writing to you as the Minister with responsibility for the Highways Agency. On 1st September, the Highways Agency will begin work on the noise barrier between Junctions 4 and 5 of the M20 – which bypasses the historic village of Aylesford in Kent. Whilst long term improvements on the barriers are welcome, and local residents have suffered from noise and air pollution for some time, there are severe concerns about the measures which, given the timetable for, require your urgent attention.

The programme of work begins with the removal of trees that have been in place between the Motorway and the housing estates for over 30 years. The trees cover a bank stretching nearly half a mile along the M20 and are around 8 to 9 meters tall. Their height not only helps absorb sound but also a black dust residue resulting from the sheer volume of UK and continental Europe traffic using one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the UK. The proposed new barrier will be 4 meters in height and the closest point is only 2 meters from residential properties. Furthermore there will be no replanting of trees. Despite this major change to the noise barriers which will affect over five hundred local residents as well as potential further noise disruption to the local secondary and primary school following previous improvement works, no consultation has been held about their removal with local residents or the local authority. Local councillors were only made aware of the proposed work a few days ago and only a handful of affected residents have received any communication from the Highways Agency. It is extraordinary that local residents have been denied the opportunity to consider and comment on the proposals, which demonstrates the arrogance and incompetence of this Government Agency under your command.

Please could you contact the Highways Agency, as a matter of urgency, and request that they put the work on hold until they have fully consulted with local residents about their proposals.

Yours sincerely

Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman
Chatham & Aylesford

Let’s hope some common sense emerges soon!

UPDATE: The work has now been postponed until further consultation with local residents – common sense at last.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Saving Capstone Valley – 12 months later!

Once again, local Conservatives organised a stall at the annual Kites over Capstone weekend to raise awareness of the application to build 9,000 houses in the valley and to collect signatures on our petition to save the valley for future generations.

Nearly 15,000 residents have now signed the petition and the determination to save one of Medway’s remaining open spaces is as strong as ever.

Last year the day was a complete wash-out with torrential rain leading to the cancellation of activities…

This year, however, the sun shone and over 1,000 additional names were added to the petition.
My thanks go to local councillors David Wildey (who co-ordinated the weekend’s campaign) along with Alan Jarrett, Pat Gulvin, David Brake, Matt Bright, Adrian Gulvin and Denise Wildey who assisted on the stall.
You can still sign the online version of the petition HERE

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Summer Holiday

Am away for a few weeks. Back soon…

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Saluting the Green Flag

Yesterday I went to Leybourne Lakes to watch the raising of the Green Flag, which had been awarded to the Lakes for the second year running. The Green Flag, the park equivalent to the Blue Flag, is a prestigious award and is by all accounts quite difficult to achieve. There are 11 Green Flags in the whole of the South East and Tonbridge & Malling have been awarded 2 so they were rightly feeling quite proud of themselves yesterday. Some of the volunteers in the park hoisted the Green Flag before we all gave Daniel, the park manager, a round of applause for his achievement.

After the Green Flag ceremony I joined my campaign manager and others in Larkfield to deliver my latest survey. After my recent sun burning I sensibly applied sun cream at every possible opportunity…my campaign manager was not so clever and is nursing burnt arms today!
I then spent the rest of the afternoon with my family in celebration of my 33rd birthday earlier on in the week. My nephews and neice bought me the new Tottenham shirt so in return I took them to watch Kung Fu Panda, which really was meant as a treat for them…honest! (It was brilliant!!!!)

Public Meetings re Chatham South School


The Council has arranged a number of public consultation meetings regarding the proposed merging of Chatham South School and Medway Community Colleage. At these meetings there will be a short presentation following by an opportunity to ask questions and give the Council your views. The meetings are open for anyone to attend and there is no need to make an appointment.

Thursday 11 September 2008
Chatham South School, Letchworth Avenue, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Tuesday 16th September 2008
New Road Primary School, Bryant Street, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Wednesday 17th September 2008
Luton Junior School, Luton Road, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Monday 22nd September 2008
Glencoe Junior School, Glencoe Road, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Tuesday 23rd September 2008
Balfour Junior School, Balfour Road, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Thursday 25th September 2008
Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham
12.00 – 8.00 pm

Tuesday 30th September 2008
All Saints Primary School Magpie Hall Road Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Wednesday 1st October 2008
Kingfisher Primary School Kingfisher Drive, Princes Park, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Thursday 2nd October 2008
Medway Community College, Magpie Hall Road, Chatham
7.00 – 8.30 pm

Monday, 21 July 2008

Vote for your Top 10 Blogs

In September the latest guide to the Top 100 political blogs will be published. Iain Dale has launched an appeal on his blog for readers to vote for their Top 10 blogs. This blog is available, under the rules, to be voted for in the candidate blog section!!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Starting a domestic

I was out canvassing in Snodland this morning for the Town Council by-election on Thursday and had one of those moments you really don’t know what to do about. I knocked on a door and a rather good looking man opened the door with just a pure white towel wrapped around the lower half of his body. He was well tanned and to be honest it was rather difficult not to notice his sportsman-like physique. Naturally the first thing I spluttered was how sorry I was to disturb him etc etc but then by complete mistake said “I am finding it hard to concentrate…(nervous laughter by me)…” before finally getting out the point I was trying to make which is to see if he was going to support the Conservative candidate on Thursday. He replied “we don’t vote” before hollering into another room “we don’t vote do we love”. A female voice replied “yeah, I vote Labour” before he yelled back “WHAT? THAT LOT ARE RIPPING US OFF – YOU CAN’T SUPPORT THEM…”. At which point I could only apologise profusely for starting a domestic and scuttled off quickly to the next door. I didn’t really know what to put down on the canvass card so entered a W for won’t vote – he’ll probably be at the gym anyway!

After Snodland, I headed up to one of my favourite lunch time venues – the Robin Hood Pub – for a Ham, Egg and Chips to celebrate Proud of Pubs Week. I love a good pub – one with atmosphere and a proper pint – and would much rather head to a pub than a bar for a decent bite to eat and to relax with colleagues and friends. Sadly the pubs are having a rough time of late with nearly 30 closing every week and with the extra 4p being added to the pint following the last Budget the outlook is quite gloomy. Pressure is being put on pubs to diversify in order to meet costs and if they are not selling out to the high volume bar trade they are being turned into other commercial operations. Some research has been done into pub closures by Professor Preece of the University of Teeside and he makes an extremely good point about the value of the local pub: “In many cases the pub is the last community facility left – the village shop went years ago and the Post Office and bank have gone. There may be a village hall but it is not an inviting place to sit and chat. The pub was the place where the football team and the darts team were run from. Their loss is a great shame.” Sadly if the pubs continue to close then alongside the closure of Post Offices we will lose our last bastions of the community.

(Tracey & Adrian Gulvin enjoying Ham, Egg & Chips at the Robin Hood Pub)

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A day of education

Yesterday morning I was invited to join other members of the community to watch years 5 & 6 of Aylesford Primary School perform their school play. Sitting in the audience was the Mayor, the vicar, local councillors, school governors, police officers, residents of the Royal British Legion Village, councillors and myself and we all sat there for nearly two hours enthralled by the wonderful performance. The children told a tale of war time evacuation from London to Caerphilly. It was a brilliantly scripted play with a wonderful musical score, which the children sang their hearts to – including some very brave solo performances. They had one more performance last night and I am sure if it was half as good as it was yesterday morning, then parents will be very proud of their children today.
After the play I went to see Councillor Les Wicks, portfolio holder for schools at Medway Council, to raise with him some concerns that parents have raised with me about the proposed merger of Chatham South and Medway Community College into a new academy. One particular concern I raised with Les was how the consultation was being run but he reassured me that there are going to be a number of public meetings where parents will be able to raise their concerns directly to the Council. I would urge parents and pupils to attend these meetings – further information of the dates will be published here shortly.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A tad red faced

The under 10s, 11s and 12s were all in the same tournament today in Chatterden with the under 10s getting into the final, beating teams older than themselves and playing brilliantly. Unfortunately they lost to Lordswood in the final but they had played so well that they thoroughly deserved their runners up medal. Unfortunately muggins here completely under-estimated the strength of the sun and am currently sitting at my PC radiating heat (and light) with an extremely burnt nose and forehead (or “spam” as one of the coaches called it!). I am usually so paranoid about getting burnt that I put too much cream on and wonder why I never tan! Which is why I am feeling even more of a wally this evening. Time to put the sun cream back in the car methinks…

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Carnival Time

I joined the Brownies this morning for another Bash the Trash event and the turnout was excellent. I was sent with local Councillors Allan Sullivan and Peter Homewood to tackle Fossington Way which was so bad that I had noticed all the litter as I drove past to meet the Brownies in the first place. It didn’t take us very long to fill our bag and we were glad to get back to base for a glass of squash prepared by Brown Owl.

I then headed up to Lordswood to meet other members of the team and help deliver our latest survey, before going over to Snodland for their annual Carnival. Despite the weather not being as good last year, I think there were more people at this year’s Carnival – and there were definitely more floats, including one which nearly got stuck getting into the park in the first place. It certainly added a bit of drama to the occasion!!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

An afternoon with Ann

It has been a very long day. My under 1o girls were in a football tournament at Vintners Park this morning starting at 8.30am. Sadly because of prior commitments I could only watch their first two games (won one, lost one) before dashing off in my suit – I looked very fetching on the sideline! – to Larkfield for a meeting.

After a quick cup of coffee in Sainsbury’s cafe with my President, I headed up to Kits Coty for an afternoon tea with Maidstone MP Ann Widdecombe. It was great that she could come and as I stood in front of the gathered guests I felt proud that at (hopefully) the start of my Parliamentary career I was able to thank a formidable and much admired neighbouring politician at the end of hers. Ann is a politician who has become popular, well-liked and trusted. Even my mum likes her and if I can capture half Ann’s energy and enthusiasm then I’ll be doing OK.

I spent a long time talking to a variety of people including a now retired GP about the issues he faces as a doctor and how difficult it is to practice, whether you are a GP, a doctor or a nurse, with so many managers trying to run the NHS. A point that was being made by one of the doctors at the Medway Maritime today, as the NHS celebrated its 60th anniversary. After the tea finished I had to go to Lordswood for another meeting before calling it a day.

I was very sad to have missed the Veterans Day in Chatham, but I was listening to the news reports on Radio Kent and was pleased that it appeared to have gone very well.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Spitfires in the final

I was listening to some of the ball by ball coverage of Kent v Durham today in the Friends Provident Semi-Final. I haven’t managed to get to a single game this season but was delighted to hear them get through to the final at Lords on 16 August thanks to some fantastic batting and bowling by the Spitfires. I think they are truly one of the best one-day teams in the Country at the moment – their all round game is really good. Yorkshire or Essex stand in Kent’s way to be this season’s Champions – fingers crossed for another trophy!

The Sopranos – Dickens style

Exciting news from BBC Kent – a new drama is to be filmed at Dickens World!

According to the report filming for a TV series set in the 18th century and featuring Andy Serkis is to take place at Dickens World. The 13-part drama, entitled Newgate, is said to feature a Sopranos style storyline set in the London of 1720 and filming is to start at Dickens World, Chatham, Kent, on 12 July. The filmmakers hope the series will be broadcast in 2009. Andy Serkis was of course Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

Insert Crouchian fact: my brother worked on the special effects for the third Lord of the Rings film, in particular the battle for Minas Tirith. So despite having never read a word of Tolkien (unlike my sister who is a Tolkien addict), I rented the previous two Lord of the Rings films just so I could go a watch the third one to see my brother’s work – that is nine hours worth of sibling dedication for one major scene!!

Skipping Class

I went to New Road Primary in Chatham today and saw one of the most amazing school initiatives I’ve seen to date. It is “Skip2Bfit” and was sent up by a Kent based chap called John McCormack, a former boxer and boxing trainer, who has introduced skipping into primary schools as a way of improving academic performance.

The pupils (and teachers) at New Road Primary were having a lot of fun skipping to the Eye of the Tiger when I arrived at 2pm and it wasn’t long before I got roped in (geddit?) to having a go – thankfully I had my plimsolls in my handbag so didn’t have to do it in my heels! I only had a token skip – it is hard to do it properly in a suit – but even after a little while my heart was pumping away. That said I think my biggest worry was that I was going to whack some kid with my skipping rope – not exactly a vote winner!

Anyway, my efforts were token but the efforts of John, Dwain and the others who run Skip2Bfit are full time and hugely impressive. John is absolutely convinced that this initiative helps improve academic performance – and with some reason: in Medway alone it has been proven that it has raised concentration levels and learning ability – and it goes without saying that it helps keep children fit and healthy.

I gave out the certificates at the special assembly at the end, which was followed by a “face off” between the best teacher and the best student, which had all the students (and teaching) cheering along. All in all the whole thing smacks of fun – and how else do you get children engaged in learning and fitness if it is not fun. I enjoyed my little skip but annoyingly I forgot to ask for permission to publish pictures of the children I was skipping with – hence the cropped picture above – but hopefully I will publish more soon.

After an afternoon at New Road Primary, I went to see a parent of two children at Chatham South School. He is very concerned about the proposed merger of Chatham South with Medway Community College. More soon on this…

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Fete Day!

This weekend I have one of my oldest school friends Chloe, and her new husband Martin, are staying with me whilst they are on holiday from New Zealand. Chloe emigrated about 8 years ago and this is her first trip back to the UK for sometime. So how better to reintroduce her to English life than by taking her to the Aylesford village festival to watch Morris and belly dancing, eat a hamburger prepared by the local scouts, and hook a duck from a swimming pool to win a bow and arrow. Thankfully, and unlike last year, the weather was glorious so an amble stroll around the festival, looking at the Kent produce for sale wasn’t too much like hard work for my visitors from the southern hemisphere!

After Aylesford we headed up to Lordswood for the Community Fete at the Kestrel Avenue shopping centre, which was smaller but well attended. When I left the local youth worker Andy was painting a huge mural with some youngsters from the estate to hang on the outside of the youth club – it was looking good and can’t wait to see it up.

As the offical national day of Fetes draws to a close, I am now back indoors giving my friends the attention they deserve – especially as they are on their honeymoon…!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Sign a birthday card to celebrate the 60th birthday of the NHS

This year marks the 60th birthday of that great British institution, the NHS. To celebrate this milestone, and to show support for the doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who play such an important part in all our lives, the Conservative Party has created an online birthday card for you to sign. We have all benefited from the NHS’s care at some point, so please join me in wishing many happy returns to everyone involved with this vital institution.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Sorry for the silence

My apologies for blogging silence. After spending Saturday in Wayfield, and then Saturday evening at the presentation night with my under 1o girls football team, I headed off to Wales early Sunday morning for a 90th birthday party and only got back yesterday afternoon in time for the launch of the new political lifestyle magazine Total Politics. The magazine is published by Kent blogger Iain Dale and will be available from most major newsagents. Alternatively, the new Total Politics website can be found HERE.

Sadly as a result of being at the family party I was unable to attend the launch of “Let’s go Karting” at Buckmore Park, hosted by Formula 1 legend John Surtees, where youngster aged between 8 and 16 will be able to get behind the wheel for £5 in an attempt to find the next Lewis Hamilton or Jensen Button. I wish the scheme every success and hope that it attracts many local kart enthusiasts to test their skills.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A Wild West Village Fete

Have just got back from a busy day out and about which started off in Lordswood this morning to help deliver my latest newspaper followed by a meeting with residents in Luton over car parking issues. Then this afternoon, I headed over to Blue Bell Hill for their summer fete which this year was on a Wild West theme. Unfortunately, as the vicar explained, their PR operation hadn’t really kicked in so the only people who knew it was Wild West were the Committee! Still the huge cowboy straddling the entrance to the church, surveying the village green, looked fabulous. No village fete would be complete without a local dance troupe and thankfully the sun was out so the morris dancers and the modern dancers entertained villagers for most of the afternoon with some wonderful performances. I bought some locally produced apple juice and honey and wandered around in the sun with Blue Bell Hill Councillor Peter Homewood happy that the village festival season is finally here – summer has arrived!!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Michael Howard’s Silver Anniversary

Tonight I drove down to Folkestone to celebrate Michael Howard’s 25 years as an MP. I grew up with Michael as my MP and he should be credited for getting me actively involved in politics. I spent many happy years involved in his association and working in and on his election campaigns so I enjoyed returning to Folkestone this evening to see so many familiar faces and old friends. I think it is testament to Michael’s achievements that there were video recordings from all 5 Leaders of the Party he has served as an MP under – Mrs Thatcher, John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and of course David Cameron, who like me has worked for Michael and knows him well. I felt privileged to be invited to his surprise party but sad that Parliament, along with the electorate of Folkestone & Hythe, is losing such a hard working MP.

Is the Lisbon Treaty dead?

After the Irish voted “no” in their referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, one would be forgiven for celebrating this evening thinking that the EU Constitution was dead. Except I just heard an interview with a French politician on the World Tonight which makes me wonder whether the Irish vote will simply be ignored and the Treaty, in some other form, will just be pushed through. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has already said that the Labour Government will push ahead with ratification, despite not asking the public what they think in a referendum as promised in their manifesto.

The EU rules clearly state that the Treaty has to be ratified by all 27 countries, but I get this sense that after the result today the goal posts have just been moved. Put the champagne on ice…this is not over yet.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Joining the Church

After spending the morning delivering newspapers, I joined Blue Bell Hill Councillors Allan and Peter in a community litter pick organised by the vicar of St Albans Church The Rev Phil Wootton. A number of parishioners and local residents turned up and were kitted out by Bev from Tonbridge & Malling Council in high visibility jackets and gloves, and after photos and a short prayer of thanks, off we went around the village armed with litter pickers and green bags. We were only out for an hour but still managed to fill half a dozen bags which is quite shocking. The funniest moment of the afternoon was when two bare torsoed lads in a suped up car pulled over and asked very politely (even saying please!) if they could put their beer can in the bin – the driver was at pains to point out that it wasn’t his – before speeding off into the distance giggling to themselves. I didn’t care – at least I didn’t have to go and pick it up of the path with my litter pickers, which incidentally had a crocodile painted on them!! And after an hour of hard work in the hot sun I think it is now time for a long cool drink.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Memorial Meadow

This afternoon I joined the local vicar, councillors and residents for a short service to commemorate 60 years of the Luton Memorial Meadow, which has been recently redesigned and landscaped by volunteers to honour those from Luton who lost their lives during World War II. Flag bearers from the Brownies and Scouts stood alongside the local Royal British Legion and veterans for the prayer of remembrance and a minutes silence. Once the service was finished the summer fete was opened. I was shown the book of remembrance by Don, the veteran volunteer who, alongside Bob, has worked tirelessly to ensure that the memorial meadow is free from housing development and that the meadow is maintained to honour fallen soldiers. He proudly showed me photos and letters that span over 60 years, including two from Dame Vera Lynn. I was really pleased to have been a part of today’s service.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Michael Gove visits Chatham & Aylesford

Following David Cameron’s decision to hold his Shadow Cabinet in Maidstone, I hosted my first senior politician tour of the patch today. It was a bit odd to be on the “other side” of a tour as previously I had been the one that would sign off David Davis’ visits, but today I was the one playing hostess – and I was unusually nervous when I woke up this morning. A lot of work goes into organising them and you are always at the mercy of other people so you can never be quite sure how a visit will go – but it went brilliantly.

Michael Gove, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, had specifically requested to come to Chatham & Aylesford which is hugely flattering because it usually happens the other way round! So after lunch at County Hall with Cameron and his team, Michael and I headed first to Aylesford Primary School where we were met by the wonderful headmistress Mrs Evans, the family liaison officer Jane and local Councillor Dave Smith.

Mrs Evans took us on a tour of the school which is a delightful primary in the shadow of the new Sports Academy. It is sad that such a huge amount of money has been invested in the secondary school and yet the primary school has had very little extra money invested in it and although extremely neat and tidy is in desperate need of repair. So much time and energy is spent devising policy on secondary education that often the primary system is forgotten despite the fact that if you get it wrong in the early years, then the rest of the education system falters. As soon as you walk into Aylesford Primary, you know you are entering somewhere special – it was evident almost immediately, as we walked through a salsa class, that the children appeared to be thoroughly enjoying their learning. I was hugely impressed by the game of Simon Says being conducted in French by the Deputy Head – I am ashamed to say that I found it difficult to keep up with the children, who were a 100 times better than me!

After our tour of the school, I took Michael up to Buckmore Park Kart Circuit where we saw the Park’s launch of Playing for Success with local children.
Playing for Success Kent provides a wide range of activities that enable, enrich and extend young people’s experiences in Kent. It promotes informal, active and most importantly learning opportunities outside normal school hours. Playing for Success is a partnership initiative between the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Kent County Council and four clubs in Kent including Buckmore Park, Ebbsfleet United and Kent Spitfires.
Not only did we spend some time on the karts (although not driving them!) and in the class with the children, but we also heard about some of the other community projects Buckmore Park has been involved in to help local children, especially those who have been excluded from school. What this latest project helps do is highlight in a very practical way how literacy and numeracy fit into everyday life, and helps develop their skills in a way that is perhaps less daunting for them than a class room. It was hugely impressive and the children were very excited to be part of the scheme. Although the funniest part of the afternoon was when Michael started to ask questions about Britain’s Got Talent – he wanted Signature to win (as did I) although almost everyone in the class had a different favourite!!
Once we had finished at the Park I managed to get Michael back to Maidstone in time for his train back to London and finally heaved a sigh of relief – my first Shadow Cabinet visit had gone well, without a hitch and to schedule.