Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A good day for the Gurkha campaign

On Sunday I wrote about feedback from local people about the decision regarding Gurkha veterans. Well today Conservatives joined the Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs to vote against the Government’s policy on restricting the right of former Gurkhas to stay in the UK. Our own local MP ignored the feelings of many people in Chatham & Aylesford and voted in favour of the restrictions, which according to the Gurkha Justice Campaign would help only a limited number of veterans.

You can read the BBC report on the vote HERE and the views of the actress Joanna Lumley on the outcome HERE.

The moment Gordon forgot his schedule

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Budget reaction

As I mentioned earlier this week, the general reaction from the people we were calling to survey to the Chancellor’s Budget was pretty poor. Now this has been verified by the latest set of opinion polls. It is hardly a surprise when the Budget ultimately plans to increase taxes on families and local firms. Having looked through the Red Book and the supplementary notices (worth only doing if you are suffering from insomnia!) it is clear that:

  • National Insurance will be increased for workers and for firms which will discourage businesses from hiring staff, cut people’s pay packets, and mean anyone earning £20,000 a year or more will be worse off
  • National debt will double to £1.4 trillion – this is equivalent to £22,500 of debt for every man, woman and child and to make matters worse, taxes are to rise by £1,000 for every family over the next two years
  • Fuel duty is up 2 pence per litre, and will continue to rise by more than inflation for the next four years, increasing the cost of travelling to work, taking children to school and going shopping
  • Alcohol duty, which was hiked up in December, will rise again as part of the Government’s plans to increase the cost of beer, cider, spirits and wine by more than inflation every year. This punishes responsible drinkers and is putting small local pubs out of business, and
  • Business rates are rising by £1 billion in the middle of a recession. Business rates are the biggest cost for firms after rent and staff costs. Bills have soared for local firms since the beginning of April, and further large hikes are expected next year too.

In these tough economic times, families and local firms across Chatham & Aylesford are going to pay the price for Gordon Brown’s failings. These aren’t taxes for the few; they are taxes for the many. At a time when people are losing their jobs or facing pay freezes, hard-working families now face smaller pay packets and a higher cost of living thanks to Labour. As with the end of every Labour Government it will be up to the Conservatives to repair our broken public finances and help lead the country out of recession. It is clearly time for a change!

Justice for Gurkha Veterans

I missed Saturday’s canvassing session due to a family commitment but I am told that there was a lot of anger regarding the latest decision by the Home Office on the Gurkhas. Having grown up near Shorncliffe Barracks where the Royal Gurkha Rifles are based I share people’s fury. The Gurkhas have supported the British in conflicts across the world for over 200 years and over 45000 died in World War I and II. As Joanna Lumley said this latest decision is a “betrayal” but has vowed to continue campaigning for equal rights. The campaign site can be found HERE and signing the petition will help keep the pressure on the Government.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Chatting about Chatham with George

Last night a team of 9 of us did some telephone canvassing of my current credit crisis survey. We spoke to a huge number of people between 6.30 and 8pm from all over the constituency to get their feedback on how people are feeling about the current economic conditions. As I mentioned previously it is a difficult survey to do because so many people have been affected by the downturn. I have found people are very willing to talk about their experiences with this survey and so it was great to have an opportunity to go through the surveys today with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne. Despite it being a hectic week and further hidden facts about the Budget coming to the surface throughout the morning, George spent a lot of time looking through the surveys digesting some of the responses.

One thing the survey clearly shows is that the personal impact of the credit crisis, regardless of age, family status or profession, is significant and that many people are cutting back on spending or are deeply worried about the immediate future. I got the impression on the phone last night that people were not fooled by the Budget and if anything resent politicians trying to pull the wool over their eyes about how much the ordinary taxpayer is going to have to pay to get the country out of this mess. It has hardly gone unnoticed that petrol prices are creeping up again and even the cheaper stations don’t feel that cheap anymore!

Of course, if the Conservatives had given this Budget, we would have got a grip on government spending and used the savings to introduce real help now for families and pensioners such as
  • Freezing council tax for two years, worth over £200 for the typical family.
  • Abolishing income tax on savings for all basic rate taxpayers, worth up to £7,200 a year and,
  • Raising the income tax threshold for pensioners, worth up to £400 a year.

I think most people are realising that yet again, as with every previous Labour Government, the Conservatives will tackle Labour’s debt crisis and deliver economic change for Britain.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Monday canvassing

Last night was a wonderful night to be out doing our survey canvassing in Aylesford. It was warm, light and the spring flowers smelt fabulous. We started at 6pm and finished just after 7.30pm and despite it being dinner time I still had some long conversations with residents about the current economic situation. What also surprised me was how aware of the “credit crunch” children are. There were some girls playing in their front garden and out of curiosity they came over to find out what we were up to (good neighbourhood watch!). When we told them they fully understood what we meant and it was quite clear that conversations about tough financial times was something that is happening around the dinner tables. If one were to be looking for silver linings from these desperate times then it would be that the next generation may be more hesitant about accumulating massive amounts of debt and perhaps save more for the “rainy day”.

After being subjected to a really cheeky, albeit unrepeatable on a family blog, chat up line from a group of teenage boys on the swings, we called it a day and I headed off to the Snodland Branch meeting to catch up with activists and to hear Cllr Sarah Hohler’s update from Kent County Council. It appears to be good news that KCC can recoup up to 80% of its losses from its £18.5m investment in Iceland’s Heritable Bank.

If this glorious Spring weather continues then I expect to be out a lot more in the evenings – although I might avoid the swings next time!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Surveying Princes Park

We had a fabulous turnout for this morning’s survey canvass in Princes Park and managed to cover a huge amount of ground as a result. We are currently doing a survey on the credit crisis and I have to say whilst it is one of the most successful surveys we’ve ever done, it is also one of the most depressing. I do not exaggerate when I say that everyone has been effected by the credit crunch and in the past few weeks, including today, I’ve met a number of people who have gone through redundancy threats at work. One lady I spoke to had survived the threat of losing her job, but another chap hadn’t. Both were feeling bad but ironically it was the one who had kept her job who was more emotional.

I am sure more people than usual will be taking an interest in next week’s Budget. I got the impression that people won’t be fooled by “giveaway gimmicks” but are holding out genuine hope for real measures to be introduced that will help ease the burden of the rising cost of living. I think we all are.

David Cameron Blogs about a long week in politics

David Cameron has written the following on the Blue Blog:

I think it’s been a pretty defining week in the history of this Government.

It started with all that nonsense over Easter when it emerged that while people up and down the country were worried about their jobs, homes and futures, one of the Prime Minister’s main advisers was busy cooking up lies to spread about me, my colleagues and our families. After five days, the Prime Minister finally took full responsibility and said sorry. But, in many ways, that’s the easy part. The hard part is what comes next – addressing the culture of spin and smear in Downing Street. As anyone who works in an office knows, it’s the boss who sets the culture – so Gordon Brown’s got to ask himself some serious questions.

And it ended with the Director of Public Prosecutions chucking out the charges against Damian Green. Let’s be clear what happened here. An Opposition MP was arrested, and he and his family put through hell, for simply doing his job. It was wrong. He’s been vindicated. And the Home Secretary’s got to ask herself some serious questions.

Taken together, these episodes demonstrate clearly the need for change. Not, as Gordon Brown would have it, change in some advisers’ code or a review into police operations. But a change in leadership at the very top. This lot have been in power far too long – they’re out of touch, forgotten who they’re serving, what they’re in power for and how they’re meant to behave. To bring some integrity back to Downing Street, the only answer is an election and a change of government.

But this week hasn’t been all about politics. I visited Stafford Hospital on Tuesday – that’s the place which had really unacceptable standards of care. It was incredibly moving to meet victims and their friends and family. And though it was little consolation to them, I outlined how the Conservatives would help stop another Stafford from happening again by having an information revolution so hospital failings are exposed quicker.

I’m sure there’ll be as much to write about next week – it’s the Budget.

* * *

I personally think it has been a bad week for politics. The Damian McBride affair simply turns people off and the main impact of his dreadful activities will be to make people even more apathetic than they already are. Our electoral turnouts are embarrassingly low – events like those over Easter will probably make it even more difficult to get people out to vote at the next General Election. Shame.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Kent Conservatives

Kent Conservatives have re-launched their website and it is looking very good. It can be viewed HERE.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

A day of two halves!

Six of us were out in Lordswood this morning surveying local residents on their personal experiences of the credit crunch. It was cold and spitting with rain. However after a lunchtime cup of coffee and a chat with Cllr Phil Filmer, Medway’s portfolio holder for highways, I left the team and headed over to Snodland for a celebration of Snodland Partnership’s 10th Anniversary. As I got into the car, the drizzle stopped and the sun came out. Typical! Anyway I am glad it did because when I arrived there were a number of outside stalls including the police, fire service and a local bikers club entertaining local residents. Inside the Co-Op had their community kitchen going alongside stalls from the Citizens Advice, TMBC, Children Information Services and various others. There were also activities such as DJ-ing and MC-ing being run by the local Beat project. Excellent fun.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Friday visits

I took the day off work today and visited five separate businesses in the constituency, and I have to say it has been excellent. Every place I visited was completely different and therefore I have learnt so much about how the credit crunch is affecting people, what support they need, what interests them, what doesn’t. It has been truly fascinating.

This morning I went to Tapers hairdressers in Larkfield and met owners Steve and Jacqui and their newest apprentice Rhianna. I am passionate about vocational education and the need for more apprenticeships and it was clear that here is a small business doing what it can to provide placements but often being penalised for it. I was quite taken by Steve’s passion for his business and whilst it is obviously very difficult for him during these tough economic times he still has ambitious plans for his salon and for his staff. Rhianna is lovely and although young is clearly very committed to the profession – I can see why it was a no-brainer for Steve to take her on as an apprentice. Despite the fact that I am a bit of a wash-and-go kind of girl, I am definitely tempted by their competitive prices and have written a memo to my campaign manager requesting valuable time off for a cut and blow dry…

After the hairdressers I went to the Kia garage in Ditton and discussed the pressures the car industry is under at the moment and various other motoring issues – not least the fact that the hydraulics have gone on my car and I can’t lift my boot up without doing my back in! I met the service staff and some of the mechanics but one of the issues that fascinated me most was the new licence plate system – call me a girl, but I did not know the difference between the 5X and the 0Y number plates. I do now!

We then popped down the road to the Royal British Legion Industries to meet the new manager Steve for a whistle stop tour around the manufacturing, special products and welfare division. I am a huge fan of the RBLI who make a range of products including road and rail signs and industrial pallets using a workforce of which 60% have a disability. Many of the workforce are also ex-servicemen or their families who need support. Steve said that one of the greatest things about his job is that whilst it is obviously a commercial venture, albeit one which is run by a charity, ultimately they provide a valuable service to often vulnerable people.

After a bacon sandwich for lunch I put my jeans on and visited the Kent Labrador Rescue Centre – a charity which has been hit by the economic downturn in two different ways. With cash being short people are not donating as much to charity as they used but secondly as people are being made redundant or money becomes tight, their dog becomes unaffordable and needs re-homing. It is very sad and Carol, the manager, was telling me that it is rather tough at the moment and their future, at this stage, is not looking as bright as they hope.

Finally I went to Abbeyfield St Martin’s care home to meet the management and for a tour. I have visited a few care homes before but this was genuinely one of the best I have been to. The residents seemed really happy and the carers passionate about their job. I admire them immensely – they do an extraordinary tough job under huge emotional pressure sometimes and they clearly do it brilliantly. I met Alf who was holding court in a room full of ladies – they were all waiting for Deal or No Deal which they apparently love! The range of activities the carers organise for them was extensive and I have to say I was quite tempted to go back for tomorrow’s Grand National tea, cake and bucks fizz session!

It was a great day and I have definitely learned a lot and I was certainly lobbied well by those I met on what I need to do if I am honoured to get elected to Parliament!