Posted Thursday, 20 December 2007 at 12:01
I am signing off now with a Christmas message from Steve Plummer of Ampthill Baptist Church - and a copy of my Christmas card to my constituents - well, to everyone really!
The card is a picture of Katherine's Cross, Ampthill Park, taken by my Association, Chairman Councillor Andy Rayment during my 'Tourism Tour' of Mid Beds on Friday 16th March 2007. The Cross marks the site of Ampthill Castle, where Queen Katherine of Aragon was kept under house arrest for three years, during her divorce from King Henry VIII. The Cross was erected by Lord Ossory in 1770.
I am hoping to catch the 'House Beautiful' in the snow at Houghton Conquest, or maybe the leopards at Woburn Safari park for next year's card.
Until the New year, a very Merry Christmas to you all.
Below is the message from Steve.
I can still remember the first vinyl record that I ever received. It was a Christmas present from my uncle and aunt to complement the record player that mum and dad had bought for me: Wizard's 'I wish it could be Christmas every day', a record I still sing along to with gusto whenever it's played!
Sometimes I say to the children at our church, "Do you wish that it could be Christmas every day?" and, invariably, they excitedly answer "YES!" Their eyes widen in anticipation as they consider the possibilities of a daily round of presents, sumptuous dinners (minus the brussels sprouts!), visits by favourite relatives and, in their ideal world, snow falling thickly on the ground outside.
But even the children realise that, in such a world, the excitement would eventually fade, the frisson-filled events taken for granted, the magic dissipated.
And what about the real meaning of Christmas? The author, George MacDonald wrote, "Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things." I love Christmas: the buzz of crowded shopping centres, the brass bands playing their familiar tunes, watching sentimental films with the family, the lights and decorations, the parties, and both giving and receiving special presents. But these good things can just as easily cauterize me to the beating heart of Christmas. And so, in the midst of the Christmas wrapping, I have to discipline myself to take time to pause and consider what the Apostle Paul calls God's 'indescribable gift'....
'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means, God with us.'
'Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.'
....and I remember that, bright and colourful as the wrappings are, what makes the real difference, and what makes the heart really dance, is experiencing the gift.
Some years ago I spent Christmas in Nairobi, Kenya. During that time I visited a shanty town near the airport where the dwellings were knocked together out of whatever material was to hand, even cardboard. There, in the midst of the squalor and biting poverty, one positively joyful woman shared with me words that I have never forgotten, and which will always challenge and inspire me: "We've got nothing, but we've got Jesus, and he's everything to us."
I've always thought that here was someone who really did know what it was like to celebrate Christmas every day!
May you experience the blessings of God’s indescribable gift at this special time of year,
Reverend Stephen Plummer.
Ampthill Baptist Church.
Man or Boy?
Posted Wednesday, 19 December 2007 at 11:30
Did you notice how Nick Clegg, during his acceptance speech on the podium, used notes and kept glancing down at them?
Surely any MP who is used to speaking in the Chamber,would be more than capable to walk out and give a five minute ’thank you and now for my next act’ speech without notes!
David Cameron would have eschewed the idea of notes, for what should have been a genuine, and heartfelt few moments.
I imagine the Lib Dems are hoping he will mature over the next few months.
Speaking of which, has his voice broken?
You'll Never Walk Alone
Posted Monday, 17 December 2007 at 14:19
Eighteen months ago I went back to Liverpool for the first time in many years with Chris Grayling MP - it wasn’t the best of nights; things had to change for Liverpool Conservatives. The evening was, to say the least, traumatic.
Click here to find out more.
On Thursday night, I went back to Liverpool to speak to the new Liverpool Seats Initiative Christmas dinner.
They had come a long way, and had travelled a bumpy road, not without event. Thursday was the first formal peace time Christmas gathering, and was in itself symbolic of just how much had been achieved in the past 18 months.
Arriving in Liverpool at Lime St Station was just a tad emotional - it was bitterly cold and I ran out of the station past St Johns and down into Church St.
Sam Coates accompanied me carrying a rucksack, the size of an average house, on his back. It tilted him forward, head bent staring intently at the floor as he glided along, looking for all the world like a turtle out to pick up some last minute Christmas presents, hoping no one would notice.
Liverpool was full of noise, children, shoppers and Christmas, and it was snowing – or at least I thought it was – until I noticed that it was actually from foam machines, strategically positioned on the top of buildings, making it look exactly as though it was snowing. Only in Liverpool, (and America) would you find such devotion to re-creating the schmoltz of Christmas.
Church St was full of people chatting and laughing. As I looked up to the sky the bitter cold stung my eyes, or was it the foam? Liverpool was buzzing.
I hadn’t written a speech, I was too nervous. I speak to lots of Associations and usually talk about whatever is happening in Parliament that week - I had spoken to 200 people the previous week and hadn't batted an eyelid.
However, in Liverpool, I was really scared. I had gone back to my roots amongst the people I knew would expect nothing other than something top drawer from one of their own. I also knew that on a night before Christmas, they didn't really want the heavy politics, but something more in the way of entertainment.
Tricky for me as I don't really have a repertoire of funny jokes and anecdotes.
I often tell audiences in speeches how my mother repeats the story of the Silver Cross pram my granddad bought when I was born. He used to take me out with leaflets tucked under the apron at the bottom of the pram to stop them blowing away. My mother always says, that’s why you’re a Conservative, it’s in your blood.
I answer, patiently, no mum, that’s why I have deformed feet; I’m a Conservative because of Margaret Thatcher.
It usually gets a laugh, I wouldn’t even try it on a scouse audience!
I told Sam I wanted to go to the big Boots on the corner of Bold St and Church St. It used to have a lift lined with polished wood, and my dad was the lift man.
He took people up and down Boots all day, especially the elderly, and everyone knew him by name. He chatted and laughed, and nothing gave me greater pleasure than a trip to Boots. I used to press the button for the lift, and wait to see the expression of joy on my dad’s face, when the doors opened and he saw it was me,' his little terror' . Something he called me until I was 20 when he died.
As I arrived at the junction of Bold St with Church St, I was temporarily confused. Where was Boots? Where had it gone?
My heart sank, it was now a Lloyds Bank. My re-union with a memory was not to be. I would never see the lift doors open again. As I stood and looked at the building I could hear my dad, and maybe it’s because it is Christmas, or just because he was the most special person I have lost, but having struggled more and more over the years, to remember how his voice sounded , it came to me as clear as a bell.
I suddenly knew exactly what I was going to say at the dinner.
I told them a story of one of their own, a lifelong Conservative, Danny Doherty.
One night as a little girl, I stood in the pouring rain waiting for a bus with my dad, holding onto his hand. The street lights were a sulphur yellow, and the rain came down like stair rods, silhouetted against the yellow aura of the lights.
We were soaked. Out of the dark and into the glow came a man and his wife carrying an umbrella. They came over to us and stood with the umbrella held high, protecting dad and I from the wind and rain. Dad seemed to know them and they chatted earnestly.
Once on the bus, I remember wiping the steamed window and watching the man and his wife as they walked away, they turned around and waved. “Dad, who was that?” I enquired.
“His name is Danny Doherty” said dad, “and he is one of the nicest men you will ever meet, he is a Conservative.”
Many many years passed. In 2001 as a general election candidate, one cold windy wet night, I was sat in the Conservative office on my own. It was a tough seat, funds and activists were almost non existent. A pile of letters stood on the table which needed to be dealt with, and there was only myself and a very enthusiastic young man by the name of Chris, to deal with it.
I made a cup of tea and wiped the window with my hand looking out into the unwelcoming rain, feeling very low. The lights cast a yellow aura, the only semblance of warmth.
I sat down and began to open the letters. Out of the first came a cheque for £500 with a note which read ‘Dear Mr Chairman, please find enclosed a cheque for £500 to help with the campaign to send Nadine to Parliament. The money has been raised through a bingo evening. Her father was known to us and was one of the nicest men you could ever wish to meet. Signed Danny Doherty, Chairman, Liverpool Wavertree Conservatives.’
I told the story to the Liverpool Conservatives, it seemed appropriate for the occasion. It symbolised how we had all come full circle, and despite the fact that Liverpool Conservatives had been through a tough time, they could look forward now to a brighter future. As I had.
Thursday night was closure on the past, for all of us.
I sat next to Tony Caldeira at the dinner, the exciting new Chairman. Tony, third child of a single mum who made cushions and sold them on the market on a Saturday morning, is now the biggest UK exporter of cushions with his own factory in China.
An exciting entrepreneur who is going to take Liverpool Conservatives onwards and upwards, with nothing more than his sheer enthusiasm and energy.
Esther McVey and Debi Jones were also on the table, the candidates for Wirral West and Crosby. We laughed all night.
I cannot wait for the day when Esther and Debi join me in the House of Commons. If only because they will make me look like an absolute complete and total angel in the eyes of the Chief Whip!
Parliament just doesn’t know what it’s got coming! I can’t wait!!!
An Ever Changing Story....
Posted Thursday, 13 December 2007 at 13:03
I didn’t get to bed until late, and then decided to read once I got there. I kept glancing at the clock, giving myself another 15 minutes; however, in no time at all it was 4am and I gave in.
The first call came at 6am from Radio 4. What did I think about the contraceptive pill being handed out by pharmacists over the counter to young girls without the need to see a GP?
When I was leaving the office last night, I was asked the same question by the Press Association, who had put my response on the wires overnight, and apparently it is quoted in a couple of today’s papers.
My response is that the idea is a bad one for two reasons; the first being that a GP should assess whether any young girl, or woman, is suitable to take the pill as there are health implications.
If there is a history of thrombosis in the family the GP may want to first assess whether or not the patient is susceptible to clotting, and do so by taking a blood sample to test for the Leiden factor. If this test comes back negative, then the patient may take the pill without adverse risk.
A pharmacist on the radio said that this was not a problem. He would ask the relevant questions to establish if there was a family history of thrombosis. If there was, he would tell the young girl that he couldn’t prescribe the pill and she would have to go to her GP first for a blood test. Really?
Do you know what I would do if I were that young girl? I would go to the next chemist and when he asked was there a family history of thrombosis, I would say no, collect my pills and be off.
A pharmacist won't be able to monitor obesity, mental health, smoking, blood pressure and all the other factors which come into play, many of which a GP measures as part of a continued process of care.
There is also another issue in all of this. What message does this convey and just what is going on here? Where are the boys in all of this? What about their responsibility? How many 15 year old young boys are going to pressurise their very grown-up looking 14 year old girlfriends to go to the chemist for the pill? So much easier than having to sit down in front of your family GP.
What about protective sex? Syphilis is being reported in this country for the first time in over 20 years, Chlamydia, HPV, HIV, are all on the increase at an alarming rate.
What do we think we are doing to our teenagers?
As the morning worked through, I stayed on one radio station after another. The government’s line began to change with the Department of Health issuing a statement at 10 am, saying it was not the government’s intention to change the rules, and that they had no intention of prescribing the contraceptive pill over the counter.
But it was only last night the government minister said they did?
The government is confused; it really has no idea what it is doing.
The Department of Health is being run by incompetents who have no care, or interest, regarding the impact of what they do, and say, upon the lives of others.
Headless chickens come to mind. In the time it has taken me to type this blog the story may have changed again… and again.
To Munch Or Dispatch?
Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2007 at 10:11
Walking along the cloisters last night just before the vote, a Labour MP shuffled alongside me. “Great blog today”, he said, “you should have decked her.”
“Really?” said I. Honestly, just because I am from Liverpool!
“You do know what her nickname is over on our side don’t you?”
“No but go on, I just know you’re about to tell me…”
“The Black Widow. She would eat any man to get a job, and I’ll tell you what, there’s more that hate her on our side than do on yours.”
“Really ? Can I blog that?” said I.
“Aye” he said, “just don’t mention my name, or Tom Watson will kill me.”
Strange lot Labour MPs - decking, eating and killing each other. Thank goodness I am in the civilised Conservative Party!!!
Members' Tea Room
Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2007 at 16:46
I never reveal what happens in the Members’ Tea Room, it’s a self imposed rule, however, it’s one I am going to break today.
Minding my own business, I was helping myself to a bowl of haddock soup, when the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, Caroline Flint MP descended upon me.
“Well”, she squealed, in the ‘hand on hip just look at how important I am’ way she has, “are you going to apologise, well, are you?” The squeal became a bark.
“Apologise” said I, genuinely non-plussed, “what for?”
“You were wrong weren’t you, you reported me to the Standards Commissioner and you were wrong, so go on apologise – are you going to apologise?”
I was even more non-plussed, nay, gob smacked, that a Minister who had just walked out of a Committee should behave in such a way.
Her fishwife behaviour was very undignified. She displayed in 10 seconds how un-worthy she was of a Minister’s position; but more than that, she epitomised the very fact that this government hate to be challenged in any way whatsoever…
Rapid descent in the polls is obviously making them very jittery indeed.
I should thank her, she has given me yet another opportunity to blog to my 50,000 per week unique readers, about how 12 female Labour MPs took funding, and agreed to support a certain position, which compromises their neutrality in the voting lobby - and the Standards Commissioner dismissed the case.
Maybe one of the others can have a go at me tomorrow, and I can write about it again!
Sir Philip Mawer
Posted Monday, 10 December 2007 at 12:54
On 13th November 2007 I made a complaint to Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, regarding twelve female Labour MPs.
Page 28 of the Guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members, states that Members cannot:
'…enter into any contractual agreement with an outside body, controlling or limiting the Member's complete independence and freedom of action in Parliament.'
As this would obviously compromise the neutrality of any individual MP when casting a vote in the voting lobby.
All the MPs I complained about are listed on the organisation of Emily's List website as having taken money in order to help them become selected as Labour candidates.
In order to obtain the funding you have to complete two criteria; one to support Labour values; and two, to be pro choice (abortion).
Accepting money in order to help you become an MP on the basis that you are pro-abortion in my book means you have compromised your neutrality in the voting lobby, thereby contravening page 28 of the Guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members (as stated above).
Sir Philip Mawer has dismissed the case. I received two letters from him in the post today – letter one states:
'There is no evidence that those who have received funding from Emily's List are party to such a contractual agreement. Nor have I been presented with any evidence which suggests that the organisers of Emily's List have behaved as if those who received its funding were party to such an agreement.'
Letter two was a letter telling ME off for not having informed the twelve Labour MPs, that I had reported them to Sir Philip.
According to the guidance issued to Members, I was under no obligation whatsoever to inform the Emily's Fund recipients that I had reported them, however, as a matter of courtesy I did so on 20th November 2007.
One of the reasons I made this complaint is that so many people have contacted me who are outraged that this has never been raised with the Commissioner for Standards before - I obviously think he is wrong, I imagine that many others will do also. I now feel mildly outraged myself.
Posted Friday, 7 December 2007 at 12:44
I asked a question to the Prime Minister on Wednesday at PMQs and it appears to have caused a bit of a kerfuffle.
It is about an issue which is incredibly serious.
A number of months ago, a Kenyan lady Eunice came to see me at one of my surgeries, she has a young daughter, Monica.
Eunice married a British war veteran in Kenya and lived happily with her husband and daughter. Her husband, having left the forces lived the life of many British ex pats – in the sunshine.
For years Eunice and her husband ran the Kenyan equivalent of the British corner shop, until one day a gang, supported by the police, came and took it over; it was made clear to Eunice and her husband that they should not return.
The political climate was becoming very difficult, and the family came to England in 2003. As Monica was the daughter of a British man she is automatically a British citizen; although Eunice and her husband had been married for a number of years, she still had to go through all the legal immigration process and as soon as they arrived in the UK, her application was made.
Unfortunately, just six months after arriving in the UK, Eunice’s husband died.
The Home Office has still not granted Eunice the right to reside.
She wants to legally work, but cannot. She has been offered cash in hand work but is afraid to accept it, should she be caught, and, the consequences undermine her application.
She receives no benefits. Child benefit, which Monica is entitled to, can only be paid to an adult who is a British citizen, and therefore she doesn’t receive any.
Eunice is in benefit limbo land.
The school has been feeding Monica from a fund, again, without benefits she is not entitled to free school meals. The fund has almost run out. The local Church has volunteers who take it in turns to run Monica to school, as there is no money for transport, and Monica and Eunice are clothed with donations made by local people.
This is England 2007 and I have a child in my constituency living in poverty.
The way I do business as an MP is as follows: for serious constituency cases I have two choices. The first is to embarrass the government in the Chamber on the floor of the House, gain publicity and hope to solve the problem.
The second is the way I find works best, I telephone the office of the Minister. I tell him or her that I do not want to embarrass the Government, however I have a serious constituency problem which needs to reach a swift conclusion; therefore would the Minister like to meet me behind the Speaker’s Chair for five minutes during a vote to discuss and hopefully resolve.
It has worked well time after time. I keep to my end of the bargain and keep the issue out of the press. Sometimes the results are astoundingly good. Jack Straw was fantastic, I went straight back to his office with him after the vote, spoke to his civil servants – and the problem was sorted within hours.
A 100+ jobs were saved in Mid Beds as a result of a behind the chair meeting with another Minister, who reigned in an over zealous health and safety inspector, who was about to close a business down on the basis of a bureaucratic technicality.
I also used this tactic with the Home Office Minister Liam Byrne MP - I needed to. His department had written to me and told me that Monica, the child, was entitled to stay, but her mother had to return to Kenya, effectively making the child, who had already lost her father, an orphan.
I phoned the department and asked what did they think we should do with the child if the mother was sent back? Was she to go into care? A muted ‘why would we care?’ response came back.
Six letters have been passed between the Minister and myself, in which he states that despite the fact that a child is living on hand-outs from others, he sees no reason on the grounds of compassion to intervene.
Liam Byrne’s office tells me that the Minister is too busy to meet during the vote. Really? I sat and watched him, he spent the vote laughing and chatting away to the rest of his front bench.
So, I had no option. I had to raise the issue on the floor of the House and the Prime Minister has agreed to meet me to discuss the case. I won’t hesitate to tell the PM what I think of the conduct of Liam Byrne MP.
This for me is not a good outcome. We have a film crew coming to film Eunice and Monica at 4pm today. It will be in the local press, the nationals are interested, and Monica’s situation, which is embarrassing enough, will be broadcast everywhere.
It would have been so much better for all concerned if a rather self important puffed up egotistical Minister had behaved in the way that some of his more senior colleagues know how to.
Posted Tuesday, 4 December 2007 at 09:54
It was supposed to be a nice day, special, a once in a life time event, it was that alright.
I had that ‘oh no please, not one of those days’ feeling when the cab failed to show up to take me to Stevenage station at 6.50am to catch the train to Newcastle. It was Graduation Day for my first born, first in the family , first graduation ever.
The response to my frantic calls to the cab company was that traffic was bad in Flitwick. I catch the train from Flitwick all the time - the traffic is never un-negotiable at 6.50am.
A cab and sleepy driver arrived (was he safe?) The company must have had all of its best cars out blocking up the roads in Flitwick, because what arrived looked like a pre-war version of an old Cortina which was incapable of exceeding 20mph. It was also in pretty bad internal repair, a couple of squatting chickens wouldn't have looked out of place on the back seat. (Was it safe?)The driver asked me did I know the way and my heart sank.
Suffice to say a series of disasters befell me. A missed train, and then a journey of station hopping as I crawled up the Pennines, trying to time an arrival at a major station to coincide with a fast train: it didn’t happen. I went from one freezing cold station to the next, in miserable un-heated carriages, looking at my watch. The ceremony started at 2.30pm. My phone warbled with a message from she who had no idea what was happening, to tell me she was the very first on.
I finally arrived after 7 hrs on the verge of frantic distress at Newcastle Station and dived into a cab it was 2. 22pm.
I asked the cab driver how long it would take - 10 minutes he said - it was too much to bear. I had spent 7 hrs on a series of trains from hell and I was about to miss a moment I had planned, and looked forward to, all of my adult life.
I couldn't answer the cabbie when he asked me what I was doing in Newcastle, an overwhelming feeling of maternal guilt had consumed me and I began to cry.
“Eeeh pet” he said, “I know me drivins not the best but it’s never made no one cry before. Me missus says ah drive too fast like bit it’s never made her weep, what's up pet?”
I told him. “Reet” he said , “breathe in pet and hang on to yer seat belt, ah think they call this a white knuckle ride” - and he went for it. I felt like an extra in Back to the Future as he nipped in and out of side roads and zoomed up a steep hill in 3rd gear.
As I went to get my money out of my purse, he yelled “get out get out run it doesn't matter.” I obeyed because I knew I only had seconds.
I ran straight through the door and was met by the Marshall, who ushered me straight through the inner door - wise friends had kept me an aisle seat near the entrance. I sat as I heard the Provost say the words Batchelor of Arts with Honours in Ancient History, followed by my daughter’s name. I turned and saw my beautiful daughter, head bobbing high with pride, walk down the centre aisle, long blonde hair billowing out behind her, beaming as she caught my eye.
Another 10 seconds and I would have missed one of the proudest moments of my life.
God bless all Geordie taxi drivers.
City Cabbie's Moving Help For Mother.
The Tree Festival
Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 12:08
Once upon a time I was responsible for organising a church Christmas fete. It was a nightmare; for four weeks I felt as though I was in the middle of some living hell, which is strange considering who the boss was!
People, who had been running stalls for years, wouldn't change anything from the way it had always been done. New stall holders fell out with old ones, the vicar was on my back every five minutes, his wife got stroppy, the Church Warden threatened to resign if the church toilets were used, and the PCC declared war on the idea of introducing children’s activities. On and on it went.
I was a shade of my former (company MD adviser to the Shadow Chancellor) self by nine lessons and carols, and was considering an attempted overdose of home-made jam.
On Sunday, I went to St Andrew’s Church in Ampthill for a tree festival. Such calm, what ease - a church full of decorated Christmas trees from just about every community organisation in Ampthill. Carol Gibson and I strolled around, voted for the one we thought was the best, and then sat and ate mince pies, drank delicious mulled wine, and chatted about anything and everything, to everyone else who was there.
Judy and Paul, fantastic job, absolutely brilliant, well done; long may Ampthill tree festival live on. You probably made as much money, if not more, than you would have done from the usual fete, with much less hassle.
P.s. my vote was for the town band’s tree, it was so pretty!
For Alan and Angels....
Posted Saturday, 1 December 2007 at 00:21
Yesterday was the usual hectic Friday; however, in the middle of it all I was desperate to find time for someone special.
My morning started with the usual phone calls and then a visit to Colpac in Flitwick.
Colpac is a company which manufactures packaging for the sandwiches you buy in M&S etc.
Colpac, competing in the global market place, is growing at a rate they are just about keeping on top of. They need to extend their premises in order to cope with demand and create more jobs. A fairly large problem as there doesn’t appear to be any land in Flit wick that they can extend onto.
A problem which needs to be sorted as we do not want to lose a company which employs a hundred local people.
Meetings with constituents and a local agency and then I dived into Alan's house, which was a surprise to him!
Alan is a constituent who became a friend and has been rather poorly just lately.
I sat and listened today as Alan sang the praises of the ‘Hospice at Home’ nurses. He spoke of their genuine care and affection, and how absolutely nothing was too much trouble. He was so touched by the level of care and devotion he is being given, his nurses are angels.
We all know that the Hospice movement depends upon donations from the general public. So if you get the chance to ever put your hand in your pocket and donate to one of the most worthwhile charities in the UK, then do. We may all need an angel one day