Posted Tuesday, 26 January 2010 at 16:42
Last week the Commons was dead. To be fair, the life was sucked out of it months ago and each resignation brings with it brings a new grey cloud, as one MP after the other stands down. Chat surrounds those who haven’t yet made the decision whether or not to go and some of those still deciding haven’t been here for very long.
The only buzz is in Portcullis House, where all MPs put on a brave face, those that bother to emerge from their office that is. MP spotting isn’t that easy these days.
If the public complained that they didn’t see enough of us sat on the Green benches before, they must be enraged by now.
To be fair, the depression is highest amongst Labour MPs, like you would expect I suppose - although the snowstorm plot did usher in a ray of sunshine for some, it quickly faded.
What has got people going today is the General Election chatter. Overheard just now (by me) in the ladies loo, was one lobbyist to another, quoting a Labour MP, “he said it could be June”.
'No it won’t', thought I, not unless Gordon really has lost the plot.
Imagine the scenario: Labour councillors are wiped out during the council elections in May. As soon as their defeat has been announced on national TV, on every radio and in every newspaper, with headlines declaring ‘Labour Massacre’, and Nick Robinson has stood outside No 10 declaring ‘It’s impossible to imagine how on earth Labour can recover from this‘, Gordon Brown calls the General Election and asks all his activists and councillors to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.
Never. It’ll never happen. Not unless he really has lost the plot. March, April or May – and just to be different – my money is on April. Too many astute Labour MPs have dropped the May 6th date in an ‘ooops, I didn’t mean to do that’ kind of way.
No one is talking about April; April would be a surprise. Would an element of surprise give Labour any advantage? Who knows, I just know I’ll eat my non-existent hat if a sane PM calls June.
Posted Thursday, 21 January 2010 at 18:57
I was shocked today to read the following statistic that the number of people being discharged from hospital in a malnourished state has increased by 146% since Labour came to power in 1997.
I was shocked, but not surprised. It doesn’t take anything more than a little common sense to understand how we have arrived at this situation and just a little more to know how to put it right.
But first, let’s just remind ourselves of a few simple truths. Patients are admitted into hospital to be made better. Given the advances in medical science and the need for as many patients as possible to be treated at home or in the community due to the threat of MRSA (another story), those patients you do find in hospital today tend to be very poorly.
Advances in engineering such as safety features in cars, air bags and side impact protection mean that only the very serious RTA results in long periods of hospitalization and so the situation is that those people who are lying in a hospital bed need the very best care.
A hospital bed should be a very safe place. Nurses are expected to be compassionate and caring and should have both the time and motivation to be so. Wards used to be calm quiet places within which a nurse got to know her patient well. Today they are bustling busy places with almost 24hr visiting and a constant flow of traffic in and out (a contributing factor to MRSA)
It's time to bring back the auxiliary nurses. The non-qualified nurse who loved to wear her uniform with pride and simply enjoyed the patient contact. They used to be responsible for filling in the patients diet requirements, making sure the food arrived correctly, as ordered from the kitchen and then if the patient required, helped kindly with feeding. They provided the friendly banter, talked through patient’s worries and concerns and they were never hampered by a constant throng of people coming and going.
They cleaned bedside lockers, helped with toileting, made sure sheets were changed, linen cupboards were full, cleaned up the accidents, chatted to and motivated ward cleaners and were like the worker bee’s; they kept everyone happy and everything ship shape freeing the qualified nurses to tend to dressings, medications, theater cases and all the other jobs which requires the attention of a qualified nurse.
They dominated the ward kitchen. Always offered the relatives of very poorly patient cups of tea and a hand to hold or as hug and looked after the broken hearts of student nurses.
I remember on night shift at Warrington Infirmary how the night auxiliary always used to bring me milky coffee and toast at 6am when I sat down to start writing the night report, that was just before she began sorting the breakfasts for 30 or so patients. They were the ward mums.
We need to return to that deeper level of patient care. It’s what in political speak we refer to as front-line care. However, it cannot be reached until the wards are once again empty of permenant visitors. Until a healing environment returns, until the authority of a ward sister or charge nurse (I really dislike the term manager) is paramount –until we bring back the army of ward mums, until we accept and acknowledge that hospital wards are a sanctuary and a place for the sick and vulnerable to be returned to health, and until we acknowledge that the delivery of care is delivered by people, not managers. People who should care for patients as though they are their very own flesh and blood and take a pride in discharging patients in a healthier and better nourished state than when they arrived.
Not half starved as the case appears to be today.
Tower Block of Commons
Posted Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 13:45
Yesterday was the last day of filming for The Tower Block of Commons series for Channel 4.
Tower Block of Commons has been one of the most interesting projects I have been involved with since I became an MP and the production crew at Love Productions for Channel 4 were a tremendous group of people to work with.
It is incredibly hard for an MP to work with the media in any of its forms. The media can manipulate and distort so much, and they very often do when it comes to MPs.
This project was incredibly important for me as it literally opened one door after another and let me step into the lives of people with whom I would never otherwise meet; people who, as a result of a target driven culture, languish at the bottom of society. Forgotten people, people who provide no political brownie points for any politician but who are possibly the most costly within society to support in all ways one can imagine.
It is with these people that repairing the broken society should begin.
It was a little sad saying goodbye to the crew yesterday. I was never left alone during the filming and at one point, the cameraman even slept next to me on the floor as it was the only comfortable floor to sleep on, if that makes sense! When you spend that long in the company of a small group of people you get to know them. You chat about their families and lots of stuff that isn’t anything to do with work, and so saying goodbye was a bit like closing a book half way through. I will only ever know their stories up to a certain point. But more importantly for me, I trusted them all. I had to or it would never have worked and that was a huge and difficult thing too.
And so for a name check: to Cal, the series producer, who must be the best in the business, I say this because I heard so many of the crew commenting on how much they liked to work with her, because she was the director/producer they could learn the most from. To Micha, Alex, Miles, Dave, Jamie and Andy, it was a great pleasure to have worked with you all. I think we all learnt a great deal during our time walking in other peoples shoes.
I will find out one day soon when the series is going out!
I can’t actually comment on any of the people in the series yet, or anything we did, because obviously that would be telling :0
Is 40 the new 50?
Posted Monday, 18 January 2010 at 11:12
After speaking at the Fabian conference in London on Saturday with Polly Toynbee (which I thoroughly enjoyed), it was back to a normal weekend of work.
The article the following day in the Mail on Sunday , within which I am quoted regarding fertility treatment for women aged 60+, meant the phone kept ringing and I spent part of my Sunday stood in the freezing cold in front of a TV camera.
I have the hugest sympathy with any woman who has never had children and reaches a point later in life when, for whatever reason, she decides to become pregnant.
Government guidelines state that the NHS should not recommend IVF to women over the age of 40 and private clinics generally will not treat women older than 50.
Many women naturally become pregnant into their 50s but not always without consequence, hence the increase in ‘fertility tourism’. Women over 50 have traveled abroad and received treatment, but even abroad it’s not easy to find a Dr who will agree to treatment at the age of 60.
Healthier lifestyles, the awareness of the dangers posed by smoking and alcohol, and advances in medical science all contribute to the fact that we are living longer and healthier lives, which in my opinion is information which should feature in the debate regarding the extension of the upper limit guidelines. Maybe 40 should be the new 42, or 50 the new 52? But to extend the limit to 60 is a very large and potentially costly leap.
By agreeing to treat a woman in the UK who will be 60 when her baby is born, Drs and the private clinic have now set a precedent which means the debate needs to take place.
It is inevitable that there will be a cost for society and the question has to be asked that if the NHS where to extend the upper limit, what would that mean in terms of the availability of treatment offered to younger women? What type of assessment should be made during the decision-making process with older women? Should the availability and commitment of younger family support be taken into account?
Unfortunately, the precedent has been made before the debate has taken place. Let’s hope the UK doesn’t become a fertility tourism hot spot and money doesn’t drive such a serious process over and above common sense and practicality.
Letter to Lord Adonis
Posted Thursday, 14 January 2010 at 14:39
This is the letter that I have sent to Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport:
I am sure you are aware of the situation that has been unfolding involving First Capital Connect and even though the situation may have now reached some form of resolution, following on from the vote result yesterday, I think it may be time to look at the future role of First Capital Connect.
I have been contacted by many angry constituents, who travel on a daily basis on the Bedford to Brighton line, regarding the debacle that became worse by the day and had an increasingly negative impact on their lives.
While there are certain aspects of the situation that could not be immediately rectified there are others that, after three months of disruption and complaints, could not be excused.
An example of this being the constant changing of timetables: from temporary, to emergency and, at times, completely ad hoc. This was made worse by poor and inaccurate communication of such changes.
One constituent checked the FCC website on 9th January 2010 to see that FCC had returned to 4 trains per hour, returning to the regular timetabled service i.e. until 1.30 am. Upon arriving at a local station it was discovered that trains had been cancelled and that those running included additional stops and therefore a longer journey. The level of communication was appalling as often even station managers had no clue as to what was happening.
I wish to raise the question as to whether First Capital Connect should lose their franchise as many of my constituents have lost faith in them to provide the services that they are supposed to. In the very least it would appear necessary for First Capital Connect to have a financial penalty imposed upon them, in order to set a precedent to other operators who may consider treating its customers in such a manner, and to prevent the practice of under-employing the necessary number of trained drivers required.
It is impossible to quantify or to emphasise the distress First Capital Connect have caused to all of my commuting constituents, I am amongst them, or how frustrating it has been as an MP to have been totally unable to do anything, other than raise the issue over and over again, achieving zero result.
It appears that ASLEF silently used the frustration and disrupted lives of all commuters to their own ends without regard or respect for the damage and distress they caused. If First Capital Connect had deployed appropriate recruitment and retention practices ASLEF could never have held us over the barrel in this manner.
I look forward to a speedy response and a decision as to how First Capital Connect are to be held account for the last three months of commuting hell.
Further to my previous blog...
Posted Wednesday, 13 January 2010 at 16:12
Here is the response I have just received from First Capital Connect:
I am pleased to confirm that the result of the ASLEF ballot was that around 70% of our drivers voted in favour of accepting the pay offer.
We intend to operate the full timetable on the Thameslink route from Monday 18 January. There are likely to be some short formations (four carriage trains instead of eight) and a few cancellations until 3 February, by when we plan that any Class 319 trains with faulty traction motors resulting from the recent severe weather will be repaired and back in service.
It is worth adding that, were it not for the late delivery from Bombardier of our 23 new Class 377 Electrostars, of which we still have only 21, 80% of the remedial modifications to the traction motors required following last February's snowfall would by now have been completed. As it was we had far less opportunity to take these trains out of service as they were needed to deliver the timetable effective from March 2009 which required us to provide trains to SouthEastern Trains destinations.
Stop Press re: First Capital Connect
Posted Wednesday, 13 January 2010 at 14:07
I thought Mid Bedfordshire commuters would be interested to read the following email I received this morning:
The purpose of this note is to give you a brief update on our Thameslink route services ahead of tomorrow’s expected announcement by ASLEF of the result of the drivers’ ballot. As you know, ASLEF have recommended acceptance of the pay offer made to our drivers.
We fully acknowledge that the service provided by First Capital Connect on the Thameslink route on both Friday 8 and, particularly, Monday 11 January was not acceptable. With our normal service offering twelve or more FCC trains an hour to London on the Thameslink route during the morning peak, just two trains an hour was clearly not going to meet passenger demand. In fact we had planned to run 4 – 6 trains an hour during the morning and evening peaks yesterday but were unable to do so due to rolling stock being unavailable as a result of the breakdowns caused by the extreme weather conditions.
The service this morning was considerably better, with a revised timetable offering around 70% of our full timetabled schedule in operation. Our key objective is to be able to offer the full Thameslink route service, as detailed in the December timetable, as soon as possible.
Our service was severely impacted by the exceptionally cold weather on Thursday 7 and Friday 8 January. One of the key benefits of the Thameslink route – the ability to travel from Bedford to Brighton without changing trains and stations in central London – can also be the reason for delays, as any disruption encountered either north or south of London will impact on the rest of the train’s journey.
On both days Network Rail restricted FCC services to the slow lines as the points on all junctions between Bedford and London were frozen. Icicles formed on the overhead power lines which often caused the tripping of these power lines. The build up of snow and ice caused the sliding doors to freeze on many trains. In addition the snow affected a number of traction motors, resulting in the trains having to be taken out of service.
No Thameslink route trains have been washed during the recent and current near freezing temperatures. In fact we have received a number of complaints about the outside of the trains being very dirty. A liquid de-icing fluid is sprayed around the doors to try to prevent them freezing up and the correct application process has been re-briefed.
When a train runs at speed it causes the snow lying on and around the track to swirl around. This snow tends to settle in the crevices around the sliding doors on the Class 319s and can then ice over. This is not a problem on the new Class 377 Electrostars neither on the Thameslink route nor on the Class 365s on the GN route, as these have plug doors.
As you know, the Class 319s are some 20 years old and are mid-life Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). The moving annual average number of miles between any technical failure causing a delay of 5 minutes or more is currently in excess of 14,500 – this makes it 10th best out of a list of 31 mid-life EMUs, which could only be achieved if our maintenance regime is robust. Of course we would like to see these trains perform better and will ensure that any lessons in relation to winter preparedness are learned.
Compensation to Thameslink route customers
Many customers will have heard that plans for further compensation above and beyond Delay Repay were being finalised. This was going to take the form of five tickets equivalent to five return journeys with First Capital Connect.
However, following the ongoing severe disruption to Thameslink route services due to the extreme weather conditions, we have reviewed the planned customer compensation package and now propose a revised and increased compensation deal. Details of this will follow in due course and we will advise how this can be claimed via our website.
We will contact you again as soon as we have received the result of the ballot from ASLEF.
With kind regards,
First Capital Connect'
Dorries v Toynbee
Posted Thursday, 7 January 2010 at 14:32
The Daily Politics Show and my defence of our position on marriage.
Love and Marriage
Posted Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at 12:40
It is a statistical and evidence based fact that couples who are married try harder at keeping a family together
Only 1:11 married couples split before their child’s fifth birthday whereas that figure is 1:3 for co-habiting couples.
Sadly, when marriage or relationship breakdown occurs, it is often the children who are caught in the middle. Would any child, when asked the question ‘would you prefer it if your mum and dad stayed together rather than split up’, answer ‘no’?
Even those children in dysfunctional families still love both parents and the fact that the "togetherness" of two parents provides them with double the security and parenting.
Yesterday, David Cameron restated his vow, his commitment, to support marriage and the family, should he become Prime Minister.
We are all aware of the problems we face in the society within which we live today.
Having spent a week on a council estate, where marriage is not even a part of the vocabulary, where literally thousands of single mums fail to control teenage boys and where stabbings, shootings, drugs and all level of general crime are a part of the fabric of council estate life, I am even more resolved in my own commitment to the fact that we absolutely have to return to the values which we know once kept our society stable and law abiding.
If not least because it’s those who struggle to bring up a family and do the decent thing that pick up the bill for the rest.
That bill may be financial, as we all have to pay extra taxes to fund the benefit system, the police, social services, security within schools, and the entire public service cost of a society in meltdown, or for some people the cost is more personal and real.
My law abiding hard working constituent, who was attacked in London on New Years Eve by a youth who had no father he knew of and had been released from a young offenders institute just before Christmas, has some very strong opinions on this.
The values which we know provide the framework for a decent and law abiding society have to be championed once again. I’m delighted that David Cameron has picked up the gauntlet and I know that if he becomes Prime Minister we will at the end of his first five years be able to look at the family and say, ‘yes, it’s in a much stronger place than it was five years ago’, and that has to be a good thing for us all.
Posted Sunday, 3 January 2010 at 21:47
Having just watched the Channel 4 Video, which looks at the possibility of a hung Parliament – http://tinyurl.com/ykxeybb a sentence jumped right out at me - ‘Tory votes tend to pile up in seats the Tories have already won’.
Could this possibly be because the majority of Tory MPs are hard working and conscientious, constituency MPs?
I personally abide by the motto instilled into me by my good friend, mentor and surrogate Grandfather, Sir Stanley Odell - ‘always remember Nadine, elections are won between elections, not during the General Election campaign, by then it is far too late’.
Wise words indeed.
A work of fiction?
Posted Friday, 1 January 2010 at 19:08
I have just read an amusing story in the Guardian, regarding the possible usurping of Bercow as Speaker at the beginning of a new Parliament http://tinyurl.com/c2mbcu
The article quotes the Cornerstone group as using its membership as a block vote 'threat' to force an election with the intention of removing Bercow.
No source is quoted anywhere in the article. As I am commonly known as the main protagonist against Bercow and as a member of the Cornerstone Steering Committee, I can’t help feeling that this article may be a work of fiction.
Ultimatums are never a good thing and rarely have good outcomes.
It is no secret that I hold the election of John Bercow as an insult to the office of the Speaker’s chair. He should go for so many reasons. The mere fact that Labour used the election as a hammer to hit the Conservative party over the head and that the election was politically motivated - is just one. The inappropriate interview given by his wife, who resides in grace and favour apartments, in which she insulted David Cameron, is another.
Regardless of how valid the reasons are and how excellent a candidate Edward Leigh would be, I for one would never condone the issuing of an ultimatum from Cornerstone and I doubt Edward Leigh would either.
If Bercow survives the General Election, the first business to be undertaken once the House sits is his re-election, which is usually just an academic process. Within this process is the opportunity for back-benchers to shout ‘NO’. I have no idea if it has ever happened before; however, I am quite sure if Bercow is in the chair it may happen this time.
Cornerstone may step up to the plate to support and campaign for Edward and when they do so, it will be done without threats, fairly, with good grace and decorum. If for no other reason than to highlight the difference between how the Labour party and the Conservatives treat such an important historical tradition and process.