Thursday 13 December 2007

The weekend

Early start tomorrow: I'm undertaking the traditional MP's Christmas visit to their local sorting office, to see how they handle the Christmas post. Then I'm doing Original FM at 9am, talking about drugs funding, then off to St Anne's Infants at 10am to present the winner of my Christmas card competition with their prize. I'm also doing a surgery at Barton Hill Settlement. On Saturday it's a street surgery in Eastville, then an afternoon of interviews for a vacancy in my constituency office, and then shaking a collection tin outside Tesco's in Eastville on the 7-9pm shift, raising funds for Caring for Christmas' homeless shelter. Sunday is not quite last minute Christmas shopping day!

Travelling by train

Got back to Bristol quite early tonight, having caught the 8pm from Paddington with friend and local Labour activist, Kelvin. In 2006, just after the local elections, Kelvin came off his motorbike and severed his spinal cord, so he's now a wheelchair user. It was a bit of an eye-opener travelling with him. We looked for the disabled carriage, but couldn't find it (although it later turned out that it was in coach D and we'd only checked out coach E where it usually is). So we tried the first class carriage. The problem is, the gangways by the luggage racks are just a little bit too narrow for his wheelchair, so he has to remove one wheel and precariously balance on the other to squeeze through. He's had to do this on quite a few occasions on his journeys too and from London when there have been no disabled carriages. The trains have recently been refitted, so why couldn't FGW have just made the doorways an inch wider?

Kelvin had complained to FGW about this issue and other problems facing wheelchair users on their trains - see his website

The arena is scrapped

I am really disappointed by today's news that the plug has been pulled on the Bristol arena project, not least because there was always the feeling that it would never quite be made to happen, that the sheer will to pull off a development on this scale wasn't quite there.

I've made the comparison before between Bristol and Manchester, where they manage to deliver hugely ambitious schemes and have completely transformed the city over the past 20 years. OK, there is a lot of regeneration now going on in Bristol, including in the Temple Quarter, but the failure of the arena project is still a big blow. I hope this isn't the end of the road; Bristol badly needs a decent-sized venue and, as I said in today's Evening Post, there is more to regeneration than just building homes and offices.

The sun and the wind

I liked this bit from Gordon's interview in today's Times:

’Very quietly we have put solar panels on our home in Scotland quite some time ago. We have been operating with solar power for some time … The irony is my initial instinct was to have wind turbines. We are in a hill in an exposed area but I was persuaded by people who know about these things that even in that area — surrounded by massive winds & storms — solar power was a better way of generating electricity. It has been successful. Of all the different things that we deal with privately rather than ostentatiously, so as to get on with the business, you can make big changes & have an impact’.

Tuesday 11 December 2007


Have just been into a Westminster Hall debate to hear Dan Norris, MP for Wansdyke, make the case against the closure of the Cadbury's factory in Keynsham, following on from our very, very wet march through Keynsham on Saturday.

Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, was also there for the debate (though not for Saturday's march). Sadly, he didn't reprise his now infamous quote given to the Bristol Evening Post when news of the closure first hit the headlines.

When asked by the paper about the closure, Roger Berry MP said: "Those who work at the factory have shown great loyalty to the company. Now it's time for the company to repay that." Sam Townend, Labour PPC for Bristol North West said: "I cannot understand why the company would want to take the work away from Keynsham.... I don't think they have fully considered the costs of transporting the products all the way from Poland." Glyn Ford MEP pledged "to do whatever I can to try to prevent the closure by doing whatever work I can on a European level". And I was quoted as saying "Cadbury's is more than just a local employer, it's been at the heart of the community for many years, and I would expect to see a sense of loyalty to the town and its people. It's not just the jobs at the factory that are at risk, but many others within the local economy too, from suppliers to local shops and services."

And Stephen Williams? "My favourite bars are Fry's Turkish Delight and Chocolate Cream"....

Monday 10 December 2007

Another unfair rise in fares

So First are putting up their fares yet again. This time last year when they introduced above inflation increases on single/ return fares, and again in July when they hiked up the price of their season tickets, I said that people might be prepared to pay more if they were getting a decent bus service - but despite the fare rises, the service still hasn't improved. (At least not if the regular flow of complaints from my constituents is anything to go by.) You would think that with the Local Transport Bill going through Parliament at the moment, which will give councils potentially more control over local bus services , the bus company might be a bit keener to prove that it is providing a decent service in Bristol.

Saturday 8 December 2007

The glamour of being an MP

As everyone knows, MPs lead incredibly glamorous and cosmopolitan lives, hob-nobbing with the great and the good, drinking champagne and nibbling on canapes as we discuss world affairs and exchange titbits of political gossip. If only...

True, I did have invites to five Christmas parties/ receptions on Tuesday night, including what may have been a celebrity-laden ITV bash, but I ended up spending the whole evening in my Westminster office, helping Ministers prepare for DFID questions the next day.

Yesterday saw me back in Bristol, with a surgery south of the river, in Brislington. We were using one of our regular venues, St Lukes Church Hall, to which we've been given a key. Unfortunately the caseworker who knows where the key is kept is in Ireland, and we couldn't get hold of her. Still, we thought that taking the mysterious key with a tab saying "Hall" attached was probably a safe bet. It wasn't. We ended up conducting the entire surgery sitting on the wall outside, in the freezing cold - although one kind constituent did allow us to sit in her car. Some very complex problems raised, including a young mother who had her child taken into care because she has mental health problems; I've promised to do what I can to help.

Today was the march and rally in Keynsham, against the closure of Cadbury's. It rained. Actually, that is an understatement. It rained and rained and rained and rained. We all got very wet, but it's an indication of the level of support for the campaign that about 300 or more people did turn up, and as we marched - or rather, squelched - along the High Street, all the shop workers turned out to applaud us on our way. We ended up back in Memorial Park to hear speeches and a band signing "I am a Cadbury's worker" to the tune of a Wurzels song. (It may even have been the Wurzels - I am too short and the umbrellas were too big for me to have a clue what was going on on stage). I did see Jacob Rees-Mogg however, looking rather bewildered. He's their Tory candidate for the next election and looked somewhat out of place amongst the trade union banners and the women trying to sell soggy copies of Socialist Worker.

It is at times like this, as I sit here in the constituency office on a dismal Saturday afternoon, that I wonder about the parallel universe inhabited by the likes of Sir Peter Tapsell and Sir Patrick Cormack, the grandest of Tory grandees. Whenever Sir Patrick does one of his regular diaries for the House magazine, life seems to be an endless whirl of art exhibitions, classical music concerts, quaffing fine wines and the occasional speech at the Golf Club.

Anyway, I am definitely going to the Fabians Christmas party next Wednesday. Definitely.

Wednesday 5 December 2007

DFID questions

I've just returned to office from PMQs, which was preceded this week by International Development questions. The Tories' front bench spokesman, Andrew Mitchell, had the temerity to attack us for not giving enough aid to Burma.

Fact: we've just announced we'll be doubling aid to Burma over the next CSR period, bringing it up to £18 million. This puts us on a trajectory to quadruple aid by 2013, as recommended by the International Development Select committee following its recent visit to Burma.

In 1997, when Labour took office, how much was the UK giving in aid to Burma? £250,000. And in 1991/2, it was a pitiful £53,000.

As everyone knows, or should know, not all the questions that appear on the Order Paper are the product of MPs' fertile imaginations. Some are what may be described as "inspired" questions - i.e. inspired by someone else! For DFID questions this week, the Tory whips had once again been busy. Two out of the top five questions were Tories asking for a statement on Burma, and another two were Tories asking for a statement on Zimbabwe. They've been pushing these issues at DFID and FCO questions for months now, and don't seem interested in much else. (I have my theories as to why this is....)

Although they're both obviously important topics, it does get a bit frustrating - there have been debates in the main Chamber on Zimbabwe and Burma recently, and there's a three hour Westminster Hall debate on Burma tomorrow. It would have been good to have got on to the next few questions, on issues like climate change (with the Bali conference underway), HIV/ AIDS (coming a few days after World AIDS day), and democracy in Somaliland.