Tuesday 26 February 2008

First on the ropes

Another late night tonight, debating the EU treaty. It's EU institutions day today, so there were some 20 pages worth of amendments from Bill Cash on yesterday's order paper; thankfully not all of them selected for debate.

I missed the Lib Dems staged walk out earlier - a protest against the Speaker not selecting for debate their amendment on a referendum on continued EU membership - but that means they're boycotting the rest of today's proceedings. I bumped into one of their MPs as she was leaving for the night, who smugly told me she was looking forward to an evening in front of the television with a glass of wine. Alright for some!

We start voting at 11.11pm, so might get home by midnight; some poor souls have to stay even later to make up a quorum on the local government boundaries - Staffordshire tonight, I think, with the mighty Gwyneth doing battle on behalf of Crewe. [Correction - I mean Cheshire! Crewe is in Cheshire - I knew that really]. So I'm in the office having a brief break trying to gather my thoughts for a Westminster Hall child poverty debate tomorrow.

Has been lots happening today. I don't think many people realise the significance of the First Great Western announcement; it means they really are drinking in the last chance saloon. If they don't show significant improvements over the coming year, the franchise can be taken away from them - and because standards will be judged on average performance over the year, they have to start showing improvements very soon. I've put in for a debate on the future of the franchise, but won't know for another week or so if I've been successful. And I'm also due to meet the new management on 7th March, which will be "interesting".

Meanwhile, First Group buses have linked up with Save the Children to campaign on child poverty. I might have something to say on that very soon!

Saturday 23 February 2008

Bristol-Bath cycle path

I've joined the Facebook group "I do not want the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path to turn into a Bus Lane!" and have been carefully following the debate on the Sustrans website, where a series of letters between Sustrans and Cllr Mark Bradshaw have been published:


As I've made clear elsewhere, I'm very much in favour of doing whatever we can to develop bus travel (and other forms of public transport) in the city, including finally getting our hands on the £42 million promised by the Government for Showcase Bus Routes. It's got to be an absolute priority, given the appalling congestion on our roads, and the poor quality of public transport at the moment. But there is plenty we can do on this front without interfering with people's enjoyment of the cycle path.

The West of England Partnership has promised to consult widely on the proposals, and I hope they genuinely listen to the people who so value - and, most importantly, actually use - the cycle path. I hope a solution can be found that will meet our public transport objectives and keep walkers and cyclists happy.

Fairtrade Fortnight

Have been doing quite a lot over the past week to promote Fairtrade Fortnight, which starts on Monday. I'm doing a survey of constituents, asking about the extent to which they're prepared, as consumers, to support fair trade and what, if anything, they think the Government should be doing to promote it. Hope to be able to put the survey on the website too, technology permitting.

Good also to hear from Original FM that they're going to be covering fair trade over the next couple of weeks. I recorded a brief piece with them on Friday which is going out as part of a special feature on Sunday. Their listeners are exactly the sort of people who are most likely to suport fair trade, and to encourage others to sign up, even if it's just by making small changes to their behaviour like buying fair trade teabags or chocolate. (One way to feel virtuous when you're being self-indulgent!)

Today also saw an announcement from Tate and Lyle - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7260211.stm - that all their sugar is going to be Fairtrade accredited by the end of 2009 - the biggest fair trade endorsement by a UK company. They're starting with their sugar from Belize, which is also the source of Green and Black's fair trade Maya Gold chocolate.

Fairtrade fortnight is being launched in Bristol at the Create centre on Monday, and the Fairtrade bus will be out and about in the city centre over the next couple of weekends. Have a look at the Bristol Fairtrade Network site for more details, and info on where you can buy fair trade in Bristol: http://www.bristolfairtradenetwork.org.uk.

Wednesday 20 February 2008


We finished at about midnight last night, although the Scots and Welsh MPs and the whips had to stay till 2am to make up a quorum on a debate about reorganising local government boundaries in Shropshire. (I did my stint at staying late on that last week, when we did Wiltshire).

Today was a classic example of just how varied an MP's work is. First official thing was PPS-ing for a DFID debate in Westminster Hall, on Development Aid and Oil Extraction brought by Andrew Smith MP who has both Oxfam and People and Planet based in his constituency.

Before it started I caught the Local Government Minister's response to a debate on regeneration funding in Leeds, which seems to be in the same position as Bristol, i.e. they've benefitted from millions in Neighbourhood Renewal funding since 2001, but don't qualify for the replacement scheme, the Working Neighbourhood's Fund, which is more employment focused.

Then PMQs, where I was up at Q5. I thought it was Gordon's best performance to date, and his jibe about Cameron indulging in student politics certainly hit the mark. I asked about long-term youth unemployment, and families where a culture of being out of work is being passed on from one generation to the next. Do we write them off, or do we get tough? Later on in the day I did BBC Radio Bristol's Drivetime show on the same topic. The PM had mentioned apprenticeships in his response, and the show's presenter said that there seemed to be a common misconception that apprenticeships no longer exist, whereas in fact employers are having trouble finding people to fill them. People simply don't realise quite how much this Government has been doing on this front, which is a bit frustrating.

After PMQs and the Home Secretary's statement on citizenship, it was time for a fair trade photo op with the Secretary of State for International Development, which I'd organised. As a loyal PPS my role was to raid my cupboards for fair trade tea, coffee, jam, bananas, as props for the photo shoot, and to do some last minute shopping for roses and chocolate. The aim was to highlight Fairtrade fortnight, which starts on Monday - and we had nearly 60 Labour MPs turn up, all keen to show their support.

Then it was off to the first meeting of the Severn Barrage Feasbility Forum, a cross party meeting of Welsh and South West MPs which was chaired by John Hutton, Sec of State at DBERR and also attended by Phil Woolas, the Climate Change Minister, and various members of the Welsh Assembly. The meeting was full of MPs who have been talking about the barrage since the 1980s - including my neighbour Doug Naysmith was chair of Bristol Port Authority back then. Let's hope this time we do more than just talk.

Then it was back to the office to do some paperwork, make some calls, organise a fairtrade survey which I'm sending out to constituents this weekend, and to start preparing for a child poverty debate next week - all interrupted by a series of votes on the EU treaty. Voting later than usual tonight, but the division bell has just gone!

Tuesday 19 February 2008


Like most of my colleagues I've been developing something of an obsession with the US primaries, or at least the Democratic race.

I re-read Primary Colours last week, and have now started Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". I thought it would be one of those books that everyone has on their bookshelves but no-one quite gets round to reading, but it's actually very good; just when you think it's getting a little repetitive he comes up with a way of putting something which actually really resonates.
Of course it was probably written with at least one eye on running for president, but he still comes across as genuine and thoughtful.

Wisconsin polls close at 8pm their time tonight; we'll probably still be here for the exit polls.

Blogging again

OK, I have finally been nagged into starting blogging again. No excuse except I just got out of the habit during the run up to Christmas and then it always seems as if you need something of great profundity to say if you're going to start again after a long hiatus. Which I don't.

Anyway, we are being held captive in the Commons till at least midnight, voting on nationalising Northern Rock, so definitely no excuse tonight... Except for the fact that the division bell has just gone for Second Reading. I'll be back!