Saturday 22 May 2010

New wordpress blog

Now blogging over at this site. Everything will be transferred over once I work out how to do it.

Friday 14 May 2010

Dodgy emails

OK, someone is having a laugh.... Not only have I been trying for months to stop Conservative campaign HQ sending me 'personal' and to be frank, rather over-friendly, emails from David Cameron, George Osborne and Eric Pickles, to both my own email account and to my parliamentary email address.... Latest example, from the man we must now learn to call the Prime Minister:

"Dear Kerry,

From the bottom of my heart - thank you.

Thank you for voting Conservative on Thursday. Every vote counts and you helped Britain vote for change.

More than that, I want to thank you for fighting and campaigning so hard for the past few weeks. I know how hard every supporter, member and activist worked during this campaign. I know how tough and gruelling it was. I know how tired you all feel now. You'll have blisters from all the pavements you've pounded; paper-cuts from the envelopes you've stuffed; bruised knuckles from the doors you've knocked on."

Etc, etc. I have been trying to compose bitingly sarcastic replies, but got stuck for inspiration and ended up just saying "Dear Dave. I am a Labour MP. Ergo..."

Anyway, if it were not bad enough that I've been unwittingly and completely involuntarily been conscripted into the Tory ranks, I also received last week:

- an email thanking me for signing up to receive news from the Liberal Democrats
- an email regarding my request to subscribe to the UKIP mailing list
- an email thanking me for signing up to Julia Goldsworthy's website and ticking the following options "I will display a poster at election time/ I can help with general campaigning/ I would like to join the Liberal Democrats/ I would like to recieve [sic] regular updates about Julia's Parliamentary work"

The last of those was received three days after she'd already lost the seat... if only I'd signed up sooner. She'd have been in the Cabinet now.

@actionaiduk - Make Your Mark

I've been asked by Action Aid to publicise this on my blog, and very happy to do so. It's part of a campaign to get 1000 new sponsors in the Bristol area to support children in developing countries. I've been sponsoring a little boy, Baraka, in Tanzania, for a couple of years now, through Worldvision. In his first letter to me (written by an adult) he told me how he hoped to go to school one day; I now have pictures of him posing proudly in his new school uniform. It really is a rewarding experience, seeing how your donations actually make a difference to the life of the sponsored child, their family and their community, and worth doing if you can afford it.

Here's the press release from Action Aid:

"ActionAid is urging people in the South West to send in self portraits for a major public artwork before it’s too late. The deadline to ‘Make Your Mark’, and send a self portrait on a specially created template is Monday 17th May.

Unveiled on Bristol’s College Green on 1st June, a sea of West Country faces will make up this giant mosaic of the face of 5-year-old Enid from Uganda. Enid hopes to make her mark on her village by becoming a teacher. But first she needs to go to school. Making Your Mark and submitting a self portrait will help to raise awareness of the 72 million children around the world, like Enid, who do not attend school because of poverty.

West Country celebrities have already made their mark by submitting self portraits, including Bristolian comedy writer and actor Stephen Merchant; comedian Mark Watson and none-other-than Darth Vader himself (Bristol actor David Prowse).

Leading anti-poverty charity ActionAid is holding the event to help find a thousand new child sponsors in Bristol and the West Country, so they can support children like Enid and their communities. ActionAid works with communities to create an environment in which children can thrive. Regular donations from sponsors help communities turn that support into whatever’s needed most – whether it’s a new school building, trained teachers, healthcare services, clean water supplies or help to build sustainable livelihoods.

Mark Watson: “As a comedian I spend my life talking about myself, so I thought drawing myself would make a nice change.” [Despite his flippancy here, Mark Watson is very involved in this, and will be blogging and tweeting his way through Senegal for Action Aid soon - on Twitter as @watsoncomedian].

Bristol writer and actor, Stephen Merchant:
“I sponsor a child in India. My donation each month helps to support her and her entire community - it’s such a rewarding relationship.”

Liz Waldy, Head of Supporter Marketing at ActionAid:
“Sponsoring a child is a unique way of getting help direct to the people who need it most. ActionAid works with the world’s poorest people, helping them access many of the things we take for granted like education, healthcare and clean water.”

More info & self portrait templates available
on the Action Aid site."

Tuesday 4 May 2010

M32 park-and-ride

One other issue I just wanted to flag up, before going out on door-knocking again... the M32 park-and-ride. To summarise very briefly. Yes to more park-and-ride schemes, and for that we need cross-border co-operation, which I suspect will only come when we finally get an Integrated Transport Authority. Yes to a park-and-ride scheme for the M32, as the congestion and queues coming into Bristol is pretty bad and will only get worse. No to putting it on the Stapleton allotments site, which is opposed by the vast majority of residents, will increase pollution in the area and - it seems, according to the rather daft plan - lead to more traffic heading through Stapleton village.

Where have all the Green Tories gone?

Over on my website I've listed some of the pledges I've signed up to during the course of this campaign; it's by no means an exhaustive list, but covers some of those I've been asked to sign by several constituents, or perhaps those I feel particularly strongly about. One such pledge was from Friends of the Earth, which is featured in a Guardian report today, highlighting how few Tory candidates have signed up to it.

The four parts to the pledge are:
  • international agreement to tackle climate change, where those responsible make the deepest cuts first and developing countries are supported to grow in a local carbon way;
  • local carbon budgets;
  • a 42% reduction in UK emissions by 2020;
  • tackling greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation caused by the UK's dependence on imported feeds for livestock.

I'm not sure where on the Friends of the Earth website you can check which candidates have signed up to the pledge, 'though I've found the bit which records how many letters each local candidate has been sent. (I've had six, the Tory has had nine).

Anyway, for the record, I signed up to three out of four of the pledges, and gave the other one half a thumbs up. (That was the one on a 42% cut in emissions by 2020. Ed Miliband has said that signing up to a new agreement would mean increasing our current commitment to cut emissions by 34% by 2020, and it would have been easy for me to go along with the 42%, but I'm just not sure it's deliverable and didn't want to make an empty promise. But in theory, yes, we need to up our targets and be more ambitious).

My most enthusiastic response was, as you might expect, for the "Fix the Food Chain" pledge, about livestock's impact on the environment. I may not be one of the 277 MPs who signed the Early Day Motion on this (because I couldn't, not being a backbencher), but I think I'm still the only MP to have called a debate on the topic in the Commons.

By the way - the last hustings of the Bristol East campaign is tonight, at the City Academy, hosted by Greenpeace. I've watched the Bristol West one online, on Paul Smith's website, (well, it's two hours long and I can't claim to have given it my undivided attention, but it was on in the background). It will be interesting to see how the questions differ in our patch.

Change we see - or will see!

Juggling all sorts of stuff in the office at the moment, i.e emails and letters that need to go out before Thursday, plus still a fair amount of ongoing casework. One of the things about spending so much time out and about in the constituency is the overall picture that begins to emerge, of priorities and current concerns. Of course I've had five years representing three-quarters of the new Bristol East constituency, but changing demographics, economic circumstances, things closing down or opening up, all make a difference over time.

One issue is the conversion of private housing into flats, which is something I've become more and more concerned about over time. (Indeed I may have blogged about it quite recently? Anyway, I'm doing so again!) I think it's a trend that has been exacerbated by the recession, with developers buying up repossessed properties and turning them into flats, which generate far higher profits for them. Planning permission seems to be readily granted, despite objections from local residents about additional pressures on parking and more traffic. I think the concerns go wider than this. For a start, it's yet another family house lost, and we have a real shortage of them in Bristol. Secondly, it changes the nature of the neighbourhood, if there's a steady turnover of tenants, some of whom might not care so much about keeping their front yards tidy, or getting on with their neighbours.

This, incidentally, is something addressed by Labour's plans for the local authorities to keep a full register of all private landlords, so that they can far more easily be held responsible for the actions of their tenants, even if the landlords themselves don't live on the premises. But we also need Bristol City Council to factor this into their planning policies, so that we don't see development by stealth, until our communities become choc-a-bloc with flats and cars and parking problems. I am, by the way, very keen on promoting urban living too, and more flats being built in the city centre, e.g. warehouse conversions. It's transformed city-centre living in Manchester, and I think areas like Redcliffe are ripe for such development.

On a related point, I never got round to blogging about the meeting I had a few months ago with the developers behind the Parcel Force building along Cattle Market road, i.e. the huge derelict building you see as you pull into Temple Meads. (I said it was an eyesore, they weren't happy, we had a meeting at which we ended up going completely off topic and talking about independent record labels of the early 1980s and how much we missed Tony Wilson, from what I recall). I'm not sure how much they want in the public domain at the moment, nor what's happened in the last couple of months, but let's just say that if they pull it off, it will be a fantastic project and really bring life to that part of the city.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Vote for animals

Just picked up an email telling me that Protecting Animals in Democracy have decided to endorse me "as the best voting option in your constituency to protect millions of animals from the cruelty of bloodsports, intensive farming and painful experiments."

The email goes on to say: "We believe that the way we treat animals is a fundamental indication of the state of our society, and 87% of the public agree, according to a YouGov opinion poll. Your support for measures to protect animals is, therefore, a positive sign that you have the character and values much needed to stand in Parliament and help restore the integrity of our political system. We wish you the very best of luck in the General Election, and we hope we can work with you in the next Parliament to build a more compassionate society where animals are treated as individuals worthy of respect rather than expendable objects to be exploited and abused."

You can check out candidates' responses to the PAD questionnaire here: