Monday, 20 April 2015

R is Riding for the Disabled

The RDA is a wonderful national charity manned by volunteers to provide riding lessons for disabled children & adults.
Thanks to the hard work & commitment of Northumbrians, for the last 7 years there has been the amazing Pegasus centre at Tranwell near Morpeth for users from across the county & Tyneside to use. For those with serve disabilities the experience of interacting with a horse can be truly liberating, and families have told me that these sessions give their child a sense of purpose, achievement & freedom almost impossible to experience in any other way.  The Centre runs on donations and volunteer manpower, so do go for a visit and see how you might get involved.

Reducing Fuel Prices

During the 2010 election campaign one of the key challenges for rural dwellers was the exorbitant cost of fuel, for families where having a car is simply vital.  The Thropton petrol station was selling fuel at 152p per litre exactly five years ago.  Today it was selling for 132p.
This is one of the most rural petrol stations and whilst it's prices are always higher than town centres, it's important to maintain it for so many reasons of community & accessibility.

R is for Rest & Relaxation

Sunday is meant to be the day of rest after a busy week, but an election campaign rather knocks that theory on the head as the looming deadline of 7th May means that it's all hands to the pumps 7 days a week to get all those leaflets and letters delivered. My team is made up of hundreds of volunteers each delivering a small part of our vast constituency of over 1,000 square miles. Huge thanks to so many unsung heroes who want to see a Conservative MP returned for Berwick and give up their free time to help share our message & plans.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Q is for Quality Motors

I spent the day with a great big campaign team of volunteers all across the Coquet Valley, from Rothbury right up to Alnham & Biddlestone. And to entertain and energise us, there was a happy band of quality motors with their sheepskin jacket-clad drivers, World War II Jeeps and other vehicles, on a tour of the Valley.  They waved to us as they left Rothbury, then we came across them again as they poured off the hills into Hepple, and then late afternoon they clattered through Thropton on their last leg back to the Riverside car park. They oozed excitement at the tough physical challenges and all that we feel is somehow best of British and the Colditz wartime spirit.

Q is for Queen

No, we haven't had the honour to welcome Her Majesty to our corner of England, but it seems that our TV channels are providing us with weekend entertainment of several programmes on our wonderful Monarch- perhaps to remind us all that despite the madness of the general election campaign, we are the luckiest nation on earth, as we have Queen Elizabeth II leading our nation regardless of the colour of its government.

Q is for Quentin

Well, luck must be on my side! As the letter Q loomed into view yesterday, I was beginning to wonder if the day's events would proffer an obvious letter connection....

And then the inimitable Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail columnist & theatre critics called me, asking to come up and meet me to hear about how our election campaign is going.  I am looking forward to hearing how he sees our chances up here in the northernmost reach of England.  What will he make of our most beautiful landscape, our warm & welcoming residents, an area so desperately in need on infrastructure investment after 42 years of being out in the cold politically?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

P is for Patrick

One of my favourite ministers is Patrick McLaughlin, Secretary of State for Transport. He is the man who was willing to listen to and then act on our Dual the A1 campaign's work setting out the vital need for investment in our farm track. He has committed an initial £290 million for the first 13 miles of dualling & other improvements up to Berwick.
And he was visiting us again, re-iterating the security of the funding within the £5bn Roads Strategy which is now rolling out. It is only at risk should Labour take power - they did not support this legislation & if in coalition with the SNP I wonder if Scottish demands might override English ones. 

P is for a Proper Train
As part of Patrick's visit we went to see the wonderful Aln Valley Railway at the Lionheart Works in Alnwick. This is a truly heroic effort of volunteering by a devoted group of steam train enthusiasts - by day engineers, computing specialists, modern train signalmen, retired teachers and others. They have spent the last three years turning a field into the first stretch of new track - laid by hand, restoring steam engines & building works buildings, a museum and cafe for visitors to come and experience the world of steam.
Their vision continues, with plans to get a full cyclepath to link Alnwick to Alnmouth, and eventually the train too. I reckon Brunel would be impressed by their shared talents, determination & passion.

P is for Pipes

The Northumbrian Pipes are part of our county's unique musical and folk history, a small (indoor) version of those fearsome war pipes from across the Border, the bagpipes. But where the bagpipes were used to frighten away the oncoming enemy (so often the English!), Northumbrian pipes bring a warmth and welcome which fits so well with Northumbrians' welcoming & outward looking attitude to visitors and newcomers.
Our own Northumbrian pipes are having a resurgence right now, as the Northumbrian Pipers Association reaches out to schools here to encourage the next generation to discover its tunes and stories. My daughter is a keen player and lover of a musical tradition which I hope will continue to thrive and tell tales of welcome & openness for centuries to come. Perhaps they can help quell Scotland's SNP voices in favour of cohesion and nation-building.

Friday, 17 April 2015

O is for Optimism

The whole business of politics is all about the future, and whose offer encourages & provides  an optimistic outlook for us, the voters.  I hate all the negative campaigning that goes on, the  messages of criticism of others, when what voters want to know is "why should I vote for you?"  

I support the campaign which David Cameron has launched as part of our Conservative Manifesto, that of a Brighter, more Secure Britain.  I want a strong economy which can support our public services without resorting to continued excessive borrowing, where those who can work are encouraged & given the right skills, and get to keep the rewards of their efforts.  And for those who need support, our strong economy will be able to provide a better, more effective & substantial safety net to protect them.

O is for Ornithology
As a hidden rural haven, North Northumberland has exceptional wildlife, and especially birds- from the many seafaring birds on our coastline to the curlews which fly over the Cheviot Hills calling out over the moorland heather with their inimitable cry. Out on the Farne Islands, we have extensive populations of puffins and gulls, which breed every spring on our special coastline.  The National Trust is responsible for maintaining and protecting the breeding ground for this wildlife, whilst making it available to visit and explore by tourists keen to experience a unique series of Islands by boat from Seahouses Harbour.

O is for obstetrics
At many of the hustings I am involved with as the Conservative Candidate, the question of maternity services in Berwick is regularly raised.  The changing modern medical framework from the NHS on safe maternity provision is a challenge for us to keep up with, but the reality is that our doctors are charged with reducing risk in childbirth by ensuring that high risk mums (that's things like older women, mums with a high BMI, women with diabetes and other longterm health issues) are in a safe unit where consultant led provision is available in case of complications.

We persuaded our Northumbria Healthcare Trust (which runs all our local hospitals) to maintain midwife led services in Berwick & Alnwick.  Expectant mums therefore have a choice for delivery of their babies, but they tend to follow the direction of their doctor as to whether their child's birth will be low risk.  The Trust are committed to continuing this provision in the new Berwick Infirmary being built, and I will be continuing to talk with doctors and pregnant mums to make sure the best options remain available across North Northumberland.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

N is for Nobody's Perfect

As the election campaign picks up speed, the media are doing more to highlight what our party policies are, and offering us up to the electorate for analysis and difference. The BBC organised an outdoor hustings on Marygate in Berwick upon Tweed, inviting passers-by to come and ask us (well, 4 of the 6 candidates- the Greens & English Democrats were not included ) for our views.

The questioners asked about:
* getting better shop variety into the town;
* the inadequate provision of emergency ambulance cover in Berwick;
* what we would each do to fix the town after 42 years of a libdem MP who had done nothing for the town;
* our thoughts on the regeneration of derelict buildings in Berwick for future business & community growth.

Many of the questioners were looking for solutions to problems which should be resolvable within the County Council area of authority, and finding ways to increase real support from the distant Council is clearly needed.

At the end of the day, this election is a market- each party offers its manifesto & philosophy, and every voter has to choose the one he or she likes best.  But of course for many voters, they like some offers from all of the candidates, but not others. Nobody's a perfect fit for everyone.

So a choice has to be made either on a specific manifesto commitment (e.g. Conservatives commit to doubling free child care for 3 & 4 year olds to 30 hours per week) or on a general philosophy (e.g. Labour believes in a larger state taking more of our hard earned income, & determining on our behalf how to spend it v Conservatives  who want a smaller state leaving electors more in their pocket to decide how to spend it for themselves).

N is for Northumberland

Whoever wins the honour of being our MP on May 8th will become an advocate and town cryer for Northumberland down in Westminster.  Our county is often known as the Secret Kingdom, a valued & well kept secret of treasures, from its beaches & castles to the Cheviot Hills and ancient market towns. But if we want them to thrive in the 21st century, the MP must advocate for investment for infrastructure so that new businesses can set up here to provide new & better quality jobs to keep our economies growing.  Berwick constituency  has some of the lowest wage levels in the country - for me, getting a better base from which to build a stronger, more resilient economy for our residents is a vital part of the new MP's job.

N is for Nudge

The Conservative Manifesto now published is all about providing tools to empower working people to be rewarded for their efforts. 

Some of our key commitments for the next Parliament include:

* increased free childcare support for working mums - so those mums who want or need to get back to work before their kids start school are better supported to cover expensive childcare costs;
*to increasing the threshold for Inheritance Tax for a married couple from £650,000 to £1 million, ensuring that nearly all families who have simply worked hard, bought a home and looked after it will not now be taxed on that asset due to market forces increasing its value;
* to free up Right to Buy for residents in Housing Association homes, who have been excluded from the opportunity to date.  And ensuring that funds raised by councils & housing associations from house sales are recycled straight into new builds.

But fundamentally voting Conservative means you will get continued fiscal rectitude, a determination for our Government bills not to exceed the income received through taxation, in order to balance the annual books and start to reduce the mind-bogglingly large debt mountain built up by Gordon Brown's willingness to overspend across Whitehall for years.

George Osborne is bringing government spending back into order, and he has done so whilst building an economic framework for private sector growth unimagined 5 years ago.  2 million new jobs are starting to build a healthy economy once again. The voter must decide if they want to continue this journey with the Conservatives, or risk Labour's profligate spending habits once again.  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

M is Minister in his Prime

It was a pleasure to welcome Prime Minister David Cameron to Alnwick for a walkabout down our main shopping street.  He was able to meet with Mark Turnbull, of Award-winning butchers Turnbull & sons.  The issue of supermarket competition was discussed, and Mr Cameron followed his own philosophy of "Use It or Lose It" by buying a pound of Turnbull's Northumberland Sausage to take home for his children's' tea.  Good choice PM!

He also met Alnwick Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Carlo Biagioni, who runs our famous Carlo's fish & chip shop. They discussed the thorny problem of business rates for in-town v out-of-town shops, and David Cameron was encouraging on the business rates review ongoing to help get the balance right for our small, ancient market towns.

David Cameron is always calm, considered, and caring.  It was fascinating to watch him chatting to local people and holiday makers, listening to a wide variety of issues and answering honestly and clearly how our plans will support those.  The final chat with the ladies from the estate agents was funny, because he knew what we didn't then, that the manifesto includes a massive boost to Right to Buy. He was suitably circumspect.

We also visited the offices of the Northumberland Gazette newspaper, and heard about the changing ways of the newshound, social media and online advertising.  The editor had a copy of the newspaper from 100 years ago on display, and the old broadsheet was pages and pages of adverts for local products.  We just do things differently nowadays.

M is for Manifestos
The Labour Party has launched their manifesto, with this rather frightening attempt by Ed Miliband to claim that he is now fiscally responsible, even though he still hasn't apologised at all for the fiscal chaos which he helped to create under Gordon Brown.

We launch our Conservative Manifesto tomorrow, as do the Greens, then the other parties by the end of the week.  The challenge this time is for all voters to have a clear picture of what the smaller parties consider their "red lines" in case a coalition needs to be built, because otherwise it's impossible to decide - but of course the best solution is to vote Conservative and ensure a majority victory!

Monday, 13 April 2015

L is for Lambs

I know when spring is arriving in Northumberland, because our miles of green fields along all our roads start to fill with gambolling lambs of every hue.  Our county is one of the key areas of England for lambing, providing best of British lamb for our families to enjoy in the months ahead.

The new arrivals bound about, chasing each other around their fields, and generally behaving with innocent enthusiasm like our own children.  The sense of renewal and hope which spring brings is so very good for our health, mental and physical.

L is for Longevity

At the other end of the spectrum, the wisdom of our communities is held in the laps of our elderly, with 1 million more living longer than ever.  I sometimes feel that we just don't value them enough, nor do we join up the departmental areas which are involved with elderly care, financing for their care, supporting their savings and  allowing them to choose how to pass it on to their families.

Which is why I am continuing to call on David Cameron to create a new role of a Older Persons Minister if we win the election- a role which would cut across departmental silos to work towards joining up the issues for our growing elderly population.  Professor Tom Kirkwood, of the Institute for Ageing at Newcastle University, has done extensive work on how we can both value and appreciate all that older people can bring to our society, alongside making sure we look after those who have looked after us for decades and now need a safe and enjoyable old age framework.