Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Z is for Zebras in Berwick !

Who would have thought it? Zebras in Berwick? Our visit to many small traders on Bridge street with William Hague brought us to the window of the Bazaar, where, in honour of the Annual Riding of the bounds! the window was dressed in horses supporting Newcastle a United (as my son once described them!!)

It is encouraging to see the growth of small businesses in town, and I will continue to push for more involvement from County Hall's redevelopment team to find practical, job creating uses for the derelict buildings which scar our beautiful ancient town. 900 years old this year officially!

Z is for zoology

We have a great deal of extraordinary wildlife across this constituency, from birds like curlew on our moors to dolphins, puffins, arctic terns and many more around our unique Farne Islands off the coast at Seahouses.  This National Trust owned archipelago of Islands is invaded every spring by thousands of birds who breed here.  The boats of Billy Shiel & others can take you from the Seahouses Harbour out to see this wildlife - but just remember to take an umbrella, so that when the birds decide to dive bomb your boat, your head is protected! It's an unmissable experience.

Z is for Zooming About

The Chancellor started his final tour of the country before Election Day in our patch, meeting with local business leaders in Alnwick to hear how their businesses are doing.  Good stories abound, from housebuilding growth to renewable energy installations. There is work to do on the Business Rates Review to ensure that out-of-town stores pay their dues as they are now the "prime" sites with easy parking.  The old market town centre sites are not prime sites since access and parking are much more restricted into the modern age, and taxation should reflect that accordingly.  If I am elected, this Review, and our input into it, is high on my agenda.

Z is for Zzzzzzzzzzz...
As Election Day looms into view, I will now leave you all to your own private thoughts on casting your vote. The most important thing is that you do vote, for whichever party offers what you are looking for, and that you encourage any recalcitrants to join you.  I continue to be amazed at the number of people who "don't think they will bother".  We only have to watch the queues of people in new democracies lining up to cast their first vote how valuable living in a real democracy is.  I will continue to try to find way to engage with a positive message to those voters who feel separated from our systems of government.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Y is for Yetholm

Across our amazing constituency of over 1,000 square miles, are small villages & hamlets which have been inhabited for hundreds of years to support agriculture. At the north west tip, just across the present border with Scotland, is the community of Town Yetholm. Here is the final point of the Pennine Way, which has brought walkers 270 miles along the Pennine Ridge from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, and finally over Cheviot into Scotland ( A spectacular way to reach the border, it is perhaps the slower option these days, and we need to ensure that the next Government continues the work & investment it has begun under David Cameron to build modern, fit-for-purpose road, train & port networks. 

Y is for Yeavering
 A little further south from Yetholm is the ancient Anglo-Saxon site of Yeavering. Yeavering is situated at the western end of the Glendale Valley, where the Cheviots foothills give way to the Tweed Valley. Yeavering's most prominent feature is the twin-peaked hill, which was used as a hillfort in the Iron Age. 

Northumbria was one of four main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during the 7th century, and Ad Gefrin, the old name for Yeavering, is the best-known excavated example of a royal centre of the kings of Northumbria.  It was here that Christianity first found a foothold in the north, with events recorded by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. 

This ancient historic part of our nation has watched rulers come and go; our deep valleys have hidden and protected rebels from North and South over centuries; and the rivers continue to flow as the latest battle for power reaches a climax. The impending political incursion of the SNP into English territory - where a Labour-led coalition would lead to Scottish nationalists determining many English tax & spending levels to protect their own- fills me with dread.  I want to see fresh new economic opportunities for our border constituency.  Voting Conservative to protect the Union and ensure England is not ignored has never been more important.

Y is for Why?!
So many people ask me why I put myself into the lion's den of British politics. And my answer remains, even after a rather bruising campaign with dirty tricks from some opponents, because I love my community and believe it has been neglected for too long.  

I hope that my financial skills, determination, refusal to take no for an answer, & my deep respect for the ancient historical roots in Northumberland of so much of modern life, can become a strong, new voice speaking out in Westminster to bring a fair deal to Northumbrians after decades of neglect. We shall discover when we count on Friday the votes cast this Thursday, 7th May, whether I have persuaded my friends & neighbours that I am the woman to represent Berwick upon Tweed & North Northumberland (that's 60 miles of coast from Berwick to Lynemouth!).

Saturday, 2 May 2015

X is for "Xtra, Xtra, read all about it"!

The merry month of May is upon us, the hawthorn is in full bloom, the rapeseed is coming into flower... And as of 8:34am this morning our great British monarchy has welcomed a new princess.  

In some ways a strange anachronism in the 21st century, in others a profoundly grounding and empowering moment as we meet the latest Princess of Cambridge (as yet unnamed), a girl born into a Royal family as the fourth in line, a position which will never be usurped by younger siblings.  As our unique British constitution steps forwards little by little, it's ancient stability also enshrines so many principles which are the envy of the world and to be cherished.

But quite simply as a Mum and family girl, the safe arrival of a new member of the family (whichever family!) is a joy to be celebrated, a future to be hopeful for, and a new life to protect.  Welcome!

x is for extraordinary people
I had the great pleasure to welcome William Hague to Berwick today, to meet local traders and shopkeepers,alongside their customers in the market.  

He is, of course, recognised by most and respected & loved by many, for his nearly 3 decades of public service to his country and his constituency.  He is a truly gifted orator, with that unique tone of voice and strong Yorkshire accent which lend his words a gravitas and earnestness.

He has written some extraordinary books, one on William Wilberforce, and one on Pitt the Younger. Both these men have my deepest respect, as they quite willingly took on their political establishments to change the course of history through major reforms.  Wilber with his campaign to stop the slave trade, and Pitt fighting Napoleon.  They were Members of parliament at the same time, and William Wilberforce said of his friend Pitt that, "For personal purity, disinterestedness and love of this country, I have never known his equal".

As William Hague leaves the House of Commons for pastures new, I would be pleased to reiterate those words for this William.  He will be missed by all in political life. I hope for some new literary works to compensate us for losing his oratorical skills at the despatch box.

X is for Marking your Vote
After the seemingly interminable election campaign- as far as many electors are concerned- we are now into the final countdown, as it is only 4 days until polling day. Hooray, I hear you cry, or perhaps, oh No, I still haven't worked out which party best fits my needs and aspirations.

Whichever is the case (& clearly I am hoping that you have set your mind at voting Conservative, for a stronger economy & brighter future) I implore everyone, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, to cast their unique and precious vote on Thursday.  The scenes we see on our TV screens of queues of voters in developing countries where having the vote is a new experience should remind us just how fortunate we are to have universal suffrage in the UK.  We must protect and nurture our democracy, the envy of the world, and cast our vote each & every time.

Monday, 27 April 2015

W is for War

As I wandered down Marygate in Berwick to meet up with an NHS campaign group, I came across a group of actors re-enacting a recruitment drive for young men to go to war in 1914.   A poignant scene, the young actors were being drilled by a scary Serjeant major as he attempted to get them to march in the same direction.  As commemoration services have taken place to remember the ghastly losses at Gallipoli 100 years ago, the cost of war on families and communities who lost so many young men is brought back to our attention.

As a mother of teenagers, I often think about the frightening sense of loss and powerlessness that so many mothers over centuries have experienced as their sons head off to war to protect their country and those they love.  

This election campaign has been noisy on the subject of defence spending, and the international commitment of 2% of GDP to be spent is raised often by older voters, who believe that we must ensure we have a strong defence force.  Our Conservative-led government stuck to that commitment, and I have no doubt that the next defence & security review will come out with similar budget requirements.  But interestingly, with younger voters, the area of discussion is about how we spend the International Development budget, and these voters want to make sure that we are doing our bit to help developing countries to grow & become peaceful - they see defence and war from the perspective of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, Libyan chaos and tribal fighting, of terrorism in Kenya.

I often consider whether we should roll the International Development department and funding into the Foreign Office, so that it is our ambassadors and networks across the world, who are living in  developing countries, who lead on how we spend our 0.7% of GDP in support of "soft power" progress.  There is no voter age gap in the view that we think we can target our taxes to those in need on the international front more effectively that the EU can, and we might find that we can spend it in ways which supports British companies at the same time.

W is for Wallington
The Wallington National Trust home of the Trevelyans - distant cousins of my husband's family- has an exhibition of papers and memorabilia of the 1929 general election, in which Sir Charles Trevelyan stood for election for the Labour Party for the fourth time, hoping to hold his seat of Newcastle Central. 

This election was known as the Flapper Election as it was the first time women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. One of my personal challenges for this 2015 general election is to ensure that young women (& older ones!) all use their vote, which was hard fought for by the suffragettes.  Every vote counts and politicians need to hear from every voter if policy is to reflect the needs of our whole society.

Only ten days to go, you will all be deeply reassured to hear! 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

V is for Vital Farmers

I met with local farmers & NFU representatives to hear from them directly the issues of concern which they want the next Government to focus on. As Northumbrian farmers, investment and training support for new young farmers is vital, and sensible regulation rather than endlessly increasing bureaucracy regardless of its usefulness for production of safer, healthier foods.

The NFU has put out a comprehensive manifesto calling on the next Government to support the following top 10 requests:

1. A government championing UK farming in the EU, leading with review of CAP greening;
2. Implement the TB eradication strategy;
3. Comprehensive plan to increase % of UK food production over next 5 years;
4. Fair & equal access and availability of plant protection plants;
5. Support & extend Grocery Code Adjudicator;
6. Fiscal incentives for farm businesses to manage volatility & promote investment (George Osborne has already set this in motion with new tax rules for farmers to spread profits over 5 years);
7. Approval of GM tools through to commercialisation;
8. Rollout of high speed broadband to all rural areas;
9. Accurate food & farming information supplied to schools and colleges;
10. Use robust scientific evidence & adopt a risk rather than hazard-based approach.

I am married to a man who farms trees, so his perspective is over 50 year cycles. Its a very sobering way to value land and how we manage it, and I want our nation to provide the support and tools for investment for our farming community to most efficiently & securely provide our food. At present  we are only generating 60% of our food and personally I think that should be much higher. How can it make sense to import milk when we have the best territory for dairy cows of pretty much anywhere in the northern hemisphere?

If elected I will be only too happy to champion our rural factories, where all the ingredients for a healthy life are nurtured and built. Landscapes we love exist because our farmers have managed them for centuries. Lets never forget that without longterm commitment to farming that would soon fade away.
Our farmers want to make food for our plates, and I will always support them to achieve that.

V is for Votes for English Laws

William Hague has set out the Conservative Party commitment to changing which MPs are allowed to vote on laws which don't affect their country. 
We have committed to bringing in, within 100 days, a new framework so that only English (& Welsh) MPs would vote on matters whic only affect them. Scottish MPs will not be allowed to determine laws which don't affect them.

This is long overdue & I continue to be appalled that other political parties are happy to let Scottish MPs determine  health, education, transport, (and soon some tax powers) which are devolved for Scotland. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

U is for Undecided Voters

As Election Day looms into view in two weeks, there are still many voters who haven't decided how they are going to vote. Locally, many who have voted for Beith historically are considering for the first time what issues are most important to them. Many say they like some things from each party, and have to weigh up which are higher priority. 

Without exception though, people are saying to us that the prospect of the SNP having any kind of hold over t he British Government is too awful to contemplate. And it's not only Nicola Sturgeon, who is the frontman in all the debates - it would be Alex Salmond, that wiliest of politicians whose whole political life has been Workington onwards breaking Scotland away from our Union.

The reality is that only a Conservative led Government can protect the Union, and we would bring in English Votes for English Laws to stop the present injustice that Scottish MPs can vote and determine decisions on English (& Welsh) only issues.

Under 18s
I had a great visit to Duchess High School in Alnwick for a grilling from A level & younger students.  It's always a pleasure to stop in and see this out, and over the last 8 years I have built up a strong relationship with the school and many pupils.  

Before the last election there were politics students with real flair & passion, who are now working in the civil service & journalism. It's fantastic to watch young people's talents blossom and find a home.

Under Scrutiny
Being a candidate feels a bit like being a prize pig at a country show. Everyone comes to have a look at you, prod you, check out your credentials and peer over your pen to see whether they want to invest in you.  

Our little corner of England is in everyone 's headlights, it seems, as the Financial Times sent up a journalist to do a profile on the "two horse race" here. So I got a grilling on my motivations, my campaigns, my vision for North Northumberland. I am intrigued by how others view me- no two people see quite the same thing, even when I can be using exactly the same words! But it highlights how important this battleground is, both nationally, but also locally, as voters here have the chance to select a new fresh voice to speak on our behalf. Let us hope that my track record as an effective campaigner resonates with voters.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

T is for Transparency

There are as many reasons for individuals taking on political office- at every level of our political life, from parish to county & Westminster - as there are candidates. Many are focused on helping their community, and are happy to discuss their plans and vision.  Sometimes though, we get a breakdown in communication between Councillors and their local residents, when decisions are taken without clearly transparent processes to help their electors understand the decision-making process. I have been surprised in recent years by how many local communities struggle to sort out local difficulties, because there is no Ombudsman to whom they can go for clarification, support and legal support to solve disputes.  I have called on Eric Pickles to help by creating an independent Ombudsman who can mediate where local disputes reach impasse.  

T is for Ten Commandments for Candidates
I was on the panel in another hustings with some of my fellow candidates, this time organised by the Federation of Small Business & the NE Chamber of Commerce. The audience was made up of small business leaders whose questions focused on finance & investment, tax rules, the burden of regulation & an EU referendum, energy security & new renewables, broadband and transport infrastructure. Discussions were polite and constructive barring the one, now familiar to our panel, discussion on the merits (or otherwise) of whether climate change is man-made or not.  I don't think UKIP and the Green candidates are ever going to agree!

The Chamber of Commerce have produced a set of Commandments for all candidates standing for election across the North East, which made me laugh out loud ! They capture all the issues which drive the general public mad about politicians, their bickering and verbal battles, which do not necessarily help our region.

1. Honour thy region. Thou shalt not talk down thy region in order to score political points. 
2. Thou shalt not claim an absence of good jobs in the North East without acknowledging businesses are seeking a multitude of skilled candidates.
3. Thou shalt not spout slogans or Twitter hashtags dreamed up by Westminster when asked for considered comment about specific issues affecting the NE.
4. Thou shalt not take the name of thy constituency in vain.
5. Thou shalt not worship economic falsehoods. Businesses deliver growth, though Government actions can either help or hinder them.
6. Thou shalt not deride thine opponents commitments on infrastructure investment unless your party guarantees to do more. (Particularly relevant to our Berwick battleground...!)
7. Thou shalt not incite a battle of the Nimbys with thine opponent. More housing & business development is needed in the North East and some of it will need to go into your constituency.
8. Thou shalt not expect us to indulge you in discussions about the moral failings of thine opponents. We know many candidates personally: we dont always agree with them, but rarely doubt their motives.
9. Thou shalt be specific if need arises to criticise the actions of business, not imply everyone in the private sector is the same. Bad practice exists, but is not the norm.
10. Thou shalt brief thy frontbenchers when visiting the North East to observe these commandments. And to remember where they are.

I will continue to run a positive campaign, setting out my plans for our patch if I am elected. Let us hope that all other candidates across the region, and the whole country, will do the same.