Posted Tuesday, 23 December 2008 at 22:39
People should be given more credit for shopping.
It needs be re-classified as an extreme sport.
Having enjoyed pre Christmas socialising earlier in the day, I was left to face the 25 minute wait for a parking space and then went in to do battle.
What I don’t have now won’t be got because one thing is for sure; I’m not going in again.
To everyone and all, a very merry and peaceful Christmas. I won’t be blogging again until the 31st..
The Week That Is
Posted Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 10:50
Mary Leigh, wife of Edward Leigh MP and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is a saint. A beautiful one at that.
She transformed Cornerstone Christmas drinks into an evening of fine wine and food. She unashamedly relied on her daughters good nature to help out, something my patrons club will tell you I’m very good at doing myself, having chained mine to waiters trays and the kitchen sink for a day and a whole evening recently.
A steaming hot bowl of sausages dipped in Maple syrup and really delicious vol-au-vents meant everyone stayed for a considerable while. We were also waiting for Lady Thatcher to arrive and an air of anticipation joined us in the room.
When the great lady arrived and stood at the door there was a moments silence and then everyone burst into spontaneous applause.
A very, very distinguished MP walked up to Lady T. An MP who is given the greatest respect by all. He stopped in front of her without saying a word, after a second, the warmest deepest affection and loveliest smile lit her face as warmth and memories flooded his.
She was standing in front of a bookcase upon which stood a framed photograph of that fateful day. In the photograph she was clutching flowers, wearing a dark blue suit and the same smile but with tears in her eyes. The day she left No 10. The image many of us bring to mind at the mention of her name. But that was before my time.
My most poignant memory of being in Westminster to date is sitting feet from Tony Blair as he took his last PMQs and I will never forget the feeling that ran down my spine when he said “that’s it, the end”.
Lady T was as sharp as a razor and as resolute in her commitment to freedom as she ever was. Once again, I was smitten.
I have supped with the Queen of our nation, the Queen of politics and made a debut appearance on Question Time, all within the space of a week.
In the morning, I’m off to Aldi and Tescos for the first Christmas food shop and then I need to find a laundrette because the washing machine has broken down.
What a strange life this is.
Posted Wednesday, 17 December 2008 at 19:29
Following the disaster of having lost my phone I am now in a new pickle.
I kept everything on my phone. When it was reported lost, for security reasons it was wiped clear.
This means I have nothing. Not a single address or telephone number.
If you were in my phone please text me your contact details. This is all friends and contacts, old and new.
Don't think I will be sending as many Christmas cards this year somehow!
Killing Me Softly
Posted Tuesday, 16 December 2008 at 13:04
You’ll be the death of me…..words I yelled at my daughter only this morning after it took almost two hours to get her out her warm cosy bed, into her school clothes and out of the door.
The morning witch menacingly waved her mascara wand at me as she fell out of the front door threatening to call social services; the irony of such a threat totally lost on one so young who totally believes in the efficiency and protection of the state, via the state designed National Curriculum.
Our conversations aren’t always so fraught, just the ones that take place with a deadline in sight. There I go again, that word, dead.
An hour with no backchat is occasionally nice; however, any parent reading this will of course know that right through your very core runs an uncontrollable desire to protect one's children from all harm, emotional and physical, which is why when my daughter posed a question the other evening I felt a new emotion when answering.
We were listening to a report regarding assisted suicide on the PM programme. My daughter suddenly asked me "gosh, does this mean that when I’m older someone could put me down?"
I thought before I answered.
Both the inevitability and the random nature of death make us sensitive to its arrival.
Death is an event, a tragedy, a momentous occasion. One which is completely out of our control. We avoid it, don’t very often talk about it, rarely prepare for it and when it happens, mourn it. It almost always happens naturally.
Sometimes those left behind have the chance to prepare themselves for the inevitable shock. For instance, in the rare case a life support machine is turned off the patient will die of whatever illness necessitates the use of life support. Suicide has not been assisted. Nothing has been administered to hasten the end of life. We still mourn and grieve. The time of death was still out of our control.
Should death suddenly be within our control, would it remain an event? Would it still be a momentous occasion one which we grieve and mourn?
All over the country those who are elderly and vulnerable, those who are ill, those who are living with relatives are safe. They are protected by the law. How many would feel obliged to consider suicide if it were legal and if they felt they had become a burden?
If ending one's own life or that of others over time became no longer a big deal, would we as a society become insensitive to death?
If that were the case how long would it be before the state decided to move in?
With an aging population and NHS spending ever increasing, would the day arrive when the authorities felt an obligation to move from withholding treatment to administering life ending solutions to a hospital bound patient without relatives?
I looked at my daughter as I answered her question. I saw the day when she may be elderly in a hospital bed and I was no longer there to protect her, to love and care for her.
I imagined a doctor sitting on the side of her bed, gently taking her hand and talking to what will always be my little girl, the kindest being I know, about how she feels a burden to the nurses or her family, and offering her one of his special cocktails.
The eugenics argument is rearing its head and will continue to re-surface again and again until the advocates believe they find the composition of Parliament sympathetic enough to win the argument and then the vote.
The only way I could answer the question "would someone be able to put me down?", was with the answer that as an MP I would do everything within my ability to stop someone one day offering my daughter, and any other precious life, a deadly cocktail.
Cornerstone Christmas drinks
Posted Monday, 15 December 2008 at 20:27
I am hosting the Cornerstone Christmas drinks party tomorrow night and Margaret Thatcher is coming. If I had known that I would have paid a bit more attention and done slightly more than a sausage on a stick and a glass of Red.
I have never met the great lady before. The Queen one week, Iron lady the next.. I need a lie down!
Posted Monday, 15 December 2008 at 11:13
Question time was tough.
It was Lembit Opik’s 5000 ish appearance. Will Self had appeared numerous times and Esther Rantzen is a seasoned presenter.
I was so scared when the music started that I couldn’t stop my knee from trembling. Now I know what happens I wish I could do it all again, without the nerves!
David Dimbleby is an extremely nice man and obviously does not approve of mis information being put out on his show.
I was incredibly impressed when during the after show supper he took Will Self to task for something he had said to me on air.
I had made the comment that the markets where dictating that there was a lack of confidence in how our economy was being handled. That the tumbling pound was a reflection of our ability to pay back borrowing at the extortionate interest rate at which it is being secured. Will Self interrupted me and said I was wrong and put forward his opinion as to why. He got a laugh.
Later, David Dimbleby asked him why he had done that because I had been right. He then took me to task for not coming back at Will. Frankly, Will and Esther Rantzen are consummate performers and to them it was all about the applause. I don’t want to spoil his tetchy persona; however, Will was a really nice guy off camera. A regular, caring dad who is passionate about the environment.
What did I learn from QT? Don’t rock the chair, don’t keep saying actually, be more precise, prepare better and don’t be afraid to challenge.
I still have no phone and no telephone numbers as my phone was wiped for security as soon as it was reported missing. Its driving me insane!
To everyone who has emailed the office with such nice comments, many, many thanks. I will reply to everyone, however, it will take some time.
Hope to speak in the debate today and have 800 Christmas cards to sign. Must find Will’s address and add him to my list.
Posted Friday, 12 December 2008 at 09:03
Landed back in Bedfordshire after Question Time at 3am.
Will blog about QT after surgeries etc.
Still no phone! I’m isolated.
Ma'am as in Ham
Posted Wednesday, 10 December 2008 at 14:28
Over the last three years I have received three invitations to Buckingham Palace, all of which I have had to turn down due to engagements in the constituency; however last night was not the case, and I was able to attend a Christmas reception for MPs and their ‘significant other’ with her Majesty.
I have met the Queen and various members of the Royal Family during official functions in Mid Beds, but last night was a bit different.
A huge Christmas tree at the entrance to the front door lit our way over the front courtyard as we tripped our way across. I have to admit at this point I began to feel excited.
As I reached the front door my path was blocked by Patrick Hall, MP for Bedford, bent over with his shoes off. Having a gravel issue I think. "Please don’t tell the paper" pleaded his rather beautiful wife as I went past. As if! What kind of person does she think I am?
After being presented to the Queen who was wearing a beautiful Lime green suit and bedazzling diamonds, we mingled as you would at any other drinks party.
Chatting in a group of six, a member of the Royal Household wandered over to talk to us. He was the man who had carried the crown during the State Opening of Parliament.
He told us of how the responsibility was awesome. The amethyst in the crown had been prised from the ring of Edward The Confessor as he lay in his grave, and the ruby from a crown worn by Henry V, and was taken from the battlefield at Agincourt. Wow.
I realised whilst he was talking to us that he was a player in a strategic operation. He obviously went on ahead, identified a group and then the Queen was led over to talk to us. Very smooth operation.
When she stood in front of us, drink in hand (water or G&T, not sure which but if the drinks do is at your place and you haven’t got to drive, why wouldn’t you?) I went ga ga. She was really beautiful. Animated, funny, relaxed and those eyes, the brightest twinkliest blue.
We self important MPs chatted to her in the same way and about the same legislative things that every other MP in the room probably had that night, and on that same night year after year after year.
My 6ft 2 significant other suddenly piped up, with absolute ease, as though he was talking to his own mum, " did you enjoy Condoleezza Rice playing the piano for you? It led on every American news bulletin and dominated the American TV news all day." Suddenly, the Queen looked genuinely interested, a real person was talking to her. She gave him her full attention and answered "it was there, in that room there", pointing over his shoulder urging him to look. She then told of how she was worried about the dog, but that he was fine, and had come into the room and sat down right beside her whilst she had listened. She talked of her admiration that the American Secretary of State could play so well, and keep in practice; and asked him did he know that she was a concert pianist. We MPs just stayed quiet and listened.
6ft 2 seemed about 12 ft to me at that particular moment.
As we left and tripped back out across the courtyard I was genuinely smitten. It's not hard to understand how every Prime Minister, socialist or otherwise falls under her spell. Maybe it was the story of the crown that did it; however, I can’t help but feel that maybe it should be incumbent upon every PM to feel the hand of history upon his shoulder. It’s a heavy hand but only with it can come the understanding of how important it is to preserve all that made us who we are, and be aware of whose blood was shed, in order that we who are free and usually safe, got here.
I have no phone, so apologies to anyone who can't get hold of me or who has text me and not had a reply. Tomorrow I'm on Question Time. It's from Birkenhead. You don't get any say in where or when you go on, you are simply invited; however, no MP is ever allowed to be on in the area they represent. Birkenhead is Frank Field's, which is ironic really given how we have both worked closely together on a couple of issues recently.
Am I scared? Would you be?
Quote of the Day
Posted Monday, 8 December 2008 at 17:10
Sitting in the chamber in the debate regarding the Speaker's committee - best quote so far has come from Labour MP, Andrew MacKinley:
"Leaks are the food and drink of backbenchers like me, send it to me on rice paper and I'll eat it".
A Walk on the Wild Side
Posted Friday, 5 December 2008 at 12:46
I have just left Liz and Jonathan, both of the Woodland Trust, following a visit to one of the ancient woods in Mid Bedfordshire.
How do you know if a wood is ancient? Look for the Dog Mercury.
There is no rhyme or reason to plant it and so if you spot it, you can be sure its been hanging around for a few hundred years.
The ancient wood I was in just a moment ago dates back to pre 1200 AD as far as records show, and probably longer. It is only metres from a proposed house building project.
Getting to know what is where is essential for me as an MP of a constituency under constant threat from the house builders' bulldozer.
Preserving a piece of woodland which would be ripped up and decimated to be replaced by houses is top of my list of objectives.
Thanks to Jonathan and Liz for your time and for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm.
The Woodland Trust can only save ancient woods and trees by increasing its membership. So, if you feel inclined to do so and help out please go to http://www.woodland-trust.org.uk/index.htm
World at One Interview
Posted Thursday, 4 December 2008 at 16:36
We have had some interesting emails into the office following my interview on World At One this lunchtime.
The interview can be heard here… and is 21.30 minutes in.
Annie Put the Kettle On!
Posted Thursday, 4 December 2008 at 10:33
Yet again another Hansard intern from America has passed through our office.
This time was the turn of Annie from New Jersey. From the first moment I met her she made me laugh. A more genuine, sweet, hard working girl, you would search hard to find.
Annie's father works at Wykoff Town Hall in New Jersey and is a fire-fighter as well.
During her stay, her parents came to visit bearing gifts of a certificate of achievement for the office, signed by the Mayor, and T-shirts courtesy of the Wycoff Fire Department.
For some reason I fail to look particularly fetching in mine - apparently!!
Each intern leaves a memory behind. They arrive at a point in their lives when the world is their oyster and all lies before.
They are full of enthusiasm and it is always the hugest most infectious pleasure to spend even half an hour in their company.
This blog is my apology to Annie as the most frequent thing she heard me say was "Annie, put the kettle on".
It is also my thanks for the enormous amount of letters and casework she turned around, the way she quickly got to grips with my constituency and its issues, Parliament and its idiosyncrasies; and for being the most lovely young lady any office could be graced with.
Good luck in all that you do Annie, we will miss you.
Not Me Gov
Posted Wednesday, 3 December 2008 at 15:37
I have just left the Chamber following the statement made by the Speaker regarding the arrest of Damian Green.
The atmosphere was a mixture of the most intense and angry emotion I have ever known.
The Speaker's statement amounted to a litany of 'not me gov' .
I was disappointed to hear the Speaker blame the relatively new Sergeant at Arms Jill Pay, who has only been in post a few months. Sadly, if Muir the Deputy Sergeant at Arms, who recently retired, had still been in post with all his knowledge and experience, things may have been different.
The Speaker stated that the SAA had not told him that the police did not have a warrant.
It was his job to ask, not her job to inform.
The reason why so many here are so angry is very simple. The information passed on to Damian Green was in the public interest. No official secrets broken, no threat to security, just the simple stuff such as has been passed from department to MP since Parliament began.
I reckon the Speaker, who I really like, may not survive today.
His statement was about protecting his own back as opposed to protecting those to whom he owes his protection as a necessity of convention.
He will always hold a place in my heart as the first Speaker to swear me in; but today, I am awash with disappointment as the reality dawned on me, that the coveted chair and the man to whom as Speaker I have always been loyal, is without honour.
Off with their Heads
Posted Monday, 1 December 2008 at 15:38
Most people in Westminster, of all political parties, are still spinning with disbelief and incredulity at the arrest of Damian Green on Thursday night.
No one believes that Jacqui Smith was unaware that he was about to be arrested or that she didn’t sanction the arrest.
The police were called in by Sir David Normington, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office. Previous to this position, Sir David was Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education and Schools, the prior residence of ex teacher come Home secretary, Jacqui Smith. Before that he was Director General for Schools. I daren't type any more for fear of sanction!
An MP has only two tools in order to execute his or her job effectively: honesty and integrity. You don’t need any qualifications or experience in any field to become an MP, but you do need to be honest because without a reputation for honesty and integrity, you have nothing.
If it is found that Jacqui Smith is lying, or even strongly suspected of, then she has to go, unless she comes to the House and makes a categorical statement in which she states "I honestly and truthfully had no knowledge that Damian Green was to be arrested."
Did the Clerk of the House Michael Jack know? I do know that in my own personal experience the clerks can be entirely ineffective in guaranteeing integrity in the proceedings of the House.
Having registered a complaint to the Clerk of the House regarding the appalling biased manner in which the science and technology committee conducted itself during a whitewashed investigation into abortion, and then watching the clerks do absolutely nothing despite the overwhelming evidence, it would seem to me that there may be a need for a more stringent approach, in ensuring the political neutrality of those who administer the proceedings of the House.
What happened last week was an incredibly serious occurrence. Those who are paid to hold the Government to account must be able to do so without fear of retribution or arrest. This is not a banana republic. I’m not entirely sure how the Speaker will survive this with his integrity intact, and if Sir Paul Stephenson, the acting Met Commissioner who ordered the arrest, had his eye on the top job, then rather than ingratiate himself with the Labour Party hierarchy, he's probably just kissed the job goodbye.
Last week was a collective debacle that threatened to undermine the integrity and complex inner workings of the parliamentary micro climate, which in one complex totally unfathomable way or another, ensures that democracy and accountability, to a lesser or greater degree, always rules the day.
There is great concern regarding the actions of the Home Secretary, not least from some very senior members within her own party, who suspect that sooner rather than later, they may one day be back in Her Majesty's Opposition. One way or another, the truth of this will out and heads will roll.