Up On The Roof!
Posted Thursday, 28 February 2008 at 12:43
I couldn't wake up this morning. Yesterday, the day after Auschwitz, was mad; and last night, the lack of sleep hit me like a sledge hammer.
On top of the usual meetings etc, a group of referendum campaign supporters from Bedfordshire came to meet me.
I had a long interview with Sarah Sands from the Daily Mail, an even longer photograph session afterwards, an interview with the Evening Standard and File on Four for Radio 4.
The interview with the Mail comes out possibly tomorrow.
There is one thing I can guarantee, even after a very lengthy photography session, that the photograph will look nothing like me, and will, in fact, be hideous.
A funny thing happened in the lift outside David Cameron’s office. Ed Llewellyn, David’s chief of staff, came to the doors carrying a print off version of my blog!
In jest, I teased him demanding to know why he was carrying it around with him, clutched to his heart even! With no answer forthcoming I joked "Do you love me or something?" which turned him the most remarkable shade of pink!
Whilst all this was going on there were protesters dancing on the roof.
According to my American intern Justin, if it had been the White House, they would have been shot with rubber bullets, tear gased but definitely removed instantly.
We don't shoot here, we just let people walk all over democracy.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 18:13
The temperature has dropped dramatically.
We stood silently at the end of the track, 220 of us, with torches and candles and listened as Rabbi Marcus sang a Jewish prayer; his voice rang out over Auschwitz and although the cold hadn't made me shiver, this did.
Some of the students read from hidden letters, which had been found in the wooden barracks where they had been written, down from where we stood.
After prayers we all quietly placed our candles on each side of the track and walked away.
As we walked away I turned back, the tracks which carried people to their deaths had transformed in the dark to an illuminated stairway to heaven.
Is this necessary or relevant after 60 years?
Anti-Semitism is on the increase, even in England, with attacks on Jewish cemeteries reported regularly - denial of the Holocaust has become an almost accepted academic position.
It is a fact that Islamaphobia and neo-Nazism are mere cousins to anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Marcus made the point that in order for human history to survive, education is battling against catastrophe.
I started today with a love letter.
Mirele survived. She had her letter and kept it secret for 50 years.
Here are some of the words she writes to other mothers in the world, her own love letter.
You mothers who are lucky enough to have babies - raise them too. Don't throw them out before they are ready. Don't leave them before they're ready. Go now. Rock them in the sunlight. For my mother.
Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again. George Santyana.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 16:58
Birkenau is vast, cold, oppressive and eerie.
I want to leave now and come home - I have never been anywhere so depressing.
Karen and I are stood in the deathly quiet, imagining what it would sound like with SS officers shouting, dogs barking and the trains bringing 10,000 people a day through the camp. They were bundled into the selection yard where we are stood now, before they were murdered.
It's dark now, we are going to light some candles and have a small ceremony.
The final sign off blog will be from the coach in an hour.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 15:35
I have stood on the spot where mothers disembarked the train with their children, outside the doors of the gas chambers.
They were asked which of their children were aged over 14 - a mother's first instinct was to keep all her children together, so that she could look after them.
She would tell the guards that children as old as 15, 16 and even 17, were under 14.
All children under 14 went straight from the train in through the doors of the chamber. In an attempt to protect their children, some mothers were committing them to instant death.
It's getting very cold.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 14:48
Photo above is of an entrance to a gas chamber.
The feeling which overwhelms you, as you walk through the gate of Camp 1, is the desire to leave.
I have just stood in a room which contains the hair of 40,000 people.
'The hair is not shot through with light
Is not parted by the breeze
Is not touched by any hand
Or rain or lips.’
I'm finding it difficult to write as this place leaves you stunned.
I didn't want to go into the gas chamber, but of course I had to, I had a choice.
On the extermination yard two black birds flew over - it’s a sunny day, but there are no birds singing.
Next stop Birkenau.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 12:39
Photo above of Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust and myself in the old Jewish cemetery.
In Auschwitz at the old Jewish cemetery.
At the start of the war 58% of the population in Auschwitz were Jewish - rapidly, they all disappeared. What did the other 42% think was happening? Why were they so silent?
The Nazis then destroyed the cemetery, which in itself was symbolic, as in Judaism death is regarded as part of the cycle of life.
The Nazis then lined the streets with the gravestones.
No Jews live here now. The cemetery is locked overnight, since two swastikas were painted on the cemetery walls.
"Hearing is not like seeing" - Rabbi Barry Marcus
A Love Letter.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 11:12
Photo above of Baroness Warsi and Eric Ollerenshaw, (Head of Citizens & Diversity at CCHQ) at Krakow Airport.
The approach of the flight into Krakow was interesting.
Block upon block of concrete flats, interspersed with huge smoking chimneys servicing heavy industry.
On the coach en route to Auschwitz.
Below is part of a letter written by a mother, who handed her daughter over to child rescuers during the very last operation....
I cannot believe I have one night to stuff a life time of love into this letter.
Tomorrow morning - if 4am can be called morning, I am giving you up.
I am taking you, Mirele, to the back entrance of dear, brave Hermann's grocery and the child rescuers will be waiting there for you and the thirty two other children under the age of three. They'll inject you with a sedative so you won't cry and then they'll slip off in the pre-dawn with you - my life, my love, out of this barbaric country to safety........
I will plead that this letter be allowed to go, sewn into your under shirt. And then I will pray to God that the letter stays with you until you are old enough to read it. You must know that we love you. You must know why you are alone, without parents. Not because they didn't love you, but because they did.
At the Airport
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 09:43
As always, I was the first to arrive at the airport, and the first to check in.
I wasn't prepared, however, for what was behind me, I turned around at the desk and saw who was second: the Deputy Chief Whip! If it wasn't such an important trip, I'd think this was a stitch up!
Photo of Deputy Chief Whip and myself in Starbucks at the airport.
Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2008 at 03:16
I am just about to leave for the airport for a trip I am taking to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
I am leaving now after 1.5hrs sleep and I will get back home at midnight. If anyone calls this a ‘jolly’ I will flatten them.
I will be blogging live with photographs once I arrive.
As living witnesses diminish in numbers, it is important that others learn and tell the story of that terrible place.
We have been told to be prepared, that everyone who has visited so far has been incredibly moved.
More once I get there…..
Posted Monday, 25 February 2008 at 11:18
Last Monday I met with David Cameron to discuss lowering the limit at which abortion takes place from 24 to 20 weeks.
He couldn't have been more supportive.
We discussed how tricky it was for someone like him - who is neither pro-choice or pro-life - to take the sensible position on the issue, which is why he would, on the basis of scientific evidence, support my 20 week amendment.
As I left I said that I was grateful for his support, it's a free vote issue for Conservative MPs, but that what I really needed was for him to be able to get his position out into the public domain. As I left, he promised that he would do that, some time within the next two weeks.
Yesterday I got a call from the Daily Mail to say that Cameron had contacted them to make his 20 week position clear and could I comment?
It's also in today's Daily Telegraph and The Evening Standard.
I like a leader who delivers on a promise; I like a leader who gets things done; and I like even more a leader who can take the evidence, sift out what he knows to be relevant and what's rubbish and take a strong position.
All qualities the country wishes it had in the dithering Prime Minister we are having to put up with at the moment.
Posted Friday, 22 February 2008 at 16:08
The LUCA Ball was a huge success - Boris was full of energy, as usual. I really don't like his new hair cut - it just isn't him. His shaggy hair was his trade mark, his unique selling feature - he needs to grow it again quick!
I sat with Zac Goldsmith's campaign team from Richmond, what a dedicated bunch of people, they are so up for it.
If I were Susan Kramer I would be very worried.
The students were all really good fun - apart from a few on one table.
As I left I asked which Uni they were from, I was surprised, but maybe I shouldn't have been, when I was told the table was Oxford.
The fact that they were from Oxford I suppose increased the disappointment. You kind of expect those who were born to, or who have earned privilege, to behave that little bit better.
The worst offender looked what he was, over privileged, over weight and over loud - Harry Enfield would have loved him.
The LUCA Ball
Posted Thursday, 21 February 2008 at 13:49
Tonight I am speaking at the London Universities Ball, which has been arranged with consummate skill and huge organisational ability by Arleen.
I am the after dinner speaker.
Asking me to fulfil this role may be the only mistake Arleen has made in organising this huge event.
My mistake will have been in accepting. Why will a hall full of students, who will have heavily partaken of the pre-dinner drinks and free wine on the table, want to listen to me when they have finished a delicious dinner?
Boris is doing the pre-dinner drinks. They will have had Boris, then me.
Who was the guy who became Elizabeth Taylor’s husband after Richard Burton? I now know how he felt on his wedding night.
What’s Up Doc?
Posted Wednesday, 20 February 2008 at 11:02
Last week I was invited to a medical/political dinner party.
Ten guests were medical, I was the only political. I thought that maybe I was about to be given a hard time. It often happens. As an MP, you will find the collective company blaming you for every ill imposed by any government upon the entire nation for about the last one hundred years or so. Not this time.
Everyone at the supper was very fired up, there are some very worrying developments looming for General Practice, and they dominated the discussion for the evening.
I had read about the privatisation of General Practice in under-served areas of inner cities and was aware that the government were looking at various ways of dealing with the inner city problem; however, things appear to be moving very quickly in other parts of the country.
Rumours regarding new polyclinics owned by one of the large private health bidders, such as Virgin Health or United Health Care, appear to be poised to appear in our midst: town or countryside.
It is hard to see what the gains will be for the government, let alone the NHS, in allowing the private sector to move in, and replace the established family doctor structure.
Large private clinics will be manned by younger doctors who will work for 6 months or a year and then move on. What is at risk is the role of the traditional family doctor as we know it; someone who knows most of their patients well.
On a daily basis, family GPs make excellent judgments, based on their expertise, knowledge of the patient’s history, family, and social circumstances.
Primary Care Trusts depend on a family doctor and his knowledge of individual patients in order to keep the number of hospital admissions down. There is a huge responsibility imposed upon doctors not to admit to hospital unnecessarily which, when presented with something like chest pain, is clearly a difficult judgement.
If doctors referred all patients presenting chest pains to hospital, the system would breakdown very quickly. One can only assume that young, less experienced doctors in a large practice would have a tendency to refer on to a hospital more readily than an established GP; and who could blame them?
The government are putting themselves at loggerheads with doctors once again, determined to impose new conditions on GPs, despite the contract that they negotiated in 2003, in good faith, with the government.
The doctors I spoke with are very angry. None earned an excessive amount, each only earning what anyone else, who had studied for as long as they had, would be earning in a comparative field.
All were angry that national newspapers exaggerated their earnings to figures beyond belief.
I left the dinner convinced that the government may think it has bullied its way into making GPs agree to a new contract.
In my experience that will be a recipe for disaster. I think we are going to hear a lot more from GPs soon; however, we will probably hear much more from their patients who are, after all, the voters.
Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2008 at 15:26
This blog is in praise of the emergency services, men in white vans, and the part they played in a miracle which occurred early this morning.
Today I was awoken by a policeman.
One moment I was in a warm, dark bed, tucked up in my dreams; next there were sirens screaming in my ears as background music to a man with an amazingly calm voice, telling me that my world may be about to tip upside down.
My daughter had in fact been upside down in a wrecked car, and was trapped in the foetal position, still in her seat belt.
It was a man in a white van who called the emergency services and talked to her in soothing tones until they arrived.
It was another man in a white van who collected her belongings together, which had been sucked out of the car as if by a vacuum, when all the windows smashed in unison.
The material value of her life flung hundreds of yards into farmers' fields and up into trees.
The fire brigade had arrived in a single minute, the paramedics and police in quick pursuit.
I am typing this in A+E, fingers no longer shaking, world intact.
She breathes, she moves, she talks, everything else will heal.
The road is clear again thanks to the vehicle recovery people - anyone travelling now would have no idea of the chaos which existed only a few hours ago.
The fire brigade, police and ambulance services have all been amazing, both in their ability and professionalism.
As adverse weather conditions prevail this month and our roads become covered with black ice, they will be stretched to the limit, having to deal with situations most of us can't even bear to think about.
I feel guilty - like many, I take for granted that we have emergency services on the end of a phone.
The man who dialled 999 swears the firemen were there in 30 seconds; he could be right.
Possibly our most undervalued service, the one we come into contact with the least.
Did the people of New York appreciate their Fire Service before 9/11?
I know I will always be thankful to ours, many of whom have other full time jobs, in addition to being firemen.
They are heroes who work closely with guardian angels, or they did today at least.
Posted Monday, 18 February 2008 at 17:23
So, Northern Rock became the people’s bank today. I sat behind George and David during the statement delivered by Alistair Darling at 3.30pm.
It is becoming scarier and scarier sitting so close to Gordon Brown. The fixed maniac-esque grin on his face is so un-natural and frankly his pallor was a really odd shade today.
I really would pull my children close to me if they were sat on the green benches. I have to resist the urge to lean over, and whisper into George’s ear “take care, don’t get too close now”; and I am ready to pounce and pull George back over the seats, should Gordon Brown lose control and come flying across the dispatch box, to try and eat him or something.
Anyway, none of the big questions were answered. How long is temporary?
Not until after the next general election I would bet. That will be a poisoned pill for us to digest when we take power.
We don’t have a clue how much tax payers’ money has been used to pay Goldman Sachs, the government’s advisors, or any of the other accountants and lawyers.
We do know however that Goldman Sachs have said that the government’s handling of Northern Rock has badly dented the UK’s reputation for being the world’s pre-eminent financial centre. I suppose the government would regard that as money well spent then.
A senior Bank of England official has said that the government’s dithering over Northern Rock was due to Gordon Brown’s team being unable to focus, due to morale in the government being so low.
It’s a mess. An economic calamity.
Hits to this blog in January were 257,146. Not bad considering we were on holiday for the first week and I didn’t blog.
He Loves Me...
Posted Monday, 11 February 2008 at 10:23
Atlantic.com had a fascinating article this month by Lori Gottlieb entitled Marry Him.
The article is aimed at single, childless women in their 30s and 40s, and puts forward the case to ‘settle’ for someone you get on with, rather than hold out for ‘Mr Right’.
In a post article interview, Lori regrets not having ‘settled’ for a previous boyfriend because she lacked a ‘core connection.’ She reveals that she has moved her position, and would now be happy to ‘settle’ with someone who may not sweep her off her feet, but would be happy to contribute financially; change the nappies; share the child care; and father the donor sperm baby she had six months ago, when she was in her non ‘settling’ phase.
If I sound too critical, I don’t mean to be. There is a great deal of sense in much of what she writes, even if she does lean too heavily on American sit coms such as Friends and Sex And The City to provide her literary analogies.
With divorce rates at staggeringly high levels, leading to a boom of single home ownership, and the taxpayer picking up the bill of dealing with the social consequences of family breakdown, there is good reason to discuss the option to ‘settle’ - if ‘settling’ means the decision to marry has become more seriously thought through, and therefore stands a greater chance of success.
I used to listen each week to a litany of unrelenting complaints about people’s husbands and feel pretty good about my decision to hold out for the right guy, only to realize that these women wouldn’t trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband. They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a team-mate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.
She is, of course, absolutely bang on the money; but that doesn’t mean one has to abandon the ideal of one day experiencing that all consuming love. Her message is - don’t hold out for the thing that’s going to really rock your world, it’s about a lot more than that.
A 39 year old friend of mine who is looking for a wife is more than happy to ‘settle’. In fact, he just has, and to his great delight and surprise, is now falling in love with the woman he chose to ‘settle’ with. He reckons that at his age, love is a bonus.
The norm of marrying for love and depending upon the emotional frisson to ‘conquer all’ when problems arise in the future, may not be such a good idea if that is all there is to a relationship when embarking upon marriage. The problem is that when in the heady state of being in love, faults and incompatibility of the other half are difficult to spot. Love blinds.
If only couples who marry today realised this. If only some realised that kindness and consideration, security and stability, are far more important than the giddy, dizzy, temporary heights of love.
I sometimes think of my Grandparent’s marriage. It was pretty awful for almost all of my childhood. There were never any rows or sharp words that I heard; it was just that when you went into the house you could have cut the atmosphere with a butter knife.
There was no communication. Granddad wanted to holiday abroad, Nana didn’t. Granddad wanted to go out at weekends, Nana didn’t. Quite often after a visit I left with a knot in my stomach.
As I sat in their garden one hot summer’s day not many years ago, I silently reflected on how much they had changed, and how things had got so much better without my noticing it happen. Granddad put on one of his records and the music drifted out through the French windows.
The track was called Il Mondo, and Granddad walked over to my Nana and gave her such an intimate kiss that it made me blush, and exclaim that they should “get a room”.
It appears that after 40 years of marriage they had learnt, at last, to communicate and live in harmony. This was a consequence of having lived in a time and place when divorce was still frowned upon.
40 years is a high price to pay for happiness, and not one that many people would be prepared to tolerate today.
Love is a little bit like chicken pox; the later in life you catch it, the harder you fall and the more serious the consequences.
Maybe lowering the bar, in terms of expectations, is a way to avoid having to deal with the emotional trauma, which accompanies any relationship built on ‘love’; to ‘settle’ could be a very effective form of self-protection.
The pressures of modern life, and high rates of divorce, have undoubtedly led to the problem of older singles looking for life partners and the new option of ‘settling’. I wouldn’t mind betting it’s amongst the higher paid professionals where it is most prevalent.
After all, does any busy person have the time to deal with the texting, emails, flirting and the traditional ‘courtship’ rituals?
Having lunch the other day with a successful female journalist and TV personality, we concluded that in this modern day, successful men and women have had to adapt how they operate, when looking for a partner.
The entire process has had to ‘speed up’ in order to survive the hectic confusion of daily professional life.
In yesterday's Sunday Times, Natasha Kaplinsky spoke of how she and her husband met and married a year ago.
They had lunch on day one, a peppermint tea on day two, and on the third date booked a holiday to the Maldives, where he proposed.
She is a TV presenter, he is a successful banker. I imagine they are both very busy, but both excellent communicators, with lots to do.
Using my own American sit com analogy, those of us who are Wing nuts may remember the scene with CJ and her Ranger. Within three minutes he had bombarded her with where and how questions. Time dictating that there wasn’t any to procrastinate. They had to commit and by-pass the danger zone of acting, mind games and guessing, moving straight into the comfort zone of re-assured togetherness; to go for it and try and work the rest out.
Natasha admits, he wears the trousers. I've noticed that most of the successful relationships I know are the same. However, we live in an age where men are getting weaker, both emotionally and physically, and women are getting stronger.
Has this reversal of relationship dynamics had an impact on love?
Working with a male colleague the other day over a coffee, he spoke to his girlfriend twice on the phone, once regarding the crucial decision as to who was going to pick up some broccoli on the way home.
He confided that they talked, even if just for a minute at a time, about four times a day.
I asked him why didn’t they text? “Because, during the week, our relationship is sustained by falling into bed last thing at night, and waking up together in the morning. I like to hear the affection in her voice, even for just 30 seconds, that way there are no misunderstandings.”
How right he is. The ability to communicate is the safety net for every other emotion a relationship deploys. Poor and lazy communication skills must be a factor in the demise of so many relationships and marriages today.
Text and emails are the devil in the detail - instead of improving communication they facilitate any manner of misinterpretations and misunderstandings.
Computers Blackberries and iphones probably account for more failed relationships than infidelity. A reliance to talk electronically transforms a relationship into a virtual entity, void of emotion or meaning, which in itself breeds frustration, anger and disappointment; it renders a relationship un-sustainable. A text or email is a very poor substitute for 'hello, it's me'.
Love has more to contend with in the battle of survival in the modern age than ever before.
Love or settle, communication is everything and neither will survive without it.
I do have a word of warning from a settler. One who learnt to play golf on her father’s knee. She has spent her life as a golf groupie, following tournaments around the world, and it was no surprise when she married a professional golfer.
She recently confided that she is about to walk after five years. When she married she knew she found him a tad boring; however, she thought that as they had so much in common she would be able to accommodate her yawns in a golf caddy.
He ticked all the right boxes.
She assumed that a lifestyle of shared interests and a mutual world view would make up for long silences.
She hadn’t accounted for the fact that marriage brings hidden in its pocket complacency, and that during courtship people are at their most exciting; as part of the Peacock ritual of trying to impress, we show off.
Is the phenomena of ‘settling’ a direct result of the hectic stressful pace we all live at in today’s society? The big question of course is that if more people ‘settle’, will the result be fewer divorces and therefore a more harmonious society?
Well, if ‘settling’ means you are able to objectively analyse the pros and cons of embarking upon a life time partnership, and weigh up all the potential pitfalls, then maybe it will.
For the 30 and 40 somethings who have a biological clock ticking away, maybe ‘settling’ is the way to go.
A 40 yr old friend married last year for the second time and has recently had a new baby daughter. He wouldn’t admit he had ‘settled’, but he had. Becoming a dad was far more important to him than love. Finding someone who would provide a stable home, and be a good mother, was right on the top of his list.
He had found himself at a point in his life where he was financially stable. No mortgage, substantial savings in the bank, which he imagined would be spent on nursery and school fees.
Unfortunately his first wife wanted to spend it on holidays to Mauritius and Jimmy Choos.
The first time he had married for love, but second time round, he was marrying for the things he knew sustained a relationship and mattered.
And my take on all of this? Well, if you have given up on love wait for a kind, thoughtful knight in shining Armani to rescue you from the chain mail, which is wrapped around your heart. You never know when he will come charging over the hill.
Love if you must, but remember that talking and kindness, security and respect, thoughtfulness, compassion, stability, openness, honesty and more talking, are the deal breakers.
I wouldn’t ‘settle’ for anything less.
PS As it is recess this is the only blog I will be posting until Monday and congratulations to Andrea, who has just been proposed to by Ian on a beach in Thailand! V definitely a love settle combination.
Thanks to Peter Cuthbertson at conservativehome.com for highlighting the article 'Marry Him' on Centre Right.
Posted Friday, 8 February 2008 at 16:44
In response to a question from Bob Spink regarding MPs’ expenses in
business questions yesterday, Harriett Harman gave a very interesting
“I think that the public could be forgiven for finding the current
situation very complex. We have the Committee on Standards in Public
Life, which is independent; the Standards and Privileges Committee,
which is a Committee of this House but is supported by an independent
commissioner; the National Audit Office reporting to the Public Accounts
Committee, which is a Committee of this House; the Public Administration
Committee; and, the Register of Members' interests. Every time there has
been a problem, we have bolted on a new bit of machinery.
We now have a chronic hybridity with some issues being dealt with by
this House and some by independent elements.
The public are unable to see the clear picture they need.”
She missed out the Electoral Commission; however, it was enough.
She is absolutely right, accountability in the House of Commons is a dog’s
dinner, and who made it that way?
Accountability and transparency are worthwhile objectives, but not when
the measures put in place in order to attain them make the situation
I am personally not happy with the Standards and Privileges Committee,
and think it should be abolished. Before anyone jumps down my throat, I
will explain why.
The committee consists of 5 Labour MPs, 3 Conservative, 1 Lib Dem and
1 Plaid Cymru.
I am quite sure that when the Conservative party takes power, it will
consist of 5 Conservative, 3 Labour and so on.
It is overseen by an independent commissioner, who I assume is appointed
by the government of the day. If this is the case, can he or she be
truly independent? What do you put first: independence or your job?
MPs are reported to the Standards and Privileges Committee for many
things, some incredibly and un-deniably trivial. I have been too. Many
complaints are politically motivated.
Can any committee composed of conflicting tribal opposition members be
Can any select committee which is weighted with members from the
government of the day behave in a seriously objective non-partisan way?
Or will the government use the government appointed chairman to endorse
and back up a government Bill or position?
You do occasionally hear of a principled chairman speaking out; however,
that in itself possibly maintains the facade.
There are very few procedures and protocols in the House of Commons
which have anything to do with what really matters.
A distinguished and learnerd clerk describes Parliament as an
organism. One that is un-predictable and difficult. Nothing is
guaranteed. That's because when it comes to the nitty gritty of
legislation much of the business is done via 'horse-trading’, bartering
and secret discussions.
Transparency? Accountability? Don't make me laugh. We are no nearer to
that position than we were hundreds of years ago. It’s not just in
members’ expenses, where the problems lie. It runs throughout the entire
fabric of Parliament and how it operates.
On Monday, I will give you a good example.
Government has many mechanisms at its fingertips, to guarantee it pushes
through its legislative programme in full, without too many hitches or inconvenience. Each government of whatever make up will use it’s power to re-enforce that advantage.
Parliament operates within a complex matrix, an un-decipherable well protected code. I, after almost three years as an MP, am only just beginning to scratch the surface.
Young Learners and an Amorous Cabbie
Posted Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 17:14
Iain Dale is in Washington. Before he left he asked me to step in, and speak at a dinner for him, which he had already committed to doing before he decided to go..
It was on Tuesday night, and at the other end of the day from the morning talk I had given at the school.
It had been a shockingly heavy day, it was the last thing I felt like doing.
When Iain asked me to step in at short notice, I was happy to oblige. My reasoning was that the vote would be at 10pm and therefore I could dash to the restaurant in Victoria, where the dinner was taking place, and back into the House for the votes.
When I realised that there were votes at 8.20, 8.30 ,and then at 10, I became visibly distressed!
"Go and see the slipping whip", said the older and wiser MPs.
"He will be very understanding, and tell you not to worry about the ten o’clock vote".
Buoyed with false optimism, I felt confident as I approached the slipping whip in the lobby during the first vote.
Within seconds, I got the feeling that this was a man to whom many MPs had attempted to sell a pup that day.
The deal was that I missed the 8.30 vote, but be back in the lobby for the 10pm.
This deal was struck at 8.25.
I headed out of the House, jumped into a cab, and arrived in the private dining room of the Gran Paradiso in Victoria, to talk to the ‘young learners’ dining club at 8.55.
I had 50 minutes to eat and talk.
The eating didn’t really happen for me; but what did was a fascinating over the table discussion with a group of very intelligent, and switched on young men and women, aged between 23 – 26. They were all passionately interested in the issues of the day and from all sides of the political spectrum.
I ran off at 9.50 and just made the first 10pm vote.
It seemed like a lifetime ago since I had been at Samuel Whitbread, not the same day!
Today, I had lunch with a very famous and influential journalist, (get me!) and had to jump into another cab to Covent Garden.
I got in at Derby Gate. By the time we reached St Stephens entrance, the cab driver had identified that I was from Liverpool; and by the time we were half way down the embankment, he had proposed to me.
He justified his shock proposal with the declaration that he had always wanted to marry a blonde, blue eyed, woman from Liverpool.
I was having a rubbish morning up until that point.
If only he had been good looking, without a wife from Staines, and had all his own teeth!
Posted Wednesday, 6 February 2008 at 19:34
I am so sorry I haven't been able to blog today. Still not finished, wont have time, in the morning.......
Posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008 at 14:27
This morning I gave a talk about climate change at Samuel Whitbread Community College to bright and gifted children, from schools within my constituency.
It’s bad enough having to stand in front of a room full of teenagers who think they know everything; when they know they know everything, it’s just that little bit harder!
I feel as though I short changed them slightly, as I had to dash from the school to London; it’s always difficult trying to fit in constituency engagements on Parliamentary days, and I quite frequently get caught out.
I was on the platform at Kings Cross on 7/7 leaving London to attend a factory visit in the constituency. We felt the ground shake as the train moved away not knowing what it was.
Later that day I vowed I would never 'bunk off' again.
Today at 8am just getting out of my car outside the school, and the phone went with a message from the Chief Whip, to say that David Cameron was calling a meeting of the parliamentary party for 10.15am and to be there.
I couldn't let the teachers or the students down, so I sent my apologies and went into the school.
That's me in trouble again then!
A friend of mine has a girlfriend living in South Africa.
He phones her every single day and yesterday was telling me, in jest, how expensive women were, as it costs him 25p per minute.
So let's work this out 10 x 25p = £2.50 per day x 7 = £17.50 per week!
That's cheap! What are you on about women are expensive, you should be glad she's in South Africa!!
Morality, Empowerment & Sex Education
Posted Monday, 4 February 2008 at 16:10
I have recently written an article for ePolitix.com about morality, empowerment and sex education.
Things are getting really exciting over the pond.
I never liked Romney, one of the Republican candidates, and I like him even less after this weekend - it's time for him to endorse McCain and stop moaning!
The Sunday Mirror and On Chesil Beach
Posted Sunday, 3 February 2008 at 16:54
A Daily Mirror journalist rang me on Friday, after exchanging pleasantries he said, "Nadine, can you confirm that your two daughters are parliamentary pass holders."
This shocked me I will admit a) because I have three daughters and wasn't aware I had mislaid one b) because any two of my daughters are not pass holders and c) even if they were, this is perfectly permissible.
It’s a fair assumption that the offspring of MPs are not likely to be a danger to their parents or present a huge security risk and are therefore safe on the parliamentary estate!
I immediately rang the Pass Office to ask what an earth was going on. The atmosphere in Westminster is very febrile; they had obviously received a number of such calls.
"No" they said, "Absolutely not, none of your daughters are listed pass holders."
"But the journalist from the Daily Mirror had just said they were", said I.
"Do you think he may have been telling porkies?” said the nice man.
"Because he has with everyone else"!
The purpose being?
A friend bought me a present on Friday and said I couldn't open it until I was sat in a big armchair with a large G+T and four or five hours to spare.
The opportunity arrived this afternoon.
I settled down and opened the present, which was a book - On Chesil Beach - by Ian McEwan.
It was profound, painful, and beautiful.
I didn't move again until I turned the last page.
I'm sure I must have held my breath all through the last chapter as I read of the inevitable devastating consequence of a lifetime of unspoken words and repressed emotion.
I have just put the book down. It's now I need the G+T
All Evidence Tells Us To Reduce Abortion Limit
Posted Friday, 1 February 2008 at 11:04
I have written the following article, which has been published in today's Daily Telegraph.
IF A 24 weeks pregnant woman in labour finds herself in a hospital that has no special care baby unit, and no specialist staff, the outcome of her delivery is likely to be very poor indeed.
If the same woman walks into University College Hospital, London, and if her baby is quickly transferred to Prof John Wyatt's special care baby unit, the likely outcome is massively improved.
It's the postcode lottery of life in today's NHS. There are 180 neonatal units in England - nowhere near enough - and according to a National Audit Office report each unit had to close its doors an average of 52 times during 2006-07.
The UCH report published yesterday detailed the excellent survival rates for babies born at the unit in 2000. It is now 2008 and many units across the world are reporting even better outcomes.
The ability for pre-term babies delivered in specialist units to survive from an earlier age demonstrates the speed at which science in this field is developing, and reinforces the argument for the upper limit on abortion to be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks.
It is well worth reminding ourselves, also, that the emergency delivery at 24 weeks occurs due to health problems with either mother or baby, and the doctors will be dealing with a variety of complex issues. In contrast, an aborted baby is more usually a healthy baby.
In a few weeks Parliament will be voting on whether or not to reduce the limit. We know this is the wish of 72 per cent of the population; however, the people's will is not always represented as it should be in this place; ideology sometimes plays a greater role.
Yesterday's report on neonatal survival rates, along with resounding evidence produced by the world's leading foetal pain expert, Professor K J S Anand, that a foetus feels pain from quite an early stage - certainly at 20 weeks - makes the recent science and technology committee report redundant. It also serves to highlight the selective way in which the evidence was presented.
The report used evidence regarding the survival rates of babies born across the UK, regardless of where they were born, and averaged out the figures.
In the words of Professor Anand, "science is an ever-rolling movie, whereas legislation is simply a snapshot in time. Legislation must take into account the evolving nature of science''.
I couldn't agree more. However, with the factual evidence we now have, there can be no reason why any MP could, with all conscience when the vote comes, agree to the 24-week limit.
It's not an issue of women's rights or pro-life, the question is: are we a decent and humane society, or aren't we?
How our lawmakers respond to this new scientific evidence will provide us with an answer.
Commentary - The Daily Telegraph, Friday 1st February 2008.