Wednesday, 19 December 2007
We bought and decorated the Christmas tree last weekend. I always go for the non- 'non-drop' kind, because the way they smell- (all rich and of pine-forests when you come down in the morning) -more than makes up for the extra hoovering, in my books.
(Plus the decorations go easier on the branches...)
Everyone knows T.S. Eliot's poem about the Magi, but this is one that I love, and really captures the magic of Christmas that can so easily get lost in the panic about chores, turkeys and cards.
The Cultivation of Christmas Trees
There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish -- which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By 'eightieth' meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
Monday, 17 December 2007
I have to admit, I thought it was real snow, when I approached the Southmead Carol Bus. ( I know, I know...) But it wasn't a completely stupid assumption, it was just the weather for snow, and what with the carols and everything... it seemed wrong that it wouldn't be snowing... On closer inspection, I enjoyed the foam snow that followed the Southmead Carol Bus.
I'd like to congratulate Cliff Howells from Southmead Pride and all those involved in organising the Southmead Carol Bus this year. I followed the bus’s procession on Friday night as it drove up
Uniting people, reaching out to old and young, families and the lonely, lightening up darkness, this is surely what Christmas is all about. It is heartening to see the Southmead Carol Bus raising money for such good causes in a really traditional way, and at the same time bringing the real values of Christmas alive, which can be shared everyone, regardless of race, religion or age.
If you want to donate to the 2007 Carol Bus appeal, go to www.southmeadpride.co.uk or visit Cliff's Florists on
Friday, 14 December 2007
It is both heartening and humbling to see a man like Ray, who has devoted his life to serving his community, without fuss, and without fanfare, receive the honours he deserves. To be absolutely honest, people like Ray put politicians to shame. One of the odd and unedifying things about political work, is that you are expected to trumpet your achievements all over the election literature you put through peoples' doors. And there's usually a press release... If Ray, and others like him, had press released everyone one of his achievements, and put it on literature through our doors, I don't think the Evening Post would have room for much else, and we'd wade through six feet of paper every morning to open our doors.
I took Ray to tea at the House of Lords, with a lady I used to work with, Baroness Perry of Southwark. It was a lovely way to end the day. At the end, we all lined up for a photo outside the House of Lords. (Photo above.) It was only when I got home and uploaded my photos that I realised - Ray had managed to put himself at the back again... (second on the right.) in the photo to celebrate his own MBE!
Ray, you are a lesson and an inspiration to us all.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Hatton was the epitome of bravery and extraordinary good humour in the face of defeat. It may be a very British trait to lose at the top of the sporting league, but it is also very British to be gracious and inspirational in the face of that defeat.
Forget hours of dull theoretical lessons on the values of citizenship and Britishness, Hatton's display of hard work, discipline, courage and grace in the face of defeat is something we should be showing in citizenship lessons up and down the country.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Some of you may remember that I organised a petition to stop cuts in special schools, back in January '07. (Note to the ever-imaginative Bristol Blogger : comedy pictures of us campaigning in the rain, which has caption-competition potential, SOMEWHERE on this blog!)
The petition was successful and we got over 700 signatures. Now the council claims that the reorganisations will not amount to cuts in special school places, even though they are closing down the smart, and newly refurbished Kingsdon Manor school, a residential school for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. ( BESD.)
The Council, in short, says that there are too many residential BESD places in Bristol, and not enough day places, especially in the North of the city. Their solution? To close down Kingsdon Manor, which, they say, is operating with lots of surplus places, decant the pupils who need residential BESD into nearby Notton House, which provides for the same group, and pump the money into Florence Brown School, which ( are you still following?) will be re designated for pupils with BESD. That's the short version. For the long version, have a look at the council papers going to cabinet on Thursday.
On the face of it, these seem like very reasonable plans. My concerns are that despite council reassurances, these will in fact amount to cuts.
And there are real grounds for concern. Under this Government there has been a push to close down special schools and to stop giving children with SEN statements. We have lost around 9000 special school places nationally since Labour came into power in 1997, and the number of children even being given an assessment for a statement of SEN has plummeted by a third.
A child cannot get into a special school without a statement, and most importantly, statements provide a vital legal safeguard to the kind of care they are entitled to at school. In Bristol, the number of children for whom the authority has maintained a statement has dropped since 1997 by around 28%. The total number of children with statements in Bristol has fallen by over 20% in five years.
So when council cabinet looks at these plans, I have urged them to:
- Ensure that reorganisation of special school places does not mean cuts
- Ensure that reduced statementing is not used as a way to strangulate a special school to the point of closure.
- Ensure that we keep flexibility for future requirements for SEN and that Bristol City Council does not permanently jettison sites and resources (like the superb and recently re-furbished Kingsdon Manor site) it will later need.
- Protects those involved: to ensure that any reorganisation is not rushed through, and that all children involved have sufficient time to be reassessed and given appropriate new placements if new placements are decided upon.
I will keep you posted on progress....
Friday, 30 November 2007
WebCameron: My visit to Washington – part one
The Telegraph: Robert Winnett on ‘Tories open up historic lead over Labour in polls’
The Telegraph: Jeff Randal on ‘The wheels are coming off the government’
The Independent: Matthew Norman on ‘For Gordan Brown this really is terminal’
Time: Jeffery Sachs on ‘Citizens can do something about Climate Change’
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
The Times: Daniel Finkelstein on ‘ Free your Forthcoming Fiasco Checklist’
The Telegraph: Simon Heffer on ‘Gordon Brown is in a hell of a mess now’
CoffeeHouse: James Forsyth on ‘ Will Gordon listen to this advice?’
Platform 10: Graeme Archer on ‘Accountability – the most important political trait’
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Sp!ked: Mike Hume on ‘Where Blair had God, Brown has only Branson’
The Telegraph: Rachel Sylvester on ‘Coming next… an even bigger database’
Platform 10: Gigantic
ConservativeHome: Sam Freedman on ‘Conservative education policy is going in the right direction’
Monday, 26 November 2007
The Times: James Campbell on ‘ Could Gordan Brown be going Howard’s way?’
The Telegraph: Janet Daley on ‘How much power can we give the people?’
CoffeeHouse: James Forsyth on ‘Can Gordan recover?’
ConservativeHome: Andrew Haldenby and Laura Kounine on: Michael Gove should fund but not manage the nation’s schools
Friday, 23 November 2007
Telegraph: Iain Dale on ‘Tories should pledge a vote on being in the EU’
The Times: Peter Riddell on ‘Missing data and economic worries erode faith in Gordan Brown’
Spectator: Charles Moore: The Spectator’s Notes
Platform 10: Matt Stockwell on Renewable Energy
Thursday, 22 November 2007
WebCameron: David Cameron explains key elements of Tory education policy
Spectator: Fraser Nelson on ‘A Thorn In Gordon’s Brown’s Side’
CoffeeHouse: Fraser Nelson on ‘Set the people free’
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Coffee House: Fraser Nelson on ‘Why the Government is in so much trouble’
The Times: Alice Miles on 'Second-class and lost in the post
If this government is incompetent enough to lose millions of personal details, is it safe with anything?'
Prospect: David Goldblatt on ‘Taking sport seriously’
Platform10: Michael Lynas on ‘A better team’
Platform 10: ‘Admission of Guilt’
Sunday, 4 November 2007
The centre is so much more than just a riding stable. It provides the opportunity for disabled children and adults to overcome their disability in some small way, and learn to ride. Riding is not only liberating and fun, but it also provides therapy - good muscle exercise and increases the sense of balance.
Here I am presenting prizes to the young participants of the "Wizard of Oz" opening show. It was humbling to present prizes to young people who face such extraordinary daily challenges . Well done to all involved. A really remarkable, and wonderful afternoon.
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Webcameron: David Cameron’s speech on demographic change http://www.webcameron.org.uk/597
Coffee House: Matthew D’Ancona on ‘Gove skewers Gordan’
Platform 10: Michael Lynas on ‘The Littlest things’
Conservativehome: Poll in Independent gives Conservatives a two seat majority in an election.
Daily Telegraph: Michael Gove on ‘What has Ed Balls got against excellence?’
Spectator: Fraser Neslon on ‘Cameron means business on welfare…’
Platform 10: ‘Today has been cancelled!’
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Chooseday was the brain child of a team including Joshua Hart and Chris Sunderland (pictured here with me). The idea is simple: On Tuesday ( see what they've done?! Chooseday?!) leave your car at home. Do something different to help the environment.
I think the idea is a winner. There are few things more depressing for an aspirant Green than standing at the bottom of the mountain of the 'Green Ideal', in a state of repentant despair because you suspect you will never ascend to the saintly heights of those who have thrown away the car keys, live in a solar-powered eco-hut, eat nothing but the produce of their back garden, and power their carbon-light lives by their own waste products. And the product of that kind of despair born of a sense of hopeless inadequacy, is to feel that you are an irredeemable Green-sinner and not to do anything green at all.
But Chooseday doesn't ask too much. It only asks that you change your way of life in some small but significant way, one day a week. It's ok, say the organisers of Chooseday, if you have to use your car occasionally. ( Not ideal, but don't get het up about it.) Just do what you can each Tuesday. And if everyone does the same, we will all see just how much difference a collective effort can make. Imagine a Bristol of no cars, just one day a week. Great things start with small steps. So go to their website and learn how you can help make a difference.
Monday, 29 October 2007
There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine in the evening. As long as you're not driving, and as long as that pint or glass of vino isn't followed by six more. And it's also a good excuse to support one of England's great traditional products - ale and proper beer, which is being replaced little by little by lager imports which are usually much stronger.
Here, I'm about to enjoy a 'Peat Porter', as my tasteful beer mustache reveals. My companions enjoyed a pint of the unfussily named " Beer!" and Butcombe Bitter respectively. We also enjoyed three packets of very exotically flavoured crisps. ( Sweet Chilli and Lemon, Bloody Mary - with a mysterious exclamation mark after it on the packet - and real parsnip crisps. I mean they are made out of real parsnips. ) As below.
For three pints of real ale and some packets of crisps, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Inn on the Green. It's been completely transformed recently into a really nice place to enjoy a great variety of British beverage. (In moderation, and responsibly, of course.)
potatoes don't get more exotic than this...
Monday, 22 October 2007
The Grounds4Change programme helps young people brighten up their area. Over the summer a patch of rubbish-strewn weeds next to Horfield Youth Club has been transformed into a wood-chippings flower bed. But it is about more than simply spade-work. Becky was giving youth club members instructions about what was and was not weeds, and I found out there was to be a test on Latin names of plants when all the hard work was done. I used to do Latin at university. I made myself scarce before anyone found out...
"Eleven Days since your last blog post!!! " emailed my trusty blog monitor, this morning. "Well, if you will spend all your time rotting in front of a computer..." I moaned. And began to defend my blog-negligence.
Here is me, not blogging, this morning. I was with the Lockleaze "Feeling Good, Feeling Safe" group, which was doing a litter pick. There was also a stall with information for residents how best to recycle their litter. Everyone had worked very hard in organising the day and it was a real success. It struck me how far we have come on in recycling over recent years. A couple of young children came to look at the stall and play some of the recycling games - they knew all about recycling and what went in which bin. It bodes well for greener generation to come.
Friday, 19 October 2007
Even though the Spanish, French, German ,Finnish Governments and the European Commission all agree that the new 'Treaty' is the same in content as the old 'Constitution'. Even though the only point of dissent seems to be whether the E.U. Treaty is 90% the same as the old Constitution as the Irish Prime Minister says, or 98% the same, as the Spanish Foreign Minister says.
Even though the Constitution, sorry, I mean Treaty, means fundamental changes to the powers of our Nation State. Even though it opens the flood gates for Brussels to give itself extra powers without even undergoing the rigors of parliamentary debate. Even though it hands even more power over to Europe on criminal justice and asylum.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for sensible and constructive collaboration and involvement in Europe. And I do not think that I am alone. So why is Gordon Brown so reluctant 1. To give us a clear guide of what's actually in the Treaty? 2. To give us a say on what we think about it?
If you want a readable guide to what the Treaty is all about, read the 'Treaty in Plain English'
Then realise why Brown doesn't want a referendum.
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Last night I met up with freshers and students from Bristol University, partly (I admit) to take a trip down memory lane and pretend I was young and care-free again. But also to talk about politics in general. Here I am with members of Bristol University Conservative Association, at their first social event of the year.
Today's students come from a generation that has been 'sold at' in more ways than perhaps any previous generation. The result? They are a highly discerning consumer group, who are not impressed by cheap gimmickry. Perhaps that's why they sometimes stay clear of the less edifying aspects of party politics. But as I discovered last night, when it comes to talking about things that matter, students are energetic in their views. Bristol University students care so much about issues around them that last year they put in around 100,000 hours of community service in Bristol. That may not be 'party political', but it's exactly the kind of attitude that politics needs.
Saturday, 6 October 2007
Friday, 5 October 2007
Underlying this assumption was an expectation that all politicians have a yearning to eradicate any opposition to their point of view. To create an Orwellian 1984 where opposition is either distorted to agreement, or wiped out completely. Where all that is left of democracy is a rather pathetic and unsubstantiated conviction, held by a systematically brainwashed population who are pelted with a shower of meaningless language, that they are living in one.
When I was at the Conservative Conference, I asked a journalist ( who was definitely NOT a Tory) what the Labour party conference was like. I was amazed at his reply.
" It was sinister". He said.
" For the first time I heard a politician say he wanted to annihilate the opposition completely." He was referring to Gordon Brown saying that he wanted to wipe out the Conservative Party once and for all.
That is much more significant than just saying you want to win an election and beat the others. That is not saying you think you are the best party to run the country. That is saying you want power above all else. That is saying that Power for the Labour Party is more important than democracy. By implication, that is tantamount to a dictatorship.
I do not think that power for any party is more important than democracy. Annoying as it might be for a candidate, I am pleased that I have opposition candidates to compete with, and in the interests of democracy, I would never wish to see any party (except those inciting prejudiced hatred) 'wiped out'.
But that is why Gordon Brown rearranged his visit to Iraq - to 'annihilate' all coverage of his opponents' party conference. That is also why he made announcements on the NHS early. To drown out the voice of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
At the end of his conference speech, Gordon Brown said ' I will not let you down'. Remember, at a Party Conference, the leader is not addressing the country, (s)he is addressing his party. Gordon Brown was not promising to serve his country, but promising his party that he would give them unopposed power.
That marks a fundamental shift in the aims of our Government.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
I like this because in politics everyone always has so MUCH to say. All the time. And everybody charges around saying that they are more right than everyone else. But there are some things that really do leave nothing to be said, and this poem (and often poetry in general) gives a voice to this.
And perhaps the reason we all (politicians and non-politicians included) rush around so much, saying so much, so quickly and so loudly, pushing out newspapers and blogs like this one, is to make sure there is no empty space to think too hard about That which leaves Nothing To Be Said.
So thanks to poets like Larkin for some space to think in a frenetic world.
Nothing to be said
For nations vague as weed,
For nomads among stones,
Small-statured cross-faced tribes
And cobble-close families
In mill-towns on dark mornings
Life is slow dying.
So are their separate ways
Of building, benediction,
Measuring love and money
Ways of slowly dying.
The day spent hunting pig
Or holding a garden-party,
Hours giving evidence
Or birth, advance
On death equally slowly.
And saying so to some
Means nothing; others it leaves
Nothing to be said.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
This year it was the 50th Anniversary of 'Crossbow', the magazine I edit for the Conservative think tank The Bow Group. So what better way to celebrate than with tasteful sticks of luminous blue Blackpool Rock?
Here we see myself and Boris anticipating the joys of Blackpool rock outside the conference venue.
If I can work out how to put PDFs on my blog, you can also read the 50th Anniversary magazine. I got Geoffrey Howe and Jilly Cooper writing in the same publication. That must be a first.
There's still some rock and a few magazines left, so if you'd like a souvenir from Blackpool, drop me a line.
Tuesday, 2 October 2007
I spoke about boys - how the under-achievement of our young men is one of the main underlying factors behind the so-called 'broken society'. Over a quarter of boys don't get a single good GCSE, a fifth of them will have a reading age of half their years by the time they are 14, 80% of all expusions are of boys- and they will make up some of the 30,000 children who don't even get to take their GCSEs in an average year.
I called for a real technical, practical, manual curriculum for those who want it, so they can access good levels of literacy and numeracy through more hands-on means. I called for an unwrapping of the cotton-wool culture of health and safety from our school, I called for real competition to be allowed on the sports field and in the classroom.
I also pointed out the good work that Avonmouth National Smelting Boxing Club does in providing an alternative to hanging around on the street for young men in Bristol. I told the Conference they are in need of funds to expand - so let's hope that there were some rich donors in the audience who had not fallen asleep by the end of my speech...
Friday, 28 September 2007
I think we have nearly all experienced of the work of Macmillan nurses, directly or indirectly through friends or family. They cared for my gran through her last days. And around 700 of these events were held in the South West alone, today. That's a lot of caffeine.
After I left the Henbury coffee morning I admit I dropped into Southmead hospital's Big Stir for another caffeine kick on my way to UWE Freshers Fair.
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
" Why not?" I asked. "
" Not allowed". Said the man. " Health 'n' safety".
" But that's ridiculous!" I spluttered. " Surely I can have a rare steak if I want one? I don't like it any other way.... What about if it's not a T-Bone?" (Maybe it's the bone that's the problem, I thought.) "I'll sign a disclaimer...!" I wailed. I was getting desperate. "There's health BENEFITS to a good rare steak!" I cried...
But no. The barman said that no steak is to be served anything less than a grey-pink opaque medium, because health and safety dictate that it should be so.
If health and safety really do dictate how you have your steak cooked, you know something's going very, very wrong.
Meanwhile, on another side of town, 11-year-old tear-aways are allowed to play havoc with the law, and wreck people's property and homes without punishment, because they're too young for the police to be able to deal with them.
Where's the health and safety in that?
Rare Steak: About to get rarer?
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
Anyway, enough of the whinging. I've finally reached my target for St. Peter's hospice of over £1000. Makes all the pain worthwhile. Just. Well done to everyone who ran the Bristol Half - and a particular thanks to someone called Simon who kept me going through the worst bit at around 8 miles by determinedly chatting about other, less painful, things!
Bring on the next knee-crunching challenge!
Sunday, 9 September 2007
ps. Thanks to Westbury Harriers supporters for keeping up the yelling!
Saturday, 8 September 2007
If I don't post again for a while, you'll know why...
Thursday, 6 September 2007
1. Lots of e-numbers make children hyperactive.
2. Lots and lots of booze when you're a teenager is no good for you and lands you in with the wrong crowd.
Phew. I know. Earth shattering isn't it? What's so amazing about the two sets of headlines today (and most of today's papers carry the additives and e-numbers story on their front page) is that surely it is common sense? Or at least if not common-sense, old news?
I remember my mum whittering on about the dangers of e-numbers ( I wasn't entirely sure what they were) when I was about ten. ( As a result, my first major act of rebellion when I went to university was to go to the newsagents and buy a large bag of bright blue penny sweets and eat them before lunch.)
Surely consuming huge amounts of alcohol when you're 13 indicates that something is not quite right at home and your mates are probably not the best influence on you, and all that home-brewed Snake-bite will inevitably do some pretty hefty liver damage?
But in an age of information over-load, it seems that we can't realise something is the truth until we have some statistics. Parents and teachers could have told you that fizzy drinks and booze is bad for kids years ago. ( I have visited a school for disengaged boys where banning fizzy drinks and giving the boys bottled water in lessons to suck on improved behaviour dramatically.) But now we need a 'report' to prove it.
Of course policy should not be decided on superstitious whim, or fashion fad. Of course in-depth reports are important. Of course policy should be based on evidence. But today's headlines are not a sign of an evidence-based society, they are a sign of a statistics-based society. ( And we all know the old adage about lies, lies and damned statistics.) This time, the statistics paint a picture of the truth. But it is truth we should have known long ago. The real news to shock you is that all this should be news at all.
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Argh! Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a good idea any more. On Sunday I'll be running the Bristol Half Marathon to raise money for St. Peter's Hospice. Please give generously - they depend entirely on donations and as I saw from my visit this morning, the work they do is invaluable for those approaching the most testing time of their life, and for their families.
Go to my 'JUST GIVING' page, and... please, just give...
Many thanks! - I'll let you know how I get on...
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
Henleaze Lakes - one of Bristol's best kept secrets, and most exclusive swimming clubs. If you, like me, are thinking 'I fancy a bit of that', I'm afraid you're going to have to wait some time. There's a waiting list to get on the waiting list.
It is maintained and run by a dedicated team of volunteers, who clear it out in the winter and maintain it in the summer. That's no mean task. The maintenance committee get nothing for their work except the satisfaction of seeing the lake flourish, and the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour.
If only more of our community facilities were run like that. Local people taking responsibility for their locality. Take away the red tape, trust people to manage their own affairs, give ownership back to communities and things go, (sorry, got to say it) swimmingly.
It was the RNLI lifeboat day, and the whole community had got together to put on a huge fund raising event. This is apicture of me after I got roped into doing a leg of Bude Surf Life Saving Club's fund raiser surf-craft marathon on the Bude Canal. If the photo is a bit dark, it is because I was stupid enough to agree to do one of the night shifts.
I am in fact ( if you look VERY closely) holding the rescue-board I paddled. It is really a long surf-board designed to be paddled through the surf quickly to collect a swimmer in distress. So there I was paddling up and down the canal at 1.30am trying to avoid the dead eel that had been reported floating about. But all in a good cause! In total, the club paddled around 100-150k, and is still waiting to hear just how much money they raised.
Bude Surf Club is the first Surf Life Saving Club to be set up in Britain ( in 1953). It trains its members in surf-life-saving, many of whom go on to become life-guards on the beach and provides an essential voluntary patrol during the busy summer season. Lots of people like me nip down the M5 from Bristol to Cornwall for their holidays, and if I had not worked as a life-guard, I would never have guessed the amount of training and community involvement that goes into keeping us safe while we enjoy ourselves on the beaches. Community Action, Professional pride, sport and healthy living... what more could a Conservative Candidate ask?!
Sigh. I can't pretend I don't miss my lifeguarding days a bit. But Severn Beach Surf Lifesaving Club just doesn't have that ring about it...
Saturday, 25 August 2007
And a scorcher it was. Some friends and I were hunting down a cafe in the midday sun of this scorcher, along Shirehampton High Street and came across JJ's bakery and cafe. We sat at one of the tables and chairs set out along the pavement to watch the world go by. Paris, eat your heart out.
I ordered an orange juice with ice, and a gargantuan and quivering custard slice. But everyone else seemed to have had the same idea. About the orange juice and ice at least. The helpful staff apologized that they had run out of ice, but that they would do their best. How do you 'do your best' when it comes to ice? I thought.
But JJ's came up with five star culinary innovation: Frozen strawberries. In your drink, instead of ice. Go to JJ's on Shire High Street and try it, quick. Because this is England - scorchers don't last long...
Monday, 20 August 2007
Trevor Phillips today highlighted the problems of youth crime and the prevalence of violence amongst black males. He reported that 12% of the prison population are black, compared with 2% of the general population, and discussed issues like family breakdown and educational under achievement that make up the vicious spiral to a life of crime.
Last week the Bow Group published research on the underachievment of boys at school, by Chris Skidmore, on which I wrote a comment piece in the Telegraph. (Read my opinion piece here) The findings are shocking:
It demonstrates the challenge we face in engaging all our boys in education. Over a quarter of all boys don't get a single good GCSE, a fifth of boys aged 14 have a reading age of half their years, and just 36% of boys stay on to take A levels, compared with 44% of girls.
But it is when it comes to the discipline statistics that you begin to see why youth crime is such a problem amongst young men. In the latest exclusion figures, boys accounted for around three quarters of all suspensions and expulsion, and over half of all permanent exclusions were of boys between 12-14 years old.
The report also showed that on the free-school-meals measure at least, white males on free school meals face some of the greatest challenges at school: Of all white boys eligible for free school meals, only 37% get the expected level at Key Stage 3 English, compared with 57% of girls. And on this measure, 46% of black boys on FSM and 50% of Asian boys on FSM reach the expected standard in KS3.Trevor Phillip's report is timely and important. Youth crime is one of the most worrying issues facing us today. Educational achievement, crime and life-chances are all integrally connected, and at the moment, boys and young men at school, from across the ethnic spectrum, are losing out because they are not engaged with the kind of education we are offering. A more practically engaged curriculum which is less wrapped up in cotton wool, more competitive sport and a less politically correct environment that says competition is a dirty word are the kind of changes we should be looking at.
Saturday, 4 August 2007
What was the response? I am sad to say that it was jeering and booing from the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches. And low and behold, now we have more Bus route cuts. These cuts are going to affect all of us. Many elderly people depend on these buses as their life-line to the outside world.
Many elderly people depend on these buses as their life-line to the outside world.
If Labour and the Lib Dems hadn't been so busy behaving like two-year-olds, we may have had this public meeting before the appalling route-cuts to the 54A, 55 and 57 buses which run through Bristol North West.
Conservatives are not going to let this campaign drop. If the other parliamentary candidates in the area are going to kick up a fuss about the cuts, I suggest they get their own parties in order, and support my call for a public meeting to hold First Bus to account.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
Read about the Conservatives' campaign for Safer Routes for Schools in the Evening Post by clicking here!
When was the closest you came to getting run-over? Most people have had at least one near miss- the moment when your mind has been wandering and a vehicle whisks past your nose, or knocks the back of your bag. Then you can't help but think of the terrible sequence of ifs. IF you had been one inch more off the curb. IF the vehicle had come a second earlier... The last time that happened to me was when I was on my way to Westbury-On-Trym School's 'Red Squirrel Day'. Anyone who has been to Westbury-on-Trym Church of England School knows that you are taking your life in your hands if you go at drop-off or pick-up time. But amazingly, earlier in the year, the Council retracted on its promise to give the school funding for the 'Safer Routes to School' programme. The reasons why beggar belief:
More than 2,000 children died on British roads last year, while around 100 children in Bristol were injured or killed on the roads in the same period. What were the Council waiting for?!
1. That the school had been so successful in encouraging parents not to take their cars to the school gates that it was no longer necessary. ( you only have to go there at pick up time to see that's not quite true! said the Head to me)
2. That it was too expensive. Despite the fact the school had requested cheaper measures than the Council originally insisted on being put in place before they retracted the offer.
3. That it was not necessary because no children had yet been injured! More than 2,000 children died on British roads last year, while around 100 children in Bristol were injured or killed on the roads in the same period. What were the Council waiting for?!
You may have heard my interview on Original FM, supporting Conservative Councillor Geoff Gollop's petition to the Council meeting on 24th July. The petition received huge support and I am pleased that the Council took Geoff's petition seriously and is referring the matter for further investigation.
The School had originally requested quite modest traffic calming measures to put in place, but the Council had instead insisted on a more expensive version, which it later said would break the bank. Hopefully now they will at least let the school have the modest traffic calming measures it said it originally wanted. Before a near miss becomes a tragedy.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
The Bad news is that the Council rejected our call for a referendum on road pricing before a congestion charge is introduced. We have just seen rises in fares from First Bus. People are being priced off the buses and could be priced off the roads without a say. The hardest off will be the hardest hit and this could amount to nothing less than a tax on the poor.
People are being priced off the buses and could be priced off the roads without a say. The hardest-off will be the hardest hit
I was amazed that Labour and Lib Dem Councillors didn't listen to my request for a public meeting between First Group, the general public and the Council to question First on fare rises. This was our chance to publicly ask just how First intends to give Bristolians a good bus service at a reasonable price. I am sorry to see Councillors running scared of the electorate, especially on an issue as important as this. But I won't let this drop. Watch this space!
Sunday, 22 July 2007
I don't think I've ever walked into Cafe Breeze and had a choice of more than three tables. It is always packed. And with good reason.
The mochas come in tall glasses, layered, like those fudge cakes called things like 'death by chocolate'.
It may not offer the stout fagots and mash fare of the Cookie in Lockleaze, (see below) but it serves up both exceptionally good coffee and a full menu of good, unobtrusively cosmopolitan breakfast-lunch food. It serves abundant frothy cappuccinos, and probably the best mochas I have ever had. The mochas come in tall glasses, layered, like those fudge cakes called things like 'death by chocolate'. There is cream on top, and then they sprinkle on chocolate flakes that go shiny and melt slowly into the cream when you touch them with your spoon. ...but enough of that. If it's lunch you're after, they have a wide range of salads, hot and cold food- and my particular favourite, huge, hearty bowls of soup with great doorsteps of bread.
I'm delighted Cafe Breeze are branching out. But they're going to have to watch it- they're going to have to guard their gift-shop space jealously otherwise people like me will set up camp with a paper and a mocha amongst the gift-section.
There are lots of non-chain cafes in Bristol that make Nero and Starbucks look like a doctor's waiting room! Support local business and tell me if there is a cafe I should visit. Post a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, 20 July 2007
This extraordinary silent retaliation against the police investigators is the most significant and sinister aspect of the entire "Cash for Honours" saga.
Am I the only one to be amazed that a professional police inspector has to defend his decision to investigate where the evidence led him, regardless of the outcome? I find it absolutely extraordinary that thanks to some emotional spin from the Government, egged along by the tone of BBC coverage, the implicit finger of accusation points at the police for doing their job. Would the public have thanked the police if they had listened to Tony's affirmations that everyone in no.10 'is a pretty straight kind of bloke really' , and then said ' oh well, they seem a nice bunch, we don't want to upset anybody. Let's let this whole question of the corruption of our Government lie"?
There are two sorts of political events: Enormous tectonic plate-shifts, where our entire perception of who we are and how the world works is shifted and then there are the rags of yesterdays newspapers that blow about on the top.This extraordinary silent retaliation against the police investigators is the most significant and sinister aspect of the entire "Cash for Honours" saga. The day when you're ostracised for even daring to question Government is a very dark day indeed. And today, the tectonic plates shifted a good deal near.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
We Sat At The Window
By Thomas Hardy
We sat at the window looking out,
And the rain came down like silken strings
That Swithin's day. Each gutter and spout
Babbled unchecked in the busy way
Of witless things:
Nothing to read, nothing to see
Seemed in that room for her and me
On Swithin's day.
We were irked by the scene, by our own selves; yes,
For I did not know, nor did she infer
How much there was to read and guess
By her in me, and to see and crown
By me in her.
Wasted were two souls in their prime,
And great was the waste, that July time
When the rain came down.
All this sampling of coffee, mugs of hot tea and the occasional pint is far too good to keep to myself, so I thought I'd start a bit of a cafe-pub review slot. And my inspiration? 'The Cookie' cafe, Gainsborough Square, Lockleaze.
The Cookie is a little unusual. At time of writing, it has a hand written notice stuck up inside the front window, saying that there is good and bad in the world, and calling on customers to bear in mind their moral conscience. You have to live with it, the sign says. It confirms to customers that in a world of good and bad, The Cookie is good. Specialties as fagots and mash, steaming bowls of hot apple crumble with vanilla-ish smelling custard, and generous mugs of sweet tea may not be so good for the conscience of the dedicated salad-eater, but unlike fast-food burger chains, The Cookie serves nothing but good wholesome food. A lot of it involving gravy. I was on my way to meet someone for lunch, so was quite good and had just a mug of tea ( the proper size, nice clean crockery) and a slice of fruit cake. The staff were rushed off their feet, but were really friendly and efficient.
We live in a world where we are lead to believe that a proper protein-packed English breakfast of egg, bacon, toast and beans is bad, but that a croissant loaded with fat, a coffee stuffed with sugar and cream, a muffin oozing sugar and weird hydrogenated fats, or a burger boasting dubious body parts is ok. Everything in moderation, but there is nothing wrong with a proper English food. We should be proud of it. Generations before us were brought up on this fare, and it hasn't done them so badly. I'm going back for fagots and mash. And for anyone wanting the same, I can confirm, The Cookie is Good.
Do you know of a great non-chain Cafe, Greasy Spoon or Pub that I should visit? Let me know by posting a comment below, or emailing me email@example.com
Friday, 13 July 2007
Our abysmal July makes this joke particularly appropriate. And it could be a real election-loser, if told badly, at the end of a long dinner when everyone just wanted to go home. So it gets included.
In the year 2006, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in Britain and said, "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and see the end of all flesh before me. You need to build another Ark and have 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans.You have 6 months to build the Ark before I start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights".
Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his back garden - but no Ark.
"Noah!" He roared, "I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?
"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed. I needed planning permission. I've been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system.
My neighbours claim that I've violated the local council's by-laws by building the Ark in my garden and exceeding the height limitations.
We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision.
Then the Department of Transportation demanded a deposit be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they wouldn't listen.
Then I had problems getting the wood. There's a ban on cutting local trees.
When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group threatened me for confining wild animals against their will. They said it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.
Then the local council ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an Environmental impact study on your proposed flood.
I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many indigenous people I'm supposed to hire for my building crew. The Immigration department is checking the status of most of the people who want to work and I've even had a letter from the Home Office asking about my ethnic background!
To make matters worse, the Inland Revenue has seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.
So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark''.
Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.
Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you're not going to destroy the world?""No," said the Lord. "New Labour beat me to it."
Thursday, 12 July 2007
I have just come from the top of a very windy tower block in Barton Hill. I was recording for a feature going out on BBC1's The Politics Show, this Sunday, 12.30pm. Barton Hill has benefited from £50m investment through the Government's New Deal with Communities (NDC) programme. The programme is looking at how the money has been spent.
You'd have to go pretty badly wrong to spend £50m and not see any differences ( That's the equivalent financially of setting up two brand new city academies in Barton Hill, which, as you know, is not a huge place.) And I would be the first to say that the area certainly looks and feels a lot better.
When I was at school, I used to swim with the City of Bristol Squad in the old Barton Hill Pool. (some of you might remember it - horrendous Victorian redbrick building, filthy, with perennially freezing floor tiles and pool-water temperature which seemed to defy science with its tendency to go from a skin-blueing 17 degrees centigrade to a stifling 38 degrees within a day.) That was in the mid-nineties. I remember that you locked the car doors as you went down into Barton Hill, and I recall the feeling of trespassing onto dangerous territory, and the sheer dereliction of the place. Nearly all that is gone. Things seem genuinely better.
But before the shoot, we bumped into a girl who works with young people in the area. We put it to her that the place had improved. She wasn't convinced. 'You can't change the people' she said. 'They're still dealing (drugs) in there (the tower blocks) and just jump over the fences around the flats'. That bit wasn't filmed.
I'm sure the NDC money has done a lot of good, and I support the idea of resident-leaders deciding, in conjunction with the community, what they need. But we cannot afford to spend £50m in every ward of deprivation in the country. The real test of the NDC will be in ten years time when the first paint has peeled off. I hope it proves sustainable and successful, and I hope the community are able to keep the improvements running. Trying to tackle, on a long-term basis, the challenging behaviour of (a minority) of those who live in these areas is what the Breakdown Britain report begins to address.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Many people have been left behind by the caravan of society that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have presided over for ten years. Social mobility has declined, numbers of those not in education, training or employment (NEETS) has rocketed under New Labour; Gordon Brown's reforms have left the very poorest worse off - but conveniently for Gordon, these are the very people who are often least likely to have a voice to shout this out.
Also convenient for Gordon is that most of this didn't happen under his Prime Ministerial watch. True, he may have been the brains behind the operation, and may have signed off all the cheques, but he is really cashing in now on distancing himself from everything his predecessor was associated with -sofa government and gloss. I am delighted if Gordon is returning more power to Parliament. But let's not celebrate him too much - Government should never have ended up on the sofa in the first place. Brown may be making a splash in changing procedure, and cutting Her Maj out of the first Queen's Speech announcements, but this is to make up for the fact that his announcements are a bit of a broken record. Take skills- we've been hearing about apprenticeships for donkey's years. Come on Gordon, it can't be that hard to replicate a model of learning and working that did the trick for countless young people not so very long ago? But we've been hearing about the need for apprenticeships for almost a decade. And what is Gordon's big solution? To rearrange structures, not look at what people actually want. The education environment is often exactly what young people who want to learn at work find so off-putting. Dragging this out to 18 is unlikely to do the trick.
So we have Iain Duncan Smith's report - widely touted as revealing the direction of a 'new socially conscious' Conservative Party , but which is actually rooted well in Conservative tradition and offers brave, gritty ways to tackle the real challenges our society faces; and Gordon Brown's effort to appear new and revolutionary, which is stuck in the mud of a dismal record on social mobility and help for the poorest.
It's not so much that Brown's a broken record, as the fact that when it comes to the hard end of social deprivation, it is a bad record, that bothers me. Thousands of families simply can't afford more repeats.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Approach your friend with the air of someone about to impart some great piece of knowledge.
"Did you know all male tennis players are witches?" you ask.
(Pause, while your friend looks at you quizzically.)
"Yep," you say, with immense authority. " I mean, Goran - Even 'ee's a witch. " (Ivanisevic)
Bad. Really bad.
More election-losing jokes, please!
Friday, 6 July 2007
You may have picked up the Evening Post and found me glaring out at you today from a traffic island. I have set up a petition on the Council’s website to ask for a referendum on road pricing before a pilot scheme goes ahead.
Click on the link below for the full Evening Post story.
Sitting on the traffic-island fence?
I think the journalist on the end of the phone was a bit upset that I wasn’t going to shake my fists and yell ‘No Road Charge!’. I also think he was a bit miffed that I didn’t get all militant in favour of road charging. I suspect there are already
There really are good arguments both for and against road-pricing. You’re not stupid, you can think of the main ones, but simply put:
- On the one hand, global warming is a real threat to our way of life (Though I admit, it’s hard to believe anything’s warming up today.) We must reduce carbon emissions and our reliance on the car.
at peak hour is grid-locked. Congestion is costing Bristol business approximately £1m per week. Not good, and only going to get worse… Bristol
- Drastic times call for drastic measures, some might say. No one wants to pay more tax, but is it the only way to find the money needed to improve our public transport?
- It’s not fair to make people pay an extra tax when they have no option but to use their car.
- Businesses in the zone may suffer.
- It will not reduce carbon emissions, or congestion, it will simply push it all just outside the zone. Into places like Westbury-on-Trym, Horfield, Henleaze and Stoke-Bishop to name but a few.
- There are other measures we should try first before resorting to this.
- Extra money is no guarantee that public transport will improve. Real improvement needs a change in infrastructure, not simply more money poured into to the same financial sieve.
There are questions that need answering before we can really make a proper decision about a road tax. A referendum would force these questions out into the open to be discussed rigorously and answered properly and precisely.
The congestion charge in
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
IF YOU RUN A COMMUNITY GROUP, OR LOCAL CHARITY, AND THINK I COULD LEARN FROM YOUR WORK, OR LEND SOME SUPPORT, DO GET IN TOUCH!
Save our Special Schools campaign:
I launched my first major campaign to prevent the closure of a special educational needs (SEN) school in Bristol, and presented a petition of over 700 signatures to Bristol City Council.
Bristol City Council was looking to cut costs on SEN by closing down one of its special schools. The Council's record on SEN is pretty bad. Parents of children with SEN in Bristol are more likely to have to go to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal (SENDIST) to appeal against the Council's decision on their child's school, than anywhere else in the country outside London.
Campaigning in the rain to Save Special Schools ( We make a glamorous bunch, eh?)
For many children with SEN, mainstream school is the right option. But for others, physical inclusion in a mainstream school really means social and mental exclusion. There are some really great SEN units running in mainstream schools that are attached to Special Schools like Kingsweston, and Claremont - but there are still hundreds of parents struggling to get their child into a Special School. The answer to better SEN provision is not to close one of them down!
If you would like to know more about the campaign and the petition, go to the epetition site,http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/SOSS/
The petition featured in the Evening Post and on BBC West's The Politics Show.
FOSBR Twice Hourly Train Campaign:
Spot the Conservative Candidate...
Friends of Bristol Suburban Rail (FOSBR) ran a highly successful campaign to get two trains running per hour on the Avonmouth to Templemeads line.
I supported them in lobbying the Lib Dem council to return the subsidy for another train.
Finding alternatives to the car is absolutely crucial- but it amazes me that we should be spending so much money on 'Showcase Bus Routes' when we have a superb railway infrastructure sitting on our doorstep. FOSBR are right. We should be making the most of it.
When did you last take the Severn Beach line into town? It's quick and the scenery is amazing. Try it!
For more information, go to http://www.fosbr.org.uk/