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Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The GOOD news, the BAD news...

The Good news is, that in the Council meeting last night ( Tues. 24th July) , all three parties agreed to Conservatives' motion for a Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Alliance. Many thanks to Pip Sheard, Spokesperson for Transport Alliance for heading up support from pressure group Transport Alliance. Now we must try to make sure that the other unitary authorities, BANES, North Somerset and South Glos. see the merits of an independent transport body, an equivalent of Transport for London.


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

A stronger Breeze

So I hear that Cafe Breeze, on Henleaze Road, is planning to expand into the next door gift shop - offering more table space and a new array of gifts. Congratulations! Cafe Breeze is another cafe-gem in Bristol North West's crown of places to eat, drink and sit and read the papers. Continuing in the cafe-pub review section of my blog, let me tell readers who've not yet been to Cafe Breeze, what they're missing:

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 charlotte@charlotteleslie.com

Friday, 20 July 2007

Police Questioning: A dark day for democracy

This afternoon, John Yates, the police inspector in charge of the cash for honours inquiries, was pushed in front of the press to defended his decision to continue investigations into Tony's cronies. Blair gave some heart-rending sob story about how dreadful it was for his staff to have undergone investigation. 'terrible even traumatic', he said. He may say a few formulaic words about the police just doing their duty, but in fact directs our eyes accusingly to the terrible fiend who has had the cold-hearted malevolence to put such delicate and sensitive creatures as Ruth Turner and Lord Levy in the spotlight.

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

St. Swithin's day

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.

The Cookie is Good

One advantage of being a parliamentary candidate is that you get to go to a lot of different cafes. There are nine wards in Bristol North West- and that's a lot of cup-of-tea possibilities. Since I've been selected, I've recuperated in lots of great Bristol coffee bars, greasy spoons and , yes, the odd pub here and there. I'm comforted to see that despite the flood of chains of trendy wine bars and the steady creep of Starbucks and Nero, there are still some great British cafes and pubs, which still serve proper mugs of tea, a good hearty breakfast, and in the case of the pubs, a good selection of the West-Country's finest produce.

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 charlotte@charlotteleslie.com

Friday, 13 July 2007

No joke...

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

Essential Viewing for this Sunday -Barton Hill on the Politics Show!


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

Breakdown Britain and Broken Records

I have to confess, if someone got down on their knees to me , waved twenty pounds in my face and said ' how about this, every week, till death us do part?', I would be less than impressed. But I think Iain Duncan Smith was right to call for the anti-marriage tax bias be removed. His Breakdown Britain Report is an important document. It is important for the Conservative Party and it is important for the nation. It shows that modern Conservatives still have traditional values at heart - they enshrine the importance of the individual, and the bonds between people that build our society; Those who doubt David Cameron's legitimacy as a Conservative should look again as he sticks his neck out and supports the institution of marriage. The report also rightly concentrates on the severely disadvantaged, and the areas of extreme deprivation. This too is traditional ground for Conservatives, and far from being sentimental soft-touch politics, it plunges straight into the kind of problems that the oldest Conservative think tank The Bow Group was set up to look at, and recovers the ground of Conservative figures like Wilberforce. Compassion in the Conservative party is not new.

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

Election-losing jokes

Watching the men's singles final reminds me of a truly dreadful joke that I can't get out of my head. Politicians often have a knack of coming out with particularly bad jokes. This one's a real election loser. Try it on your friends and stand well back:

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!

On the streets

It's been a good weekend. The sun's come out, and we hit the streets yesterday with a residents' survey. We had a fantastic response . Many thanks to everyone who took the time to talk. Everything you talk to us about really does make a huge difference. One of the recurring themes I have come across on the doorstep is that politicians are not really listening, are all the same and are increasingly out of touch. By opening your door, and taking a few minutes to download onto me what you think I should be working on, you really are helping to make sure that we are keeping in touch with what really matters in your patch.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Let Bristol decide about Road Pricing !



Sign up for a say on whether you should pay a road-toll: http://www.bristol.gov.uk/item/epetition.html

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.

(http://www.thisisbristol.com/displayNode.jsp?nodeId=144913&command=displayContent&sourceNode=231190&home=yes&more_nodeId1=144922&contentPK=17756360)


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 Bristol bloggers out there joyously accusing me of opportunism and other people saying I’m just sitting on the traffic-island fence about it all. So let me explain why I have not waved my fist either for or against road charging yet, and why I want a Bristol referendum:

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:


For:

  • 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.


  • Bristol at peak hour is grid-locked. Congestion is costing Bristol business approximately £1m per week. Not good, and only going to get worse…


  • 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?

Against:

  • 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.

We deserve answers to important transport questions…
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.

One major factor is how would the money raised be spent? Would it really go to improve public transport? How exactly (with figures and costings and bus routes…)?


How about a Greater Bristol Transport Authority?
The congestion charge in London only works because there is a good public transport alternative and transport is run by an independent body, Transport for London. (TFL). I believe we need a Bristol area equivalent: A Greater Bristol Transport Authority. (GBTA, if you like acronyms.)

Any successful transport strategy must extend beyond simply city boundaries to Banes, South Glos. And North Somerset. We need to be sure that the money raised does not get soaked up in miscellaneous Council business, but goes straight to transport. We need an authority that can make decisions for the good of the city, untouched by political concerns and council election disruption. A GBTA would do this.

There was a referendum on road-charging in Edinburgh, and the people rejected it. That was largely because the Council had not shown they would spend the money well by ‘front-loading’ the road-charging with improved public transport.

I for one need to be assured that Bristol City Council really would spend my money well if they taxed me to use my car. And I would need to be able to get from A to B on public transport instead.

No one wants to pay more tax. But most of us see the need to reduce carbon emissions and our daily congestion. A referendum would both put the decision in the hands of the people who will have to pay for it, and it will ensure that these questions are asked and answered so that the people of Bristol can make a proper, informed decision.



What do you think?

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Knowing me, Knowing you

First of all, I've been getting to know the area and everyone who lives here. This is my home, where I've been for over a twenty-five years, and I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about Bristol North West. Wrong. There is so much going on. It never ceases to amaze me how many people and community groups are doing really fantastic work. I've been visiting as many of you as possible and learning from your work.


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/

A quick catch-up...

You can't do it on the streets with leaflets in your hands. You can't do it on the doorstep. You can't do it when you're standing up giving a speech. And you certainly can't do it in a public meeting.


In fact, there are not that many occasions when you can blog. To be honest, I've been meaning to start this blog for ages, but have found so much to do that sitting down at the computer to talk about what I've been doing has taken second fiddle to actually doing it. But now the July skies have opened and drenched us with a little bit of February, it seems the perfect excuse to sit down at the computer and not go out.


So what have I been up to for the last few months since I was selected as your Conservative Candidate? I'll give you a brief run-down of my main campaigns and I'll keep giving you installments over the next few weeks - as well as keep you up to date with what I'm doing at the moment. Some you might find interesting, some you might find dull, some of it may even sound nauseatingly political. But I hope that overall, you find it stimulating and that I will be able to give you a glimpse of the work I'm doing for Bristol North West, and that you will be able to give me an idea of what you think.
best,
Charlotte