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Friday, 28 December 2012

Merry Christmas and here's to a drier 2013

It's been an amazing, if wet, run up to Christmas. I never tire of eating mince-pies and celebrating across the constituency. To all those Santas whose knees I kindly didn't sit on, and everyone who put together events for the festive season, thank you - and may the New Year bring health and happiness to all.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

MPs get real in the boxing gym

Sky Ringside's  Johnny Nelson, former WBO Cruiserweight champion, put me through my paces, watched by boxing commentator legend, Adam Smith
Ok, ok, so it's been ages since I've blogged. Yes, yes, I've been busy, and 'doing' got in the way of blogging about it. But anyone who's suffered a minor blog-lapse will know that once you know you've let things lapse, it becomes an awful lot harder to face things and get back into it again! What's prompted this? A similar experience in the gym this morning. Pushing pens around in parliament and even running around the constituency is no substitute for proper regular exercise and, like updating my blog, I'd, er, let things slip a bit. But I was forced back into the gym to face the extent of the rot this morning, thanks to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Boxing 'MP's Taster Session' I'd organised.

The session at Fitzroy Lodge Boxing Club was designed to help highlight the social impact of boxing to decision-makers, show MPs who had perhaps never ventured into an amateur gym what it is all about , provide us with somewhere to keep fit, as well as support the club and link the young boxers there up with politics.

Fitzroy Lodge Boxing Club has produced fighters like David Haye, and is just minutes away from Parliament. But it is a different world. It's vital that us MPs can escape the Westminster Bubble, and few places are more gritty and real than an amateur boxing gym - so, in a way, this is also about building a bridge between the Westminster bubble, and the real world outside that it is supposed to serve. If politics was a bit more connected with reality, perhaps a few more people would feel like voting, and getting involved.

We all had a great, if gruelling work out, and special thanks must go to the fantastic Kate Hoey MP, in whose constituency the gym lies, and who has been such a long-term advocate for boxing and sport in general. We are hoping that this is is only the beginning and the start of a 'twinning' relationship between Fitzroy Lodge and Parliament, helping politics, in its own small way, to keep it real while we're in Westminster.  

You can follow the All Party Parliamentary Group on Boxing at @appgboxing

Thanks Johnny Nelson, and Mark for expert tuition!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Brailsford Brothers light up Brentry and the lives of many

With Brentry's heroes, Lee and Paul B

Seldom am I more proud to be the MP for Bristol North West than on the night of the Brailsford Brothers' Christmas Switch-on in aid of the Wallace and Gromit Appeal. I've seen the lights on their mum's house on Oakbourn Road get more and more, and the crowds get larger and larger as each year goes by. After being featured in a Channel Four Documentary last year, this year, the extravaganza reached new hights with some outstanding performances from local artists, which held us all spell-bound.

I first came across Lee and Paul when I was out canvassing in Brentry, one scorching hot September day. It was once of those boiling hot days left over from mid-summer, and I was amazed to find the two brothers working away in their garage in the heat , on Father Christmas light displays. "It's a bit early, isn't it?!" I asked, incredulously. Then they told me of the mammoth task they undertake each year in transforming their mum's house into a winter wonderland. It takes months.

They also told me how they fork out for the electricity bill from their own money, in order to raise funds for the Wallace and Gromit appeal. For years in succession we wrote to the energy company to ask them to give them some help on the bill, since it was for charity. Appallingly, we never managed to persuade them. Now, thanks to some superb sponsors, the brothers have some help in putting on the big Brentry Christmas Light Up.

The event certainly kickstarts my Christmas, and makes me tremendously proud to be the MP for this amazing community.  The Brailsford Brothers are on twitter @brailsfordxmas;   you can go to their website to donate:  or text text rixy88 and £1, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Lee and Paul Brailsford, and all the team, thank you so much for making our Christmas so special, and raising thousands of pounds over the years for all those children helped by the Wallace and Gromit Appeal.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Syria's 'shattered beauty'

One of the pieces of art at the Syria Relief art exhibition, 'Shattered Beauty' in aid of the humanitarian crisis in Syria
The humanitarian crisis continues and escalates in Syria, with unspeakable hardship being suffered and cruelty being inflicted on innocent citizens.

I visited Syria as late as February 2011, just before the uprising happened, and I don't think I've so appreciated getting back to the UK, and what freedom and democracy actually means. We were of course constantly closely watched and monitored  and for some of the time driven about by the Syrian regime, who were anxious we should see all the 'right' things.

What they couldn't hide from us, in the blacked-out black cars that sped through the streets of Damascus with disdain for the citizens in the roads, an old man crossing, or for traffic lights, was the look of dread and fear on the faces of the people as the cars approached, and the look of fear and hatred on their faces as the cars passed and they thought they were out of sight. Loathing was palpable in the air.

Depiction of the regime, coming like inhuman shadows, bats in the night, anonymously to take people away.
We went to the British Council, and met with some frightened and angry young people. Once the drivers of the black cars were not in sight, one described the British Council as their 'bubble of oxygen' -the only place where they could think and talk freely; and discussed the dangers of going on facebook and sharing what life was really like in Syria. I am not sure what has happened to all those bright and vibrant young people now. I won't forget that meeting as long as I live.

Events of the last year have been all the more poignant because the Syrian people are so vibrant, cultured and full of life, and Damascus and the rest of Syria so beautiful. 

One effort to raise money for those in distress is the 'Shattered Beauty' exhibition of Syrian art in London, organised by SYRIA RELIEF, which also helps Syrian artists, and their families and helps save the art from destruction, which depicts the realities of the regime and the struggle.

If you want a good blog on which to follow events, try Robin Yassin-Kassab's excellent Qunfuz blog  (Qunfuz is Arabic for 'hedgehog, by the way.)

The West cannot turn its back as this country is torn apart in the most brutal way. The humanitarian crisis is diabolical, and hitting the most vulnerable and innocent - and with winter approaching, things will only get harder.

If you can, please donate.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Bus Lane Madness

Me and local campaigner Kevin Staples at the White Tree Roundabout bus lane: Now you don't see it. Now you do. Now you do, er but only a bit of it... (they're busy taking up a small stretch of it in the background)

 Ok, so whose brilliant idea was the White Tree Roundabout bus lane?

It's one of those decisions that was obviously always going to be a disaster to anyone who knows the area, but it went ahead anyway as part of the Greater Bristol Bus Network.

The result? As anyone in the lines of snarling traffic queuing up to the roundabout and sometimes extending way down Falcondale Road, could have told you,  it has been an expensive way of making things worse. Buses couldn't even get to their bus-lane because, yes, they're snarled up in the traffic!

Our Councillor, Geoff Gollop set up a PETITION - and a campaign took place on  FACEBOOK as well.

I went on BBC Radio Bristol during the summer,  live from the White Tree Roundabout, in front of lines of traffic queuing and hooting, and heard a statement from the Council implying it was all working just fine, thank you. The ultimate example of the council-house inhabiting a different planet from the rest of us. Really frustrating.

Finally the Council couldn't hide from reality any more and conceeded - and took up just some of the bus lane. A triumph for people-power and common sense. If only they'd listened to common sense in the first place. What a waste of money.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Macmillan's Big Coffee Morning

deceptive number of sweets
 Once again, Macmillan's Biggest Coffee morning really did make a huge stir.

Events happened up and down the country and Bristol North West. I managed to visit Henbury's coffee morning at the scout hut, and Lockleaze's event at the Cameron Centre - who very generously provided their venue for free.

Every year I write about how important Macmillan are, and anyone who has had any experience through a loved one with cancer will know just how valuable the care they provide is, at such difficult, upsetting times.

Teddies' names were guessed ( unsuccessfully) numbers of sweets were estimated (unsuccessfully) , much coffee was drunk and many cakes were bought.
Yes, I know I look like my mum.

 Well done to all who organised, and particularly Christine Welsh, who organised the Lockleaze event and who made the beautiful cup-cakes shown below here. ( Ended up buying the entire plate... ahem.)

Christine's had first hand experience of the tragedy that cancer can bring, in her own family, and has come through to organise an amazing coffee morning, for others suffering in similar ways. Remarkable to see. Well done all.
Christine, who organised the Lockleaze Event...

..and makes irresistable cupcakes...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Henbury Loop Line - it's real!

Much excitement as First GW puts on a special train along.. yes, the Henbury Loop Line! see, the route actually ALREADY exists...

Much excitement at the Community Rail Festival as a special train ran from Templemeads, to the Portbury Dock, along much of what would be a Henbury Loop Line, connecting a re-opened Henbury Station to the Severn Beach Line.
Disappointingly, current West of England Partnership Plans, whilst a real step forward in promoting plans for a Bristol Metro - with a Portishead Line, and enhanced local branch line services- stops short at the really vital point: Creating a circuit round the city by joining up the Henbury line with the Severn Beach Line. Current plans make Henbury a cul-de-sac turn-round station. Bonkers! It's like building a circuit board but not completing the last millimeter to get the current running through it.
Great campaign groups like Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance ( TfGB's Ian Crawford here with me in the pink shirt), and Friends of Suburban Bristol Rail  ( FOSBR -spot my yellow fosbr sticker!) and one-man-campaign-army Dave Wood have been superb in keeping the pressure up. I am going to be continuing to make the case for a Henbury Loop, not spur, until I'm blue in the face and everyone's completely bored of hearing about it... (I've already mystified a whole lot of non-Bristol-area MPs during Prime Minister's Questions by raising it...)
 But it's important because this will be the game-changer for Bristol Transport, this is the opportunity of a generation, and we cannot have a situation where we look back in 20 years and say, yet again "what on earth were they thinking?" 
For once, let's have long term vision, be ambitious about our city region, and get it right. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Boxing clever for Britain

We'll all be crossing fingers and wishing Natasha Jonas, our brilliant lightweight Team GB boxing representative the very best of luck in London 2012...  it was an honour to meet such a superb ambassador for the sport
When I first started my (very amateur!) boxing attempts at Spanniorum Farm Gym, back in the mid-'90s, as an inexplicably angry teenager, women's boxing was still something of an 'unofficial' activity, struggling to make its mark and win respect as a recognised sport. I was luck enough to train alongside our very own Jane Couch, who has done so much to get womens' boxing on the map.

So I find it particularly moving that London 2012 should be hosting the first Olympic Womens' boxing, and that we should have such talented hopefuls.  Lightweight Natasha Jonas, ( I am feeling a bit over-awed to be standing next to someone who has achieved something I only ever dreamed about!) is not only a real hopeful for a medal, but is also a superb ambassador for the sport.

I realise, and appreciate that some people are a bit squeamish about the idea of women boxing. All I can say is, if you get the chance, meet and talk to female boxers like Natasha who are an inspiration. And in a world where girls are increasingly getting into the kinds of violent trouble as boys on our streets, the need for women to be able to strive to achieve excellence in competitive boxing as an alternative to a life of a cul-de-sac of gangs, depression and hopelessness, is more pressing than ever.

As Natasha says, she's a 'fighter' - we should all be incredibly proud and grateful that thanks to boxing, she's fighting for nothing less than Britain's place on the Olympic podium!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

'Mummy, why did granny get arrested for sending me a Birthday Card..?".

Jane Jackson is running an invaluable support group for Grandparents who have lost access to their grandchildren

Jane Jackson is a local grandparent who has suffered the same heartache as so many grandparents in not being able to get access to her grandchildren following a marriage breakup of the parents.

This is heartache enough, but as was reported in some national papers,  Jane has been highlighting how some grandparents are feeling the full force of the law under the harassment act- just for sending their grandchild a birthday or Christmas Card, and I am helping her fight her campaign.

Jane's message is simple - it's not about grandparents' rights, it's about the welfare of the child and their 'rights' to have access to loving family members.

Of course, as anyone who has experienced or known of genuine harassment or stalking will tell you, genuine harassment is appalling for the victim and should be dealt with most robustly by the law -and tragically, there have been cases where the law has been too slow to act when the alarm has been raised. But in order to be able to be there for genuine harassment, or indeed routine crimes like break-ins, its vital our police feel able to take, and are encouraged to take a consistent common approach to innocent and well-meaning grandparents who just want their grandchild to know they love them, once a year at Birthdays or Christmas.

If you would like to get in touch with Janes' support group, go to

Friday, 22 June 2012

Getting Bristol on-track

I make no apologies in shamelessly using the opportunity of Transport Secretary of State, Justine Greening's business lunch visit to impress on her the absolute necessity of Bristol getting sufficient investment for proper rail services: a Bristol Metro ( with a Henbury LOOP, not spur!) line.

I also made it very clear that none of this can happen without the (rather techie) requirement of four tracking at Filton Bank.

For once the stars are aligned for Transport in Bristol.  We have a concensus amongst local authorities on what needs to happen, and I managed to arrange a joint submission of MPs from across the region, from all parties, on what the city and regions needs in terms of rail; The City Deal is being agree, HLOS funding ( Government infrastructure funding) being agreed - and the Great Western Franchise specification up for grabs...
This opportunity is too good to miss! I said. Again, and again and... again...

Thanks to Clarke Wilmott for hosting the event and fingers crossed that persistence pays off...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Entrepreneurial Heaven - Angelberry

It was evidently a real chore to sample the multi-flavoured, multi-topping'd delights of Angelberry. Yes, I know, tough, but someone has to do it.

It's good to see a success story:  This is James. He chose not to go to University but to get straight in there and try to set up a business of his own.  His first venture,  "James the Green Grocers" ( anyone in Westbury on Trym will know where he is!) has been a great success and now he is branching out - to the naughtier allures of frozen yogurt in his new company Angel Berry

I met with James to discuss what we can do better to support small businesses, and the challenge of getting a loan. James has been lucky to have some great advice and support, but his success just shows what our next generation can do not only in terms of getting jobs, but creating jobs, with a bit of advice, start-up help, a loan, and some grit and determination.

Just look at all that fruit...   !
And for anyone worried about the calories, the good news is,the yogurt's virtually fat free! ( and hey, a bit of sugar now and again does no harm!)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lockleaze goes Boing

Thanks to Richard Redrupp, Lockleaze Primary School and team, Lockleaze has a superb new facility of soft-play for kids and a great place for parents to come and meet, chat and relax while their children enjoy themselves.

They are also running I.T sessions, and brining often isolated members of the community together. This is a great example of a group who have not waited for someone to tell them what to do, but have used their initiative, determination and imagination to make something happen.

In a world which seems so full of reasons telling you 'why not' , it is always inspiring and refreshing to find people and groups who challengingly ask 'why not?' then get on and do it!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Street Party Jubilation

 So here are some Jubilee Stats: not only does Bristol stand out as the Street Party Capital outside London ( cheer) , but according to my rough calculations, around 60% of all Bristol's street parties were here in Bristol North West ( more cheers!)

Fantastic! But it made the challenge of getting round as many as possible all the more daunting. I didn't manage to visit every street party going on over the weekend, but I got to a fair old few...
 Each party was beautifully different, and upliftingly the same - every street did it in their own way, with their own special highlights - be it a superb fancy dress outfit ( well done, Millie from Devonshire's!)  an empire of Gazebos ( you know who you are!)  or welly-wanging and medals ( I still think its a bit too risky for an MP to be flinging hard rubber wellingtons about in the vicinity of her constituents' small children) ; but the same in that every street told me how it had brought the community together; how people had met and formed a rapport with neighbours they had lived along side for years, but never spoken to..
... how taking traffic of the road made the street seem like a completely different space, and how good it was for all generations to intermingle.
 At times the rain did it's best to dampen spirits, but in true British style, the parties carried on - particular credit to Wessex Avenue, who manage a superb party in the middle of what can only be described as a small river running down the hill, and a gale battering the small gatherings of community-gazebos, huddled in the middle of the street!
I don't think I've ever seen our national flag waved so proudly, or 'Jerusalem' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' sung with such gusto - and it was great to see our nation so proud of itself, and so patriotic.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Morning for an Olympic Breakfast

 Seldom does an Olympic Breakfast ever have anything to do with the Olympics (usually an uncannily large plate of beautiful fry-up with too many sausages) but this morning it did...

What seemed like the whole of Henleaze came to line the streets outside my office on Henleaze road, and across Bristol North West, from the Downs to the Bear and Rugged Staff on Southmead Road and beyond, we all came out to witness an historic event.

As the crowds lined the streets, I realised I'd missed a political trick here, as anyone using the road for about an hour preceding the torch raised an almighty, indiscriminate cheer. I may have had my own inflatable torch, but I didn't quite have the nerve to run down the streets of my constituency, waving it about...

Serving Olympic breakfast baps 
 And then, after a stream of lorries and excitement,  and an apparent detour while someone got lost, there she was: The Olympic Torch Bearer, running past us in a flash.  Everyone reached for cameras and flumoxed about whether to take a video or a photo - by the time I'd worked it all out, she was almost gone.

But what a morning: It really felt like we'd witnessed some history, and it was remarkable to see something as historic and symbolic and ancient as the Olympic Flame coming here, to our streets , to our home.  A day for generations to remember. Whether by video, photo - or just being there and soaking up an extraordinary morning.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Safeguarding doctor training and patient care

This week I had a PMQ ( Prime Minister's Question) about the effect of the European Working Time Directive on the NHS. It may sound a bit techie, but it's absolutely crucial.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Daylight Saving Bill and parliamentary frustrations

Processes in Parliament can be frustrating. Seldom has it been as frustrating, and , many would say, mis-used as in the debate on Rebecca Harris MP's Daylight Saving Bill.

The Bill, which called for a proper review of the pros and cons of keeping British summertime all year round, to settle once and for all the debate that returns year after year to parliament, but has historically always been stumped down because of internal process, had got further through parliament than ever before.

There was an overwhelming parliamentary concencus for the Bill, and well over 120 MPs had sacrificed time in their constituencies that Friday in order to vote for it. But the Bill was stopped. Why? Not by strength of argument, or through debate, or through numbers of opposition - but because a small group of MPs chose to 'talk it out'. That is, put down huge numbers of amendements, to which they could speak, to literally 'talk it out of time'.