News

Monday 20 April

     On Sunday I spent all day at the Westcombe Park Rugby Festival watching my son playing for the Beccehamians Under 12’s team (photograph).  The BECCs team came second in their age group which was a very good performance against some stiff opposition.       Apparently national unemployment figures have also put in a very good performance too.  We now know that 2 million jobs have materialised in the UK since 2010.   Jobs are now being created at about 1,000 a day.     My most up to date local figures reflect this too.  In November 2013 there were 801 claimants for Jobseekers Allowance in the Beckenham Constituency but by November 2014 this figure had reduced to 561 people.  That is a 240 reduction in a year.   By February 2015 unemployment in the constituency was down to 1.1 per cent of the working population (504 people).  In May 2010 two point five per cent of working age people in the constituency were registered as job seekers.  There has been 50 per cent plus reduction in unemployment locally.  Hurrah!     Of course I am particularly concerned about youth unemployment but there is good news here.   I don’t have local figures but understand that across the country youth unemployment has dropped by 181,000 over the last twelve months.  I hope this too is reflected locally.     The jibe from Labour that most of these new jobs are part-time is simply untrue.   Three quarters of them are full-time contracts.  Since the last election the number of people in full-time work has risen by 1.4 million.   In fact the UK has created more new jobs that the rest of the European Union put together which is a really good sign that our economy is on the mend.  It does though make us an attractive destination for those seeking employment from Europe which is why so many people are coming here and one of the reasons we need to get proper control of our borders again.   Equal good news is a report from the International Monetary Fund.  Its Head, Christine Legarde has praised the economic performance of Britain particularly comparing it to the sluggish, if not negative, performance of the Euro area.  Thank goodness we as a country have always resisted the siren calls of those who wanted us to join the Euro. 

Sunday 19 April

   On Saturday I was in Beckenham first thing in the morning.   After breakfast with Robert Straker at the Moonlight Café (see photograph) we drove to Hayes.  There we joined the Hayes Conservative Party Street Stall which was run by Peter Harrold, Patricia Grimaldi-Harrold, Graham & Eithne Arthur, Anne Manning, Peter Fortune, Diane Smith, Ruth Bennett and Tony Power. I am very grateful for all the support they give me.  In the afternoon I visited a Second World War infantry officer – a good friend since I have lived in Beckenham.  His wife has been admitted to the PRUH.  I think and hope she will be home soon.          I was very pleased that we had such positive support campaigning along Station Approach yesterday.  However almost everyone to whom we spoke mentioned that they were really worried about the possibility of a hung parliament, especially one where the Scottish Nationalist Party might hold a whip hand.  A combination of Labour and SNP running the country even though we Conservatives have more seats than any other party is a nightmare scenario.  Opinion polls suggest this as a distinct possibility.  I am very worried about it too.  I hope everyone voting on 7th May keeps this very much in mind.  It is the nightmare scenario as far as I am concerned.   The economy is recovering under us and we have now created 2 million new jobs since 2010.  What more can we do to prove ourselves?  How can the party which almost bankrupted the country be level-pegging with the Conservatives who always, always, have to come into office after Labour to sort out our national accounts?     Ed Balls may try to pass off the note left by Liam Byrne at the Treasury in 2010 saying ‘There’s no money left’ left as a joke but it was also the terrible truth.  Labour governments ruin our country’s finances by simply throwing money around as though that alone is the solution.  It is not.  The fact is that Labour spends it and Conservatives have to recover it.  It has always been thus.   In their broadcasts, statements, interviews, newsletters and the like Labour and other parties are trumpeting that so-called ‘austerity’ cannot go on – as though our huge debt of £150 trillion ( people stay off this one) and our deficit (which we have halved) can be ignored or shuffled away for future generations to pay off.  How utterly irresponsible is that?   I simply don’t understand why the general public doesn’t recognise this fact!   The Conservatives are the only political party with any financial acumen.  I don’t want our children and all future citizens to be encumbered by the strait jacket of huge debt.  They will really pay for us unless we get it sorted.  In truth the Conservatives are the only political party that is trying (and succeeding slowly) to sort out the national budget mess.  I simply cannot understand why so many people still don’t accept this. 

Saturday 18 April

  Beckenham Constituency has its fair share of pensioners and I have met quite a few of them yesterday campaigning in Shortlands and Copers Cope.  I was particularly impressed by one lovely couple I met in Shortlands.  They were awesome – enthusiastic, upbeat about life, uncomplaining and very friendly.  But, I suspect, they were pretty broke too.  It reminded me that poverty amongst the elderly can be very well hidden and it was something that has worried me throughout my last 5 years as an MP.  Indeed I led a House of Commons debate on it in 2011 not that long after I was first elected,        Thankfully all of us have growing life expectancy but inevitably looking after the elderly will become an increasing responsibility on society.  Nearly one third of the 66,000 plus voters in the Beckenham Constituency are pensioners and quite a few of them will be living below the Government’s poverty line.       A big problem is looming in front of us.  For a man or woman of 65 the State Pension is normally about £113 a week with married couples getting approximately £67 more.  No one can live on that and we all know it.    So obviously it is vital to keep additional payments like the winter fuel allowance, bus passes, eye tests, free prescriptions and free television licences for pensioners.  But there are also additional grants to help those who need them too.     According to the Department of Work and Pensions, 700,000 elderly people in the UK do not claim that to which they are entitled.  Having met some very independent and decent senior citizens since I was an MP and before that as well I am sure that much of this is down to pride.  Despite the fact that they have earned everything they may get many proud people refuse to be what they consider to be beholden to the State.  I can understand their point of view; it was one most certainly held by my own mother.    Nonetheless we need to get elderly people, who do not claim their benefits to do so.  Certainly there will be such people in the constituency.  Surely it should be relatively easy to identify pensioners as they approach retirement and ensure they know what entitlements are available to them.  I am sure Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs could do that small service for people who often have never asked for anything in their lives.     

Friday 17 April

  I spent the morning in Beckenham itself yesterday taking lunch with friends in Café Nero.  In the evening we visited Hayes and then Shortlands.   One person asked me about zero hours contracts and I have been asked about them several times over the last few days.   Such working arrangements exist where an employer has discretion to vary employees’ working hours from full-time to nothing – thus the term zero hours contracts.   At first sight I disliked the thought of zero hours contracts but I don’t think it is that simple.    When I investigated them further and to my surprise I discovered that several people I know well, students, have zero hours contracts.  They get some paid employment, some experience and do not have to do it if studies are in the way.   Their employer gets the flexibility to pull in staff when demand requires it and not to have to pay for them full-time.  Another friend of mine, who was a head teacher, has told me that he could not have run his school without using supply teachers who are technically on zero hours contracts too.  So such arrangements may suit some people although, obviously, not all.   Despite the apparent hullabaloo on the subject only about 2 per cent of the British workforce is actually on zero hours contracts.  What worries me is the Labour Party’s insistence that zero hours contracts should end.  To be honest I don’t see how, particularly in such industries as hospitality and tourism, where demand waxes and wanes depending on what is happening and the seasons.  If zero hours contracts were abolished would a whole swathe of jobs go with them?  I suspect they might; maybe better the devil we know and can reform a bit! 

Thursday 16 April

   Yesterday the Team mainly concentrated on the Keston Area during the day – visiting Hast Hill and Keston Common in particular.  During the evening we canvassed Barfield Wood Road and were very happy with our results.   As I campaigned several people raised the matter of defence policy with me.       The defence of our country is certainly a vital matter and, of course, as an ex infantry officer it is personal too.  (The attached photograph shows me with soldiers of my old Regiment, now the Mercian Regiment, at Basra, Iraq in 2007.)  Let me be clear where I stand on this crucial issue.        I want us to have a rigorous and comprehensive Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) after the General Election.  It must include assumptions which were not obviously present in SDSR 2010; namely resurgent Russian military power and the hugely increased threats from international terrorism.  In the House of Commons I have repeated stated that I fully support 2 per cent of GDP being allocated for Defence.  But actually this may not be enough with the new threats we face.  I have said that too.  It was also the view of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on which I have served throughout my time in Parliament.        On the matter of our Independent Nuclear Deterrent my views are unchanged; we must have it and should modernise the system too. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in return for guarantees of its sovereignty from Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom (as well as France and China later). I wonder whether Russian tanks would be cruising through Eastern Ukraine today if that country still had the nuclear weapons it surrendered just over 20 years ago.  Perhaps they would not! 

THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY MANIFESTO

   At a press conference on Tuesday 14 April the Prime Minister, David Cameron, launched the Conservative Manifesto.  The contents of this are in bullet point form in the main body of this posting.

Wednesday 15 April

   On Tuesday I was invited by Tony Power to visit Abbeyfield at 114 Bromley Road.  I have been there a couple of times before and it was fun talking to residents – particularly Jim who was ex-Royal Navy - although I steered clear of electioneering!  Thereafter I joined a group of friends for lunch in the Rascasse.  In the afternoon I did a bit of local campaigning in Shortlands (photograph) and then the team canvassed around Oakley Drive in Keston ending up having supper in Shampan 2 on Chatterton Road, Bromley Common.      David Cameron has now launched the Conservative Manifesto and amongst other matters he announced that the rights of housing association tenants to buy their homes would be boosted if he was sent back to 10 Downing Street.  In the whole country there are 1.3 million housing association tenants.  Locally that means people living in housing association properties such as provided by Affinity Sutton and Riverside will have more chance to own their own home.   In the 1980’s such a scheme under Margaret Thatcher had been very popular.  Noticeably the subject came up several times as I walked and talked with people and seemed to go down well.       Personally I am very much in favour of allowing tenants to buy their own flats or houses.  It is absolutely right for this to happen but at the same time new housing stock – to replace that taken off social-type housing – must be built.   David Cameron has said that must and will happen.      I have always supported the idea of getting rid of inheritance tax.  Why should someone who has worked to get a decent home not be able to hand it on to his or her family when they are gone?  So the idea of stopping inheritance tax for estates below £1 million is good news.  That will certainly help a lot of people in the Bromley area.  We tried that one at the last election before I know - only to have it scuppered by the Liberal Democrats when we were forced into Coalition.  I seriously hope we can avoid any such Coalition again – regardless of what the opinion polls tend to suggest.

Tuesday 14 April

   On Bromley Common the other day I met and was photographed with Stan Green who is a Bromley Common-based self-employed builder.  Like me he was concerned by people who get a lot more money on benefits than those in work.     Last week I talked to a managing director of a small company whose office is very close to my own in Beckenham.  He told me about one of his staff who recently left his firm.   The employee was a young woman who was a very effective operator who did not want to quit her job.  Neither did the managing director want to lose her.  He had paid her £16,000 a year and she had no quarrel with that – agreeing it was fair and proper pay for what she did. The problem was that by the time she had paid her taxes, National Insurance Contribution, fares to and from work as well as incidentals like lunch, she was better off on benefits because they gave her £14,000 in cash without her having to leave home.  The managing director would like to have paid the young woman more but he could not and the young woman accepted that.  I write this story to explain why the Conservatives are trying to make work pay more than being on benefits.  Of course it is nonsense if being on benefits pays more than working for a living. I think nobody on benefits should get more than the average wage.  That is hardly fair.  Obviously we are not there yet but if Labour achieves office such moves may well be dead in the water.

Monday 13 April

   On Sunday I took my son to play for the Under 12’s at Beccehamian Rugby Club in West Wickham and then delivered leaflets in the Keswick Road area with our team.    I am sometimes hurt if not a little irritated when political opponents claim that Tories don’t value the NHS.  It is our NHS too.  In the Army, according to the orthopaedic consultant who dealt with me at the time, my life was saved by an emergency operation on the NHS.  No member of my family has private healthcare.  Our doctor sits in the excellent Beckenham Beacon and we (sometimes) have occasion to visit the excellent Urgent Care Centre there – normally at weekends.  Our treatment in the Urgent Care Centre has always been kind and swift for which I am truly grateful.

Sunday 12 April

   On Saturday I campaigned in Keston and Bromley Common and then during the evening attanded the Beckenham Conservative Association Quiz Night at Club Langley.