18 Jun 2013 06:34:08
By Paul Goodman
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Having reshaped his Cabinet substantially last summer - sacking two Cabinet Ministers in the process - David Cameron
is unlikely to do so again during this one. This is because to do so would
both risk destabilising his already fractious Parliamentary Party, and
offend his instinct to keep changes to his front bench to a minimum. From the Prime Minister's point of view, it makes sense to delay a substantial
Cabinet clearout until next summer, when a team can be put in place to fight the election in 2015.
Leaving the next big shuffle until later in the Parliament will also minimise any backlash from sacked Ministers, since they will rally round Cameron during the election run-up (that's the theory, at any rate). The claim that Sir George Young will stay in post for the time being would dovetail with such an approach. The Prime Minister's most likely reshuffle course, therefore, will be to restrict change to the lower ranks of the Government - but to promote to just below Cabinet level men and women who, in his view, are capable of making it to the top table next year.
Continue reading "Cameron's coming reshuffle will be a reshuffle for women" »
20 Apr 2012 06:33:09
By Matthew Barrett
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The 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
Continue reading "Who are the 301? The Tory MPs who want to refresh the 1922 Committee" »
3 Apr 2012 08:02:14
By Matthew Barrett
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Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.
Origins of the Group:
The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.
Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."
Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".
Continue reading "What is the 2020 group? Matthew Barrett profiles the Tory MPs trying to renew the Cameron project" »
18 Mar 2012 08:41:54
By Tim Montgomerie
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I wonder if more loyal backbench Tory MPs are getting a little fed up with their more rebellious colleagues?
A couple of weeks ago Conor Burns, PPS to the Northern Ireland Secretary, tweeted his irritation at Peter Bone:
Now we learn from the Mail on Sunday that Douglas Carswell was apparently told by Claire Perry MP to "f*** off and join UKIP". The newspaper reports:
"Claire Perry is said to have directed the four-letter tirade at well-known Tory Eurosceptic MP Douglas Carswell during a Commons debate. Friends of Mr Carswell say he was outraged at Ms Perry’s alleged verbal onslaught last week. Two Tory MPs present in the Commons say they heard Ms Perry make the comment and insist it was aimed at Mr Carswell."
Claire Perry is one of the Chancellor's staunchest allies and Douglas Carswell as been one of the Chancellor's biggest critics, referring to Mr Osborne as "Continuity Brown" in a series of interviews and blogs. "Under the Coalition macroeconomic policy has remained fundamentally unchanged from what was going on under Gordon Brown," Carswell wrote.
The Mail on Sunday suggests there is a "Giddy's Gang"* of loyalists to the Chancellor. They include Ms Perry, Matt Hancock, Greg Hands, Sajid Javid, Philip Hammond and Justine Greening.
* George Osborne's first name is actually Gideon.
13 Dec 2011 13:27:37
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday in the Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May reaffirmed her commitment to tackling and ending domestic violence, stating that the Government had fulfilled its pledge. Asked by Devizes MP Claire Perry, about the ways in which the Government was trying to deal with domestic violence against women, May cited a "cross-Government action plan on tackling violence against women and girls", published in March by the Home Office. May said:
"It includes 88 commitments from 12 Departments to improve the provision of services for victims of violence and to prevent violence from happening in the first place. We have already delivered 22 of those commitments."
Perry spoke of the successes of a pilot scheme running in Swindon and Wiltshire, "in which perpetrators of domestic violence are effectively banned from the family home, rather than the family and the women being forced to move out, as happened previously". Due to the scheme, she said, "82 abusive perpetrators have been removed from family homes", and had been "reaching women who have never been helped before" according to the head of Wiltshire victim support unit said that the programme. The BBC reported in November that 65 Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders (DVPN/DVPO) had been issued.
Continue reading "The Government is delivering on its commitments to tackle domestic violence, says Theresa May" »
1 Dec 2011 14:59:41
By Matthew Barrett
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We reported on the policy content of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement on Tuesday. As well as the content of the Statement, it's worth noting the contributions from Conservative backbenchers in the Commons session that followed it. The Chancellor answered 96 questions in total, so it allowed a large window of opportunity for backbenchers to raise questions or points sceptical of the government's economic agenda - backbenchers could have urged the Chancellor to pursue fiscal consolidation more vigorously, or pressed for a more pro-growth direction, and so on.
However, backbench contributions were overwhelmingly positive. There were, generally, two kinds of question from Tory backbenchers. The first would be positive about measures announced in the Autumn Statement. For example:
"Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the welcome opportunity for private pension funds to invest in infrastructure will also give a good return for those pension funds by unlocking the growth that can come from such infrastructure, particularly in rural areas such as East Anglia?"
Continue reading "Tory backbenchers line up to support the Chancellor's Autumn Statement" »
19 Jun 2011 16:18:35
By Matthew Barrett
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The company Key Business Insight's "Commons Performance Cockpit" ranks MPs by their total cost - that is, staffing costs, travel expenses, office costs, salary, and so on. The majority of the 50 "most efficient" MPs, in terms of total cost, are Conservatives.
The top 50 "most efficient" MPs between 1st April, 2010 and 31st March, 2011 are listed below:
- Dan Jarvis (Labour, Barnsley Central) £5,457*
- Deborah Abrahams (Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth) £12,472**
- Eric Illsley (Labour, Barnsley Central) £57,485***
- Zac Goldsmith (Conservative, Richmond Park) £59,242
- Rushanara Ali (Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow) £59,242
- Ben Gummer (Conservative, Ipswich) £60,422
- Gavin Shuker (Labour, Luton South) £60,687
- George Eustice (Conservative, Camborne and Redruth) £60,692
- Sam Gyimah (Conservative, East Surrey) £60,899
- Matthew Offord (Conservative, Hendon) £61,077
- Anne-Marie Morris (Conservative, Newton Abbot) £61,292
- Teresa Pearce (Labour, Erith and Thamesmead) £61,776
- Mark Reckless (Conservative, Rochester and Strood) £61,780
- Guy Opperman (Conservative, Hexham) £61,857
- Gemma Doyle (Labour, West Dunbartonshire) £62,324
- Christopher Pincher (Conservative, Tamworth) £62,583
- Stella Creasy (Labour, Walthamstow) £63,510
- Ian Paisley, Jnr (Democratic Unionist, North Antrim) £64,755
- Richard Drax (Conservative, South Dorset) £65,102
- Owen Smith (Labour, Pontypridd) £65,157
- Damian Hinds (Conservative, East Hampshire) £65,365
- Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat, Cambridge) £65,396
- Kwasi Kwarteng (Conservative, Spelthorne) £65,571
- Gavin Barwell (Conservative, Croydon Central) £65,651
- Jonathan Lord (Conservative, Woking) £66,162
- Rebecca Harris (Conservative, Castle Point) £66,576
- Anas Sarwar (Labour, Glasgow Central) £67,630
- Andrea Leadsom (Conservative, South Northamptonshire) £67,940
- Claire Perry (Conservative, Devizes) £68,047
- Sajid Javid (Conservative, Bromsgrove) £68,171
- Sarah Newton (Conservative, Truro and Falmouth) £68,172
- Conor Burns (Conservative, Bournemouth West) £68,443
- Eric Ollerenshaw (Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood) £68,624
- Margaret Ritchie (SDLP, South Down) £68,705
- Rehman Chisti (Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham) £68,917
- Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist, Strangford) £69,063
- Liz Kendall (Labour, Leicester West) £69,147
- George Hollingberry (Conservative, Meon Valley) £69,251
- Alok Sharma (Conservative, Reading West) £69,273
- Chris Kelly (Conservative, Dudley South) £70,316
- Angie Bray (Conservative, Ealing Central and Acton) £70,334
- Naomi Long (Alliance, Belfast East) £70,581
- Kate Green (Labour, Stretford and Urmston) £70,619
- Margot James (Conservative, Stourbridge) £70,755
- Pamela Nash (Labour, Airdrie and Shotts) £70,842
- Jack Dromey (Labour, Birmingham Erdington) £70,912
- Kris Hopkins (Conservative, Keighley) £70,944
- Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock) £70,966
- Shabana Mahmood (Labour, Birmingham Ladywood) £71,072
- Tristram Hunt (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central) £71,269
*Took his seat on 3rd March, 2011
**Took her seat on 13th January, 2011
***Resigned his seat on 8th February, 2011
16 Jun 2011 16:54:17
By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday afternoon, Devizes MP Claire Perry presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill to designate the Monday after Remembrance Sunday as a bank holiday across the UK.
This Bill would consolidate and entrench long-term public support for our armed forces. My constituency of Devizes includes many of the Salisbury plain garrison towns and is home to more than 10,000 members of the armed forces and at least the same number of service family members.
My father, both grandfathers and my great-grandfather served in the British Army. I am therefore particularly proud to wear a poppy in early November, sport various charity wristbands, attend homecomings and parades in both Westminster and Wiltshire, observe the silence at 11 am on Armistice Day, and to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. Indeed, laying a wreath at the Devizes war memorial last November was one of the most solemn and thought-provoking moments of my new career as a Member of Parliament. I am also proud to support armed forces day, introduced more than two years ago and held in late June. I know that in all of this support I am joined by Members on both sides of the House and millions of people across the country.
But I fear that with all of these initiatives and opportunities to show our support we have perhaps fragmented that support—diluted the brand. And many events happen at weekends when working families—as I know for myself—can face as many time pressures as they do during the week, sometimes making their participation in weekend events difficult.
Continue reading "Claire Perry makes the case for a Remembrance Day bank holiday" »
18 Mar 2011 06:51:11
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday morning saw Caroline Spelman and her team of ministers getting their four-weekly hour-long questioning by MPs.
Here's a small selection of the issues raised by Conservative MPs.
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone suggested the abolition of Chris Huhne's Department of Energy and Climate Change to a somewhat unconvinced Secretary of State:
Peter Bone: The Prime Minister is keen on smaller and more efficient government. If the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were to take back responsibility for energy, would the Secretary of State think it appropriate for her Department to take back the rest of the climate change responsibilities, because then we could get rid of a whole Department?
Caroline Spelman: If we are talking about efficiency, I can tell my hon. Friend that in my experience, reorganisation—including the attempted reorganisation of local government by the last Administration—is not always the most efficient thing to do.
The MP for the distinctly unrural Fulham and Chelsea, Greg Hands, asked about the extermination of urban foxes, to which the minister, James Paice, replied that "While the extermination of urban foxes, or indeed rural ones, is neither desirable nor possible, problem foxes do need to be controlled. In urban areas, that is the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property, who can use legal methods to cull or remove foxes."
Their supplementary exchange went as follows:
Greg Hands: Last summer, a number of my constituents were attacked in their own homes by urban foxes, including Annie Bradwell, who lost part of her ear, and Natasha David, who was bitten twice as she slept in her bed. Will the Minister liaise with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see whether we can change the law so that urban foxes can be treated as vermin in the same way that rats and mice are?
James Paice: I am very happy to talk to the Communities Secretary about that, but I do not think that a change in the law is necessary to enable local authorities to take action. They are not required to do so, but it is perfectly within their remit to take action if they have the kind of problem with the fox population to which my hon. Friend refers.
And Devizes MP Claire Perry raised the issue of the state supporting British farmers and food producers:
Claire Perry: Does he agree that if we are to do what we say as a Government and help British farmers, we should put our money where our mouth is and encourage the public sector to buy British?
James Paice: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, which is why the Government will publish Government buying standards very shortly. They will require all of central Government to purchase food produced to British standards wherever that can be done without extra cost, which should not really come into it.
28 Jan 2011 06:59:00
By Jonathan Isaby
On Wednesday, at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, two Conservative MPs made their feelings clear about the recent insistence by the European Court of Human Rights that not allowing prisoners to vote was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Here's what they had to say during a debate on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights:
Brian Binley: The Council of Europe was founded on principles of upholding democracy and civil liberties, and this Assembly was instrumental in preparing the European Convention on Human Rights, which led to the establishment of the Court. The Court has done much good work over the years and we, as one of its parents, should take pride in that. However, it has delivered a ruling of which last Thursday’s editorial in the The Times stated: “Within Britain, virtually nobody believes that prisoners should have the right to vote, aside from prisoners”. The ban on serving prisoners voting has been in place since 1870. However, in a case brought by John Hirst, a man jailed for killing his landlady with an axe, the Court ruled that the UK’s automatic restriction on the right to vote for convicted prisoners was in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1, and therein lies the problem.
Many constitutional experts have questioned the Court’s right to make such a ruling. The former law lord, Lord Hoffmann, summed up their concerns, arguing that it was not proper for a European supranational court to intervene in matters on which member states of the Council have not surrendered their sovereign powers. Many in Britain hold that the restriction of the right to vote in the case of those who freely choose to place themselves outside the rule of law for their own personal gratification, gain or ambition is not a denial of human rights but a choice they make themselves. Others would simply argue that the issue is a constitutional one, and not a human rights issue.
This matter touches on a greater problem. Increasingly, the actions of the Court are creating resentment, not only in my country but across the continent. Polls increasingly show a level of dissatisfaction that questions not only the credibility of the Court but of the EU itself, and that needs to be recognised. A political class that ignores the concerns of the people puts itself at great risk. Perhaps this Assembly needs to get round to facing up to these issues before it is too late; perhaps it is time for the good parents to act.
Claire Perry: As a member of the cross-party Select Committee on Justice in my parliament, and as a member of parliament with a prison in my constituency, Devizes, I take a keen interest in the matter. Although I believe there is much to welcome in the report presented today, in the case of this specific judgment I believe that the Court’s judgment is wrong. It ignores the great differences between member countries in terms of definitions of crime, sentencing and prison regime. It ignores the fact that those are matters for sovereign parliaments. Crime, sentencing and punishment, including the selective removal of voting rights, are constitutional matters for sovereign parliaments and for courts to decide in our member countries. In my view, the European Court is really riding its luck by unilaterally extending its remit to areas where consent to do so has never been granted by our member parliaments.
It is that sort of judgment that creatively – some would say mischievously – extends the reach of the original protocols, while ignoring sovereign law. It is that behaviour that does so much to spoil the appetite in my country, and in other countries, for more European unity and co-operation. It is also the case that by awarding compensation of tens of thousands of euros to convicted murderers, the Court runs the risk of looking unhinged in the international media.
I finish with a quote from Winston Churchill, who in many ways was the founding father of this Assembly. He believed passionately in European co-operation, but from a starting point of sovereign independence. He said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, but courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” I therefore urge the Court, this Assembly and our national governments to sit down and listen and reconsider the specific implantation plans for this judgment, as they are unworkable, unconstitutional and an unacceptable intrusion in the sovereign independence of our member states.
These view did not go down well with Christos Pourgourides, a Cypriot who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights: "On the issue of prisoners’ right to vote, I say to my Conservative colleagues from the UK that I recognise that the issue is sensitive in their country. However, I tell them, with all respect, that the rule of law was born in England and the UK’s international legal obligations require the UK to comply with the judgment with all due diligence. It is inappropriate – not to say unacceptable – for the oldest parliamentary country in Europe and a founding member of the Council of Europe to try to find excuses for not implementing a Court judgment."
27 Nov 2010 17:00:17
By Jonathan Isaby
On Tuesday night, Devizes MP Claire Perry secured an adjournment debate on the subject of pornography on the internet, in order to promote a particular proposal she is championing - to require all UK-based internet service providers to "restrict universal access to pornographic material by implementing a simple opt-in system based on age verification".
"Pornography is one of the most widely available forms of content on the internet, representing 12% of the estimated 250 million global websites. Studies suggest, shockingly, that one in three British children aged 10-a third of our British 10-year-olds-have viewed pornography on the internet, while four out of every five children aged 14 to 16 admit to regularly accessing explicit photographs and footage on their home computers. The world has really changed."
"These statistics are simply red-lining a problem that every parent recognises-namely, that our children are viewing material that we would never want them to see, especially at such a young age. So what can we do about it? The current way of controlling access to pornographic material on the internet is via safety settings and filtering software, installed and maintained by users-parents, teachers and carers across the country. Unfortunately, however, through technological ignorance, time pressure or inertia or for myriad other reasons, this filtering solution is not working. Even among parents who are regular internet users, only 15% say that they know how to install a filter. It is unfortunately also the case that our children know better than we do how to circumvent the filters, while the constant changes in internet technology and content mean that they can quickly become outdated."
"I am a fervent supporter of personal responsibility and have an innate dislike of Big Brother regulation, but there is a form of content delivery in this country that, in contrast to the internet, is either regulated by the Government or has a successful self-regulation model that does not appear draconian or heavy-handed. Our television viewing is restricted by sensible Ofcom guidelines, including section 1, which says that material equivalent to the British Board of Film Classification's R18 rating must not be broadcast at any time, and that adult sex material cannot be broadcast at any time other than between 22.00 and 05.30 hours on premium subscription services or on pay-per-view or night services, which have to have mandatory restricted access, including PIN verification systems. We all accept such regulation of our television viewing quite happily.
Continue reading "Claire Perry calls for action to restrict children's access to internet pornography" »
5 Oct 2010 06:44:57
Here is the latest in our series of Twenty Questions with members of the Class of 2010...
Claire Perry was elected MP for Devizes with a majority of 13,005.
1. What is your earliest political memory? Arguing from the left with my very right wing family. The result was that I was a socialist by 20 confirming Georges Clemenceau’s theory. That was before I paid taxes.
2. Complete the sentence: “I’m a Conservative because… I believe in people more than I believe in government".
3. Who is your political hero and why? Honestly I don’t really have one which is what happens when you become political later in life. If you asked me for a business hero, I could give you 10. I admire several politicians for different things: including Margaret Thatcher for her conviction, Ken Clarke for his longevity and enthusiasm and David Cameron for his pragmatism, commitment and courtesy. I am a huge fan of George Osborne’s courage in tackling the deficit – it takes a lot of political balls to carry out these unpopular policies but I am convinced he is right and so are the IMF, Bank of England et al.
4. When did you decide you wanted to become an MP? In May 2009 after two years working for the Shadow Treasury team and after deciding we needed some more “normal women” to get involved front of house. We can debate whether I am one of them!
5. What is your reading material of choice? Voracious consumer of books – ranging from Red Tory to The Other Boleyn Girl. Also enjoying re-reading Narnian series to my youngest. Newspapers only at weekends – Times, Telegraph, FT and Observer. Websites are Politics Home, FT.com, BBC news, Twitter, ConHome and my children’s school websites for glimpses of them captaining the C team.
6. Who is your favourite political interviewer/presenter on TV or radio? John Humphrys, but I rather despise the whole cadre at the moment for the constant barrage of negativity. While they are whinging, we are getting on with it.
7. If you could run any government department, which would it be and why? MoD as it is most in need of business thinking. And I promise that there would be no photos of me in a scarf driving a tank.
8. Which non-Conservative politician do you most admire? Frank Field, Kate Hoey et al. Committed to their causes and willing to step out from behind the ideological barricades.
9. Who would you least want to get stuck with in a House of Commons lift? No nominations I’m afraid – I’m of the belief that I could learn something from everyone here.
10. If you were in the US, would you be a Republican or a Democrat? Moderate Republican now. But I did meet Barack Obama before the election and would probably have voted for him.
11. What do you enjoy doing to unwind and relax? Not a lot of either with 3 children, a working husband and a very active Constituency party. I do get up at dawn and cycle most weekends, go to a great gym when I can and like cooking with the family. Oh, and we relish a good pub quiz night.
12. What is your favourite book? Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.
13. What is your favourite film? American Beauty.
14. What is your favourite music? Anything you would play at an 80s disco, I will dance to.
15. What would be your ideal meal and where would you eat it? Shepherd’s Pie, home grown runner beans and apple and blackberry crumble round our kitchen table in Wiltshire. And everyone would sit up straight, use their knives and offer to do the washing up.
16. What is your favourite holiday destination? Anywhere in America. I fell in love with the landscape in the USA when I was 21 and the love affair is still going strong.
17. What do you most want to achieve during your first term in Parliament? A reputation for getting things done.
18. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about yourself. I used to be a catwalk model as a teenager which was the only thing that got me to stand up straight.
19. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about your constituency. The second largest town of Marlborough in my patch was the place where the oldest piece of statute law in the United Kingdom that has not yet been repealed was passed – a testament to the law makers of old who made useful and enduring legislation unlike the last government who criminalised so much of ordinary life. Roll on the Great Repeal Act!
20. Share with us your most amusing story or favourite anecdote from the campaign trail. I thought I would emulate David Cameron who is good at jumping up on things to make speeches, jumped up on a wall by the duck pond in Urchfont and wrecked my back jumping down. Oh, and my Chairman now calls bars of chocolate “Claire Perrys” as a testament to the amount of rubbish I ate on the battle bus.
> Previously: Rehman Chishti MP
14 Jun 2010 06:45:12
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Claire Perry, who has stepped into Michael Ancram’s shoes in Devizes, explained the damage done to rural Britain under the Labour Government:
“I live in a small Wiltshire village, so I have seen at first hand the damage to rural Britain that was caused by the last Government—possibly the most urban-minded Government that Britain has ever seen. Our farmers have struggled with mountains of red tape, unchecked animal disease and an indifferent Government who were not interested in buying British food or dealing with the dishonest food labelling regime. We have had multiple grandiose regional spatial strategies in Wiltshire, but we still lack affordable housing, transport links and the broadband infrastructure that is so important for building a living and working countryside. A shocking legacy of the previous Government is the NHS quangocracy, which means that my constituency has the worst ambulance response times in the region and no minor injuries unit.
“However, the lacklustre state of the rural economy and embedded rural poverty trouble me most. Employment in my constituency—that great driver-out of poverty—is still weak, and unemployment has more than doubled in the past five years. As the former Government’s rural adviser said, there are huge traditional barriers to gaining employment in rural areas: poor public transport, less training and less guidance provision—a bit of new Labour gobbledegook that means that we do not get as many jobcentres per head of the population in rural Britain.
“There is genuine poverty in rural Britain, and it is often well hidden behind a chocolate-box façade. Examples of that hidden poverty include the pensioner who is too proud to claim benefits; the family travelling 40 or 50 miles on poorly maintained roads with high petrol prices to get to work; the unskilled labourer laid off when the nearest job is 40 miles away, and the single mother who came to my surgery who is sleeping on her parents’ sofa because she cannot get on the housing list. We need to tackle those issues, and I know that my constituents do not feel that the previous Government listened to them. This Government will not overlook them.”
George Hollingbery, MP for the new seat of Meon Valley in Hampshire, raised the plight of pensioners who may seem asset-rich but are income-poor:
“Among my constituents there are a great many people who, to their enormous surprise, find themselves in challenging economic circumstances. Most of them are in their 70s. They often own an asset, in their own homes. They have saved and accumulated pensions, but rarely are any of them more than modest in scope. Over the past several years, through a combination of low returns on savings, the lack of eligibility for state help, rising energy bills and, particularly, the cost of ever-increasing council tax, many of them are finding it very difficult to get by. Yes, they could sell their homes, but most of them already live in small dwellings and cannot practically downsize without moving away from their friends and family. Yes, they could use equity release schemes and enjoy a modestly increased income from capital, but many of them now struggle to find such products or, in fact, are scared of using them.
“These people may seem asset-rich, but they are certainly income-poor. The asset that they strived so long and hard to obtain is now an impediment to getting any kind of help. We now face a future where many of those whom we would all regard as model citizens and who have paid much of the tax that allows the Government to function regard doing the right thing as a poor piece of advice to give to their children and wider families. That, surely, is something that we should be very concerned about."
And Harriett Baldwin, who replaced Sir Michael Spicer in Worcestershire West, also wanted to talk about pensioner poverty:
“Before coming into Parliament, I was a pension fund manager. One of the many scandalous legacies of the outgoing Government is the way in which they destroyed our private pension system, which used to be the envy of the world. However, the unfunded liability of the public pension system has increased enormously. We are all living longer, so the current situation is completely unsustainable. A pensioner in my constituency on modest savings who has lived responsibly and within her means all her life has to face an annual increase in her council tax, which is often due to the need for the local council and local police to make an ever greater provision for their future pension entitlements.
“That results in real poverty for pensioners who have a small amount of savings and are thus unable to claim pension credit. These days, very few people in the private sector are saving enough for their greater longevity either. We are storing up terrible pensioner poverty for the future in this country. The Government have made a welcome start on tackling the fiscal deficit, but I hope that they and this Parliament can also begin to address the long-term pensions savings deficit in this country.”