The work of an MP

Article by Simon Hughes  in the Guardian on being a constituency MP for Southwark and Bermondsey. I’ve met Simon a few times and he’s always struck me as very diligent, and like all good MPs has a photographic memory of faces and names. He writes

“It is a seven-day, 80-hour a week job being a constituency MP. Every day by phone, letter, email or simply being stopped in the street, people ask for help. Everything from finance to helping bury a relative to business support for the latest love potion.”

The funniest section for me was below.

“There is always a load to laugh about. Canvassing reveals a large number of people at home with no clothes on – and still clearly happy to answer the door (now you understand the genesis of my campaign for better insulation and lower fuel bills).”

That’s certainly never happened in Bromsgrove, and hopefully long may it continue!

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Mental health a taboo subject

I had the privilege of being asked to see one of the workshops at Rivendell Mental Health Clinic this week. It was a computer workshop run twice a week for 3 hours where old Council computers are wiped clean, refurbished then sold onto the public.

It enables those who have done computing courses at the centre to put them to practice in a safe and unpressured environment. There was concern from members of the workshop about the future of the facility as the Psychiatric department is being moved. Rivendell also hosts other workshops such as crafts, arts and gardening sessions.

Many of those using the facilities are on the road to recovery and love what is there as some are still in treatment, but others are actually working and like somewhere they can be with people who understand them. The computer workshop is also a stepping stone to getting patients back into the world of work.

Mental health disorders take many different forms and affect people in different ways. Schizophrenia, depression and personality disorders are all types of mental health problem. Diseases such as dementia generally develop in old age, whereas eating disorders are more common in young people.

The more I’ve seen of mental health issues, the more I realise:

  • How much it is a hidden / taboo subject even though up to 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health problem at least once in their life
  • Those who need help are often left to seek it themselves, rarely are they offered help
  • The pressure for politicians to ensure that those who have the quietest voice / visibility in society are properly represented.
  • The grey area of responsibility in public services for mental health e.g. the difference between a personality disorder – not the responsibility of the NHS, and mental health – NHS responsibility.

Re-offending costs the UK £10bn

The National Audit Office found that re-offending by criminals cost the UK up to £10bn a year. Short term prison sentences were found not to work as there was little rehabilitation or effort to correct criminals behaviour. The report and views of a former inmate argued for more rehabilitation and robust community sentences. Both proposals the Liberal Democrats support. Specific policy pledges are:

  • Make prisoners work to pay compensation to victims – It is only fair that criminals pay for the damage they cause. We will make prisoners work and contribute from their prison wages to a compensation fund for victims. At the moment, prisons are just colleges of crime. Making prisoners work (as well as educating and training them) will give them the skills they need to ‘go straight’ when they are released.
  • Justice in your neighbourhood – We will give people a direct say in how petty criminals and those who engage in anti-social behaviour are punished in their area. This will be achieved by the creation of Neighbourhood Justice Panels, like the one run by Liberal Democrats in Somerset where 95% of offenders have been turned away from further crimes.

How political parties are funded

As I’m preparing a race night in Shepherds Bush on Monday for London based friends and supporters for the campaign in Bromsgrove it occurred to me that the few hundred I’ll make will pale in comparison to events the two main parties. Running an election is not cheap as the graphic below shows (but does highlight how efficient the Lib Dems are)

As membership for all parties has fallen money via members has dried up, there is a limit to how many dinners, speeches and auctions the ordinary member can contribute towards so big donations are ever more welcome.  

The Lib Dems do reasonably well, but we don’t have lots of large donors, evident as we have a quarter of the other parties funding in 2005 election. Labour are very reliant on trade union funding, but this was not quite the case during the Blair years. The Tories are still backed by their Michael Ashcroft’s and hedge fund managers.

All of which is fine, if parties are being funded but policies are not being bought/influenced…

Luckily we don’t have the same lobby group impacts as in America where individual politicians themselves can be funded by big tobacco companies or farming unions.

For background, my event on Monday is open to all members of the public and is bringing trade into an otherwise quiet night for the pub (Green Room 45a Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush). I’m also grateful for the support of sponsors Patio Polish restaurant, The Ritz Greek restaurant (not the hotel chain!) and Top of the Town Chinese restaurant, who have covered costs and allowed the  money raised to go straight to the campaign.

Whilst the Tory lead shrinks, they at least have a supporter in Zimbabwe…

…step forward Robert Mugabe, who’s relationship with Britain is at an all time low with our continued sanctions on Zimbabwe.

“In 2002, the government imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle – including a travel ban and freezing of bank accounts – following allegations of a rigged election.”

Full story in the Daily Telegraph

A long term perspective is important for economic issues such as the strength of sterling

As I was travelling up from London tonight I read a great article by Anthony Hilton, the Evening Standard’s City commentator, regarding sterling’s decline, but how it wasn’t a cause for concern. In fact he rather celebrates it. He identified 3 reasons why there is such noise and media coverage for the short term decline in sterling: financial, political and emotional.

“Financial first. For months, hedge funds have been placing their bets against sterling, for the simple reason that it is overvalued in trading terms…

…And having bought their fire insurance, hedge funds start fires. The past few days have seen them queuing up to make inflammatory statements about the disaster about to overtake sterling in the hope that they can profitably bring about its collapse. In an earlier age they would have been dismissed as simply talking their book. These days, the 24-hour media circus is often naively complicit in helping them spread panic.”

“The second reason is political. Most people have no idea what a run on sterling means nor what causes it but it is easy to present it as a loss of confidence in this country by overseas investors which, in turn, can be laid at the Government’s door. One must expect the Tory party and its supporters to do all they can through their rhetoric to make sterling’s slide appear more serious than it is because, if nothing else, it further undermines the reputation of the Government they hope soon to defeat.”

“That brings us to emotion. People like to see their currency as some sort of virility symbol. They want it to be Clint Eastwood not Donald Pleasance. So when the currency weakens people take it far too personally as if it is a national disgrace — a confirmation of national decline. Well over time it can be; in the long run competitive nations get strong currencies and flimsy nations get weak currencies. But eight hours of trading on Monday is hardly long term. It is just noise.”

He then finishes with a comment on the trust in the same ratings companies which backed the banks right up to the credit crunch and praise for Vince Cable.

Full article here