Monday, 23 February 2015

Visa Bans - a Public Right to Know?

Should the public be told whether or not the Home Office have refused visas to individuals linked to serious crime?

I have tabled an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, for consideration today, making the case for greater transparency. You can read my blog-post outlining the case for the change on The Spectator's Coffee House blog here.
Friday, 13 February 2015

Managing Flood Risk in Elmbridge

Today, I met with Julia Simpson and David Murphy, from the Environment Agency, to get an update on progress with the Lower River Thames Flood Scheme. The overarching strategy involves building flood river channels upstream, strengthening weir capacity at Sunbury and Molesey, improved property defences, enhanced coordination with local communities at neighbourhood level, and continuing availability of affordable flood risk home insurance through the Flood Re scheme.

The overall cost of the works is £302million, with the Chancellor announcing an extra £60million in December. We face a real challenge over the long-term in ensuring we manage flood risk as effectively as possible. Some of this involves long term investment - so the cash boost is welcome. But, it also means consistent enforcement of planning rules, effective coordination from street level through the different tiers of government, and making local communities aware of the risks and how to mitigate them. I am confident we can adapt to the future flood risks - but it will require a team effort.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Lib Dem Spin Doctor feels ‘Disenfranchised’

On Sunday morning, I was made aware of a blog-post by Roisin Miller on Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent website for Lib Dem supporters, entitled: ‘An MP who takes me for granted has left me feeling disenfranchised’. What followed was a nebulous - but direct - attack on me as an MP, saying that I took my so-called ’safe seat’ for granted. In particular, apparently my responses to Ms Miller’s communiqu├ęs were ‘half-hearted’, I’m not ‘a particularly good MP’, she hasn’t received any literature from me in 3 years, and locally Conservatives are failing to ‘engage with the electorate’. I think Ms Miller deserves a response.

First, she might have mentioned that she was Ed Davey’s local spin doctor and Kingston & Surbiton Lib Dems’ campaign manager until August 2013 – and has run as a candidate in various local elections. Nothing wrong with that. But Ms Miller is not just any old local ‘activist’. She’s a professional politician having a go at her local Tory nemesis.

Nonetheless, it’s fair game to highlight lazy MPs who take strong majorities for granted. It’s just that, since I was selected as the Conservative candidate by open primary in 2009, in a process open to every resident regardless of political affiliation, I have been anything but lazy. In the 2010 election, we had 72% turnout – compared to 65% nationally, and higher than Kingston – a tribute to the efforts my team and I made to galvanise interest. Neither I nor voters were remotely complacent.

Ms Miller lives in Molesey. I live in and commute from neighbouring Thames Ditton. I spend a lot of time in Molesey – all documented on my blog here. Up at Westminster, I’ve been independent-minded, for example, campaigning against the snooper’s charter, and supporting a beefed up Right of Recall against MPs – examples of issues that many Lib Dems care about, as well as Conservatives.

Ms Miller says my replies to her emails have been ‘half-hearted’. Really? I won’t disclose the content, but I have written to senior officials and Ministers on a wide range of issues. Ms Miller is no stranger to the ‘campaign email’, but has invariably got a personal reply from me. I have written to her substantively seven times in two years.

Next, Ms Miller says she hasn’t had any other literature from me in three years. In fact, I send an annual ‘Westminster Report’, delivered by Royal Mail, to every address in the constituency. She should have had at least two since she moved here - perhaps one or other got swept up into the bin with pizza leaflets, who knows? But, since Ms Miller signed up for my monthly e-bulletin in April 2013, I am starting to wonder whether she isn’t being rather economical with the truth, when she says she‘s ‘had nothing’ from me in three years.    

What about face-to-face contact? In addition to the local events I do, like any MP, I also hold public meetings every six months across the constituency – advertised variously, including via my e-bulletin – so residents can raise any local or national issue. I have held six in Molesey alone since February 2012, 40 in total since May 2010. These meetings have been vibrant, sometimes challenging. In Molesey, working with local councillor Steve Bax, we’ve tackled a range of issues – including parking regulations, getting behind community ideas for buying the Jolly Boatman site (a longstanding local bug-bear), and liaising with Heathrow to secure the suspension of local flight trial paths. If Ms Miller is so ‘politically engaged’, why hasn’t she been along to any of these meetings to make her voice heard?

There are two ironies in all this. The first is that, if the Lib Dems had their way, and we changed the voting system to Proportional Representation, it would break the constituency link between elector and elected that ensures local residents can hold MPs like me to account. The current system may not be perfect, but the alternatives are far worse.

Second, for all Ms Miller’s attack on ‘Tory complacency’, she was in charge of Ed Davey’s local PR and Kingston Lib Dems’ local campaigns until recently. As we went into the last election, Ed Davey had a bigger majority than my predecessor did in Esher and Walton. Mr Davey’s seat is now viewed as ultra-marginal, and Kingston Lib Dems lost control of the council. In contrast, my majority in Esher and Walton doubled in 2010, and since then local Conservatives have assiduously retained a council long controlled by opposition groups.

For my part, working with a great local team, I’m energetically engaging with voters, regardless of their political views and by any means possible. For hers, Ms Miller confesses she hasn’t even bothered to register to vote. If she really feels disenfranchised, I can only extend a warm invitation to her to attend my upcoming Molesey public meeting - as it happens next Wednesday, 7.30pm start, at St Mary’s Church hall in East Molesey.   

Update: having originally declined a right of reply, Liberal Democrat Voice changed their mind and published this post on their site. Credit where it's due.
Friday, 6 February 2015

Meritocracy & Democracy

Yesterday, the Sutton Trust released some research showing the proportion of candidates at the next election from public school and Oxbridge. So, I have written a column for The Times today, looking at the state of meritocracy - inside and outside the Westminster village.

You can read it here.

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