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Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 29 October 2009

If the BBC had intended to act as a recruiting sergeant for the BNP it could not have done a better job. I have no difficulty with the invitation to a BNP MEP to appear on Question Time – what else could you do in a democracy? But to reconfigure the entire event into a one-sided assault upon Mr Griffin was ill-judged. And to have BBC radio phone-in programmes focussing for days on whether he should be invited before the event and then debating how it went afterwards added fuel to the fire. The audience for the programme rose from 2.5 million to 8 million and they witnessed a display of abject unfairness which could only have increased support for this party. They saw a man who claimed to voice their concerns being hounded by the pack.
The real problem however in current British politics is that we have created a vacuum. I was hopeless at physics at school but I do remember that if you create a vacuum something will always try and fill it. There are genuine policy concerns around immigration, integration and Britishness which we have been too timid to tackle in the past 15 years. If you dared to challenge levels of immigration you were branded a racist. The result: a good old fashioned void at the centre of national anxiety which the BNP have been allowed to fill. Add in a recession, disillusionment with the political classes, a few predictions about immigration fuelled population growth, and hand it all over to the Daily Mail to trumpet with their customary hyperbole and you have the seeds of a very real problem. Not wholly unlike the situation that allowed Hitler to come to power between the two world wars.
As they have democratically elected people the BNP are entitled to be heard, but to not make them the centre of attention. You only need to know one thing about them: my favourite rugby player Jason Robinson, Cheryl Cole's husband Ashley and Leone Lewis would not be allowed to join the BNP because they have a non-white skin.
But we in mainstream parties must get our act together quickly. We must clean up our expenses mess at Westminster even if there is some personal unfairness in the decisions Sir Thomas Legg has reached. We must bring forward robust mainstream solutions to the issues that people fret about and fill the void. We have months not years.

posted by Gary @ 10:01  



Thursday, 22 October 2009


I received an extraordinary letter this week from a senior police officer in response to my recent missive urging them to do more to tackle the outbreak of travellers we have experienced in this constituency in recent weeks. Various sites in Plympton and Ivybridge have been occupied by our nomadic friends.

The gist of the response was: not much point in moving them on as they will only go somewhere else and until local authorities provide the permanent places, what’s the point? I have responded with due dismay. This is not what we expect from our boys in blue. If anybody wonders why people are so upset by these invasions, just ask those who have to suffer them. When the travellers come to town, nuisance and litter and sometimes far worse, abound.

I understand the position of the police. It must be galling to expend the manpower in shifting these law-breakers on, knowing that they may well invade somebody else’s property just around the corner. But that is precisely what we wish them to do and when the criminal law has been broken, to take appropriate action. But somebody high up in Devon and Cornwall constabulary seems to have decided that this is a social problem and not a matter for them. I have had frequent complaints from land-owners and local authorities about the lack of co-operation from officers in carrying out what is admittedly a thankless task. The softly-softly approach also seems in part to be an over reaction to perceived ethnic sensitivity. It is not about ethnicity, it is about behaviour.

We have to go back to basic principles. Travellers may well have chosen their alternative lifestyle – good luck to them, but that does not give them the right to gatecrash private property. The reason local councils are not queuing up to provide permanent traveller sites is because their electorates do not want them in their communities. Look at the fuss about the one proposed for Efford. There is no evidence that even if provided the itinerants would choose to live there and when the sites provided by the tax payer are full up, the problem will be as great as ever. If there is a change in government this unpopular top-down pressure is likely to disappear.

Of course travellers have rights, but not to live on someone else’s land. The police should change their approach to this or risk losing public support.

posted by Gary @ 10:41  



Thursday, 15 October 2009


Lions led by donkeys, represented by dinosaurs. That is my assessment of the situation facing the much loved Royal Mail. The decision to strike because they cannot agree on how to restructure the business to meet the rapidly changing environment is like trying to cure a headache by slitting your own wrists. The senior management of this crucial business lack a clear strategy, despite astronomical salaries. The trade union leaders are a throw back to a bygone era, resisting change and howling at the moon.

Reality check: the royal mail is very old fashioned, operates an antiquated culture and desperately needs to modernise to compete in an age where people in their eighties are sending e-mails to their grandchildren at university rather than a letter, where people are texting or going on facebook to stay in touch with their loved ones rather than putting pen to paper. We have seen this in my own office in the past few years. Letter volumes are declining, electronic traffic increasing.

As a result the royal mail is struggling. Apart from its revenue challenges, it has a massive pension fund shortfall due to incomprehensible decisions on employers contributions in the past decade. There are still great opportunities for this company – not least the parcel business as so many of us are now ordering goods online, together with the massive Christmas and greeting card business –but they need to up their game to benefit from it..

So what is there response to this future-threatening set of challenges? To go on strike in the run up to Christmas, in the middle of a recession. Everyday now mail order giants like Amazon are switching their lucrative delivery contracts away from Royal Mail towards some of their major competitors. Given the volatility and track record of Royal Mail I doubt if those contracts will ever be recovered. The government tried a partial privatisation, seeking to bring in major investment from a competitor, but could not find Parliamentary support in the run up to an election. In the current financial climate no government is going to take on its pension debt.

So this once great organization now lumbers towards the edge of the cliff. Choosing to strike at this time is sheer madness.

I hope the donkeys and dinosaurs can somehow bridge their differences and find a positive way forward before another British institution goes the way of Woolworths.

For the sake of the lions.

posted by Gary @ 14:36  



Friday, 9 October 2009


We have all been truly shocked by the child abuse scandal centring on the nursery in Plymouth. The fact that it involved two women, the fact that it happened here, the fact that it happened at all. Most of us are baffled that anybody can derive pleasure from such warped activity, but it is a further example of the limitless capacity of the human spirit for depravity. We have to accept that human beings seem capable of anything. The challenge for policy makers is: what are we going to do about it to better protect children?

I am not talking about knee jerk reactions that make us feel we are doing something, but measures that actually work. In truth, the measures introduced after the appalling atrocities at Dunblane, where several children were shot dead, came within this category. Restricting access to firearms for legitimate owners, including sportspeople, looked like tough action, but what did it do to restrict the supply of weapons on the black market to those who intend harm? I doubt if it has saved a single life, but (and I was a member of the government at the time) it made us feel better and made us look decisive. That should not be the test.

We already have draconian CRB checks on all those working with children. Already I was feeling that these CRB records have gone too far. I have several constituency cases at the moment where the police have recorded information that is little more than hearsay on people’s files and it is impacting innocent lives unjustly. Now we have a new form of registration affecting people who just regularly give children a lift in a car. There is talk of banning nursery workers from taking mobile phones with cameras into their place of work. We are in danger of falling into the Dunblane trap. If deceitful, dark-hearted, people are minded to carry out their perverted activities on vulnerable children, it is unlikely that bureaucratic regulations will make much difference.

The Internet is a large part of the problem. Greater efforts must be made to somehow discover and report when this incredible invention is being used for harmful purposes. More research is required on a technical solution to this. But even if such a thing were possible it all brings 1984 a step closer. So once again I seek your views. What in reality can we do to make children safer?


posted by Gary @ 14:10  



Thursday, 1 October 2009


Your Parliament rose for the summer on 21st July and will sit again on 12th October 2009. That is about 12 weeks during which ministers receive no parliamentary grilling. Is this right?

Most Parliaments have a long summer recess. To represent your area you need a good knowledge of local issues and the summer is a good time to spend more reflective time in the constituency listening to various people and groups of all kinds. Although many jobs are equally as intensive, there is no doubt that politics comes with its own unique pressures and by the middle of July we are all on our knees. A proper break helps to restore sanity. 

Despite these arguments, I have come to the conclusion that our summer break is now too long. Although I have enjoyed pottering around SW Devon this summer, I think we should go back in early September. 6 weeks is long enough to recharge batteries and most of us these days live in our constituencies and are already very familiar with local issues.

However there is a problem: the party conference season. It starts in mid September with the Liberal Democrats and minor parties, followed by Labour and then us. But I have a solution to that too: scrap the party conferences.

I believe they belong to a time now past. There was a time when conferences actually made policy. This no longer happens – policy is made by party leadership in every case. There was a time when political parties enjoyed mass membership and the annual conference was a time to meet with like minded people and catch up all the news. Now numbers for all parties are dwindling and the new media age means that we can be in daily contact, if not hourly, via the web with both policy and gossip. Having the party conference season is not a justifiable reason for Parliament not to sit, especially when times are tough.

Not that I want it to pass even more unnecessary legislation or suffocating regulation, we already get far too much of that. But in the end governance is about decisions made by ministers and having them come to the House to answer questions, to explain their decisions is the best way of holding the government to account. Parties can still have shorter weekend conferences but this should no longer stand in the way of proper democratic accountability. What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 10:42