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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, 25 March 2010

Easter is about life and death, or more precisely, death and resurrection. Spring is also about new life after the slog of the winter months. Whether or not we are religious, this time of year is an opportunity to reflect on the things that really matter.
We live at an age where most people's daily toil is not about life and death. It is full of other stuff. This is a good thing. It was not many generations ago where the primary focus was on the raw essentials of food, water and shelter. Many children would die before the age of five and many mothers in childbirth. Killing diseases would cut a swathe through whole communities. In the last century, on two occasions, millions marched off to war and many did not return.
We must be one of the first generations where most of us, thankfully, can put issues of life and death onto the back-burner – they do not surround us on a daily basis, although of course we all know of individual tragedies.
This is progress indeed, but it has a downside. In the absence of a constant awareness of the big issues in life, we can become obsessed with things that are trivial. This is perhaps why celebrities have assumed such a massive role in our society. Look at the headlines in newspapers and magazines. Does anybody really care whether Cheryl Cole has hair extensions or Jordan marries Pete or the other one? Well apparently many do.
Some perspective is required. Two thoughts may help. First of all, we do have thousands of our people for whom each day is very much a matter of life or death (or injury) and that is our incredibly brave armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every time they step out they are at risk of roadside bombs. This Easter they, and their families, should be uppermost in our mind and in our prayers. Secondly, for many people around the world, the daily focus still remains on eeking out enough just to stay alive. It was moving to note the impact this harsh reality made on the celebrities who went to see for themselves during Sport Relief last weekend.
We have come a long way in Britain. But this is a good time to remember again the sacrifice of our armed forces, the plight of the worlds poorest and the eternal truths that constitute ultimate reality. Happy Easter!

posted by Gary @ 14:45  



Thursday, 18 March 2010

Five pubs a day are closing in this country. This may not make the headlines, but it is significant. Pubs have been an important part of our communities for generations but a seismic shift is taking place.
Even on my favourite TV programme Lark Rise to Candelford, the ale house is the centre of the community (albeit in those days chiefly for the men) where Robert Timmins dispenses some of his best advice. They are also small businesses that employ local people. It used to be said that if a village had a shop, a church and a pub it was a viable society. We have seen the closures of many shops and post offices in recent days, some long-established churches are also struggling to keep going; and now the last bastion of this traditional way of life is under threat.
It is happening because of several pressures coming together at once. The recession has not helped, with less disposable income. The smoking ban has deterred another section of society from venturing to their usual haunts. I must confess, as a strong supporter of that ban (I voted for it) it is a sad sight to see people standing outside pubs in all weathers, puffing away. The laudable change in culture on drink driving has also taken its toll.
But the biggest factor by far, is the price at which many supermarkets are selling alcohol – often more cheaply than public houses could buy it in – let alone sell it on. The pattern of nights out, especially among young people is therefore changing – buy in the cheap booze, get tanked up and then go clubbing when most of us are going to bed, by-passing pubs altogether. Many people are understandably taking advantage of these cheap deals to have a night in rather than a night out, myself included. The people of Britain are downing more alcohol than ever before, and yet the pub trade is struggling (with some notable local exceptions where good food is on offer).
Maybe it is just the operation of the market and we should leave well alone. Maybe we should intervene, but how? Some favour a minimum price on alcohol so that the supermarkets cannot undercut pubs in such a way. Some are calling for a reduction on tax for beer sold in pubs and this policy is gaining support. A co-ordinated campaign to save the pub is underway.
What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 08:09  



Thursday, 11 March 2010

I hope that immigration becomes an election issue this time around, for two reasons. First, if it is not discussed by mainstream political parties, it becomes the preserve of the extremists and that is calamitous. Secondly, it is a serious issue and a healthy public debate can only help us reach the right conclusions.
We keep a track on so-called salient issues – ie the things people really care about. At the moment, for obvious reasons, most people cite the economy and jobs as their number one worry, with the NHS coming in second. For some time now immigration has been hovering third in the list of voter concerns. (Compare this with Europe which dangles all the way down at twelfth!)
If people are bothered about it, we should discuss it. In the 2005 election, when immigration policy was raised, the predictable scream went up: racist! We have to get beyond this shrill reaction. It is not racist to be concerned about the number of people coming to live in this country, the impact on our way of life and the future size of our population. Indeed it is negligent not to address these concerns. The drift from the developing world to more prosperous European countries is not going to end anytime soon, so we must have clear and robust policies in place.
At the moment, we experience net migration into this country of about 200,000. As about 200,000 Brits are emigrating every year, this means we have 400,000 new people coming to settle here. If they come from a different culture, you do not have to be Einstein to see that this will inevitably have an impact on the British way of life.
I believe that net migration is currently far too high and should be restricted to be tens of thousands only. I am also concerned about predictions that the population of the UK might rise to 70 million plus in the near future – this would place unbearable pressures on our infrastructure.
It should be legitimate to debate these matters in the election campaign and find out what voters actually think without being branded a racist.  Since the Romans onwards immigrants from all corners of the globe have brought tremendous benefits to this country – imagine our music, cuisine, economy and culture without these positive influences. But now would be a good time to draw breath and conduct a healthy debate about where we go from here.

posted by Gary @ 14:49  



Thursday, 4 March 2010

Facebook and Twitter are all the rage and great fun to those who participate, but how long will they last? Is it the kind of networking on which communities can be forged? On average a person will engage with these new social networking tools for six months before dropping off.
Our grandchildren now attend the same school as our own children did. On the few occasions I have been trusted to pick them up, I do get a wonderful sense of deja vue. Jan often has long conversations with mums who used to do the school trip twenty or so years ago – and some of them have remained firm friends. These experiences bring with them a sense of belonging. Our area is rich in community organisations: churches, civic associations, drama and dance groups, sporting clubs, scouts and guides, horticultural societies and many more. Somehow they seem to replenish themselves even though it is often just the few same stalwarts holding it all together. Together they help us to weave together a rich tapestry we call society.
Communities are forged over time. They need roots and traditions to enable them to prosper. They need buildings in which to meet and for activities to take place. They need a strong sense of corporate memory. Although there must always be change, it is vital that a strong thread of continuity runs through every neighbourhood to keep it strong. Our area has deep roots. Plympton was a stannary town "while Plymouth was a fuzzy down," it is often said. Plymstock is made up of ancient villages which form the glue that binds the whole suburb together. Ivybridge, was in danger of losing itself in rapid growth, but in recent years, has managed to draw breath and revitalise its community heart.
I was mightily relieved when I asked a group of local sixth-formers recently how they wanted me to stay in touch with them. I dreaded them saying I had to use Facebook and tweet to them constantly. They didn't. They said they wanted me to come and chat to them from time to time, to which I readily agreed. There is a value in face to face meetings that cannot be overstated. There is a priceless potency that comes from a generation to generation continuum. Technology can bring tremendous benefits, but we must make sure that we do not undermine the essential building blocks of our society: people meeting together.

posted by Gary @ 17:32