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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, 27 January 2011

I was pleased that the South West Devon Waste Partnership recently plumped for the MVV Umvelt (German for Environment) bid to site the Energy from Waste facility in the Dockyard. This makes so much sense. The steam generated from the plant will directly heat the MOD buildings alongside it, saving the MOD a fortune in gas bills. This will help keep the Naval Base alive and protect local jobs. It will also provide sustainable energy for 37,000 homes. The highways system will take the waste-bearing lorries directly to the new facility on major trunk roads. It will solve our waste problems for a generation.
Of course I am biased because it also relieves the pressure on New England Quarry (NEQ), against which many of us have been waging a long-running campaign. Compare the MVV proposal, with all its synergies, to that of the Viridor bid where there was no certainty whether any homes or businesses would benefit from surplus energy and where the lorries would thunder through the narrow streets of Lee Mill. No contest.  Well done the Partnership for making the right decision.
But the danger is not fully past because at the moment, Viridor still threaten to proceed with their planning application for NEQ. I hope they will change their minds because the odds are now stacked against them. If they do continue, I hope we will be able to persuade Devon County Council to kick it out on (not least) highways grounds. I also hope the Environment Agency will continue to be robust about protecting the sensitive environment around NEQ, especially the river. At the very least, Devon have told me that this planning application must now go out to the public for a further consultation, so we can all have our say once again. Please make sure you do; we do not need two Energy from Waste plants just a few miles from each other. At the same time, a local consortium is working up plans to tackle commercial waste with a system that does not need a local incinerator, and I wish them every success.
Although the smart decision made by the Partnership – if followed through – would appear to resolve our waste problem, it is vital that we do not let up on improving our recycling rates. We still lag far behind our European partners on the extent to which we recycle and I am sure we all want to do better.

posted by Gary @ 19:46  



Thursday, 20 January 2011

The accounts this week of how the Stuxnet worm – a highly complex computer virus – has put Iran's nuclear development programme back by five years were riveting. There was talk only a year or so ago of pre-emptive strike with bunker busting weapons to take out Tehran's underground nuclear processing plants. Now the same effect has been achieved by somebody (probably the Americans and Israelis together) developing a computer virus and uploading it into the appropriate computer system. Once embedded, it wormed its way through the software to cause the centrifuges to spin so fast that one fifth of them were destroyed. At the same time this "worm" sent out reassuring signals to those monitoring the equipment telling them everything was just fine.
Is this a one off or is this the future? It is the future. Britain has just committed over £500 million into cyber- defence technologies. The US is way ahead of all of us and China is investing like mad trying to catch up. Cyber-wars are coming.
Consider how much we all rely on computer technology. Computers run our TV systems, our cars, our heating systems, petrol pumps, all kinds of communication – well everything really! We have rendered ourselves utterly dependant on computers. Hitler tried to bomb us into submission just 70 years ago by laying low our infrastructure. In conflicts of the future (which there will sadly but surely be) our enemies could bring our society to a standstill by the use of well planted computer bugs: laying low our schools, hospitals, work places, power stations, transport systems. Just picture the devastation this would cause.
All of our military equipment is also heavily dependent on computers. Imagine in future wars if you could bring down an aeroplane (or stop it getting up in the first place) by sending in the worms. Is this how future wars will be fought? Nobody knows for sure, but naturally we have to be prepared for it. 
In years to come, brave young men and young women will still be joining the Armed Forces; some into the Navy, the RAF, or the Army. But some will join the Cyber-Corps. They will look very different and may not be able to run for 30 miles carrying 50 kilos on their backs. They may wear anoraks and trainers. They may spend their working day staring at the screen in front of them. One day our lives may depend upon them.

posted by Gary @ 09:40  



Thursday, 13 January 2011

Last summer my good friend Stephen Timms Labour MP was stabbed by a young woman in his surgery. She had purchased two knives for this purpose, one with a six inch blade, the other a four inch. That morning, she later told police, she decided she would not be able to conceal the longer blade in her tunic, so only took the four inch, which she twice drove deeply into his lean body before he could react. The doctors later told him that had she chosen the six inch blade, he would be dead.
Last weekend an American congresswoman was shot in the back of the head by a young man while attending one of her regular "meet the people" events. Six other people were killed. We do not know whether or not the killer, clearly unstable, was whipped up to do this by aggressive US political debate.
Despite these two recent examples of politicians being attacked whilst conducting their normal duties, it remains important that elected representatives do not cut themselves off from the people who elected them. At Westminster we have all been advised on how to increase our security, and of course we should not take these things lightly. But access to policy makers is a vital part of our democracy.
Contrary to popular myth, most MPs are very much in touch with real life.  Of course there is an elite  handful who come from privileged backgrounds who may need to ask: "who is Jordan?" or "how much is a first class stamp?" but most of us know the answers to these fundamental questions and have grown up within the communities which we seek to represent. Most of us live in the constituencies we serve and understand only too well the problems of the school run, the cracked pavements, anti-social behaviour and so on. Our regular face to face one to one surgeries are a weekly immersion in the trials and tribulations of our fellow citizens.
Our political system is far from perfect. The recent imprisonment of a former MP for fiddling his expenses is proof of that. I hope that this incarceration, probably with three or more others to follow, will help to restore lost confidence following the expenses fiasco. It is time to draw a line.
To keep our democracy alive, we politicians must not over-react to recent attacks and lock ourselves away from the electorate. That way disaster lies.

posted by Gary @ 09:10  



Friday, 7 January 2011

I read this quote recently: "The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest [the country] becomes bankrupt. People must learn to work instead of living on public assistance."
Was this from David Cameron's New Year message, or perhaps even earlier from a speech by Harold Wilson in the challenging economic seventies? Um no. The words in square brackets should read: Rome. It is a quote from Cicero in 55BC.
I simply make the point that there is nothing going on that humanity has not seen before. Ironically this outburst from the well known philosopher and statesman was just a few decades before Britain was conquered and the Roman Empire grew to its greatest and went on to dominate the known world for centuries.
As we look out on 2011 from the insecurities of early January, we all know this year will be challenging. But we must not forget that we have seen it before and we will overcome the present difficulties. We know enough about the human spirit to recognize that we are good at: adapting, persevering, finding the silver lining, just getting on with it and smiling as we do so.
The harsh reality is that so much that will trouble us in the next 12 months is completely outside of our control. The British economy will continue to recover if the Euro zone and American economy make steady progress, but if not, well, we will all struggle. The global economy will continue to grow if India and China maintain their march towards full blown developed status, but if they suffer reverses, whether political or otherwise, well, we will all take a hit. Although our own domestic growth is sluggish, inflation can still invade our shores because of spiralling global commodity and oil prices. In this inter-dependent globalizing world, we sink or swim on the backs of others.
So it is for us personally. We will all have highs and lows in our own family lives, much of it unforeseen, much of it flowing from events outside our control. Like me you probably make your plans for the year, but then real life intervenes and blows it all out of the water. So we adapt, persevere, just get on with it.
May 2011 be full of silver linings.

posted by Gary @ 08:52  



Saturday, 1 January 2011

Is the Christmas story true?
With a ferocious winter kick-back the old year is drawing to a close. I can remember the harsh 1963 winter when my five brothers and I discovered a dead heron frozen in the brook at the bottom of our farm. We have speculated ever since whether it was just standing in the water fishing and did not notice the ice setting in, a lesson for all of us! This year is shaping up to be just as chilling.

Politics has become interesting again, with the first coalition government in sixty years and a sense that a polarisation is taking place. The general election was only seven months ago, but it seems much longer ago than that.  With the challenging spending reductions, the radical reshaping of public services and Coalition stresses and strains, we are in for some roller-coaster years! I would not want to be anywhere else.

But Christmas is a time for most of us to pull up the drawbridge for a few days and retreat into our families, no matter what shape or size. I am enjoying the thrill of our two grandsons about Christmas and the weather. We had a monster snow ball fight on Sunday afternoon after which I had to sit down for half an hour. I don't remember having to do that after playing with my own children, anno domino is taking its toll.

It is also a time for reflection. What is life all about? What is its true meaning?

In my job, there is no escaping the narrative of the nativity. And even though Jan and I get through quite a few Carol Services each year we never tire of hearing about the unfolding drama. When you think about it, it is an absurd story: the creator of the universe choosing to intervene in human history to demonstrate his love and to produce a Saviour. Instead of a palace he came to a humble family in a backward land and was born in a manger in a stable.  The Christmas story is counter-intuitive, the very opposite of what you would expect. So it continued throughout the life and teachings of Jesus and then his ultimate sacrifice. This is a good time of year to ask ourselves: is it true? Each one must decide.

I recognise that it has been a tough year for many people.  Jan and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

posted by Gary @ 08:43