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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, 24 February 2011

"I couldn't do what you do for a living." I have lost count of the times I have said this to people. It has sometimes been said to me. Thank goodness we are all different and all have diverse gifts.
I feel this when I see good teachers in action. I have no patience, but they display endless fortitude in educating the next generation. I have felt it in the past when handing over a sick child to a doctor, whose calm professionalism saves the day. How many times have I rejoiced at the skills of the mechanic, the plumber, the electrician or the vet over the years who come into our world to do things we cannot do, mend things we have broken and generally rescued us. I recall how in 1987 when we were refurbishing our last house in Plympton St. Maurice I thought I would save a few pounds in helping with the painting. After half an hour, the decorator took one look at the wall, my face and clothes and then forcibly removed the brush from me. "Have a shower, put your suit on and go and do the thing I could never do," he said, "let me do the thing you obviously cannot." I fled with relief.
It is important to recognise the value of all abilities and encourage people to do what they are good at. Too many young people have been funnelled towards university whether it suits them or not. The new funding system will cause some youngsters to consider instead whether more vocational education might be appropriate. I strongly support the new government's decision to create over 75,000 new apprenticeship places to open up again the route to more vocational training.
As of last summer there were over 1 million young people in the UK not in education, employment or training. This is truly shocking. Many employers have confirmed that the reason why so many Eastern Europeans are working in our leisure industry is because too many British youngsters are not prepared to work. Our welfare changes should start to tackle this, especially as the economy improves.
If we are to avoid a new lost generation we have to be much better at identifying the activities that young people are good at, encouraging them to develop those skills. We must celebrate the differences that help make our society work. How boring would it be if we were all the same?

posted by Gary @ 16:40  



Thursday, 17 February 2011

Last Thursday the cracks in the coalition government started to appear in the debate on prisoner's voting rights. Most of my side supported the ban, whereas our Lib Dem partners thought prisoners should have the right to vote. It didn't take long for the debate to become acrimonious. On days like that I wonder how long this forced marriage will last.
Further tensions have emerged this week over the Alternative Vote referendum which the true blue majority do not support, whereas our partners go to bed each night dreaming of intricate changes to the voting system. This May there will be fiercely contested local elections up and down the country, not least here in Plymouth and the South Hams where no quarter will be given. Will this spell the end to this rocky arrangement?
No. The sometimes uncivil partnership has some life left in it yet. It is obvious that the relationships at the very top of the two parties are very close. Watching my colleagues in the cabinet chatting with each other and laughing together as they frequently do, irrespective of party, is a constant reminder that at that level the glue still holds firm. Even in private conversation, the extent of the mutual respect comes through. We are in new territory here.
The government has set a blistering pace since last May. Tony Blair conceded in his autobiography that he wasted his first Parliament as leader and should have been far more radical. It is clear that the current Prime Minister wishes to avoid the same mistake. But uncertainty over the long term future of the cross-party arrangement is also a factor. Nobody knows how long this will last, so we'd better crack on with it. One of the reasons that politics is so fascinating at the moment is the level of daily uncertainty that is inherent in such unfamiliar political architecture.
At the very heart of the historic deal lies a recognition that the country is in a mess and we have to work together to sort it out.  Tackling the gaping deficit of £155 billion a year, getting the economy moving again and reforming vital public services are the priorities. The Coalition Agreement anticipates five years to put these changes in place. The Coalition may unravel before then, as the pressures from all sides intensify. But not, I think for another two years at least – long enough to get the main job done.

posted by Gary @ 14:28  



Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sometimes you just have to take a stand, or better still go on the offensive. Our society is assailed by forces over which we sometimes feel we have no control. We wring our hands and feel powerless; never more so when the Court of Human Rights hands down a decision that offends our sense of fair play. This week your Parliament took a stand. I was one of those who voted against implementing the judgment of the ECHR that convicted criminals who were denied the right to vote whilst in prison should be compensated by the British government.
The European Convention of Human Rights was drawn up after the Second World War to protect people from suffering the kinds of outrages that were inflicted on some during that conflict. The Brits were very much a driving force for this important new idea. The Court of Human Rights was set up at the same time (in Strasbourg) to implement the Convention. So far so good. (By the way, this is all completely separate from the European Union.)
In 1978 a decision was made by the then judges on the court that the Convention was "a living instrument" which they could interpret to reflect social changes and modern day conditions. A steady trickle of daft decisions have followed ever since, none more so than when axe murderer John Hirst successfully won his case in Strasbourg for compensation for being denied the right to vote whilst inside. Nice man, he made himself a cup of coffee while the lady he attacked lay dying in the kitchen.
The court decision is flawed. The original wording of the Convention was intended to give different countries the ability to make different rules about voting rights and it has long been the case over here that prisoners should not vote. I suggested in the debate that we should now seek to renegotiate the Convention to prevent this kind of unintended mission creep ever happening again.
Why should prisoners get the right to vote? They are paying for wrongdoing they have inflicted on others and during that period should be denied a number of privileges that we in a free society take for granted. The right to vote, the building block of our democracy, is one of those rights.
I hope this is just the beginning of a reinvigorated House of Commons standing up for the people who put us there in the first place.

posted by Gary @ 09:41  



Thursday, 3 February 2011

The unfolding events in Egypt have implications for all of us. This land of the pharaohs had an all-conquering civilisation while we were still scrabbling around in the mud in pre-Roman Britain.  But even in its reduced circumstances of modern times, the 80- million strong nation is the undisputed leader of the Arabic world and a hugely strategic player in the Middle East. Since the Second World War they have been run by dictators who have enjoyed support from the west, not least for keeping Islamic extremists under control.
Recent events in Tunisia seem to have triggered an outpouring of energy from the educated Egyptian middle classes as they see a chance for freedom.
If the current uprising leads to democracy being established, with free and fair elections and the rule of law, a free press and an independent judiciary, this will send a beacon of hope and a message of change throughout the entire region, every bit as significant as the Berlin wall coming down and all those former soviet countries in Eastern Europe becoming democracies. It takes years, decades even, to establish robust democracy, but many on the east of Europe are well on their way. How much safer would the whole world be for our children, if this could happen too in North Africa and the Middle East?
But just as easily Egypt could slide into a hard-line extremist Islamist regime which oppresses its own people and poses an even greater threat to the region. So the stakes are genuinely very high.
I observe these scenes with professional interest. One of my Westminster responsibilities, since the last election, has been to chair the Westminster Foundation for Democracy which is a cross party organisation that seeks to strengthen democracy in emerging countries. We are naturally following the dramatic events unravelling in Cairo very closely, ready to offer support if the building blocks fall down in the right way. Britain has a lot to offer the world in our experience of democracy (warts and all) and because of our historic global reach, and despite recent mistakes, our brand is strong and our Know-How sought after.
Some may say that we should be focusing on our own problems. True, but must never forget that in an increasingly inter-dependent world we have a sober duty to build peace and stability so that our children get a chance to live their lives in peace, as some of us have done.

posted by Gary @ 13:33