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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 March 2011

I support the limited action we are taking in Libya to ensure that Colonel Gaddafi could not suppress the uprising against his rule by slaughter his own people.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 it led to many advantages for the world. The cold war was at an end and many former Soviet countries tasted freedom and democracy for the first time. Many of these countries (like Poland) are now in the European Union and improving the lives of their people and playing a positive part on the world stage. Others (like the Ukraine) are still on the journey towards that great prize: the precious but fragile thing called democracy, but there is every chance they will make it one day. People living in those countries are beginning to enjoy the kinds of delights of independence and prosperity. But they are not the only ones to gain. We all benefit by the stability and peace that this great change has wrought in an historically turbulent region.
It is possible that the same thing could happen now in an equally querulous region: North Africa and the Middle East. If the people of these countries can shift their nations towards freedom and democracy over the next few years the benefits to them and us will be as equally clear and obvious. I am going shortly to Tunisia and Egypt as chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, at their invitation, to see what we can do to help underpin their attempts to embrace a better way of living.
It was crucial then that dictators like Gaddafi, who has been in power for over 40 years, could not get away with responding to this desperate plea for liberty by crushing his rebels with planes and tanks. It took us too long to come to a decision, but did so in the nick of time before the insurgency was snuffed out. Now it will be for the Libyan insurgents to summon up their courage once again to overthrow this brutal dictator. Imagine if we had not intervened and he had been able to slaughter his own people, what signal that would have sent to other despots in this region?
Questions remain about the scope of the mission and our exit strategy, but we were right to do what we have done. The Libyan people now have a chance to find the freedom and self-determination that we all take for granted.

posted by Gary @ 09:03  



Thursday, 17 March 2011

Oil. Black, slimy, expensive. It makes the world go round. In the 1970's surging oil prices caused rip-roaring inflation here in the UK that took many years and much pain to counter. Is it going to do the same in 2011?
Our global economy relies heavily on oil, not just because it is the raw material of which most of our fuel is made, whose prices feed through into the cost of everything we buy. The price of crude oil is therefore one of the most eye-catching indicators we have in understanding the future challenges we may face. The price is currently $114 a barrel, with some predicting massive hikes to come.
There are three reasons why crude oil prices are likely to climb steadily over the next few years.
First, the economies of China and India, in other words 2 billion people, one third of the world, are growing significantly and sucking in more and more of the world's oil production. More Chinese and Indian people buying and using cars will ensure that demand for oil continues to increase. I am no economist but I do know that prices rise as demand increases.
Second, oil is running out. How much is left to exploit nobody knows but there are plenty of people around who predict it will all be gone in 30 years or so. That is the blinking of an eye in terms human history. So increased demand and reduced supply (in the long term). Hmmm this is not looking good.
But add to this equation the current volatility of the main oil producing region, North Africa and the Middle East, and the challenge is even clearer.
This all matters to us because if we think that forecourt prices of petrol and diesel are likely to come down any time soon, we need to think again. I have been pressing the Chancellor to reduce fuel duty in the forthcoming budget and perhaps he will. But this will be tinkering, albeit welcome.
The long term prognosis is: oil prices are going to rise. We have better get used to it. We must urgently increase the pressure on the automotive industry to manufacture engines that can do many more miles to the gallon. We had better find ways to change our lifestyles and tackle our over-reliance on oil and pray that somebody out there invents a new fuel soon. 
Adaptability is a great human quality. Just as well.

posted by Gary @ 18:03  



Thursday, 10 March 2011

Perhaps the first glimmer of spring was in the air last weekend. The snowdrops have come and gone, and now the daffodils are spreading their robust display throughout our fields and hedgerows. It won't be long before the trees exhibit the faint green tinge that heralds greater glory. We have a lot to look forward to.
Seasons are important. If the landscape and weather were all the same all year round, think how dull life would be. What would we all talk about? Contrast is a very necessary thing. The weekends are great because we have been working during the week; we seem to need something to look forward to, something different, to keep us fresh and alive.
Political seasons are not much different. After 18 years I have just about picked up the rhythm of the extraordinary place that is the House of Commons. Between Christmas and the summer, most of the Second Readings of new bills have already taken place and we are into the slog period: when bills are scrutinised line by line in committees and then come back to the Commons for what is called the Report stage when the most controversial aspects of the bill are grappled with once again. This means being locked away upstairs in tightly packed committee rooms debating the meaning of the word "control" and other such delights. This means constant votes on a running three line whip. It basically means that there is little chance to escape the hothouse from Monday morning to Thursday night while we grind our way through the legislation that is going to solve every problem and make all of our lives better!
This year the Westminster climate cauldron contains additional ingredients. The government has set out a Queen Speech programme that will last eighteen months rather than the usual twelve, so the heavy-lifting period is likely to be extended. Add in the fact that the record batch of newly-elected MPs last May have just begun to show familiar signs of wear and tear as the grind takes its toll; sprinkle into the mix the hostility in constituency postbags provoked by the tough decisions on spending necessary to rescue our country's finances; and finally stir in the angst-filled dynamics of the brittle coalition, and I would say we are in a season I have not known before, a darker, longer winter perhaps.
Spring is on its way in Devon. Westminster? I'm not so sure! 

posted by Gary @ 10:35  



Thursday, 3 March 2011

On 5th May 2011 you will be asked to vote on whether or not to change the voting system in this country. I consider this to be a total waste of money (about £90 million) and a distraction from the more burning issues of the day. However, Parliament has settled it so it is going to happen.
I will be campaigning for a no vote. Our existing system of first past the post is not perfect, but it has the virtue of being clear and simple. The person with the most votes in every constituency wins.
Under the alternative voting system you will be asked to rank candidates. Usually we have five candidates in SW Devon. Here is how it would work. Let us imagine that after the count of all the first choices, nobody secures an overall majority. The fifth placed candidate is then eliminated, usually the BNP, their ballot papers are examined for second preference votes, which are allocated amongst the remaining candidates. If nobody still wins, the fourth placed candidate is knocked out (usually UKIP) and his or her second preference votes are distributed amongst the remaining candidates. And so on until somebody gets to 50% plus one.
Notice that in most cases the second choices of the main candidates are not used. It is only the votes of those who come at the bottom of the pile that get redistributed. This is why some of us argue that AV gives disproportionate power to those who vote for the fringe parties.
It is perfectly possible for the candidate who gets the most first choice votes to get beaten once second preferences are re-allocated. This is why AV is also sometimes described as a system that would produce a Parliament of second choices.
My third problem with AV is that it is much more likely to deliver coalition governments than first past the post. So far this Coalition is doing OK, but we should not assume that will always be the case. Besides, it proved that our current system works: the British people did not want to trust any single party with victory, so they produced a hung Parliament.
I am not an impartial advisor on this, but worry not. The Electoral Commission will be sending a leaflet to every household explaining how the two systems work. It will be fair and independent, and probably have the added advantage of being a cure for insomnia.

posted by Gary @ 17:34