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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, 22 December 2011

Companionship at Christmas. That was the theme of the public awareness campaign under which I was invited to visit the Abbeyfield homes in both Plymstock and Ivybridge in the last few weeks. You might not be familiar with these homes because they are a bit of a best kept secret. The organisation has 700 homes over the country where senior people live in their own rooms but have lunch and tea together in the property every day, thus providing both independence and companionship at the same time. There is a housekeeper and cook to keep their eyes on things and provide some support.
The Abbeyfield Society began in 1956 when a then young Coldstream Guard by the name of Richard Carr-Gomm became concerned by the number of lonely older people he saw in south-east London. This inspired Richard to spend his army gratuity on a house in Bermondsey, and invited four lonely older people to join him. By Christmas 1956, the first Abbeyfield home was up and running. He sounds like a special person.
Judging from the comments of the elderly people I met in both places the concept really works. Many of the residents are in their nineties and still going strong, enjoying life to the full. Not only do they benefit from the friendship, but families get peace of mind as well. I love talking with some of these oldies – they have no inhibitions but say exactly what they mean! One of the ladies in Ivybridge was recounting how she remembered her civil servant father coming home from work in the years leading up to the Great Depression saying he had had his wages cut. This is a generation that has seen it all before.
Loneliness is one of the worst things imaginable. These days we place so much store on material things and less value on more spiritual matters such as friendship. Christmas is a good time of year to reflect on this. It is interesting that the angel proclaimed the good news to a whole bunch of shepherds and even the wise men were travelling as a pack. The historic yuletide intervention was not just to sort out our relationship with God but with each other.
We should not be afraid of designing our society in a way that recognises the deep human need for companionship, not just at Christmas but all year round.
Merry Christmas everyone and a peaceful and friendship-full New Year!

posted by Gary @ 09:36  



Thursday, 15 December 2011

Opinion polls tell us that nearly 60% of you support the decision of the Prime Minister to veto the new treaty proposals by our European partners, and in this euro-sceptic region that figure is likely to be higher. The cafeteria manager at the station on Monday was keen to impress on me that he and his staff supported the move and wouldn't mind if we came out of the EU. The taxi driver shared a similar view. E-mails of support have been flooding into my office.

I agree and salute the courage and steady nerve of David Cameron. He could not sign up to a package which would result in further integration and seriously undermine our financial services which account for over ten per cent of our national income. It was important to show other European leaders that we should not be taken for granted. The burning question however is where do we go from here.
Despite all the huffing and puffing of the last few days all EU partners will still be talking to each other, trying to resolve the difficulties in our mutual interest. This journey still has a long way to go. We have to remember that the problem is at least two-fold: the massive debts that all European countries have racked up debt we cannot afford and it will take a long time, and not a little pain, to overcome this challenge.

 Second, the markets have exposed the weaknesses in the euro that many have seen for a long time: namely to make a single currency work you need a single set of decisions on tax and spend and fiscal policies. This means a degree of integration that goes well beyond the current EU strait-jacket. Will European peoples accept politicians they did not elect and cannot remove making fundamental decisions for them in the long term? I doubt it. Every empire crumbles in the end because people want their freedom.

My guess is that this historic drama, linked to the fate of our economy, will be the dominant storyline of 2012 as it lurches from twist to turn. We will do our best to safeguard the national interest. When the shape of the new relationship is clearer, probably in a year or two, I feel strongly it should be put to the British people in a referendum.

The last referendum caused the coalition to shudder. The next one might bring it crashing down.

posted by Gary @ 00:00  



Thursday, 1 December 2011


It is reported that in 1901 the explorer Ernest Shackleton placed an advertisement in the Times which read as follows: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success."

The next morning the queue of the many young men waiting to take part allegedly snaked around the corner of the street.

Young people need to be stretched if they are to achieve their potential. So the news that we now have well over one million young people in this country who are not in employment, training or education is alarming, for them and for our society. Whatever they are doing all day, it is unlikely to be setting them up for a life of responsibility and service.

This number has been growing steadily since 2004 and is becoming a major political issue. It is now comprised of two very distinct groups. The first group is of graduates who have come out of university in the past 4 years and found it hard to get the kind of job they had anticipated. This is in part a reflection of too many young people going to university and also the sharp drop in graduate vacancies since the credit crunch in 2008. This is not the fault of the graduates themselves.

Sadly this group is likely to grow until we come out of the tough economic tunnel through which we have no choice but to pass, hopefully a short term blip. The economy will eventually power away again and fewer young people should be lured to university to do esoteric degrees as a result of increasing student fees.

The second group is more disturbing. These are the kids who crash out of school, often from chaotic backgrounds, with very few qualifications and whose attitude to work makes them virtually unemployable. This hard to reach group seems to be growing by the year, allowing more enthusiastic Poles to take the jobs they should be getting.

We can only crack this growing problem using both carrot and stick. The welfare system is being reshaped so that a life on benefits for healthy people is neither desirable nor possible. This will take time to deliver results. 

But young people who have got stuck also need dignity, hope and challenge. Is there a young person you know in this camp who you could inspire? Shackleton where are you? 

posted by Gary @ 00:00