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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, 29 March 2012


One of my MP colleagues had polio as a boy and as a result has effectively lost the use of his legs. Theses he swings along under his two crutches cheerfully enough, although we all know he is in constant pain. He is allowed to try and catch the Speaker's eye by raising his hand in the chamber rather than bob up and down as the rest of us do, but when called he rises to his feet and makes his contribution. He has been allocated a room as close to the chamber as possible.

He is one of the hardest working, most effective members we have and does a great job for his constituents.

Yet he could have sat back and lived a life on benefits.

Last week in my constituency duties, including, but not limited to, my surgery, I came across some wonderfully genuine people that it is a joy to try and help. I also came across some people whose attitudes were absolutely appalling: namely – I have a disability so I cannot possibly work and the state must do more for me to help me. I know my rights. We are spending thousands and thousands of pounds a year supporting these couch potatoes, but it is never enough. Yet, in my admittedly non-medical opinion, not one of them was as physically challenged as my Westminster colleague.

About one third of all government spending goes on benefits of one sort or another. Nobody would want to deny people who are genuinely in need this vital support. But surely it is not unreasonable to require them to do their best for themselves, to try their hardest, to meet us half way.

But that is sadly not the attitude that successive governments have engendered. Instead we have created a culture of lazy welfare dependency that is now an urgent priority to address. First of all in such straitened times we can no longer afford to fund such an all-enveloping welfare state. Secondly, because we spend so much on those who could do more for themselves there is insufficient to support other hidden needs in our midst.  Thirdly how can it be in anybody's interests to live a life on welfare unless there is absolutely no alternative?

I support the coalition's attempts to tackle this problem, but I believe the mood of the silent majority is that we need to go further and faster. What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 09:21  



Thursday, 22 March 2012


It is obviously a good idea for governments to spend money on infrastructure when times are tough because the construction works themselves will stimulate the economy and put in place a much needed modern network to help with future growth.

But what do you do when governments have no money to spend on this and indeed the presence of so much government borrowing is a large part of the problem?

The answer of course is to turn to the private sector to make the necessary investment, but they will need to make a return on their investment in terms of annual charges. So we are faced with a dilemma: a government that can't afford to build more roads, railways or other networks, and a private sector that could if allowed to charge for it.

This is not easy to resolve, partly because of our historic and emotional preconceptions. Although, we would not expect the state to own and run our mobile phone network, I don't think anybody would be happy if Serco owned the Parkway and charged us to use it. 

Most people broadly accept that the railways are now in private ownership (where they started off 150 years ago) but roads seem different. Of course many roads used to be toll roads in the eighteenth century, and many countries on the continent make more use of toll roads than we do. I cannot see this being a crowd-pleaser over here!

The good news is nobody is planning on selling off the road network. But in relation to new roads or widening existing roads, a new solution needs to be found. There is an urgent need to repair and upgrade our national road infrastructure and build for the future (albeit it might be for cars powered by sustainably-produced electricity to run on). That is why the Department of Transport has been asked to carry out a feasibility study of new models for the national road system and to report progress in the future. There is nothing green or sustainable about traffic jams and gridlock.

I cannot see much of immediate impact in our neck of the woods, although if private investors could create a new way over the Plym in response to the proposed Sherford development, it might be of some interest. Or what about an eastern link from Ivybridge to the A38, would people pay to use that?

The feasibility study will be complete by the autumn.

posted by Gary @ 09:22  



Thursday, 8 March 2012


Apart from maintaining peace and decent public services, most people's expectations of government are that it will preside over steadily rising living standards. With the odd dip since the Second World War, that is what most of us have experienced. When I was young poverty meant not having shoes for your children. Now it means that they don't get the latest play station game quite as quickly as they want. I exaggerate but not much.

In the UK we have made giant strides in improving living standards since the 1950's. This has been as a result of a generally growing economy and the rapid advance of technology bringing labour saving devices and leisure goods to our door. The rapid increase over that time of more dual income families has also helped drive this phenomenon. If a family have sufficient disposable income and there are goods out there to buy, then living standards will rise.

What about the next decade? How is that looking, do you think?  If your pay has gone up in the past two years you are in a minority. If your fuel, food and motoring costs have not gone up in the past two years you must be living on a different planet. On top of this, because of the deficit facing our public finances the government had little option but to cut spending and raise taxes.

Result: disposable income squeezed. If the cost of borrowing, including our mortgages was not historically low, we would be in a full blown crisis.

Looking ahead a few years it is hard to see much change. We hope for steady growth in the economy, but it certainly won't be dramatic. Because of the pressure that rapid economic growth in China and India is putting on world resources including fuel power and food I can't see these prices coming down again significantly. There is no chance of any massive public spending in the short term, nor should there be. All of our focus must be on building sustainable growth into our economy and paying off our nation's mountain of debt.

So it will feel like a slog.

Is there any good news? Yes there is. Survey after survey tells us that happiness relates more to the quality of our relationships than the depth of our pockets. Maybe in tough times, when financial survival is uppermost in our minds, we should also concentrate on the things that really matter.

posted by Gary @ 09:44  



Thursday, 1 March 2012


The recent punch-up in the Stranger's Bar at the House of Commons is a further reminder of something that is oft over looked. MPs are human!

I noticed it within weeks of being elected way back in 1992. Friends, clients, even family, started to treat me differently; the prevailing view appearing to be that I had, in a moment of madness, left the human race and somehow returned to Earth in alien form. This predated the expenses scandal of 2009 by many years, and appeared to reflect what most people think of their elected representatives: that we are in some way different from the rest of the country. Why is that? Most of us come from ordinary backgrounds: teachers, lawyers, business, even medicine. Very few are from the rarefied atmosphere of privileged backgrounds, yet that is not the common view.  Is it an inevitable part of being elected as a law-maker or is there something very wrong in our psyche in Britain that we need to tackle?

I have heard our Scottish Labour colleague who was allegedly at the heart of the fracas, make a couple of contributions in recent meetings and on the second occasion thought to myself "something is going on there." He seemed depressed and very angry. We now learn that he is going through a difficult divorce. He snapped. I doubt if anybody was standing alongside him because in the hot-house of Westminster that never seems to happen. I do not know of many pressurised professional jobs where there are no human resources facilities to support you in times of acute stress.

He will get no sympathy of course, because of the job he does. At 51, if convicted, he will be thrown out of Westminster and the caravan will move on.

I am coming to the view that the way we do democracy in this country is becoming unsustainable. Members of Parliament have always been lampooned, that goes with the territory, but these days the mood is one of utter vilification. Add that to an increasing work-load, media intrusion, unrelenting public criticism and relatively poor financial rewards and it will not be long before talented people will no longer consider that it is worth it. Indeed, it is already happening. Westminster would then become the domain of the privileged few and those who could not hold down a responsible job in the real world.

The country would soon be the poorer.

posted by Gary @ 09:42