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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, 26 April 2012


On Friday I had a meeting with three parent support advisers. This is the name given to a person engaged by a school to support parents who are going through a tough time and could do with a helping hand. There is no shame in this. It might be a short term predicament - we all go through tough times: husband away in Afghanistan, mum and dad separating, one partner lost her job, domestic violence, serious illness in the family, the onset of mental health challenges – it could be any of these sudden strikes or a combination or something else. Naturally these times of turbulence impact the children, which in turn impact the school.

It might be longer term volatility. I see many people in my surgeries – yes even in this supposedly affluent area- with whom I would not like to trade places, whose lives lurch from one degree of instability to another.  Whether we like it or not, many children today grow up in homes of flux, some of them in homes of chaos. This obviously impacts how a child behaves at school and as we know this can disrupt the classroom for everybody else. It therefore makes sense for the schools to do all they can to minimise disruption both for the sake of the child and his or her peers. It is unfair and ineffective to expect hard-pressed teachers to act as social workers as well as educators and yet somebody has to play that role. Because a school is in daily contact with these homes, through their children, it makes sense to base the support in the school.

The idea started life under the last government and has slightly fallen victim to the unavoidable cuts that we have been forced to make. Although the budget for PSA's is still there in theory it was not ring-fenced and some schools have chosen to spend it elsewhere. I believe this may be short-sighted.  Social conditions are not going to get any easier. Teachers are not suddenly going to find spare hours in the day. Schools need to put investment and effort into doing all they can to improve the lives of the children who enter their gravitational pull and that sometimes means supporting parents. I no longer see this as a luxury to be funded when times are good, but a sad necessity to shore up the next generation; a priority even in times of austerity.

posted by Gary @ 10:08  



Thursday, 19 April 2012


On Sunday Jan and I attended the 60th wedding celebration of my parents who live in Torbay. After all that time together, they remain utterly devoted to each other and it was a moving and joyous occasion. All five of my brothers and myself have also made strong marriages, and I have no doubt that the inspiration we received from our parents' relationship, through thick and thin, is a massive contributor.

My point is that we all need role models. We need people we can point to and say: see, it can work, and look at all the benefits that can flow from it.

 Is there anything more important today in our society today than positive family role models where two people commit to each other to raise a family and stick with it. As someone once famously said: "the greatest thing any father can do for his children is to love their mother."

Perhaps the saddest thing I see week in week out in my surgeries is the impact that family breakdown can cause to children. Of course it does not have to – I see many fine examples of where mum and dad split up but still manage to create a secure framework in which their kids can flourish. But I see more examples of the opposite. Of households in turmoil, where mum and dad are at war and the youngsters get precious little security, love, encouragement or discipline and grow up with a tendency to low self esteem and under achievement.

Stability in the lives of young people is crucial. It is also an important matter for the state because the costs of chaotic family breakdown are enormous. The question is: what can government do to encourage this stability?

Some advocate tax allowances for married couples and although I am attracted to that, I also recognise that many couples that stay together and provide a great platform for their kids never get married (although I never quite understand why) and I would not want to exclude them. It is stability we are after, however it is achieved.

Some advocate early intervention in the households of chaos to try and get them onto a more stable footing and it is hard to disagree.

But really if we are to encourage the kind of stability that life-long devoted marriage can bring we need to find better ways at promoting and celebrating positive role models. What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 09:23  



Thursday, 12 April 2012


Last Sunday I clocked up 20 years at Westminster and I have been reflecting on the changes in our country and politics in that relatively short time.

Some of you will recall that I was a last minute stand in for the mighty Alan Clark who announced he was standing down on 21st February 1992.  I was selected for the then Plymouth Sutton to replace him on 10th March, the election was called by John Major the very next day and on 9th April 1992 I was elected to Parliament.

Back then there were no mobile phones or e-mails so the sudden separation from family for 4-5 days a week was rather abrupt. These days plenty of my colleagues stay in touch with home by video phone or Skype several times a day, much less brutal. In my first Parliament we had the Maastricht Treaty debates and endless all night sittings, a baptism of fire. These days we rarely go beyond 10.30pm, much more civilised. I enjoyed my time as a whip and minister in the first Parliament, even if by the end we were clinging on by our finger nails with a majority of one.

Then came boundary changes, South West Devon and a Labour landslide and 13 years trudging through the wilderness of opposition began. Her Majesty's opposition play a vital role in our democracy, but nothing can satisfy politically quite like being in power! I thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years in the shadow cabinet shadowing the formidable Clare Short. But perhaps the highlight in opposition for me was the private member's bill which Jan and I drafted that nearly made it onto the statute book but certainly paved the way for much more government help for families with profoundly disabled children, especially respite care.

Now back in government again, in historic coalition, and enjoying the different challenges that brings.

The job has changed greatly in 20 years. Much more case work now and we seem to spend less time legislating. I spend my time chairing endless meetings at Westminster and struggle to find the time to get into the chamber. The media is more intrusive than back then and sadly our standing generally in society has diminished.

But being elected to pass laws and represent your constituents in the Mother of Parliaments remains a great privilege that I hope to continue until normal retirement age, which as you all know is now about 74!

posted by Gary @ 09:23  



Thursday, 5 April 2012


Have you ever had a bad run, you know, several unfortunate things happening to you at once or an inexplicable string of under par performances? This can happen to all of us, individuals, teams, businesses alike. It is often followed by a purple patch during which the difficulties tend to melt away.

It can happen to governments too, and over the past few weeks the Coalition Government has fallen victim to a very poor run indeed.
It started with the unnecessary consultation on gay marriage which has upset a lot of you, continued through a budget that sneaked in the freezing of pensioner personal allowances as an afterthought, stumbled through the perception of access to Downing Street being up for sale and reached its climax in the handling of the fuel dispute, jerry cans and all. After two years of relative sure-footedness, this series of blunders has shaken confidence in the government and this is now reflected in the opinion polls.

It happens to governments of all colours and perhaps the only surprise is that it has taken two years to strike the coalition. What is the remedy? I have given three bits of advice:

First, as with individuals, it is important to isolate the individual setbacks and deal with them separately. The mixed messages over the fuel dispute should be acknowledged openly and an apology made. People are not stupid and can spot a cock-up when it occurs and trying to pretend it was well handled just adds insult to injury. In relation to the budget, we now have a policy problem that needs to be addressed urgently at the very latest in the next budget if not before. And for goodness sake haven't we learnt by now never to try and sneak bad news through in the small print! Political funding has also got to be addressed urgently and in the meantime we must err on the side of caution and transparency.

Second, don't panic. This competent ministerial team have not suddenly become a bunch of losers, far from it. Some of my backbench colleagues now running around like headless chicken need to count to ten and grow up.

Third, recognise that bad runs are inevitable and will be followed by better days. It is vital not to lose confidence. The leadership of the nation in a time of great turbulence and challenge has been strong and decisive until recently. It will be so again.

posted by Gary @ 09:25