Saturday, 21 February 2009

The training starts

It was a beautiful morning for a run along Hayle beach. We have had our share of rain down here during the last couple of months but today it feels as though spring has arrived.

Last week I decided to run a marathon to raise money for St Julia's Hospice in Hayle. I met Paul Brinsley, the Chief Executive of Cornwall Hospice Care, for a briefing on their work. What is striking is just how many people St Julia's and Mount Edgcumbe support in any given year - around 500. I was also surpised to learn that the average stay is actually quite short at around two weeks. They aim to help people suffering from terminal illnesses have as normal a life as possible and so much of the emphasis is on short stays to work out the most effective treatments that then allows patients to return home to their families.

I used to run a lot when I was younger and have always kept running a day or two a week and done the occasional race. But I have a bit of work to do to get in shape for a marathon in October. I had wanted to run the Duchy marathon - but that is in March which is too soon for me to get fit.

About 12 years ago, I used to run a lot on Hayle beach with my old training partner -a pet border collie called Mono who came from the RSPCA rescue centre at Perranporth. Mono loved the beach, had a lot of energy and would charge ahead and then back again to bark at me impatiently for being so slow. Everything you would expect from a collie really.

I have to confess that I needed to stop to walk once or twice during my run today. If he were still around, Mono would not have been happy.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bringing people into politics

Yesterday was political awareness day at the Combined University of Cornwall at Tremough. Six parties had stands at the event and took part in a debate afterwards. The aim was to engage the next generation in political ideas.

The Conservative Party has a strong student branch at Tremough led by Matthew Brown -but, sadly, the Conservatives are the only party to have a student branch at all. The audience for the debate at the end of the day was a little thin. It is why probably the most important question was put to me at the very end of the session by a journalism student: how do you overcome voter apathy and engage young people in politics?

Some people, when asked that question, slip too easily into platitudes about the internet and Obama. But the internet is merely a medium. I think the real answer is more fundamental. We need to create the space for more conviction in politics and that requires a culture change.

We do need to have a party system in parliament so that there is a government of the day that can actually implement an agenda and an opposition that can hold it to account. But I think there is now a strong case to allow more free votes in parliament on more issues - where the parties step back and allow individual MPs to reach their own conclusions. It is increasingly accepted that issues strongly associated with personal conscience should be left to a free vote and I think that principle could be extended further.

My first job in politics was working for the anti euro 'no' campaign. It was a coalition of business leaders, trade unionists, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs as well as green campaigners and Scottish and Welsh nationalists. They were all united in their opposition to the euro - even though they had very different views on other issues. There was something very refreshing about people from so many different backgrounds working together in a coalition on a single issue. And, working with people like Labour MP Jon Cruddas (who incidentally is also a Cornishman), taught me to understand other political parties - even though I disagreed with him on many other issues.

My experience of running a cross party campaign led me to the view that referendums can have an important role in rekindling confidence and trust in our politics because it is healthy for the public to occasionally see politicians from all sorts of different parties working together on a single issue where they have a shared conviction. It should happen more often.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Back to college

Last night I was invited to speak at the 80th anniversary reception for Cornwall College Camborne. I was a student at Cornwall College between 1987 and 1990 where I studied for a BTEC National Certificate in Business Studies and then after that a City and Guilds in Agricultural Management. It was great to go back.

Students at the college laid on some fantastic food and hospitality and we also had demonstrations from students studying hair and beauty and two drama performances which were really impressive.

Raoul Humphreys, the Deputy Chief Executive of Cornwall College and head of the Camborne campus gave a fascinating slide show plotting the history of the college. Cornwall College Camborne has actually been at the heart of all further and higher education in Cornwall over these last 80 years. It was interesting to hear that it spun off other very successful institutions such as the Falmouth School of Arts and St Austell College.

This is an exciting time for Cornwall College Camborne - with plans afoot for a £40 million redevelopment. And you could sense the enthusiasm from all the staff there. The college also selected their new Principal and Chief Executive yesterday. David Linnell was at the reception. I knew he had gone for it. We were told by Raoul that, although a decision had been reached and he knew what it was, he wasn't allowed to tell anyone until today - but David Linnell looked far too happy for someone who had just missed the top job...but I had better just check their website to make sure before this post goes live...

Yes, it is David Linnell. And the very best of luck to him and his team!