Saturday, 28 March 2009

Liam Fox visits Cornwall

Yesterday we had a visit from Liam Fox. I have known Liam for many years. He has extensive knowledge on defence and foreign policy issues so I was pleased when he confirmed he would be able to pay us a visit this week.

RNAS Culdrose, which is in the St Ives constituency, is of huge importance to the whole of West Cornwall and is an important defence facility for the country - contributing to efforts in Afghanistan and the Gulf. The visit was confirmed at short notice but Captain Graeme Mackay and his team at Culdrose pulled out the stops and provided Liam with a very impressive programme and comprehensive briefing on their work.

But we started the day in Truro with a meeting at Cornwall and Devon Media. This is the home of many familiar newspaper titles in the westcountry including, of course, the Cornishman and West Briton. Across the country, local newspapers are suffering from a sharp fall in advertising revenue which has put the whole industry under pressure and forced many to close. The West Briton and Cornishman are faring better than most but no one is escaping the trend.

I think independent local papers have a crucial role to play within our communities and also in making local democracy work but they face a changing environment. We need to look at how they can be helped and that is why the Conservatives have outlined ideas this week to relax some of the outdated laws that are preventing local papers from consolidating and diversifying into new media platforms such as local TV.

At a recent debate I attended at Tremough, Terrye Teverson, the Lib Dem candidate in Truro and Falmouth, was fiercely critical of Cornwall's local papers and argued that the County Council's promotional leaflet, Your Cornwall, was better for local people. But I totally disagree with her. We need an independent local media that is free of political influence, not partisan publications paid for at council tax payers' expense.

We finished the day with our annual constituency dinner. Liam is a strong speaker and attracted a lot of interest with around 120 guests joining us at the Penventon Hotel.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Local accountability

It has been a busy few weeks. The remainder of our last batch of leaflets have now been delivered and it is also the time of year for AGMs.

The local branches in the constituency are really starting to gear up for the unitary elections on the 4th of June. In the last couple of weeks I have been to meet party members in Hayle, Mawnan Smith, Constantine, Stithians, Redruth, Budoch Water and Camborne. Morale is good and we have just about indentified candidates for every ward in the new unitary election in the Camborne and Redruth constituency.

We all know that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. But accountability in politics is important and is only made possible with the help of volunteers.

The track record of the Lib Dem dominated council at County Hall is not a pretty sight. The independent Audit Commission rates it as one of the worst performing councils in the country and there have been some breathtaking examples of incompetence such as the failure to keep Newquay Airport open. It remains to be seen whether this failure will translate into a mood for change. As Conservatives, we can only play our part by holding them to account and putting up candidates to provide local people with an alternative.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

World records set at Duchy marathon

Today was the Duchy marathon at Redruth. As someone who is running a marathon myself later this year I was delighted to be asked along to watch the finish and help with the presentation of prizes.

This morning I went for my own training run on Hayle beach. Just before 10.30, when the Duchy marathon was about to start and I was about to start my training run, we had an icy shower of rain. As I waited in the car for the shower to clear, I spared a thought for those who were about to get on the start line for a full 26 miles.

When the shower passed I made a start and was about two thirds of the way through, on the open beach, when we had one of Cornwall's finest hail storms. Those who know Hayle beach will also know that it is not the best place to be in a hail storm. The marathon runners too, by this point, were half an hour into their marathon and just starting the leg of the race along the north cliffs so it would have been hard work for them too!

The Duchy marathon is one of the oldest marathons in the country. Today they had a very strong turnout with some 450 runners. Despite the inclement weather, two new world records were set - both by students at Exeter University's officer training corps. The first was a student who, in his first ever marathon, smashed more than an hour of the world record for running a marathon in full army gear - crossing the line in 4.04. The second was the record for the largest number of runners to complete a marathon while attached together. 28 runners, all tied together as a single block crossed the line in just under 4.29 - that takes some team work.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

People power

Last night I attended a second public meeting for people in Camborne and Illogan who are concerned about government plans to force the building of some 11,000 new homes in the area. The meeting took place at Camborne Town Hall and it was standing room only with over 150 in attendance.

The crackpot scheme to undermine local democracy and impose house building "targets" from central government via unelected regional planning bodies epitomises much of what has gone wrong with our politics over the last ten years or so.

If we want people to take an interest in their community and get involved in local government then they need to know that their efforts will make a difference. If they feel that all the decisions are being taken somewhere else anyway and that so called "consultations" are nothing more than a sham to tick a box at some bureaucracy or other, then they soon become very disillusioned.

Both at the meeting last night and the earlier one last month, there was dismay from local people that something so obviously badly thought through and unpopular appeared to be rolling ahead anyway regardless of the views of local people. But the fact that they turned out in such large numbers was also proof that people around here are not prepared to be pushed about any longer.

So I think these plans will end up being being overturned. If we are successful at the next election, then a future Conservative government would abolish regional planning bodies and give local councils the opportunity to revise any "local area plan" forced on Camborne and Redruth in the meantime. And public pressure will see to it that those seeking office in the forthcoming local elections will need to make their position on this issue clear.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Many hands make light work

Yesterday we had our first "campaign day" of the year. The plan was to get out our second piece of literature. You always feel a bit apprehensive in the days before such big projects. They rely entirely on the generous donation of time by volunteers and supporters. And everyone has a lot of competiton for their time: family, work and their other commitments in the community.

People often have a cynical view of political parties but it is important to remember that, fundamentally, they are voluntary organisations and they rely on hundreds of thousands of ordinary people across the country giving up their time for free and paying their membership subscriptions to make democracy in this country possible.

As a candidate, if you don't persuade volunteers to lend a hand, you don't get your message across. But yesterday was an extraordinary start that surpassed all my expectations. Sixty three people turned up in a single day of action and between them got out almost 25,000 pieces of literature. And there were other volunteers who couldn't make it on Saturday but wanted to play their part and have offered to pick up some of the remaining delivery rounds to do in their own time over the next couple of weeks. When it is all done we will have delivered more than 90 percent of the homes in the constituency.

So a huge thank you to all those volunteers who were willing to lend a hand this weekend - and play their part in making our democracy work.