Saturday, 24 April 2010

The puffing devil

We had better weather for Trevithick Day this year and the crowds turned out in force. Last year it rained for most of the day and we all ended up drenched. This year we have been lent the use of a shop right in a prime location in Commercial Street which attracted a lot of interest.

At one point we had a queue and I got held up talking with a gentleman at length about pensions. I had to run across town to make it to Trevenson Street by 2pm for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the work of the Holman family over two centuries in the town. It was at the site of the old Holman No 3 works with the Holman Climax choir in attendance. I recently met Nigel Holman at a meeting where we were talking about the possibility of salvaging the old assembly rooms building on that site which is opposite the Conservative office in Camborne.

But the highlight of the day was, as always, the replica of the Puffing Devil, the very first steam locomotive which was invented by Richard Trevithick. It is unique and moves at quite aa pace as it comes up Camborne Hill...

The first rule of online lobbying: get the email right

I have written previously about the politically motivated smear campaign being run by local Lib Dems over the fact that I used to work for a media consultancy called Portland.

Last week they returned to the fray with a leaflet which made great play of the issue. Their timing couldn’t have been worse because the biggest story on lobbying of this election is that Nick Clegg used to work for a lobby firm called GJW which he failed to disclose on his election literature and does not mention on his CV. GJW controversially advised Colonel Gadaffi over the Lockerbie trials. Perhaps Julia Goldsworthy would like to publically condemn her own party leader over his “secret lobbying past”?

A couple of months ago, I read a story in the Observer newspaper that there was going to be an online lobbying campaign against me. It was initiated by a girl called Tamasin Cave, a political activist who writes regularly for Lib Dem blogs. It focused only on Labour and Conservative candidates and was immediately condemned by other commentators in the blogosphere. Tamasin was teaming up with a group of lobbyists called “38 degrees”. A curious name, but apparently, 38 degrees is the angle at which an avalanche happens. The idea was that I would receive an avalanche of 100,000 emails. So what sort of avalanche did I experience? Not one single email.

Initially I assumed there was no interest but it transpires that they had spelt the email address wrongly on their system. I think that’s a shame because I always make the effort to reply to every constituency email I receive in person and I don’t like the idea that there might be some people out there who think I ignored their email as a result of the incompetence of this group. I also pity the poor person somewhere else in the world who has a similar email address to me and must be completely bewildered by it all. Last night I met one of the 38 degrees team at a hustings and gave him my email so he could sort their problem out.

There are already strict rules that mean MPs must declare all their financial interests from clients to directorships and major shareholdings. I think that’s right because it is essential that there is transparency where there might be a conflict of interest. The Conservatives have gone further still. We are the only party where candidates have already made a declaration of their own interests at the point of nomination.

There are many charities and campaign groups out there who encourage their members to email parliamentary candidates. Many have their own manifestos and pledges. In this election, they range from the NSPCC to Macmillan Cancer Care, the Ramblers, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust. I rarely sign up to pledges directly even where I have a lot of sympathy with the cause, but I always reply to the constituents who email me to explain my views.

The reason I generally don’t sign the pledges of other organisations is that I think politicians should be independent minded, listen to all of the arguments from all sides and then exercise judgement about what they think is the right thing to do.

When it comes to so called “lobbying”, the answer is to make sure that any financial interests of MPs are declared so there is no conflict of interest. That already happens. People shouldn’t fear that politicians are exposed to the arguments made by charities, campaign groups or businesses. After all, we live in a democracy and we should have free debate. So I don’t support a mandatory register of meetings which would just be a tier of bureaucracy that adds nothing to our democracy. But they should expect their MPs to remain of independent mind and exercise judgement themselves rather than do what lobbyists ask them. That is why declaring financial interests is what matters.

The irony is that 38 Degrees are a lobby group themselves and, to date, the only candidate in this seat to resist their lobbying is me.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A new constituency and a fresh start

I spent today canvassing in Connor Downs and Hayle. I am really pleased that Hayle is included in the new boundary. We are getting a good reaction here. I was brought up at Connor Downs and came across many people who knew the family or have been involved in Trevaskis Farm over the years.

The new Camborne, Redruth and Hayle constituency stretches from Hayle up to Mount Hawke on the north coast and from Budock Water to Gweek in the south. The Lib Dems have got themselves in a real muddle over it all.

Last week I spent a lot of time explaining the new boundary to residents in Mawnan Smith and Constantine. Terrye Teverson has been delivering leaflets in the wrong constituency and many signs bearing her name have gone up in the wrong place, causing confusion and irritating former Lib Dem voters.

The Lib Dems used to have local activists to deliver their leaflets and put up signs but this time round are relying mainly on party workers parachuted in from up-country who don't know what they are doing.

Hayle has been ignored for far too long and the new constituency offers a chance for a fresh start. The area has struggled to regain its footing after the loss of iconic local firms like J&F Pool and has had no political voice for thirteen years. We need to attract new industries and new jobs. The Wave Hub project in Hayle is promising and I would like to build on it and establish this area as the international centre of excellence in such technologies. There are also potential plans to redevelop the harbour area which could strengthen the town's position as a tourist destination. But there are some big decisions that need to be got right and, if I am successful on May 6th, it will be an important focus for me.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Food yards, not food miles

We have had a busy week canvassing many areas across the constituency with teams out every day. This morning we were back in Redruth around Albany Road, Carknown, Westbourne Heights and Trewirgie Hill. Its going well and the reaction is good.

This weekend, Ed Staite, an old friend from the Conservative Press Office is down to help and its been good to catch up.

This afternoon, we had a vist from another old friend, Nick Herbert, who gave me my first job in politics at the anti-euro no campaign and who is now Shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA. He was down to see the work that is taking place here at Trevaskis.

My parents founded Trevaskis Farm in 1979. It quickly became the leading farm shop and pick-your-own fruit business in the westcountry. It has always prided itself on offering quality local food to the local community. All of the pork comes from our own free range British Lop pigs and we source local South Devon breed beef. My brother returned home a few years ago and runs the business today. Nick had a thorough briefing on their work and also the educational role that the farm now plays with local schools.

The Trevaskis slogan "Food yards, not food miles" fits with the Conservative agenda for agriculture.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Canvassing in Hayle

Over the last three days we have successfully delivered 25,000 leaflets across the constituency. Its been hard work and on the first day we all got drenched in the rain. But we have covered just about every town and village in the constituency.

Today we are pressing ahead with the canvassing in Hayle. We are getting a good reaction. I came across someone who knew the family and whose wife used to work at Trevaskis. Then there were others who used to know my grandfather.

There is disullusion with politics too. A lot of people feel let down by MPs, like Julia Goldsworthy, who abused the system. Its important to remember that most candidates and those helping them in an election are volunteers. We have a great team doing their bit for their country. But we all know we have a lot of work ahead.

My favourite moment today was meeting a lady who initially waved me away because she was sick of all politicians and thought they were all the same. She had previously voted Lib Dem but was not going to bother again. But we ended up chatting for 10 minutes and she ended by saying I had her support...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The election is called at last...

The decision by Gordon Brown to go to Buckingham Palace this morning has been long predicted and awaited. Our priority today is to get around all three towns and make a start on the formal election campaign.

We started this morning in Hayle with a strong turnout from our Hayle branch and delivered leaflets across much of the town. The weather was dry if a bit breezy and we were getting a very good reaction from the people we met.

On the way back, the weather started to break up. As we headed back to the car ready for lunch, I passed a man with a young daughter who must have been about 4. "Look!" she said to her father, pointing at us in our blue rosettes "They have won something." Not yet...off to Redruth this afternoon and Camborne later on.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Cornwall Deaf Centre

A few weeks ago I met a number of parents of disabled children. Among them were Kate and Martin whose youngest son is deaf and who have another son with a learning difficulty that gives him problems with communication. They invited me along to a new parents' support group they have helped get going and its first meeting took place today at the Cornwall Deaf Centre in Camborne.

If you want to understand the challenges that disabled people and their families face, you can't beat meeting them. Each case is unique and every one of them has their share of frustration with the system. It can range from a lack of specialist support, like language therapists or signers, to problems navigating the bureaucracy of the benefits system. All of the people I meet would welcome a simplified and more flexible system of support where they have more say over the support that they need and how their budget is spent.

After meeting parents at the Cornwall Deaf Centre, Toby, a regular user of their facilities gave myself and Katy a lesson in British Sign Language. We covered most of the alphabet and a few other words.

Jude Robinson, the Labour candidate in Camborne, Redrtuh and Hayle has come up with the great idea of holding a hustings at the Cornwall Deaf Centre with a signer on hand to do the translation. So I might be coming back here soon.