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Resolutions and New Year solutions?

27th December 2018

The Queen and many of our religious leaders have helpfully given Christmas messages, reminding us together of eternal values and failings they reviewed the passing year, looking with hope to the year that starts next week.

There are many new years. Cheerfully, in a country like Sri Lanka, followers of other religions are as happy as Christians to say merry Christmas although the day that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Christ, is only recognised as a day like each full moon, a day when alcohol cannot be sold or consumed in public. To mark our lucky lengthy years of marriage, our children have joined us with their spouses and the grandchildren for a holiday in the beautiful home of Ceylon tea...


A heart, half a cloak and the dues 

20th December 2018

The poem A Christmas Carol became Christina Rossetti’s famous hymn In the bleak midwinter with its moving conclusion: “Yet what I can I give you: Give my heart.” I remember those words whenever I turn to the purpose of prosperity and the value of sharing it. 

The word chaplain may come from the original word for the priest who cared for the half cloak of St Martin of Tours who famously gave the other half to a scantily clad beggar. There are many lessons in Jesus’s story of the Jericho road. One is of trust: the Samaritan trusted the innkeeper to care for the victim of muggers and the innkeeper trusted the Samaritan to pay the extra dues if necessary. 


Sir Terence Higgins

13th December 2018

Terence Higgins is about 16 years senior to me. He became Lord Higgins when the Worthing constituency he served well for 32 years was shared between Worthing West and Tim Loughton MP’s East Worthing and Shoreham. The words ‘Sir Terence’ inspired respect and admiration at Westminster when he was in the Commons.

As Lord Higgins he has given 21 years of respected contributions in the House of Lords. His valedictory speech is anticipated this Thursday.

He will have given 53 years to public service. Dame Rosalyn and he merit panels on Worthing’s Pier. She presided over the International Court in The Hague. 


Kind messages and difficult messages

06th December 2018

Were the letters and messages I receive on the European Union and the United Kingdom to be divided into bundles, they would appear nearly equal.

One would be ‘Don’t leave’ with the requests for a so-called People’s Vote (the title of a campaign group) which I take to be aimed at reversing the result of the national referendum two years ago. 

That would be balanced by those asking to walk out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement and no agreed transition and without the assurances in the political declaration that would guide our future relationships with the EU 27. In between are those who write or email about my position. It is to recognise the result of the referendum: we need to leave. 


Tasks, teams and individuals

29th November 2018

We debated the unfair impact of changes to the state pension age, particularly for a cohort of women born in six months in the 1950s. In 1908 the state pension age was 70 for women and men. It was reduced to 65 in 1925. The inequality of the earlier retirement age for women was introduced I think in 1940. Few doubt it is right to have an equal age and it makes sense to recognise that age of entitlement should rise gradually. It was wrong to create the anomaly for 150,000 women of a double delay. I blame the Treasury for asking for it and the social security department of Work and Pensions for agreeing. Parliament and government should help to ensure predictability and to help people to feel secure. 


Investing in our great country

22nd November 2018

Walking from Worthing station home to my flat by Christ Church, I pass the Centre for English Studies which is now led by Nick Clark. Twenty years ago I was introduced to students by Bruce Noble.

On Wednesday I spoke with Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, about the common sense approach that EU students should be able to attend short English language courses with their national identity cards rather than being required to apply for a passport.

The assumption is that the arrangements from April next year will allow that. Worthing can be counted as a significant exporter of services as much as of manufactured goods.


A week is a long time in public service

15th November 2018

On Thursday, Care for Veterans in Boundary Road, Worthing (previously named the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home, Giffard House) hosted the bright children of Heene Primary School when they planted one of the trees that will become part of The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. Led by the Royal Commonwealth Society, there are initiatives in 53 Commonwealth countries. As we give attention to the developing consequences of the proposed separation of the UK from the EU, moving on to agree future arrangements on our myriad links across the Channel and the North Sea, it is comforting to think that, in the decades and centuries to come, these trees will be growing and contributing to the environment we share across the world. 


An example of public service at its best

08th November 2018

During the analysis of the United States mid-term elections, one comment struck me deeply. The United Kingdom and the United States are each capable of becoming disunited.

I prefer people in politics who try to bring people together after, and preferably during and before decision times in election or referendum. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was twice decorated for his soldiering on the eastern front against the Nazis before being stripped of his rank, charged with dissemination of anti-Soviet propaganda,and locked up in the Lubyanka prison before years on the Gulag. 

Soon after its publication in 1962 I read his personal memoir of a single day in the labour camps One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.


November brings fireworks and the Armistice memorial

01st November 2018

As November brings late autumn, we will pass through fireworks to the memorial of the Armistice that ended the four years of Great War.

The gunpowder plot was intended for the State Opening of Parliament in 1604. A plague and various delays brought the plan and the discovery of 36 barrels of gunpowder under coal and firewood.

King James made clear that he did not condemn most English Catholics.

One of the plotters defended himself by saying that the king had not delivered on his promise to have a greater tolerance of Catholicism. It is said that although some Catholics held office, Catholic emancipation was delayed by two centuries. 


Improving mental and physical care

25th October 2018

When hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons threatened coastline population across the world, we knew it is good fortune or good judgment to live in West Sussex.

There are other devastations we could do more to prevent. I recommend that we all get our flu vaccinations - free for the young, the old and the vulnerable. It is worthwhile too at low cost for healthy adults. Older generations knew the devastation of polio, measles, mumps and rubella. 

Smallpox would not have been eliminated worldwide forty years ago if the ill-informed questioning of the value and safety of vaccination had been current when I and my children were growing up.


The future is not a gift, it is an achievement

11th October 2018

Imagine if all decision making were inspired by a belief system championing the rights of humans. Can this be the ideal we should aim at?

The Zulu/Bantu word ubuntu comes in the epilogue of the 1993 Interim Constitution of South Africa: “There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for Ubuntu but not for victimisation.”

There are varied interpretations: I take it to mean that we are ourselves, part of each other rather than atomised individuals. These thoughts have been brought back to me by a talk on Wednesday by a leader from the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights UK charity. 


Live our lives free from fear and want

04th October 2018

Books old and new: as the party conference concludes, I have been reading two particular books. Philip Guedalla’s Portrait of Mr Churchill was published in November 1941. It describes the new Prime Minister’s life as a Victorian and an Edwardian before the nation and empire became the realm of the Georges, separated by the abdication of Edward. The final chapters are entitled Mr Chamberlain’s War and Mr Churchill’s War. The book is clear about the cooperation between President Roosevelt and the half American Winston Churchill. The August 1941 Atlantic Charter made clear the seven principles and hopes for a better future for the world. The sixth was about life after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny. 


Be heard, find the truth, act justly

27th September 2018

Church House in Westminster is where the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry have taken place this week. Sir Brian Langstaff is the retired judge who agreed to head the inquiry. Since 1989 I have been active in collaboration with the Haemophilia Society and more recently with Diana Johnson MP. We co-chair the All Party Group on Contaminated Blood and Haemophilia. My interest came from three events: my mother and my wife had significant blood transfusions; a friend’s husband was one of the first haemophiliacs to die from HIV/AIDS after being given contaminated blood; also, my team and I have represented the interests of constituents who have hepatitis C from infected blood. 


Achieving higher standards

20th September 2018

Links can lead in unexpected directions. A news report on a rather artificial row about maths testing and assessment in Scotland has brought me to a clearer understanding of how I believe we can think about achievement and distinction. There was a curious gap in the report which centred on Professor Jo Boaler, renowned maths teaching expert who was brought to Scotland to share her expertise with the country’s teachers. Where did she come from? The obvious answer has to be England, though she is professor of mathematics education at California’s Stanford Graduate School of Education. She promotes mathematics education reform and equitable mathematics classrooms. 


Helping people to live more fully

13th September 2018

It is good to work with colleagues, fellow MPs and councillors in my party and in other parties too. As this newspaper came out last week, I joined the leader and chairman of West Sussex County Council in Chichester’s County Hall for the youth engagement event organised by Helen Kenny, who is head of democratic services. Councillors across the political spectrum heard powerful speeches by school and college students in a debate on voting at 16 and 17. Gillian Keegan, the local MP, summed up the good points made by each side.

It was not a surprise that the vote went in favour of engaging and trusting younger people to take part in voting. My brief contribution was simple: it will do some good; it can do no harm. 


Days in West Sussex and Westminster

06th September 2018

This Wednesday I shall have attended the memorial service for Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde at the newspaper church St Bride’s in Fleet Street. Brenda Dean was the first woman elected to head a major industrial trade union, the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT), having joined the National Union of Printing, Book-binding and Paper Workers. Her autobiography, Hot Mettle, is worth reading.

That day, I join David Lammy MP for the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary group on Race and Community. I long for the day when we can anticipate living in a country and in a world when the colour of every reader’s skin will be as important but no more than height or the colour of eyes or of hair: noticeable but not a significant characteristic.


Grace, hope and forgiveness

30th August 2018

The Pope’s visit to Ireland was centred on the World Meeting of Families, a gathering every three years of the Roman Catholic Church. It is organised by the new department for the laity, family and life. The purposes are to promote the pastoral care of families, to protect their rights and dignity and to help them fulfil their duties.

Decades back, I turned the British Committee of the International Union of Family Organisations, quite a mouthful, into Family Forum. A group of charities considered together how to build the confidence and competence of people who care for each other by family or household links of chance (family) and choice (marriage, partnership and in other ways).


Feeding vanity, starving self-respect?

23rd August 2018

Visitors to this country are intrigued and impressed by the range of British radio broadcasting. In addition to the glorious range of commercial stations, the BBC range from Radio 1 to Radio 6 is unsurpassed.

Thirty years ago, Radio 1 was the only national pop music station. When I was responsible for trying to reduce the awful level of road deaths associated with drivers who had clearly exceeded the unsafely high alcohol limit, the first task was to get away from the idea that the best approach was to lower the criminal threshold, to introduce mass random breath-testing and to increase penalties. My ideas were different. They worked and I believe they would work again.


Remembrance, sorrow, shame and thanksgiving

09th August 2018

Srebrenica Memorial Day is on Saturday this year. I support the More United belief in a tolerant, free, diverse society where our differences are respected and celebrated.

Inclusivity and diversity make us stronger and more resilient as a nation. 

It was odd to hear from a racially intolerant telephone caller that he hated immigrants, proudly declaring that he was English and pure Anglo-Saxon, not knowing that the English had been brought in by the Romans from what is now Germany and that the Angles and the Saxons had come uninvited too.


Leasehold - to Have and to Hold

02nd August 2018

When a constituent around retirement age approached me about unfair payments being demanded by the freeholder of his block of leasehold flats, I did not expect to be drawn into a lasting national campaign for fairness and freedom for residential leaseholders. 

The local case was quickly resolved with the expertise and a day freely given by a barrister through the Pro Bono Unit.

This time, the cause of the dispute was neither malice nor greed; it was the result of innocents taking sharp advice from a commercial lawyer about how the simple system of resolution intended by parliament could be circumvented.

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Uncommon Sense? Simple Solutions?

26th July 2018

At the end of the summer term, students across the age range volunteer to come to help at Westminster. 

This is difficult for a number of reasons: each needs a constant escort; Parliament is in recess so no debates and no committee meetings; my dedicated team have holidays. One colleague gathered students for a day course. I spoke with them about the tasks an MP can try to achieve. 

To engage their thinking, I asked the deceptively easy maths question. If 15 of them took part in a singles knockout tennis tournament, like Wimbledon, how many matches would be played? The answer and explanation are at the end.

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To Learn, To Live, To Love

19th July 2018

Srebrenica Memorial Week takes place every year on the week around July 11, Srebrenica Memorial Day. This year, more than 2,000 memorial events took place across the country arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations, teaching the consequences of hatred and importance of building stronger cohesive communities. ​

Last week, to mark the Memorial Day, I signed the Remembering Srebrenica Book of Pledges, promising to stand up to hatred and intolerance and promote a fair, equal and cohesive society for everyone.

Srebrenica Memorial Day reminds us all that a shocking genocide took place in our lifetime when more than 8,000 men and boys were killed just because of their faith.

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Foreign secretaries, football and other issues

12th July 2018

The 1922 Committee, the autonomy of the Dominions and the Turkish war that was avoided go back 94 years to the Chanak Crisis. Look it up for the full story. 

In September 1922, the neutral zone in the Dardanelles was vulnerable to attack by the Turkish forces led by Ataturk. The British Cabinet, led by Lloyd George, prime minister during the Great War, and by Winston Churchill, later to become prime minister in the Second World War, decided to fight. 

They called in the Colonies. Canada refused. That led to the Dominions formally having their own decision making on foreign policy.

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Women Voting? 100 Years On

05th July 2018

Constituents visiting the Great Hall in the Palace of Westminster will, until October, be able to see the Voice & Vote exhibition. 

Can anyone now understand why women were for so long denied the vote? 

Can anyone imagine why they were banned from the public gallery? 

Now ask what are the equivalent issues where common sense might break out? During my lifetime the prejudice about sexuality has been diminished. 

There is now a debate in France about whether the word racial might sensibly be retired: their President Macron says that origin may be of interest; he adds that genetically we are all so similar it is wrong to think we are significantly different from each other. 


Cradle to grave and the years between

28th June 2018

It has been a delight to meet school pupils at Westminster: the recent groups came from Goring and from Our Lady of Sion. I congratulate them for their interesting questions and I thank their teachers and parents for coming too. 

They will not mind, I trust, if I record that the most touching time of the week past was calling at St Mary’s Home in Worthing to be with a Ferring friend after her discharge from care in Worthing Hospital. 

She was attending Mass. I slipped into a back row seat before moving forward when exchanging the Peace to sit with her. She was a teacher. She has been an inspiration to me, showing throughout her life that individual acts of thoughtfulness and of kindness matter. 


There Are Good People In Other Parties

21st June 2018

The first health minister, then the Liberal Christopher Addison, in 1919 took action that could be seen as the first public commitment to the essential elements of a National Health Service. 

My father worked in his ministerial private office nearly 30 years later when as Labour’s dominions secretary, Viscount Addison had responsibility for the Commonwealth.

One of the tasks of the assistant private secretary was to respond to some correspondents: ‘I am directed to write that your unsolicited letter has been received; it has not been selected for a substantive response.’ 

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