Martin Luther King Junior said that a person called to be a street sweeper ‘should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did the job well”.’ When I started at university, I had worked each holiday for years. During the 1963 six weeks of ice and snow (following a similar period of smog in London), I shovelled with a great professional to keep the pavements around Parliament safe. He was of the Windrush generation. A little over twenty years later, I was appointed minister of roads.
At the start of the week there were examples of the benefits of talking together, deciding together and acting together when we can. On a range of issues, at the weekend there seemed only to be choices between ways of being in conflict, whether demonstrating in Parliament Square around the statue of Sir Winston Churchill or considering whether Robert Baden-Powell’s image can stay facing Brownsea Island where scouts first went camping.It was illustrated by an opinion article in the London Evening Standard: the writer declared that some schools taught about Mansa Musa the 14th century Malian king.
Many advantages come from modern technology. Communication can be quick. Contacts can be made; people can share real problems. We can exchange views easily at low or no financial cost. It is useful to be with people. In past years, I gained greater understanding with Dr Gordon Caldwell in Worthing hospital. His experience and clear positive approaches to common problems made a difference to my effectiveness when engaging with the NHS centrally and with health ministers. Recently, I have been able to achieve national change in policy after listening to doctors, ministers of religion, teachers, parents and others.
The death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while submitting to the control of the local police has shocked America and its friends across the globe. Can we give a confident answer to the question I raise in most of my talks about the purposes and practice of politics? When will the colour of anyone’s skin be only as important as the colour of eyes or hair? I may be described by it; no one should be judged by it nor treated badly or favourably consequently. For generations in this nation we have made welcome progress in identifying and challenging discrimination in each of its form...
Florence Nightingale was born 200 years ago. After her experience training and managing nurses in the Crimean war, she organised and campaigned for reforms throughout society, not just health care in the Army. She pioneered prevention, not just care and cure. One biography called her a social reformer, a statistician and the founder of modern nursing. Professional training owes much to her. So does the applied use of statistics, now of concern to us. One of her diagrams on the causes of mortality looked for the pattern of what she described as ‘preventible mitigable zymotic’ diseases.
This week I have been thinking about the reduced pollution on our streets and in the skies above. My father concluded a college reunion speech: ‘We look with affection to the past, admiration to the present and confidence to the future.’ Knowledge comes from challenge, doubt, argument, discussion, openness in disagreement and new ideas. This week I heard that a long-term friend Sir David Cooksey is becoming an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society for his contributions to science, including development of the important Crick Institute.
Sensible people realise that the media’s task locally and nationally is to put testing questions and to press responsible authorities at the boundaries of comfort, even when a problem’s intensity has been reducing. A journalist asked me what my ambition was when there were over 1,200 over-the-limit drink-drive deaths a year. I wanted to bring the numbers down so low so when there was an alcohol-related fatal crash the media called for my resignation. Over twenty deaths a week is not news; three a month is.
Victory in Europe: in 1945 the 8th of May was a Tuesday. Around Europe and around Buckingham Palace people were cheering, celebrating and by some reports getting to know each other better. I was ten months old in a terrace house near Chelsea Old Church and the Albert bridge. Our wartime air raid shelter was a table. The cost of material for a standard air raid shelter in 1940 was £8 15s. The pocket-size Lilliput booklet gave more figures: a Lewis gun and a silk parachute cost £60 each, a single engine warplane £6,250, a multi-engined bomber £20,000, a submarine £350,000, a large battleship £7,142,000 and the Singapore Naval Base £11,211,750.
News pages, broadcasts and social media are good at sharing the challenges of the developing C-19 situation. I want to describe the range of experiences facing my team and me. Only MPs with oral questions and those with specialist contributions have been at the Palace of Westminster in past days. After an active week, my team has moved to as much remote working as possible.
I am grateful to each of them. Most emails are receiving a speedy response. We pass on important points that have come from the experiences of constituents.
The judges at the Ferring Gardening Club Spring Flower Show had a glorious set of arrangements to consider. The steady weather has allowed many plants to come to flower beautifully. I do not dare show my range of daffodils for fear they would either win or be disregarded. This year I have cherished three bloom miniatures.
The Goring Methodists were raising money for Action for Children, formerly the National Children’s Homes, now providing specialist services for children’s needs. Decades ago when I led Family Forum bringing together many voluntary bodies...
A good full constituency day: on Friday my team of caseworker, local councillors and I met at Rustington’s public library for a regular advice session. Most issues can be taken up without delay and often I make home calls which can be most convenient for those who are carers and living with a condition that limits mobility.
Library staff are always welcoming. My visits allow me to admire the involvement of people across the generations who love the books, magazines, modern media and companionship. On the eastern side, the constituency boundary zigs and zags through Worthing.
The East Preston carnival raffle winners kindly came to create a jolly lunch at Westminster this week. They had clear answers to the reasons to choose our stretch of the south coast for fuller lives. The sea, the south downs, the pleasant communities and the natural mixture of generations, with open-hearted help for living with or overcoming the range of events and conditions that come in the lottery of life. Later on the 20th March, we share Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally people returned to the church where they were baptised.
My wife and I have always admired Terry Bamford. His recent death was reported in the Herald and Gazette last week. He lived with Margaret Bamford in Findon. He has been an inspiration to many others in the United Kingdom and overseas.
Everyone in Parliament whether on the backbenches or in ministries gained by his applied knowledge as a frontline social worker and as a senior manager. He was dedicated to recognising social work as a vital profession. My grandmothers did much as volunteers in Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.
As member of parliament I have the choice whether to pander to the prejudices of my group’s more extreme supporters or to work persistently to recognise, to reconcile and to help people to be comfortable with difference. Some contemporary international leaders appear to favour the first. My view is that they normally misinterpret their country’s histories: few nations have only one. It is not necessary to choose. Coming to terms with history is what we are trying to achieve in Ireland in the cooperation between most in the north, most in the south and with the support of most in the UK.
During the short parliamentary recess, I plan to reread the book ‘What I believe’. It was written by Sir Anthony Kenny, the philosopher of happiness, as a personal account of how he developed the position of being neither a theist nor an atheist. A fond and devoted studier of St Thomas of Aquinas, he can be said to prowl the frontiers of theology and religion. Kenny writes that globalisation tends to make us all more selfish. Worryingly, he also realises that most people in the Western style developed democracies earn nearly ten times more than we need to exist at subsistence level.
Thirty years ago I was minister of environment and of agriculture in the Northern Ireland Office. During a persistent drought I repeated the success of the legendary Labour minister Denis Howell who some years before had been Minister for Drought, for Floods and then for Snow. He turned on the rain; so did I after being photographed with an unnecessary umbrella when standing on the dried mud at the bottom of an empty reservoir. Soon heavy rain refilled it. Looking a few days ahead, we can see predicted sunshine and rain without local frost.
Andrew Griffith, now MP for Arundel and South Downs, is creating and leading the all-party group for Dark Skies. This is a welcome initiative. The aims are to highlight the importance of preserving the ability to see a dark sky at night; to promote the adoption of dark sky friendly lighting and planning policies; to protect existing UK Dark Sky reserves and to support potential new reserves, collaborating with international groups. The Worthing Astronomical Society and the Sussex Astronomy Centre in Goring by Sea are the constituency focal points. I commend their websites.
One of the many initiatives supported by Major Tom Wye has been the series of local Holocaust gatherings that match the national meetings and debates. I pay particular tribute to the constituencies’ Islamic leaders who have been present at the meetings I have attended. This year I have to be at the National meeting so I am asking two young friends, Joseph Osborne of East Preston and Ella Carmichael at Worthing College, to represent the rising generations and to take my place.
If I were to decide where the constituency might benefit from a high-rise building, I should suggest near Worthing station. When asked about a mighty tall residential block near the new swimming pool, I agreed with residents, with the Worthing Society and with Tim Loughton MP that the sea front would not gain from higher and higher blocks. There was also the over-height proposal at the south end of Grand Avenue.
One place where even a bungalow would be too prominent is the valued green lung between Ferring and Goring, by the coast,...
When there is too much to do, there are times when I turn to a good book. This week it is ‘Oscar Romero’s Theological Vision’ written by the Puerto Rican Methodist minister Edgardo Colon-Emeric, given to me by Julian Filochowski, chair of the Romero Trust.
Last year Julian came to the Roman Catholic Chatsmore High School in Goring, introduced by the head Peter Byrne to speak on the life of the Saint Oscar Romero. Chatsmore is one of the constituency schools where faith shines through. It is good that our faith schools are open to children from families who do not claim church links
Elements of a Blue Light service include being ready to respond, able to use experience and training, easy to contact and with the habit of responding fast. Before becoming the local MP, I gained insight into road safety by my engagement with the Association of Industrial Road Safety Officers (now the Association for Road Risk Management) driven for decades by Worthing resident Graham Feest. My constituent now incorporates the UK Road Safety Network in his Graham Feest Consultancy. I commend him for choosing in the latest newsletter to show an empty road which speaks volumes.
Activity by members of parliament has been intense during the weeks of this Parliamentary recess. In what we mistily remember of normal times, MPs had overseas visits with a range of international assemblies. The Western European Union and NATO had parliamentary gatherings. They were established following an important speech in 1947 or 1948 by Ernest Bevin, then Labour foreign secretary. He had previously co-founded my TGWU and served for 18 years as its general secretary before becoming Churchill’s minister of labour in the war-time coalition government.
Instead of gathering in church, our extended family created an internet-enabled Service for Easter. Time-keeping was not brilliant during the hymns; it was better during the prayers. A senior cousin spoke about the eight survivors from the devastation of the Great War and the ravage of the influenza that followed. Now over one hundred descendants meet annually. One of the next generation spoke about life and death in a wonderfully inspiring way that was accessible and comforting even for the youngest in each household group.
We know the attractions of life in our villages and towns here between the South Downs and the Channel. For generations, locals have welcomed and absorbed the mature and those retiring from near and far. Few decide to move on.
Tim Loughton and I succeeded Terence Higgins and Richard Luce, the long-term MPs for Worthing and for Shoreham, the crescent constituency that looped around Worthing from Shoreham and Lancing to Rustington, Ferring and East Preston with the Kingstons.
The local newspaper is key to us knowing what is going on, what is to come and what has happened. There are admirable contacts between the paper’s office and the groups whose activities are written up and reported. The content of edited pages and advertisements can be expected to be interesting, well-written, reliable and about our shared community. I am convinced that the Herald and the Gazette series together with local parish, borough, district and county councils are reasons our public life is shared, our politics competitive
During a good group call on Tuesday, I heard unselfish interest for others, typical of constituents from Rustington to central Worthing and from High Salvington to the coast at Goring by Sea. I heard concerns about the need to use natural resources with care, to reduce and then to try to eliminate hydrocarbons from within the ground, whether coal, oil or gases. We had worked over twenty years in campaigns for Fair Trade coffee and bananas, for ecologically friendly cleaning products and for the United Kingdom to meet the commitment to reach the United Nation target of giving 70p of each £100 to official overseas aid.