“What a remarkable period we are going through. Five plus months of ‘lockdown’ with everyday routine, habits, entertainments, family visits, holidays and celebratory parties missed or curtailed and with no certainty as to when it will all end. We are enduring restrictions post-war generations have never experienced and it would seem finding it rather difficult to deal with. The absence of family and friends being the toughest of all and clearly shows just how much we need each other.” Those thoughts by the chair of an amenity society are with a good guide for first-time Zoom users.
Two constituency visits in the past week brought me close to the farm fields between Ferring and Goring-by-Sea where Persimmon are wrongly aiming to plant over 450 new homes. Each visit reminded me of the procedures and precautions to reduce the spread of C-19. Hundreds in the school family chose the new name St Oscar Romero Catholic School to replace the title Chatsmore Catholic High School. The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton Richard Moth presided at the Mass with two of our local priests. The school head Peter Byrne spoke before introducing my long-term friend Julian Filochowski of the Romero Trust.
It is wrong in my opinion to argue that the benefits of higher education should be measured by an estimate of extra lifetime earnings. The starting pay for teachers is reasonable. Later increases may depend most on promotion and posts with extra responsibility. Our schools’ successes depend as much on the teachers whose career is as a good class leader with a love for their subject. Newspapers depend on reporters and specialist writers whose earnings would not push up the average earnings of their fellow college or university graduates.
Enjoyment, participation, discipline and sometimes boisterous community singing are words that can be associated with culture. I treasure many songbooks including the Labour party one that includes The Man that Waters the Worker’s Beer. The winesforthepeople blog suggests comparisons with some wines. The Daily Express collection of songs was not needed by the 100,000 who would sing at Wembley before the Cup Final. In those days, people knew the words and the choruses or chants were acceptable to all. But for the social distancing, our family and friends would have an evening around a log fire singing old favourites.
There are times when traditional and modern approaches are similar. On Monday when the House of Commons was suspended for a week, I used the morning to speak by telephone with many constituents. Their backgrounds varied; they represented the full range of current circumstances; what they had in common was interest, often concern, for others. I was grateful for the suggestion to put on my website www.sirpeterbottomley.com an article responding to enquiries about the nutrition for children at home and at school.
We can look with affection to the past, with admiration to the present and with confidence to the future. Some look with horror at our history, with contempt at present problems and without confidence towards the coming years. On balance, I see successive steps forward, albeit after frustrations and delays. It would have been better for India to be granted independence much earlier, for the sense of Irish nationality to have been recognised and for women and men to have had equal status in law, in professions and in politics.
‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ is E M Forster’s book of essays, broadcasts and articles between 1936 and 1951. He discusses politics and ethics, people, places and the arts; he states his tolerant personal creed. I was speaking a few nights ago at E M Forster’s Cambridge. As I walked late back to the railway station, I passed some of my initiatives for cycling and for cyclists all those years ago when I served as transport minister. One included specifying that the cover of the new edition of the best-selling Highway Code, should show a walker together with two wheelers.
Some constituents ask me to vote against the government on a issue or express concerns about an aspect of policy. I try to limit my rebellions. This week I spoke and voted for greater protection for leaseholders vulnerable to opportunist planning applications by a landlord seeking money by replacing a block of flat’s roof with the addition of one storey or two. Too often, lease-renters catch all the costs and inconvenience. The freeholder is worry-free as ground rents flow in. Parliament has for nearly 20 years intended to bring in commonhold, the better system where the leaseholders are also the freeholders.
The life of Police Sergeant Matiu Ratana can be an inspiration to us all. He was known and admired by friends across the world and in many communities in England. One of the warm tributes came from London Irish, a club that epitomises the hosts of former players and of parents who get together to introduce the game of rugby to countless young people. I was closely involved after the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence. One police inspector told me that Stephen and he trained together in athletics. The motivation of volunteers matters though I guess less than the fact that they give of themselves in consistent reliable ways.
The scheme to Eat Out to Help Out has been imaginative and successful. With limited extra social proximity, the providers of meals have gained customers. Households or friends have been encouraged to enjoy being served as a change from meals at home. The sensibly limited incentive has brought greater life to cafes, pubs, hotels and restaurants. Though alcohol is excluded, I propose a toast to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There have been 100 places to eat within a mile of my flat by Christ Church in central Worthing, starting with The Happy Teapot and the cheerful BroSis café opposite the library in Richmond road.
When there is progress or success in a constituency case, my team and I thank the good people who have the responsibility and the opportunity to review a decision that may need to change. Benefit that comes when there is stability and commitment amongst those who lead and support our community. There are many in the commercial sector; I enjoy working with the next generation who take on their parents’ businesses. Our charitable services, from support for new parents through the middle decades of life and to end-of-life care, gain with volunteers, trustees and professional staff who stay in post.
A list of self-help tips ends with the suggestion that instead of reading about how to be successful, try some action. I am glad I can give time and dedication to helping others. Virginia and I have been lucky in not needing much for ourselves – just as well in our first twenty years of marriage as we had little material wealth. In early years we would have a theatre evening on 10 shillings, 50p in today’s money. With good eyesight we viewed the stage from the gods, high in the upper circle, close to the beautiful mythological scenes on the painted ceilings.
Younger readers may enjoy watching The Thomas Crown Affair film, first released in 1968/9. There was a remake with Sting in 1999. The song “The Windmills of Your Mind” may be familiar. The French composer Michel Legrand contributed the music to the English stream-of-consciousness lyrics written by the Americans Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Film buffs will know the French lyrics by Eddy Marney referred to The Windmills of My Heart. I have read that the gliding scene first used the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The windmill on my mind is at High Salvington. “The Mill” is the newsletter brilliantly compiled and edited by Lucy Brooks.
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...
Daily life includes reading newspapers and books. My current shelves include a 1941 Penguin paperback book of prayers and reflections for six days of the week. The compiler could assume readers would be in church on Sunday. I am also reading about Royal Institution lectures on astronomy and cosmology over more than a century. It is fascinating to know now what the cleverest assumed decades ago. Each day, having reported to the Covid symptom study that I have had neither test nor symptom, yet, I look at the daily extract of a book of hundreds of travellers’ tales from land and sea.
It is a curiosity that the Consumers’ Association in recent years has not made much of the financial and other difficulties faced by too many residential leaseholders. Over four million households may benefit by the Law Commission proposals for fairness lower costs and greater security. The all-party parliamentary group for leasehold and commonhold reform which I co-chair was chosen for the launch of three major reports on Tuesday. The proposals matter, judging by constituency cases we take up in Arun and in Worthing. Many landlords are non-exploitative.
It is inspiring to read on the Herald / Gazette website the words of Chief Constable Shiner, promising effective service to the public with the dedication of fellow officers and of the support staff in Sussex Police. ‘I am confident that we will continue to achieve strong results every single day, delivering on my priorities for the year ahead, which are to protect our communities, catch criminals and provide an outstanding service to victims, witnesses and the wider public.’ Jo Shiner served for 18 months as deputy to Giles York, whose long service did much to set our Sussex force on positive policing.
Everyone who has died was a constituent of an MP like me. We also represent the frontline staff who have maintained vital services in care homes, hospitals and hospice services, who keep going the transport, the retail and the manufacturing services on which we rely. Remember too the chaplains, the teachers and support staff throughout the country. Members of Parliament were not affected financially by consequences of C-19, unlike those who have lost employment or faced reduced income. On Tuesday morning I was involved in an all-party video meeting for the ‘Excluded’ led by a Scottish Liberal Democrat.
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.
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
The moving lines known as the Kohima epitaph are declared at wreath laying: ‘When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For their tomorrow, We gave our today.’ The words are now associated with the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima in North-East India. The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds in the Great War; he may have been inspired by a tribute to Greeks who died at Thermopylae in 480 BC. The obituary for Dick Jolley in The Times on Monday this week describes the impact of defending a mountain pass in Nagaland and of winning the 1944 battle of the district commissioners’ tennis court.
The Radio Times magazine panel of judges say that the only comedy series funnier than Hancock’s Half Hour (1954-59) or Round The Horne (1965-68) has been I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue (running since 1972). The only task harder than being a parent is trying to explain to a foreign visitor the rules or the lack of rules for the Mornington Crescent game. Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones described the winner as the “most ridiculous, most surreal, most incomprehensibly funny show on any medium”. Steve Punt said it is so funny because no political points are made, nor targets attacked.
Remembrance is important. As parliamentary warden for St Margaret’s church, I was presented to the Duchess of Cornwall when she opened the Field of Remembrance by Westminster Abbey. On Friday I presented a Commons wreath for the war dead by Worthing town hall after Janet Goldsbrough-Jones and team created evocative impressive displays. I joined the Kingston Gorse and East Preston Sunday memorial services. Rules allowed the Queen to lay her wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. When speaking in the debate on restrictions to get the C-19 virus back under control, I paid tribute to local resident ...
This week, schools and other groups focus on activities linked to Parliament, building interest amongst students and children who can engage with an MP and with politics. The words IT STARTS WITH ACTION are in #YourStory OurHistory. Rosettes declare Vote Now, Speak Up, Take Action and Join In. I invite students to consider why our secret ballot box system and observed fair counting matters more than youths with weapons acting as street militias on behalf of a dictator.Our methods of democracy are not perfect but no national government here thinks it is immune from the electorate’s verdict.