WORTHING HERALD ARTICLES
A SELECTION OF MY RECENT WORTHING HERALD COLUMNS CAN BE FOUND HERE
02 August 2018: Leasehold - to have and to hold?
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.
Elderly frail poor leaseholders accepted the sensible compromise offer, sharing £70,000 as part repayment of the historic overcharging.
My case workers and I were aided by the campaigning charity Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (see the LKP website) and its active trustees.
Martin Boyd had come into the field because of direct adverse experience near London; Sebastian O’Kelly had been property editor of the Daily Mail: with the assistance of Katherine O’Riordan, they are the secretariat of the All Party Leasehold and Commonhold Reform Group.
In recent years, we have awakened government.
After a succession of housing ministers who were not advised about the horrendous problems, Gavin Barwell, then an MP and responsible for housing, made the keynote speech at the annual leasehold conference.
He declared that abuses would be tackled and that the publicly funded LEASE advisory service would in future be plainly on the side of the oppressed, not evenly aiding the oppressors too.
Many of the new homes along the coast from Rustington to Worthing and most newly built homes in our towns and cities are leasehold.
They should not be.
Fifteen years ago, parliament legislated for the commonhold system that eliminated the opportunities for abuse by freeholders and managing agents who too often colluded to the disadvantage of leaseholders who by law have no status higher than a tenant.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we now know that leaseholders in private blocks are being asked by developers and freeholders to pay the costs of cladding replacement.
LEASE gave useless advice; LKP and the concerned MPs have been calling loudly and persistently for those responsible to accept their responsibilities.
It is wrong that the victims are asked to put things right and to pay too.
One success has been the prospective ban on new houses being sold unnecessarily as leasehold rather than freehold.
The scandal of ground rents that rose at the equivalent of seven per cent a year had the effect of making the homes of first time buyers, often using the Help-To-Buy scheme just about unsaleable, making the occupiers unable to move and stuck with a worthless asset.
If members of parliament have a role, it is to identify problems, to ally when possible across party lines and to persist until justice becomes possible.
I pay public tribute to Jim Fitzpatrick, the key London Labour MP with whom I work on these issues.
When people ask why I am so dedicated to being an MP, my response is that we can do good, we can have some fun though often we weep with the victims, and when we fail, the cause was worthwhile – and in most cases it remains worthwhile.
26 July 2018: Uncommon Sense? Simple Solutions?
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.
Then I led a discussion about the purposes of democratic politics. The Greeks might briefly say it was creating the good society. Too brief to be useful?
My provisional suggestion in a few more words is that we can try to reduce avoidable misery, handicap and difficulty while aiming to increase wellbeing, a mix of wealth and welfare. How to and when to avoid war, civil or international?
Undemocratic politics have left us with too many examples of unnecessary war, slavery, oppression and holocaust.
I ask when would have been the right time to confront Adolf Hitler and his Nazi National Socialism when it became clear that he intended to fulfil the aims of his 1925 book Mein Kampf. He wanted to destroy democratic politics, communism and Jewishness.
The Italian Fascist leader Mussolini dismissed the book as boring, a collection of commonplace clichés. If only the democrats in interwar Germany had not allowed Hitler space to assume and then to abuse power.
If only the Russians, known to be targets of Hitler’s expansionist aims, had not concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact? If only... if only?
Should democracies have threatened military confrontation many years before September 1939? How, in a democracy, can the general population face an explicit decision to fight if necessary, with casualties and destruction?
When I first represented Worthing West in Parliament, I met local members of the United Nations Association branches in the constituency and in Brighton.
A number remembered Virginia’s grandfather Dr Maxwell Garnett who had served the earlier League of Nations Union for many years before being sacked by the appeasers in 1938, as it became obvious to most that Hitlerism had to be confronted, that Britain needed greater defence and that it was our duty to work with others to save Europe from militaristic racist domination.
It was already known that Hitler had the perverted view that it was altruistic to destroy the weak and the handicapped. This is my introduction to the duty of the elected representative to stand against oppression, to speak up for the vulnerable and to be prepared to confront national leaders who might drive their countries to disaster.
It does not need war. Read about Venezuela’s recent descent to disaster. Be wary of simple solutions; remember common sense (which is not as common as it could be).
Everyone except the winner has to lose; one loses in each match; the answer is one less than the number at the start – so in this example 14.
19 July 2018: To Learn, to Live and to Love
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. Remembering and commemorating these events reminds us that such atrocities have no place in our society. Instead we must endeavour to learn, live, and love.
On learning and fun, last Friday I was pleased to join children, parents and staff at Goring-By-Sea Library to celebrate this year’s launch of the Summer Reading Challenge. Young avid readers were excited to complete the challenge.
We were joined by Cara Lambert, team manager for families and wellbeing, and librarian Jane Blackwell. Each has made fantastic contributions to our local community. Research shows that reading for pleasure is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background. Children who use libraries are twice as likely to be above average readers.
The Summer Reading Challenge builds confidence and independent reading, while helping to prevent the dip in children’s reading levels during the long summer break from school. In last year’s challenge, over three quarters of a million children borrowed, read and talked about their favourite books. This year I hope thousands more can make the choice to read and learn.
How and where we live is also important. Over the weekend, four of our fantastic local parks have been internationally recognised as outstanding. Beach House Park, Worthing; Field Place & Arts Complex; Highdown Gardens and Marine Gardens are receiving the Green Flag Award.
We should thank all of those who work hard to ensure that these parks continue to be treasured green paradises within our communities. The manner we love and cherish our family, friends, and neighbours is also important.
On Saturday, Worthing came together for its first Pride celebration, an event that will become an annual festivity in Worthing’s social calendar. Pride is an important day to recognise and celebrate the diversity and the inclusiveness that makes our communities stronger.
Thanks must be paid to those who planned Saturday’s celebrations.
Warmth and reciprocity that all members of the community received does accentuate the message that celebrations bring us closer together.
We can learn from our history, we can live life to its fullest, and we must love those around us as we would wish to be loved ourselves.
12 July 2018: Foreign Secretaries, Football and Other Issues
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. Lord Curzon, then foreign secretary, had missed that momentous Cabinet meeting. He told the Prime Minister and Churchill they were wrong. He did not resign. He went to Paris and negotiated the agreement that led to the European side of Turkey being united with the larger Asian part, to Constantinople/Istanbul coming under Turkish control, to the agreement with Greece that instead of further war, the mainland would be Turkey, the islands would be Greece. Not perfect; probably better than the alternatives?
The consequences in the United Kingdom were significant.
Conservative back benchers met in October that year, deciding to withdraw from the coalition government. Instead of the peacetime extension of the wartime Liberal Conservative coalition, Conservatives won the subsequent general election. The 1922 committee was formed.
This week Lord Carrington died at the age of 99. He and I had several memorable conversations.
One was during the 1979 general election when canvassing in a housing estate with an SAS corporal and a helpful Norwegian au-pair. I asked Peter what Margaret Thatcher might, if elected, do about the unconvincing interim government in Southern Rhodesia.
He replied that he did not know and he doubts if she did either. Together, later, they resolved matters. Sometime later, by chance I was with another Conservative MP in her No. 10 study with Peter as foreign secretary. She said she could not take him to Dublin to win the argument about getting back much of our Common Market excess payments. At the same moment Peter clearly stated that he would go with her, adding: “Heaven knows what she will get up to without me.” They had a good relationship.
With thanks to Boris Johnson for his efforts, let us welcome Jeremy Hunt as his successor at the Foreign Office.
He knows the world; he and the prime minister respect each other.
In a number of ways he has helped our West Sussex health services and the first hospital in which he worked was Worthing. I was there on Tuesday night, visiting a friend who was at school and university with me.
He may live, he may die: whichever, his life has been made better by his carers and by the whole hospital team. He was at peace.
On Wednesday I was talking with a constituent in Rustington about the EU. He had been born in Zachary Merton hospital and now lives within 300 yards, or slightly fewer metres. I thought that charming.
Whether the England football team plays again on Saturday or in the World Cup final on Sunday, we send them our best wishes, in our Gareth Southgate gear.
05 July 2018: Women Voting? 100 Years On
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. We are left with the task of identifying discriminatory prejudice, of unequal opportunity and most relevantly the obligation and the opportunities for fairness.
Some MPs appear to be interested in equality of outcome, some in the extremes of liberty. I class myself as a justice politician – I ask if a situation or experience is fair, is it necessary and would a possible alternative work better?
Since the end of the Second World War, a growing number of countries have come to democracy. Sadly, some are now appearing to be under the lasting influence of leaders who define what they do by being against groups in their own countries. Too often, the ‘big man’ approach leads to a gang around the leader doing commercial deals and to personal enrichment at the price of lowered opportunities for the many.
Our former prime ministers are free to take their pensions, to write books and to give lectures.
Is this a long way from my community meetings in, for example, East Preston or Goring or in central Worthing?
Yes, in some ways. No, not in others.
On Saturday, having been alerted to the plan to auction the shops in High Salvington, I had an informal meeting with the chair of the local residents and with Vino, before I called on the first resident to alert me to the concerns that a whole community could be cut off from their admired local shop and the barbers where I have had my hair trimmed.
The perceived risk of replacement housing on the site is to be determined by the borough council, if there is an application. Being able to offer my experience and advice, I had said that in my view, there is overwhelming cause to keep the site for retail. It is a long way to any alternative.
This week I attended the good gathering at Westminster for the Federation of Small Business. Large companies matter; smaller ones can grow and even as start-ups, they contribute so much.
Public services and private enterprise go together for the benefit of us all. Between the completion of this article and the newspaper hitting the newsagents and readers’ letter boxes, I shall have escorted Dame Sarah Mullally in the City of London from St Michael’s Church, Cornhill to the Drapers’ Livery Hall.
Having served as the NHS’s Chief Nursing Officer, she is now the Bishop of London. Today, Worthing nurse Aileen Coomber will play a central role in the Westminster Abbey service to mark 70 years of the NHS. We can be proud of each and every nurse, together with all who work with them.
For more information about the Voice & Vote exhibition visit ---
28 June 2018: Cradle to grave and the years between
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. Particularly, she maintained a faithful companionship and she visited a fine Roman Catholic priest in his own retirement, being with him when he died.
One of my ambitions is to try to help growing numbers of constituents and people throughout our nation and all over the world to avoid unnecessary illnesses and disabling conditions.
On Tuesday I was one of the MPs who met experts in sexual health to review trends in anti-social disease. The good news is that we are beginning to see the predicted drop in the numbers of cases of genital warts. The bad news is that the statistics on more serious conditions are growing, especially for males. The worse news is that the specialist clinics are having to turn away numbers who can benefit by treatment after appropriate diagnosis.
Some kindly associate my time at the Department of Transport with the development of the approach that has led to road deaths falling in number, for people in vehicles and for the more vulnerable on two wheels or on two feet.
On Sunday, after visiting a friend whose wife is living her dignified life with dementia, Virginia and I joined a musical afternoon to hear young singers supporting the English National Opera.
In addition to meeting musical dentists from Worthing, I was greeted by Nick Ross. He and I serve as vice presidents of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, now IAM RoadSmart. The president is Nigel Mansell: I watched him win the Silverstone F1 Grand Prix in 1987.
Even then, I could not squeeze into the cockpit of his car. The point about Nick Ross is that he made the crucial point that there should be targets for deaths, more accurately targets for reduction in deaths, for each category of road users. In health and sickness, the same approach can work.
School friends of mine, parliamentary colleagues had suffered polio. People I met in India had lived with leprosy. Smallpox has been eliminated. Our international aid, 70 pence of each £100 of our annual wealth, helps.
We can be proud of that. Pharmaceutical researchers, including Worthing’s GSK, have contributed much to vaccinations, to immunisations, and to the antibiotics that make treatable conditions that previously had bad consequences. Each of us will die of something.
We can work together to let the cause more often be ‘old age’ rather than violence, road crash or communicable disease.
21 June 2018: There Are Good People In Other Parties
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.’
The Conservative health minister Henry Willink early in 1944, the year of my birth, welcomed the report by Sir William Beveridge, holding up the White Paper declaring the NHS will be created. New i10 Go! Edition. Packed with extras & great offers Promoted by Hyundai It is unimportant that Labour had the third health minister who took action to bring the vital service to life.
It is important that with all party support the NHS Act passed in 1946, coming into being two years later in 1948, the year my wife was born. It is appropriate that an inspired family doctor once saved her life and that she went on to be a dedicated health minister for five years.
The late change made by Aneurin Bevan was to reverse the previous expectation that family doctors might become public employees and that there could remain a diversity of hospitals available for acute care, all without charging patients.
There has been a broad welcome for the announcement of secure growth in funding and the expectation of an agreed long-term plan for continuing improvement in health services, together with better arrangements for social care. As member of parliament, with my caring case work team, I know when things go wrong.
Much more often, we know of the gratitude expressed in golden letters for the cure and for the care given to patients. I add my appreciation for the love and support given to staff, to patients and to the families by the multi-faith chaplaincy service in the hospital.
It was right of Theresa May to speak openly about the support given to the NHS in the past 70 years and to be given in the years to come by the political parties. Health services can help us to have healthier lives, to cure many diseases and to correct many conditions.
This week I have also given time to learning more about cyber security and about the continuous changes and improvements to resources for our sailors, soldiers and air force personnel.
On Tuesday evening, the all-party armed forces group were startled and impressed to hear the range of logistics responsibilities of a female lieutenant submariner. Her rear-admiral also spoke about the stability of his service.
Turnover had been too high at over 15 per cent; the target was 5 per cent and the recent experience is below that. I take satisfaction that MPs from Northern Ireland and Scotland, with Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives can sit together and then aim to work together for the common good.
You might see the occasional battle of words; let me assure you that cooperation and continuity of purpose are most common.
14 June 2018: Bind Us Together With Love
During the debates and decisions on how best to build our future outside the European Union, I do my best to reduce the consequences of the intensity of feelings.
Within our shared country and across our shared Europe, we can take the positive approach, accepting the result of the referendum, consciously to know the balance of advantages and disadvantages that will follow.
It would be better, I judge, if the EU system had allowed their negotiators to have parallel discussions with us about good productive future relationships, while also settling the terms of our departure from the political developments.
The introduction on Friday of the Reverend Canon Paul Taylor, and his wife, Lynn from Salisbury as priest in charge of St Matthew’s church in Tarring Road, in the company of many neighbouring religious, reminded me of the momentous development of inter-church and inter-faith fellowship.
Among the Christian denominations, the intentional growth of shared words and liturgy has helped. We sang a number of hymns and songs; our heads were up, reading the words on screens instead of peering down at hymn books. I was reminded of the 1974 song by Bob Gillman when he was a member of a Baptist church in east London ‘Bind us together’ based on Colossians 3:14 and generalising Matthew 22:36 to 37: it spread informally around the world.
When first I served as a member of parliament in southeast London, we held a good slightly awkward multi-denominational open air service. When I returned from a year in the Northern Ireland office, I asked if I had missed this annual event. The ministers, priests and vicars politely pointed out that they were in and out of each other’s chapels and churches as natural sharing of purpose and service in the shared community.
It is notable that a person leaving a Roman Catholic gathering hugged the dying Stephen Lawrence, saying that he was loved. Traditions that are inherited, learnt or chosen should not stand in the way of greater truths and of greater unity, with respect for difference. I told Sir Graham Leonard, once Bishop of London, that I deeply regretted his success in blocking the planned combining of the Church of England with the Methodists.
When consulted some years back about possible successors to the then Dean of Westminster Abbey, I recalled the importance of growing cooperation along Victoria Street between the Roman Catholic cathedral and the Anglican abbey.
At the risk of unintentionally offending some, my heart’s desire is that each Church of England parish that so far has not accepted the full priesthood of women will see it right to review and to revise their practice.
Moving on, I give thanks to those involved in the East Preston Festival that unifies the village. I give greetings to all who watched the parade procession. This was a year when I walked a little ahead.
It was fun helping to the finish the great little car that carried the youthful prince and princess. It reminded me of the time I was on the London to Brighton veteran car run. As roads minister I was interviewed at the finish. The driver confessed it was empty of petrol.
To avoid a silly photograph, I said we should walk alongside, appearing to pat it while actually giving a hefty shove each time.
7 June 2018: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly
Were I to try to draft a memoir for my family, it might be titled Listen, Think, Act?
Reflecting on another week, I realise how much I gain by being present at a variety of events.
On the day last week’s edition hit the newsstands, I was at Worthing Hospital’s education centre for the gathering that marked the conclusion to Mike Viggers’s chairmanship of our local hospitals. Marianne Griffiths was just one of those paying tribute among many funny recollections of his time amidst the team of clinicians and the vital support services that make modern hospitals successful as they serve patients intensively and extensively. It is rare for me to travel between the constituency and Westminster for a single event. The opportunity to mark the importance of the hospital service is one.
I returned to meet other guests of the Queen at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, carrying an umbrella because the forecast was for thunder and heavy rain. Not a drop.
We went on to the British Academy to hear the president, the historian Sir David Cannadine, in conversation with Archbishop Justin Welby: he knows when to be serious, when to be funny and how to inspire and to encourage.
On Friday I was briefed on recent developments at Boom, the West Sussex credit union. If anyone has surplus funds and would like to hear how their involvement can help expand the service to greater numbers of individuals and household, do be in touch with them.
My opportunity is to talk with Treasury ministers to see if their rules and our laws can be adapted so more people can start saving and borrowing without becoming stuck in high interest and never-ending repayments. Because I would be at a community gathering and at East Preston Festival events on Sunday, we took a Saturday trip across the Solent to watch children and grandchildren sailing and boating.
Parliament returned on Monday. After listening to exchanges on personal independence payments (PIP), I intervened to ask the Work and Pensions minister to be sure that victims of the infected blood tragedy had their work capability assessed in an appropriate way. It should be possible to flag particular people’s cases and avoid them having to explain for the umpteenth time what happened to them decades ago. Make systems human and humane.
Tim Loughton and I had met the Transport Secretary before his rail statement. The timetable changes have additionally had a major impact on passengers returning to our coastal stations from London Bridge. Instead of trains originating there, with seats for most, they now arrive full from Blackfriars with travellers to Croydon: this is a deterioration in comfort for our constituents, if they can even join the packed train.
On Tuesday I was listening to the debate on whether and how to review the 150-year-old criminal law that governs medical abortions. My contribution was brief and near the end. We have too many abortions; we have inappropriate law and I am convinced that women should be respected more.
They should be trusted more and that if we all are more sensible, in words and actions, the numbers of terminations can come down, the anxiety for women can be reduced, the criminal law can be removed from early-stage abortion and lives will be better.
31 May 2018: Trusting in politics?
Ruth Sims epitomises the Barn Owls and the Akelas who provide the wisdom, the authority and the leadership that helps generations of girls and boys to enjoy the Guiding and Scouting developed by the Baden-Powells to support the minds, bodies and spirits of children.
Agnes Baden-Powell led the Guides, elder brother Warington Baden-Powell developed Sea Scouting and Robert is too well-known to need my description. In my earlier years I would visit elderly cousin Professor Patrick Duff who was proud of knowing every Chief Scout for the first sixty years of the movement.
In the 1980s I shared a racing yacht with the father of Bear Grylls, the present Chief Scout. Engagement Ring Buying Tips Promoted by Beaverbrooks Ruth was part of the group of 46 who kindly met me in the Jubilee room of Westminster’s historic Great Hall before the Brownies took tours of the Palace of Westminster.
They were pleased when Virginia dropped in during their lunch: my wife had enjoyed her time and I wonder whether her Brown Owl had helped develop her ability to help others as a psychiatric social worker before joining me in the House of Commons.
A joy of serving as Member of Parliament is being able to respond to questions by visitors. I was flummoxed by one girl who asked about my emotions when I first came in to take my seat. It did not seem right to say that I was just happy to be able to help locally and nationally.
Most MPs come in together after a general election. They can be part of a cohort and it may take time for each to find a support system, a desk and then to queue to make a first speech. A by-election, the first since a general election the year before, was my way in. Because of the prominence given to the campaign, every MP and all journalists knew me.
Additionally, when a teenager (instead of Scouting) I had come regularly to listen to debates from the gallery. I enjoyed listening and thinking about issues.
On Wednesday, the day before this newspaper appears, I have felt emotion.
Overnight I was considering how to help clinicians and family members resolve a care issue. There are times when trust and applied common sense work best. Then came a shock. For nearly ten years I have supported Bill Browder in his campaign to hold to account those responsible for the mistreatment of the brave lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison hospital.
The flash news was that Bill had been arrested in Madrid on an Interpol arrest warrant at the request of the Russians. As one of the few MPs in London, I spoke without delay to the office of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and to the Spanish Embassy after alerting a wise intermediary.
It is with some relief that I can end with the news that common sense has led to Bill’s release within the hour.
If more adults use the initiative and the practical sympathy developed in the Brownies and the Cubs, many more problems can be fixed?
24 May 2018: Who is my neighbour?
It was a great Windsor wedding. The sermon was an inspiration. The community parties were enjoyable. The weather was kind. People in and around Worthing were cheered by the way television illustrated the announcement that Prince Harry and his wife will be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by showing the town crier Bob Smytherman hailing the news.
I was present on Friday when the youngest mayor Alex Harman retired before attending the Sunday Civic Service at St George’s church where new mayor Paul Baker and his delightful wife Sandra were interviewed by the chaplain.
Ramadan has started. I will read James Fergusson’s book Al-Britannia, his journey through Muslim Britain, described by former archbishop Rowan Williams as a seriously necessary book and on the 5 Pillars UK website as perhaps the best book ever written by a non-Muslim about Islam in Britain.
When volunteering to observe Ramadan, the author became fully acquainted with his Muslim neighbour-but-one. All kinds of things bring us together.
Locally, I wish we had a synagogue. Jewish people do contribute significantly in Worthing and West Sussex life.
My view on our monarchical system is that part of its value is to find unity in voluntary, civic and military service. The Queen has exemplified this. There are other workable systems. I am happy with ours.
The first street jamboree I experienced was a carnival in Cape Town, before the full imposition of the apartheid system. The next, in 1953, was a street party with tables all along the London residential street where my family lived. It came after I had slept out with my sister and our mother in the Mall so we could be in the front row as the procession passed from Buckingham Palace towards Westminster Abbey where our father was stewarding. At the time, it seemed normal for me aged eight to walk two miles alone back to Albert bridge when the others went to join my father.
The Westminster street party last weekend brought everyone together. Whatever the nationality, age, colour or politics, half the road became a play street; the rest was a string of tables where people sat at random with neighbours they knew and others they came to know.
Our leader was German. One councillor was an American who has added British nationality. It was our corner of the United Nations. In the constituency, my neighbours are preparing for the famous Ambrose Place Back Gardens opening on Sunday, June 24.
East Preston Festival, including its carnival procession, is approaching. Each village and most parts of town have their annual festivities, bringing joy and bringing people together. We may not do much for the English national day; we can find other ways to be together and to join as neighbours in ways that include everyone.
17 May 2018: Give and forgive; take and forsake?
There are times when knowledge of history can point us towards a better shared future. International tensions are high. The resurgence of the Strong Leader habit brings dangers.
Friction between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean reminds me of the nearly forgotten crisis in 1922, the Chanak Affair, in Turkish the Canakkale Krizi.
War was feared between the United Kingdom and the Turkey Grand National Assembly which wanted the departure of the Greek armies and restored Turkish rule over what is now the European part of modern Turkey, including Constantinople, now Istanbul.
The Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were defied by Canada; France and Italy declined to join, the top British general refused to pass on an ultimatum because he counted on a negotiated settlement. The demands by Kemal Ataturk came with his preference for negotiation.
The foreign secretary Lord Curzon had missed the Cabinet meeting. Quickly, he resolved matters. Later, Ataturk negotiated an understanding with Greece. It was the end of the Ottoman Empire that caused that set of problems that still influences parts of world politics today.
The consequences included the Statute of Westminster that created the present Commonwealth. In negotiations, it helps to recognise realities, to understand what matters to the others involved and to avoid conflict whenever it is proper to do so.
These reflections have a human face, made real to me by considering with others how Worthing and district can be a welcoming place for displaced people and for refugees.
I recognise and honour the foster parents and the faith-led groups, including those who are inspired by the Canadian model: a whole community can make the experience better for all.
The thought of forgiveness comes from individual constituents. Their cases are confidential. What I can record is how often I am inspired by their frequent commitment to forgive those who have wronged them.
Less frequently, a person has their life frozen by an event that justifies animosity and a desire for retaliation or revenge or punishment.
Preparations for the UK leaving the EU also bring forward those who want to help make the best of the situation, together with others whose words or actions make success apparently more difficult, if not impossible.
Picking up the wishes of many constituents, I stand ready to help when I can, to build bridges and to give encouragement to all with responsibilities in the discussions, the negotiations and the decision-making.
In the early days of the week I joined others at 10 Downing Street to hear from Theresa May, before returning to be with Chancellor Philip Hammond. It is good to be a link for the whole constituency of Worthing West to Westminster and Whitehall.
On Tuesday, after briefings by Breast Cancer Care and from the Sussex area Royal British Legion, I went to the Chamber to be the first back bench speaker on press freedom. It was a short contribution.
My key point is to back the media to meet the standards they set themselves. Give them that freedom; they are the invigilators of all, including politics: they can make available to all what is known to the few.
10 May 2018: Arguing for the sake of Heaven.
Public and private events of the week came together on Wednesday when a small conservative female rabbi addressed the monthly parliamentary communion breakfast on the Argument for the sake of Heaven. She said that some problems are technical: how does the engine work, or why it is not working?
Some have multiple answers: what are the ways from West Worthing to Westminster? Some have polarities: one person’s aim needs the opponent’s point too. She recommend trying to bring a sparring partner’s intended result and their arguments into a resolution. Examples when this might help include the balance of justice and mercy, of the individual and the group interest, of fairness and of freedom.
She quoted a book on The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope are Reshaping the World – it suggested over 25 years ago, in simple terms, that the West is guided by fear, India and developing countries by hope and that parts of the Middle East by shame.
Like many others, last Thursday was a day for polling stations at the local elections – Arun district had a year off. I am proud that relations between local supporters of the main political groups are good. With very few exceptions, we know the others are alternatives, not enemies.
We each give much of ourselves, of our time and our talents, and of our best and we often do it together, in town and county halls, in the Civic Centre and in the House of Commons.
After interesting conversations in the constituency on Saturday, I joined the next generation who were running or walking around much of the Isle of Wight, before hearing the new priest-in-charge in the village give a sparkling address. The hymns were great too.
By Sunday evening we were in our garden with long-term friends who have the welcome ability and habit of telling me when my thinking or actions are wrong.
On the holiday Monday, Virginia and I sat quietly in the garden under the canopy of trees that concealed noisy birds. It was fun to wonder whether they were arguing, advertising or just claiming territory. Are humans the only species who argue more-or-less logically?
On Tuesday I listened to people at the Grenfell United meeting in the Speaker’s House. The tragic events reminded me of how, with many others, I had set out to reduce road casualties greatly. Instead of taking unnecessary deaths for granted, we knew there were ways to bring down the avoidable distress and loss.
The same has happened in rail and air transport. There is more to do. Then we have the discussions on the net value of screening for breast cancer and for prostate cancer. Last week I had spoken strongly for the HPV vaccination to be offered to young males in addition to young women.
A lighter note: I go racing two or three times a year. At Plumpton John Paxman often acts as a steward – he used to lead at Worthing’s Gifford House, the Care for Veterans home previously the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home.
When chatting to him this week, I realised what fun there can be in speculation about the likely winners in each race. I support sensible betting; I oppose the existing high limits on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
They have not been allowed in Irish betting shops. I argue to bring the stake down to £2 here. That would be a step towards heaven?
3 May 2018: Security at Home and Abroad.
At this week’s regular cross-party defence briefing, the British Air Marshall spoke about the threats faced by NATO nations.
One of the purposes of politics is to reduce the chances of unnecessary international war and fighting – there are few examples of military hostilities between countries that are reasonably democratic.
In January 1948, the Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin spoke in the Commons about the ambition of Russia/USSR to dominate Europe. It is a foundation for understanding the past 70 years.
He said: “The solution arrived at Yalta was looked upon by His Majesty’s Government at that time as a sensible compromise between conflicting elements, but there is no doubt that, as it has evolved, it has revealed a policy on the part of the Soviet Union to use every means in their power to get Communist control in Eastern Europe, and, as it now appears, in the West as well.
“It therefore matters little how we temporise, and maybe appease, or try to make arrangements.
“It has been quite clear, I think, that the Communist process goes ruthlessly on in each country.
“We have seen the game played out in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, more recently in Rumania, and, from information in our possession, other attempts may be made elsewhere.
“Thus, the issue is not simply the organisation of Poland or any other country, but the control of Eastern Europe by Soviet Russia.”
He prepared the speech while staying at the Workers’ Holiday Association property at Priory Bay, across the Solent from West Sussex. He proposed the Western Union, later the Western European Union (WEU) to which I was once a parliamentary representative.
The WEU quickly led to the creation of NATO, an alliance that a democratic Russia might have applied to join. NATO is for defence, for mutual protection. I want Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, with the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to be as united now as they were on January 22, 1948, when only the elected Communists disputed Ernest Bevin’s words by interruptions which look as odd now as they did then.
On security at home, this week I have twice spoken for the Windrush generation (one MP kindly said my contribution had the greatest impact) and I also helped the new minister of housing to make clear that tenants and leaseholders should not be asked to pay the capital costs of replacing Grenfell type cladding.
Wednesday’s contribution in Westminster Hall was on the need for HPV protection for young males in addition to young females. Our health policy must start with disease protection, before turning to cure and care.
Tim Loughton MP and I congratulate mayor Alex Harman and his wife Fran for running the great town hall debate for students at four of our leading schools.
We were impressed by the good points and the good nature of the debates. Winning or losing is less important than developing the confidence to contribute.
26 April 2018: The work of the priest and the politician?
Most of my waking hours are given to secular activities, serving individuals and groups, trying to help them to meet responsibilities and to overcome difficulties. It is noticeable how often these overlap with religious teachers, ministers and priests.
At Wednesday’s post-communion simple breakfast in the Speaker’s House, the Rev. Canon Dr Rosemarie Mallet spoke to MPs and Peers about knife crime and about a scheme to help give vulnerable young people better chances in inner city areas. She told us about the scheme and charity Word 4 Weapons.
The evening before, Virginia and I joined the Westminster Abbey congregation for the interment of the ashes of the former Dean Dr Wesley Carr. By chance, I have known each dean since Alan Don who had played a part in the 1953 Coronation. At the service was an honorary steward who had lived in South Africa’s Fishhoek in the late 1940s when I was there as a child. A trust that makes charitable gifts from the estate of my American cousin has contributed to the new Abbey Gallery high in the triforium, to be accessed by a modern Gothic styled lift.
Earlier in the day, I joined the gathering in Parliament Square to watch the unveiling of Dame Millicent Fawcett’s statue, the first for a woman joining the 11 men. Her sister Elizabeth was the first female doctor. Millicent gave a life time to gaining votes for females: how stale the arguments against look now? Campaigners want 50:50 male and female MPs. My wife and my niece have been elected; 2:1 in this family.
On Monday, at the 25th anniversary service in St Martin-in-the-Fields for Stephen Lawrence, memories came back from the most upsetting event from my former service as MP for Woolwich West, later renamed Eltham. The retired Methodist minister David Cruise spoke. He had taken the moving funeral for Stephen.
After readings by Sadiq Khan and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister Theresa May gave the announcement that Stephen’s mother Doreen, now Baroness Lawrence, had agreed that each year April 22 would be Stephen Lawrence Day, hopefully giving attention to the opportunities and achievements of younger people.
On Saturday, local Christians against Poverty had kindly gathered with Virginia and me in central Worthing. We heard about the practical effective help available to individuals and families who need help to reset serious debt problems. I give thanks for the outreach work of members of the New Life Church. Like the good work of the united Worthing Churches Homeless Projects, it is impressive to see what a group of concerned individuals can achieve.
The day before, I visited the local successor to an organisation founded in 1844. George Williams, a London draper, aimed to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy ‘body, mind and spirit’, reflected in the sides of the YMCA logo. Now the local organisation has a foyer to help young people establish their lives.
Across the country, at times particular groups face discrimination and threats. On Monday I joined the All Party Group against anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust reported on the results of attitude surveys. I made the fair practical point that there needs to be an overlapping approach that protects and gives confidence to all. No to anti-Semitism. No to Islamophobia. Fairness for believers, for humanists and for atheists.
Across the constituency I serve, and throughout this country we share, let us work together so all may live in peace, without being judged adversely by the colour of our skin or by our religion or by the party of our choice.
19 April 2018: The news here, there and everywhere.
Throughout the constituency, local people support charities that work for good overseas.
I served as a trustee of Christian Aid, seeing directly the effect of aid for education, especially for girls, for the supply of clean water and better waste services.
I am proud to meet those concerned for the plight and for the opportunities for others, in this country and abroad.
If you have the opportunity, do read the article on world progress in The Times yesterday by Daniel Finkelstein. ‘Here’s how to make the world a better place’ is the headline as he writes that we fail to appreciate how much our quality of life has improved and how to ensure it continues on an upward path.
This is relevant as The Queen meets this week with the Commonwealth Heads of Government in London. Because of economic growth, people and their countries become richer, more liberal and more equal.
‘As we write about day-to-day political rows and economic setbacks, we often miss the bigger story about how the world is getting better.’
Danny, Lord Finkelstein, praises the book by Hans Rosling, Factfulness.
He describes it as an assault on ignorance and on pessimism. It is out-dated to think of the countries of the world divided into two groups: better-off with small families and poor with many children and high child mortality. Now, unlike 50 years ago, three quarters of the world’s population live in middle-income countries, starting to live a reasonable life.
These changes were not inevitable.
Bill Gates, now a great philanthropist, says the only reason things have improved is because people get upset about things and decide to do something about it. Helping countries improve government, improve public health, establish the rule of law and freeing fair elements of choice and market exchange is not magic.
Understand the world we share; then act sensibly. We know the power of national television, alerting generations of children and their families to needs in this country and in others.
The Herald and Gazette newspapers do the same locally. I think that is why there exists strong quiet support and approval for the United Kingdom continuing to meet the official United Nations’ agreed commitment for giving 70 pence of every £100 of our income to helping others.
When I meet younger constituents in the colleges and schools, and when I meet faith groups in church, chapel, tabernacle and mosque, I congratulate them on their own aid efforts. No one should think this is at the expense of noticing and trying to meet local needs. We can do both. Hans Rosling used his family as an illustrative example.
When his grandmother was born in 1863, Swedes had the income and social circumstances akin to Afghanistan. When Hans was born in 1948, Sweden, now one of the richest countries, was like Egypt today.
We need the news to know what problems can be tackled.
We need curated, edited news to know what matters in facing our responsibilities together and as individuals contributing to the neighbours we know and to the fellow humans beyond sight. We need each other.
12 April 2018: Private or public, open or secret?
The issues of Israel and Palestine, the homeland for the Jews and the rights of refugees in Palestine have concerned me through my years of parliamentary service.
Soon after we had lunched together at the House of Commons the moderate Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in London, Said Hammani, was assassinated.
From the start I had said I would visit the West Bank and Israel with the Israelis and then with the PLO. I saw the same places, though the experiences of the locals made it appear to be different.
Israel is democratic, subject to the unfair treatment of those who are not Jewish and in my view diminished by the consequences of proportional representation that appeared to require a large moderate party to change policy in order to gain the Knesset support of an extreme minority: I call it the ‘last past the post’ system.
With the PLO I met Palestinians whose treatment by Israeli police and security forces was very bad. The mayor of Nablus, disabled in a gun attack, had shown the police clear footprints by the would-be killers.
The officer scrubbed them out and said he should be called if more evidence were found.
Later, Tom Hurndall, a friend of one of our daughters, was shot by an Israeli soldier when protecting a child in a conflict area.
The sergeant was eventually convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness.
At times, I speak publicly on these issues. When I do, I try to say that the countries around Israel should recognise its existence, even if boundaries are marked as disputed.
I write about this now because a respected constituent has raised the issue of arms sales to Israel.
Many, like me, will be viewing the Simon Sharma series on the History of the Jews.
The second part this week was touching and horrifying. There were so many opportunities to get along better. There were terrible times of mass killing. Much was shameful to host communities.
In Worthing and district, we should judge ourselves by how we protect, how we promote the interests of those who may in some ways appear to be different from us.
That should be done publicly, across normal boundaries.
On a gentler level, my practice is to try to avoid embarrassing political alternatives when they or their over-enthusiastic supporters make a misjudgment, overstepping a line.
At Westminster, during a Labour government, I was wrongly sent half the budget a day early.
Quietly, I arranged to meet the right Labour minister’s private secretary in the street, saying I would not refer to the episode for two decades.
Locally, when a school allowed the Labour party to have a stall on the premises, I quietly asked that it did not happen again.
A fine local charity also investigated why party literature was delivered with their own material.
On education, we are united in trying to gain extra resources and to raise ambitions for achievement. When there is the attempt to make this an issue for political division, I become wary.
Some say, rightly, that my reticence to accuse others of error is a sign of softness.
I say, rightly, that political progress and public benefit comes when people in different parties, in different countries and religions know each other, understand each other and know that in time they should come to agreements with each other.
Public progress often depends on private cooperation.
5 April 2018: ‘I am sorry. I made a mistake.’
When off my knees, the people to whom I should apologise most are my wife and children. In the past, I could also say sorry to those trying to teach me and to bring me up.
The great divine, the Reverend Harry Williams, retired to the monastery of the Community of the Resurrection in West Yorkshire after holding the responsibility of being my moral tutor.
At his funeral or his memorial service, the preacher said that his arrival 30 years before had been like a star rugby player parachuting into the middle of a soccer game.
I would write to him with occasional news from the London Evening Standard, sometimes with views attributed to one of his more successful pupils, Prince Charles.
In response to my repeated shame at my idleness and general worthlessness at university, he instructed me not to mention it again.
He wrote that he naturally shared pride in the achievement of those who used their talents and opportunity to do well at their studies and afterwards; he added that of the rest, I was the one with whom he was most pleased.
Perhaps that was politely indicating that he was pleasantly surprised that my life had somehow found rails and purpose.
Nowadays, perhaps always, I work for a life, not just for a living.
Free enterprise has two meanings.
Without economic freedom, with whatever sensible limits and balances, our standards of living would be worse.
As important, many people all their lives and most people some of their lives use their talent and initiative to achieve good results for others with no financial reward.
I think of the care that one of our neighbours has given for years to her sickly twin brother after giving her earlier life to caring for their mother.
I think of Miss Jacobs who, for decades in the organ loft, kept us all roughly in time and on key during the hymns and psalms.
I think of my close friends in Worthing and Arun who, way past paid employment retirement, go on to work non-stop in a variety of community roles.
I try to keep in touch with colleagues, friends and contacts who have been convicted of criminal offences.
Most were guilty as charged.
I recall the expression: “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.”
Easter week is a time to recall the failures of St Peter until after the Resurrection.
My hope is that when anyone apologises to me, I accept it with grace.
When I make a mistake or I offend unintentionally, that someone kindly tells me, and that the short two-sentence answer I gave in Hansard when serving as an employment minister will be a part of me in life and in death.
Stephen Hawking asked that his memorial stone should be engraved with his formula; perhaps mine could read: ‘I am sorry. I made a mistake.’?
29 March 2018: The Mobility Unit: transport and disability
Younger people should listen to the family favourites of earlier generations. At the Drop of a Hat was the two-man musical revue or after-dinner farrago that ran for more than 800 performances at the Fortune Theatre from January 1957, overlapped by Julian Slade’s Salad Days at the Vaudeville.
Kenneth Tynan described Donald Swann as bent over his piano like a small mad scientist agog over some wild experiment, matched by the bearded suavity of Michael Flanders who exuded from his wheelchair the robust authority of a guest at dinner.
Donald and my parents were neighbours in Battersea. When on respite at home from Trinity hospice, he wrote to me a lovely letter about not fearing death.
Decades before, he had served in a Society of Friends’ Ambulance Unit in Egypt, Palestine and Greece. Never think pacifists are scared of war.
Michael and his family holidayed locally. The first line of the second verse of his The Gnu song memorably goes: “I had taken furnished lodgings down at Rustington-on-Sea.”
His delightful forceful American wife Claudia did much to make mobility possible for wheelchair users and for many with other mobility difficulties.
When roads minister, I took her advice when she was a member of the Department of Transport Advisory Committee on Disability, later rightly renamed positively as the Mobility Unit.
For years from 1987 she ran Tripscope, giving telephone advice to disabled people planning trips anywhere around the world.
She recalled her husband’s words: “Nobody is interested in how you got here, but, for a disabled person, that you got here at all is an achievement.”
By January 2020, all buses, coaches and trains must be accessible to disabled people; most are already.
More than 30 years ago, I ordered that by the millennium every London taxi should be able to take a wheelchair passenger.
Now we wait for the government to respond to the consultation on the draft Transport Accessibility Plan. There should be further progress on railways, taxis, air travel and buses and coaches.
One of my initiatives at the Palace of Westminster could usefully be replicated in every town and city.
So-called dropped kerbs should pass the marble test – if a marble would roll up the slope, it is sufficiently smooth.
As we move through Holy Week to Easter, I want to mention a religion other than my own.
Too often people who are Jewish, Muslim or Sikh are threatened.
In solidarity, this week I accepted the Sikh TV channel invitation to wear a turban.
Six metres of fabric were wound around my head.
On Wednesday I received a letter thanking me for raising a justice issue affecting a Sikh friend in a question to the Attorney General.
The accompanying letter kindly acknowledged my support for giving child refugees the same rights as adult refugees.
In my Worthing office, I listened to an impressive young Syrian refugee. I am grateful to the foster households and to Worthing for Refugees for their caring hospitality. My wife and I later shared a meal with the son of a Kinder transport Jewish child refugee.
• Apology and correction: last week I wrote about the death a year ago of PCKeith Palmer. I was also thinking of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, sadly killed at the Libyan Embassy in 1984. I wrongly combined the names as Keith Fletcher. I am sorry.
22 March 2018: Theories of everything
When seeing parents with their children at a nursery school and grandparents entertaining teenage grandchildren at half-term, I see the family commitment that illustrates that what we live for is also what we are prepared to die for.
This week I have been seeking an inquiry into the terrible treatment of the former Police Sergeant, now councillor, Gurpal Virdi. The Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have explaining to do. His fight against historic racism and discrimination in the police is recorded in his book Behind The Blue Line.
The first sentence of the foreword I contributed reads: “When speaking about the police, what comes most to mind are stories of reliability, calm bravery and dedicated individuals.”
They included PC Keith Fletcher, the parliamentary police officer who gave his life tackling the maniacal attacker a year ago. I have joined a Labour MP in calling for the gates to be given his name as a lasting memorial.
Policewomen and policemen deserve memorials equivalent to those they defend.
In every part of the constituency, police attend blue light calls not knowing whether tragedy or danger will greet them.
At road traffic crashes they may have to aid the injured before paramedics attend.
In the past few days I met a man I first encountered 40 years ago in El Salvador.
Ruben Zamora has been a social democratic activist, ambassador and humble presidential candidate in his troubled country. His brother Mario, while Attorney General, was assassinated. Ruben, like Oscar Romero, faced death.
Ruben led our discussion on the life and legacy of the Blessed Archbishop Romero. Bianca Jagger talked of her human rights work. I remembered Romero’s reply when I asked how he viewed prospective martyrdom: “We can agree that worse things happened to better people than us?”
On Wednesday I joined the gathering of Lords and Commons branch of the RAF Association to recognise 100 years of the Royal Air Force. From the club in Tarring to the RAF Benevolent Fund’s Princess Marina House in Rustington, we have many links to the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces.
George Harris died this week at 95. He was one of the last of the Bomber Command pilots.
In operations, his life expectancy was six weeks.
He survived many scrapes, engine fires and 30 operations over enemy territory, all by the age of 21.
He and his bride accepted that the marriage might be short.
The love of country, the love of family and the willingness to face danger while protecting others should be recognised.
I am named after the apostle Peter who got many things wrong before accepting his historic responsibilities.
Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.
15 March 2018: Theories of everything
Students and their teachers at Worthing College rightly earn our admiration for achieving great, improving results, especially in physics and mathematics. Stephen Hawking would have approved.
I had a tenuous indirect link through the former MP for Cambridge, the Reverend Henry Lucas, who was elected in the Short and the Long Parliaments of 1640, before being excluded by Pride’s Purge in 1648.
When Lucas died he left £100 a year for the Lucasian professorship of Mathematics. Isaac Newton held the post for 33 years; Hawking for 30 before having to retire aged 67. He also left money for alms-houses for poor old men.
Oddly, an Act of Parliament had to be passed in 1923 to provide for the admission of married couples. I was one of the last trustees before the assets were passed to a neighbouring housing charity.
Stephen Hawking famously said that the view of our earth planet from space shows its unity rather than its divisions. When I was a Cambridge undergraduate the cleverest people included the geophysicist Dan McKenzie who a few years after we were at school together wrote the first paper on how plate tectonics worked, and Martin Rees who with Stephen Hawking helped to resolve the question as to whether the universe was steady state or the result of a big bang.
The benefactors of many of our colleges, schools and universities merit commemoration.
This Friday I shall attend a dinner at Trinity College, Cambridge, with many researchers whose early work was supported by charitable giving. Public funding matters; it should not exclude private giving.
We wait for confirmation of parliamentary boundaries, taking account of changes in local populations and reducing the future number of MPs from 650 to 600. The only change for the Worthing seats is very minor, mirroring a local government ward alteration.
From space it will look the same.
My theory of everything is that there is not one. Each of us can do all we can to work with others, across the spectrum to reduce disadvantage and to increase well-being.
8 March 2018: Tasks, team and individuals
A visitor to the House of Commons recently recognised me – thirty years after I had agreed to join his school’s special needs children for a discussion on road casualty reduction. I hope that the points of that session stayed on in the lives of the students, not just the teacher and the visitor.
We know the number of road deaths has reduced from 5,600 each year to under 1,800. We know that total is still far too high. To come below 1,000 in the next five years, we should expect reduced over-the-limit drink-driving, better road engineering to reduce conflicts and where appropriate safer speeds.
One of my failures was to achieve safe crossing of the A259 between Ferring’s Langbury Lane and the Hangleton Lane up to the South Downs before two pensioners sadly lost their lives when hit by a car driven by an unlicensed driver. There are others local roads where death can be anticipated. When there is obvious risk, there is the opportunity to take action in advance rather than afterwards.
We were successful in putting in the minor measures that reduce the speed of traffic coming eastwards on the A27 towards the Swandean hospital. Also, eventually, speed limiting came to Durrington Hill after years of campaigning. Each was the result of a constituent coming to me for action.
These reflections bring me to thank those who work with me in Worthing West and at Westminster. Working with and for an active MP requires patience, ingenuity and the ability to adjust fast and effectively when parliamentary business and duties alter without notice. A ‘normal’ day can include ten meetings; a day in the constituency can have visits to schools, colleges and medical staff or conversations with council leaders, together with my visits to constituents’ homes for consultations on their problems and issues.
Case work is important to people facing challenges. The pace of life has picked up. When I first served as a parliamentary representative, a third of constituents had no telephone. Communication was by letter. On average, a first meeting could be delayed by a fortnight. Bringing a response from a government department or from a council office took weeks.
Now, my support arrangements take account of modern communication. My team and I work to take on cases throughout the day, answering the concerns of constituents and providing help and guidance in any way we can. I am pleased at the timely manner I am able to respond to those who are in need of assistance and we are grateful to our partners in offices throughout the constituency and West Sussex and in government agencies who often, not always, respond well to constituents, keeping us informed.
My task is to be part of this team whose aim is to serve, improving well-being and reducing avoidable disadvantage and unhappiness when possible.
1 March 2018: Unite to trust our youth with the future
What it means to be a truly democratic society remains an ongoing, unfinished, story. These words conclude the history of voting rights on the website of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
At home, Halarose has its Timeline of British Voting. We were taught about the failed 1831 Reform Bill and the successful 1832 Great Reform Act, abolishing the rotten boroughs though still limiting voting to four per cent of the population.
After later changes that century, the Representation of the People Act in 1918 removed practically all property requirements for men, allowed the vote at 19 to military service personnel and gave the vote to 43 per cent of the electorate, women over 30 who met property qualifications.
We are now a century on from that partial move to gender equality. The Equal Franchise Act came in 1928. The 1969 Act reduced the age of voting to 18. Now, nearly 50 years on, I am convinced that the age for registration to vote should be 16. There are debating points that are not decisive.
There is no reason to have a common age for marriage, military service, buying cigarettes and for voting. Here is a sensible approach. Let us agree that the average age to be able to vote in a national election should be 18: to achieve that, voting eligibility needs to be 16. With a general election every four years or so, half of new voters will still only be able to vote after 18. The direct vote for an MP is an indirect vote for a national government that could be in place for up to five years. By then, even a 16-year-old will be over 21.
When I listen to students and apprentices at Northbrook MET, to A-level candidates at Worthing College or to an intern in my office from Angmering School, I do not think they are too young to vote. The local youth councillors and youth mayors are impressive and sensible. The National Youth Parliament shows the range of feeling and experience by students around the United Kingdom. Do not approach this issue with calculations of party advantage. Let us unite in trusting and engaging with our country’s future.
22 February 2018: Roads and Rails from Worthing to Westminster
The dominant memories in this week are faith related. Tim Loughton and I on Friday met outside St. Matthew’s church by the queue to be part of the prayer service led by the curate Sara-Jane Stevens. The Reverend David Hill spoke to the congregation. The parish magazine includes the reminder that the Bible tells us over 80 times “do not be afraid”.
On Sunday, with others from the Town Hall and from local churches, Virginia and I were welcomed at the mosque. Visitors can see the display of friendly letters from school children who have also visited.
At ward and branch meeting, and at my party’s constituency council meetings in recent days, I often reflect on how there are agreements and disagreements between us. We should make more of the agreements. The awkwardness of current attempts in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on restoring provincial government is a reminder that we should not take for granted the achievement of working together, understanding differences of view or of alternative proposals for improvements ahead. Perhaps we can learn from the faith groups.
I have valued past opportunities to bring a Jewish student, a Muslim and a Christian together to meet in the constituency a senior Jewish woman, the Salvation Army and leaders at the mosque. We all gain.
We will also gain when the RMT union ends its apparently endless series of days of action. I long for the days, the weeks and the years when modern trains with staff in modern roles give passengers a reliable regular service that can be chosen ahead of road journeys whenever possible.
One of my voluntary appointments is to serve as a vice president of IAM RoadSmart, with Nick Ross. The president is Nigel Mansell. I was present at Silverstone in 1987 when he won the Formula One Grand Prix in the rain. Nick Ross and I first met in Harare when the BBC were making a film about the future of education as Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.
Nick and I give each other credit for the setting of road casualty reduction targets. With others thirty years ago, we managed to unite the media, voluntary groups and professionals in ways to reduce road deaths from 5,600 a year. The present total 1,700-1,800 is still far too high. If we can aim to get close to elimination of air and rail deaths, we can aim at further great cuts in avoidable road deaths too.
At a meeting this week Sarah Sillars brought us together to consider future trends. Clever vehicles may eventually make the driver as unneeded as the fireman on steam locomotives. Not in my time though I do welcome the technical advances. I believe much driver training can and should be on simulators. I also wonder how we can assist more elderly people to continue safely to get about, by rail and bus and car.
15 February 2018: 'Living with Sudden Death'
In modern times, many do not face the death of a loved member of their family until late middle years. Smaller families, better health, improved sickness services and longer lives have made a difference.
Those who are familiar with grief include nurses and doctors, hospital chaplains, journalists and ministers of religion. When a teenage brother died after a school trip accident, our parents brought in the local vicar to hold a service in our living room. During part of my father’s overseas service, I had lodged with him, seeing his ministry to the vulnerable, the bereft and the poor in mind, body or spirit.
In my earlier service as member of parliament in Woolwich West, five teenagers died in a tragic car crash. The initial media reports suggested the influence of alcohol. Doubting that, I went to the scene and listened to the police.
To make available a nearby place where the victims’ friends could come together in grief, I asked the minister to open the nearest church and to create a roster of people who would care. It quickly was confirmed that the driver had not been drinking and that there had not been illegal speed. The details of what had happened no longer mattered much (it had been a combination of events that combined to cause disaster).
What was important was the community response, giving some comfort to the shattered families and to a cohort of youngsters to whom sudden death had been unknown and unanticipated.
Locally Tim Loughton and I as MPs have shared the impact on local households of the Shoreham air crash. Quietly, with our helpers we try to assist in the range of family tragedies within the constituencies.
Reading and listening to the words of parents after the death of a child or of children can inspire us to be aware of how we can give practical love and offer practical help. I am not going to give a list. My experience on both sides of bereavement, being bereft or being a potential helper, is that an open heart rather than an open mouth can make more difference.
I remember being with the father of a murdered teenager. We would drive around, gently giving him the opportunity to talk about his three children, the living and the dead. He told me how he was pleased they had the opportunity to see what he did at work. The children of a church minister get better chances than most to do that.
After my brother’s funeral, my farmer uncle and his wife gave me the chance to come to Shropshire, the county of my birth, to work hard for some days in the fields. My sisters and I had the example of our brave loving parents. It does not dull the pain; it can make it possible to appreciate the life we shared and to keep in our hearts and in the family the people we have loved.
1 February 2018: British Policy and Justice in Practise
The great debate this week has been in the House of Lords in the two days’ debate on the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Each day 100 speeches of up to six minutes: I doubt there could be such quality in any other of the world’s legislatures. It was a privilege to stand at the Bar of the Lords Chamber to hear some of them.
Next week it may be possible to draw out some of the most important points; I would like to send them to students at Worthing and district schools and colleges – they will live through the consequences of how well the other members of the European Union and we agree our future relationships in our islands, our continent and in our wider world.
This week I spoke with a large number of business women and men in trades related to the electrical contracting where I worked before election to Parliament. In summary I said that that the EU deal matters though what matters most are what we do anyway, preferably together. From the early 1980s for twenty years, without changing international arrangements, the UK and Ireland managed to rise up most world rankings. I said that most of our future well-being, our prosperity and happiness is for ourselves to determine.
On Tuesday, I joined Norman Fowler the Lords Speaker at the meeting on world leprosy organised by the British charity Lepra that for almost 100 years has been working to beat the disease that affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
It is curable. It can be made a disease of the past. For the millions already affected, it is possible to deal with the life-changing disability and the stigma. I recall on my second visit to India shaking hands with fellow human beings in a leper colony. Imagine being defined for life by a disease? One of the gifts of Mother Teresa’s mother house in Calcutta which I also experienced that year was the nuns’ ability to embrace the whole person, no matter their mental or physical condition.
My big meeting on Monday was at the General Medical Council. I share the concerns of nearly 10,000 doctors that the sad case of Jack Adcock should not lead to the decision to bar an above average doctor who had been left carrying the responsibilities of three doctors during a double shift.
The article in The Times by Matthew Syed on Wednesday describes the wider problem. I do not want to cast aside the other victim, the caring doctor. It is an additional feature that she is female and ethnic minority.
Another battle continues. Fixed odds betting terminals in high street bookies have nothing to do with supporting horse racing. £50 million a week is lost by people who mostly cannot afford the drain. Let us hope government listen to the churches and other campaigners. It is unjust to continue this scandal, even if some of the losses come in as taxation.
25 January 2018: 'Our Thanks for Good Doctors'
We know who should take most responsibility for helping us to avoid illness and other conditions. It is we ourselves who can influence how we live, what we drink and eat, if we gain protection by innoculation and vaccination and whether we develop an addiction.
Clinicians including nurses and doctors with the professions that also serve in our Health Service, in Worthing West and nationally, the support staff in offices and in the wards and maintenance rooms, together cure as many as possible as often as possible and they give care when cure is not possible.
The responsibilities for diagnosis are great. This week, two conditions have been brought to my attention by constituents. New treatments are approved by NICE, the expert process that tries to bring forward what works and to cut out useless procedures. Lipoedema, if my spelling was right, did not bring a result on the NICE search site so there is work to be done as we try to bring hope and effective relief to sufferers.
The other condition was described to me as not curable yet but it can be managed if there is the right diagnosis and a doctor willing to listen.
One of my closest friends has been at Worthing Hospital where everyone has been trying to bring life to a loved spouse. I am proud of the community effort, greatly aided by the Herald and Gazette local newspapers, to save our local emergency and intensive care service. Worthing Hospital recently saw its busiest festive season on record. Its dedicated staff provided exceptional care to an unprecedented number of patients. Their efforts are appreciated every day.
I admire the openness I have experienced with doctors. Many years ago, a constituent told me about an operation that had gone wrong. I knew the surgeon so I spoke with him. He confirmed the report and said he would again tell the patient all that could be done to cope with the consequences. It could not reverse them all. This clarity was what was sought, not compensation, not denial or delay. I admired them both.
While others including clinicians discuss the law on street drugs and on possible over-reliance on prescriptions, I have a growing concern whether inadequate care is being given to people trying to come off opiates. Again, the expertise amongst local family doctors assists me in my attempts to help.
This Wednesday is another of my blood donation days. I shall be tested in case I am suitable for giving platelets. Once I was one stage away from becoming an Anthony Nolan bone marrow donor, before a more suitable match was identified.
Next week I shall attend a special meeting to encourage Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic donations. BAME patients can have particular needs. We can raise our awareness and help.
Away from medical topics, I had a great time a few days ago with Levi Roots. He spoke inspirationally and simply about his upbringing and his advice. There are many great role models. I am lucky to meet them in the constituency and nationally. Health and happiness comes from all around us.
18 January 2018: 'Mobility for Most'
From Rustington to central Worthing, we see people moving around, shopping and working in ways that were not possible forty years ago.
I knew about the challenges and difficulties from constituents and then when I served in the Department of Employment supporting activity for people with disabilities.
On Tuesday I missed a vote because I was speaking at the memorial meeting for Sir Bert Massie, the brilliantly effective campaigning leader for people living with disability.
The approach is best illustrated by the name change of DPTAC, the disabled person’s transport advisory committee, which he led when I was Transport minister, to the Mobility Unit. The new title was positive and forward moving.
Bert did not work alone. Jill Allen and I greeted each other again, thirty years after she was the first person to let me join her for a pavement walk with her guide dog, learning about thoughtless pavement parking and the other obstacles for people who cannot see. I repeated the walk with Guide Dogs UK in Worthing’s Warwick Street recently. We can be grateful that Worthing Borough Council has extended their pilot scheme to reduce street clutter such as A-boards in the town centre.
Most of the pioneers are still active. Lord Sterling has been responsible for Motability for decades. He and others creatively turned the mobility allowance into the scheme that provides hundreds of thousands of vehicles that makes it possible for a person with carer, family or friends to travel independently.
Jamie Borwick was responsible for adapting the standard London model taxi to take any passenger with a standard wheel chair. I laid the order that by the millennium every cab in London would be accessible. We now take that for granted.
A bus operator reminded me of the accessible buses in Wales with Sir Harry Secombe and in England with Donald Swan where we sang ‘A Transport of Delight’, the Flanders and Swan song about the iconic London bus.
We decided that every new or rebuilt station should be step-free from platform to street. Every new train should have an accessible toilet. Every rail station in Worthing West is accessible to people who use wheelchairs.
The nostalgic black and white photograph showed Bert and me in the integrated Airbus that could link London rail terminal passengers with Heathrow, passengers with or without a chair. No longer was there the need to wait an hour at a strange bus stop; everyone could travel together.
That was the result of Bert and his team, aided by Anne Frye, the exceptional civil servant who dedicated her career to making the difference.
All over the constituency, we now take for granted so many of the innovations and the creative approaches that make life fuller for so many. Thank you, Bert.
11 January 2018: 'Head, Heart and Happiness'
When calling on constituents, either to hear their views or concerns or to check on their well-being, I am often prompted to check facts. At the weekend, during a serious discussion, I was assured that most things were better in Scandinavian countries.
I think that people here in the UK on the whole are pretty happy most of the time. I recall I read that satisfaction levels were on the rise and that inequalities have been falling. (That does not apply to fortunes pocketed by some building company directors, some top footballers and lucky fortune-making popular performers.)
Joe Osborne kindly found the figures. The UK has the fourth lowest suicide rate in the European Union; only Italy, Greece and Cyprus are lower. Norway is 13% higher, Iceland 59%, Sweden 71% and Finland over 90%. I can’t say I know why the figures vary this way: it could be a result of the darker winters; it may be affected by any number of factors, including a reluctance to declare a death as suicide. What I do know is that even seven suicides amongst 100,000 people are terrible reflections of individual unhappiness. We have failed to make sufficient progress: the pain and desperation for the person involved along with the unending grief to their families must be given due attention to reduce the incidences of suicide.
The UK ratio of over 3.6 to 1 between males and females is high. The total number is around 6,000 a year.
Mid-January, the third Monday - ‘Blue Monday’ - is supposed to combine the influences of Christmas credit card bills, post-Christmas blues and failed New Year resolutions as well as cold damp weather to result in some who feel low and helpless to sink to the lowest depths of darkness. I add, of course, that those who live with depression know these feelings very well and are aware that they are not confined to or dictated by any date or time of year.
Most importantly, there are ways we can all help. Acknowledging stress or anger or helplessness and intense feelings can be difficult for people: the Samaritans put it well: ‘…you may be sure that you want to die, desperately want a solution to your nightmare and can’t see any other way out, don't care if you live or die and are taking more risks or living recklessly, don't actively want to kill yourself but would welcome death if it happened. You might view death as a release or way of taking control. You don't know why you are having suicidal thoughts and feel completely powerless to know what to do about it.‘
The Samaritans can talk with you through all of this. One of my own aunts was an early listener. She would approve of the Samaritan’s idea to change Blue Monday into ‘Brew Monday’. Simply turning the January blues on its head by celebrating and preserving our great tradition of joining together to talk over a cup of tea (or coffee!) can be such a positive experience bringing light and warmth to any day.
The Samaritans send a free fundraising pack with everything you need to host your own Brew Monday event at home, work or in your community. Any Monday can be a Brew Monday: I think it’s a great excuse to get people together for a cuppa, a chat and to banish the winter chill and darkness.
I offer my wishes for better mental health and better support for all this year. Contact me if you believe me or my small team can help.
21 December 2017: 'Advent and Christmas Greetings'
Before Christmas I write to friends and contacts at schools, churches and medical and social services, to people in all political parties and to people on each side of the referendum decision.
The festive period can promote and recognise goodwill amongst all. I am glad to have good relations with representatives of all religions and denominations who seek the common good. We can be proud that from Worthing to Rustington we are a wonderful example of a tolerant and peaceful multi-faith community.
2017 has been another significant year. At the General Election I was re-elected as MP for Worthing West with more votes and an increased vote share. I thank those who kindly supported me, knowing I also represent those who did not. I work with the councils at district, borough and county level. Worthing can look to further town investment and regeneration, including at Teville Gate.
Thriving local businesses, shops and industry contribute significantly to prosperity and to jobs.
Brexit negotiations are underway following the 2016 EU referendum. I spoke to remain; now my responsibility is to back the Prime Minister’s task of negotiating successfully, aiming for better lives.
I have continued, working with many, to take up causes and concerns that in my judgment extend beyond party interests.
Hundreds of families have faced financial hardship through unscrupulous leasehold and park homes schemes. Speaking out in Parliament, involving the media and through tenacious cross-party campaigning, we have achieved real progress for leasehold and tenancies. This will be the subject of my final speech this year.
Those affected by the NHS tainted blood scandal welcomed news of the independent inquiry with legal powers. I have campaigned for an inquiry in my capacity as co-Chair of the Contaminated Blood All Party Group. We need to know what went wrong and when; we have to review help for the victims, including the widows.
Education is each child’s passport for the future. Funding should be fair, regardless of a pupil’s postcode. There is more to be done with other West Sussex MPs in 2018. We achieved recognition of our fair schools funding agenda. I am in regular contact with most local schools. If your school would welcome a visit, the head should contact my office. We are fortunate to have high standard teachers and lecturers. Their demanding work is key to preparing the citizens of tomorrow. For this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, students and teachers from Worthing College were my guests in the Gallery.
In addition to rail developments, a long-term headache shared by us all is the A27. I met the Transport Minister again recently. He has now asked Highways England for a review of viable alternatives to the previous ‘option’ that would achieve little. I will press for results.
Looking to 2018, will you please help every constituent know that my hard-working team and I are here to listen, to assist and to advise, serving all in Worthing West, regardless of political sympathy?
We try to assist with advice without delay. I am happy to make home calls when appropriate.
My dedicated team and I wish you and all you love a good Christmas and a worthwhile New Year.
14 December 2017: 'Life and Death - Life After Death'
This is not comforting to write; it will not be comforting to read.
If you read my obituary (hopefully when more years have passed) you may see tributes to the reduction in unnecessary road deaths after I helped set targets for the reduction in casualties. The idea came in 1986 from Nick Ross, the journalist who has been concerned to reduce avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap. He and I continue our joint efforts, in part through IAM Roadsmart.
The reduction from 5,600 to 1,700 road deaths annually over thirty years is welcome though not enough. One reason to deal with the A27 is to save lives locally. Before serving as junior roads minister, I had responsibility for workplace safety. Yes, our deaths were lower than in most other countries; yes, we could do so much better.
Action was needed for risk reduction. Action was needed to cut the consequences when things go wrong. At work, roll-over cages on agricultural tractors saved lives. Keeping train doors locked unless the train was stopped saved lives.
The Grenfell Inquiry has started. What happened? What was the response to the fire? What went right and what was wrong? What are the lessons and how soon can they be applied?
On Tuesday, the largest Commons committee room was packed with Ministers, MPs and members of the House of Lords. We listened in respectful grief to survivors. A mother from the 11th floor spoke of the numbers of fires in and around Grenfell and its partner block. They were common.
The fire on Wednesday 14th June caused 71 deaths, including her uncle on a higher floor. Over 200 people escaped. She described being advised to stay in her flat. As a precaution, she filled the bath. That water helped to supress fire around her. After hours, the fire officers found her household and brought them out.
The annual West Sussex Fire Station open day at Broadwater Green is one way we know the professionalism of our local fire crews.
What will be established? What will change? The procedures for deciding ‘stay put’ or ‘evacuation’. Whole system testing of building construction, not just individual performance standards of material. Creating alternative stair cases. Being sure that fire suppression works.
The lesson I have tried to carry through life is to identify and to promote practical ways to avoid unnecessary death and serious injury. Do the easy things first, while building in the methods that cut risk automatically. For example, how was the Croydon tram system left without automatic speed control? Dangerous speed limited curves should not be dependent on a skilled trained driver always being alert.
We have a responsibility to each other and to ourselves. Being wise after the event is essential. Better still, we can together try to be wise beforehand. Years ago, I commissioned research on how to halve the risks of fatal consequences when a road vehicle might drop from an overbridge onto a high speed rail line. That was before the Selby crash. There are times when the siren voices are needed, more often they should be heeded too.
7 December 2017- 'Giving and Reaping'
People who keep a journal or who write a diary have my admiration. I have enough difficulty living my working life, without taking the time to record reflections. The opportunity to contribute this column does allow time to reflect although events day by day do displace an intended theme.
In addition to serving constituency interests as well and as fast as I can, I work on national issues and give a little time to good causes as a supporter or as a trustee. One charity funds a research fellow at Cambridge. We were pleased to notice the returns from the work of Ray Dolby, one beneficiary. In later life his noise reduction systems made a fortune and the foundation established in his name is now itself paying for scientific research in addition to investigations into dementia.
Closer to the lives of parents and teachers in West Sussex, I have with fellow MPs been discussing how to make further progress on fairer funding. Yes, we are seeing progress on standards and on cash available. Yes, further progress is needed on both. I invite head teachers and concerned parents to work with us; sometimes, the impression is wrongly created that we are not on the same side.
It is good that the assessment of reading by 6 year olds has leapt up; it will be better when that improvement continues. It is great that the £600 college and school bonus for each student gaining ‘A’ level mathematics will be paid to Worthing College where maths and physics teaching is good.
As the EU Bill was going through the House of Commons, I gave tea to my younger sister and her husband. He gives attention to the future of aviation and to the practical ways to grow crops in salt water. She had a fine career teaching biology before successfully heading a girls’ school in west London. In some ways she reminds me of the legendary Anna Hedley, one time head of Worthing High school for Girls.
In this month running towards Christmas, I had a soft drink (after a small stronger dram) with the Scotch Whisky Association. They thanked me for helping to make the case for freezing the duty on whisky. There are 40,000 jobs involved in Scotland. As many people visit distilleries as there are visitors to St Pauls Cathedral.
I hobble around with a damaged leg. One target is to reach the 40th anniversary celebration for MOTABILITY, the remarkable practical charity that gives mobility to so many. One great achievement was the change from an impractical invalid carriage for one to a well-maintained modern vehicle which could take a household.
In the past I was the minister for employment opportunities for people with disabilities; then at Transport, I followed the guidance of experts to lay the foundations for overcoming apparent obstacles.
I am grateful to local campaigners who took me on a stretch of pavement in central Worthing. With a blindfold I relied on gentle guidance. It reminded me of the time I went around Belfast in a wheel chair, discovering unexpected unnecessary obstacles.