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Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 25 June 2009


When the World Wide Web introduced us to the concept of blogging it seemed that we had discovered a new tool to help us do democracy better in the twenty first century. Everyone would be able to have their say on the net, cheaply and instantly, and decision makers could be much better informed about public opinion, both local and national.

But this has proved to be a tremendous belly flop. I am not sure if you have seen the blogs rum by national and local newspapers recently but if you have you might be shocked. They have become largely forums for personalised attacks and outrageous slurs. Those hardy few who make reasonable contributions stand out like a beacon in the dark. The result is that few people in authority ever look at them.  What a wasted opportunity.

The real problem is that people are allowed to place their despicable views on line behind the cowardly protection of utter anonymity. This has given a tiny of minority of people in our society who might be called losers and loonies (although of course I would never be so unkind) to give free reign to their unpleasant views. It is the Lord of the Flies returned; anarchy over the airwaves.

Imagine a public meeting – and I have been to and chaired many over the years - if someone stood up and spouted off abuse, they would be quickly silenced by popular disapproval. They would almost certainly be asked to give their name before they spoke in any event. If such vicious diatribe was sent by letter to the newspaper postbag they would never publish it in a thousand years. But they somehow allow their websites to be taken over for this purpose.

So if we are to recapture the website blog as a useful forum to enhance our debate, it seems to me that two things are necessary. First the media organisations both local and national should insist that the blogger publishes their real name and e-mail address. In certain sensitive cases, this could be withheld at the discretion of the website manager. Second, the media organisation should robustly moderate the entries to screen out the most abusive.

I have learnt over the years that good ideas are not the preserve of the elected few. But we now need to clean up these blogging forums if they are to be of any use at all. What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 09:52  



Thursday, 18 June 2009


Why does it matter who is Speaker of the House of Commons? It matters because our parliament, though battered and tarnished, is in the end the bulwark of our freedoms in this country. The freedoms we take for granted, the freedom that enables you to walk out of your house right now and travel to any part of the country, without anybody saying you can. The freedom to write to stand on the street corner and protest about anything you like without being arrested. The freedom to vote an unpopular government out at a general election.

Look at what is going on in Iran right now. Almost certainly those elections were rigged and the people who voted for change in their millions know it, which is why they will not let it rest. That could never happen here, could it? No, not if our democratic institutions remain strong. Look at Korea - only 50 years ago north and south were one country. Now in the north they have a Stalinist state where 25 million people live in fear and poverty, while in the south the people are free and prosperous. The only difference between these two people groups is the system of governance. Politics matters; democratic institutions matter.

But to remain strong our historic democracy must renew itself from time to time and often it takes a shock to initiate that change. We have had the shock of MP expense revelations, now we need the change. If we don’t change and recapture lost confidence of the British people our democracy will not endure. It is as simple as that.

The new Speaker will over see a period of change: new rules on pay and conditions, long overdue, better scrutiny by the House of legislation, a more effective way of holding the executive to account, less control from the whips..

This person must enjoy respect and trust from all sides of the House. It is quite likely that after the next election there will be many new faces at Westminster, a great opportunity to throw out arcane practices and usher in more efficient ones. The new Speaker will oversee that process over the next 10 months. If we can make the House of Commons more effective, our democracy and your freedoms will be secure for another generation.

So the vote on Monday is more than just a Westminster village occasion – it is a matter for all of us.

posted by Gary @ 16:17  



Thursday, 11 June 2009


At a recent meeting with primary head teachers in Plymouth the conversation turned to the state of our nation as seen from the primary school. Amidst some positives and recognising a rapidly swirling world, the report swiftly became gloomy: disruptive behaviour on the increase, capacity for social interaction on the decrease and parental abdication of responsibilities off the scale. In the same week, news reaches me that a pack of young people (aged 10 to 14) is running amok in parts of Plymstock once more, despite the best efforts of the police.

It is not the children’s fault, it is we the parents.

Let’s get one thing straight: teachers are not responsible for bringing up our children, we the parents are. The police are not there to discipline our kids. We are. I saw a 10 year old girl in a shop on Friday fling a huge packet of sweets into the trolley. Her mother said no, but after a major strop, the delightful child won the day. What chance for her future?

One insight from my meeting was that too many parents are trying to be their child’s best friend. That is not our role. We are to love, provide shelter, encourage, discipline, teach and do our best, but above all to be a parent. This means drawing boundaries and saying no and meaning it and enforcing it with sanctions if necessary. It is an incredibly hard job and needs real support, but in the end, until the little darlings are off our hands (and even then they come back) it is our primary duty.

There are many challenges that any incoming government will face: the recession, balancing the books once again and recapturing lost confidence in Parliament to name but a few. But something must be done to sort out the state of family structures in the UK, and the behavioural consequences which flow from it. We will never have enough teachers, police officers, or CCTVs for the state to do the job that family is supposed to do.

The more provision we put in place, the more some parents will simply back off and allow us to raise their children. Fining parents who can’t be bothered has not proven successful. Parenting classes don’t seem to attract the ones who really need it.

It is still a minority, but a growing one. We need a change of direction. All ideas gratefully received.


posted by Gary @ 14:40  



Thursday, 4 June 2009


The next few weeks will settle the future of the new community intended for Sherford to the east of Plymouth. In mid-July councillors from the South Hams and Plymouth will be asked to vote on whether or not the developers, Redtree, should be granted detailed planning permission. You probably thought this was already settled, but not so. Since a decision to grant planning permission was granted in principle over 12 months ago the economy has come crashing down and house prices have collapsed leaving the economics of this scheme in tatters. If you were doing your sums on the basis that your average house sale of your 4000 new houses was £200,000 but now it is only £140,000 (my estimated figures) you have got serious problems to solve!

For the last 9 months at least the developers have been negotiating with the planners from both councils (and Devon Council in respect of Highway matters) to see what changes could be made to the original proposals to make them still deliverable in a rapidly changing environment. The numbers of affordable houses, the provision of community facilities and the phasing of certain essential works, including road structures have all been fiercely contested. These complex negotiations remain ongoing and will probably go to the wire.

What our elected councillors will have to decide in July is whether they should grant planning permission to a scheme which may therefore be radically different to the one which was so carefully worked up over several years and found widespread, although not unanimous, public support.

I have been chairing for these past 3 years a meeting of all of the community groups affected by these new town proposals from Plymstock, Brixton and Plympton. We are unanimous and have been consistent in our view that we would rather that Sherford did not happen at all or is delayed for several years than for it to happen badly. We do not want a repeat of some of the cheapskate development on the fringes of Plymouth in recent decades. We want the original quality or nothing.

We need the affordable houses for the next generation, but not at any price.

So our message to the planners is clear: if the revised plans are not materially different from that we have helped to shape, fine, let us proceed. But if the revised proposals do not come up to scratch, throw them out and you will have public support.

posted by Gary @ 18:55