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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.


Friday, 27 November 2009

"What a load of nonsense," whispered a fellow MP to one of his party colleagues while we crammed into the House of Lords waiting for her Majesty to start reading the script written by the government, "the sooner we abolish it the better!" His comment was not about the contents of the Speech, which I might have shared, but about the ceremony that surrounded it.
But I enjoy the time-honoured pageantry that surrounds the state opening of Parliament. Of course these traditions have to be constantly reviewed to make sure that the ceremonial does not get in the way of the substance, but once a year – is that too much to ask to roll out the Crown Jewels, the red carpet, those magnificent horses and all of the splendour? I think not.
Combining heritage with the current is something our country does well. Tradition on its own can become death; modern practices with no root can fall over in a storm – it is the bringing of them together that yields the fruit.
It would be possible for the speech setting out the government's priorities for the year to be read by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons with no reference to the Head of State. But would we be any better off? And what would we lose? Who would tune in to that? This annual celebration is a reminder that our reigning monarch is our Head of State; it is her government, made up of members of parliament that the country has elected. A very effective arrangement and long may it continue.
To appreciate Britain we must understand the delicate, largely unwritten, nuances that make up our constitutional settlement, these invisible threads that bind our society together. At the other end of the scale, in every community, other forces are at work: the myriads of small organisations and charities and voluntary groups that do such much on the ground to keep our communities vibrant and cohesive. It is a joy for me, as I trundle around the constituency each weekend, to encounter the selfless work that so many of these do.
One of them is the Plympton Community Council and they are holding their Christmas Fair at Harewood House Plympton between 10 am and 1pm on Saturday 5th December. I mention it partly because it will be wonderful and partly because they have threatened to do nasty things to me if I do not.

posted by Gary @ 07:49  



Thursday, 19 November 2009

The death of actor Edward Woodward brings sadness to those of us who remember his starring role in Callan. It was one of my favourite programmes when I was young. It got me to thinking about the television (and radio) programmes that help define our lives. I vividly remember my dad listening to "Sing something simple" on Sunday evenings in the milking parlour while I was helping him; the Generation Game and Morecombe and Wise which we always watched as a family along with the Forsyth Saga and many others.
Today's children will no doubt take fond memories of X factor and Strictly Come Dancing into their later years. There is something powerful about these very popular programmes. It is a good thing when families watch their favourites together, it is often the only time they sit around and talk with each other. It is also surely a positive thing for the country, the sense that most of us are doing the same thing at the same time. This gives us a common talking point and helps create national cohesion.
It is also quite funny to hear men say things like "I don't really watch it, but the kids have it on," or "the wife likes it" and then go on to describe in great detail how they hate John and Edward or secretly admire one of the dancers on Strictly. Today I am coming out – in our household we record them both and watch them on Sunday afternoons. There now I've said it.
Cultural cohesion is an important thing. We must celebrate diversity but also find common ground on which we stand. The Internet, video games and i-pods all take us into our own little worlds and promote individualistic pursuits. These great TV programmes (16.4 million people watched X-Factor on Sunday) bring us together and help us bond with each other. Just as a real community needs a meeting place or two for social interaction – a village hall or a church – so the country needs virtual meeting places where people from all ages and backgrounds can meet. Everybody at work on a Monday morning or at the bus stop or over coffee at home can comment on Ola's dress or Daniel's tantrums.
Needless to say the makers of these programmes did not set out to underpin national cohesion. Simon Cowell is hardly some Churchillian figure. But it is an unintended consequence and a very welcome one.

posted by Gary @ 15:53  



Thursday, 12 November 2009


Just imagine it, your kids are of your hands, you are in your early or late fifties, maybe older, have slogged your guts out all of your life and are looking forward to a few years of "me" time with your spouse, in spite of the fact that he now has hair growing out of his ears and quite a few bits of his body have moved south. Saga holidays, washed down by the occasional visit to a National Trust property, beckon.

But then events take a dramatic turn for the worse and you end up having to bring up your grandchildren full time.

This is the fate of over 200,000 people in this country. Parents again. It was not what they had planned; it was not of their making. In most cases it has come about because their own son or daughter has fallen into the dark pit of drugs dependency and is no longer capable of raising his or her own children. You face an awesome choice: tear up all of your plans or watch those little children who you have bounced on your knee, who listened adoringly to your absurd made up tales about Jimmy Crow and Bim-Bam the magic horse, placed into foster or local authority care.

I sat with a group of people just like this in Plymouth on Friday to hear their stories. It was humbling and compelling. Many of them are struggling financially as well as emotionally and physically, to take on such unplanned responsibilities just when they should be taking it a bit easier. Needless to say, many of the children concerned were scarred by the experience that had led to the intervention and getting them back on the straight and narrow is a demanding task.

Well, at least, you say, the welfare state would recognise this selfless act that will save the country hundreds of thousands in fostering costs. Wrong. There is no separate recognition for this kind of intervention. But there should be. As I have often argued, our support system does too much for some people but not enough for others. Not only are they saving the tax payer a fortune, but with all of their grey-haired parenting experience, they are producing well turned out future citizens that would not happen if the state became the parent of last resort.

This group certainly deserves more support and I shall try and make sure it happens.

posted by Gary @ 13:17  



Thursday, 5 November 2009

For the first two days of this week I was doing drugs in the Netherlands. I should explain that it as a Home Affairs select committee visit as part of our current enquiry into the cocaine trade. It has been both fascinating and harrowing.
Why come to Holland? First of all being such an international port much of the trade in narcotics that streams into Europe does so through this European neighbour. Secondly, it is estimated that most airports apprehend about 14% of passengers passing through with drugs in their luggage or body, whereas in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam they claim a strike rate of 30%.
It was unnerving to watch the process whereby passengers are suspected and then scanned for swallowing little packages of cocaine in an attempt to smuggle them into the country. We saw x-ray shots of where people, called mules, had swallowed as much as 100 of these packages, each one the size of a lipstick container. Once arrested, they are taken to cells with special toilets that catch this prized waste as evidence for prosecution. We learnt a lot from a very impressive set of officers.
Then we went to a coffee shop – a euphemism for a place you can buy and smoke cannabis. In this crazy world in which we live the Dutch have banned tobacco smoking in public places, but in these establishments you can smoke cannabis. We learnt that this great experiment is failing. It has not kept people away from hard drugs. The government is slowly closing these places down.
Then we saw the thousands of containers pouring into Rotterdam and the techniques used to try and spot those containing illicit drugs. Needles and haystacks came to mind.
My mother thinks that we MPs should not travel anywhere but do it all on the phone and Internet, thus saving the taxpayer money. But we saw things on this visit which will help us shape a report that might just improve the way we do things in this country to try and stamp out this lucrative but deadly trade. No country in the world has done this successfully and perhaps the demand is so great, the profits so massive that it cannot be done.
But with better education, more protection of our flimsy borders, betters use of technology and shared information, we have to try to prevent the evil of drugs ripping even more young lives and families to pieces.

posted by Gary @ 08:53