Hustings at Denefield School
On Thursday I went to Denefield to attend a special hustings. This was my first hustings so far and it was great that it was held in a school. I have been campaigning for years to give young people more of a voice in Reading politics - representing thousands of students as a councillor. We need more meaningful ways to engage and listen to young people and as one girl pointed out we should visit schools all the time (not just at election time!) The event was set up by Josh Harsant - Deputy Head Boy of Denefield and hyper-active Member of Reading Youth Parliament. Josh is leading the campaign to give young people a voice in Reading and I think he is doing a great job. I first got really interested in politics when I studied AS Level Politics so it was great to speak to 6th Formers about the issues that mattered to them in the coming election. Judging by the questions that were posed by students and teachers at Denefield School - tuition fees, jobs, training and affordable housing are key concerns for many young people at the moment. The Reading Evening Post covered the event. I've been delighted to have some young people joining me on the campaign trail - knocking on doors, delivering leaflets etc This is how I got involved in 2005 and I am keen to inspire people to get involved in politics at a grassroots level. The average age of our politicians needs to come down!
Funeral of Corporal Richard Green
On Tuesday I joined local people outside Reading Minster to mourn the loss and remember the life of Corporal Richard Green from Tilehurst who was killed in action in Afghanistan. It was a very moving event.
On Saturday I popped down to the Town Centre to show my support for the national campaign for political reform - and sign the Power 2010 pledge. Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK of all political persuasions have already backed this campaign - please join them. Speaking people online and on the doorstep disillusionment and feelings of disenfranchisement with our political system is widespread. This should worry everyone who cares about the state of our representative democracy in this country. As Nick Clegg said at PMQs last week - this Parliament will go down in history as one of the most corrupt ever and radical reform is needed now to restore trust and legitimacy to our democracy.This has always been there but talking to people just now I am finding that confidence in our democracy is at an all time low. People I have spoken to feel don't feel politicians listen to them and they don't believe what politicians say because so many promises have been broken by successive Tory and Labour governments .There is also huge anger about the way many MPs abused the expenses system which has damaged trust in all politicians. I understand why people are angry and I think it is important to demonstrate to people through my record of action that I am in politics for the right reasons - to help people and make Reading a better place. I work hard and I am not in it for the money! I am pleased that the Power 2010 campaign contains a call to bring in a fairer voting system. One of the reasons I am a Lib Dem is our party's strong commitment to electoral reform - every vote should count. At the last election only 1 in 5 registered voters voted for Labour and we have a government which does not enjoy majority support in the country. This is wrong and it is one of the reasons people often give me when they say they are not voting. It should not be about whether or not you live in a marginal constituency or a 'safe' seat. When it comes to political reform Labour and the Conservatives want to keep the status quo - only the Lib Dems are prepared to change our politics. Only the Lib Dems would give people the right to recall (sack) their MPs - for example.
Meeting residents across the constituency - listening to their concerns
I do my best to make myself as accessible as possible to residents in Reading West constituency and in my ward of Redlands. I think it's important to be visible so people know where to find me and to help people make their minds up about who they want to be their next MP. This is why I use blogs, Twitter and Facebook. I am featured in a new guide to social media as part of a national initiative called '21st Century Councillor' which was published last week. Sadly lots of politicians locally and nationally just don't get social media and for some reason my use of it gets right up their noses - I can't think why. But then I don't use social media for their benefit - I do it to communicate with ordinary people. A lot of politicians would like to keep things as they are in Reading with the same old people running the place. I don't. I also use more traditional forms of communication - writing to people, going round to see people in their homes, chatting to them on the phone etc in my campaigning. I use every type of medium to try to reach out to people and show them I am there for them. Everywhere I go in South and West Reading in the campaign I am finding widespread dissatisfaction with the Labour government and Labour council in Reading. If I was a Labour politician in Reading I would be really worried. That said, I am not finding much love for the Conservatives either. Plenty of people tell me they can't tell the difference between the two parties. People are not convinced by the glossy leaflets flooding through the door from Labour or the Conservatives in the area (many are going straight in the recycling bin!) and they are keen to listen to what the Lib Dems have to say. They say they would like to give the Lib Dems a chance. Many people I have spoken to have not met a politician like me and they say they welcome my 'hands on ' approach. I try to make time to go and see people face to face. I am keen to listen to them and in many cases they tell me I am the only one who has bothered to take their concerns seriously. This is a pity. It was the same when I first got elected as a councillor and people told me I was the only councillor ever to have returned their call (!) I'm delighted to say everywhere I go I am finding people keen to support our campaign and to get involved, which is great.
So what issues are coming up on the doorstep or in my inbox? Well, like it or not the residents I speak to day in day out are frequently raising housing matters- overcrowding is a huge issue with people as is frustration from residents who have been stuck on RBC's council housing waiting lists for months. Labour's service charges are still very unpopular with council tenants I have spoken to. I spoke to a woman last week who lost her home after her buy-to-let landlord couldn't keep up repayments on his mortgage. She had a really tough time and felt she got little or no support from Reading Borough Council or the current Labour MP. I became aware of this issue last year and I campaigned for help and support to be given to people who were affected - the only politician in Reading to do this. Long waits for routine operations is another issue people are raising with me. People contacting me are waiting more than 18 weeks (as promised by Labour) and they are often in a lot of pain. Norman Lamb, Lib Dem Healthspokesperson revealed last week that the number of NHS Managers rose 12% last year compared to nurses only by 2% - this balance seems wrong. Despite what some local Labour politicians are saying many people are continuing to report problems to me connected with the recession - youth unemployment being one of them. They tell me their teenagers are leaving school and not getting the support they need. Anyway, that's all I've got time for now. Catch you soon!