Monday, 26 April 2010

Campaign Video

Check out my new campaign video which we've prepared to give people a bit more of an insight into me and why I'm standing as a candidate in the General Election in Reading West on 6 May. Big thanks to Kate, Mark, Elise and Jack for putting it together for us. Thanks also to Tom Lendrum a resident from Whitley who submitted to being interviewed as part of it.Enjoy!

NHS Bonuses take the biscuit

An article in the Observer yesterday caught my eye. It was based on research carried out by Norman Lamb, Lib Dem Shadow Health Secretary and the Lib Dem health team which revealed that NHS bosses at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust recently received mega bonuses. The Hospital Trust spent £240,738 on bonuses to top managers - more than any other NHS body that responded to to the survey. Eight executive directors shared another £186,117, as well as the £54,611 payment to the chief executive. With NHS budgets under severe strain and this set to increase these payments seem to me to be really ill-judged. Many people working in the NHS are not well paid and many patients cannot access treatments they need on the NHS due to cost.As Norman Lamb points out in the article:"These bonuses are utterly scandalous. People will be disgusted by the extent to which fat cats in the public sector have been enriched at a time when the NHS has denied people drugs that they need and access to treatments such as in mental health," he said. "We thought it was just in banking, but the unacceptable bonus culture appears to be alive and kicking in the upper echelons of the NHS." Lib Dems are committed to limiting the pay and bonuses of top NHS managers so that none are paid more than the Prime Minister. We would spend on some parts of the NHS by cutting waste in others. We would cut the size of the Department of Health by half , abolish unnecessary health quangos and scrap strategic health authorities. These savings would help us do things like guarantee respite care for one million carers and improve access to counselling for people with mental health problems.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Reading West Business Hustings

Earlier this week I attended a business hustings organised by the Thames Valley Federation of Small Business. Karen and Nicky from the FSB who both live locally put a lot of effort into planning and organising the event and it showed. I found the meeting very interesting and useful both to gauge local opinion and what matters most to local business people and also to listen to the other candidates responses on some key issues. I was looking forward to meeting the UKIP candidate but sadly he didn't attend. A wide range of issues were raised on the night by local business people and members of the community including parking problems for businesses on Oxford Road, procurement, and tackling youth unemployment. As a councillor for an edge of Town Centre ward in Reading I have a lot of experience of dealing with parking problems and it is definitely one of the major issues for residents and businesses right aross the Town. It's not an easy problem to solve but in my opinion the Council needs to do a lot more to listen to and support small businesses to help ensure our local shopping areas thrive. Recently in Tilehurst Lib Dem councillors prevented the Labour adminstration making a big mistake on parking charges which could have hit local business hard. The Labour adminstration failed to listen to local businesses in Tilehurst Triangle when it mattered.
Getting action to reduce youth unemployment and support young people is a big priority for me personally as a young Reading politician and I've campaigned on it for some time now. The impact of the recession on young people in particular continues to come up a lot on the doorstep - it is clearly a concern for many people in the community from business-owners to families and young people themselves. It was raised at the Denefield School hustings a few weeks back by a teacher and another teacher raised it again at the hustings this week. Last summer a long time before I was selected as a PPC I was alarmed by rising youth unemployment in Reading and the fact that neither of the two Reading MPs seemed to be taking it seriously. I got the Council to organise a special summit on the issue - one of the most poignant events I attended last year with some heartbreaking accounts from young people out of work for months. This event resulted in greater attention being paid to the issue and more practical help being provided to young people. I didn't stop there though and I raised it nationally too. I was concerned at that time that as a Party we weren't doing enough in policy terms to plan to provide real support to youngsters so last autumn I backed an emergency motion at our party conference calling for urgent action to expand opportunities for young people hit by the recession which was voted through as party policy. This is the beauty of being a member of a truly democratic party where the leadership listens to party members...because party members make the policy! I'm really pleased that Nick Clegg has made supporting young people in these difficult times one of his top priorities and put it at the heart of our manifesto and the election campaign.

Before I attended the hustings I spoke to a local business owner from Tilehurst to find out what her number one issue was at the moment and she said without hesitation "everyone (me included!) is really fed up with banks not lending" and this turned out to be one of the main issues raised by audience members at the hustings. Business people were understandably angry with the failure of banks to lend to small businesses - something that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable pledged to sort out last week in their radical plan to reform the banks. I think it is right that banks should be required to meet targets for lending to small businesses given many of them have been underwritten to the tune of millions by the UK taxpayer. Vince Cable is right that so-called Casino-style banking should be separated from high-street banking. The economy and the recession dominated the questions. In addition, unsurprisingly perhaps, issues related to expenses and trust/public confidence came up - symptomatic of the widespread anger on the doorstep towards Westminster politicians and the political system in the campaign. Anyway, it was a lively debate and I was particularly pleased to see people of all ages in attendance - including a large number of young people. Check out short video clip here (courtesy of the Evening Post).

Monday, 19 April 2010

Backing the Rethink campaign in Reading West

As Chair of the Housing, Health and Community Care Scrutiny Panel since 2008 I have worked hard to ensure that mental health services are regularly on our agenda to try and inject much needed local accountability into our services here in Reading. Most recently we scrutinised the effectiveness of so-called 'Talking Therapies' which are having a really positive impact on people. The Lib Dems are committed to extending access to counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy to more people. In this picture I'm pictured with Paul Farmer ,Coley resident, who has been campaigning tirelessly for a better deal for patients for many years - a lot longer than I have.You may have seen his letters in the Evening Post. Paul has written to me many times to raise issues about mental health services and I have done my best to respond to his concerns. One of his major concerns has been the treatment of minors in adult wards in Prospect Park Hospital - something that we pressed officers from the Trust about several times in scrutiny. When I met him on Friday he told me about his latest campaign - highlighting the number of young people who are still receiving Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) this is a concern and I will be investigating it further with health officers. It is estimated one in three people suffer from depression at some point in their lives and one in four people are affected by mental health problems. This is a lot of people in Reading West constituency. I am signed up to Rethink's General Election 2010 campaign which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues. We need people like Paul to campaign for thousands of people who use mental health services in Reading each year. I have pledged to to continue to champion mental health in the next Parliament if I am elected the next MP for Reading West.

People in Reading West saying "I agree with Nick"

Sorry for the lack of updates I've been campaigning pretty much flat out. But it's all good. I took part in an enjoyable & lively radio debate with the Labour and Conservative candidates on Friday in between canvassing, delivering leaflets, chatting to residents and supporters across the constituency. It seemed to go well (when I got home I had an email from a caller who had asked a question saying she liked my answer to a question which was nice!) I reported a few weeks back about the positive reaction me and members of my Lib Dem team are getting on the doorstep here in Reading West. And that was before Nick Clegg's brilliant performance on the first Leaders Debate on ITV! I was confident Nick would pull it off but he surpassed even my optimistic expectations.I've heard Nick speak in the flesh a few times - including at the highly-successful Town Hall meeting he held in Reading two years ago and always found his direct, straightforward style and the fact he listens to people really impressive. But it's not just the way he says things but what he says that matters. And on content he won hands down I thought. Seems like thousands of other people agreed with meI lost count of the number of times I heard the other two Party leaders say "I agree with Nick" (I hear GB said it 7 times!). What a pity Labour and Conservative MPs didn't agree with him when it mattered - in Parliament when the Lib Dems tried time and again to clean up British politics and the other parties blocked reform.
In case you missed it, here is Nick's compelling closing statement again - in all it's power:

Nick visited my ward a few years ago and came to Hexham Rd with me and we spoke about my campaign to improve the quality of life for local residents after years of neglect by Labour and to meet some of my constituents. His down to earth, easy and relaxed manner went down really well with everyone he spoke to. The last time I heard Nick speak was at Lib Dem Spring Party Conference in Birmingham in March and it was the best speech I'd ever heard him give - full of passion and conviction. He spelled out how vitally important the General Election is for the future of our country and how much is riding on it in terms of delivering fairness and a new politics. I've always thought that the more people got to hear Nick the more they would like what he had to say, and I was right. With the Lib Dems being given equal coverage in the media during the election people are getting the message that we offer something different. The Leaders Debate has opened people's eyes in Reading West to the fact that this election is not a two horse race between Labour and the Conservatives. The Lib Dems are very much in the race and we are the only Party offering real change, not more of the same from the Labservatives or "the two old parties" as Nick calls them. On the doorstep, right across the constituency people of all ages and backgrounds have been saying "let's give the Lib Dems a go". Or "I've been thinking about voting Lib Dems for ages and I'm going to now". Many of them have told me they watched the debate. The change they are being offered by David Cameron is fake change and many people I've spoken to are seeing right through it. Campaigning in Whitley and Oxford Road on Friday, Pangbourne, Kentwood, Southcote and Calcot on Saturday, and Tilehurst and Theale on Sunday we got really positive reactions from people wherever we went- all of them ex-Labour and ex-Conservative voters. It was like someone had switched a light on. Nick had managed to cut through all the spin and rubbish that is written about Lib Dem policies in opposition Parties' leaflets and many newspapers and connect directly with people. Since the programme I've had phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from people wanting to help our campaign which has given us a real boost. I am confident that this is not a one off but just the start. This genie cannot be put back in the bottle by Labour or Tory spin doctors. Sadly Labour have kept up with their nasty personal attacks on me in their latest literature and the Labour candidate for Reading West Naz Sarkar has still refused to sign up to the clean campaign pledge. Playing dirty isn't going to persuade the thousands of people who've given up on Labour in Reading to go back. Gordon Brown's Labour government is discredited and tarnished by the expenses scandal and Labour's failure to deliver political reform. Locally people complain of phone calls and emails not being answered by senior Labour councillors and they are fed up with it. Attempts to smear my excellent record as a councillor by Labour is not going to help people stuck waiting for years for affordable housing in Reading or children living in poverty. In this election people want to hear positive messages about what politicians and political parties will do to help change their lives (like the Lib Dem fair tax policy) and change politics (like our plan to enable people to sack their MPs) and they are hearing that from the Lib Dems, not from Labour or the Conservatives who are stuck in the past, dealing with the politics of fear not hope. Check out this short film "I believe in fairness" for more info about the Lib Dem campaign for change that works for you.

Finally, Tuesday 20th (tomorrow) is the final day when you can register to vote in the general and local elections here in Reading and West Berkshire. Visit the RBC website, download the form, sign it and take it in to the Civic Offices 5pm tomorrow to ensure you have a chance to vote for real change in Reading West! Must go I've just had another email from somone wanting to help our campaign in Whitley...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Working together to improve children's health

Earlier this evening I attended a meeting of the Council's Cabinet to present detailed recommendations from a joint review into children's health carried out by the Housing, Community Care and Scrutiny Panel (which I chair) and the Education and Children's Services Scrutiny Panel. Follow the link above to read our recommendations. This is something I've been working on with other councillors and officers for some time - in addition to my role as a ward councillor, a PPC and alongside a full-time job. There is no dedicated health scrutiny panel in Reading and very little resources dedicated to support scrutiny councillors - so a few of us had to work to make this review happen. A few ill-informed people have criticised me personally for taking a long time over the review - a rather pointless, short-sighted attack it turned out. This is a massive, complex issue so it was important to take the time to understand the factors at play - get our facts straight before jumping to conclusions. There are no quick political fixes - tackling longstanding health inequalities is something that will take years to address. It's a vitally important issue which requires commitment from politicians and Labour and Lib Dem councillors who spoke at the meeting tonight agreed with me that it is one of the biggest issues facing us in Reading today. Poor child health in Reading is closely linked to deprivation and as a result of the recession the number of children living in poverty* went up last year by 12% to over 8,000 (up from 6500 in 2006). On all the key health indicators from teenage pregnancy, to obesity, to tooth decay children and young people's health is less good than other parts of the South East. If we want to live in a happier, healthier and more successful society in Reading we have to do more to close the gap between healthy and unhealthy in our area. With the passing into law of the Child Poverty Act recently there will soon be a duty on all councils to tackle health inequality which I think is a good thing. But councils cannot do it alone. It should be everyone's responsibility - health bodies , schools and businesses too.
I have strived throughout this lengthy review to ensure that discussions about these issues stay above the political fray. It has taken a lot of hard work from a small number of councillors and officers to get this far. Thankfully many people working in this area - unsung heroes in my view - want to make a real difference to our community and it has been a pleasure to work alongside them. I believe strongly that children's health should not be used as a political football. It does the Council no good in the eyes of the public to be seen to be descending into the gutter when we should be working together as servants of the people to improve the lives of all in our community. The way some councillors have sought to use this scrutiny review to score political points could do real damage to children's health in our town as it causes people to focus on politics and politicians when they should be focussing on improving the health of children. Thankfully there was no repeat of this thoughtless behaviour tonight. The recommendations I presented did not represent a personal polemic from me but sought to capture the views of councillors of all parties who participated in the scrutiny review backed up by detailed data from officers. I'm pleased to say the report was received very positively by Labour members of the Cabinet as well as the Leader of the Council this evening. All party support will be needed if we are going to lobby health bodies and other partners for a better deal for Reading's children. We await a detailed response from the administration later this year but in the meantime it has been agreed that the Council should actively engage members of the Local Strategic Partnership including the PCT and make tackling child poverty and therefore improving children's health, everyone's priority. With pressure on local budgets likely to increase in the coming years it's vital that children's health is not allowed to detioriate and I am determined not to let this happen.

Fair taxes will help ordinary people in Reading West

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg today launched Lib Dem proposals for fair taxes. Readers of this blog and people that have spoken to me will know that I am passionate about the need to reduce inequality in Reading so that everyone can thrive wherever they live and whatever their bank balance. This is because since moving to Reading seven years ago I was struck by the real poverty I saw in a so-called 'boom town'. The Economist confirmed this picture in this article a few weeks ago.I was disgusted that under a Labour government and Labour council areas of the town had been allowed to get so rundown and so many people left to struggle. People who had been told time and time again that Labour was on their side. So I'm delighted that Nick has put fairness at the centre of the Lib Dem manifesto leaving up to these important elections. Currently the poorest 20% of people in our area are losing more of their income in tax than they did in 1997 and the richest 20% are paying less. The gap between rich and poor neighbourhoods around Reading has widened and the number of children living in poverty has gone up. Nick today pledged that the Lib Dems would raise the tax threshold to £10,000 so that people would not pay tax on the first £10,000 they earn. This would help millions of people on low incomes including pensioners and also cut most people's tax bills by £700. We would pay for this by closing tax loopholes that Labour have allowed to continue for years. We'd also introduce a new tax on homes worth over £2.5 million pounds (bearing in mind the average house price in Reading is £221k) and introduce 'green taxes' on aviation. Anyway, enough from me - watch this video to hear Nick setting out these radical plans much more eloquently than I ever could!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Brown's council housing election bribe

Another day, another visit to Reading West constituency from a senior Labour figure - yesterday it was Deputy Leader Harriet Harman. Labour must be really worried about losing here. And from the feedback we're getting - they should be.I spoke to one gentleman on the doorstep in West Reading who said he had supported Martin Salter at previous elections. I pointed out he was standing down. "That's the problem" he replied. And it is clearly a huge problem for Labour in Reading. The same resident told me he wasn't planning on voting Labour this time. Many people I've been speaking to on the doorstep across the constituency are ditching Labour and backing the Lib Dems this time. Anyway, I read online that Harriet Harman was in town to unveil her Party's housing policies for the election. Apparently they include plans to build 50,000 council houses by the end of the next Parliament. This is a drop in the ocean when you consider the demand for affordable housing in places like Reading. It's a bit like Labour's 'death-bed' conversion to political reform. Er, in the next Parliament. A Guardian article I read last summer made the point that back in the 1950s local authorities built around 250,000 units a year. The current rate has been reduced to a trickle - with around 130 new council homes being built each year. You can see the impact of Labour's failed housing policy wherever you go in Reading - with overcrowding a major issue and approximately 6,000 people left languishing on the Council's housing register for years. Nationally the number of people waiting on council lists for cheap housing is expected to reach 5 million by 2010. Labour politicians have had 13 years to reverse the harm done by the Conservative's Right to Buy policy and enable councils to build the homes they needed and they have failed to deliver. In Reading this can be seen by the chronic shortage of larger, family-sized properties. Gordon Brown talks about 'reforming' housing policy to enable councils'to keep rent from council homes and invest it locally. This is welcome but why did his government fail to deliver this between 1997 and 2010 when they had the power to do so? For years council tenants in Reading and elsewhere have been subsidising the Treasury when rent should have been spent on investing in existing and new council homes. The Lib Dems nationally and in Reading have led the way in arguing for reform of housing finance and devolving power down to councils to make decisions over social housing. Of all the candidates in the race to be Reading West's next MP I have been by far the most vocal in campaigning for action to tackle Reading's affordable housing crisis - to include making better use of empty homes and the private rented sector (both areas that were neglected for years for Labour-run Reading Borough Council). I am passionate about the right for everyone to live in a decent home and I'm proud to stand up for people in Reading who have been badly let down by Labour and the Tories because I believe strongly in fairness and social justice. Locally over the past year I have stood up for council tenants hit by Labour's double whammy: rent rises and unfair charges for basic services , as well as campaigning for tenants in private rented housing threatened with eviction. As Nick Clegg has rightly said, Labour cannot be trusted when it comes to their election manifesto. And Labour politicians will promise anything to cling on to power when it comes to housing. But the electorate here in Reading is not stupid and locally evidence of 13 years of Labour's failed housing policy is there for all to see.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

CllrDaisyBenson 'Twitter Influencer' shock!

A friend posted a note on my Facebook wall today telling me that according to PR firm Edelman I am the most influential Lib Dem PPC on Twitter according to my political 'Tweet Level' - this 'measures the influence of individuals on Twitter based on a number of factors (including re-tweets, followers, frequency of tweets, references etc measured by an algorithm). This took me a bit by surprise. It's a bit of fun and I'm not taking it too seriously. I'm used to politicians who don't understand the power of social media not getting it and clearly only a fraction of residents use it. Still, neither of those things are reasons not to use it in my book. About me the press release says: 'Perhaps unsurprisingly, candidates being younger and more attuned to web 2.0 than their elected counterparts have greater influence on the social media forum with Lib Dem councillor and candidate for Reading West Daisy Benson the most influential PPC.'It wasn't until later on this evening after I finally sat down after a day spent recording another interview with BBC South, delivering leaflets, canvassing, doing casework and chatting to residents that I read Paul Waugh's blog which lists the Top 20 'politico Twitterers' and found myself in at 17...above Nick_Clegg and sandwiched between Labourites lorddrayson and Leftfootforward. All a little bizarre! I've been tweeting since January 2009 for fun and also to get more people engaged in politics, campaign,network, share ideas etc I spoke to Anne Diamond on BBC Berkshire about tweeting earlier this year. Check out the recording below.

Filling in the gaps - campaigning for better oral health

I got a call from the BBC earlier today to ask me my views on NHS Dentistry in Reading West. I guessed that the question would be related to lack of dentists accepting NHS patients.And I was right.Apparently the Conservative Shadow Health Secretary was visiting and had raised the issue on the back of a local survey his party had done. I won't dispute that this is a common concern in the local community here - it is certainly is. But I thought it was important to get some facts straight about the situation here in Reading - something I have a unique perspective on in this election campaign through my time spent as Chair of Health Scrutiny on Reading Borough Council for the past 2 years. When I first moved to Reading from London in 2003 I recall work colleagues telling me the difficulties they had finding a dentist on the NHS. Local residents made similar points to me when I knocked on doors. So when I became chair of the main health scrutiny committee in Reading - the Housing, Health and Community Care Scrutiny Panel in May 2008 I took the opportunity to get this issue on the agenda as I was concerned about it and worried about the impact this was having on people living in Reading who could not afford to go private. We have since discussed the issue several times in scrutiny - in fact it's rarely been off our agenda since I've been in the chair. Last year we called for a detailed investigation into a town centre dentists that was failing to advertise NHS services.
A quick look at the annual report produced by Berkshire West PCT Patient Advice & Liaison Service (PALS) which we discussed in public in scrutiny last September shows that the number one NHS service people in our area contacted PALS about was Dental Services - this accounted for 1980 of all enquiries - around 46% of PALs caseload. In my capacity as Chair of HHCC Scrutiny Panel I have regularly asked questions of the Primary Care Trust (PCT) to find out what is behind these figures. What the PCT told me was that the issue in our area is not a lack of dentists taking NHS patients but a widespread misconception out there that NHS dentists are in short supply (when in fact they are not): (from the most recent PALs report)"Reading has a good geographical spread of NHS dental practices which means that the area is well served. There are currently 9 dental practices in Reading who are accepting new adult NHS patients. There are also a series of Community Dental Clinics and an on-call rota offering emergency intervention for patients who need urgent treatment and those with complex needs. However, despite widespread advertisement it is still proving difficult to break the public’s misconception that there are no NHS dentists in the area.The important question I ask every year when this issue comes up is- what is the PCT doing to help patients and improve health outcomes? The answer I got was this: "PALS ensure that information about local practices who are accepting new NHS patients is kept up to date and is published on the PCT’s website. Posters have been issued to GP practices and Pharmacies encouraging them to display lists of local dentists who are accepting new patients. Information has been included in the PCT’s ‘Your Guide to Local Health Services’ which has been published as part of each Local Authority’s annual newsletter / report to residents." I telephoned the PCT this afternoon to check my facts and was told that the issue continues to be one of communication, not lack of NHS Dentists. More clearly needs to be done to get the message across to residents about dental services but also to improve oral health in our community. If you want to find a dentist accepting new NHS patients try this link.
It is Lib Dem policy to give local people more influence over local health services in their area by introducing locally elected health boards. At present there is too little accountability in our health services. Our health scrutiny panel in Reading only meets 5 times a year and health issues have to be fitted around housing and community care items. People can complain via PALS and the LINK but it is actually very difficult fore local people to get action taken on health matters. A really big issue in Reading in relation to dentistry is poor oral health - particularly amongst young children in deprived areas. The facts are these: Reading has twice the decayed, filled and missing teeth (dmf-t) score compared to Wokingham.Variation within Reading is greater than that found between other PCTs or at a national level. This is a major indicator of child poverty.This is related to poor diet and linked to health inequality - something I have campaigned to get on the local political agenda and a key focus of our recent scrutiny review into children's health. Better health outcomes wherever you live and no matter how much money you have in Reading West is a real priority for me.I will be discussing what Reading Borough Council and local health bodies can do to improve children's health on April 12 when I present our scrutiny review recommendations to the Labour-run Cabinet. I'm glad that Labour, Conservative and Green candidates for Reading West agree with me that NHS dental services are important. What sets me apart from all three of them is the fact that I have years of experience under my belt campaigning for better health services and better public health locally which I have gained as a local councillor and chair of health scrutiny in Reading. Visit my Council blog for more details.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

General Election called

A really exciting day for me yesterday with the General Election being called. This is the first time I've stood for Parliament and however much you prepare for it when the day arrives I'd defy anyone to feel some trepidation - even old timers. All very exciting though and I'm very much up for the fight. We were delighted to get a visit from South East MEP Sharon Bowles. I helped Sharon and her colleague Catherine Bearder during the European Parliament Election campaign last year and it was great to have her support for our campaign in Reading West.

First stop was a visit to Reading Buses to meet with Chief Exec Officer James Freeman to find out more about the company's efforts to go green following the Bio-Ethanol debacle last year. Sharon and I were impressed by the company's plans to pilot electric buses due to come on stream later this year. Government policy both locally, nationally and at a European level needs to be more joined up to encourage companies not penalise them for using green fuels. I also raised the need for cheaper bus fairs for young people - something MYP Josh Harsant and Reading's Youth Cabinet have identified as the number one issue for young people in Reading.
Next up was a quick interview with BBC South's Joe Campbell on Cranbury Road in Battle ward - once a Labour heartland. A nice surprise was bumping into one of my local Twitter followers and her cute baby. I also had a brief chat with Labour Candidate Naz Sarkar who was also in the area too before we whizzed off for a walkabout around Tilehurst Triangle with Tilehurst Lib Dem councillor Peter Beard.
We called in on the Village Butcher and the Wool Shop and stopped in for a cup of tea and a chat with locals in The Link Community Cafe - a great community facility run by a really committed bunch of local volunteers. The Conservative Candidate Alok Sharma and his team were out in the Triangle also making the most of the lovely sunny weather - ideal for campaigning after weeks of rain. We thanked Sharon and her team and waved them off to her next stop - Maidenhead. My team and I then managed to squeeze in a quick pit stop before heading off to the heart of Southcote to deliver campaign literature to residents. There were plenty of Labour posters but barely any activists out and about. After that I went to down to Whitley to campaign with our excellent local candidate for Whitley in the upcoming local election Roy Haines. We spoke to a number of residents who were fed up with Labour but unconvinced by what they had seen of the Conservatives. Several said they were planning to vote Lib Dem this time and were very positive about Vince Cable and my record of campaigning locally. All in all a great day and an excellent start to our campaign.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Vote Lib Dem for a fresh start in Reading West!

One of my supporters passed me a Labour leaflet this evening 'Vote Lib Dem get Tory' is the main message. They weren't impressed and they weren't surprised. It was clearly issued by Labour HQ in London. I read it twice and I couldn't find one positive reason to vote Labour on it - which you have to admit after 13 years in government and even more on the Borough Council is pretty pathetic. Locally the leaflets are not much better with the latest one featuring a nasty personal attack on me. This kind of campaigning is really depressing and is turning people off voting for any political parties this election. It is corrosive and will do Labour no favours at the ballot box. I've got used to this kind of campaigning from Labour as a councillor and when the personal attacks start it usually means I'm doing something right. Labour are keen to talk down our chances because they know that we represent a threat to them.Labour politicians in Reading have should be worried. Wherever we go in the constituency Labour voters are telling us they fed up with Labour and are backing Lib Dems this time. People want a fresh start and politicians they can trust - politicians they know will work hard for them. My record of action as a local councillor sets me apart from the other candidates in the race - local people judge me on my record, not Labour's leaflets. They see me busy helping local people and getting things done and they like what I do. It helps that nationally as well as locally things are turning our way. The latest poll from ICM/Guardian has the Lib Dems on 23% and Labour support falling below 30% after a surge in support for us (+4)..Lots of people I've spoken to in Reading West this week watched Vince Cable on 'The Chancellors' debate on Monday evening and were really impressed by what they saw. One lady rang me to say she thinks Vince should get an OBE! Another told me 'Vince won that 1-0;'. Feedback I'm getting from other parts of the country is similarly positive and Vince is widely viewed to have won that particular round of the debate. My Dad told me he was phone canvassed by the Tories in Camden during the debate which strikes me as slightly bad timing (and it was met with a predictable response!)
I met up with Alok Sharma (Conservative) and Adrian Windisch (Green Party) earlier today to sign a 'Clean Campaign Pledge'. I think it's important that we strive to mount a positive campaign attacking policies not people. The Labour candidate doesn't appear to have signed the pledge so far, which is a pity. I drove along Oxford Road today and saw the latest Conservative posters looming down from billboards - they feature a creepy photo of Gordon Brown smiling alongside claims of Labour 'failure'. I think it was supposed to be ironic but I just thought they looked cynical. Lots of people will look at the those posters and think 'they're both as bad as each other'. In fact, that's what people have already said to me on seeing them. The Labservative campaign came to mind - a campaign pointing out the similarities of Labour and Conservative parties -parties that represent 'no change - more of the same':

Anyway, I'm buoyed up with loads of energy to get our positive message out to voters in Reading West. New volunteer helpers are joining our campaign every day. One said to me:
"Keep that commitment and energy it is so refreshing. We need a different kind of politician so badly in Reading." As Nick Clegg says, if you want change you have to vote for it - check out this video and of course, Vote Lib Dem!

Action needed to tackle Reading's housing crisis

The Reading Evening Post has picked up on Shelter's campaign to highlight the dire shortage of affordable housing across the UK , including here in Reading. But as I pointed out to Anna Roberts who penned the story - the true picture in Reading is actually even worse than the one Shelter describes. A recent report I commissioned as Chair of the Housing, Health and Community Care Scrutiny panel investigating the problem of overcrowding in our Borough revealed the number of people on the Council's housing waiting list has risen from around 4,400 in April 2008 to approximately 6,000 in February 2010. There is no doubt that this increase is linked with the impact of the recession - something I have consistently raised as a councillor over the past 2 years. Across Britain this figure rises to 1.8 million families - this is a damning indictment of Labour's failed housing policies. In Reading the demand for larger homes vastly outsrips supply and it's damaging the health and well-being of thousands of children and families in our Town. There are 186 families registered as needed a property with 4 bedrooms or more and only 3 x 5 bedroom properties belonging to the Council! I have been vocal in campaigning to highlight the lack of affordable social homes for families in Reading for years. An independent inspection of RBC agreed with me highlighting lack of family housing. When the housing strategy was discussed I argued for the Council to work with housing associations to provide more larger family houses to help meet local demand for good quality homes. But the timescales for delivery are still too far in the future because the rate of building is just too low. I've also campaigned extensively to get the Council to use it's powers to encourage more landlords to bring empty properties back into use and for standards to be improved in the private rented sector. We struggle in Reading to have the space to build large amounts of new housing so the Council and other housing partners have to be creative about getting more out of existing stock. Over the past 2 years RBC has placed 600 households in the private sector. This is not all the solution but it is part of of it. In Scrutiny last month we discussed the need to review the Council's under-occupiers policy to make moving into smaller homes more appealing to residents and how to get more out of existing council housing. Council officers are not to blame for the housing crisis we face - responsibility lies with the Labour government and it's failed housing policy. The Lib Dems have long argued we need to restore more powers to councils to build social homes and retain council rents. House building in the UK is at it's lowest level since the 1920s and there is an urgent need to build more affordable housing after Labour failed to reverse the damage done by the Conservative's Right To Buy policy which saw many of Reading's family-sized council houses sold off. Under Labour the Treasury has taken millions of pounds worth of tenants' rent when it should have gone on building more council homes locally. The policy of the Labour government has been to focus too much on so-called first time buyers and to overlook can't-afford-to-buyers - the thousands of people who have been priced out of the market. The latest stamp duty cut announced in Darling's pre-election Budget will not help those who have no chance of getting a mortgage or raising enough cash for a deposit. The housing bubble that the Labour government fuelled a few years ago ended up with many people getting into massive debt trying to get a foot on the housing ladder only to find they couldn't keep up repayments on their mortgages. Buy-to-let in Reading has ended up with too many buy-to-leave empty homes. Too many repossessions have taken place in Reading and the recession has had a terrible impact on people - particularly in relation to housing. We need to look at sustainable ways to tackle the housing crisis and to give everyone a fair chance of decent housing. The recently announced Lib Dem policy to bring hundreds of thousands of empty homes back into use as social homes (which would also create thousands of construction jobs) must be part of that package.