Goodbye Mette!

Went to Mette’s farewell drinks. Mette has been my researcher at Parliament since I was elected two and a half years ago. We went to Parliament together – neither of us with any experience – and we haven’t done so bad.

Mette is Swedish – and so I have learned to live with a Scandanavian flavour to my amendments, briefings and attitudes. And that hasn’t been a bad thing – as those countries sure get a lot of things right that we could learn from!

And although she supports Nick Clegg and I support Chris Huhne (!) we have been a real team and partnership. She is a very, very talented young woman and I will miss her terribly.

Mette knows everyone in Parliament. She is an inveterate networker – across all parties – and there was quite a turn out at her farewell. More than anything though – she is just a lovely human being – and I am just lucky to have had such a great researcher and hopefully friend for life!

And that’s why I am blogging about her publicly – cos I want everyone to know how great it has been working with her!

Solar cooker day

Well – Lorely Burt, Annette Brooke, Lynne Featherstone, Jenny Willot and Lindsay NorthoverSolar Cooker Day dawned! And you should see the size of the one that we managed to borrow from ‘Engineers without Borders’ – from Imperial College. Thank you sooooooo much Imperial Engineers!

My researcher, Mette, spent six hours sewing green, white and purple ribbon together to make the colours of International Women’s Day – and then she and a helper carted the precious object to College Green (just outside Parliament). Whilst we had been going to do this outside the gates to Number 10 Downing Street, what with the size of the object and the vagaries of the blustery and rainy weather – we opted for a venue closer to the House of Commons.

A stream of Lib Dem Parliamentarians came to support the campaign and so now for International Women’s Day we will present a petition to Tony Blair to ask him to ensure that women in war-ravaged conflict zones are supplied with $2 solar cookers so that they do not need to go outside their refugee compounds and risk rape or murder any longer.

And of course, today is the first of two days of debates on Lords Reform. I just hope that we get a conclusion – and that that conclusion delivers an entirely or predominantly elected House of Lords!

Visiting 10 Downing Street

At 10 Downing StreetAt the same time as the tornado hit Kensal Rise yesterday, the thunder clapped, the lightening lightened and the skies opened and bucketed down on me and my researcher Mette as I delivered the teacher cut outs by local children from Bounds Green School to 10 Downing Street.

As you can see in the picture I am holding two of the cut outs – there were hundreds in paper folders – but I couldn’t hold them for the picture without getting them soaked. But all were handed in and Mette and I got very, very wet.

Then I hosted a meeting on Shingles – which is a form of the herpes virus – to raise awareness of just how serious and debilitating an illness this is. It requires effective pain relief and relatively few GPs are truly experienced in this field and there are not many pain clinics. Also, there are drugs that can be prescribed if caught very early that prevent it actually coming full on – but the cost is not something some NHS primary care trusts will stomach with Patricia Hewitt’s job on the line if their budgets don’t come in on the line.

A new vaccine is hopefully soon going to come on the licensed market – but in the meantime, if raising awareness will help sufferers get the treatment and consideration for this painful disease that they need – then here is a bit of blog-awareness.

Last but certainly not least is a Westminster Hall debate on the reports of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It was a sensible debate and you can read what I said about the powers of detention under the Terrorism Act here.

Meeting Ken Livingstone again

Ring Peter Hendy to congratulate him. He has been chosen as the one (out of the two applying) for the job as Transport Commissioner for London, taking over from wiley Kiley. Peter was bus supremo – and we have argued across the transport spectrum for years now. And I still want a full time service on the hard fought for 603! What I always really like about Peter is his hands-on approach.

Whenever I put out a press release that he didn’t like – be it about the ‘free’ bendy buses or the ‘bursting into flames’ bendy buses – or whatever – he would phone me on my mobile and give me hell. Despite our opposite positions – we always got on well and I think he will be a great Commissioner. Look forward to seeing his negotiating style with the government. And – on the occasions when he was wrong – eventually he would admit I was right.

My favourite was over AVL – the system of countdown which tells passenger when the bus will be along and is plotted on a computer. Terrible system – never worked properly. I always told Peter that it was pointless finishing implementing an outmoded useless system across the rest of London (it was half in). Have to say – gave me great pleasure the day he told me I had been right all along. Anyway – he is a good thing and I hope to see London improve under his stewardship.

Sonia from the LSE is shadowing me today as part of ‘LSE Women in Westminster’. She and Mette, my researcher, come to Home Affairs Team meeting. We always run through all the Home Affairs Bills with each of the team responsible for that Bill – both Lords and Commons. Mark Oaten (Shadow Home Secretary) heads the team. Updates on Religious Hatred Bill – coming back for another row I think to the Commons soon; ID cards in trouble for the Government – as may be the Terror Laws soon. The Government seem to be having a go at getting back to 60 days on detention without charge. I trust the Lords will stick to the 28 we conceded in the Commons.

Rush off to Prime Ministers’ Questions (PMQs) next. Will Ming pass the test? Well – his question was on the Soham murders – so the House fell silent. And he was absolutely fine – not that in my view PMQs should have any sway. It’s just a blood sport. I do wonder why jeering, leering and making rude gestures is rated so highly by the boys and the media!

I race to City Hall for a London Day event with my old sparring partner – Ken Livingstone. He gives me a double peck on the cheek and I observe that he is clearly missing me since I left. He denies this assertion and tells me what a terrible thing we have done to that nice Charles. And what’s wrong with a drink anyway? Well – this from the man who claims to get bored at parties and only drank three glasses of chardonnay! Hey, Ho.

The lunch was fine – and then Ken orated. He is a good speaker – something to do with nasal tones and trying to shock. I learned a lot from Ken during my five years as an Assembly Member (only the good bits) so have a lot to thank him for in as much as I learned to keep in mind when I speak the audience outside the room as well as those present. And to be direct!

Ken wittered on for some time about water and desalination – but his surprise announcement was his endorsement of Simon Hughes as LibDem leader. Not sure if that’s the kiss of death for Simon!

Wrapping up for Christmas

On Thursday, got text from office saying that the emergency surgery I was to have held this morning is unnecessary as only one person needs to ‘see’ me before Christmas and he is happy to talk on the phone – which I do. And having listened to a very long and complicated benefits (or lack of them) history – he tells me he has a file a mile thick. We arrange to meet early in the New Year to go through the history in more detail. So without surgery I continue to try and get my paperwork etc up to date for the break – but still the mountain stares relentlessly and resentfully at me!

Run into constituency office to sign last casework letters to make sure they get out and hopefully arrive before Christmas. Though you can’t really be sure at this point of the year! Have a chat with all at the office. They are a an absolute A team in terms of quality and quantity of work they get through – and more than that – really committed to serving the public which matters more than anything in this sort of office – and even more than that – a really nice group who all get on with each other.

Ed is my diary secretary and caseworker and runs the everyday stuff at the office as well as my assistant at surgery half the time. He has turned out to be an absolute star – and cares passionately about all of it.

Thuranie is a part-time caseworker and has been with me for five years now – since I first got elected to the London Assembly and could no longer cope on my own with the volume of casework when she used to come to my house one day a week. She has the most wonderful way with people and endless patience.

Charlie works almost exclusively on immigration casework as well as being my assistant at surgery the other half of the time. He now knows the ins and outs of the Home Office (who have to be the worst and most inefficient organisation known to man).

I have an intern, Angela, who is learning and gaining experience with the office. Hopefully when she has got some experience on her CV she will go on to get the job she wants.

And the last person in the local office part of the time, split between working in the constituency and in Parliament, is Andrew who is my Head of Office. Andrew just knows everything – knows how Parliament works, how constituencies offices need to be run – and has the patience of a saint.

At the parliamentary end – I have Mette. Mette is Swedish and just full of energy and enthusiasm – and loves doing ‘amendments’, Mette not only runs the office administration at the Parliamentary end, helps with PQs (Parliamentary Questions) etc – but has to work out the amendments to any Bill that I am taking through committee. She has a brood of interns – no more than one or two at a time (as they come and go according to gap year arrangements or whatever) – to help her with the sack loads of correspondence that arrives – up to 400 letters a day at times. The correspondence is opened, sorted and directed to appropriate place to be worked on – whether that end or constituency end.

The only real ‘rule’ in the offices is that ‘the customer is always right’. I know it’s old-fashioned (and there are some real challenges on occasion to that philosophy) but it’s the way I was brought up and whilst none of us are 100% – the ethos is there and to me it is important that my office reflects my philosophy – which is being there to serve.

Learning how Parliament works

I’d asked one of the Commons Committee Clerks to come and brief me on the rules for Standing Committee as I will be leading for the Lib Dems on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which goes into committee next Thursday.

The protocols of what you say, in what order you speak, when you stand, when you table amendments, at what point you can argue what and so on is much of a mystery to me at the moment as I’ve not yet done such a bill. So I have invited an expert to walk me through the procedure – which he does.

Lots to learn and lots of pitfalls for me to descend into! He then takes me and Mette (my Parliamentary Researcher) over to the Bills Office to introduce me so that I can ‘introduce’ Mette. This is a formal procedure without which they will not accept amendments from Mette (as opposed to me personally going over there). Doncha just love those quaint customs! Actually – this one probably has a point – i.e. no one can masquerade as me or Mette to put down amendments to the bill. Can’t imagine there would be a queue of fraudsters – but best to err on the safe side.

Then I have a meeting with a woman who has come at my request to brief me further on mental health issues. She, herself, suffers from schizophrenia. She obviously knows both from being a campaigner in this area as well as a user of the services all about where to go and how to get help. Invaluable.

Followed by a meeting with the Beer and Pub Association who want to discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill with me. Half of the bill is about how to deal with alcohol disorder – both by banning individuals from areas and also making areas with lots of disorder ‘Alcohol Disorder Zones’. This is a real legislative mess and so broadly drawn as to leave almost every decision up to the Home Secretary. Controlling or what? I agree with much of their lobbying – but not all.

Then off to my surgery in Hornsey Vale Community centre where – as always – I am constantly amazed by the range of problems that present. Finish at 7pm and go to my constituency office to sign things.

Get home about 9pm to watch the news on the Tory beauty parade – a misnomer if ever there was one. As my daughter said to me – if you had to sleep with one of them who would you choose?

Seriously though – I think David Davis must have given a sweetener to party organisers to put Cameron and Clarke on the same day. Both gave a good show – but Cameron made Clark look old and Clark made Cameron look wet behind the ears. Never-the-less DD has a bit of a show to put on when he speaks – or else.

Thank you party

Love Friday the 13th! Used to live at number 13 Woodstock Road – was a really happy house – so a good day for my ‘thank you’ party for all those who helped in the election.

Over a thousand people were sent invites – yes – that’s how many people helped with delivering, stuffing, addressing, donating, poster sites, printing, etc, etc, etc. If they had all turned up – we would have been in big trouble!

I arrived at Hornsey Community Centre about 7.40pm and it was already packed – and everyone, all evening, came up to wish me well. It was absolutely fantastic – such a genuine grass roots campaign. Heart warming!

Monica (Hornsey organiser) and Ed (Stroud Green ward) stood on chairs to address everyone and say special thank yous to those who had done above the call of duty – particularly Mark (my campaign manager) and Neil (my agent and Leader of the Lib Dems on Haringey Council).

Now Mark usually checks my blog writings for legal matters – i.e. I don’t want to get sued. And no doubt he will try and remove this posting as it mentions him by name – but I will be checking!

Both Neil and Mark are remarkable – both in ability and commitment. We have all been together in this for about eight years – and what happened on polling day wasn’t just the four week campaign, wasn’t just the war – but was the sum of years of work by a fantastic team of about thirty key activists who have worked unstintingly over these years.

Apart from Mark and Neil – each ward had its own team who soldiered on delivering the campaign in their area. Harold was in charge of printing; David in charge of telephone canvassing; Justin in charge of stakeboards – with great help from Alan and Dave, and so on and so on. The ward teams – Stroud Green (Laura, Richard and Ed), Crouch End (Ron, Peter and David), Alexandra/Bounds Green (Susan, Wayne and Dave), Muswell Hill / Fortis Green (Gail, Martin, Steve and Matt), Highgate (Neil, Bob and Melanie), Woodside (Nigel and Shantanu), Hornsey (Monica), Noel Park (Neil and Fiyaz). And the team who ran HQ – Valerie, Susanne and Monica. My sister – who organised my diary, visits to sheltered housing, leaflets at stations and telling for three wards. Duncan, Mette and Thuranie were my home team helping deal with election enquiries, sending out posters, etc. The Rea family and Bjorn were at HQ constantly and were the backbone of the stuffing operation. Wayne – who did such a great job as our Tottenham candidate (moving up into second with a big swing from Labour). And of course, my daughters, Jenna and Cady. Plus many, many, more!

I just wanted to publicly acknowledge the key team and the hundreds of others who were so generous with time, effort and money.

And the buggers – they presented me with a framed poster of the Hornsey Journal’s paper that they put outside newsagents. It reads in HUGE writing ‘I’ve nagged my way to victory – New MP’.

It’s so true – whenever people ask how I have got so far so fast – I always put it down to my ability to nag (politer term – lobby persistently). After all – it is a middle-aged woman’s life skill!