Wednesday 21 December 2011

Bringing some Christmas Cheer

Tomorrow morning local residents and I will be helping pack bags for Waitrose shoppers in Caversham.  We will be raising money for Mapledurham Pavilion's replacement hall.
You'll be able to spot us a mile off as we'll be sporting red Christmas hats at the tills.  Please support the fund raising as the community needs a new hall - the Pavilion is in dire need of replacing, but the Council doesn't have the funds to do so.

I hope to see familiar faces during my stint - apologies in advance if my left shoulder slows me down.  I had a cortisone injection in the joint today which left it feeling most peculiar.  Anyway, you're invited to let us help pack your bags, or indeed pay us not to - your choice!

You can read more about the history of the Pavilion, together with the ongoing fund raising here

Update:  We raised £527, including a £25 donation from Waitrose.  Thank you all very much for your support!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Demand for Transparency in Union Officials' Declarations

Trade Union Officials
Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government
2:30 pm 5 December 2011
Rob Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)

If he will take steps to end the practice of employing publicly funded full-time trade union officials in local government.
Eric Pickles (Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Brentwood and Ongar, Conservative)

All local authorities need to make sensible savings to protect front-line services and keep council tax down. Councils should be reviewing the merits of publicly funded full-time union officials. Those are non-jobs on the rates and it is wrong that council tax should be used to subsidise trade union activity.
Rob Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given that union leaders and officials are full-time politicians in all but name who receive more than £113 million of taxpayer funding each year, will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for the implementation of a register of interests for union leaders, thereby subjecting them to the same level of public scrutiny as all other politicians?

·           Eric Pickles (Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Brentwood and Ongar, Conservative)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I was shocked to hear what he said, because I was not aware that trade union officials did not have a register. I would have thought that in this age of transparency, we should urge them to do that. I know that Opposition Front Benchers are keen for everybody else to have such restrictions. Why should trade union bosses not be a little more open about their funding and their interests?

Monday 5 December 2011

It'll Cost You Nothing But You Could Save a Life

As we approach Christmas and the season of giving, please think about all the people in the UK who need life-saving blood transfusions.

Could you become a donor?  There are exclusions like if you've had hepatitis, jaundice or more obvious illnesses which wouldn't make it safe for someone else to receive your blood.  Many of the population could donate but haven't ever thought about it.

Take a couple of minutes and check out the NHS Blood & Transplant's website.  It details who, where and when.

I started donating in July 2009.  I often went past my local church hall and noticed the Blood Service but didn't realise you don't have to have an appointment - though you can book one if you prefer. 

I don't look at the needle.  It doesn't hurt and it only takes a few minutes. Reading a Kindle is perfect as easily done one-handed!  Afterwards the staff provide a free drink and biscuit and then you're free to go.

For just a few minutes of your time you could help save someone's life.  Come on, do something amazing!

Friday 2 December 2011

A Fascinating & Unique Role Model on the Empowerment of Women

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, visited Reading last week.  She spoke at a women's meeting organised by Cllr Shahid Younis.

Sayeeda is a fascinating and unique role model, not just for women, but for anyone and everyone.  Born in Yorkshire to a mill worker who had immigrated to England, she has an impressive CV culminating in becoming the first female Muslim parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election and then in 2010 becoming the first female Muslim Cabinet member.

We heard about some of the challenges Sayeeda has faced, most recently how she juggles her family life (husband & 5 children) with her extremely busy work life. 

Talking about the start of her career, like many Asian female graduates, she chose law.  She started out as a prosecutor, going on to set up her own private practice with a partner and being a defence lawyer. 

9/11 was a life-defining moment for her.  Since that disaster she feels she is seen as a Muslim rather than anything else.

After her speech she took questions.  Several were about specific cultural difficulties Asian women face in Britain.  However it didn't take long before everybody acknowledged that many challenges are common to women whatever their heritage, eg the perception by many older people that women should stay at home to bring up the children and look after the husband; or that a woman's career is secondary to that of their husband.

After a personal chat about the tremendous support her husband is; about her extended family; and the juggling act of trying to achieve a happy work/life balance; she admitted that it isn't easy to get it right.

Everybody agreed with her that all mothers feel guilty - that's part and parcel of our lot. She told us her belief that one of a mother's most important jobs is to bring up our sons to respect and treat women equally. We shouldn't leave this task just to men.  We should instill it in our sons ourselves starting as soon as they are born. Sayeeda joked that if our own households are based on equality then when our sons get married their wives won't have to retrain them!

At the end Sayeeda challenged everybody 'to help yourself - if you won't, why should anyone else?  Help someone else - because no one else will; work out your action plan, where you want to get to in life... and go for it'.

Meeting Sayeeda was thoroughly enjoyable and highly stimulating.  No wonder she has got to where she is today

Mugabe's Racist Land Reform

Yesterday BBC Radio 4 had an interesting programme in Crossing Continents which will be available on iPlayer until 1st January.

Reporter Martin Plaut looks at the consequences of Robert Mugabe's highly controversial land reform programme which was started in 2000.  The Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University has been studying the progress of new farmers and it is interesting to hear from both black and white Zimbabweans.

Commercial farmers were Zimbabwe's biggest employers - Zimbabwe used to be called the "bread basket of Africa".  However evidence like the displacement of workers by the new settlers; much agricultural land lying dormant and unfarmed; and the fact that Zimbabwe has had to import food every single year for the last 11 years when in the previous 100 years Zimbabwe only had to do so twice; clearly demonstrates the failure of Mugabe's land reforms.

I've written about Zimbabwe before and can't rate highly enough Ben Freeth's (a cousin of mine) book, Mugabe & the White African