Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Mutual Aid

Conservative Home's recent survey suggests that many of our parliamentary candidates are concerned about the lack of mutual aid coming from "safe" Tory seats.

On Saturday I went out canvassing with Chloe Smith, candidate for Norwich North. Aged 26, Chloe may be the Conservative Party's youngest female candidate but I have met politicians twice her age with half her wisdom, maturity and energy. There is some precedent for younger MPs making a difference - Winston Churchill first stood for parliament when he was 24 and was elected the following year!

The reception on the doorstep to the Conservative rosette was excellent - yet residents have real concerns, from money worries and crime to local litter hotspots. There is a lot of work for a good candidate to get their teeth into - Chloe has a good team but more volunteers always means more can be done.

Afterwards we discussed some of my experiences in the last general election regarding mutual aid and organising action days for both local and visiting volunteers. Here are some of our thoughts.

Don't Panic. It is still a long way from an election and more help will come as the election draws closer. Activists in "safe" seats have been working hard to assure local election victories and flocking to national by-elections like never before. That is important too.

Do Encourage. Publicise your action days well in advance, send out reminders letting people know who else is coming so they see a team building, make sure volunteers are briefed clearly, fed, watered and thanked.

Do keep an active website. I certainly found that all the younger volunteers had a good peek at my online offering before offering physical help.

Do be creative. With high fuel costs people may not be able to travel far but willing to help from home with e.g. fundraising, writing letters, telephoning.

Do share ideas. Candidates are a bright bunch and its always worth talking to neighbouring seats about what is working for them.


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Why don't girls do Science?

I have been glued to nuclear physics today - every time I got in the car I was straight back on Radio 4 to hear the latest from the control room in CERN. Even "woman's hour" got involved debating how we could entice girls to go into science careers. I hope that my daughter's friends don't have my experience.

When I was at school I was a bit of a science geek and was encouraged to enter the National Physics Olympiad. I was awarded a silver medal and sent a worthy tome.

The book plate reads "to Victoria, in recognition of HIS achievement......". This did not exactly deliver the message that the world of high science welcomed female applicants. I put aside pinging protons and dropped physics.

A generation on, the statistics show the record of girls going into science careers in the UK remains poor.

One of the UK female physicists interviewed today described her project as involving 2,500 scientists from 37 different countries. Yet the discussion on careers advice was entirely UK centric. If we want to learn from the CERN project we could start by discovering whether all those countries have similar failings, and if not can we can learn from them.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Missed Pension payments

I've read the press stories about students not receiving their grant cheques. I had a very worrying phone call from a pensioner (Mrs P) this evening. She told me the following.

Mr P is 90 years old. He has Alzheimer's and has not received his state pension payment for 3 months. He is now due over £1,700 in back pension payments. They are obviously stressed.

Mrs P has done more than everything to put this right before calling politicians. She has logged each call. On August 26th Mrs P was promised the money would be in their bank account within 5 working days. It wasn't. Mrs P made follow up calls to the pensions office today and again has been promised the money is coming.

Mr and Mrs P don't blog - so perhaps stories like this are not being reported as quickly as students issues. I would like to know if this is a one off or if others have heard of similar issues. Thanks

Update 5 Sept - I have been told by a benefits expert that the pensions office are notoriously difficult when it comes to discrepencies like this - Mr P had been recieving his pension for 25 years when it suddenly stopped. Surely this is the one most needy group who really have earned a decent level of service from the authorities.