Bringing the Power of Social Media to Politics

Reading West has six candidates, so far, for the coming General Election in May 2015, and since this constituency tends to change hands with the change of power, it should be an interesting one to watch.  The climate in the run up to this election is the most interesting in my lifetime, and I’m sure that is not just because I am standing myself.  2010 was the first election which wasn’t just about Red and Blue.  And this election is much wider open already, as the latest Lord Ashcroft poll shows:

The two main parties are loosing their following left, Ashcroft poleright and centre and people power movements and on-line petitions have emerged to have a significant sway over public opinion and policy.

And yet the internet is still are largely untapped resource for many candidates.  In Reading West I have only managed to find contact details for 5 out of 6 candidates, a Wikipedia page for 2 and only three of us have twitter accounts.

I just had a very interesting twitter conversation with a Reading West constituent who justifiably called me out on my presumed judgement that some of the candidates “seemed to be doing nothing”, when my only resource was the internet.  He was completely right, I had no idea what they are doing IN Reading West, based on the fact that I cannot see it on-line.  Now if I those candidates that would worry me.  I would love to be ale to devote time to both physical presence in Reading talking to people face to face, working in the community AND using the internet to talk to people, write and conduct research.  But, in my opinion, the internet will reach a lot more people.

I am basing this on the fact that Reading West has a larger than average proportion of students/young professionals and middle-aged, tech-savy-professionals as well.  Both of these groups can be reached via the internet at a time convenient to them (and to me).  The former group, traditionally don’t vote, but make up a significant proportion of the new, on-line people power movements, so anyone who ignores them now, is taking a big risk.  I’m banking on them voting in 2015.

So although I already had this website, a public Facebook account, dedicated gmail and twitter set up for my campaign, I have now added to my social media reach with a tumblr, Instagram and you tube, and more to come.  I can be found under the name “SuzieFerguson4MP” or “SuzieFerguson4ReadingWest” and I’ll keep working at getting in touch with as many different groups of constituents as I can so that I can find out what it is that THEY want from an MP and the next parliament and to make sure, at least, that their voice is heard.

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Why not Renationalise the Railways?

I do not plan to make a habit of mimicing the opinions of others, but I am very interested in anything which could deliver a better service for rail-users to and from Reading.

Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, has written a provocative but useful article which explains the logic behind the Green Party’s stance of renationalising our railways, which can be boiled down to the following key points:

  • Although the government has capped the rise in some fares at 2.5% to save face in the run up to the general election, fares had already risen by 20% under the current government.
  • Using Brighton as an example, the daily commute to London costs £4400 per year amounting to 17% of the average salary – to commute from Reading to Paddington costs only fractionally less with an annual season ticket costing £4188 despite the much shorter distance.
  • Lucas proposes to renationalise each franchise as and when it expires (or fails).
  • The railways were originally privatised in the hopes that private investment would result in cheaper fares, faster trains and improved services.
  • The investments never materialised and private train operators “have benefited from far more public subsidy than British Rail ever did – to the tune of several billion pounds a year”, according to Lucas.
  • Meanwhile some of those companies are handing over up to 90% of their profits to their shareholders when they could be reducing fares or investing to improve services.
  • Lucas suggests that a nationalised railways system would cost £1billion less to run than the current system.

The argument for renationalisation is strongly supported by the case of the East Coast Mainline, which was nationalised when its franchise operator failed. Lucas says that: “In the five years it’s been run by the public sector, East Coast has returned nearly £1billion to the taxpayer. In public hands, it was vastly cheaper to run: according to a Compass report last year, receiving £0.46 of government funding per passenger per mile – compared to the £4.57 on the private West Coast. It increased passenger numbers, introduced a new timetable, improved punctuality and established industry leading approaches to waste recycling and carbon emissions reduction.”

What is there that is not to like about this idea, are there any hard facts which contradict this? I’d love to know what you think and hear about your experiences travelling to and from Reading as well as our local stations of Tilehurst, Reading West, Pangbourne and Theale?

Pearls of Wisdom found in Dubai

I expected our 12+ months in Dubai to be a slog, working very long hours, living in a huge, faceless, wealth-obsessed metropolis.  I left the UK with two toddlers in tow in February 2014 after a long winter of rain, ice, relentless spiralling debt and post natal depression.

What I found was a revelation, as well as our chance to turn our lives around.  We now owe nothing to the student loans company or the banks (mortgage excepting) and have only three individuals left to repay, I’m off the medication and we have a bright future ahead of us.  We have nearly turned it around out here in the land of opportunity for the hard-working.  If only everyone had such a chance without having to forsake the country of their birth to do it!

We didn’t just find nearly endless sunshine (which definitely helps!) but also a wonderfully welcoming and accepting atmosphere of industry, warmth and wisdom.  Almost everybody I have met here has a story, and a compelling reason to be here in Dubai, from the young Brits working hard, playing hard and saving up to come home with cash for a deposit, to the bright young Asians growing careers and supporting families in India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

I am talking about Dubai, not to gloat, but because I think that we can learn some valuable lessons from how other countries are run.  A number of our closest neighbours in Europe can afford to have both free higher education and a prized national health system without crippling the poorest sections of society with austerity, so why can’t the UK when our GDP is about the same?

The UAE has a much higher GDP than the UK, and people seem so much happier.  I think that a significant factor contributing to this is that wages are higher.  Much higher.  Here, Western, Eastern and African ex-pats alike are all able to earn enough money to have a better standard of living than they would have in their own country and are still able to send money home (or pay down debts in our case).

The happiness and higher wages don’t come simply from limitless oil-wealth (less than 7% of Dubai’s GDP comes from oil) but also from the vision and drive of its leaders, and the people really do love their leaders.

I used to joke, when hearing people moan about how “x-section of society shouldn’t be allowed to Dubai then and nowvote for whatever reason”, that the ideal system of government was surely a “benevolent dictatorship” (where a far-seeing and compassionate king-like figure takes advice from counsellors but has ultimate power which he or she wields for the genuine best interests and happiness of all his or her people).  Dubai has as close to that as surely exists in the world.  Sheikh Mohammed seems to be an inspirational leader and a great man and is the source of the following pearls of wisdom.

The following quotes are from Sheikh Mohammed’s latest book (Flashes of Thought) which moved me to tears a number of times.  I am in no position to judge the author on any level, but there are some real gems of wisdom and compassion here which all leaders (especially leaders of countries and the EU) could do with meditating upon. (I tried to cut it down, but failed, don’t feel you have to read to the end, many are here for my personal reference as much as anything!).

“‘Impossible’ is a word coined by those who do not want to work, or rather, those who do not want us to work…it is a word used by some people who fear to dream big.  It is like chains that tie a person down, hindering his every move…preventing him from moving around, living life and achieving great heights.

… The seemingly impossible is not a gauge of our strength and potential, but rather of our faith in ourselves, of our confidence in our capabilities and belief… There is no impossible in life.”

“The government’s job is to achieve happiness for people… We see government as an active part of society, never something that is separate of isolated.  The government works for the people, achieves its objectives through the people and measures its success through their satisfaction.  The government is an authority, but it as an authority at the service of the people and not an authority over them.  Its mission is to please them and to build a promising future for their children.”

“I would like to point out that when we talk about government of the future, we focus on the delivery of services and not on political structures… How can a government be closer to its people, faster, better and more responsive in providing services?”

“My advice to all is to arm yourself with positive energy and to use this energy to raise you team’s morale… Do not undermine your team’s moral with pessimism or hesitation.”

“The success of this 41-year-old nation [UAE] teaches important historical lessons to whoever wishes to draw upon them.  The most important lesson is that a union has a spirit.  No union can thrive if it is based solely on material interests.  We are not uniting companies; we are uniting people… My advice to any leader, whether of a country, a company, a team or anything else, is to unite hearts before uniting efforts, and to feel the spirit before building the place.”

“A leader should be a father to his people.”

“I would like to make clear that credit is due to the thousands of hard-working teams who stand behind our accomplishments.  I am nothing more than their leader.”

“One of my principles in life is that every minute of our life is worth filling with accomplishments, happiness and good deeds.  If you want to achieve, make the most of every single minute in your life.  Never stop working, thinking, innovating and enjoying every single minute and sure enough, it will bear fruit.”

“People want governments that provide excellent healthcare, education, housing, justice and safety… Until all governments commit their energy to such principles, unrest and crises will continue to shake our world.”

“The fresh thinking that fuels constant progress in government does not come only from the centre and the top, but from all around and from the roots.  Employees must be empowered as a source of innovation.  Creative ideas are the fruit of interaction between leaders and their teams… Ideas come from all kinds of people: citizens and residents, children and adults, officials and employees.  Everyone contributes ideas, no matter how simple.  I have a habit of asking everyone I meet to provide me with fresh ideas that may contribute to our development.”

“Creativity is the most valuable asset in any public institution; without it you can never challenge your past achievements, change your current situation nor surpass others.  Progressive governments embrace creativity.  It is the lifeblood of our quest to improve services, advance our people and develop our country.”

“To all creative minds, I say: you will always find someone who will fight your ideas.  This will be the first indication that you are on the right track.  To all officials, I say: do not fight change – embrace it.”

“The progress of countries, peoples and civilisations starts with education.  The future of nations starts in their schools.”

“Nothing is more valuable than a human life.”

“Justice is the foundation of governance.”

“To risk and fail is not a failure. Real failure is to fear taking any risk.”

“An exaggerated fear of mistakes stands in the way of creativity.”

“When economies are less stable, they can be boosted and anchored by large projects… launching projects is far more useful than launching rockets… building the future is only possible by consensus, reconciliation and team spirit.”

“The fastest way to happiness is by installing happiness in the hearts of others…true happiness comes from drawings a smile of satisfaction on a mother’s face, or instilling a sense of security in an orphan, or by showing a worker that the whole society appreciates his or her services.”

“First, act like a leader, for true leadership is not in one’s position, but in one’s way of thinking and acting: it is in the nobility of one’s objectives and goals.”

“Do not carry out your work as an employee, but as a leader who loves his country, as a craftsman who is passionate about his craft, and as an artist who excels in his art.”

“If you look at civil service as a mere job, you will be a mere employee.”

“It is necessary to ensure employees’ happiness in order that they in turn can bring happiness to others…a great leader creates more great leaders, and does not reduce the institution to a single person.”

“the future starts today, not tomorrow.  When people ask me “Why do you want everything now?”, I answer, “Why not?” There is no point in waiting… The future does not wait for hesitant people.  The more we achieve, the more we realise how much we can achieve.”

“We want to change the concept of leadership so that is includes anyone who has the ambitions and the will to change himself, and also to benefit his society… Leadership is a combination of intelligence, resourcefulness, wisdom, a strong personality and the aspiration to the greatest of things.”

“Every single achievement you make, every single life you change and every single skill you acquire brings you one step closer to becoming a better leader.”

“When the interests of our country dictate change, I will not hesitate to take such a decision.”

“Our objective is not change per se, but changing for the better.  If we can achieve this with the same team, then so much the better.  If we cannot then we will consider changing the team.”

“To those who would like to leave a mark on this country I say ‘The stage is yours’.”

Not what you were expecting?  Me neither.

 

 

Breastfeeding in Public #OstentatiousBreastfeeding

Last week a lady was asked to cover up when feeding her tiny baby in Claridges, of all places!  A row ensued with some very strong opinions viewed.  Of course Nigel Farage said something which was then over analysed and caused everyone to get very upset without really thinking about it too much.

I have an opinion on breastfeeding in public because I was fortunate to be able to feed my son and am still feeding my 20 month old daughter.  So I have considerable, recent experience with this issue.

People often get very outspoken in their defence of breastfeeding women because breastfeeding (and being a mum) is very challenging. Especially when they are little; positioning is crucial to ensure the little one doesn’t get a blister on their top lip and that mum doesn’t get sore leading to having to give up sooner than otherwise.

Trying to feed under a shroud adds a new level to this already difficult procedure of meeting the immediate needs of a tiny human. Trust me, I don’t want strangers staring at my boobs so if you do see more than either of us would like then it was not intentional, please just look the otherway, or enjoy the wonder of new life.

We all know that “breast is best” for the health of both mum and baby, so how about we all try to be supportive of our fellow human beings doing the right thing.

Nobody should have to sit in the corner as Mr Farage suggested.  While his comment has indeed been blown out of all proportion, I’m afraid that it is just unfortunate that he used the phrase:

“That’s up to Claridge’s. I think it should be. If you’re running an establishment you should have rules.”

I’m afraid any establishment “rule” which asks someone to sit in a corner because they are breastfeeding would, in a court of law, be discriminatory.  The law on whether asking a feeding mother to cover up would count as discriminatory treatment is unfortunately less clear (see bottom of this article for “official advice”) and needs clarifying.  This is something I will be looking into if I should be elected.

It is clearly very unkind to humiliate a mother who is minding her own business trying to have a nice time and simultaneously meet the needs of her small child, as summed up nicely by writer Deborah Orr:

“this indicates that human adults persist in believing that pandering to their own tastes and preferences is more important than supporting the nurture of babies”

#Ostentatiousbreastfeeding Suzie Ferguson
Skye Breastfeeding

So there has been a justifiable reaction to a few silly people putting the sensibilities of some very conservative folk before the wellbeing of babies and their mothers (offendable conservative folk who might not even really exist?).

As part of the ensuing campaign to protect and promote the rights of feeding mothers (and hence also their babies), I support the #ostentatiousbreastfeeding campaign.

Here is my daughter Skye, enjoying some milk… and waving, to try to be ostentatious about something so simple and natural.


Official Advice from the Equality Advisory Support Service

“Thank you for your e-mail to the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) dated 02 December 2014 regarding breast feeding.

The EASS provides advice and information on the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

We do recommend you consult a lawyer if you require legal advice, wish to take legal action or want advice on the merits of your case.

In your e-mail you explain that you are a breast feeding mother and given recent news stories (for instance the one relating to breast feeding in Claridges) you wish to know what your rights are when it comes to breast feeding in public places and how you would be able to officially make complaints or take action against people or places which discriminate against you.

For the Equality Act 2010 to apply you would need to have experienced discrimination that is related to one of the protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010.  There are nine protected characteristics defined within the Equality Act which are race, disability, sex (gender), age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, pregnancy or maternity and marriage or civil partnership.

The issue of breast feeding could fall into under the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity or sex, depending on the age of the baby.

In relation to the rights of breast feeding mothers, service providers must not discriminate, harass or victimise a woman because she is breast feeding.  Discrimination can include refusing to provide a service, providing a lower standard of service or providing a service on different terms.

If you are breast feeding a baby that is not more than 26 weeks old and experience unfavourable treatment by a service provider (for example being for asked to leave a café because you are breast feeding or being refused service) this could amount to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. However, if the baby is more than 26 weeks old this would fall outside of pregnancy and maternity discrimination and would need to be considered under the protected characteristic of sex as direct sex discrimination.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person treats another less favourably than they treat or would treat others because of a protected characteristic (for example sex).  In order to show direct discrimination you would need to show:

That you have experienced less favourable treatment, (treatment that causes a detriment or disadvantage to you) for example that you were asked to leave/refused service.

That the reason for the less favourable treatment (i.e. the reason you were asked to leave/refused service) was because of your sex.  So for example to show that you have been refused the service because you are breast feeding.  The protected characteristic does not have to be the only reason for the treatment; however, it would need to be proved as a substantive reason for the treatment.

In order to show the above, you need to a comparator who can be a real or hypothetical person.  The purpose of the comparator is to show how you have been treated less favourably than others are (or would be) treated in comparable circumstances.  If a hypothetical comparator is used, it would be to establish how you (a woman) would have been treated if you were not breast feeding.

If you were to experience one of the above forms of discrimination (depending on the age of the child) you would first of all make a complaint to the service provider using their complaints procedure.  However, if you were unable to resolve the issue with the service provider and escalated the complaint as far as possible with them, you have the right to make a claim to a county court.  The time limit for making a claim to a county court is 6 months minus one day from the date of the discrimination.”

Pre-Election Budgetteering – Review

So, the Autumn Statement is out and the BBC has already accused the Government of using if for blatant electioneering.  For once, I’m going to try to trawl through the whole thing and see if and how if affects people in real terms, rather than relying on the media summaries, since I trust the media less and less each day…

1.1 The current government inherited an appalling debt and deficit caused in part by previous governments and in part by the Global Great Recession (which the previous governments of the UK, EU and US all played their part in causing, or rather, allowing banks they should have been regulating to cause).  Cutting that deficit in half is an impressive feat, however, it could arguably have been done differently without simultaneously causing the “Cost of living crisis” and significantly widening the gap between rich and poor in the UK.  Despite the horrific side affect, we should at least be relieved that the deficit is half what it was because otherwise our situation would be (even) worse.

1.2 There has been some fiscal and financial reform, but only the government would describe this as “far-reaching” or “structural”.  Other financial and fiscal experts describe it instead as “tinkering around the edges” while protecting significant vested interests of The Establishment. If you have time to spare, the Sovereign Money backbench debate highlights are really interesting and educational for those just starting to realise that financial reform could literally change the world for the better (for the rich AND the 99%).

1.3 “The UK economic recovery is now well established and growth is broadly based across
sectors”.  This is highly optimistic since most oberservers state that the apparent health of the UK economy is currently being artificially proped up by a housing market bubble – see the unsustainable sharpe increase in house pricGDP Graphes in some areas over the last 12 months, which is deepening the “cost of living crisis” and widening the gap between the rich and old and the young and poor.   Not really something to be hugely proud of in my opinion.

1.4 GDP is gradually going up.  Yey, except this is partly on the back of the aforementioned housing bubble and widening economic inequality, which is why most of us no longer associate these kind of figures with our own personal or family quality of life.

—several points about the impressive employment statistics and wages, which would be interesting if zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships did not exist—

There is also a lot of information on growth in various areas and warnings about the 40% probability of recession in the Eurozone and Japan having just entered recession.  This impacts our exports and global markets generally which is useful and important but does not impact my household directly right now.  Equally I am skipping over things like the UK’s debt as a percentage of GDP due to time constraints.

It is great that the Bank of Englad base rate is being kept at 0.5% and helps people who are in debt not to be worse off (this is independent of the government).

I’m going to have to put my hands up and say that I am no expert on the NHS but I am not convinced that the announced “extra funding” for the NHS is going to the right places.  It sounds a bit suspect, especially since this document rarely quotes how much was already due to be spent making it impossible to judge the before and after without spending hours pouring over previous budgets.  You should never get away with this sort of reporting in engineering.  Statements such as “has been increased from X to Y” would be much more helpful for us to view the bigger picture, without it I find it hard to trust that I’m not being mislead.

38 Degrees asked the government to use the $1.2 billion raised from banks breaking laws to support more frontline NHS staff such as nurses doctors and midwives, but instead:

“will be used to create a £1 billion fund for advanced care in GP practices in England.  Bringing together GPs, nurses and specialists, the fund will pay for the modern premises and technology that will give patients access to advanced care, such as chemotherapy and dialysis, in their local communities. These new primary care facilities will also be encouraged to join up closely with local job centres, social services and other community services, in order to ensure that the NHS is also supporting people back into the labour market.”

1.86 “The government is also continuing to invest in mental health services, and the new
NHS mandate will commit to parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”  It is great that the importance of this acknowledged and that eating disorders are specifically highlighted, but especially in the depths of the “cost of living crisis” depression and anxiety are also huge problems overloading systems such as Talking Therapies in Reading (who are great, just not enough of them!).

1.10 Employer national insurance contributions up to the upper earnings limits have been abolished for apprentices under 25 years of age and all employees under 21.  This sounds like it should help employers to take on apprentices (who presumably won’t be paying national insurance because they will not exceed the lower earnings limit, but in case they are receiving a living wage, it would be a good idea to simultaneously abolish the employee NI contributions to the same level).

In the same section (and section 1.151) student loans are being introduced to encourage graduates pursue further study (thus removing themselves from the unemployed list and building additional personal debt).  Along with the removal of the cap on undergraduate student numbers this year, this is a TERRIBLE idea as it will further increase the number of young people cripplingly indebted to the generation above.

There is a section on infrastructure investment which I’ve also skipped over only to note that there is a lot about promoting fracking and shale gas development in direct contradiction to most of the electorates wishes.  I am most definitely in the “No fracking” camp, despite being a chemical engineer – I’d much rather expend my engineering expertise on sustainable solutions like renewables and only spend a minimal effort to decarbonise existing technologies (via clean-up technologies like carbon capture and storage) until such a time as renewables-only can be sensibly employed.

I have also, selfishly, skipped the “Northern Powerhouse” stuff, because I live in the South East…

—Still waiting to get to any information which will make me better or worse off due to budget changes (by page 48 of 108)…

On page 50, hurray, something which will affect many people: Revised Stamp Duty (but not me in the foreseeable future)  SDLT

“From 4 December 2014, SDLT rates will only apply to the part of the property price that falls within each band, similar to the structure of Income Tax. The effective rate of SDLT will rise steadily as property values increase, removing the distortions created by the existing system, where the amount of tax due jumps at the thresholds.”

So the rate for households valued at £250,000 will be effectively the same (1% overall), but it will now be possible to purchase a little place in Reading and, just maybe, not pay any stamp duty at all, certainly a lot less.

Finally..!

1.214 “The government’s strategy for delivering sustainable increases in living standards is to
support economic growth and get more people into work”.  So nothing about raising wages then?  Cutting tax for most people I am wholly in favour of though:

The personal allowance (bottom threshold) is going up more than inflation from £10,000 per year to £10,600 (6%), which is BRILLIANT, but the higher threshold (20% to 40%) is only going up by inflation (well, 1.2%,so  slightly below inflation for last month, which was 1.3%).  From this change alone I will be £19 a month better off.  (Yes, I’m working in Dubai now, but I’ll be back for good at the change of the tax year… in 127 days)  £19 is definately better than a poke in the eye, but it won’t notice compared to my £1800 a month childcare bills (2 children under 4, 5 days a week).

Much is then made about tax relief for savers including: “those earning under £15,600 need pay no tax on any of their savings income”.  While I welcome all help for anyone on a low wage, seriously, who has any savings these days that earn them any significant income?  I have not had any savings since the day my son was born, so this has no impact on me.  Does it affect many people I wonder, who were not already rich (my definition of “rich” these days is “has disposable income”)?  The same will go for the transfer of tax-free ISA allowances to your partner when you die.  Yet more benefits for the already rich at the general tax-payers expense.

Then follows more stuff on pensions… I’d be interested if I didn’t already know that I will have to rob a bank sometime before I want to retire…

Then the removal of air passenger duty for children, to save money for people who have the spare cash for foreign holidays?  Well, thank you, for me that is as useful as a chocolate fireguard, but I’m sure it will save some valuable pocket-money for those who had spare cash for luxuries already.  That money could have gone to support food banks…

The “Fair and Affordable Welfare System”, including Universal Credit, can be found on page 57.

I’m sorry but I am now out of time as I have to get back to the day job, before I start a rant about how the welfare system should never have the word “affordable” associated with it (exactly what is the value of a human life to the government such that “affordable” can be a judgement criteria?  Apparently less if you cannot afford to support yourself through some misfortune or another which they are not interested in than if you are a pensioner with substantial personal savings).

Sigh, what would have made a difference to my family being able to make ends meet with 2 children under school age would be tax relief of the order of my monthly expenditure on childcare.  When you pay £1800 a month on childcare and £1400 in tax and national insurance, it is not surprising if there is nothing left to pay for food, heat and housing, this budget has made no difference to that immediate need.  Imagine if I could have had some or all of that £1400 with which to pay the bills..? I might not have accumulated £30k debt in the first 3 years after my son was born.  Thank heavens my son is nearly old enough for school and Dubai pays engineers a lot more than the UK does.

But I continue to fear for those on lower income than mine with longer until their little ones are big enough for school, I really don’t know how they manage…  and this budget certainly won’t have helped them.  How about removing VAT from more of life’s essentials, like food and tampons?

 

Just another “meme”?

I was quickly informed by friends, soon after sharing this image on my personal Facebook, that this is “just another meme”.  While it is obviously very easy to fake this kind of graphic it still received some interesting comments, which are worth airing.  This general statement:

“Its faked. The images have been edited to make a false point.”

While this Spectator article explains where the lower images come from I, personally, am not sure that this renders the point being made as “false”, especially as some, if not all, of the top nine images are in fact accurate (although possibly taken at a misleading point in the debate).  The bottom two pictures are definately falsely claimed to be about MP’s pay and expenses, however, the only image I could find when looking for a true image of MP’s debating their wage or expenses was this one (the original article is no longer available but the image meta data says “BBC News, Politics, Commons debate on MP’s expenses”).  mps expenses debate bbc

Yes, putting together fake graphics ruins the argument, particularly for those who already take what is posted on the internet with a pinch of salt (especially if we have time to check references), but the question still remains:

  •  If a study were performed on MP’s attendance on issues which affect them personally versus issues which affect the poorer >90% of the UK population I wonder if the point would still be “false”?

On a more thoughtful note, I also saw this from a friend who is a very active and brilliant councillor in Sheffield:

“What’s interesting is how quick people are to share it without even questioning whether it is true. I recall someone saying recently that part of the problem with out political system is how politicians interact with the people, but another problem is how the people interact with politicians.  If we expect scum, that’s what we’ll probably get.”

I think that people’s eagerness to share this image stems from a number of issues, and most certainly from the expectation that MP’s do not represent the interests of their constituents.  You could argue that this our own fault for voting for them, but that is really only valid if the alternative candidates were significantly different.  If this experience has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that it is very challenging to run an election campaign if you have to work a full-time job and do not have a party to pay for mailshots (very roughly £50,000 per shot, how much better spent could that money be in Reading West?).

Our current system is weighted very heavily in favour of the big parties with the big money from private donors to support campaigning, whose MP’s subsequently have their sponsoring party’s interests, and their donors interests, on their agenda, which could compete with the interests of their constituents.  For example: banning private funding for election campaigns (and political parties?) would dramatically alter the choice of candidates and open the field to smaller parties not supported by big business or wealthy individuals.  This would surely deliver a far more representative democracy, but would weaken the big party’s grip on power, so we rarely hear about this idea.  (There is a great TED talk by Larry Lessig about a campaign in the states to get the money out of politics.)

In short; this meme, is not, in my opinion a menace, because it either makes us chuckle, it makes us question our information sources, or it makes us stop and think about our political system and consider what we might do to improve it.  No doubt many MPs are busy being good, productive MPs in select committees, meeting constituents, taking part in a Westminster Hall debate, running an all-party parliamentary group meeting, briefing journalists, plotting a rebellion with colleagues or working in their office when they are not sitting in the House in debate.  But if it weren’t for people seeing this image and thinking “I knew it, check this out folks” then this meme would not exist.  #timeforchange

Why Me & Why Now?

It turns out that it is really hard to find time to run a serious campaign for election when you work 48+ hours a week and look after 2 children single-handedly most of the rest of the time.

DSC_8362BSo I apologise for not knocking on doors and for not having fully researched and developed policies, yet.  But what I can promise is; that if being the representative and advocate for the people of Reading West and driving for a fairer, better Britain, EU and World were my full-time job, then I would be amazing at it.

Because:

  • I am very smart and very tenacious, I graduated top in my year from University and received two of engineering’s most prestigious graduate awards along with my first class Master’s in Chemical Engineering.
  • I am trained, experienced and good at team-working, leadership and project management.
  • I have a balanced background, I have spent 10 years in engineering (15 if you count my degree) but my parents teach music and English and I trained to teach Ballet before I even went to University.
  • I have accrued some worldly wisdom; I have travelled widely for work, pleasure and as a volunteer and have learnt more about life and the different ways there are of doing things from this than any number of years studying politics, economics or philosophy could have taught me.
  • Having children is the hardest thing I have ever done, compared to a 50 hour labour and 3 years of sleep deprivation, what fear can being in the public eye and challenging big egos hold?  Seriously.  I plan to be the voice and advocate for the people of Reading West, when standing up on behalf of others I am fearless and ruthless.
  • As an independent I hold no allegiance to political parties, only to the people of Reading West, UK, EU and the wider world we live in.

work Suzie 2A number of people have told me it is foolish to run for Parliament while I have so many existing demands on my time and am working in Dubai to boot.  They might well be right.  However, there are two reasons why the 2015 General Election is the time for me to stand up and contribute:

Firstly, as a relatively new parent I have recently transitioned from the societal role of bright young apprentice, to the parental role of nurturing and protecting the next generation.  I am horrified by how let down I feel personally by the generation above, by politics and by the “rules” of our current British society.  I have managed to find a way for my family to make it through for now, but only because I was able to leave the UK and work tax-free for a year and clear our debts (but not the mortgage, of course).  I have plenty of friends and family who do not have that chance, and then there are the students and  recent graduates who are having to go to university to be employable, but will leave with £50k of debt when, if the employment market were different, they wouldn’t have had to go to university in the first place?!  As my Arabic speaking friends would say “haram”, “it is not right”.

Secondly, if there were ever a time for a different type of people to be entering politics, it is now.  Britain needs sensible and fact-based reform, particularly of the democracy itself, but also of the financial system, and provision of infrastructure (utilities, transport, education, healthcare…).  This will become blindingly obviously if the power cuts predicted as “likely” by the National Grid come to pass this winter due to our lack of electricity generation capacity.

Reading West has a high proportion of young, skilled workers  and young people in education or training.  More than 80% of under 35s use Facebook, and at least  40% also use Twitter, so while the traditional parties might be out knocking on doors, younger potential voters are debating on-line, and creating petitions and gathering momentum, fast.  Along with low-income and ethnic minorities, young working people are very significantly underrepresented on the electoral roll (compared with the last census).  Whether young people don’t vote because mainstream politics has nothing for them, or mainstream politics has nothing for young people because they don’t vote, either way, if they were to have something to vote FOR, and could be persuaded to vote, then their voice would be very significant, particularly in Reading West.  And particularly now, when we are waking up to having been shafted over successive parliaments, and in the last 5 years in particular.

In 2010 voter turnout was just 65% and the Reading West seat was won with just 20,523 votes, when half of all young people were not even registered to vote.  With a population of approximately 100,000, of which 33% are under 35 (and above 15), you do not need an engineering degree to see that politics is ready for significant change, starting with Reading West.plot plan 2

Remembrance – Lest we forget

Today is the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years after the start of “The war to end all wars”.  At the 11th hour there will be silence in memory of all those who have given their lives in armed conflict and to remember the families who have lost their loved ones.  I might be in Dubai, but I have my poppy and will not forget.Malala

Today is also 210 days since the world was shocked by the abduction of 276 girls by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok in Northeastern Nigeria.  Some of the latest news is reported here.  219 of those girls are still missing, 57 rescued themselves.  Their government and governments around the world have said much but achieved nothing.

Since then, Islamic State have taken much of Northern Iraq and already held huge areas of Syria.  In the regions they control the numbers of missing are unknown but are certainly in the many thousands.  Sadly, many of Justinthe men are known or believed to have been murdered, but many of the women and children may still be alive.  I have spent only minutes trying to come up with numbers involved and am too heart-broken to look further than this article by Human Rights Watch: “current detainees reached by phone… said they had seen hundreds of other Yezidis in detention. Some said the number was more than 1,000…”

During my 3 minutes’ silence I will be thinking of all those who gave their lives to secure a better world for generations to come, to appreciate their immense gift to us, and to wonder what can be done to turn around what feels like a slide into darkness since the Great Recession which began in 2007.

Where is the political will to bring back the Chibok girls, to release the prisoners of Islamic State and to facilitate a future for the millions (yes millions) of refugeeObamas forced from their homes, businesses, schools and families for their very survival?

Why do so many of us think that we can do nothing? Even those with great wealth and great power are not empowered to try to help beyond well-meaning selfies.

There are real things we can do.

“We are so tired of your wars” said Malala to the UN.  It is time for peace. It is time for equality and it is time to get off our butts and do everything within our power to change our global leaders from self-serving, shortsighted and unempowered to wise, compassionate and determined… and above all respecting of human rights for all.

I had to study this poem by Wilfred Owen as part of my GCSE English Lit. It has stayed burnt into my heart and mind ever since.

Futility – by Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?Wilfred_Owen

AMAR Snack Sundays

I took a break from preparation for 7th May 2015, when I should have been writing a Press Pack, to do something 100% worthwhile.  Instead I started an ongoing charity cake event to simultaneously liven up Sundays in the office (the first day of the working week in the Middle East) and raise a regular sum of money for an extremely good cause:

#AMARSnackSundays: Week One alone raised more than $200 (enough for AMAR to pay for 4 family food parcels or 10 high quality winter blankets or 100 medical consultations).  If you like the idea, please consider starting something similar in your workplace, it has certainly been fun here so far!


BACKGROUNDAMAR Emergency Appeal Flyer 1

I work in an engineering contracting company in Dubai, on a project for a multi-national oil company based in the Netherlands and the Iraq Ministry of Oil to upgrade one of their huge oil and gas fields near Basra in Southern Iraq.  Today we (the staff working on the project in Dubai) started an initiative to try to help the people of Iraq directly at the same time.

Since I started working on this project in February 2014; I have been horrified at the significantly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq.  I have hurt for the million+ people who have lost their homes, schools and livelihoods and I have wept for the many thousands of dead or missing men, women and children and their destroyed families.  There are no adequate words to express the horror that has befallen ordinary people in Iraq in 2014.  My colleagues are lucky – our site is in Southern Iraq.  Other companies have lost unknown numbers of staff, western and local when the Northern Iraqi fields and Baiji refinery fell to ISIS.  So many are still missing.

From this horror have emerged some true heroes.  Like Alan Henning, who was brutally murdered by Islamic State in Syria, there are thousands of equally courageous individuals who risk a similar fate on a daily basis to help people in desperate need.


HOW IT WORKSBefore 2

The AMAR Foundation is one of the very few organisations still operating in both Basra and in Islamic State controlled areas, so through them aid can reach those in the very greatest of need.  AMAR has been in contact with the highest level management of my company here in Dubai, Beforebut the executives have taken months to think about what the company could do to help.

The people of Iraq need help NOW (or yesterday, or really in June, when Islamic State took half the country in a week).  So I started an initiative in our office inspired by the success of the recently viral ice bucket challenge.

#AMARSnackSundays Rules are very simple:

  •  Team 1 brings in snacks on a Sunday, then nominates Team 2, of their choice, to bring in the snacks the following Sunday,
  • Team 2 brings in snacks the next Sunday, then nominates Team 3,
  • and so on…After 3

Snacks can be anything from your favourite traditional homemade snack, to ordered in doughnuts.

Donations are simply collected in an honesty box and people help themselves to a snack.

100% of the money raised is then forwarded directly to the AMAR Foundation.


WORKING DIRECTLY WITH THE AMAR FOUNDATION

“#SnackSundays is raising money to support the various projects of the AMAR Foundation, which has been working for over 22 years to provide vital assistance to communities affected by conflict in the Middle East.  In that time, AMAR has supported millions of men, women and children across Iraq in a variety of different ways from providing health care, education and clean water, to kindergarten services, sports days and festivals.

 Today, Iraq is suffering a major humanitarian crisis.  The UN estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes across Iraq.  In Dohuk alone, there are estimated to be 800,000 refugees – a number that almost doubles the region’s population.  In Najaf, an estimated 80,000 people are living on the roadside between the Holy City and Karbala, taking shelter anywhere they can including schools, factories and half-finished buildings.  AMAR’s teams across the country are doing everything they can from distributing aid items, such as food parcels, hygiene items and blankets, to building and equipping health centres where they are most needed.

 By using local teams and sourcing local supplies, AMAR can make your donations go a very long way.  A medical consultation costs as little as $2, a high-quality blanket for winter costs just $20, and a food parcel to feed a family costs as little as $50.”

My helpers
My helpers

LAURA PUDDEFOOT-KNAGGS   

Head of Fundraising

AMAR International Charitable Foundation


If you like this idea please join me in helping AMAR, or a charity of your choice, using #AMARSnackSundays and posting pictures of the fun on social media.  Little people can make big differences!

What the United Kingdom is trying to tell Parliament

That is what the titile would be if you substitue the Union Jack foimagesr the Stars and Stripes, and the sign “will work for food” for “working but cannot afford food”.  Another exceptional work of art from Prince Ea, thank you!

The real title is What America needs to tell Obama”