Snap election

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Well I didn’t see that coming. But I applaud the Prime Minister for calling an election. I understand her desire to have her own mandate for the coming years. In addition, there is a convention in Parliament that prevents the unelected House of Lords from voting down legislation if it is in a Party’s manifesto. This will be crucial for the Prime Minister with all the measures she will be wanting to take through Parliament in the coming years.

Brexit will be a major part of the election. A Conservative Government will take forward the wishes of the majority in last year’s referendum. As someone who voted remain and has always advocated a close relationship between the UK and EU, I accept the result of the Referendum. I therefore strongly support the Prime Minister's determination to secure a negotiated agreement for the UK in terms of our leaving the EU and for forging a new trading arrangement for the future providing certainty for business, migration rights and movement issues. I believe the people of West Berkshire will also benefit from a close continuing security, intelligence and defence relationship with a strong and prosperous EU. I will work to encourage the building of new links between us and our closest neighbours. In the coming months and years I hope to be in Parliament pushing for a Brexit that works for businesses and those who work for them.

In this election I also look forward to talking about my past record and my priorities for the future. I have been part of plans that could see rough sleeping almost eradicated in West Berkshire. This is a goal we should all sign up to. I have also committed myself to making sure that the 2017 Year of Mental Health is successful in bringing real change to how we care for and treat those who suffer from mental illness.

Some people have flattered me by asking if I was “in on” the decision to call an election. The answer is an emphatic no. Along with most people it came as a complete surprise. As it was announced I was negotiating huge crowds with my children at Legoland. Try having a conversation with your campaign manager whilst sitting in a pirate ship with screaming children around you. Whatever the election throws at me it will be easier than that.

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Twits

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I like Twitter. It is a useful way or keeping in touch with local and national issues. I have around 12,400 followers. It is hard to imagine any other platform that would allow me the chance to communicate with a crowd of that size.

There is a big "but" here.

Twitter is not the voice of the people. It too often becomes the favoured home of the obsessed and often the extreme. Because any post is no more than 140 characters, complex issues get condensed into banal sound bites. I have realised that the way to be happy in life is, at all costs, to avoid having a Twitter spat. They waste time, excite the slightly dotty and just fill some virulent echo chamber with more needless noise.

I broke this rule recently. I took on a Guardian journalist (with whom I sometimes agree) who has 176,500 followers. He made a silly comment dredged from the pit of right-on kneejerkism, which simplified the whole Syrian tragedy down to the argument that the UK and USA just spend billions of dollars bombing when they should be looking after refugees. Silly of me perhaps to get irritated by such simplistic nonsense but I had just seen in my own neighbourhood the huge investment the Government is making for Syrian refugees. Furthermore, the UK has pledged £2.3 billion in aid to support refugees displaced by the civil war. This is second only to the USA and is more than most of the rest of the EU put together.

Anyway, my tweet resulted in a tsunami of responses (about 10% of which I managed to read) which reminded me that there are people out there who far from being proud of the fact that the UK is one of the few countries in the world to live up to its UN commitment to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Product on aid, are appalled that it is so little.  Tell them the truth that the UK is the third biggest donor in the world and they really believe you are telling them “fake news”.  There really are people who believe that all defence spending is wrong (one of them leads the Labour Party). Arguing with them is as pointless as talking about climate change to someone who believes that the world is flat. So, note to self, don’t bother to try.

We spend about the right amount on both aid and defence and we are spending big sums of your money to protect, house, educate and heal refugees. Whilst I am pleased that aid spending is more focussed now than it was I think some defence spending could be better directed (those two massive aircraft carriers are an indulgence we could redirect).

I get plenty of letters and emails from those who would prefer we spent nothing on aid and double our defence spend. Perhaps I should just put one lot of ultras in touch with the other and I can get on with having a sensible discussion with the majority. Most people believe Britain should be spending up to its UN commitment on aid and up to its NATO commitment on defence. I am proud that we are doing both. 

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Why NATO matters

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After the momentous events in Parliament following the invocation of Article 50 last week, it was interesting being in Berlin at the weekend. I lead the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. This is a gathering of parliamentarians from across the alliance who provide some democratic accountability for those running NATO.  As someone brought up in the Cold War, Berlin has always had a fascination for me. I found time to walk the line of the old Berlin Wall and to try and get a feel for how life was in the scary days when West and East faced off against each other over the iron curtain.

In a recent poll of young people in the USA a third believed that President George Bush had been responsible for more deaths than Stalin. Such ignorance seems incredible to many of us but serves as a reminder that we must state the case for democracy and the many virtues of the democratic West over the vile misery that both communism and national socialism brought on the world. For the record, the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of 17 million, including the 6 million who died in the holocaust.  Communism out did that by killing around 100 million.

We now live in what people call the post-Cold War era. But it feels pretty chilly to me.  Russia is ruled by a dangerous kleptocrat who threatens the peace of Europe as much today as when I was a soldier in the early 1980s when the British Army was on high readiness for what could so easily have been a nuclear conflict.  At least in Soviet days there were checks on the actions of its Government with so called 'doves' as well as 'hawks' in the politburo.  Now there is only one person, a hawk who will do anything to stay in power by suppressing dissent in Russia and even killing his enemies on the streets of London.  We need to explain the threat to a society weary of war, that NATO is the only guarantor of our security.  This should not just be a matter of concern to Parliamentarians sitting in a conference room in Berlin but understood here at home where all our lives could be affected if a resurgent Russia is not deterred by a coherent military alliance in the West.

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'This sitting is now suspended'

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These words from the Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, were the first indication that something was wrong in Parliament. They came during a division, a vote in Parliamentary terms. I had just hurried back from a meeting a few blocks from Parliament and must have missed the attack by about four minutes. What then followed was for me, not a lot. We were sealed in the Chamber and what is called the Members Lobby while police and others ran around checking to see if the attacker had any accomplices in the building. At one point a man in civilian clothes, body armour and a ski mask carrying an automatic weapon ran up to one of the doors to the Members Lobby. Finding it locked he splintered the door plate with one kick. Later I asked one of the badged messengers (usually ex-military types who manage and protect the workings of Parliament), about this and he replied, ‘all he had to do was knock’.

I was much more worried about my PA, Michele, and researcher, Alasdair, who witnessed most of the horrors on Westminster Bridge from my office in Portcullis House. They were instructed to lock themselves in. Later they were evacuated into the Noman Shaw North building where they were stuck until 7.30pm with not so much as a Twix bar for sustenance. Michele got home very late and, with Alasdair, defied my orders not to come in the next day.

The following day started as usual with prayers in the Chamber. Our Chaplain, Rose, broke from the usual text to lead us in the 23rd Psalm. The mood here was sombre but defiant. I spoke to one of the heroes of the hour, my fellow Royal Green Jacket Tobias Ellwood. He said that they had a pulse on the police officer for about 10 minutes. He was giving CPR when a doctor arrived. After working hard with the doctor to keep the officer alive Tobias said to the doctor, ‘tell me if you think this is doing any good’ and got the reply, ‘no, you can stop now’.

The 24 hour news agenda has started to grate: ‘People are asking how this secure building’s perimeter could be breached’. The man got 20 yards before he was shot dead. The building is accessed by thousands every week who come as tourists or constituents or special interest groups to see a working Parliament. If we stop it being just that, the bad guys have surely won. Sky News had the strap line, ‘How will London recover?’ Absurd. The Prime Minister got the tone right when she said that the country was showing anyone who thought well of the vile perpetrator of this crime that they would never win because we were going about our everyday existence: going to work, visiting cafes and coffee shops. Being normal. And being normal is to treat with contempt pathetic attempts in some parts of the media to find someone to blame. There is only one person to blame and he was a low-life criminal who had been in prison for other violent offences. He was no soldier of Islam. He was a depraved loner, a failure. It somehow dignifies him to call him a terrorist.

The Intelligence and Security Committee on which I sit, will be looking at this incident, as will every other organisation charged with keeping us safe. But for now the best thing we can do is in the words of the wartime poster, ‘Keep calm and carry on’. 

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Westminster diary

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On Monday I attended the All Party Group on Park Homes. I have hundreds of constituents who choose to live in Park Homes and many of them do so with a good relationship with the Park owner. Sadly, some do not. Much has been done in recent years to make law tougher on rogue Park owners but there are still changes I want to see.

On Tuesday I attended the launch of a report I have co-sponsored with the Centre for Social Justice. "Housing First" makes the case for homelessness to be tackled by getting people housed as a first step, and every other problem they face falling into place thereafter. Obvious? You would think so but for too long we have sought to help people on the streets with all the overlaying problems they have. An ex soldier addressed the packed meeting in an extraordinarily powerful way. He ended his remarks with the words,"the best thing that has ever happened to me is a postcode". The Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, gave his pledge to end rough sleeping. Just the kind of bold ambition I wanted to hear.

Later the same day I chaired another packed meeting. This was the All Party Environment Group. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Andrea Leadsom, came along to share her views on agriculture and the environment post Brexit. These meetings are attended by MPs and Peers and many from beyond Parliament including environmental campaign groups and scientists.

Alongside this were high octane Parliamentary events such as the Bill to allow the invoking of Article 50. This is the trigger to commence the process of leaving the EU. Whatever side you are on this is a seismic event in our history. In years to come we will see if it will be a success and Britain will be the stronger for it, or whether it will be the opposite and that the United Kingdom will have been pulled apart. It goes without saying that I will be working flat out for the former.

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Latest Blogs

Snap election

Well I didn’t see that coming. But I applaud the Prime Minister for calling an election. I understand her desire to have her own mandate for the coming years. In addition, there is a convention in Parliament that prevents the unelected House of Lords from voting down legislation if it is in a Party’s manifesto. This will be crucial for the Prime Minister with all the measures she will be wanting to take through Parliament in the coming years...

Twits

I like Twitter. It is a useful way or keeping in touch with local and national issues. I have around 12,400 followers. It is hard to imagine any other platform that would allow me the chance to communicate with a crowd of that size.

There is a big "but" here...

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Richard Benyon was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Newbury on 7 May 2015, with an increased majority of 26,368. Richard won 61 per cent of the vote share.

 

 

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