Wednesday, 29 October 2008

US Elections... 6 days to go

Will the US electorate make history and vote for their first black President?

The Gallup polls now have Barack Obama on a 9% lead. But on the actual day of voting...will voters actually put a cross in his box?

Colin Powell, Secretary of State during George W Bush's first term as President, has announced that he is endorsing Barack Obama, calling him a "transformational figure". He says he has been impressed by Obama's steadiness during the last few weeks and disappointed by the negative approach of the McCain campaign. I agree.

Time for change in the US? Time for change here also!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Recession hits

Brown has at long last admitted that a recession is likely in Britain.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, already said that this was the case on Tuesday... and most people across the country, and certainly in the city of London, could have told Gordon Brown that weeks ago.

But at least now the Prime Minister is facing the reality of the situation. We are entering our first recession in 16 years. The year ahead will be as bad as the early 90s and many people wil lose their jobs. Mervyn King also said that the British banking system had been closer to collapse earlier this month than at any time since the start of World War I.

What is a recession? Technically, it is a decline in a country's domestic economic output or GDP for at least two consecutive quarters. There have been signs of a widening economic crisis:

- Oil fell below $70 a barrel
- The pound fell to to $1.620, its lowest level against the dollar since September 2003
- Consumer spending is falling (National Institute of Economic and Social Research predicte by 3.4%)
- Business investment is down
- Private housing investment down due to falling house prices and difficulties in financing mortgages
- Rising unemployment

If the government's £50bn banking bail-out does not succeed, the recession could be even deeper and longer.

What is clear from the last few weeks .... the complete and utter failure of Labour's economic record. The PM borrowed and borrowed, and racked up the biggest government deficit in the developed world. Now we have nothing when times get tough.

Our economy is broken and we must fix it. What can we do to help? We need to rebuild an economy that is built to last.

Our solution is about fiscal responsibility, financial responsibility and a balanced economy:
- Fiscal responsibility - the Government must live within its means
- Financial responsibility - you cannot build an economy on debt
- Balanced economy - as you cannot rely on unsustainable growth in a few areas to increase prosperity for everyone.

To repair the broken society, we need need social responsibility. To repair the broken economy, we need economic responsibility.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Managing an Economic Crisis

This is a strange moment in time. Never did I think we would get to a point where we would be 'nationalising' banks in this country. It goes against my Conservative principles. Given though, that we are in the middle of a global economic crisis with a frozen money market around the world, I can live with short term 'recapitalisation'.

The IMF has warned that we are close to financial meltdown. Something had to be down quickly to try and recover the economy and avold an even deeper downturn in the financial markets. The Conservatives are therefore supporting the government on the recapitalisation plan. To do nothing would have been the wrong thing. Exceptional circumstance require exceptional steps.

The important task now is to create a plan for the future. In a free enterprise system, the banks play an important role in creating and stimulating a strong and vibrant economy. We need to strengthen the banks - get them lending to each other again, get them lending to business owners and home owners again. We will not be able to turn the economy around until we strengthen the balance sheets of these banks. We need to though address the systemic failure we have seen in the banking system so that we manage these issues more effectively in the future. We need a significant review of capital rules, liquidity and access to markets. The global regulatory arrangements also need to be looked at.

Should CEOs of failed banks keep their jobs? Well, that is down to the boards of these companies to decide. Mistakes have been made and risks have been taken...and CEOs are responsible for this. Banks should not have been taking irresponsible risks.

Should they be receiving huge bonuses? I believe people can earn good salaries and bonuses if they perform well. If the organisation has not performed...then they do not deserve a bonus.

We do need to help families and businesses at this difficult time. Many people are currently worried about their savings, their mortgages and their jobs.

Gordon Brown promised us that he would get rid of boom and bust. Our current situation shows that either he does not know what he is talking about and/or he cannot deliver what he promises. He encouraged a borrowing binge through our enormous budget deficit. If he wanted to cut taxes right now to recover the economy...he can't. The cupboard is bare.

We all can learn from this ...

Friday, 10 October 2008

An afternoon at Brentford Football Club

Last Saturday I went to the Brentford vs Macclesfield match at Griffin Park.

The team were so much better than the last time I had seen them during last season. They played like a team and even although they had a few near goals, they won with 1:0.

At half time, I was presented with a football and had a photo with the girls team. I also had to do the first penalty shoot-out.... my first ever...and in high heel boots! As you can imagine, I did not show any great skill. However, the girls were fantastic.

Thanks to everyone at Brentford Football Club and the Community Sports Trust, who do an amazing job in creating opportunities in sport. They do so much to help young people feel part of a team, see themselves develop and improve their skills and build commitment and enthusiasm which can inspire others.

Photo: Mary with the Brentford U12's and U14's Girls FC at half time

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Community sports in Redlees Park, Isleworth

Last Saturday I went to the Urban Games at Redlees Park in Isleworth.

What a great event! About 300 youngsters, age 8-15 years old, had signed up to this free multi-sports event...where they got the chance to try out and get coached in a range of sports. This is an annual event organised by Hounslow's Sports Development Team.

The aim of this event was to give taster sessions in thirteen different sports ranging from football and rugby to canoeing and BMX racing. All sessions were linked to a local club, who were on hand to coach the sessions and provide information on how young people can join these clubs and thus promote lifelong participation. The aim was to provide young people with improved motivation and general fitness and an increased willingness to take part in sporting activities outside of school hours. It also aims to encourage young people to mix with people from other estates, thus improving the social cohesion within the local community. Unforunately I was not allowed to join in the different sports!

To motivate them, Jenny Copnall was there and spoke to them all. She is the British Cross Country Mountain Biking Champion.

This is a brilliant example of community action and creating opportunities for young people to get more interested in sport and health. We need more events like this.

Well done to everyone involved!

Photo: Mary with Cllr Pam Fisher, Cllr Lin Davies and Jenny Copnall (British Cross Country Mountain Biking Champion)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Day 3 & 4 of Party Conference

Day 3 of Party Conference I went back to work in the city. Given I am a banker and this is the one of the toughest economic periods I have ever seen ...I couldn't really stay away! Then I headed back to Birmingham in the evening.

On day 4 of Party Conference, David Cameron made his main speech. I was sitting on stage along with many of my fellow candidates and members of the Shadow Cabinet. David's speech was detailed, thought provoking and visionary. He tacked the critical issues:

1. The Economy - in this financial crisis, we must put our differences aside and work together with the government in the short-term to ensure financial stability. They have already taken up our idea of increasing the protection for depositors to £50,000.

2. Afghanistan - we back our troops there 100%. We are going to stop sending young men to war without the equipment need and do all we can to keep our country safe.

3. Responsibility - personal, professional, civic, corporate. Our responsibility to our family, neighbourhood and country. Our responsibility is to behave in a decent and civilised way, to help others. We will only be a strong society if we are a responsible society.

4. Experience - Gordon Brown talks about his economic experience. The problem is, we have actually experienced his experience. We’ve experienced the massive increase in debt. We have experienced the huge rise in taxes. We experienced the folly of pretending that boom and bust could be ended. This is the argument we will make when the election comes. The risk is not in making a change. The risk is sticking with what you’ve got and expecting a different result. There is a simple truth for times like this. When you’ve taken the wrong road, you don’t just keep going. You change direction.

5. How we got here - Gordon Brown made two mistakes - he took away the Bank of England's power to regulate financial markets and he became a spendaholic.

6. How do we get out of this financial mess:
a) sound money - rein in government borrowing, review spending programmes, reform inefficient public services
b) low taxes - we will cut taxes when it is responsible to do so and when we've made government live within its means
c) enterprise - it is entrepreneurs who create jobs, not governments. Support business and industry

7. Long term mission is to repair our broken society. When times are tough, its not a bigger state we need, it is better, more efficient government. More than that, we need a stronger society. Trusting people and sharing responsibility.

8. We need to clean up politics and put an end to expenses issues - expenses and allowances that would never be allowed in the private sector. Also put an end to MPs voting on their own salaries.

9. Have a referendum on the European constitution.

10. NHS - we will give patents an informed choice about where to go for their care so doctors stop answering to Whitehall and start answering to patients.

11. Social reform - we currently have a broken society. 2m children are brought up in households where no one works. Some housing estates in Britain have a lower life expectancy than in the Gaza Strip. 27 kids murdered on the streets of London this year. A gun crime every hour. A serious knife crime every half hour. A million victims from alcohol related-attacks. To resolve this, it needs:
families - support flexible working, back marriage in the tax system
schools - can help give children a second chance so we will establish 1000 new Academies and allow for new schools to be set up

12. Welfare - we will end the something for nothing culture. If you don’t take a reasonable offer of a job, you lose benefits. Go on doing it, you’ll keep losing benefits. Stay on benefits and you’ll have to work for them.

We will give hope, broaden the horizons and build aspiration of the poor and the marginalised. It will be Conservative means that will fight poverty, extend opportunity and repair our broken society.

We are a changed and a united Party.

We will get through these difficult times due to the work you do, the families you raise, the jobs you create, your confidence and your determination. We can bring the country together, in the hope, belief and knowledge, that better times lie ahead.