As many people know, I have been learning Chinese for twelve years now. It is a very interesting language to learn, and in a county like Suffolk -hosting the port of Felixstowe and Huawei at BT -ever more essential!
This year I was invited by the ACCE, the Anglo Chinese Cultural Exchange to open the Chinese New Year Variety show by singing the Teresa Teng classic “Yueliang daibiao wode xin” onstage at the Ipswich Corn Exchange. Your county councillor is multi-talented!
I was joined by three fellow students who have all been learning 普通话 – that’s putonghua or standard Chinese for years, from local teacher Di Suling. When we tell people that we learn Mandarin, we are all used to people saying things like “Of course, you must be ‘good’ at languages..” and “It must be very difficult..”
My view is that if everyone else in the world can learn to speak other languages, why shouldn’t we in Britain finally start joining in? And actually Chinese is no more difficult than any other language – it just look like it ought to be.
Suffolk schools, now is the time to start having Chinese on the GCSE syllabus! We will all need it in years to come..
Well, who gave a damn? I attended the epilepsy debate in the Commons on Thursday, taking time off from a very busy working life (working remotely on the train), bearing the cost of travelling to London, sitting in the Visitors Gallery –all to watch 16 MPs talking – as if for the first time – about Epilepsy.
Can I repeat that, SIXTEEN MPs, out of the 650 elected (17 if you include the Deputy Speaker, the Speaker himself being otherwise engaged!) and paid for by us to represent us. But alas – the others must have been too busy and important to speak. We visitors wholly outnumbered those MPs in the chamber – the 5 Tory MPs out of 302 (1 in 60); 7 Labour MPs out of 256 (1 in 36.5) and 4 LibDem MPs out of 56 (1 in 14). There were no MPs from Suffolk at all! My MP Therese Coffey who cannot speak (because she is a Whip) did not take me up on the offer of a briefing neither did she brief anyone else to speak on behalf of her voiceless constituents. I have epilepsy, so does my daughter, and we can tell from personal experience over many years that the problems for people with epilepsy – regarding transport alone – are immense in a rural area such as Suffolk Coastal.
If we are going to adhere to the old-fashioned Parliamentary system, having an MP who is a Whip would seem a very good reason not to re-elect her next time round – why should we in Suffolk Coastal be deprived of representationin such a debate just because the parliamentary Conservative party needs party officers?
The larger picture is that clearly the majority of MPs don’t see support of epilepsy as any kind of vote winner – although 1% of people will suffer from a seizure sometime in their life and this will affect a lot of people beyond themselves.
Listening to the debate (and why on earth debate ‘Epilepsy’ rather than a sensible question regarding Epilepsy, anyway? Its like debating ‘Act of God’ or nailing jelly to the ceiling!) it seemed as if many of those speaking were hearing about the effects and problems of epilepsy for the first time. Others were using the debate to raise such individual examples as to be of very little use to the wider picture considering this was the first time this subject had ever been debated. It was more as it they were name-checking their constituents!
As one person concluded afterwards in an internet group I belong to: “Major issues ignored in the epilepsy debate, carers, (child and adult); modern indentured labour; Schooling; Multidisciplinary System neglect; Abuse and discrimination.. So many other things..” She is quite right!
And these speakers are the people we have been relying on to represent us. I was deeply depressed. You can read the debate here .
Epilepsy is and has been overlooked for years. So now that Laura Sandys – one of two MPs ever to admit to their epilepsy – has managed to secure a debate in the House of Commons, will it be to the bog-standard empty chamber? Will your MP be there? Write and ask them!
I sure as hell hope my MP, Therese Coffey, will be. And so, of course, I wrote to ask her. As follows:
You will not be surprised to find me writing to you to urge you to attend the forthcoming parliamentary debate on Epilepsy (26th February 2015; House of Commons; at 2pm)! The debate has been secured by your colleague Laura Sandys, one of two MPs, both in this parliament, ever to admit that they have epilepsy – even though epilepsy affects 1% of the UK population.
This resonates with me. There are thousands of county councillors across the country: however, I appear to be the only county councillor who is up-front about having epilepsy and thus prepared to support my constituents (and yours) with the fallout from this condition. Epilepsy has a profound impact on matters as varied as transport choice, education outcomes, career prospects, medication, life expectancy etc etc. Our failure to recognise epilepsy or these impacts has knock-on effects that can cause ripples throughout society.
One of these constituents is my daughter, failed over and over again by a country that is unprepared to allow her the chance to contribute and yet is deeply reluctant to support her by even educating or medicating her appropriately. This is a ridiculous waste of public money and human potential.
I have a number of issues to raise concerning the treatment and expectations of people with epilepsy in the UK in general and Suffolk in particular – with specific reference to our situation in Suffolk Coastal. However it would seem inappropriate to waste your time and mine unless I know whether you are going to be attending this debate. If you are (as I hope you are) I would be very happy to give you a briefing without prejudice or party-political bias on this very important issue
Today Suffolk County Council was discussing the County Council Budget 2015-16 – always an occasion of much grandstanding and some polite(ish) mudslinging.
I am always flummoxed at how Suffolk Conservatives accuse opposition parties wanting to spend money of ‘lacking ambition,‘ Yet clearly the height of Conservative ambition (as articulated in these selfsame meetings) is to put their money under the mattress and hope for the best. Astonishing.
Apart from anything else, as my colleague, Lib Dem Deputy Leader John Field reminded them, “You save for a rainy day – not for a rainy decade!”
Then of course there is the exhibition that Cllr Colin Noble makes every year, bellowing “11.9%!” and “18%!“. He never once forgets to accuse Labour of having once raised something by such amounts. He never once mentions whether it was value for money. Oddly enough, although he grandstands frequently about ‘big black holes‘ into which money has fallen, Cllr Noble never ever once remembers to mention the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds of hardworking Suffolk taxpayers’ money he wasted on Suffolk Circle via a decision made in camera. Strange but true.
Some of those hundreds of thousands of wasted pounds would have come in very handy this year, Cllt Noble. Conservative budget proposals included savings (a polite word for cuts) of £38.2 m, leading to a budget requirement of £454,981,413. Reserves are forecast as reaching £165million by the end of March. A long Labour amendment detailed reinstatement of £12m of the cuts. The Liberal Democrats did not agree with all of these reinstatements – but we agreed with £8.5million of them and so we supported the Labour amendment.
I spoke passionately with special reference to supporting educational transport for disadvantaged post-16 year olds. We don’t need to take money out. Affordable transport to education is crucial. A recent Commons report tells us that 30% of young people NEET (not in education employment or training) would have been in post-16 education if they had money to cover the transport;40% of young people in the kind of work with no training element ditto. And of course the economic impact to these young people extends far beyond the economic year.
I reminded the Cabinet Spokesman for Transport, Cllr Newman, how hard I had fought for the a restoration of the Youth travel card, and how, though successful, the new Endeavour card was just a “pale and washy simulacrum” of the Explore card it replaced: operator take-up isn’t universal, it doesn’t cover train transport and the actual discount is much less.
I said I knew Cllr Newman would tell me that bursaries would cover the deficit. But the same Commons report tells us how inequitably these bursaries are disbursed, especially in rural areas.
“Unless we provide young people from disadvantaged families with the proper support to travel to study or training, we are not supporting them, we are not widening participation, we are not extending them the helping hand they need to alter long-term outcomes. And more, we are creating a postcode lottery in which the rural young people are particularly disadvantaged,” I said. “I urge my colleagues opposite to think again. You are putting your money into reserves? Invest instead in these young people, and save the spend in budgets of the future.”
The debate continued until nearly 6pm, but the Labour amendment was lost 38-30, and the Tories managed to vote their original budget in, 37-31.
Close – but no cigar.
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge