Saturday, 7 March 2015

Q and A with St Joseph's School in Hexham - pictured with the St Jo's Paxmans and my answers below


I really enjoyed going in to St Joseph's last week: the Ofsted assessment is a credit to all the staff, governors and pupils and I know the School and its teachers pretty well now as I have been asked to visit many times. I did a Q and A with the school for over 30 minutes. I have tried to set out the questions and give shortened versions of my replies that I gave; some I can recall spot on others are harder as I was not taking notes but this is a rough summary

1. How much influence does an individual MP have?
A great deal.
For individual constituents an MP can make a real difference. I get several dozen requests for assistance a day and the daily job is helping individual constituent battle problems, and hopefully helping them overcome them. 
In our region an individual MP can change a lot, whether it is leading campaigns on the Living Wage, protecting green belt or trying to get the better rural services. 
And occasionally you get to influence national policy whether it is on changes to prison policy, support for the living wage, or Syria.

2.If you lose the next election, what will you do?
As I can no longer be a professional jockey (too fat/too old!) .... I would like to run a prison, or be chief inspector of prisons. Anyone who has read my book Doing Time knows that prison reform and turning around prisoners lives is my passion. 

3. Why did you choose the Conservative Party

I believe in responsibility, low tax, sound money, support for the countryside, great public services where the user, ie you, gets a great service, and where we let you get on with your life, whilst making sure we are there to protect and support the vulnerable and those in difficulty.
It is also the party of aspiration, that tells you that whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your colour, creed or beliefs this is the country to prosper in. 

4. Do you want us to leave the EU and if so, why
I want a reformed and improved EU that works for Britian. If it reforms and changes, as many the other countries in Northern Europe now also believe it should, then there will be a stronger case to stay. Funamentally we should let the people of the UK decide in an in/out referendum. 

5. Questions on middle school funding in Northumberland?
I split the school hall in half and explained that one half was urban Newcastle / Tyneside and that they got £1000 per pupil more than the other half of the school, which was Northumberland. Explained about the all party Fairer Funding campaign and how we are getting more money for Northumberland schools both now and in the future. 

6. Why can’t we have a KFC or McDonalds in Hexham as it would bring jobs and money?
No reason why they cannot apply to come here, but it is their decision and subject to planning /County Council. Not sure the civic society would approve.

7. What do you think is going to happen with the economic crisis in Greece?
My view is that ultimately Greece will leave the Euro, even though its government wants to stay in the Euro, but have its bills paid for it by others.
I made the point that I have no faith in the Greeks ability to do what we in the UK, the Irish and the Spanish are trying to do = live within our means. It is tough medicine but it is working. The Greeks seem incapable of paying taxes, acting responsibly, and accepting that a country's wealth comes from its small and big businesses creating jobs, and prosperity. 

8. Why are we investing in weapons and army equipment which will hurt people and not in the NHS which is struggling for money to help people?
Pointed out that the NHS budget was protected, notwithstanding v tough decisions taken during this parliament, given the parlous financial situation. That there are many thousand more nurses, doctors 
and midwives in the NHS than in 2010 when we came to power.
But also made the point that the first duty of a government was to protect its citizens, and that many would argue that the Coalition had cut the armed forces budget too far, notwithstanding our financial inheritance. 

9. Is there any political law that you disagree with?
50% of all prisoners cannot read or write as well as an average 11 year old.
I would like to make literacy capability a trigger to early release from a prison. Details in my book Doing Time. Tough to implement and Ministry of Justice are reluctant, not least as it will cost money, but this is an ongoing battle I am pursuing.

10. Would you agree that the voting age could be 13?
We did a straw poll of the school and only one child aged 13 put his hand up to say. He thought he should be able to vote at 13. The debate on votes at 16 is a tough one and I was very swayed by my experiences of the Scottish referendum where 16-18 year olds had the vote.