BBC BLOGS - Politics Points East

Archives for November 2010

MPs deliver the Make it Marham message

Deborah McGurran | 20:27 UK time, Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Make it Marham petition delivered to Downing Street

Seven Norfolk MPs were in the party which delivered the Make It Marham petition to Downing Street

No-one can remember so many people in Norfolk signing a petition in such a short period of time.

In just two weeks 36,751 signatures have been collected calling for RAF Marham in Norfolk to remain the home of the Tornado. That's twice as many as signed the petition calling for the A11 to be dualled.

"It's absolutely fantastic," said Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy. "It shows how much people in Norfolk feel about saving Marham.

"I sincerely hope the government now gets the message and being here in this weather shows how determined we are to put our case."

There certainly was a cold wind in Westminster but councillors and members of the local media were hoping it would blow them some good as the petition was handed in to Downing Street before MPs met with Defence Secretary Liam Fox at the Ministry of Defence.

"He said that he'd heard the argument (for Marham) 20 times, which means the message is getting through," said Elizabeth Truss, the MP for South West Norfolk, who's been leading the campaign.

"What we're going to do now is just keep repeating the message and making sure it's also heard by the prime minister and the treasury because what I don't want is the decision being made on political grounds without considering the proper economic circumstances."


Thirty six thousand signatures is far more than the number of people who marched in support of keeping open RAF Lossiemouth, the other Tornado base that's under threat. It was the size of that march that galvanised our Norfolk MPs into action. They wanted to show that Marham meant just as much to its local community.

And today the Make it Marham campaign produced new research which claims that the airbase is worth £208m to the local economy, nearly double what was originally thought.

So after a fortnight of lobbying, petition collecting and asking questions in the House of commons, is Marham any safer?

No-one can be sure.

People with good connections in the Ministry of Defence are telling us that the argument for Marham has been well made and understood. There are also suggestions that Marham and Lossiemouth's fate may be tied up with that of RAF Leuchars in North East Fife. Might Leuchars be closed instead and its aircraft transferred to Lossiemouth enabling Lossie's Tornadoes to come to Marham?

But some of those who were at today's meeting with Dr Fox were concerned to hear him talk about troops returning from Germany. Could Marham instead become an Army base? And what about the Scottish elections? Closing an airbase north of the border so close to an important vote would do the Lib Dems no good and boost the fortunes of the SNP.

Dr Fox said he'll make his decision early in the new year. Let's hope it's a happy one for the people of Marham.

Managing our shoreline

Deborah McGurran | 17:43 UK time, Monday, 29 November 2010


Sea defences at Thorpeness in Suffolk

People living in Thorpeness have pledged to pay up to £13,000 out of their own pockets to build sea defences

Therese Coffey, whose constituency is the aptly named Suffolk Coastal, is part of a grouping of MPs who have relaunched the Coastal Marine All Party Parliamentary Group.

Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth's Conservative MP, is also a member but not the Lib Dems' North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb as he is part of the government.

Shoreline Management Plans, which are drawn up at district council level with input from counties and other bodies, are being finalised at the moment.

"For the first time in the UK, we are moving towards a 'no active intervention' policy," Dr Coffey said.

"Communities have woken up to the fact their coastline might be allowed to crumble or their sea wall will be allowed to be breached."

She said this is in contrast to similar communities in the Netherlands where local authorities are reclaiming land, not allowing it to erode.

She understands that ministers cannot commit to defending every bit of the coast, but a balance needs to be struck.

"My line is that 100-year decisions are being taken on the basis of three-year budgets," she said.

English Nature is very keen to allow this "no active intervention" and have a situation of managed retreat. The Conservative MP believes its wish is to reveal the geological character of the area, exposing fossils and other natural history features.

"But I think people are more important than fossils," Dr Coffey said.

She thinks it is a complex issue, with lots of areas of scientific and natural importance along the coast. She believes Felixstowe and Southwold would be defended but other smaller places would not: "There are parts around Aldborough where there are no houses, but if they allow them to flood, that would affect the whole estuary community behind.

"Thorpeness is a particularly difficult area - people there have pledged to pay out of their own pockets, up to £13,000 each, for the building of their own sea defences. We don't want people to take matters completely into their own hands but that there must be some element of "Big Society" involved, to allow people to manage things locally.

"I realise there are not hundreds of millions of pounds to protect places where few people are living but in ways like this, the Big Society can become a reality."

She is raising the government's policy on shoreline management plans in a Westminster Hall debate.

Student protest targets Lib Dems

Deborah McGurran | 00:45 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010


Student protest

Student protest about the proposed trebling of tuition fees

Tens of thousands of students and schoolchildren staged protests today, all around the country.

They are angry at the proposed trebling of tuition fees, which they say will put off many prospective university entrants from lower income households and will leave all those who do go steeped in debt.

For the first time I can recall, schoolchildren have taken to the streets, many concerned over the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), that allows sixth formers from low income households up to £30 a week if they remain in school.

The majority of the sit-ins, marches and occupations of various academic establishments passed off peacefully. Only in London were there scuffles as students were "kettled" by police determined to prevent a repetition of the attack on Conservative HQ a fortnight ago.

Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk

Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, defends the rise in tuition fees

An unmanned police van, carelessly left in middle of Whitehall, where thousands of protestors were corralled, was comprehensively wrecked, despite the best efforts of several more level-headed students.

One sixth former who was trapped in the crowd told me how they kept away from the trouble but there was nowhere to go.

"It started out really well. There was a great atmosphere; we were walking and singing and holding our placards and there was no trouble at all.

"Then as we got to Whitehall all these police arrived from the side and blocked the road. I didn't realise but we were actually in the front third of the march. One group was separated ahead of us, then as we turned round to go back, we realised we were blocked by a police line behind us too that separated us from the group behind.

"The police told me there were about 3,000 in our two groups and about 7,000 ahead of us. The police van wasn't far away from us. We could see there was trouble but we stayed back. We were held for more than four hours. We kept asking when they'd let us out, we were told go to the front, then the police there said go to the back. It moved very slowly and we were released at about nine. We stayed next to the fires to keep warm."

It was a long day and a cold night for many young people concerned over their future but they don't need to worry says Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, and the political advisor to Nick Clegg, who bore the brunt of today's anger.

"Everyone has the right to protest but they need to understand that this is not just about raising tuition fees," he said.

"I think a big change to the way universities are funded needs to be explained - there has been a misunderstanding that people will be prevented from going to university. That is not the case - you'll be helped.

"This is a completely different system, it's a fair system. The 25% of graduates who will be on the lowest pay will pay less for their university education than they pay now. Yes, those who become merchant bankers and wealthy lawyers will pay a lot more but that seems to me to be right. Those with the greatest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden and that's the way it should work.

"We're also scrapping up front fees for every part-time student, no student will be prevented from going to university by the cost of their course and the grants for living costs for the poorest students will go up not down, so there'll be more help for students from low income families and fairer repayments."

As yet there is no sign that tens of thousands of students up and down the land are reassured. They are pledging more protests before the vote on the legislation next month.

Lord Tebbit still pulling in the crowds

Deborah McGurran | 10:43 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

There are not many former politicians who can draw a crowd, particularly on a wet Sunday night in Bury St Edmunds.

But the Chingford skinhead can. Lord Norman Tebbit, former minister, Conservative Party chairman and chief attack dog for Margaret Thatcher is a man people still want to listen to.

He and his wife have been living in the Suffolk town for the last year or so and both keep a relatively low profile. But for one night and one night only the man who was last in government in 1987 agreed to take part in a fund-raiser in aid of Bury's Theatre Royal.

For nearly three hours he spoke about his life in politics and answered questions from local students, none of whom was even alive when he was a government minister.

He spoke about being born in a down-market suburb of London in 1931 ("two mistakes: wrong place, wrong time"), his time as an airline pilot, his years with Margaret Thatcher ("I did have the odd row with her") and how the Brighton Bomb changed his life for ever ("Sometimes things don't go the way you plan. You just have to make the most of what life offers you").

There were many humorous and candid observations:

Gordon Brown was "a decent man, a moral man, I had a lot of time for him, it's just that he was always wrong".

He thought his party didn't win an overall majority this year because it kept apologising for the past: "Rubbishing your own party as the nasty party is not a good idea, it didn't do Gerald Ratner's company any good and it didn't do our party any good".

The Prime Ministerial debates were "shallow and over-rehearsed" and as for today's Conservative Party: "You can't have a party that relies on focus groups to tell it what to think. You need a gut feeling and a view of what you want to do. And if no one agrees with you then tough, you've just got to go out there and sell it."

To applause he added: "The task of a politician is to make popular what is right not to make right what is popular."

Lord Tebbit is concerned that politics these days has become too bland. He points out that both Labour and the Conservatives are polling some three or four million votes below their natural strength. The days when governments won elections with 14 million votes are long gone.

"What worries me is that in search for the common ground we are all in danger of becoming Liberal Democrats and that is making more and more people feel disenfranchised. That is the way minority extremist parties come to the fore."

The questions from the students were varied: Could the man whose father got on his bike to look for work justify the new tough rules on welfare? ("Sometimes you need tough love"" was the reply); what did he think of the plans to increase tuition fees? ("Unfortunate but necessary"); the importance of tackling the deficit? ("We're now paying more on the the defecit than on education, it's madness") and if you can join the army at 16 why not lower the voting age to 16? ("It's easy to die for your country at 16, it's much harder to decide how it's run at that age").

He admits to being disappointed with the coalition and wishes his party would move faster on some of its key policies. He also believes the Liberal Democrats are probably finished as a party and the pro-coalition elements of them will merge with the Tories in due course.

Not surprisingly there were a few attacks on Europe and the standard of teaching in schools these days but his arguments were so clearly and carefully put that even those in the audience who claimed not to be fans found themselves agreeing with him.

It was a reminder of a time when politics wasn't just about soundbites and photo opportunities but about passionately held and well-argued beliefs.

He was introduced at the start of the evening by the local MP David Ruffley who described Lord Tebbit as "a political hero and legend".

How many of today's politicians will be described as such in 20 years time?

Bob Russell's hopes for holidays

Deborah McGurran | 21:39 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010


Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP, campaigning for holidays

Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP, campaigning for holidays

On the day that Britain went Pudsey crazy, the MP for Colchester Bob Russell was doing his bit to help Children in Need.

He told the House of Commons that almost one in three children didn't have a holiday this year- not even a single day trip to the seaside or other attraction - and he thinks that's unfair.

"Holidays help to make stronger, healthier and happier families which in term contributes to a healthier and happier society for everyone," he said.

His solution is for the Government to introduce a scheme common in parts of Europe where low income families receive financial support to get away on a break.

"I am not talking about holidays that some people have, sipping cocktails by the pool under the Caribbean sun, but relatively simple off-peak breaks here at home - more Skegness or Sheringham than Spain or the Seychelles, more train than plane".

"Many of us manage to take a decent holiday at least once every year. We consider it a necessary part of life to ensure that we stay healthy - physically, emotionally and mentally".

Mr Russell quoted examples from Scandinavia, Greece, Belgium and Spain where the Government gives help towards short term breaks for low income families.

In France he said 7.5 million families were helped last year by buying tax free vouchers which could be redeemed in local tourist resorts.

Mr Russell believes this "social tourism" would be a boost to our tourist economy.

"From Hunstanon in North Norfolk to Southend in Essex, taking in such wonderful destinations as Cromer, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe, Clacton and Walton, the East Anglian coastal towns would get a fantastic boost through the economic tourism I have proposed today."

The Education minister Tim Loughton agreed that there was a growing body of research which showed that holidays can greatly benefit families. But free holidays were not on this Government's agenda:

"Many people who are not in poverty choose not to go on holiday for many different reasons, and we would not want to force them to do so. It is surely up to families how they spend their time and money, and at this time when resources are tight and there are many competing priorities for taxpayers' money, it is, I am afraid, unaffordable for the Government to subsidise holidays."

Instead, Mr Loughton said the Government wanted to tackle poverty thus giving families the freedom to decide what to do with their money. And he mentioned the new early intervention grant, worth around £2 billion a year which will allow local councils to decide how they can best deliver their local priorities. This could, he suggested, include leisure opportunities for deprived families.

So Mr Russell didn't get the result he wanted - but he raised the issue and knowing Bob he'll keep on campaigning.


The House is used to Mr Russell championing Colchester at every opportunity and during today's debate he reeled off a list of the town's many attractions.

We all know that it's Britain's oldest recorded town and it's got a good Zoo - but there was a new claim to fame from Mr Russell: Colchester is where the nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" was written.

According to the local tourist board it was composed by Jane Taylor and her sister Ann in 1806 as part of the book 'Rhymes for the Nursery'. At the time they lived in Colchester having moved there from Lavenham with their father who was a Preacher, in 1793. The house where they lived in West Stockwell Street is marked with a blue plaque.

Europe MP :"Pray for me"

Deborah McGurran | 16:17 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010


Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, selected to go to Europe

For many years we've known Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, to be a notorious eurosceptic.

So it was with some surprise that we heard he has become a member of the Council of Europe.

Founded 61 years ago, the Council of Europe, according to its website "seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights". But it's not only justice issues that it deals with - the body also discusses the problems of terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking, education, the environment, health and culture.

It is separate to the European Parliament. Critics say it is just another European talking shop.

All 47 member states send MPs to the parliamentary assembly, 18 come from Britain and Mr Binley is the only MP from our region.

"I still think Europe is too big for its own boots," says Mr Binley. "I thought the Council should not be seen as the preserve of europhiles, I think we need more people who take a realistic or eurosceptic view of Europe, that's why I put myself forward."

Mr Binley says he used to be a europhile, forty years ago when Britain was trying to join the common market, but he now believes the whole idea of Europe is too big and out of control.

The assembly meets four times a year and there will be two main issues in Mr Binley's sights:

"The first is the Euro. I have been horrified by the arrogance of so called experts who created a project which is now unsustainable. It was introduced for political not economic reasons and the weaknesses are now being shown up".

"I'll be telling them to wake up and smell the coffee, you thought it would be all harmony, in fact, it's created more problems"

The other issue he'll be campaigning on will be the Human Rights Act. "It was set up to stop dictators having absolute power but now it has lessened the human rights of the majority of law abiding citizens," he says. "It must be changed"

But with 630 members of the Assembly, most of them pro-european, does Mr Binley really expect to make a difference?

"I will find out if there is anything I am able to actually do over there," he says. "I hope I can, I fear I won't".

And as we say goodbye he says "If you're religious pray for me, I'm going to need it".

MPs rail against Northamptonshire's 'raw deal'

Deborah McGurran | 20:20 UK time, Sunday, 14 November 2010


The MPs in Northamptonshire believe the county gets a raw deal - and they want to do something about it.

"I'm meeting with the police," Louise Bagshawe, Corby's Conservative MP tells me. "They are worried about frontline policing but during the campaign I was worried about the number of full-time officers they wanted to replace with community support officers."

Corby MP Louise Bagshawe

Concerns over Northamptonshire police being under-funded go back a long way. Back in 2004 the then Labour MP Tony Clarke was frustrated that extra money was not coming through the system - despite an earlier agreement that the government would change the way it allocated police funds to the county.

Now police in Northamptonshire could lose up to 100 cars, motorbikes and vans from the force's fleet of vehicles as part of cost-cutting measures: around 25 jobs have already gone and that's before budget cuts of around 20% from the government Spending Review kick in.

Ms Bagshawe supports the government cuts wholeheartedly. "I couldn't do it better myself," she said of George Osborne. She's happy with the development that came to Corby under Labour. Its 50-metre pool is now open and so is the £30m Cube "civic hub" but the new MP thinks enough is enough.

"I went around during the campaign telling people that's it, there won't be anything more built at the moment, we just can't afford it." Nevertheless, she was elected with a majority of 1951.

There have been worries too about the funding for education in the county and as MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough) told me, there's also been under-provision for health funding in Northamptonshire too.

"When I asked why we get less than other counties I was told that we don't get less. It's just that others get more."

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone

Historically it seems, Northamptonshire has suffered from its proximity to the London borders, while not benefiting from help like London weighting.

It's not only fighting for Wellingborough that gets Mr Bone going, it's fighting against Europe. He's fairly phlegmatic about the budget increase...

A fortnight ago David Cameron won the backing of 10 other European countries to reduce the proposed 5.9% rise and limit the increase in the EU's budget to no more than 2.9% which would cost us a mere extra £450m a year.

"It's the reduction in the rebate that's the real problem. During this Parliament, our contributions to the European Union will increase by £17.5 billion, and that's because each year the rebate goes down.

"People simply don't realise this is happening. At a time when we are cutting defence, education, local government and the rest, around a quarter of the cuts we're making amount to what is going to go in funding to the EU.

"You can say it in a speech in the House but no one hears it."

So here it is.

Campbell-Bannerman moved to fundraising role

Deborah McGurran | 16:09 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Farage (left) promises to change while Campbell-Bannerman (right) is out in the cold - for now!

On Sunday David Campbell-Bannerman was pledging his loyalty to Nigel Farage and expressing the hope that he would still play a leading role in UKIP.

Now back in Brussels he's discovering that when you stand for the leadership and lose, you pay a price.

For the last four years the MEP for the East has been deputy leader of the party, admired and respected for his strategic thinking and for his work on formulating policies.

He wrote UKIP's manifesto for the General Election which saw the party increase its share of the vote by 50%

But the new leader has decided not to re-appoint him. Instead, Nigel Farage has told Mr Campbell Bannerman to go out and do some fundraising.

"I've said to David go back and do a good job in the Eastern Region but above all try and help me do the one thing we need more than anything else - to raise some serious money for the party," he said.

So is he punishing Mr Campbell-Bannerman for standing against him? "No. Look, it's a free world, we had one or two disagreements during the election campaign but we're both on the same side."

But close friends of Mr Farage say he is still angry with Mr Campbell-Bannerman. They say he thought it disloyal that someone who had been his deputy was so critical of his style of leadership.

"No-one messes around with Nigel and gets away with it," says one angry supporter of Mr Farage (or words to that effect, as this is a family blog). "He will have to work very hard to redeem himself with the party."

Mr Campbell-Bannerman has been in politics for long enough to cope with the odd hard knock. He seems prepared to eat humble pie and is already talking about what he can do to help the party.

"I'm obviously going to spend a lot more time working in the East of England and doing fundraising," he said. "But I'll also have more time for Positive Vision (his project that advances the case for withdrawal from the EU) and that's far bigger than just UKIP".

What made the leadership election so bitter was that Mr Campbell-Bannerman campaigned for the party to be more sensible and not rely on publicity stunts and soundbites. That was seen as a direct criticism of Nigel Farage's style of leadership.

The Eastern MEP does not regret his campaign.

"I think a lot of my arguments were taken on board, and I do think the party will change," he muses.

And interestingly, Mr Farage admits that he will be changing his style of leadership:

"I won't apologise for using soundbites - they work. But when it comes to stunts, I suspect my last stunt was getting in an aeroplane and nearly getting killed and that has perhaps calmed me down a little bit.

"I will be more serious, the party will be more serious but we're going to have a laugh and a joke along the way. That's what makes us British!"

So Nigel Farage is clearly back at the helm, his former deputy out in the cold. But UKIP does not have many strategists or thinkers, Mr Campbell-Bannerman still has a lot to offer the party and the new leader may be turning to him more than he's expecting.

Tornadoes' future: Economics or high politics?

Jackie Meadows | 17:07 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

There is a very strong case for keeping RAF Marham open and closing RAF Lossiemouth.

The Norfolk base is a major employer in a part of the country where the unemployment rate is higher than the Moray Firth.

It is where most of the engineering work on the Tornado is done. British Aerospace is also based there and moving all that up to Scotland would cost £50m.

And the fighter base can get to London more quickly in the event of a major emergency and reach the Middle Eastern forward operating bases without refuelling.

So why are Norfolk's MPs getting so jumpy?

After the strategic defence review they were confidently predicting that Marham would be safe. Now they're writing letters to the Defence Secretary while the local MP Elizabeth Truss is raising the issue in the house every other day (literally!).

The reason is because they're worried that high politics not economics will determine whether RAF Marham stays open or closes. And this weekend's well-attended protests in Lossiemouth, led by the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, bears this out.

"Never underestimate the power of the Scottish mafia," says one Norfolk MP. "They have the resources and the political clout to make this into a really big issue in a way we never can."

RAF Kinloss is about to close. Shutting neighbouring Lossiemouth could be portrayed in Moray as the London government kicking the Scots when they're down.

And with important elections to the Scottish Parliament just six months away the SNP would be able to make a lot of political capital out of this.

"My fear is that it may be politically easier for the government to close a base in a safe Norfolk seat rather than risk being seen as being anti-Scottish," says the MP.

That's why the Norfolk campaign has suddenly stepped up a gear. Councils and MPs are writing letters of support to the Defence Secretary. Many of the Norfolk MPs will attend an adjournment debate later in the week secured by Ms Truss.

"I hope politics will not trump economics on this issue," says Ms Truss, adding that the only sensible decision would be to keep Marham open.

The SNP is convinced that the decision has already been taken in favour of Marham. The Ministry of Defence insists that's not the case. The Defence Minister has said any decision is unlikely until the spring.

Until it is made, Norfolk's MPs will not rest easy.

Campbell Bannerman pledges loyalty to UKIP's Farage

Deborah McGurran | 15:18 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010


David Campbell Bannerman was already deputy leader when he threw his hat into the ring to take over the leadership of the UK Independence Party.

That was seen as an attack on Nigel Farage's style of leadership, which is very different to what Mr Campbell Bannerman envisages. In his opinion the party needs to become more serious.

Despite its crises including expenses scandals, the plane crash from which Nigel Farage miraculously escaped and former leader Lord Pearson's acknowledgement that he was not very good at policy, UKIP has slowly become established in Europe and has a growing number of local councillors.

David Campbell Bannerman

David Campbell Bannerman says UKIP could be the largest UK party in the European Parliament in 2014

The next leader will determine whether the party really can make a difference but after a bitter leadership battle it is not to be Mr Campbell Bannerman.

He told us:"Nigel was always favourite to win and I will be loyal to him and back him 100%. It is obviously disappointing personally but I live to fight another day.

"I think I have won some of the battles in terms of the need to have a strategy and plan ahead and professionalise the party to capitalise on our opportunities.

"If we get AV plus, we could get 20 MPs under the top up system and around 30 elected peers."

In terms of his future, Mr Campbell Bannerman is meeting Mr Farage next week in Brussels and he has heard that he will be part of the senior management team.

Even if he had won, he says that he had intended to retain Nigel as the face of the party and the person who'd do all the media. Mr Bannerman sees his own strengths in shaping future policy and manifestos.

He added:"I am told I am the brains of party whereas Nigel is the face of the party. I have a lot of time for Nigel. He is very honest and courageous and a brilliant orator. We work very well together."

He will soon learn if Mr Farage agrees.

Meanwhile, UKIP will be fielding a candidate in the forthcoming by election, following the Phil Woolas case in Oldham and the party is getting ready to fight elections in Wales, Scotland and inNorthern Ireland,, which is somewhere they will be fighting for the first time.

Exclusive: No vote on Hunting Act repeal until 2012

Julie Hay | 14:33 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010


The new hunting season is getting under way and once again people are asking when the controversial Hunting Act will be repealed.

At one stage the Conservatives had promised that it would be one of their first priorities upon entering office. The coalition government promised a free vote but so far no date has been set. Countryside campaigners have been told that with the economy in such a mess there are more pressing priorities.

That is true, but there is another reason: Those in favour of repealing the Act don't have the votes.

"We've only got one shot at this - we're not going to push for the vote until we know we have the numbers," says one local MP close to the campaign.

Because of that we have been told by well-informed MPs that Downing Street is not expecting to hold the vote until early 2012.

We've also learnt that a well-organised operation is currently under way at Westminster to try to win new supporters. A list has been drawn up of MPs who are considered persuadable - they are being taken out for intimate dinners!

"It's not just about whether or not you like hunting, it's about freedom of expression and about changing a law that's frankly unworkable," says one MP from the East who's closely involved in the campaign.

"It's probably going to take another year to get the numbers we need but we'll get there. No-one is therefore expecting a vote until early 2012," says another local MP. "David Cameron won't call it until he knows he can win."

According to the League Against Cruel Sports only 253 out of 650 MPs are committed to repealing the Act with at least 22 Conservative MPs saying they will vote against it.

"I think people thought that the composition of the new parliament would radically change opinion on this issue," says Douglas Batchelor from the League Against Cruel Sports.

"I think the world has moved on. Public and political opinion is that we've been there, we've done that and we don't need to revisit the hunting issue again."

A sign of the change in opinion is that there is now an organisation called "Conservatives Against Fox Hunting". It was set up by Lorraine Platt, a party activist in Surrey.

Brian Binley says there is strong determination among our MPs to overturn the hunting ban

"We are getting tons of support from party members. There are lots of people like me who don't want to be branded 'cruel Tories'," says Lorraine.

Most MPs in the East want to see the Hunting Act repealed and believe it will happen.

"My guess is we do have the numbers," says Brian Binley, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire. "I just don't think anyone has properly counted them.

"Yes I am frustrated at the delay (in holding the vote) but I am sure the government will want to do all it can to support its natural supporters both on the back benches and in the countryside."

There is still a very strong determination among our MPs to overturn the hunting ban and they are not giving up, even if it's taking longer than they ever expected.

There will be more on the campaign to repeal the Hunting Act on this week's Politics Show East

Simon Wright in a corner on tuition fees

Jackie Meadows | 18:06 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Lib Dem MP Simon Wright

Simon Wright says he will not be rushed into a decision on tuition fees

Of the four Liberal Democrats in the East, Simon Wright is probably in the most trouble over university tuition fees.

It is generally accepted that his narrow win over Labour's Charles Clarke in Norwich South (by 310 votes) was largely due to the student vote which made tuition fees a big local issue in the election.

Mr Wright didn't just sign the National Union of Students' pledge to oppose tuition fees. He made a point of reminding voters about it throughout the election campaign.

Yet as a young MP and close friend of Norman Lamb (he used to be the North Norfolk MP's agent) he is reluctant to be seen as a rebel so early on in his parliamentary career. Ever since being elected he's always known that tuition fees would be the problem for him - and they are.

The two other Liberal Democrat MPs with university constituencies in the eastern region, Bob Russell (Colchester) and Julian Huppert (Cambridge), have been quick to say that they will vote against the increase. Mr Wright will only say that he "will not be rushed into a decision".

"It is not a question of sitting on the fence," he said. "This is an important decision and it's important we get it right."

He insists that this debate is not just about tuition fees but the overall package.

"What's important is to recognise that we are making the system fairer than the one Labour left us with. There are proposals for increasing living costs, loans and grants for young people from not well off families.

"I believe we can deliver a fairer system for student loan repayments and these proposals go some way to achieving that."

That sounds as if, at the moment, he is minded to back the increase in tuition fees.

Within hours of the government's proposals being published, students from the University of East Anglia delivered more than 1,000 postcards of protest to Mr Wright's Norwich office. They intend to keep up the pressure.

Mr Wright is discovering that being in government is not always a pleasant experience.

What a performance: National Express East Anglia

Deborah McGurran | 00:53 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Witham Conservative MP Priti Patel

Witham Conservative MP Priti Patel wants a better deal for Essex commuters

Witham's new MP has found a cause to champion. She wants to stand up for the hard-pressed commuters of Essex - and a newspaper seller.

We'll deal with the newspaper seller in a moment. The plight of the Essex commuter is probably easier to understand.

Every year some four million people travel from stations in Ms Patel's constituency along the main line to Liverpool Street. It is one of the busiest lines in the country and, with only one track in either direction, it's often the scene of hold ups and delays. The 50-year-old overhead power lines don't help.

Many commuters hold National Express responsible and today Ms Patel secured a debate in Parliament entitled "The performance of National Express East Anglia".

"If you're a commuter paying a lot of money every day, you want to have a reasonably pleasant journey," said Ms Patel.

"If National Express can't provide the type of service my constituents expect they'd obviously welcome a new operator taking over."

Hardly any other MPs turned up for the debate and the only intervention came from Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole which is a long way from Essex, but Ms Patel had a long list of things to complain about.

"Only 62% of National Express passengers from Essex arrive in London on time. Just 48% travelling from London arrive on time. The minister will be aware that customer satisfaction levels are the second lowest in the country. Commuters deserve better."

She was also concerned about rising fares, while places like Kelvedon and Witham faced losing a couple of their services every day.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers defended National Express but conceded there was room for improvement

"Commuters feel they are having to pay more for a reduced service," said Ms Patel.

And then there's the newspaper seller. For years Nigel Clark has had a stall at Marks Tey station but because of a £2.4m refurbishment, his stall is going to disappear.

Ms Patel, we learned, has not only written to the Prime Minister and the Rail Minister about his plight. She also handed in a petition of 700 signatures calling for him to be given a new stall.

"In all weather conditions he has served commuters their morning coffees and newspapers every day but since the plans were put together, he's been effectively made homeless," Ms Patel informed the house.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers replied, assuring Ms Patel that the government was determined to see improved performance across the rail network.

But Ms Villiers felt she should stand up for National Express. She said 90.9% of all National Express trains arrived on time she said before admitting that was across the whole network and may not relate to some commuters' experiences.

"Clearly there is room for improvement and the government will hold train operators to account for their performance," she said.

She revealed that when National Express had problems with its fleet in the summer, her department had intervened and ensured that extra engineers were on duty to service the trains at Liverpool Street.

And when it came to delays: "They're not just down to National Express, 70% were caused by Network Rail or other operators."

Ms Villiers blamed the "extensive programme of renewal work" to replace the overhead power cables. She warned that it wouldn't be finished until 2012 but said when it is, it would provide "real benefits for passengers".

Rail fares were going up, she said, to fund improvements and yes, some places would lose a few services but overall performance and capacity on the lines would improve.

"I don't believe National Express has operated unreasonably," she said.

It may seem that the concerns of Essex commuters fell on deaf ears but Ms Villiers was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling held by many who use the line. And she promised to keep a close eye on its future performance.

As for Mr Clark, she said that he had been found another place for his coffee and newspaper stand. Ms Patel says it's in the station car park and is far from satisfactory. She will continue to fight his case.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.