MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
To see the children at Highgate Primary in full creative Christmas spirit, drawing entries for her fifth annual card competition, Lynne Featherstone MP on Friday visited the Storey Road school.
This year the Hornsey and Wood Green MP has decided not to set a theme for the competition, instead the children are encouraged to draw what Christmas means to them. The Highgate children were drawing a range of colourful designs, from Christmas trees to stars and snowmen. The competition deadline is the 11th November, and the winner will be announced shortly after that.
Lynne Featherstone MP comments:
“It’s so wonderful to see the children having so much fun and getting in to the Christmas spirit as they create their festive designs for the competition.
“The decision this year to have an open theme has worked really well – the kids are really using their full imagination and creativity to make wonderful colourful, sparkling designs.
“I have certainly seen some real contenders here, and can’t wait to see the rest of this year’s entries!”
On her first local visit after being re-elected MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Lynne Featherstone on Friday went to visit her old school, Highgate Primary, to help the children write a special school magazine with stories from old and new students.
The year six students from the North Hill school asked the Liberal Democrat MP about what was different when she was a student there. They also go the chance to ask the new Home Office Minister what it was like to be in Government, and what made her become an MP in the first place.
Lynne Featherstone ended the visit by attending a special assembly, where some of the younger students did their own take on the book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.
Lynne Featherstone MP comments:
“What a wonderful way to kick-start a new term in office, by coming back to my old school, chatting with such incredibly bright and interested students, and reliving old memories.
“And topping off the visit by seeing the children do their own version of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was just fantastic. Especially when I got to join in the ‘monsters munch’ dance! Such fun!”
When Henryy Bonsu (Colourful Radio) said, on air, that I had something about me of the Helen Mirren – I could have kissed him. I tried, thereafter, to intimate that we were probably twins separated at birth………..
Henry’s assertion was based on my Russian ancestry as we were talking identity issues and I was saying that we all have multiple identities. Take me – I’m partly of Russian descent, single mother, ex-designer, current politician, short – from Haringey, Hornsey & Wood Green, Highgate, London, England, Britain and Europe – and I could use any of those to identify me. Apparently Ms Mirren has Russian blood too.
Colourful Radio were doing a half hour interview between me and three of them – Henry Bonsu, Juju and Toby Kell-Ogg. It was fun – and it wasn’t the usual formal, sound-bite interview – it was (I thought) a lively discussion ranging over MPs’ expenses (but in a debate way – not an all MPs are scum of the earth way), about equalities and the appalling differential in pay which is at its greatest disparity when we compare white men with ethnic minority women.
I was able to give an airing to our LibDem policy on ‘no name employment’ (where applicants use something like their National Insurance number rather than their name on job applications to remove subliminal discard at first sift).
We discussed education – and Toby thought my parents had paid for my education – so set him straight - as ironically my mother really didn’t believe in education, would never have dreamed of paying for it and would have had me working in her shop from the age of fifteen if she could. It was my Headmistress, Ruby Jobson at Highgate Primary, who called my mother in to school and told her that she had to allow me to sit for a scholarship for South Hampstead High School. In those days one third of the girls were on scholarships. Nowadays I believe it is mostly private – but I may be wrong.
First time I’ve been to Colourful – fantastic to have a proper conversation – so hope they invite me back some day.
Had fun yesterday visiting a painting class at my old school – Highgate Primary – to see how the children were getting on with their entries for my Christmas card competition.
This year the theme is ‘I’m dreaming of a green Christmas’, with pupils giving their interpretation of recycling at Christmas.
All primary schools in Hornsey and Wood Green have been invited to send in their entries and the winning design will feature on my Christmas card for this year.
If this visit was anything to do by – there will be tough competition! It was great to see some fantastic ideas. I’m really looking forward to sitting down and going through the entries. Then all I’ll have to do is pick a winner, get the cards printed and sign and sign and sign away!
Visited my old primary school in Highgate on Friday to ‘open’ two new sports playgrounds. All the children came into the hall and then the dignitaries (Lianne Sanderson / Arsenal Ladies and England footballer), Anthony the amazing Deputy Head, Jill (the Head), Justine (parent governor) and a gentleman who had been Anthony’s right-hand man throughout the project (sorry, didn’t catch his name) all said a few words to the children.
There was a team of kids in red sports wear who were deputised to be in charge of each of us guests – and they did a splendid job. Lianne cut the tape – and then we went out into the snowy – but clearly fantastic – new sports playgrounds.
I asked the children who wanted to be an Olympian – and they all virtually put their hands up. I then asked who wanted to be Prime Minister – and much to my surprise – about half the hall put their hands up again. Amazing! Sadly – that enthusiasm may not last into adulthood!
Surgery all morning. The last case was quite challenging. Obviously no details – but in overview – a woman came because her son, 13 years old and black, had been stopped by the police and asked to account for what he was doing. He and some friends were described as hiding in the grounds of public building playing hide and seek. Nothing came of it and the police had written to the mother following her complaints to say that they accepted her son’s explanation. End of story. Except – that although there is no police record or criminality etc – the boy’s details will remain on the database as having been stopped and asked to account.
As we went through what had happened, the woman became extremely agitated and before long completely hysterical, sobbing and shouting and weeping and wailing. What was at cause of this was a mixture of indignation that her boy had been stopped at all and that the police shouldn’t be allowed to stop a 13 year old and ask for details (she said they intimidated her son to get them), that the details filled in on the Stop and Search form were inaccurate and that he would be down in police records and this would count against him throughout his life as black boys have the odds stacked against them.
It is one of those situations where I just use enough authority to try and bring calm. I know theoretically people used to say you are meant to slap someone who is hysterical around the face and the shock is supposed to bring them back to their senses. However, I hardly think that a viable or acceptable solution in this day and age! I can just see the headlines. What was the most difficult was that she couldn’t hear anything I was saying. And in fact I thought she had a good point.
It sort of relates to my work on DNA where I am fighting to bring some rationality and fairness to what gets retained by the police when someone is innocent. Likewise, her boy was innocent. She has the letter from the police saying so. But because the police stopped him, his details will remain forever on the database and this may well somehow count against him at a later date and in another context.
So I will pursue this. Because if there is any risk that retained details on an innocent black boy might one day mean that he is prevented from something – a job or a place at university because somehow that information is available – then it should not be retained on record. I will be writing to the police chief to find out what happens to such records, why they keep them and whether there is a particular reason for this boy’s details to be kept. We will see.
There is a whole surveillance society being created at the moment – and we have to be sure that the balance between our civil liberties and catching criminals is not only a fair one – but an agreed one!
From surgery make my way to Highgate Primary School where I am talking to about 30 children from the school council and school newspaper about climate change and recycling – and how lovely it was to be surrounded by enthusiastic youngsters who peppered me with lots of questions and who clearly understood already the need to care about what we use and how we use it and the dangers that faced us.
More fascinating for them – was the fact that this was my old primary school! Neither the head nor the teachers had realised that this was indeed my own Alma Mater! And what memories it sparked. I was describing to Anthony – the teacher in charge of this project – and we didn’t use first names when I was there- that we had had a boys’ playground and a girls’ playground. And he laughed at the idea of gender playgrounds – but that’s how it was. And I remembered all my old teachers’ names. Also, the head was called Mrs Ruby Jobson (I think) and I remember her calling my mother in for a chat because my mother was not a fan of education and thought you should get out into the world and work as soon as possible. She herself had left school at 13 to train under a milliner – which she hated. Anyway – Mrs Johnson called her in and told her that her little girl was quite clever and advised that I sit for a scholarship. My mother reluctantly agreed. But the interesting thing is that we hadn’t done any algebra and apparently you needed to be able to do algebra to sit the exam. So the Headmistress sat me in her own office for six weeks and tutored me personally. I sat the exam. I got the scholarship. And the rest is history. So – an unexpected walk down memory lane!
Then I get a call from a reporter from Radio 4’s Today programme who wants to come and interview me post the fabulous Dunfermline by-election result – as Haringey is one of those councils that is mooted may fall to the Lib Dems. It’s a program to do with what is happening and why in Labour’s heartlands. So he comes to the Three Compasses pub (where my office is upstairs) and I am sitting downstairs having a coffee with my 3 o’clock appointment – Ian Grant – from Open Door.
Open Door is voluntary organisation part funded by state and the rest by raising funds and it has a team of councillors that work with 13 to 24 year olds with mental health problems. One of the projects they are doing, and which they want to promote more widely, is support for parents of teenagers with mental health problems as there is nothing available. The other gap is care for 18 – 21 year olds who often seem to fall between two stools. I am particularly cross about the lack of resource or interest in mental health.
Firstly, neighbour disputes are often mental health based issues and often crime in the community is because care in the community doesn’t work. The police and the prison system end up dealing with what are mental health issues – and of all the under-funding – talking therapies are the lowest in the food chain!! We did actually have an opposition debate this week in Parliament for the first time on mental health for over eight years. And Charles Clarke in his statement yesterday on offenders doing community sentences did mention in passing that the government will be bringing forth legislation in the mental health area. Anyway – the reporter put his tape recorder on and taped a bit of that meeting too.
Then I did the interview – and yes – Labour heartlands will fall (I hope) and he was particularly interested to know how and why I had managed to overturn a Labour lead of 26,000 in two elections. It’s not hard to understand. Haringey Labour ran a one party state where residents were ignored and treated as voting fodder who would vote Labour whatever. Someone like me comes along and says I will listen and care and do things about your everyday life – yes it matters – clean streets, lighting, paving stones and so on. I have always argued that if you can’t keep a street clean how can you run the country? Of course, over the years the Lib Dems have been working in Haringey – we have succeeded in pushing through improvements – on cleaner streets, recycling, school places – all of which Labour ignored until we became a threat, campaigned on these issues and put them in our leaflets. So – there is every chance that we will take the Council in May. Fingers crossed!
As I finish the interview – the CND lobby arrives. I was expecting about 5 of them – but around 12 -15 turn up. We pass an interesting half-hour and each member (virtually) of the lobby presents their case. For the avoidance of confusion – I am against the replacement of Trident with an equivalent system. For the time being, I believe we need a minimum nuclear deterrent. What does that mean? Enough to make anyone think twice about attacking us. I would wish to move to disarmament – but I think that is unrealistic at this moment in time and am not in favour of unilateral disarmament. I want a debate in Parliament on this issue – and indeed a debate in my own party too. I believe the world has changed and is changing and the way war is waged is also changing. The threats of the past are replaced by different threats now. Our defence needs to adapt to