Wednesday, February 22, 2012

John Baron MP leads House of Commons debate on Iran

Yesterday in the House of Commons, John Baron MP opened a debate on Iran, calling for the Government to rule out the use of force and to reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts. The full-day debate was secured by John through the Backbench Business Committee. John lost the vote 285-6 – more than half of MPs abstained.

John argued that military action against Iran, whether by the UK, US or Israel, would be a disaster and could possibly spark off a regional war. Instead, John suggested, the West should offer Iran the opportunity of a new relationship, recognising Iran’s regional power status – which the US and UK largely created by their misguided invasion of Iraq. The precedent being Nixon’s rapprochement with China during the 1970s.

“The West’s policy of sanctions and sabre-rattling has failed. They have brought us to the brink of military conflict. Such is the failure of the West’s approach. Iran will not be deterred from her pursuit of nuclear technology.”

“A military strike would be calamitous. It would unite Iran in fury. It would not work. Knowledge cannot be destroyed by military action. Even within Israel, there are voices of caution. Meir Dagan – the hardline former Chief of Mossad – has referred to an attack against Iran as a ‘stupid idea’.”

“Yet, we refuse to rule out the use of force. Such a policy is not only naive, but illogical. We are keeping an option which all know would be a disaster, against a country which chooses to ignore it. Yet this option heightens tensions, and makes a peaceful outcome less likely”

“A fresh approach is required. Now is the time for the US to make clear to Israel that force should not be used. This would immediately lessen tensions and make conflict less likely. Longer-term, we should be prepared to offer implicit recognition of Iran’s status as a regional superpower. There is a precedent: the rapprochement between Nixon and China in the 1960s and 1970s was a defining moment, and the right decision. The US now needs to realise that this is one of those defining moments before calamity befalls the region.”

The speech can be read in full online:

During his speech opening the debate, John addressed some of the inconvenient truths which many are prepared to skate over when discussing Iran. These include that the November report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided no clear evidence of nuclear weapons development. John also pointed out that opportunities to better relations between the West and Iran had been missed by both sides.

I don't necessarily agree with all of John's position, but it is to his very great credit that he called the debate on this critical matter. On reading Hansard you see MP after MP thanking John for the opportunity for the Mother of Parliaments to debate on what may be a slide into war. It really shouldn't have fallen to a backbench MP to have to do this, but our man in Billericay has stepped up when we needed him to. Billericay residents can be very proud of their man at Westminster today.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Basildon Town Centre Masterplan Consultation

We have opened public consultation on the Basildon Town Centre Masterplan. This document in its final form will lay out the vision for Basildon Town Centre, but crucially will also determine what actually happens in terms of built works. In fact it will be a Development Plan Document and a material consideration at Planning Committee meetings. So far I am advised that reaction has been very positive, with a general recognition that something needs to be done to reverse the decline of the Town Centre. This is key as the Conservative Administration really believes in Town Centres over the Retail Park model for shopping and leisure. We simply don't think our Town Centres should be the second-best solution for those without cars. Social cohesion matters, and thriving Town Centres have the supreme virtue of large scale employment. This may be tough to deliver given the retail climate at the moment, but we can do tough.

I would be misleading if I left it at all sweetness and light though. There are two major issues: the new FE College and moving the market. The new college is funded by the development of an area of Special Housing Reserve land at Dry Street. This is owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and they have got approval to give monies from a housing development to the FE College project instead of returning it back to the Treasury. So, we get a new College, which our young people desperately need, housing on non-Green Belt land, which our builders and then our people desperately need, and then an institution in Basildon Town Centre with around 2500 students, which the local economy desperately needs. All good? Well, we have to give up an important green space to do it, so it is a judgement call. Needless to say, the local Councillors for Nethermayne Ward are not happy, and I respect that. The other problem is that the new College is set for the current Market site, so the Market is proposed to move to St. Martin's Square. This proposal has made many of the existing traders very unhappy as they rely on permanent cabins on the existing site, which are not proposed for the Square. I am trying to arrange a meeting with them soonest, but there is no magic answer to this one.

As for the local Labour Party, I genuinely have no clue on what they think. This worries me a lot as Regeneration has generally been apolitical in Basildon. No one is in favour of bad housing or empty shops. So, I offer the opposition any briefing of meeting that they wish. I don't expect them to love me, and we will end up with some sort of disagreement, of that I am sure, but I don't want the representatives of an important view point and a large chunk of our Community not to understand the Administration view, even if they don't agree with it. Basildon Councillors are vigorously political, but let us make sure we row about facts, not fictions eh?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Congratulations Angela

It occurs to me that I missed a huge story in my blogging for which I apologise. We have a Baroness Basildon in the form of our former MP Angela Smith, and I cannot think of a more deserving individual. That may surprise many, given we sit firmly on the opposite sides in politics, but only a fool would not recognise Angela's enormous talents and sheer commitment to the ordinary people in our community. People may rail against the House of Lords, but it works well to capture and retain such people in Britain's public life. The work of that chamber is often very impressive, if inconvenient for the government of the day. Angela keeping a role in public service is case to point as well as a quiet satisfaction to many in Basildon.

In fact Basildon has always been fortunate in our MPs. We now have the endlessly hardworking Stephen Metcalfe in Basildon proper. In Billericay we have John Baron, decent, intelligent and really holding the government to account on serious foreign policy matters of the day. For Wickford we have Mark Francois, brought up in Basildon and an astonishingly talented man. God knows where our community would be without such representing us at Westminster.