We were expecting to close this blog on 6th May 2010, along with the election, but, since the election hasn't ended yet, neither will the blog. May as well add a few points!
Lucy Corrander - picturesjustpictures@googlemail.com . . . . . . . . . . Esther Montgomery - estherinthegarden@googlemail.com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


JIM KNIGHT has been the Member of Parliament for South Dorset since 2001 and is standing again in the current election.  Amongst other posts, he has been a Minister in the Department for Schools and in the Department for Rural Affairs.  (This is all very much abbreviated.)  He is currently Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions (attending Cabinet) and Minister for the South West.

Jim has kindly emailed a response to many of the points in the Lucy and Esther Manifesto.

They are all here - in black bold on a white background  - interleaved in places with responses to his responses (in red - which turns out to be a bit tiring on the eyes so I'll change it later)!

Please do feel free to leave your own comments!

This is what he said:-

Whilst we've chatted on the doorstep I thought your manifesto deserves a quick reply.


Fewer students; more grants.  No fees; more apprenticeships (real ones).

More students - we need them to compete with huge numbers of graduates now from China and India etc, more grants for those from poorer homes; yes more apprenticeships.

'More students' - but it's not being a student that is useful for the individual or the economy, nor is holding a certificate; it's the quality of learning and training that matters. Even the word 'apprentice' can be misused. Are you convinced that all college and university courses meet standards needed for constructive employment? You like the idea of more apprentices so wouldn't it be worth swapping quite a lot of formal certificating for 'on the job' training (supplemented with more day-release and sandwich courses)?

If this were to happen, I'd suggest there should also be training for the people who are given apprentices under their watch because they too are teachers.

And about grants - public servants like teachers shouldn't have to pay back grants or fees.


Anonymity is a tool of democracy. Its appropriate use on the internet should be protected.

Agreed within reason - "appropriate" important.


Commercial companies should not run schools.

Agreed - not for private gain - they can get involved through educational charities.

But 'private gain' isn't confined to financial advantage. It can be about power, prestige, advertising and ideology. Other worries are that
a.)schools may run adrift when their sponsoring bodies or individuals lose interest
b.)where there are clusters of faith schools, academies and specialist colleges - parents and children can be left with no 'neutral' option.


High-quality care for elderly people should be put on an equal footing with high-quality education for children.

That is the aim of the National Care Service to sit along side the NHS.

Good. If I understand rightly, there will be much more help for people who want to stay in their own homes. (A bit worried about how they will organise it if they are a bit confused and frail however . . . ) However, residential care homes need an enormous amount of attention, funding, regulation, inspection and imagination - surely much more of all of these are needed than are in the pipeline, more than people in government seem to be contemplating even in the long term.

19. - MPs

The induction of new MPs should include twelve separate weeks living with constituents in twelve different kinds of UK community.

Nice idea - not sure it would happen in the end.  Electors need to judge whether candidates will listen and understand them.

Definitely electors need to know that their MPs will listen and understand (and, despite our differences, I do know you have been an exceptionally engaged MP) but, however important their constituencies, MPs are working for the good of the nation (nations) and the areas within it (them) are astonishingly varied. I doubt if anyone can get much more than a vague grip on this without consciously setting out to do so. Iain Duncan Smith was transformed by a visit to one new place. Maybe there are other MPs who need their eyes opened by geography.


Citizens should have more direct democratic control over EU policies, laws and regulations.

Agreed - EU is a good idea but needs further reform including better engagement with citizens.

Oh good, we agree on something!


No new nuclear power stations.

Sorry but disagree - we need to reduce burning of fossil fuels and as the current nuclear power comes to the end of its life we need the new generation as part of the future energy mix.

But we might blow up the world or poison bits of it in the process!

17. CUTS

No Council, Police or Health Authority should create or distribute self-advertising newspapers. They mislead and are a waste of money.

I agree - use the internet and the local paper, but we shouldn't ban it in law - they respond to local views.

Really? Are there local views to respond to? Maybe it's the nature of this constituency but I've never really thought there's much cohesion in public outlook. Aren't we mostly a bit vague?

16. MPs

The state should own houses in London for MPs to live in.

Disagree - would stop people with young families being MPs, especially women who want their children with them in London. Would also make politicians even more inward looking and out of touch.

It would depend how it's done. I'm not thinking of hall of residence style accommodation but a pool of properties of different kinds and sizes spread around London.

(Oh, and don't men MPs want their children with them too? ? ? ? )


Children with parents on Benefit should not be disqualified for free travel because their first choice school is outside the catchment area.

Nice idea - needs funding.


Benefit should not be affected by co-habitation.

Contributory benefits are not but means tested are and reflect the cost of living.

At such low levels of income, I doubt the state would lose much by letting people keep separate allowances. (Especially when administration and checking up on people are taken into account.) However, the pressure to decide on whether a relationship is something developing or is a co-habitation can push people apart. It can push people together too soon too. And it makes people vulnerable to the (not necessarily charitable) opinions of neighbours.

13. MPs

No-one should become a Member of Parliament without having ten years experience in other kinds of work first.

Tempting but would prevent some younger people getting elected which has been good for Parliament.

But younger people age. They don't just vanish at thirty! Indeed, they are still young at thirty. (Wouldn't you say?) It's just that they know more by then. (Hopefully!)

12. WORK

The school leaving age should not be raised beyond sixteen.  (It might be lowered.)

Strongly believe people should have to carry on in school or training until at least 18 - can leave school at 16 to do an apprenticeship or other form of training in work - we need more skills.

I agree training and employment are important but if proper apprenticeships were available more widely this could be done less formally. It isn't fair to keep children in school against their wishes. For some, it's bad enough staying there till fifteen! It isn't fair on teachers who have to deal with teenagers who would rather be elsewhere. It isn't fair on children who want to study but who have aggressive and disruptive peers rattling round while they try to listen and learn. Hopefully a good proportion of those who were to leave school early would come back to education in the narrower sense once they had matured, saw the need for it and knew what they wanted from it.

Couldn't people work at fifteen and train later?

11. CUTS

The amount of paper used in letters about State Benefits should be reduced by three quarters.

Agreed - as part of digitisation we can move to a lot more being done electronically.

I'm not thinking people on low incomes should be expected to access benefits and information through computers; more that when benefit letters are sent out they should be concise, should have fewer pages and the content should be much easier to understand. Some pages, at present, have hardly anything on them! Nor do people need to be sent little leaflets about complaints and . . . (I think the other one is about when to notify the Benefits Agency if circumstances change) in every envelope.


Ballet should be put on an equal footing with football in state schools and fully qualified ballet teachers employed to teach it.

Ballet too narrow - but dance should be part of the mainstream offer in schools alongside sports - this is pretty much the norm now.

Alright, ballet is too narrow and I'm not meaning everyone should do it right through to the sixth form. But, when you think of how many children go to Ballet Schools on Saturdays and how many children would like to 'do' ballet but whose parents can't afford it or who don't have the time to take them to lessons - think how many would enjoy it if it were brought into the main stream! Many children would far prefer ballet to jumping into hoops, or netball, or running round a track.

I know schools do dance but I don't think they teach it to the standard needed if the students are hoping to go into a career in musical theatre, dance or ballet. It doesn't even qualify people to go on to further, high quality, specialist courses. It is an example of what I was saying earlier - that having a certificate isn't the point. It's what you can do that matters.


If pressure is to be taken off Accident and Emergency Departments, out-of-hours health care must be improved.

A&E a lot better than it was when we had 24 hour trolley waits, partly because we now have walk-in GP services 7 days/week in places like Weymouth hospital.

One of the troubles about Walk in Services at hospitals is that, if you are ill - you may not be able to walk in!

My two experiences of out of hours GP services have been dreadful.

The most recent - I had a minor operation, came home, collapsed in agony. The out of hours GP was phoned and a message left. He only phoned back when I was already being put into an ambulance. The paramedics had been at my house for an hour and a quarter, trying to control the pain enough to move me but the GP service had been contacted before 999 was dialled. It's daft!


Major local employers like Hospitals and County Halls should provide shift-related transport for their staff.

Nice idea - needs funding - should it be done on a co-op basis paid by staff users?

I think it would need to be organised by employers if it were to work. If there were hospital / County Hall organised buses between Weymouth and Dorchester to co-incide with shifts, less space would be needed for staff to park and there would be fewer cars going backwards and forwards between the two towns. There's no reason why the people using the service shouldn't contribute.

(Of course, I speak as someone who didn't want the relief road built.)


Benefits should be adjusted at a moment's notice when short-term employment is offered and reinstated correctly the moment it ends.

Yes, within reason, and more possible as we move to more automation with on-line claims.

But the people who would find this most useful might be those who can only find very temporary, low-paid work and they are less likely than others to have computers. On-line is great. Off-line needs to be just as efficient.


Trident should not be replaced.

Disagree - we are not yet at a point where I am comfortable that proliferation is under control enough to lose that capability.

But nuclear weapons are wrong! (I know that isn't a political point - but it is what I think.)

There's an uncomfortable hypocrisy about us having nuclear weapons. How can we ask other nations not to develop them while we maintain them ourselves?

And if you bunch us in with our allies - wouldn't you think that, once you can blow up the world once, there's little point in being able to blow it up lots of times?

(Trident is expensive too!)


Give the Royal Mail to the Co-op.

We are setting up a Peoples Bank with the Post Office which will go some way to what you may be thinking of.

At first, I was thinking only of the mail bit (letters and parcels). Attempts to run The Royal Mail as a purely commercial business have run it down. Since raising this on Twitter though, I'm beginning to think the Co-op might take over the whole caboodle. The Post Office used to have the Giro Bank. That was taken over by the Alliance and Leicester, now by Santander. Post Office Savings Books have been discarded. Basic accounts are . . . basic. We need an easy to use, really useful, moral, non-capitalist service.


Works of art and history stored out of sight by Museums should be released for display around our countries.

Nice idea - if the National Collections can be secured.


Public Libraries should contain public loos as well as lots of books.

Needs funding but in principle yes.

Funded by not building silly new ones. (Do you know the house-sized two-loos near The Smugglers in Portland Road?). Trying to maintain public loos that are unpleasant (and dangerous) must be costly too.

And as for the book bit . . . libraries don't have enough books. Computers are encroaching. Libraries don't have enough tables either. Or comfortable chairs.

Don't suppose you're in favour of people sitting in libraries because they have no-where to go and need to keep warm but . . . well I am!


If Public School children can form public-performance level choirs and orchestras, children in State Schools should be enabled to do so too.

Yes - lots of investment in music in schools to try to get more of the above.


It's not just funding though. It's also the quality and imagination of the teachers and how much confidence they have in the ability of the children they are teaching.


Specialist schools should have outstanding departments in the specialities they are supposed to specialise in.


Yes, but they don't at present!

Hope that helps



(Ros is the Liberal Democrat Candidate for South Dorset)

(Brian is the Green Party Candidate for South Dorset)

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