On Tuesday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray led a debate in Westminster Hall on Antarctic Science and Diplomacy. The debate marked the 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica on the 27th January 1820, (claimed by the Russian Bellingshausen, but actually seen -and mapped - by Brit Edward Bransfield a few days earlier).

The debate highlighted the role Britain had played in discovering Antarctica, scientific research on it, (thanks to the British Antarctic Survey), leading the Antarctic Treaty system, the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resource, and the Environmental Protection Protocol which effectively designated Antarctica as a natural reserve.

The debate also focused on the Antarctic Treaty which entered into force in 1961 and was signed by 12 countries. It prohibits new or expanded territorial claims in Antarctica, and means that Antarctica is set aside as a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science.” 

Ahead of COP26 later this year, the speakers in the debate stressed the need to learn from the successful international diplomacy used to agree The Antarctic Treaty, to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking during the debate, Mr Gray stated that:

“We must move forward from the relatively peaceful times we have had in Antarctica over the past couple of hundred years, because some astonishing and appalling things are occurring down there. Unless we do something about it now, significant changes will come in Antarctica…

Britain has truly led the world in terms of science and diplomacy, and we should be proud of that, but there is an awful lot more to be done. With climate change and the growth in fishing and tourism, the treaty system needs to redouble its efforts on biosecurity in Antarctica. The treaty parties must remain vigilant and ensure that the co-operation of the past 60 years continues and endures into the future.”

James Gray MP has welcomed news that Wiltshire will receive an additional £256,725 to tackle rough sleeping this year to support some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

The Conservatives have announced that councils will receive a share of an additional £112 million through the Rough Sleeping Initiative to help get people off the streets and in to safe and secure accommodation.

It builds on the Prime Minister’s drive to end homelessness and the announcement before Christmas of £260 million for local authorities to help people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes get back on their feet.

The Rough Sleeping Initiative has reduced the number of vulnerable people sleeping rough in the areas it has been operating by 32 per cent since its introduction in 2018, and is a central pillar of the government’s strategy to end rough sleeping completely by 2024.

Commenting, James Gray said:

“I am delighted that funding to tackle rough sleeping has increased and that the Government are taking steps to tackle this problem. It is vitally important that the most vulnerable people in society, including homeless people and rough sleepers are given the support they need so that they can rebuild their lives, find stable accommodation and ensure this progress is sustainable. 

This Conservative government has shown it is absolutely determined to end rough sleeping, and I was especially pleased to see the government bring forward its target of achieving this from 2027 to 2024 at the last election.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said:

“No-one should have to face a night on the street and we have a moral duty to support those who need help the most. It is encouraging to see more people getting the support they need, but there is always more to do.

“We are focusing relentlessly on this issue and our efforts have already led to the first nationwide fall in rough sleeping in a decade – and the areas funded by our Rough Sleeping Initiative have seen rough sleeping numbers fall around a third more than they would be without this vital programme. 

“But we need to go further. That is why we are providing this funding so vital work can continue as we set out to end rough sleeping once and for all.”

So is it all over bar the shouting?

It is certainly true that its been a great campaign nationally and locally. The people are terrified by the prospect of a Corbyn government, fully aware that a vote for the Lib Dems might nonetheless give them Corbyn, and are broadly supportive (sometimes with reservations) of the Tories and Boris. They really do want Brexit done - one way or the other. The polls have remained pretty steady at about a 10-point lead over Labour, and therefore a probable overall majority of 20 seats or so.

So what can go wrong now? Really only one thing - complacency. Here in North Wiltshire we had 61% of the votes cast at the last election, a 23,000 majority. Yet I never forget that in 1997 I won the seat with a meagre 3500 majority. We’ve been doing a good bit of work in neighbouring seats. Chippenham should be all right - but only if the Conservative pledges actually take the trouble to vote on Thursday. Cheltenham is on a knife-edge, but the outstanding local candidate, Alex Chalk, is a favourite on the doorsteps I have canvassed in the last week or two. Stroud really should be a Con Gain if Labour are as unpopular as I think they are.

Yet Stroud may be the victim of the second threat we face - tactical voting. The Lib Dems in Stroud stood down in favour of the Green Party; yet they know full well that few of their natural voters will support the no-hope Green. So their surrender in Stroud was actually in favour of the Labour candidate. Tactical voting may well benefit the Tories in Brexit Labour-held seats, of which we would hope to win about 40, mainly in the Midlands and North of England. Yet rejoice as we may well do in the West country at the collapse of the Lib Dems, that may benefit Labour in the North where we want a strong Lib Dem vote to steal votes from Corbyn.

Leaving complacency and tactical voting as the two main remaining threats on one side, my -relatively optimistic - prediction (and all predictions should be consigned to the rubbish bin shortly after being made) is currently: Tories 340 seats; Labour 220; Lib Dems 12; SNP 48, which gives an overall Tory lead of 30 or so. (And I know it doesn’t quite add up - I have disregarded the DUP, independents, the green, the Speaker and Sinn Féin who never take their seats.)

So no - it’s not all over. I am hopeful of a Conservative majority government for the first time in 32 years (1987 was the last proper overall working majority). But to achieve that great and historic victory we need every single Conservative pledge to be certain to vote on Thursday, and take nothing for granted. Even my relatively optimistic estimate gives us a majority of only 30.  So it’s not all over, not by any means. Not until the lady of generous proportions has hit the high note…….But one last heave, and we may have something to celebrate on Friday 13th.

On Tuesday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray attended an Industry and Parliament Trust event to discuss ‘The Path Toward a Plastic Free Future.’

At the event, MPs and guests came together to discuss the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment, the UK’s Plastic Pact and plans to discourage the creation of plastic packaging.

According to research by waste management company Viridor, only 46% of plastic packaging is currently recycled against a target of 75%. Since the release of Blue Planet 2, pressure has grown from the public and MPs to cut down on single-use plastic. By April 2020, new controls on plastics items will be implemented with restrictions on the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds. However, James Gray believes that we need to formulate an aggressive strategy to ban all non-recyclable plastic.

After the event Mr Gray said that:

“I was extremely pleased to have attended this event to highlight the negative impact that plastic has on our environment and learn more about how we can address the problems of plastic pollution. Having seen for myself the albatross with their stomachs full of plastic, I know more needs to be done to tackle this crisis. We cannot lower our ambitions and should take action now to protect our planet and wildlife.

Recycling alone will not come close to meeting the challenge that faces us, particularly as plastic production is set to quadruple over the next twenty years. Therefore, we need action to reduce the amount of plastic that we use and stop the use of non-recyclable products in order to end our pollution crisis”

The Campaign turns a bit chillier this week. As winter sets in, I am leading teams to neighbouring marginal seats - Stroud and Cheltenham in particular. And I am taking a couple of days out to chair a long-planned International conference on Antarctica. (Good to get a mention on the Today Programme on Saturday about it.)

We have had an absolutely brilliant campaign in North Wiltshire so far. We have visited (virtually) every corner of the patch, canvassed 15,000 houses finding about 4000 people at home. We have used direct mail, social media, a hand delivery of 20,000 leaflets and countless calling cards; three Royal Mail Freepost letters which should be dropping through letter boxes from now until the election; we have distributed hundreds of paper and correx posters, toured the high streets, attended hustings meetings, done some local press work, and been seen around in every village and town. It’s just been a huge success.

Having done all of that, and without any kind of complacency, I have now concluded that as long as all of those who have promised to vote Conservative actually get out on the day and do so, we will hold North Wiltshire. And quite frankly, whether we do that by one vote, 10,000 or 20,000 doesn’t matter all that much, apart from massaging the ego of the candidate! But there is not much point in increasing our majority here if we do not form a majority Conservative Government.

So at risk of disappointing some villages or some people who I have not been able to meet in the last month or so, we have now decided to switch our attention away from North Wiltshire and see what help we can give in nearby marginals. We have already sent teams in to Chippenham, and Thornbury and Yate. We had a big team in the pouring rain in Stroud last week, and now want to do all we can to help there (which would be a Conservative win from Labour) and in Cheltenham (which is on a knife edge. Our great candidate, Alex Chalk, is fighting a stout action to hold off the Liberals).

And on Monday and Tuesday, I took time out from campaigning to chair the first ever Antarctic Parliamentarians Assembly in London. This is a conference on which I have been working for more than a year now. It’s the first of its kind - bringing together Parliamentarians from across the Globe to discuss issues of huge international importance. Timed to coincide with Antarctica Day and the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, Parliamentary delegations were invited from the 54 signatory countries to take part in discussions and debates about subjects ranging from climate change and the melting Antarctic ice sheets, to the increase in polar tourism and protecting Antarctic biodiversity.

Sir David Attenborough sent his apologies for not being able to attend due to his filming commitments, and commented: “It is a very worthwhile initiative and I hope that your deliberations will produce results which will help preserve and enhance the great White Continent. The challenges we face in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are both alarming and urgent, and I call on your parliaments and governments to work together to act decisively and collectively for the preservation of the continent.”

So without in any way neglecting North Wiltshire, I am using a bit of time to help secure an overall victory for the Tories, and for the world’s environment as well.