My private visit to the Gambia ended with a visit to the British High Commissioner, meetings with the local MP, seeing more projects.
We had a final party in my compound (where the food preparation for 50 people started with a chicken catching session by our wonderful host family), a quick tour of the local medical clinic and a sad series of goodbyes.
The long-standing link between Marlborough and Gunjur via the Marlborough Brandt Group has not only delivered enormous progress and positive change in Gunjur but has opened so many eyes, including mine, to the realities of life in a country where the average national income amounts to a few hundred pounds a year and yet families support each other, faith underpins the community and children strive to learn.
I arrived back to snow, travel disruption and a huge amount of media interest in an interview I had given to the Daily Mail while I was away about my new role as the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on childhood protection matters. My innocuous suggestion – that parents should feel more confident about getting involved in their children’s digital lives – seemed to trigger a tsunami of support which I think is driven by a sense of unease among many of us that the pace of technological change has eroded the ability of parents to keep their children safe in the online world.
We have given children, even those as young as nine or ten, access to vast quantities of information, some of it inappropriate, the ability to communicate with a global audience and unprecedented space and privacy in which to click and chat. Of course children need privacy – who does not remember the awful fear that one’s mother would open the supposedly lockable diary – but I think the balance has gone too far.
Government, schools and the digital industry all have a role to play but parents are responsible for child safety and we are paying for the phones and internet.
This week was also notable for the Prime Minister’s speech setting out a sensible and workable vision for Britain’s relationship with Europe and pledging an In: Out referendum for the British people on this relationship in the next Parliament. As someone who has long argued for this democratic right, promised so often by successive Labour governments but never delivered, I am delighted with this pledge. In my view, Britain should be part of the single market but there are powers and processes that must be repatriated to the UK and the sooner the better.