Tuesday, February 24, 2009
However, don't hold your breath - I have the next Parliamentary Campaigner to do by the weekend and I haven't even started writing it! And I also agreed to write a short policy paper for Gateshead Lib Dems by Friday. No doubt there will be more about that soon. Anyway, I looked at my list of things to do before I left the office this evening. It ran to a mere 8 pages!
One of the jobs on the list was to complete and send out the Whickham efocus, our email newsletter for constituents. Hopefully it will be in people's inboxes shortly.
Meanwhile I am on a bit of a slow train. Looks as though I will be late for dinner.
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Monday, February 23, 2009
Cabinet conversations get leaked normally for a reason. In this instance, the apparent benificiary is The Lady Harriet. Her posturing as the class enemy of rich bankers no doubt appeals to many Labour MPs, and it certainly stands in sharp contrast to her super-privileged, aristocratic, expensively-privately-education background. The public is not told who leaked the details of the Cabinet discussions but I can't believe that it was not someone close to The Lady H herself.
What was interesting was the response of other Labour chiefs. Suddenly, there was talk of a "stop Harman" candidate in the form of Yvette Cooper. It suggests a degree of desperation within Labour's ranks that a complete unknown (in the public's mind) should be suggested as possible leadership contender.
There is of course no actual leadership campaign at the moment. Instead, there is a Labour "beauty" contest (though beauty is not a word I normally associate with Labour) underway as the ambitious wanabees begin to line up to take on the leadership of Labour once Brown has gone. Labour are seeing the writing on the wall: Brown, they believe, will lead them to election defeat, possibly a bad defeat. The Labour vultures are therefore circling. Brown is seen as a dead cert for disposal after the 2010 election. The next 14 months leading to the election will, for some Labour individuals, be dominated not by the general elction, but by the shadow leadership election.
And at the moment, The Lady Harriet seems to be the only real contender in the race. But expect others to join it soon.
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Saturday, February 21, 2009
I have now retired to the office to print more focus leaflets! Seems as though I can't get enough of an opportunity to get out and meet man's best friend. Well, I suppose I need something to get my teeth into! I will be going home soon to have a bite to eat.
I think that's enough of that!
On other matters, I am pleased to announce that we finished building the greenhouse this afternoon. And we spent the morning happily wandering around a garden centre at Hexham, taking Dad with us, to stock up on seed potatos, onion sets etc. It was the sort of garden centre that caters for the allotment holder. Amazing the sort of thing that now gets us excited!
After that we went to the farmers' market at Gibside. Dad seemed to think he was in the local supermarket and stocked up for the next few weeks.
Anyway, print run is about to come to an end......
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Friday, February 20, 2009
First, news from the family. Esther, my sister who was rushed into hospital whilst on holiday in Jamaica in now back home. Seems as though she is in good shape and was able to catch her scheduled flight. I also suppose it gives an new meaning to the term "health tourism"!
Meanwhile, I have the inevitable round of Focus production and delivery to perform this weekend. We are busy consulting in my village of Sunniside about the plans for traffic lights that we have fought for years to get. So we have to deliver the consultation forms with the Sunniside Focus and I know there are two patches waiting for me to do when I get back.
The saga of our greenhouse continues to run and run. We hope to finish building it this weekend. You'll get to see the photos and inevitable video soon! We are also off to Hexham to go to the garden centre there and also visit Gibside to go to the farmers' market. Should be fun.
Anyway, we are just pulling out of Newark Station on my National Express train, with its flashy new timetable which takes much longer to get to Newcastle. Amazing to think just a few weeks ago that National Excess were announcing an exciting new timetable with quicker journey times. Perhaps we have differing understandings of the word "quicker".
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Comments from the occasional invisible man of Tyneside politics are not always particularly interesting. This one was. The reason why? Because he set himself up as the arch critic of nationalisation of Northern Rock when it was first proposed by the Liberal Democrats.
On 12th December 2007, Big MacHenderson told the Commons that the nationalisation of Northern Rock “would be a disastrous policy to adopt”! There would be doom and gloom and the end of civilisation and all life as we know it in the North East (okay so I slightly exaggerate) were the bank to be taken into public ownership.
This MP is, it would appear, about as useful to the world of economic prediction as double cheeseburgers are to calorie controlled diets.
Though Downham is a Lib Dem held ward, it does have a Labour history. And Labour had high hopes of taking the 2 seats and winning back a majority on the council. In the end they nearly came third. Looking at their appalling literature, they deserved to come last. Labour seemed to think there was a BNP threat in the ward. The actual threat could hadly be described as anything other than weak. The BNP only had one candidate. They hadn't stood in the ward last time. And BNP resources were clearly going to another by-election, in Sevenoaks, which they won from Labour.
So why Labour should campaign in the ward in the style of the BNP is an as yet unanswered question. It seems that much of their message was the desperate need to have the Union Jack flying above the town hall. They had a petition on it, in an attempt to persuade the mayor to see sense and fly the flag. (Interesting that they felt the need to run a petition to persuade themselves to change something they were doing!) Anyway, Labour's campaign of waving the flag was an outstanding success as the Labour mayor had a rethink and decided to have the Union Jack fluttering from the municipal flagpole on "at least 14 special occasions such as Trafalgar Day and the Queen's birthday." (It was noticeable that Nuuuuuu Labour don't mention May Day as a special day, though that may have something to do with Labour's successful approach to reducing the number of workers.)
Personally, I think flying the nation's flag on special occasions is a great idea. But it should be done as a matter of course, not something adopted as a tactic in a political battle. The flag belongs to the nation as a whole, not to one political party. Politicising the Union Jack is a tactic of the far right and Labour should be ashamed of themselves for posing in such a manner. If you want to beat the BNP, you do so by giving a different and better vision, not posing as a pale version of the far right.
And couldn't Labour find something closer to people's needs on which to campaign? Whilst Labour may be keen to have the flag flying above their head, the rest of us are more concerned about having a roof above our head.
But Labour's stupidity does not end there. Though they posed as flag waving nationalists, one of their campaign messages was that the battle was a 2 horse race between Labour and Conservatives. And whilst Labour drools with indignation everytime they see a bar chart in a Lib Dem Focus leaflet, Lewisham Labour stuffed their leaflets full of graphs suggesting that it was only Labour or Tories who could win there.
So I can imagine the surprise and confusion of voters therefore on polling day when they received a Labour leaflet claiming "The BNP winning in Downham - it's more important than ever before to vote Labour today."
And the next day, of course, people woke up to the news of a Lib Dem election victory!
So, posing as watered down right wingers, ignoring bread and butter issues, talking up both the Tories and BNP - even that must be a record for Labour. Still, though they fly the union jack "on special occasions", at least we will be guaranteed that Labour certainly won't be flying the red flag in Lewisham.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
And then last week, Blaydon MP Dave Anderson expressed his unhappiness with the company as well. He asked Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, to speak to the company and ask for improvements. Mr Hoon sidestepped that part of the question. May be some good will come of this. Here's hoping!
Nevertheless, is a trend of making vocal complaints about National Excess being set?
One interesting National Express wheeze I want to share with you is about the 9pm service out of London being resheduled to take about half an hour longer to do the same route and stations. I discovered this on a journey north recently. There was no explanation as to why the extra half hour had been added on. The train arrived at a number of stations early and sat waiting, in one instance for 20 minutes, so that it could catch up on its elongated timetable.
But that wasn't the end of it. National Excess schedules half an hour on the timetable to get from Durham to Newcastle. The actual journey time is 12 minutes. Under the old timetable, it normally arrived 20 minutes early into Newcastle. No doubt this helped the company tick a few boxes on train punctuality.
But on the elongated timetable, the train got in half an hour early. The reality was that it got in half an hour after it used to do, but because of the madly extended timetable, the train guard was ever so proud to tell passengers that National Express was bringing us in a staggering 30 minutes early. Who are they trying to kid? Hardly surprising they can claim to be doing so well on their punctuality targets!
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Monday, February 16, 2009
Getting a ticket for this morning was equally tortuous. The cheapest I could get for a single to London was first class advanced costing £69.50. And it leaves at 9.30am, much later than I normally pick up the train. I decided to get the bus in rather than get David to do his chauffeur routine. And since he is chairing the magistrates bench this morning, I don't want to make him late for all those criminals!
So on arrival at Central Station, with over half an hour to spare, I headed for the waiting room and spotted the first class lounge. "That will do nicely," I thought to myself. Errr, actually it didn't. My first class tick didn't let me into the first class facilities. Apparently, as I only paid an arm and a leg for my ticket, I clearly have not provided sufficient body parts to let me through the door! So I headed for standard class waiting room instead!
Anyway, rant over and so to my weekend activities. Mine focused on the long running saga of building the greenhouse. We are only partly further on. And oh, how I so hate the sound of breaking glass, especially when specially cut panes of glass are dropped in the kitchen. So another weekend goes by in which we set ourselves the target of completing the building job the following weekend. The video I am making about it for my allotment blog just keeps getting longer.
Good news: I was contacted over the weekend by an American looking for photos taken inside the ex-Soviet, formerly top secret nuclear submarine base in Balaklava, the Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea. He runs a website promoting holidays to the Crimea but had no photos of the inside of the base. The video I shot in the base has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube and has appeared on various websites but no one has, up til now, asked me for photos. Fortunately, I took over 150 when I was inside the base, just over 2 years ago, shortly after it was first opened to visitors. Needless to say, the Russian navy has long sinced stopped using the site. The photos will have to be sorted but some will be heading over to America by email shortly.
I guess that had this been 20 years ago, the CIA would have been asking for the photos as well!
And so to the bad news. 2 family members have been taken ill, one of whom has been rushed into hospital in Jamaica of all places for an emergency operation. The other is in hospital in North Wales.
And we are concerned about Freda, our cat in Sunniside. She is 20 years old so for a puss, she is seriously old. Last night she fell off my lap, having some kind of fit. She had another 4 during the next couple of hours. She has been booked to go to the vet tonight.
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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Labour find it politically useful to see the bankers making grovelling apologies. Brown hopes this will deflect attention for his own responsibility. And reading sites such as Labourlist (which has rapidly degenerated into a craven mouthpiece for the government) you can see how desperate Labour are to pin all the blame for the entire mess on the bankers.
The reality was that the entire culture of greed and irresponsibility in the banks not only went unchallenged by Labour, they were happy to encourage it. They fed it with a light touch regulatory machine and a tax system that encouraged top bankers to behave irresponsibly. That culture sucked in both Labour and the banks and both were happy to perpetuate it. One side has apologised. Labour hasn't done so yet. I doubt they ever will.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Monday, February 09, 2009
We also built a greenhouse. The bits were assembled in the front room on Saturday afternoon. We then simply carried them over to the allotment and with Dad's help assembled the whole thing, minus the glass. Glazing is next week's job.
In between all this, we found time to pluck and gut a couple of pheasants. We were also given 2 woodock. This was a new food source for us so we plumbed the depths of the internet, and our collection of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall books to find out what to do with them. Apparently, you do not remove the head or guts and you eat them on toast. We've decided to give that a go next weekend! If we live to tell the tale, I'll make sure you are the first to hear it!
Meanwhile, another food experiment was conducted. In the autumn I made acorn flour. All very experimental but all part of our move towards food self-sufficiency. Last night I made 3 loaves of bread using the flour, 2 of which are coming down to London with me. Cowley St colleagues will be used to test this bread. I tried some this morning and was rather pleased with the result.
I'm now on the train heading to London. The person sitting in front of me is having a loud phone conversation. I think she is practising her entry for the "let's squeeze into a phone conversation the entire family history including all the embarrassing bits that other people on the train really don't want to hear" competition. Sounds like a winning entry.
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Basically, Labour MPs simply add the word "clean" to the words "coal technology" whenever they possibly can presumably in the hope that people will think burning coal is some kind of environment saving measure. Their claim however is not well founded. The term "clean coal" started some years ago when it was realised that coal burning was adding significantly to levels of acid rain. Nitrous and sulphurous oxides released by burning coal had to be scrubbed from emissions to stop their forming airborne acids when they dissolved in water droplets which then fell as rain. Carbon emissions were never reduced. Indeed, if anything, carbon emissions went up in net terms because resources had to be put into cutting acidic emissions.
What Labour MPs are hoping for is the technology of carbon capture will developed quickly to the point where it actually makes a significant impact on carbon emissions and is not prohibitively expensive. At the moment neither of these conditions is being met. At this point in time, industrial carbon capture has not even reached an embryonic stage as a solution to our emission problems. And furthermore, use of industrial carbon capture will significantly reduce the net output of energy from a given quantity of coal. As with removing acidic emissions, a large amount of energy will be required to remove the carbon emissions of coal burning. The end result is that even more coal will have to be burnt just to get the same energy output.
That said, carbon capture is something that should be pursued but, it should only be used as a short to medium term solution to our emission problems. Our ultimate goal has to be to ween ourselves off fossil fuels and nuclear as both leave a lasting and damaging environmental legacy. Both give us a short term boost in terms of the energy provided for us, but both leave subsequent generations and the planet generally with the problem of how to deal with the waste.
The solutions to our energy problems must start with energy efficiency. As an industrialised society we are enormously wasteful with the energy we have. We need to cut the waste by using energy more efficiently. Secondly, we need some lifestyle changes. These cannot be forced on people but we all need to understand the consequences of our actions and lifestyle choices. So, when replacing your car, do you really need that 4 litre gas guzzling 4 wheel drive or are you just buying it as a status symbol to show off to everyone when you take the kids to school or do the shopping at Tescos? (No doubt the 4 wheel drive comes in very useful to drive up the rugged peaks of Tesco car parks!)
The more effort we put into renewable energy, the less we need to put into carbon capture. This should be the next strand of energy policy. Nevertheless, as I mentioned previously, we will need some degree of carbon capture for some time to come as for some decades we will continue to be dependent of fossil fuels. We also need carbon capture to reduce the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to more natural levels, after centuries of deforrestation and industrialisation.
There is of course one natural form of carbon capture that does not need a major industrial complex to make sure it happens. Indeed, it is something I do myself. Growing trees captures and locks up atmospheric carbon. I have 40 sycamore saplings growing at the moment and I am about to plant 20 acorns. Yet even growing trees cannot address all out carbon emission problems. Firstly it is a slow process. It takes years for a tree to soak up one persons carbon emissions. Secondly, we will not have sufficient land to grow the trees to soak up the required amount of carbon. Whilst it is a reasonable response to the problem, it is not the total solution and it does not reduce the problem. Ultimately, we have to cut the amount of fossil carbon we emit.
So my message to Labour MPs in particular who claim that coal is a green fuel is, think again. Burning coal adds to the problem, and the solution to reducing emissions from coal is not yet available. Focus instead on energy efficiency and and renewables. Give up your coal addiction.
Meanwhile, over to David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon who wisely spends some of his time reading my blog! A pat on the back from JW. I like the EDM you have sponsored calling for much more effort to be put into using waste cooking oil as a fuel. This is all about making maximum use of the resources we have. But that said Dave, you need to kick the coal habit.
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Friday, February 06, 2009
I do however, have to finish the next Parliamentary Campaigner. I have pencilled in Saturday evening for that as we are publishing on Sunday. I expect to be back down on the allotment on Sunday as well. Building that greenhouse is going to take more than one afternoon!
Meanwhile, I appear yet again to have missed the snow actually falling. When it came down heavy in London, I was in Gateshead. When I was in London this week, it came down in Gateshead. And now I am on the Newcastle train from London and I have just had a text from Richard in London telling me it's snowing there!
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Labour MPs however are not selling up. They are sticking with Brown, and will continue to do so until after the general election. Assuming Labour goes down to defeat (and much can happen in the space of a few weeks in politics, never mind the 15 months or so to the likely date of the general election) Labour will dump Brown faster than they can blink. And then comes the decision as to who will take over. Looking at the likely options, I can understand why Labour are in no rush to pack Brown off to his retirement home. They could have The Lady Harriet, but since a fair chunk of the Labour party wants to put the boot in on Tory toffs, they won't be able to do it without blushing if she we at the helm. Then there is Ed Balls, but he would really scare the horses. Then there is Milliband The Younger (The Older blew it last year) but no one outside Parliament knows who he is (which admittedly could be an advantage.) Alan Johnson is a credible candidate but lacks the suport (and probably the ambition).
So despite the collapsing share value of Brown, Labour will stick with him. The guy may be unsuited to the task of Prime Minister, he may never answer a question and he may be addicted to spin, but he is not an ogre or a buffoon. Assuming Labour are defeated in the general election, he will have the misfortune of being seen by history as the failure who followed the much more successful Blair.
Brown as Chancellor claimed to have delivered the successful ecomony which was the foundation of the Blair years. He must be feeling a certain degree of bitterness that almost as soon as he switched from Chancellor to Prime Minister, that apparent economic success evaporated. I guess the Downing St air must have been thick with expletives yesterday therefore when Brown lost out to Blair for the highly coveted position as the first major European politician to meet Obama.
Meanwhile, Brown's claims that he has saved the world and is showing Johnnie Foreigner how to save their economies took a bit of a roasting from the French today. President Sarkozy laid into the VAT cut though the Germans had beaten him to it. They went for the jugular on the economy a few weeks ago.
There is a feeling that the government has gone into administration and few believe it can be saved from bankruptcy. It is not a going concern. The millions who lent Labour their vote over the past decade or so, are feeling their investment hasn't paid off and may well be looking to have this Labour government wound up.
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Thursday, February 05, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Today has been a marginal improvement. I got to the station this morning and had to dash to catch the train which was packed out. And this evening, having left Cowley St late (working on a Focus leaflet) I found most trains at Victoria cancelled. It seems the last one is the 10.07 and thankfully it goes via Crystal Palace. I am on it down. I think it would have been quicker to walk!
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Monday, February 02, 2009
Foreign businesses such as Total, and, for us in the North East, Nissan have invested heavily in the UK economy in recent years. Without them, there would be far fewer jobs for British workers. We start picking apart that for short term political gain at our peril. And that is precisely what Gordon Brown did back in 2007 at his first conference speech as Labour leader (just before he drove a wrecking ball through the Labour party with his fiasco over the election that never was).
Brown is a politician who is more driven by spin that even New Labour in overdrive. Blair had a big spin operation as well but there is something different about Brown's. He treats people as if they are stupid and in the process creates far more false claims that come back to haunt him (though admittedly Blair's claims on Iraq were a disaster that never went away.) So with Brown we have the "end of boom and bust", the claim that Britain is best placed to come through the recession and, of course, "British jobs for British workers."
The Ghost of Conference Speeches Past is certainly back to haunt him. Not only was Brown stupid to have lifted a line from the BNP, he was offering something that was illegal, is contrary to the whole direction in which the economy had been moving for generations and is impossible to deliver. Could you imagine the incandescent rage from Brown if President Sarkozy had beaten him to it and called for French jobs for French workers and demanding that British companies with sites in France should be forced to remove any British workers and replace them with French?
Brown is an intelligent guy but that has not given him common sense. His British jobs for British workers demand (note that it was never follwed up by any action to ensure it happened) has come back to haunt him big style and give him an almightly kick up his well spun rear end. And frankly, he deserves every bit of it.
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Hopefully, the trains to London are not too disrupted. But I'll believe that when I see it.
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