Gateshead has a relatively high number of people who suffer and die early from smoking related illnesses. Gateshead Labour MP David Clelland is the leading critic of his own Government's attempts to end smoking in public places (he wanted private clubs excluded) and end tobacco point of sale displays in shops. Mr Clelland also has very strong links with the Tobacco Retailers Alliance which is leading the campaign against the ban on retail displays. His step daughter is the boss of the organisation, a fact Mr Clelland failed to declare until he was outed by the Observer a few weeks ago.
This has not made him popular with Labour councillors in Gateshead who quite rightly are very concerned about the appalling effects of smoking to the residents of the borough. The apparent concern of Mr Clelland for the demands of the smoking lobby over the health needs of his own constituents do not seem to win the backing of Gateshead Labour councillors.
Mr Clelland argues he is being "tolerant" and has further argued he does not believe a point of sale display ban would work. Many other people are indeed less tolerant - of illness and premature death caused by smoking. Given the much higher incidence of smoking related health problems of his constituents, Mr Clelland's "tolerant" views are all the more disappointing.
So, come the last full council meeting and Labour has a motion calling on the borough's MPs to support the government's proposed ban on point of sale tobacco displays. The motion was very ably moved by Labour's deputy leader Ian Mearns (I can't help feeling Labour would be in a much better position if he rather than Mick Henry led them on the council.)
I then moved an amendment which simply added to the call on MPs to support the proposal by asking them also to speak in favour of the plans in the Commons. The hysteria from Labour was - well you had to be there it believe it. Council Leader Mick Henry spent most of the debate attacking me personally. By the end of the debate it was difficult to believe that all that was being asked of Labour was that they were being asked to ask their own MPs to speak in favour of their own policy.
This of course was far too much for Labour, "led" by Mick Henry to contemplate. He claimed that MPs could not be asked to speak for something. He gave the scenario of the Council calling on all councillors in Gateshead to speak in favour of council policy.
Interestingly the previous month, "Leader" Mick had made precisely that demand of the Lib Dem group! At the end of a debate on National Express plans to introduce a charge for seat reservations (a debate on the back of a motion I wrote!) Taking-The-Mick Henry alluded to the cross party agreement on the issue and then demanded that the Lib Dems should speak positively about the council more often and include more in support of Labour decisions in our Focus leaflets!
So it's okay for Labour to demand the Lib Dems speak in favour of Labour policy but it certainly is not okay for Labour MPs to be asked to speak in favour of Labour policy!
What a bunch of jokers Labour are turning into in Gateshead. That reminds me, there was another motion at the July Council meeting, moved by Labour Councillor John McElroy. This one was about the media industry in the region and the need to support it. But it was carelessly worded with the result it could be read as offering to give tv license fee money to Sky TV! I moved an amendment which attempted to remove the worst and most careless feature.
I could see, whilst I was speaking, that the penny had dropped with Labour cllrs as they realised precisely what their motion was calling for. They could not of course vote for our amendment. Once their motions are written, they do not accept amendments, no matter how sensible. So they had to come up with another ruse. Standing orders were suspended so that they could reword the motion to rewrite the bits that were clearly going to cause them trouble.
With a bit of luck, whoever wrote the sloppy original motion will be drafted in to write Labour's national manifesto. It would mean a manifesto that truely reflects the nature of Gordon Brown's government - sloppy and falling apart the moment anyone examines it.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device