Saturday, September 30, 2006

The BNP really thought they would do better

The BNP clearly did think they were going to do much better in the Dunston and Teams by-election in Gateshead on Thursday. Take a deep breathe and follow this link to their bulletin board:

But there again, I thought they were going to do much better as well.

Jam today (but not tomorrow)

A story about my jam making enterprise has broken in Lib Dem News. Actually I wrote the original piece 3 weeks ago but it got put back due to the need to cover some more serious issues! Nevertheless, there are times when I turn my house into a mock WI kitchen with vast amounts of jam being made. And it's all in a good cause. At £2 a jar, we are hoping to make a modest sum for party funds. And so at the Blaydon constituency meeting this morning, jam sales have made local funds £18 better off.

But the jam addicts of Cowley St will have to go without for a week or so. I'm not due into HQ til Thursday as tomorrow I go to Bournemouth straight from Gateshead to go to the Dave-my-poll-ratings-are-slipping Cameron's seaside bash. The fridge in the Cowley St kitchen will shortly be devoid of jam. Life is clearly tough at the centre!

Someone from the BNP has been reading my blog and posted up a comment following the by-election on Thursday in Gateshead when they failed to live up to their own expectation!

Generating big responses to petitions

Since May in Gateshead we have been running the petition against the axing of the Post Office Card Account. So far we have collected over 3000 signatures. The technique we use is one I recommend to all campaigners.

We deliver the petition form in the morning dated for that day, and explain on the form that we will return at a specific time on the same day to collect them from letter boxes. Last year we collected 16,000 signatures on a petition against an opencast proposal in Blaydon constituency. 6000 were collected by the technique described above (the rest were collected mainly by the National Trust and some by shops which had copied of our petition.)

With the Post Office petition, our intention is to keep it running until the new year and hopefully double the number of signatures we have at the moment.

This system also brings in a great deal of contact data and has been the main way we have built up a list of over 900 email addresses in Blaydon constituency. I use the list to send a monthly email newsletter which is well received.

So, as I did not have to be in London today, I was able to deliver 380 petitions (plus a Focus leaflet) in 3 patches in my ward where we currently don't have deliverers. And I returned this evening to collect 105 replies containing over 160 signatures, 6 more email addresses and a big set of phone numbers.

A useful exercise and if Lib Dem campaigners are not doing the Post Office petition and not using the deliver and collect system or some other variation, why not? It works very well for me.

The additional signatures will be added to the report I will be giving tomorrow at the Blaydon constituency branch meeting about the Post Office campaign. I'll stick my neck out and say I think we will have over 1000 emails on the distribution list by mid November.

Anyway, having just finished the next edition of our members' newsletter "The Gateshead Democrat" (ready to be handed out to those attending the Blaydon meeting) I have now discovered it is nearly 1.30am. So time I went to bed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Conservative candidate looking very pissed off

I took a photo at the Dunston and Teams count in Gateshead yesterday of the Labour candidate being congratulated by Lib Dem Michael Ruddy and our agent Charles Jevon. The really interesting bit though is on the left hand side: the Conservative candidate looking very, very, very unhappy. But at 6%, what do you expect.

The picture is on my news blog: Enjoy!

The latest scores in the Blogger Video Race

The latest viewing figures for the "My Blogger of the Year Video got played more than yours" competition can be exclusively revealed.

Here they are:

Thrusting ahead, Robert Fenwick's flirting friend Stephen Tall on an interesting 69
In 2nd place but eagerly awaiting a copy of the video from me on dvd is Alex Wilcox on 56
Making his mark in 3rd place is Mark Pack on 46
Bringing up the rear Lynne Featherstone MP 28.

But Copacabana Beach has opened up a commanding lead on 502 viewings.

Just in case a certain colleague of mine accuses me again of shamelessly trying to boost my viewing figures on my Youtube channel, let me just say that such an accusation is outrageous and absolutely, errr, ermmm, sort of true.

So enjoy Pyramids and the Sphinx which I posted up earlier this month.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Actually we've just wiped the smile off the BNP's face

The BNP were there in force at the Dunston and Teams by-election count in Gateshead Civic Centre to witness their great victory. They even had a photographer. In the event, they put the camera away. Labour held on with the same share of the vote as in May - 54 percent. That was a record low. And we kept our 2nd position, improving by 4 percent. The Conservative came 4th, a drop of 3 percent,

So my fears about a BNP success were not founded. They started off noisey and happy at the count. They then got quieter. The smile had been wiped of their faces.

And think about the poor Conservatives. 6 percent. Ahhhh.

So it's goodnight from me........

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At the count

I am waiting outside the count of the Dunston and Teams by-election. It will start shortly. I have no indications how it is going but my fear, as I indicated in my blog entry last night, is that the BNP may come out of this smiling even though I doubt they will win.
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The first question to Fiona

For those of you who read my earlier blog entry about questions to Fiona Hall MEP, I can now say that the first question has arrived (just as my train was heading into Doncaster). It's about family courts and secrecy. I was expecting questions about bureaucracy, sovereignty, immigration, environment etc so this first one has come as a bit of a surprise!

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Not giving the BNP an opening

I am heading up North now to help in the Dunston and Teams by-election. Normally this would be a dead cert for the Labour party but they seem to be in a state of terminal decay in large parts of Gateshead. This ward seems to be one such area. Their situation is not helped by the fact that this is the only ward in Gateshead in which the BNP is active. A low turnout for Labour poses dangers for them. Whilst I don't expect the seat to change hands, there remains the danger that a small shift in votes from Labour to BNP could have a grossly disproportional impact on shares of the vote and could create the impression of a BNP bandwagon where one does not actually exist.

If the BNP appear to do well simply because there is a low turnout, Labour will have to accept much of the responsibility. In heartland areas they simply take the voters for granted. As an organisation, they fail to engage and communicate with people. Hardly surprising therefore if even their core vote fails to come out.

There are lessons for us as well. If we do not get into these Labour heartland areas as a grassroots campaigning organisation, people will drift off into apathy. So if a fringe party turns up, and campaigns on community issues - just as the BNP are doing (there is no mention of immigration, race or any other favourite BNP issues in their literature, it's all about the local school closure, decent housing and parks) some people will look to the new arrivals as the home, at least temporarily, for their votes. Where Labour are failing on the ground, and with such a decayed organisation, they clearly are failing to have a presence in the communities they represent, it is our job to move in and replace them. The problem we have is that we are stretched. And that leaves an opening for the BNP to move in, hide their true character and win over some of the disaffected.

I'll report the byelection result tomorrow evening on the blog.

On a completely different issue, the washing machine in my flat in London has broken down. So when I turned up at Cowley St this morning with a suitcase packed full of dirty laundry, a few eyebrows were raised. I'm shipping the washing up to my house in Gateshead and if I ask nicely I'm sure David will deal with it. So I will have clean shirts to go to Bournemouth next week as an observer at the Cameron Love Fest. Oh joy!

And finally, it took me ages this evening to sort out the Gateshead entries for the Northern Regiion Campaign awards - closing date is Friday. If after spending a good chunk of Sunday and this evening on the entries, we win nothing, expect a few expletives.

And finally finally, I sent out an email this evening to a 600 homes in Blaydon constituency inviting them to a coffee morning in my house on Sunday 8th Oct at which Fiona Hall our MEP is the guest. A bit of an experiment as I have invited people to send in questions about her role and what the European Parliament does. A sort of quiz your MEP session. We will be publishing the replies (possibly by video on Youtube and by email newsletter). If this format works and we get a reasonable respone from residents, I'd like to see it extended it to others a well, such as MPs and PPCs. In effect have an informal venue and invite people and anyone who can't make it can send in questions and we broadcast the result. People who come along will be able to ask questions themselves.

We have just passed Newark and I haven't eaten so this entry ends now so I can go to the buffet car!
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End of the peer panel show

It seems my blogging about the peers panel election has stirred up a minor discussion. From what I have seen, those who have commented have broadly been in agreement with what I wrote last night on the train between Victoria and Crystal Palace.

It may be worthwhille looking at another one of our democratic processes. The selection of emergency motions for debate at conference is meant to put conference members in control of the process. The theory is right. But in practice, the process can be very different. With around 2000 elected conference reps entitled to vote in a ballot to decide emergency motions, the fact only a handful did last week in Brighton suggests that the overwhelming majority of conference members are happy to let the decision as to what is debated be left to others (after all we have the FCC taking the decision as to what is on the rest of the conference agenda and no one hopefully is going to press for that decision to be taken by conference as a whole). The problem with the current system is that it is easy for a well organised but very small grouping to decide which emergency motions are debated by conference. FCC is elected by conference members. Why can't we leave the selection of emergency motions to them? FCC can have a reasoned discussion before reaching a decision. Under the current balloting system, just how much reasoned discussion takes place about which emergency motions to take? Well just about none.

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One of those appearing in the Blogger of the Year Award videos I posted up on Youtube the other day has accused me of "shamelessly" boosting my viewing figures for my Youtube channel by running a competition encouraging people to view the video of the Blogging Queen of their choice. How could he say such a thing?

The person will remain nameless but Mark my words, he Packs no punch with me.

However, the number of viewings for each video is as follows:
Stephen Tall 43
Alex Wilcox 33
Mark Pack 30
Lynne Featherstone MP 20

However, they all have a long way to go before they catch up with Copacabana Beach! (479)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The peers panel

I have just produced a leaflet for Peter Maughan who is standing for the peers' panel. (4 times parliamentary candidate and twice European candidate.) Applications close tomorrow and no doubt there will be a surge of people wanting to go into the House of Lords. No harm in that but I do feel this system of electing the panel could be improved.

It is meant to be democracy in action and shortly a paperback of aspiring candidates' details and pictures will be landing on conference reps' doormats. Though this is a rolling election, I don't think it is the best system we can have. 2 sides of A5 is hardly enough to tell people about the qualifications of a person to be considered for membership of the Lords and it does nothing to set a minimum standard threshold people should be expected to reach, as we have with PPCs. And is it that much of an exercise in democracy when only conference reps etc get a vote? With such a limited electorate and a large number of places being elected in one go, the threshold to get elected to the panel in terms of votes is modest. A person who is known at conference can gain sufficient to win a place on the panel.

It may well be that every single person who stands would make a productive and exemplary member of the HoL. But not getting elected to the panel will close off most routes to the membership of the upper house.

My preference is to have a panel from whom the Leader can select new peers as we have now. But why not do it in the same way as we have the panel for PPCs, with people applying to go on but needing to demonstrate they have reached a minimum standard on issues such as knowledge of policy and media experience. Members reaching this required standard, having successfully gone through the panelling process, would automatically become a member of the panel. There is no need to restrict the size of the panel and members throughout the country could be involved with the panelling process, again just as with approving candidates.

I think the sentiments behind having a panel of prospective peers and electing them to it is right - extending member involvement with the processes of the party is a good thing. But on the peers' panel, I feel it can be improved and widened, therefore leading to a wider range of high quality candidates to choose from to represent the party in the Lords.
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Blair's Speech

I’m writing this whilst watching Blair’s speech. Well, the comment about his wife not running off with the man next door was brilliant. He’s also just thanked the activists on the ground. Nowadays, that won’t take long.

But “Our core vote is the country.” Really!?. I don’t think so. This is a party elected on one of the lowest turnouts and one of the lowest shares of the vote ever. Labour don’t speak for the country. And Tony, you don’t even speak for your party any more.

He’s really laying it on thick now with Brown.

He is right to say however that many of the challenges now are different to those of 10 years ago and that policy needs to respond to them. The point is relevant to all in politics.

The point he is making that Labour should not return to days of old. I think this should be taken as a shot across the bows of Labour itself.

Pro-nuclear power comments have just been applauded.

Controversial point about accepting stem cell research here (I agree with him).

The comments on achieving greenhouse gas reductions don’t quite square with the fact that emissions are rising from homes, cars and especially aircraft.

What I particularly dislike about Blair and Labour is their belief that if you are not for them, you are for criminals and crooks. The claim is an outrageous smear but he is now straying onto that territory.

Hardly surprising that he is now moving onto the issue of terrorism and is attempting to justify the war in Iraq. There is no concession to the view that the war has made a bad situation far far worse.

His claim that we should not hand back Afghanistan to the Taliban has been set up simply to knock it down. Withdrawal is not an option and no serious politician is proposing it or backs it in the current circumstances.

He is defending the alliance with America now. It is getting lukewarm applause.

He is now back onto not going back.

“The British people will forgive a wrong decision but they will not forgive not taking a decision.” Agreed! Lessons from that are there for Lib Dems as well.

Big applause for the only anti Lib Dem comment so far.

Back onto nuclear power.

Some good rousing stuff about taking on the Conservatives.

He hates the tradition of losing. Again, he is telling Labour not to go back to its old ways, about effectively being in power permanently.

He’s finished now and this is my verdict. A first class performance that puts Brown in the shade but a warning to the Labour party that they risk going backwards without him. In that sense there is an infusion of arrogance – implying that they will have to guard against moving backwards as he, the driving force to move forward, has retired.

Whatever his faults, Blair is a star performer and I wonder how many in the Labour party are now regretting that they are forcing his early retirement. Whilst I personally shed no tears over his departure, I do find the ditching of Blair to be a staggering act of self mutilation by Labour. All the other conceivable candidates for the leadership are pygmies in comparison to him. I could never imagine Brown being able to deliver a performance like Blair did.

But think about it, the policy differences between Blair and Brown are virtually non existent. These 2 people are of the same model. Stand them side by side and the only difference is the personality.

There are times when it is right for a political party to remove its leader. I wonder how many in the Labour party feel that, now is not the right time. Labour - you are a bunch of fools to do what you are doing.

Life in plastic, it's fantastic

I see the world's largest private collection of Barbie dolls is being auctioned today. Good job it's not taking place in Manchester. Imagine the confusion that would cause. A large army of plastic figures turns up in the city ready to be put on display for the public, melting under the heat of the lights. Hollow inside but ready to have their clothing changed as soon as their owners decide they need a makeover.

And then an army of Barbie dolls arrives ready for the auction room! Not sure from whom we will get the most intelligent political conversation!

Apparently, in an attempt to dump even more of their past, Labour have rewritten the words of "The Red Flag". Here is an exclusive preview:

Come on Barbie,
let's go Labour party!
Come on Barbie,
let's go Labour party!
etc, etc, etc

Monday, September 25, 2006

Video blogger competition

It’s a close race for the “my-Blogger-of-the-Year-video-has-been-played-more-than-yours” competition.

As of 2.30pm today, the videos from the Blogger of the Year award I posted up yesterday have had the following number of viewings:

Bringing up the rear – Lynne Featherstone MP on 13
Edging forward - Alex Wilcox on 14
Moving ahead - Mark Pack on 18
Just holding onto the lead - Stephen Tall on 20

All still to play for so if you want your blogging queen to win, follow the link and view the video.

Apparently, one of the video stars who will remain nameless has emailed the link to family members to boost viewing figures. I hope the others don’t pack up and go home.

Cutting it close

I measure how close winter is by the amount of daylight we have when coming into Newcastle first thing on a Monday morning to catch the train to London. Well, it's 6am and it's completely dark. So winter is approaching fast. We are just pulling out of Newcastle now. And I should be in Cowley St by 10am.

I nearly didn't make it. We were five minutes down the road when I realised I'd left my datastick in the pc at home. There are 200MB of files on it I need (not the least of which are my entries for the regional campaigns awards). Too much to email even by broadband. So car was turned round, we headed back home to pick up the datastick and head back towards Newcastle.

It was a case of cutting it close. I just caught the train. I didn't want to leave it to the next train as I have a new intern starting in Cowley St today so I didn't want to be late.

It will be interesting to see Brown's speech today at the Labour jamboree. As the clear front runner to take over from Blair he has everything to lose though there is little politically that divides them. The difference is one of personality. But I can see why Blair will want to hold on for as long as he can. With more time for an alternative to come forward, Brown arguably could being to feel the heat. The problem for the Blairites is that there is no single credible alternative and the next generation of Blairites, having assumed a Brown succession, have already thrown in their lot with Brown, presumably as a cabinet job retention scheme. Milliband is a classic example. But I hear there are polls due out today showing Brown is losing ground. A long leadership campaign and a weakened Brown could be Blair's legacy. Perhaps we can then find Blair a slot on Songs of Praise after all! A grateful nation rejoices in the self destruction of the Blair-Brown government.

It is now 6.20am. Wake me up when we get to Kings Cross!

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Front page splash

Having been away for a fortnight and not having the time yesterday to look at the overly large pile of post waiting for me, I've started to sort through the the missives sent in my direction this morning.

My favourite was the letter from GNER containing a £26 cheque as a part refund for an abandoned journey in August. (The trains weren't running that weekend 2 months ago because of a power failure.) Given I spend nearly one hundred times that sum each year with GNER travelling between Newcastle and London, the chance to get anything back is always nice to have. However, as I was stuck in London, the amount I spent over that weekend as a result was far in excess of £26.

Nevertheless, abandoning the journey was a better option than one I suffered from in May. Then my train got stuck overnight somewhere north of Darlington. Having left London at 10pm, I eventually arrived at Newcastle at 6.30am. As compensation for that, I got two open return tickets to London. I use the last one tomorrow morning. 6am train. Oh joy.

Also included in the post were about 30 survey forms from constituents, a rather nice PEP statement and, most importantly, Lib Dem News from 2 weeks ago. My interest in this was because I took the front page photo (I also used on the front page of Parliamentary Campaigner which I edit.)

My plan for today was to deliver Focus and a petition form about Post Office closures in part of my ward. Since the weather has been of Biblical flood proportions, I have decided to hold off until the end of the week. I'm coming back from London on Wednesday evening (to recover lost sleep after conference, restore my sanity and help in the Dunston and Teams by-election in Gateshead.)

So I have been home today (except for one quick trip down to the office) working instead on the conference videos. This is when I spot all the cock ups. The biggest howler was a video I took of North East reps demonstrating their support for green energy sources on the beach at Brighton. The BBC had turned up as well and in such circumstances, always let the professionals set up the photo ops as they know what they're doing. I simply stand with my video camera as close to the BBC camera as possible.

I use a hand held mic in circumstances where there is a lot of background noise (such as on windy beaches in Brighton). The BBC camera woman offered a feed to my camera to pick up the audio instead but we found we couldn't get a link between the two. So I returned to using the mic. Today I have found that it must have been switched off. So I have a completely silent Fiona Hall MEP. Fat lot of use that is.

My next job for today is to prepare my entries for the Northern Region's campaigns awards. Watch out colleagues as on this I am determined to win at least one of the 5 awards! No stone will be left unturned in pursuit of victory on this. Pity those who stand in my way! You have been warned!

Blogger and tax videos

I've produced a video of each of the speakers at the Blogger of the Year awards. They are now on Youtube if you want to view them.

Lynne Featherstone: Lynne Featherstone at Blogger of the Year Award September 2006
Stephen Tall: Stephen Tall at Blogger of the Year Award September 2006
Alex Wilcox: Alex Wilcox at Blogger of the Year Award September 2006
Mark Pack: Mark Pack at Blogger of the Year Award September 2006

It will probably not come as a surprise that Alex's was by far the longest!

And finally, will you all care to visit the tax policy video on Youtube? I filmed the Newcastle bits (and wrote the scripts) but Martin Tod did the editing. I emailed the link before conference to nearly 500 members in the North East. However, a Labour hack has posted up anti-Lib Dem comments on it so we could do with a few pro Lib Dem ones.

You can visit it at:

The video is at: Green Tax Switch Newcastle video

Saturday, September 23, 2006

If it could go wrong, it did go wrong

After the peace and serenity of a well oiled conference machine that ensured everything worked well (conveniently overlooking the reference back on local government policy paper) I have been hit by the blizzard of things going wrong.

I left London on the 9pm train last night to head back the the North East. As usual, David arrived at Newcastle Central Station to drive me over to Sunniside, our home village in western Gateshead. He went back to the house and I headed down to the Blaydon constituency office to print one side of the Dunston and Teams A3 main leaflet which was needed this morning for delivery. (The by-election is on 28th Sept.)

The advantage with doing printing at 2am is that I am guaranteed a parking place outside the office. Inside the office, quite where the black drum for the riso was parked was something of a mystery. I then remembered that the machine had been serviced in the afternoon. Presumably the black drum was taken away by the engineer for further work. No choice about it but to print the leaflet in blue.

2000 back pages were run off. My colleagues Alan and Marilynn were due in first thing this morning to print off the front page. I then headed back home to find David lying on the settee with his shoulder in agony. But I couldn't convince him to go to the A&E.

After 4 hours sleep he woke me at 7am, having decided that he needed to go to hospital after all. So I drove him over to the A&E at the Gateshead Queen Elizabeth Hospital and waited with him whilst he saw the nurse. He then had a wait of 2 hours to see the doctor so I headed home.

About 15 minutes after getting back to bed, Alan phoned to say there was a problem with the disk and he could not recover the file from it for printing. 15 minutes further on I was back in the Blaydon office with another copy of the file which fortunately this time worked.

A txt came through from David telling me he had a dislocated shoulder and they were about to screw his arm back into place. Some people will go to any lengths to get out of delivering their leaflets!

When Charles Jevon the agent arrived at the office to collect the leaflets I decided I might as well volunteer to deliver a patch. I ended up with 300 leaflets to do on the estate where the BNP candidate lives. However, it was the sort of area that can be delivered in less than an hour.

With the patch delivered, I tried a number of times to phone David but got no response. Back home I read the Labour leaflet that I had found lying on a pavement (it was my public duty to remove such litter). Most of it was in some way slagging off the government or pointing to the failings of the council - ironically on the failure to collect litter!

So typically Labour in Gateshead. Their campaign slogan should be, "Labour are crap, vote Labour"

I eventually got through to the A&E dept who told me David had just been discharged. Seconds later came a call to me from a nurse saying he was ready for collection. So back to the hospital I went.

He's had a kip this afternoon (I could do with one myself) and now he's up and about as if nothing had happened! I wonder if that means I can get him to deliver a leaflet patch tomorrow!?

I've just started to go through over 400 photos and 4 hours of video I took at conference. I'll put the Blogger of the Year reception on Youtube shortly. Anyone unfortunate enough to have been caught by me on camera will be sent copies.

Friday, September 22, 2006

And it's goodbye to Mike

Mike Zorbas has been a key played in the media strategy of the party for nearly 2 years. Alas, he is returning to Australia this Sunday. He will be greatly missed. I've just come from his leaving do in Westminster though I had to leave early to catch the 9pm train out of Kings Cross to Newcastle (I'm on the train now).

I get into Newcastle at around 1am but then have to go straight over to the Blaydon constituency office to print one side of a leaflet for the Dunston and Teams by-election. We need it for 10am tomorrow morning (Saturday). I wrote it today and emailed it to home in Gateshead but Alan and Marilynn Ord, my two ward colleagues can't print tonight. So on the phone this afternoon I suggested I print one side tonight after getting off the train. Alan and Marilynn will print the other side first thing tomorrow morning ready for the delivery team to meet up at 10am.

Oh the joy of risographs! They have revolutionised the production of literature and screwed up my sleep patterns in the process. I'm still running on conference adrenalin at the moment and I'll need it to get through the next couple of weeks.

Talking about the byelection, Labour still seem to be running a low key campaign. The BNP are throwing an awful lot at this contest. We had a letter delivered to the 1200 postal voters last weekend (alas I missed the delivery due to my having to be in conference) so we should get a boost from that. It appears no pv target letter was produced by the other parties though they had general literature. We have picked up from the Labour party that they are aiming to get their general literature out now to coincide with the PVs. They're leaving it a bit late given the PVs have been out for a week now.

Anyway, the buffet trolley has just arrived and I am gasping for a cup of tea. At one pound 20p it is a heck of a lot cheaper than the G and T I bought in the bar where Mike's do was held. I don't think I've paid so much for one drink before - and it wasn't even for me!
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Conference diet plan

I appear to have left a little bit of me in Brighton. 2kg to be precise. Having eaten my body weight in cooked breakfasts and buffets over the past week at conference, I weighed myself this morning and got a pleasant surprise.

So the leaner, meaner Jonathan is back in Cowley St savouring the week's successful events. Even the weather was great - interesting that it is now raining, just in time for the Labour gathering in Manchester when they will re-enact the Battle of the Somme. I'm not a fan of blood sports but I'll make the exception with the Labour conference.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Conference photos - Ming's speech

Standing ovation for Ming.

Conference photos - the PCA reception

More photos from conference. It's all smiles as Ming arrives at the PCA reception - after all, the tax vote was in the bag by then!

Meanwhile Ed Davey MP makes an impromptu speech in the middle of Tesco's Brighton branch!

Photos from conference

As promised in my previous entry, here's some of the photos I took at conference. These are from Tuesday (tax debate and PCA reception).

Newcastle City Council Leader John Shipley reads up on why the 50p rate should be dropped on the way into the conference centre.

Paddy Ashdown joins the queue to get into the tax debate.

Arnie Gibbons moves the rebel amendment.

Norman Lamb listens to the speeches and Phil Willis has a quiet word with Nick Robinson.

Ming the Magnificent

Just left the conference hall after a fantastic speech by Ming. He's mercifully killed off the talk about his leadership style, clobbered the opposition and given some great substance to his words. Great stuff.

I had the camera with me and got into the rugby scrum at the end to get some pics taken. Will try to upload them later today when I get back to London.

Oh what a contrast to a year ago. Hopefully we have banished the memory of Blackpool conference for ever.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Online sauna

I am currently sitting in the Lib Dems On Line meeting in the Metropole. It is being held in a room hidden in the bowels of the building. The signs to it peter out on the ground floor. So you get a prize if you manage to find the room. This is my first on line sauna, over 100 people packed into a rather small room. We could do with an on line ice room or have a virtual cold beer emailed to me.

Anyway, Martin Todd is talking at the moment about what he learnt on his visit to the USA and Canada in the summer with Mark Pack and Ed Davey. Some useful stuff here on databases and targetting with literature. Blogging is an increasing part of the system for getting information out to people.

Martin's on to video now, my area of interest. Cost of putting video on the internet has gone through the floor - don't I know it! He's saying we have to experiment more with it.

Ed Davey just arrived to give his talk - we need to revisit community politics as a bedrock. Perhaps community politics has been forgotten a bit in recent years.

Questions now and I've just made the point of using a national database to store emails. I used the example of my email newsletters in Gateshead to show how a regular communication by email to a large number of people - nationally it would be millions - could be a powerful weapon for us. With nearly 1000 addresses in Blaydon constituency we reach out to far more than double that as people forward it on to others. The response of the panel is - please write up what I do as a case study. Well, I was planning to do so but I think I'll have to bring forward my planned completion date!

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Hands on

It's amazing what you can do with a telescopic lens from a distance of 20 metres!

I took this photo during Simon Hughes speech launching his re-election campaign in conference this morning. It belongs to a certain blogger.

First person to identify the owner gets a prize, (something cheap and worthless so you won't bother to claim it). (The owner of the hand is excluded from this competition - so is Rob Fenwick who looked over my shoulder as I wrote this).

I could make some comment about going off to check each other's rings, but I won't.

I'm off now to do some videoing around conference to catch unsuspecting reps on tape.

Looking ahead to Bournemouth

Take pity on me. Please. On 1st October I will be heading to Bournemouth for the annual jamboree gathering of the Cameroonie Conservatives. I will be there in the capacity of observer. Watch out for some blog entries direct from the lion's den.

I need help with fitting in at the Tory conference. I could do with:

1)an old school tie (somehow my Whickham Comprehensive tie may get spotted)

2)a blazer (preferably one with some kind of military badge on the pocket)

3)a blue rinse

4)a pension book

5)an account with a stockbroker

6)a Lexus to carry my conference papers

If anyone can help with these, please get in touch.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Brighton, the smiles are on the enlarged side. The press cuttings were put through my door in the Metropole in the early hours and the coverage is pretty good from the tax debate yesterday.

So all the work put into getting them through conference has paid off. But imagine the headlines if the debate had gone the other way. Not a pleasant thought......

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Local goes belly up

Well, we get the tax plans through unamended in the morning and then in the afternoon defeat slips through under the radar screen when the local government paper goes belly up.

Well not quite defeat but rather a reference back of the local government paper. So, for all those with other things to do with their time rather than follow the joys of local government policy formulation by the Lib Dems, here's a suitably potted history of how we got to where we are now.

November 2004 regional government Titanic hits North East referendum iceberg on maiden voyage.

Problem: Lib Dems have lots of regional gov policy which has now sunk to the bottom of the policy ocean floor. Without a hope of raising the stricken policy, now is the time to, in polite political speak, move on from it. Elected regional government was expunged from the Lib Dem manifesto and after the gen el, a new policy working group was set up on local and regional government. It was muggin's job here to be the policy officer working on it.

So jump forward a few months, and I had moved on from policy to political communications, leaving behind a raw policy paper that was well refined and knocked into shape by Polly Mackenzie, then the ODPM adviser. She hacked out my waffle and did a pretty good job of pulling the final paper together.

So now you terribly nice people in conference, you've kicked it into the long grass. How we deal with the government's white paper on LG is still to be seen. Though frankly, how the government themselves will deal with it is yet to be seen!

I wasn't there for the LG debate this afternoon as I was hidden away in a hotel putting on a training session. (So I missed the CK speech as well)

So I wonder if my new mission impossible, should I choose to accept it, is to help get a revised LG paper through Harrogate conference next March. Oh joy!

Sent via BlackBerry

The tax debate

Well, it's Tuesday morning and I am in the press office discussing the final arrangements for the tax debate which starts in 5 min.

Well, I'm in the conference hall now and ?ince has just spoken. I like the joke about Evan's amendment taking the popular bits out! Good one Vince.

And now we have the revolutionary communist party of Canterbury speaking on their amendments and the speaker is as about as interesting as watching concrete. I think this one will be lost comfortably!

Arnie Gibbons up now. Like the joke about Vince, economists and accountants. But sorry Arnie, don't agree with your claim that this is simply an improvement.

Okay, so now its Tony Vickers, the man who took up a great deal of my time when I wrote that best seller "Planing Policy Paper - Planning for the 21st 9entury" - but he is a believer in a shift to taxing wealth and here he is arguing against the 50p amendment. Well done Tony - I'll listen with interest any time now to one of your talks about land value taxation!

Cathy Bakewell now up to speak in favour as well. She's a big knob in rural South West England so is a useful friend to have on board. It's not rip-roaring however.

So here we have Dr Anne Morrison speaking against green taxes. I think she may be in a bit of a minority here. And she's just linked this to the 50p rate.

Steve Webb up now. This should be interesting as we know he is backing the motion unamended. A good joke about David Laws being left wing. The pakage is highly redistributive he says. Well done lad! Support the motion unamended he says. I think we are winning.

One minute interventions now and the guest appearance from a power cut which fortunately it lasted for only a few seconds. But I did have sudden fears that everything was going to grind to a halt because of lack of power.

We are having a few too many one minuters who are pro 50p but 5uncan /reenland from 9amden has just put in a good point about LIT over 150K.

Another good intervention, this time from Mike Ash (But I did persuade him to put in to. speak).

Seems now the one minuters are coming out more against the 50p rate.

Good one from Tessa Munt. A really good intervention.

The applause is getting louder against 50p. And I'm getting a good feeling about this.

Mike Williams up now. Chair of the working group. So I guess he'll not be supporting the amendment. A bit dull but very worthy.

A guy called John. Beanse up now but up next is Julia Goldsworthy. This guy has just waved about my tax focus. It was me wot rit that!

JG - getting the line in about representing a poor area which will not gain from the 50p rate.

She's getting loud applause.

I'm still hoping John Shipley is going to be called.

Gareth Epps up now. I wonder which way he will swing!? He's on about logic gaps. Errr what? He's losing it. The audience are not responding to his jokes. But he's just had some good applause.

An attempt for a reference back has just been laughed out. If I had been the person attempting it I would have been embarrassed.

Jonathan Marks up now. He asked me a couple of hours ago if he thought he would be called. I told him to be ready. And he's scoring some good points. Devastating!

Richard Burt has just got up in support of the 50p amendment saying this is not a referendum on Ming. What better way to focus attention on the fact that many see it precisely as that.

Sal Brinton up now, one of the stars of my focus and there to undermine 50p. This is a really powerful speech. Good stuff.

David Rendell up there now. He's Evan's last hope. And he is giving a good reasoned argument for 50p. He will swing some waverers the wrong way. He was good, very good.

Paul Holmes up now, another left winger, but speaking against the amendment. We need him to counteract the last speech.

This is good good good. He is putting a solid case. We'll win back the waverers with this. He is giving the knock out blow!

Phil Willis there now. And he's backing the 50p rate. He's a good speaker and he can put some ra ra into the debate. But he's effectively just conceded defeat. Still, he will grab some ofthe waverers. Nd he's getting good applause. Warning bells are ringing.

Malcolm Bruce up now as the author of the original 50p policy but there to speak against it now. He will be worthy but not ra ra. But it will be very pointed. 50p - a radical virility symbol. I like that!

Revolutionary communists of Canterbury now up to summate. Moving rapidly on......

Feeling now we have this in the bag.

Evan up now. He has started well with some self deprecating jokes! But his argument is too complicated. He is however presenting his case well. He's getting a lot of applause.

Chris Huhne up now. We need a real knock out blow now. And he's giving it, well sort of. But I reckon we've got it the 50p is going into the history books.

Amendment 1 vote - massively defeated

No 2 likewise

And 50p - we've got it by about 3 to 1

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

At the Copacabana

For Lib Dems who are into producing video newsletters, I have some depressing news. Politics, it seems, is not as interesting as travel to exotic places!

On my YouTube channel ( there is a number of my Video Focuses all about local news issues. The August edition has had 170 viewings. But this is nothing compared to my travel videos on the same channel.

Somehow my Copacabana beach video I shot in Rio de Janiero last year is soaring ahead with 400 viewings, comfortably beating my Havana video on 300.

"View from Petronas Towers" I put up a couple of weeks ago and The Egyptian Pyramids are doing well and will soon be overtaking "Parking Charges introduced in Gateshead" video in number of viewings! As for my "Roadworks in Sunniside" news report, it's barely noticed on 110 viewings!

My next video will be a gripping saga about the cutbacks in bus services in my ward. This must-see video will hopefully be ready before the end of the month.

Anyone wanting a starring role in my conference video masterpiece should catch up with me, preferably in the Metropole bar next week.