Thursday, November 30, 2006

A gain from Labour in Newcastle

Breaking news: I've just been phoned by Newcastle to tell me we have gained Lemington from Labour in the byelection today. Remember this is a Lib Dem controlled council - we took it from Labour in 2004. The gain means that we now have a majority of 20 on Newcastle.

As well as being an unmitigated disaster for Labour it is worth looking at the Conservatives' performance - 4th place.

The votes were:
Lib Dem: 1180
Labour: 815
BNP: 383
Cons: 147

Well done Newcastle.

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Crystal Palace 70th Anniversary Fireworks

Last night a fireworks display marked the 70th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. I took this video of the burning of the replica.

Vince Cable and ballroom dancing

I didn't see PMQs yesterday but I heard that super annuated Prescott stood in for Blair whilst the latter was sunning himself in Latvia. Vince therefore led for us on PMQs. I don't know what question Vince asked but I heard about the response from Prescott. It was Mark Littlewood, head of media for the Lib Dems who told me. He arrived at my desk shortly afterwards asking for material on Labour uturns since Prescott was first elected in 1970. The reason for this was Prescott had had a go at Vince about having stood for Labour in the 1970s, the Alliance in the 1980s and the Lib Dems in the 1990s. No wonder Vince, he claimed, was keen on ballroom dancing.

Well, typical self-righteous, sanctimonious gobshite from Labour. It took me only a few minutes to dig up Labour uturns on privatisation, renationalisation, unilateralism, council house sales, withdrawal from Europe, independence for the Bank of England and so on. Seems as though Prescott has faced both ways on all the big issues during his Parliamentary career. Now that he has nothing to do, perhaps he should spend some time taking up ballroom dancing.

I'm sitting on the train heading to Victoria at the moment. The train has half the carriages it normally has. So we are packed in like the proverbial sardines and we still have five stations to go!

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Casino Royale

I saw Casino Royale on Saturday evening as my bit of escapism from politics over the weekend (as well as celebrating my birthday.) I am a James Bond fan anyway and I did enjoy it!

To ensure I got to the cinema on time, I had to time the collection of our Post Office petitions to perfection. A group of us delivered 900 petition forms in the morning to houses in Whickham, in Blaydon constituency and we returned at 6pm to collect 190 completed forms, amounting to 320 signatures and a fair whack of new emails. We now have well in excess of 4000 signatures.

Sunday was spent in the Moving Forward regional training event in Newcastle. We all had to bring in copies of recent Focus leaflets and spent ages putting them through the "constructive criticism" mincer. There were few survivors!

After I came down to London yesterday I sent out a flurry of emails. Some to councillors asking them to do phone canvassing (I somehow managed to invite Scottish campaigns officers to do phone canvassing for me as well. Quite how they were included on the email distribution list is beyond me!) Other emails to constituents were sent out about plans to introduce car parking charges in Whickham - the Labour council are planning them and the Labour party have put out a leaflet claiming they are, errrr, against them!

Friday, November 24, 2006

43 years ago today (24th November) I was born!

Yes, just one day after the first broadcast of Dr Who, 2 days after the JFK assassination and 8 hours before Lee Harvey Oswald bit the dust, I popped into the world! Everyone who was old enough, remembers what they were doing when they say the first broadcast of Dr Who!

Now Duncan Borrowman knows why I know the events of that period so well, and that I don't sit around reading Wikipedia!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tosser Tories - they just don't learn!

Believe it or not the Tories have launched a website about debt in which they describe people with debts as "tossers". That's okay from a party that is in debt to the tune of millions of pounds, supports tuition fees, and doubled the National Debt?

So if you have a credit card, loans, overdrafts or you owe your mates for the last round in the pub that you were supposed to get but had spent the money, you are a tosser, according to the Tories.

But if you are a rich Etonian who doesn't have to borrow to put an expensive windmill on top of your Notting Hill home and can turn to mummy to help pay for your country abode in Oxfordshire, then clearly you are an untossed Tory.

Now, if memory serves me correctly, wasn't a certain David "T" Cameron (T stands for.....) some kind of special adviser to Tory Chancellors in the early 1990s when the then Tosser, sorry I mean Tory, government was borrowing hand over fist, knocking up a record National Debt?

I'm off to spend some money on my credit card now, so as the Tories would say, I'm off for a t...

Visit the Tosser Tory site at:

43 years ago today (23rd November) Dr Who begins

On this day 43 years ago was the first broadcast of Dr Who. It was repeated the following week though I'm not sure whether that was due to the disruption caused by the Kennedy assassination the day before or simply because it was so popular.

It seems to me that there are a huge number of Dr Who fans in the Lib Dems. Is this something to do with the outlook of Lib Dems, breaking out of the straitjacket of conformity to appreciate adventures of a good guy taking on evil, overly powerful, intolerant figures who are attempting to dominate others?......Or is it we just love a good yarn!?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Text to voicemail

Last week I set myself the task of phoning all the people who over the previous weekend filled in our post office petition. Unfortunately I didn't get round to doing it. And in the weekend just gone I collected over 100 further replies. More people to phone. So I decided to do a short cut today.

If you haven't tried text to voicemail, I recommend it! For those who are not aware of it, you can send a text message to a landline which is then converted to a voicemail message. Very useful. And with my mobile and landline at home I get 300 free text messages a month. So I might as well use them. It took me only a few minutes to send out the messages to last weeks petitioners. I'll do last week's replies shortly.

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Also happened on 22nd November

16 years ago, Mrs Thatcher announced her resignation. Can you remember what you were doing when you heard the news? (I was in South Shields about to go into a meeting of Tyne and Wear Museums Committee - those were the days!)

And 21 years ago I first met David. 21 years later we are still going strong!

Willie Rennie MP arrives at Parliament February 2006

Last night I was going through some video clips I took earlier this year and found these I took of Willie Rennie arriving at Parliament to take his seat. Enjoy!

43 years ago today (22nd November)

The greatest source of conspiracy theories was born on this day 43 years ago when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F Kennedy. The best theory I have seen was the one in Red Dwarf when Kennedy went back in time to murder himself to avoid Congressional hearings!

Meanwhile 43 years minus one day later (ie last night) I got the second of the current email newsletters done for residents in Gateshead, this one to the central part of the borough. Talking of which, when in a training session in Cowley St last week I got into a conversation with Andrew Reeves, constituency organiser for Lynne Featherstone MP, who was telling me about the email newsletters he does in Hornsey and Wood Green. Size is important and alas I was outclassed by Andrew - he has 3500 email addresses on his circulation list whereas I have only 1000 on mine. So that's the target I have to work towards now!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coppacabana Beach

My first video to achieve 4 figure viewing numbers. Copacabana Beach has been visited over 1000 times on YouTube. This is still well ahead of my top political/local news film - August 2006 Video Focus - with 340 viewings.

The other good news is that last night the total viewing figures for all my videos reached 10,000. 2600 were to political/local news videos I have produced. Still some way to go there then.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Oh deer

Getting the 9am train is a decision forced on me, rather than one I deliberately choose. The reason is that the train leaves in the rush hour so we have to run the gauntlet of congested Tyneside to get to the station. A journey that takes ten minutes before the rushhour took 40 min this morning.

However, this allowed me to see something I haven't seen in my area for 30 years. Whilst waiting in the queue of traffic about 2km down the road from my village of Sunniside, I spotted a roe deer in the woods that are now part of Watergate Forest Park. I wasn't even a teenager when I last saw wild deer living in our area. Seems as though nature is recolonising an area of land that was until fifteen years ago a mining wasteland.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Labour's latest campaign slogan: Vote Labour as they are crap

We have an interesting situation in Blaydon constituency of the Labour party putting out leaflets attacking.....themselves. Labour controlled Gateshead Council want to introduce car parking charges. Labour's latest leaflet (actually their first since the local elections) attacks the idea.

And they attack the ending of the Post Office Card Account and highlight the problems this policy (of their own party) will cause to the elderly and to local communities.

Both these issues figure prominently in our campaigning so they are fighting on our agenda. Thank you! I don't know who runs their campaigning, what little there is from the Labour party up here, but if they pay for it, they should be asking for their money back! Or it may be that they have just left it to a fifth rate wannabee council candidate who thinks that the only way to get elected as a Labour councillor is to oppose the plans the party is putting into action. Perhaps Labour candidates in Gateshead should have a campaign slogan - Vote Labour as Labour are crap. Or words to that effect.

Interesting that that same leaflet should feature Dave Anderson, the Labour MP for Blaydon who was first elected last year. He cruised towards the Labour nomination on a sea of naff soundbites about how "working class" he was, how he had "gone to prison" in the 1980s during the miners' strike because of his politics, how he opposed the war and how he was very much against the New Labour project.

And once elected, he underwent a very rapid conversion on the road to Westminster from left wing firebrand to Blairite bag carrier. In October he was even switching to supporting the war and in the Commons even called for UK troops to remain. Strangely at the end of the month he was appointed to the first rung of the ministerial ladder when he became PPS to an unknown education minister. Seems as though never voting against the whip and sucking up to the government has its rewards. I wonder how his members back in Blaydon feel about him backing the war, foundation hospitals, ID cards and Blair plans for schools.

I mentioned earlier the parking charges plan and the axing of Post Office Card Account. I delivered 330 petition and survey forms on these issues today to constituents. I was a bit disappointed that I only collected 54 back tonight. Last Sunday, I collected 87 from 260 households. I'm finding that Saturday is becoming less and less a good day to collect petitions and surveys door to door. Sundays remain by far the best so I'll be out again tomorrow with more petitions and surveys.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In the shadow of the Home Office

I had an editorial board meeting of the Parliamentary Campaigner this morning. So at some point shortly members of Parliamentary Candidates Assn will be receiving the next edition - once I have produced it. We meet in a cafe called Teverre, on the corner of Marsham St and Great Peter St in Westminster - right opposite the no-expenses-spared new building of the Home Office. It strikes me that had a council attempted to build such an extravagant HQ the government would have come down on them like a tonne of bricks. Anyway, we planned the next edition and after an hour or so, we each headed back to our respective offices. I now have my work cut out for the next week or so as we set the publication date for Friday 24th November.

The North East Democrat is a monthly newslletter I produce and email out to members in the North East (though there is a growing number of members from outside the region who receive it as well) I completed the typesetting last night but couldn't email it out at that point. This was because I hadn't finished editing the video of the Fiona Hall Question Time, the links for which I wanted to send out at the same time. I completed the editing late last night at the flat and uploded the videos to YouTube. So it was all ready to be emailed out at lunchtime.

The links were also included in the email newsletter I send out this evening to constituents. Afterall, it was constituents who were invited to send in their questions. I wait to see how much interest it generates from constituents. If the format works, I'd like to try it with other Lib Dem politicians.

Interviewed a second candidate for an intern this afternoon. Will need to take a decision soon.

Well as usual on a Friday evening, I am heading north on a train after a meal in London that was rushed down in between leaving the office late and heading for the 9pm train. David has booked himself in tomorrow for a magistrates' training course so I have to be up at 8am to run him over to Washington. Since my train gets in to Newcastle at 1am, I could have done with the lie in. But instead I'll have to make do with the early morning drive and then a trip down to our office to print more of the Post Office petition followed by delivering them in Whickham.
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Liberator has named me

I was told this afternoon, in passing, that I was mentioned in the latest edition of "Liberator". Apparently there was some criticism that I was involved with the handing out of leaflets at conference that explained the tax proposals to conference reps. I haven't seen this publication but I am looking forward to their acting in the fair and balanced approach that one would expect from those who genuinely believe in liberalism by giving me a right of reply. Since all those lovely people at Liberator know how to contact me, I look forward to their editorial contributors getting in touch to ask for my side of the argument.

And just in case they forget to contact me - understandable given that we are all busy people - this is what I would say: the Political Communications Unit for which I work deals with internal party communications. And it seems to me that informing people about significant proposals going before conference is something that internal communications should be about.

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Fiona Hall MEP Question Time

In October I arranged for Fiona Hall, our North East Member of the European Parliament, to do a "Question Time" in my house in which we invited questions from residents and Fiona answered them on video. I have now put the videos onto YouTube, one for each question.

They can be viewed on the following links:

1) Introduction and opencast mining
2) migrant labour
3) council tax
4) UK troops abroad
5) renewable energy part 1
6) renewable energy part 2
7) human rights

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Latest Lib Dem PPB

The latest Lib Dem PPB is available for viewing. I've embedded it in my blog.
Cameron, Brown and Iraq

Latest Lib Dem party broadcast.

Heading for a gain from Labour?

Lib Dem run Newcastle are facing a by-election in a Labour seat that could well result in a gain for the Lib Dems. Lemington ward is the location for the contest following the death of one of the two Labour councillors in the ward.

In May however the Lib Dems gained the seat from Labour, taking 56% of the vote, an increase of 32%. Admittedly, some of the gain was down to the cock up by the Conservatives who submitted incorrect nomination forms for seven Newcastle seats and were unable to complete new nomination forms over the weekend prior to close of nominations.

The BNP also failed to field a candidate on May, though they took 5% of the vote when the ward was contested in 2004.

Not all the Lib Dem vote gain came from these two fringe parties' failure to field candidates. Labour's share dropped 12%.

The Conservative and BNP fringe parties are both fielding candidates in the by-election which will be held 2 weeks today. Admittedly that does bring a smile to the faces of Labour's demoralised, leaderless and hopeless troops in the city though they are decreasing in numbers all the time.

Labour are, from what we hear, throwing in everything including the kitchen sink and the Newcastle based call centre they operate. Only one thing they haven't thrown in yet is the towel, but hopefully they'll do that on 30th November.

I'll keep readers in touch with how the Lib Dems get on but anyone wanting to give a hand should contact Anita Lower, tel 0191 271 5625 or email

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bumping into people in dark alleyways

City Inn on Millbank is becoming something of a Lib Dem watering hole and feeding location. I went there last night after leaving the office for dinner with Christian Moon, my former boss from my Policy Unit days (who continues to occupy the desk next to mine and will do so until Policy are moved to Abbey Gardens) and Victoria Greaves, another former Policy colleague who made a successful escape to the private sector earlier this year. We used the same venue for the leaving do of Mike Zorbas in September and in October the night before I went on holiday for various people involved in the campaign promoting the new tax policies before conference.

After 10 minutes at the dinner table, in come Ming and Archie Kirkwood, for a meal at the next table before heading off to BBC Newsnight.

And then out in the street afterwards we bumped into Stephen Williams, Bristol MP, clutching a bag of Marks and Spencer food for his dinner and breakfast! A convenient encounter. I had been asked to shoot a video with him some time this week about the homophobic bullying campaign so we were able to get some idea of each other's availability.

Sad news when I got to the flat. As the washing machine had finally died, Richard kindly reminded me of the need to buy a new one. I left it to him to find a new machine on the internet. The result is I have just spent more at Currys than I was planning to spend at Christmas!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cowley St goes chocolate mad

My Saturday blog referred to chocolate biscuits made by David that were left unsold at the end of our Blaydon coffee morning. So I brought them into Cowley St and put them in the kitchen to prove to colleagues that I'm quite a generous guy! They lasted about 5 minutes (with only a few crumbs left after the press office got to them!)

Here are the responses:

delish bisquits! - Laura Zetterberg

Mmmmm! – Mark Pack

Thank you! It was divine!!! - Heno Clemett

Delicious – Lena Pietsch

If you made those - well done, they are amazing! Thank you!!! The Press Office

Very tasty :-) – Luke Croydon

absolutely awesome thanks! – Kate Heywood

David is offering to make more - if colleagues are really nice to me!

Targets for the week

Up at 6.30am to be driven through a gap and glimmer of sunlight to the Central Station. My train to London was late leaving Newcastle but I am now on coach F and will be passing Durham shortly.

My list of things I need to do this week is a rather long one. It includes:
3 Focus leaflets
2 members' newsletters
3 email newsletters
Phone the people who filled in the Post Office petition yesterday
Mailing to leafletters
Edit videos to go out with efocuses
8 news releases
And all the stuff I get paid by Cowley St to do!

So, as an incentive to get this done, I have posted the list on the blog. I'll tell everyone by the weekend how I get on.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remembrance Day and Post Offices

I laid the wreath this morning at the War Memorial in Whickham, leading the procession along the Front Street with my colleagues Councillors Allison Chatto and Peter Craig. We each laid a wreath for our respective wards. David shot the video so as he's not used to using it, it came out a bit wobbly and the zoom jumped about quite a bit. But it is on YouTube and can be viewed below.

Afterwards I went up to the village of Byermoor, the smallest settlement in my ward with fewer than 60 houses, to deliver the Post Office petition. I followed this with a trip back down to Whickham to deliver the same petition there. In total, 260 petition forms delivered today. So I was rather pleased to collect in 87 replies this evening. I haven't yet put them onto the database so I don't know the actual number of signatures, but I guess it will be at least 130. We have now collected over 4000 signatures. Also, 9 new email addresses today.

I ploughed my way through a huge pile of planning applications and council papers pulling out useful stories for the next editions of the eFocus email newsletter this evening. I now do three editions. Hopefully, they will be ready before the end of the week.

Having been told this morning that I am a workaholic by one of our council candidates, I decided to take time off this evening by watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and then the second half of Carry on Abroad. Fortunately I was at the same time able to work on the laptop, writing up stories for eFocus. I think this is called multi tasking!
Remembrance Day Parade Whickham November 2006

I laid the wreath at the War Memorial in Whickham, Gateshead, today.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Spiking Labour's guns

In my office in my house last night and a phone call arrives from Peter Craig, Councillor for neighbouring Whickham North ward, whose wife Susan is our candidate for our top target ward in Gateshead - Lobley Hill and Bensham. A rare event had just happened. Labour had put out a leaflet in Lobley Hill!

LHB was a "safe" Labour seat in the past but like so many areas in the North East that are "safe" Labour, their organisation has rotted away and the Labour party is characterised by lack of campaigning on the ground. We fought a hard campaign there in May this year and reduced Labour's majority from 900 to 92. It is of course a target for us next year.

People are now used to getting Focus leaflets but the appearance of a Labour leaflet caused a minor surprise. The leaflet carries the banner headline "We are calling on you" and explained that Labour would be knocking on doors in the area this morning (Saturday). Thanks for the tip off Labour! We have a well developed intelligence gathering system in Lobley Hill (lots of helpers who tell us what's happening) so we were aware of the leaflet within minutes of it going through people's doors.

By the time Peter arrived at my house (about 5 minutes later) I had a draft of a leaflet close to being ready. Fortunately, we are in the middle of the next round of Focuses across this cluster of wards and the main story (opencast mining) is common to all these wards. I was therefore able to adapt an existing Focus for Lobley Hill. Peter then went down to the office and printed 100 copies. This morning they were delivered first thing in the area we knew Labour were canvassing.

I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Labour were canvassing, having to answer a number of points we had put into our Focus!

Meanwhile, I spent the morning in Blaydon Library where we were holding a coffee morning. A good venue to sell some of my infamous jams. I had a supply of home made chocolate biscuits left over at the end. If my colleagues are really nice to me, I'll put some in the Cowley St kitchen on Monday!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Have you tried Pageplus?

I have been in a training session in Cowley St today learning how to use Pageplus. If you use Pagemaker and haven't tried the new system, I recommend it! Duncan Borrowman is a dab hand at Pageplus and put on the training event. We have another one next week.

I left the office at 7.30pm to meet up with Richard who lives in my flat and have a meal before heading to KX for the 9pm train to Newcastle. We tried the Colleseum restaurant on Victoria Street, now under new management. It was okay but I think I preferred it under its previous owners. I only just caught the train! The carriage seems to contain some odd people. The guy I was sitting next to until a couple of minutes ago was clinging to his rucksack as if his life depended on it. The space restriction meant his elbows came close to colliding with my ribs on a number of occasions. Plenty of space in the overhead rack as well! The guy who was sitting behind me ate crisps loudly and constantly from KX - crunch, there goes another, and another. He also took the liberty of draping his newpaper over the back of my seat and at times over my head. I think I must be getting less tolerant in my old age!

David's mother has been staying at the house this week. She is still there now but goes back tomorrow. Probably means I won't get the chance to shoot the video I have planned for tomorrow.
Or deliver the Focus leaflet patch I have left.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A second Tory racism story in a week

The story about A-List Tory candidate Ali Miraj puts the focus on the yawning gulf between the inclusive image the Conservatives are trying to portray nationally and the attitudes of the Tory grass roots. If you haven't read his blog, do so now - it makes for uncomfortable reading for the Cameroonies. Seems as though the nasty habits of the Conservatives die hard.

For those not aware of the background, here it is:

Bernard Jenkin MP has resigned as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party following allegations he told Ali Miraj, an A-list candidate of Asian ethnic origin that members in safe seats will only select white, middle class, male candidates.

In his blog, Ali Miraj wrote:

Before attending my interview for the Conservative safe seat of Witham on Sunday (5 November), Brooks Newmark, John Whittingdale and Bernard Jenkin - who are losing a chunk of their respective constituencies to the new seat - all told me the same thing. "Good luck Ali, but I would be shocked if they didn’t pick a White middle-class male."

… the values you stand for and the passion with which you fight for them, is more important than the colour of your skin and/or your religion. But I am - for the first time - beginning to question this.

One does begin to wonder what more one has to do to be given a realistic chance of getting to Parliament or whether one has travelled as far as one can on merit alone.

…at the party conference last month, I was constantly told by existing MPs and party members, that the same kind of people will always get selected for the best seats. Code for "White middle-class male", again.

But it is evident that despite his (David Cameron’s] huge efforts to change the Party’s attitude to candidate selection, there is still a mountain to climb. What is gradually becoming clear, is not that the peak may never be assailable, but that some, including myself, may out of frustration, opt to abandon the ascent itself.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ammunition against Labour

In the Political Communications Unit I produce a monthly document called Issues of the Month. This is emailed to people who are on the Daily Bulletin circulation list. If you don't get this, I have included below the sections on Labour problems and government policy setbacks. This makes for useful ammunition against Labour.

I have summarised the main areas as follows:

Labour were is trouble over Jack Straw's comments on veils, Clare Short's resignation of the Labour Whip and Sion Simon's spoof video.

Labour's favourite issue, crime, was not putting them in a good light: Blunkett had called for prison inmates to be "machine gunned"; reoffending rates were up; robberies were up; prisons were bursting at the seems and police cells had to be used; the effectivenes of control orders was brought into doubt.

As for health: the NHS had clocked up debts of half a billion pounds; 1600 dentists had left the NHS since April; community hospitals were more likely to close in Lib Dem or Tory constituencies; 900 NHS staff posts gone in four months.

And the one that just won't go away, Iraq: Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt said the presence of UK forces exacerbates problems in the country; the cost of the war to the taxpayer was revealed as 4 billion pounds, and the terrorism continues.

Labour problems:
On 5th October Labour announced that they were cancelling their spring conference due to be held in Glasgow in the run up to the Scottish Parliament and local elections. Labour denied this was done for cost cutting reasons and said that the event would be replaced by smaller meetings and blogging. BBC

On 6th October Jack Straw sparked a debate about cultural separation after he encouraged Islamic women to stop wearing veils covering their face, saying the practice hindered community relations. Guardian

On 11th October, Clare Short MP was reprimanded by Labour Chief Whip Jacqui Smith for announcing she would campaign for a hung Parliament in the next election. BBC

On 12th October at attempt by Labour backbencher to parody David Cameron’s “Webcameron” backfired, causing embarrassment to Labour. Times

On 16th October it was revealed that David Blunkett had told prison staff to call in the Army and “machine gun” inmates in order to restore order of a riot-torn jail, according to the former Director-General of the service, Martin Narey. [Times]

On 20th October Labour Leadership challenger John McConnell attacks Brown for being too neo-con. [epolitix]

On 20th October, Clare Short MP, resigned the Labour whip to become an independent Labour MP: [Guardian]

On 23rd October Government criticised for letting down children in England and Wales over education: [BBC]

On 23rd October, Government is attacked by opposition parties on re-offending rates: [epolitix]

On 24th October, polls show a majority of voters want troops out of Iraq soon and Beckett admits Iraq could disintegrate: [Guardian], [Telegraph], [Times],, Independent

On 31st October the government saw off an attempt by opposition parties to force an inquiry into the war in Iraq though the majority in the Commons against the call slumped to only 25. Times

Government policy setbacks:
On 4th October, a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that Gordon Brown's complex tax system makes it more attractive for millions to stay at home rather than go to work. The report showed that the tax credits system was discouraging some 2.2 million people on lower incomes from working more, because if their incomes rise the tax credits will be taken away and they face paying up to half of their extra income in tax. [Telegraph] [Guardian]

On 5th October, it was revealed that there were only 160 prison places left in England and Wales and “bursting point” was expected to be reached in a matter of days. BBC

On 9th October, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt MP revealed that in the last financial year, the NHS ran up debts of over half a billion pounds. Guardian

There is still a significant north-south health divide in England, government data have revealed. The Health Profile of England report published on 10th October shows that northern areas have higher obesity rates, more smoking-related deaths and lower life expectancies. [BBC] [Obesity Rates] [Smoking Deaths] [Life Expectancy]

More than 1,600 dentists have quit the NHS rather than sign new contracts, according to official figures. The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, published on 10th October, are the first to be released since the controversial contract was introduced in April. [Daily Mail]

The death toll among Iraqis as a result of the US-led invasion has reached an estimated 655,000, a study in the Lancet medical journal reported on 11th October. The figure - which amounts to around 2.5% of the population - is at odds with figures cited by the US and UK. The Lancet says the figures have been independently checked. [BBC]

On 11th October Mail industry regulator Postcomm called on the government to clear up the uncertainty over the future of the Post Office network and said the social role of branches should be taken into consideration when deciding their future. BBC

On 11th October, Tories obtained figures that suggest taxpayers are paying 4 time more that expected for NHS deficit crisis. [The Times]

12th October: more than half of NHS bodies in England need to improve the quality of their services or their financial management, the Healthcare Commission have found. Primary Care Trusts fared particularly badly. Trust re-organisation, was cited as possible reasons for the findings. BBC

On 13th October in an interview with the Daily Mail, the Head of the Army, Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt, said that the presence of UK armed forces in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems" and they should "get out some time soon". He also said that the initial planning for the post war period had been poor. BBC

On 16th October it was revealed that community hospitals that lie in Conservative or Lib Dem constituencies will bear the brunt of the Government’s closure programme, re-igniting accusations of political interference in the NHS. [Times]

On 16th October it was revealed that two alleged terrorism suspects - said by the government to be so dangerous they had to be subjected to highly restrictive control orders - were on the run, with the authorities clueless as to their whereabouts. The incident brought into question the use of the orders and the competence of the Home Office. Guardian

On 17th October the Public Accounts Committee said that almost a million children in England are being let down by poor teaching and inadequate leadership in hundreds of under-performing schools. [Times] [BBC]

On 18th October, the biggest petition ever has been given to Downing Street to save Post Offices. Labour wants to close many as part of a change in subsidizing them. But 28 million use Post Offices and 400 MPs have called for the decision to be reversed. [BBC], [Guardian]

On 18th October, Ministers were accused of spending too much time vetting thousands of controversial freedom of information requests. [The Times]

On 18th October, John Reid comes under fire from opposition parties over control orders [epolitix], [The Times], [The Guardian], [The Guardian 2]

On 19th October, Blair facing criticism on Iraq policy after he says that troops will stay until “the job is done”. [Independent], [Guardian], [BBC]

On 19th October it was announced there was a fall for applications to universities. [Guardian]

On 19th October crime figures show robberies have gone up significantly. [epolitix], [Yahoo], [Times]

On 19th October, education figures show pupils failing in English and Maths. [Yahoo]

On 20th October it was reported that nurses were angry about their pay rise: [Guardian]

On 20th October it was announced that the CSA will have to write off large debts resulting in some parents missing out on payments: [Times]

On 20th October, there is criticism from independent research that teenagers are not getting the best education because of targets. [Yahoo], [BBC]

On 24th October, Government is told it will take ‘years’ to fix immigration system: [BBC]

On 24th October doctors and lawyers say NHS is ‘in illegal immigrants mess’: [BBC]

On 24th October Youth Justice Board say young in custody were in a ‘crisis’: [BBC], [Guardian]

On 24th October overcrowding in English and Welsh jails means police turn to use of prison cells to detain convicted prisoners: [BBC]

On 24th October Ministry of Defence bans ITV from going to war zones: [Times]

On 26th October Education Select Committee criticise Brown for wanting to achieve the same funding for state school children as private school and for the fact children are not achieving at GCSEs: Times

On 27th October, Alan Johnson u-turned on the policy of quotas for faith schools, dropping the requirement to have 25% of pupils from non faith or other faith backgrounds: BBC

On 30th October, figures show there have been 900 NHS jobs cut in the past 4 months because of a financial crisis:

On 31st October, it was announced that police authorities will have to pay the costs incurred during the botched attempt to merge forces in the summer:

On 31st October it was revealed that the cost of the war in Iraq to British tax payers was £4 billion. Guardian

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Get the professionals to do it!

The interview I did with the Evening Chronicle the other day about using video for communicating with residents resulted today in a great photo op. One of their photographers was sent out to my house this afternoon and we rearranged my office to set up the pic. This involved a certain amount of body twisting to get the right pose and, for the photographer, climbing over my piles of paper and squeezing into a tight space between my desk and my microscope!

But it was all worth it in the end. He took some good shots and so I handed him my camera to get some shots I could use in Focus leaflets. Might as well use the professionals whilst we've got them!

I even left lunch early to get this pic done. Mother had suggested we go out for lunch in one of the pubs in our village. My assumption that this was a good ruse to get me to part with some cash was well founded!

In war, we do hold inquiries

When I arrived back in the country on Tuesday, I picked up the news about the vote in the Commons in which the government saw off calls for an inquiry into the Iraq invasion. Blair and that useless poodle Margaret Beckett were taking the line that no inquiry should be held whilst troops are on active service. Moral of our troops, they claim, will be undermined.

Now that I have had time to think about this, and writing with my historian's hat on, the Blair/Beckett position looks more absurd than ever. In 1915 and 1916, when our very independence as a nation was threathened, the forces arranged against us far exceeded those we face today, and millions of our men were on active service in the armed forces fighting abroad, we held inquiries into the Gallipoli landings and the invasion of Mesopotamia (now called Iraq) whilst those campaigns were still underway. Indeed, we even sent Lord Kitchener, then a Cabinet member (War Office) to Gallipoli to see first hand the situation on the ground.

It is not surprising that the government grab any excuse that comes their way to spin their way out of their predicament. What is noteworthy this time was how small the rebellion was amongst Labour MPs. Perhaps the allure of office come the coronation of Flush Gordon is keeping many in line. Also, the fact the Conservatives were voting for the motion would have driven those Labour MPs who want to oppose the government but not defeat it (have cake and eat it Labour MPs are by far the worst sort) would have reduced the rebellion as well to the core opponents.

With the Cameroonies more of a threat to Labour than at any point in recent years, watch out for more Labour discipline. And watch out for Labour MPs shooting off in their local newspapers about how dreadful something is that the government is doing only for them to vote slavishly for the government in Parliament. And with the coronation coming up, look out for a lot of Labour Brown tongues.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Back in Cowley St and 400 emails

I returned to Cowley St on Wednesday. As expected my inbox was bursting at the seems. 400 emails have arrived in my absence. And add to that the 250 I received on my blackberry whilst on holiday. So much of the day was spent dealing with them. The rest of the time was spent eating Turkish delight with the Policy Unit who share the same room as me in HQ.

Back at the flat in the evening we loaded up the car with everything that had to go back to Gateshead. I hate car journeys between London and the North East, especially when travelling in the dark. With David driving there was nothing for me to do other than listen to the radio or go to sleep. Somehow I did both. Generally I avoid such long distance car journeys and in the near 7 years of doing the London commute, I have taken the train on all but a handful of occasions. I took the car this time simply because it was already in London and both David and I were heading up with a huge amount of luggage. We were home by 11pm.

The reason I headed up was to get to the Gateshead Council meeting being held yesterday (Thursday). Somehow, Labour councillors never learn: I just have to be there and not say anything for them to attack me. This time at least, they were responding to a short speech I gave near the start of the meeting in response to the Council Leader's comments on the Local Government White Paper. My group leader, Councillor Noel Rippeth, asked me only 5 minutes before the council meeting started to do the group response. Thanks Noel! Fortunately I had read the LGA group response to the white paper - I received it via email whilst on holiday.

There were howls of fake disapproval from Labour when someone on our side announced that I had just been on holiday. I'm not sure why that had to be mentioned! And then came one response from the Labour side attacking me for taking a holiday in Gateshead! This was then followed by an invited speaker from the NewcastleGateshead Initiative who, amongst other things, was promoting the idea of, erm, well people visiting Gateshead for holiday and travel! No matter what I say or do, Labour will always attack me on Gateshead Council. But as I said before, they never learn. All they do is boost my ego!

I visited Marley Hill village in my ward twice on Thursday. The village is a former mining community though the mine closed in the early 80s (it was the last in the region to use pit ponies!) and we have a high level of support there. I delivered the post office petition there in the morning and collected replies in the evening. 40 households out of 180 replied but 9 email addresses included.

Talking of which I did an interview with the Evening Chronicle, our daily evening regional newspaper, about my email newsletters and how I am using video to engage with residents. They're sending a photography out on Sunday so hopefully we'll have something in the press next week.
Inside a former Soviet secret submarine base

The visit to the former Soviet secret submarine base in Balaklava in the Crimea was one of the highlights of my recent holiday around the Black Sea.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The journey home

Tuesday 31st October

After the calm of the Black Sea and the Aegean, we hit a stormy patch in the Med. The morning saw a large number of people lying on settees or huddled in chairs clutching their sick bags. Fortunately I was unaffected though this was not what I can claim about the last time I sailed on the Med two years ago. I was rather ill between Benghazi and Tripoli and then off the coast of Italy. Mind you, they were as nothing compared to the crossing I made to Norway three years ago when we saied in the middle of a storm in November!

The Discovery arrived at Limasol in Cyprus at about 1pm, by which time the storm had calmed. We had no time to see anything on the island other than the port and the airport at Larnaka. We were in the air by 7pm at which point watches were put back two hours and we were collecting our luggage before 10pm in Gatwick. We were back to the flat by 11pm.

We then had to go through the irritating process of unpacking everything from the suitcases so that everything that was staying in the flat would not be shipped up to Gateshead. And everyting that was being shipped up to Gateshead had to be repacked ready for the journey home on Wednesday. I got to bed at 2am - seems as though I got back into my routine straight away!

Ancient Ephesus

I wrote this post on Monday but for some reason it got lost in the ether. So here it is again.

Monday 30th October

Kusadasi is another tourism mecca, on the west coast of Turkey. We made a wistle stop visit this morning to visit the ancient town of Ephesus. It reminded me a bit of Leptis Magna in Libya which I visited two years ago. A considerable part of Ephesus remains to be excavated, just like Leptis Magna but both former Roman towns have restored streets and buildings. At Ephesus, the theatre towers above everything else for it size and architecture. When in use 2000 years ago it could sit 23000 people. That's big enough for a Lib Dem conference. Perhaps I should suggest it as a new venue instead of Bournemouth, Brighton and that vile dump Blackpool.
The ship left at midday and we are now heading towards Cyprus. Indeed, the captain seems to be kicking the sh+t out of the engines and we are sailing at the fastest I have experienced on this ship. This is all to ensure we catch our flight tomorrow evening for, alas, tonight is our last night aboard. We have already packed the cases. Cameras have been put into their cases and the tripod is now in my suitcase. We are awaiting dinner and, with some trepidation, the bill for two weeks bar and wine purchases, use of the internet and so on.

I am already getting into the mindset of being back at work, winding myself up for the ordeal ahead. Most immediate job is to ensure the Issues of the Month is ready for circulation before the end of the week. I've also come up with an idea for use of email and video to engage with members. I need to get it past Ed Davey first so if that fails I'll simply bury the idea in the bad ideas cemetery, never to be seen again. If on the other hand it gets the go ahead, there will be plenty of mentions of it in the blog!

And of course of Wednesday there will be hundreds of emails waiting for me to read when I get back into Cowley Street. Oh joy!

Mind you, the big job for this weekend will be sorting the 1600 photos and 2 hours of video we have taken during this holiday.