Sunday, December 31, 2006

My ten highlights of 2006

So with 2006 about to close, here are my top 10 highlights of the year, in reverse order:

10. Running the local election campaign in Gateshead that saw us grab one seat from Labour, slash Labour's hold on another ward by 90% and trebble our majority in our most marginal ward.

9. Changing jobs from Lib Dem Policy Officer to "Intelligence Officer"! (It's a good ice breaker at parties!)

8. Being in the photographers' scrum around Ming Campbell after the declaration of the leadership result.

7. Catching Francis Maude on his off moment at Tory conference on video and making sure it went on YouTube.

6. Discovering Blogger.

5. Getting the Royal Mail proposals through conference.

4. Photographing old American cars in Havana, Cuba.

3. Seeing the tax proposals go through conference.

2. Visiting the former secret Soviet submarine base in the Crimea.

1. Discovering YouTube (which has revolutionised my video output for constituents!)

If anyone has any highlights - or lowlights - that involve me and are not included above, I'd love to know about them!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

This is why trains are much better

We have been caught in a traffic jam for the last hour on the A1. We have now been diverted off the road near Peterborough by the police who have closed off a whole section of the A1. So goodness knows when we will get to London.

It simply briings home the message that travelling by train is so much easier than car for long distances. Though people like to make jokes about trains, on the East Coast we have a reasonable service through GNER. There is plenty of room for improvement but that will have to come about through investing in the infrastructure which is far from perfect.

Mind you, what happens on the East Coast line in the near future is a sore point. GNER's parent company has gone belly up and the rail franchise is up for grabs again. Basically the system is designed so that the government can milk as much cash from the East Coast line as possible.

Anyway, we are lost somewhere in Peterborough now!
Sent via BlackBerry

Heading back to London

It is Saturday afternoon and we are in the car heading to London after a week at home for Xmas. I rarely take the car to London but David is coming down for new year as well. And with Richard also having been up in Gateshead with us, it was easier to use the car.

It is of course chucking it down so if it is like this tomorrow evening, my plan for a garden party can kiss itself goodbye. We'll probably end up in a pub instead.

We are however running later. The plan was to set off at about 10am but I had a constituent call at the house to pick up some papers for a case I am handling and I also needed to sort some files on the pc and back up a large number of photos and video. So it was midday when we hit the road.

It wasnt just Xmas we have just celebrated. Esther, my sister, celebrated her 40th birthday yesterday. She just thought she was going out for a romantic meal for 2 with her boyfriend Ian. When she arrived at the restaurant last night, she found it was a romantic meal for 22! Strangely we had kept it secret given the propensity of our family to talk!

And it had remained secret on Thursday as well for on that day was Esther's proper birthday party at her house. Somehow 30 people were packed in to her house in Newcastle. And somehow the belt bursting quantity of food and drink was consumed as well. I wonder how many people have set weight loss as their New Year resolution!?

The rain outside the car is getting even heavier.

Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Seaton Sluice, December 2006

On Boxing Day, the family (minus Mam and Dad) went over to Seaton Sluice on the Northumberland Coast, near Blyth. Refreshing is the only word I can think of to describe the weather!

Blyth harbour was fitted out with wind turbines in the 1990s. You get a good view of them on this video.

Swans at Watergate Park, Gateshead

On Christmas Eve, we decided to burn off some of the Christmas calories in advance of Christmas dinner by going for a walk to Watergate Park in my council ward in Gateshead. This also gave us the opportunity to check out the family of swans living on the lake in the park.

The park was, until the mid 1990s a colliery wasteland. But in the late 1980s, the pit heaps caught fire and the whole area had to be cleared and restored. I feel a bit of pride in having been involved at the start - I was the person who first brought the fire to the attention of Gateshead Council and press for restoration of the site.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The loves and hates of Xmas shopping

Well, I did the Xmas shopping last night. I survived to tell the tale! I have a bit left to do tomorrow but here are my loves and hates of Xmas shopping.

The hates
  1. Hamleys toy shop
  2. Queues for tills
  3. Couples joined at the hip walking aimlessly along the pavement
  4. Groups of men (normal 4 men together) walking side by side along the pavement
  5. Spending money
  6. People who walk into you because they are concentrating on sending text messages
  7. People standing in busy doorways having conversations
  8. Leaving the shopping list at work!
  9. staff with bubble guns at Hamleys
  10. Knowing what you buy will be cheaper in a few days' time.

The loves

  1. Hamleys toy shop
  2. Bringing Richard along (he can carry everything)
  3. Bringing happiness to my 3 year old niece. She'll love the wrapping paper and packaging even if she thinks the presents are a waste of time
  4. finishing by 8pm
  5. realizing my memory is still up to it after forgetting to bring the shopping list
  6. Kitchen department of John Lewis - an easy and quick source for present for family members for whom you haven't a clue what to get
  7. err - that's it!

I'm back in the flat now after a very productive day at Cowley St. Got 2 email newsletters out to residents of Gateshead today so a few thousand people will be enjoying my words over the next few days. I'm not returning to Gateshead tonight. As it's Christmas, I'm taking it at a leisurely pace. I'm going up tomorrow afternoon. Thank goodness I'm environmentally sensible and opt for rail rather than air travel. Had I gone for the latter, I think I would have been spending a bleak Xmas in London!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I can't hold off any longer.....

Sitting here in Cowley Street with the dreaded task awaiting me. Yes, Christmas shopping. Avoid it though I try, in the end it has to be done. I always cheat. Most of it is done by David. But he can't do all of it. So things like getting his presents, and a few others, have to be done by me.

So shortly I will be venturing into the Xmas jungle of central London, prepared to fight to the death for that last minute bargain and when all else fails, you buy them vouchers. Helpfully, some of the presents family have asked for are vouchers. Do they really not trust me to get them the right things?

The clock is ticking.....deep breathe..... head towards the door armed with debit card. Thankfully this is only once a year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Post Office Campaign Pack

I have seen a number of people using the press releases in the Post Office Campaign pack I produced last week and which the Political Communications Unit sent out whilst I was in Gateshead.

We have now added to it a draft council motion which I know one Lib Dem council group in Scotland has submitted for debate already.

Any Lib Dem member wanting a copy of the campaign pack who is not on the Daily Bulletin circulation list (the pack includes a briefing on the closures and the Lib Dem policy, press releases and the motion) should email me on to ask for a copy. Make sure you include the name of the local party you are in.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gateshead East Labour MP dumped

Gateshead's parliamentary constituencies' boundaries have undergone considerable changes under the latest review. Previously the boundaries were something of a dog's breakfast - we had only one constituency wholly within the borough and bits of 3 others within Gateshead as well. The swanky new boundaries put an end to all that and, in the process, appears to have put an end to the career of a Labour MP.

The reason for this is that overall Tyne and Wear is being cut from 13 to 12 constituencies and the greatest effect of this has been felt in Gateshead where the MP for Tyne Bridge, the devastatingly unknown Dave Clelland went head to head with the MP for Gateshead East and Washington West Sharon Rent-a-Quote Hodgson for the new constituency of Gateshead. David (my David that is!) has just texted me the result of this Jurassic Park punch up and the anomoly of a female Labour MP on Tyneside has just been cleared up. A devastated Sharon, 30 years or so the junior of Dave Clelland, is on the outlook for a new parliamentary seat.

All I can say is thank goodness Labour have rid us of this turbulent MP. The last two months have seen a tropical downpour of press releases from her about anything she could think of. We have had calls for the renationalisation of the railways (I put my boot in on that when I spoke at council on Thursday last week), calls for people to put videos on YouTube and worries over disappearing public toilets (after all she needed somewhere to flush away her no-go career.)

Mind you, Clelland has kept up the war for column inches as well though to give him his due, he stuck largely to issues of substance, even though he was spending a large amount of time whining about how terrible his government is (though frankly ever since he was sacked as a whip in 2001 he has sought his revenge on the government through his caustic whit and advanced wisdom. Not that anyone has noticed.)

So Labour, who hold all 13 of the current seats in Tyne and Wear, have just dumped their only female MP here in favour of a guy the same age as Ming. Remind them of this when the spin doctors of Labour try to make out Ming is too old.

Pity the people of Sunderland however. Super high profile MP Bill Etherington, who made it his lifetime achievement never to get off the backbenches or indeed achieve anything of note in Parliament has announced his intention to retire. An all female shortlist is to be imposed. Those public toilets in Sunderland had better watch out. They may be needed again shortly.

I wonder what Sunderland newspapers do for column inches?
Sent via BlackBerry

Bacon butties on the way to Newcastle

What better way to travel to Newcastle than breakfast in the car? David made me a couple of bacon butties to eat on the way in. I have polished them off before we got to the next village. Yum!

This is my last trip to London before xmas. I'm on the platform at Newcastle now. Pity I didn't get to bed til 2am this morning. And then had to get up at 6.30am. But with a three hour rail journey ahead, I have plenty of time to sleep!
Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, December 14, 2006

War rooms, babies and the Cowley St xmas party

I wrote the following blog entry on the train from London to Newcastle last night. When I got to my house at 1am this morning my blackberry buzzed to tell me I had a message. It turned out for some reason the post to the blog had bounced back. So here it is again. Pretend it's yesterday when you read it!

In the office in which I work in Cowley Street, my end is occupied by the Political Communications Unit and the other end by the Policy Unit. They are due to be moved out to a new office in Abbey Gardens, a stone's throw from Cowley Street. The Political Communications Unit proper will move in soon once we have evicted the Policy Unit.

This arrangement doesn't stop us joining in with Policy Unit events. One of these was today - the official thank you to Sarah the intern who is heading back to the USA shortly. The thank you party took the form of a tour of the Cabinet War Rooms which I attended as well, though I left early as, with the announcement of yet more Post Office closures due tomorrow, I needed to produce some political warfare material for use by our troops on the ground.

Producing this all had to be crammed in to one afternoon as at 5.30pm I headed down to the press office for a short thank you party for Fred Carver who produces 'Red Eye, the overnight media briefing (on which I base some of the Issues of the Month briefing which goes out at the end of each month.) Fred is leaving soon so this was his thank you party.. Fred is a councillor in Camden so he is smiling at the moment - Labour just got screwed there last week after losing a byelection to the Lib Dems.

I had fifteen minutes between leaving Fred's do and going to the Cowley St xmas party in the Lords to try to finish the Post Office warfare paper. I didn't quite complete it. So tomorow morning, I will do the final changes to the document in Gateshead before emailing it back to London.

The reason I didn't finish it was because Helen Banks, former senior researcher int eh policy Unit turned up to show off her new baby, 2 month old Rosie. I'll put the photos on the blog soon.
I didn't realise we had so many people working either for the party in Parliament or for Cowley Street. They all seemed to be there when I turned up for the staff do. Wall to wall people. Think back a decade and you can see how the party has moved on in terms of its professional organisation.

Alas I couldn't stay too long. I had a train to catch to Newcastle at 9pm. I'm on it now. Tomorrow I have a council meeting in Gateshead, hence the early return.. My group have put me down to second a motion on high speed rail. I can't complain! I was one of the members who said a motion on this was a good idea!

By the way, just to follow up my blog posting about YouTube and ITV from last week, Endemol, the company that is making the programme for broadcast on NY eve that asked for one of my videos, has got back in touch and asked for another six videos from my YouTube channel! I love YouTube, the best invention since the wheel!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tory Tynemouth candidate anger

The anger within the ranks of Tynemouth’s Tories appears to be growing over the imposition of an A-List candidate who was rejected by the membership in favour of the candidate who stood at the last election.

It turns out that though the membership can vote on who they want to be as their candidate, that is not the final say in the matter. In the Tory World of Democracy, the local executive gets the final say and in Tynemouth they’ve just plumped for outsider Wendy Morton over the choice of the members, Michael McIntyre.

Tynemouth is the only seat the Conservatives can realistically hope to win at the general election in the North East. Labour are sitting on a majority of 5532 in a seat the Tories held continuously from 1950 to 1997.

Helpfully the Tory MEP for the North East Martin Callanan has waded into the controversy with useful comments such as Wendy Morton has been left with a "Herculean challenge" after her selection left the local party "deeply divided".

This is of course the 2nd time on a matter of weeks in which the local Conservative executive has overturned a membership of public participation decision on the choice of a Parliamentary candidate. The other was in Plymouth Sutton.

To read more about the happy Tories in the seaside town of Tynemouth, visit The Journal

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Get out and do the Post Office petition

There is no better time than now to do the Post Office petition launched by Norman Lamb last year (and in which I had a hand when I was working in the Policy Unit in Cowley St before switching over to Political Communications). Whatever the government announces (probably Monday) there will be largescale branch closures.

In Gateshead we have been running the petition for the past five months. We have collected over 4000 signatures. And I have just been out this Sunday morning delivering 200 more petition forms and Focus leaflets. I'll be back tonight to collect replies.

If any Lib Dem wants a copy of the petition form, email me on State whether you want it as a pdf (for use on Pageplus - just getting the plug in before Duncan Borrowman reminds me!) or Pagemaker 7.

And now I am off to Fiona Hall MEP's xmas party which is being held near Darlington, a horribly long way down the A1 from Gateshead!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another Conservative Councillor joins the Lib Dems

Crawley is about to spoil Cameron's week. When he should be celebrating a year of achievement as head of the Conservatives (well I say achievement but it was tongue in cheek) I can reveal that the Conservatives have lost control of Crawley Council following the decision of Councillor Marcella Head to defect from the Conservatives. I have from the train (I'm heading to Newcastle now) just spoken to her to welcome her as a member.

With the Conservatives losing overall control of Crawley, that brings to two lost councils in 2 weeks. To lose one is careless, to lose 2 is........

The other one was Dover if you haven't seen the story already.

You can get more news at

Sent via BlackBerry

From YouTube to ITV

I was contacted by ITV this afternoon. They are putting together a programme about 2006 to go out on New Year's Eve, made up entirely of amateur film clips. They had seen my August Video Focus on YouTube and want to include the clip of Ming signing the Post Office petition I filmed in the summer. Not being of a shy or retiring disposition, I was very happy to send them the original video files, though I had to get David to email them to me from Gateshead. Seems a good way to end the year!

I have added up the number of emails of constituents we have on our circulation list and conveniently found it has now hit 1000. Convenient because I had half a page to fill in the North East Democrat to complete it and reaching the 1000 target made a nice story. So the Democrat was finished tonight and emailed out to recipients mainly in the North East though with a scattring from outside the region.

With communication being the name of the game today, I also sent out the eFocus for the northern part of Blaydon constituency, about 300 email addresses. I decided to slip in one seriously political story, about how the Labour MP for Blaydon Dave Anderson has come out in favour of the government line on the Iraqi occupation. Conveniently, figures for the daily cost of the war in Iraq were published yesterday, a mere 2.35 million pounds (yes the daily amount). Anderson had before the election postured as a left wing rebel against new Labour. Once elected he very rapidly turned into a Blairite loyalist bag carrier. And he got his reward for sucking up to the government a month ago when he was made a PPS.

Anyway, my next blog entry will bring a smile to the faces of all Lib Dems. I have advance notice of a defection from the Conservative of a councillor meaning the Ories lose control of another council!

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

That looks familiar

When I came down to London on Monday from the North East, I got started on a new product I had suggested the Political Communications Unit should produce. This is a monthly analysis of the council by-elections with ready made news releases and articles for members' newsletters. All you have to do is slot in your name and local party and where appropriate, a paragraph about your local circumstances.

The rather simple idea behind it is to give Lib Dem campaigners some off the peg material that can be quickly turned into something that can be used on the ground. The fewer hurdles to producing this stuff, the better.

So I was rather pleased this evening to have found that members have already started to use the material. It was only sent out on Tuesday evening (to the Daily Bulletin circulation list). I spotted it in someone's publication whilst doing some work on the internet and thought, "That looks familiar!" Keep using it please!

I have also just finished the draft of the next Parliamentary Campaigner. I have increased the amount of ready to use content of that as well.

My next publication is my Blaydon email newsletter eFocus - this is the version for the northern half of the constituency. I'll work on it in the flat tonight. The guy from Lib Dem Calling has just walked into my office here in Cowley Street to tell me he's locking up the building in a few minutes. So I will have to leave shortly!

Monday, December 04, 2006

November's by-election results analysed

November 2006 saw the Liberal Democrats make the most gains in local council by-elections, ahead of the Conservatives. Labour had a net loss though the Independents were the biggest losers. The Liberal Democrats made gains in widely differing areas of the country, from inner city Newcastle upon Tyne to rural Wiltshire to urban Redbridge in North London. Meanwhile, the Conservatives failed to pick up any seats from Labour, all of whose losses were to the Liberal Democrats.

Election results net changes

Liberal Democrats 6
Conservatives 4
Labour -3
Independent/others -7

The fly in the ointment was the two Lib Dem losses to the Conservatives, though we gained one from them as well. Ironically the gain from the Conservatives was in Havant at the start of the month and one of the losses was in the same Council on Thursday 30th. The other loss to the Conservatives was in Stratford.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Is the Tory collapse total on Tyneside?

The Lib Dem victory in the Lemington by-election in Newcastle on Thursday has sparked some interesting responses from the other parties. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle carried an article entitled "The rise and rise of the Lib Dems" yesterday. It included quotes from a leading Labour member in Newcastle, and a leading local Tory. I guess that with both these people, their respective parties put them forward to the media to give comments because of a complete and utter lack of credible, sensible, level headed alternatives.

Labour Deputy Leader on Newcastle Council, Nick Forbes, in response to the loss of Lemington, said, "I think we will win seats in May...People are already showing disillusionment [with the Lib Dems]....."! (In which case I'd love to see what the people do to Labour when they are not "showing disillusionment" with us!!!

Nick Forbes is of course on Newcastle Council for his entertainment value. I famously dubbed him "Newcastle's Comical Ali" in the press in May after he said that the local election results in Newcastle were a disaster for the Lib Dems as we had only managed to pick up two more seats from Labour following their collapse in 2004.

But what of the Tories? Their response to 4th place and a not very appetising 6% of the vote came from Brian Moore, a member of their Newcastle executive. He said, "The Conservatives are doing well in local government across the country, including parts of Tyneside." Quite which part of Tyneside he is referring to is not explained.

Across the Tyne here in Gateshead we had a by-election in September and the Conservatives were again in 4th place on 6%. Whilst the collapse of the Conservatives is not absolute, in Newcastle and Gateshead, as with many other large cities, they barely register even as a fringe party.