Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Labour MP to pay up for inappropriate use of Commons mail

Those of you who read my blog last week would have seen the entry about Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon in Gateshead (where I live), being reported by me to the Serjeant at Arms about a misuse of Commons stationery and first class mail.

A brief summary of what happens is: I was sent anonymously a copy of the letter Anderson sent out on Commons headed notepaper in prepaid first class Commons envelopes to Labour members drumming up support for Labour council candidates, slagging off people like me as "2nd rate" councillors and calling on Labour to remain united during the leadership contest; I then passed on the letter to the Serjeant at Arms to complain that this was not a proper use of Commons facilities.

Well, today, I was emailed the reply from the Serjeant at Arms. It reads as follows:

Complaint regarding use of Parliamentary Stationery by Dave Anderson MP

Further to my letter of 23 January I am now writing to update you on the above matter. I have now been in touch with Mr Anderson and he has agreed that the letter which was sent out to local Labour party members was not an appropriate use of House stationery and an investigation was carried out.

This was a genuine mistake by office staff and Mr Anderson has asked to be invoiced for the full use of this stationery. His administrative staff have been reminded of the rules governing the use of House stationery and pre-paid envelopes and this situation should not arise again.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. If you have any other queries regarding this matter please do not hesitate to contact me.

All just a dreadful mistake that has lumped Mr Anderson with a modest bill to pay!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Whiff of Watergate

This was going to be a headline in one of our Focus leaflets. Watergate Park which is partly in my ward in Gateshead, is having a problem over the lack of dog bins. People are leaving bags of dog poo hanging from a fence in the park in protest. I wish now I had used the headline!

The first I knew of the arrest of Lord Levy was this afternoon when I was in a meeting with Ed Davey. He was called out after getting a pager message and came back in a few minutes later to tell us the news.

So, the plot deepens. From allegedly flogging peerages on a low interest, full money back (at an indefinite point in the future) guaranteed basis the story line moves on to apparent cover ups. If Jeffrey Archer wrote this, the publishers would have rejected this as too far fetched!

Sent via BlackBerry

Friday, January 26, 2007

Gateshead backs Trident policy

Liberal Democrats in Gateshead have backed the policy proposals to delay a decision on Trident until 2014. We had a motion to that effect to Gateshead Council today. I seconded it.

The core of the argument we put forward was that a decision now is premature, there are uncertainties in the international arena but the situation will be clearer in 2014 when the situation with the Iranians' attempts to develop a bomb are clearer, taking a decision now could encourage rogue states to press ahead with nuclear development and spending money now could end up being a huge waste if by 2014 the international situation permits nuclear disarmament.

Labour's amendment was bizarre. It removed most of the motion, leaving in only the start that noted the Government's December announcement on Trident replacement. It then replaced the wording with a load of waffle about how well they allege the economy is doing and calling on the borough's MPs to ensure there was a balance of resources going to various spending priorities (which did not mention defence or the environment).

Even more bizarrely, the few Labour speakers prepared to contribute to the debate gave speeches which were in the main supportive of our motion, even though they were supposed to be in favour of their own wrecking amendment.

The important point on our side is that members were happy with the proposals outlined by Ming in December.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Red meat

On walking into Gateshead Civic Centre this afternoon for full council, I got talking to a Labour member who will remain nameless. He had clearly enjoyed the spectacle of a certain Labour MP, Dave Anderson from Blaydon, in the press for the investigation by the Serjeant at Arms into his Labour party mail shot that went out on Commons headed notepaper, in the Parliamentary prepaid mail. (See my blog entry for Wednesday).

"You seemed to enjoy your red meat this week!" the Labour member told me.

I will not repeat the description he offered for Mr Anderson's activities! Perhaps there are a number of people in the local Labour party who are unimpressed by Mr Anderson. His posturing as the left wing rebel and "working class" trade unionist probably helped him to get the Labour nomination for the 2005 general election. But since the polls he has spent his time slavishly backing the government. I can imagine therefore a large number of Labour members who are unimpressed by him.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Apparent misuse of Parliamentary facilities

Whenever I have a large pile of post built up whilst I have been away, I go through it to open the hand written envelopes first. There was a very large pile of post waiting for me when I got home for the weekend and in it were plenty of handwritten envelopes. It was shortly after midnight on Sunday morning when I opened them.

Letters from constituents and lots of petition replies. But it was the last one I opened that most caught my attention. It was a letter from Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, the constituency where I live in Gateshead. At first I was a bit surprised that Mr Anderson should be writing to me. "Dear Friend" it started. And then went on to talk about the Labour leadership contest, how Labour needed to remain united and his hopes for a 4th election win for Labour.

It may have been because I had had a long day working on Focuses and campaigning but the cogs in my brain were not working at full speed. Why, I thought to myself again, would this political opponent be writing to me on House of Commons headed notepaper about internal Labour matters? But the penny dropped when I looked again in the envelope in which the letter arrived. There I found a used House of Commons prepaid first class envelope with the recipients address cut off. Someone had anaoymously sent me a letter from Mr Anderson that was meant only for Labour members or supporters.

I read the next paragraph of the letter in which there was an appeal for people to help Labour candidates in the local elections in May. Mr Anderson took the opportunity to attack opposition councillors in the constituency ( who are Lib Dems - there are no Conservatives here). According to Mr Anderson, we are all "second rate" and people do not deserve to be represented by us!

Well, my understanding is that Parliamentary stationery and mail should not be used for party political purposes. And I phoned Norman Lamb on Sunday morning to check my understanding was correct. The person in the Labour party who sent me this presumably believes I am well suited to ensure an investigation takes place into a possible misuse of Parliamentary facilities! So I sent it to the Serjeant at Arms who confirmed that it would be looked into.

Understandably, a matter of such public interest wasn't going to stay out of the media for long! It was in both the Journal and the Evening Chronicle today. A member phoned me tonight in Cowley Street to tell me she had read about it in the Chronicle. I'll see it tonight myself when I get home (I'm on the train to Newcastle now.)

I wonder what else awaits in my mailbag when I get home!?

Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, January 22, 2007

Crime Campaign launch

I went to the press conference for the launch of the Lib Dems' crime campaign this morning as soon as I got to London. I took this photo of Ming. The press conference also launched the Policy Paper "Together we can cut crime" (to be debated in Harrogate in March). The cover has a photo Ming talking to the police during a walkabout he did in the summer last year. I didn't take that photo but I took plenty of others at the same walkabout. I've posted one up here.

Any Lib Dems wanting copies of the pictures for local campaigning can email me on (say which local party you are from).

A hint of light - spring must be approaching

I caught the 7.39am train from Newcastle to London - we have just passed through York. I always get that "spring must be on its way" feeling when being driven into Newcastle on a Monday morning and there is a hint of daylight in the east. A hint, mind you, only a hint. Of course, all this coincides with a big freeze that meant the car had to be defrosted before we hit the road.

Our top target ward in Gateshead in the local elections this year is Lobley Hill and Bensham. Our most marginal defence is Dunston Hill and Whickham East. I did some work on both over the weekend. Gateshead have extended the consultation time for the introduction of car parking charges in Whickham, Blaydon, Birtley and Low Fell so we were able to survey more residents on this issue yesterday. The Labour cabinet in Gateshead proposed the introduction of charges and have agreed them in principle. And then the Labour party put out a leaflet in Dunston Hill and Whickham East saying Labour are opposed to the charges but the Lib Dems agree with them!!! Labour never let honesty get in the way of a good story.

And finally, the repeated requests by the media centre in Cowley Street for more home made chocolate bisuits have been answered. David made a large batch yesterday though I doubt they will last long once I get to HQ!

Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trying out online polls

I am trying out online polls as a way of engaging with constituents. My thanks to Stephen Tall for supplying me with the details of where to get free polls. (Stephen - when are you going to do a poll on sexiest member of Lib Dem staff!?)

The poll I am doing is on plans by Gateshead Council to introduce car parking charges at various locations throughout the borough including Whickham (I represent Whickham South and Sunniside ward). All just an experiment but hopefully it will encourage more people to visit our news blog -

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Give us back our NHS

I went to Westminster Hall yesterday to do the photos for the NHS demonstration with MPs and candidates. I took a number of photos which we hope to put up on the extranet soon. The one below is my favourite, but I would say that as I'm in it! (left, back row - thanks to James our intern for taking this one!)

Having the banner was my idea but Marianne Sladowsky, our health adviser in Parliament, came up with the wording. The key message of this campaign is that central government interference in the local running of health services is causing much of the mess in the NHS. Decisions on local health services need to be taken locally.

Flooding in York, January 2007

This is the video I shot on Saturday when I was in York. The River Ouse had burst its banks though by Sunday flood water levels had gone down considerably.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Will Brown introduce AV?

I notice Politicalbetting is contemplating a Brown move to introduce Alternative Vote in place of first past the post. The announcement would be in the first days of the Brown administration and is akin to the announcement on Bank of England independence after his appointment as Chancellor.

I think this bit of political crystal ball gazing is well founded. I have argued myself that Brown will make such a move - indeed, in a meeting with my colleague George Crozier last week, I argued exactly the same point.

This time Brown will be even more earnest in his bid to break with the past. I suspect other possible moves as well, such as announcements on Lords reform.

No doubt STV fanatics and purist PR supporters will want us to hold out against the move to AV. Personally, I would back it. It would be easy to introduce and would not require a wholesale review of boundaries. And it would also easy any transition to STV with people understanding the need to put candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper.

But it would also introduce a new dynamic into elections. It would increase the number of seats that could change hands and it would also mean parties having to appeal beyond their own supporters and floating voters.

It would also mean that there was more incentive - much more - to get out to vote. Take for example my home town of Gateshead which, under the new boundaries will contain the constituencies of both Gateshead and Blaydon, as well as a bit of Jarrow. Predictions for Gateshead constituency are that Labour should expect to win with over half the votes cast, but on a low turnout. The Conservatives are in 3rd place and have no chance of winning. But their voters could turn out in larger numbers if they thought their 2nd preferences would actually come into play by ensuring Labour were on less than 50%. In other words, there is an incentive for them to turn out to vote even though their first choice stands no hope of winning.

This is even more so in Blaydon constituency. At the last election the Conservatives got only 8%, but we got 38% and Labour were on 51%. It used to be the case that the Conservatives got 10-14,000 votes in the constituency some 20 years ago. Some have shifted to us but many simply stay at home. A modest increase in the Conservative vote would mean the Conservatives' 2nd preferences would come into play.

Similar battles would be replicated over the North East. Labour marginal seats such as Newcastle North, Newcastle East and Durham City would be even more interesting.

And think of all those Conservative held seats that would be vulnerable to the Lib Dems where Labour are in 3rd place. Over the past century, the Conservatives have been the biggest beneficiary of first past the post. Many in the Labour party will be blinded to that by their own electoral success over the past decade, or by their stupidity or reactionary outlook. Under AV, there will be times when the swing in a general election will produce a more exaggerated result. But the long term benefits outweigh this.

So were Brown to introduce AV, I hope the purists in the Lib Dems look on it favourably.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back from a flooded York

I went to York on Friday for a weekend seminar for councillors on safer communities. Put on by the Association of Councillors (a cross party group to which Gateshead Council signs up all its members), I rarely find them of use and frankly I am finding it increasingly difficult to accept they are value for money. In my 20 years as a councillor (well, 20 years in May) I have attended one a year. It was however a useful opportunity to discuss some campaign issues with some of my Lib Dem colleagues.

The recent heavy rain meant that the River Ouse had burst its banks so David and I went down on Saturday morning to the city centre to shoot some video. It's still on the camera and I haven't had a chance to upload it to the PC to put on YouTube. I spent this afternoon after getting back from York writing Focus leaflets and then went down to the office to print them.

Since it is now 12.45am and I have to get up at 5.30am to catch a train to London, I will not spend the next few minutes editing the York video clips! I'll do that some other time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How does the defector Porter feel now?

Tory peers on Tuesday managed to drive a knife into the back of Cameron's claims to be a tolerant party when 41 of the old dears voted for discrimination against same sex couples in the provision of commercial goods and services. The figure included 10 front benchers as well, a figure that matched the total number of Tory peers who voted for the rules that prevent companies in Northern Ireland from refusing to trade with people on the basis of their sexuality.

So it leaves me wondering what Richard Porter is feeling about his new colleagues. I was disappointed when Porter defected to the Tories in December. I had some dealings with him before the general election when he offered advise on the lesbian and gay manifesto I wrote when I was working in the Policy Unit (the BBC were wrong however to claim he wrote it himself.) He seemed competent and sensible. But he now seems to have been taken in by a fraudelent Tory party masquerading as moderate. Whilst Cameron realises the impossibility of being elected on all the right wing rubbish he and his party espoused before his election as leader, a large party of his party clearly are not converts to the Cameron attempts to liberalise the Tories.

So Richard, are you really comfortable jumping into bed with these people?

Monday, January 08, 2007

300 online signatures in one weekend

I am even more convinced about online petitions than I was last Friday when I tried out the Lib Dems' new single issue website creator. Having set up a site and online petition against an opencast scheme in my ward on Friday, I sent the link to constituents. This morning I arrived back in the office and opened my inbox to find 300 emails from people who have signed the petition online. Plenty from people not on our circulation list which shows that people circulate our email newsletters amongst family and friends.

It will take some time to process all the replies. Indeed, the number of replies continues to grow with 2 more arriving whilst I write this blog! But I'm not complaining!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Single issue websites - start using them now!

On Thursday evening I had my first attempt at using the party's single issue website tool. I set up a site for the campaign against opencast plans in my ward in Gateshead. The planning application for the site was rejected last year but with an appeal now lodged, the campaign to defeat the plans steps up a gear. I have now produced a petition to Ruth Kelly calling for the appeal to be rejected.

The petition is now on line and is on the site I set up on Thursday evening. The site went live on Friday afternoon and I sent an email to about 800 constituents about it shortly afterwards. Though I was hoping for a good response, I wasn't quite expecting the storm surge of responses. Within 2 minutes of sending out the email, I got an email to tell me the first person had signed it. Within half an hour, I had received another 100 emails!

I sent out a press release about the petition shortly after sending out the email to constituents. It was picked up my Radio Newcastle who phoned me when I was waiting to go into the Kyle concert! They seemed quite amused by this but said they would phone back this morning.

When they did, the journalist spent quite a bit of the time talking about Kylie Minogue and I am wondering if they will carry that in the interview when it is broadcast tomorrow!

It was fantastic

The Kylie concert last night was fantastic. Had a great time even if I did have to get the night bus back to the flat.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I should be so lucky, lucky. lucky, lucky.....

Kylie Minogue started her concert tour in the UK on New Year's Eve in London. She is appearing at Wembly again tonight. Alas, yes I am going!

Had the decision been left to me I probably would have returned home this weekend. However, in July last year I made the mistake of letting Richard use my debit card to buy one ticket over the phone. "They cost only £20," I was assured. Two tickets and £110 later and I decided to rescue some of this conspicuous consumption for myself.

So one of the tickets became his Christmas present and the other is for me.

I have to confess I did see Kylie back in 2000 when she was in Hammersmith (and a much smaller location). I enjoyed it then and I guess I'll enjoy it tonight!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cowley St feels deserted

My train into London yesterday was half empty, a pleasant change from the sardine tin mode of travel I normally endure. The same today. Seems as though many are not starting back at work immediately after New Year. The same seems to have happened in Cowley St. Where is everyone? Yesterday, I was the only person in our office to be in work. Today, Laura from Policy is here. But otherwise, HQ feels a bit deserted.

I couldn't even work late last night. Cowley St is usually open til 9pm when Lib Dem Calling leave. However, LDC seem to be enjoying an extended break so I left the office at 6.30pm instead. I used the additional time at home to phone constituents instead. That was quite enjoyable.

And once it became too late to phone people, I sorted the December press cuttings instead. It was interesting following the war between Tyne Bridge Labour MP Dave Clelland and Gateshead East Labour MP Sharon Hodgson over the selection for the new Gateshead constituency. The victor was Dave Clelland. I'm not a fan of blood sports but on this occasion I was prepared to make an exception! Both had, for the past 2 months, been producing press releases as if their lives depended on it (as indeed their political lives partially did!) And now we are back to silence from both of them. Press cuttings about either have now dried up.

Frankly, I won't be sorry to see the back of Sharon Hodgson, a talentless, shallow union hack. Presumably she'll now inflict herself on some other constituency.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A few pics from the the past week

Usual habit. I've taken a bucket load of photos over the past week. And only got round to sorting them now. Fortunately, I've only put 5 on the blog!
Richard sings "The Hills are alive to the sound of music" to my sister Esther and her boyfriend Ian on Seaton Sluice beach on Boxing Day.
Me and Richard at the Albert pub for New Year. At that point I was brewing up quite a cold. I now feel pretty rotten!
3 Brothers (Matthew, Andrew and me), sister Esther and my niece Lily at Esther's birthday party at her house in Newcastle.
Xmas day: Ian and David hog Lily's new lego for themselves - Lily didn't get a look in!
Esther walks into a surprise birthday dinner with boyfriend Ian.

Esther turns up at a restaurant with Ian to celebrate her birthday only to find another 20 surprise guests there as well.