Monday, April 30, 2007

Tales from the campaign trail no 5: Conservatives dead in the water

I won my seat from the Conservatives in Gateshead back in 1987. Before 1984 the then ward of Whickham South (now called Whickham South and Sunniside) was a Conservative bastion. Then we turned up, made the ward marginal, and then won it quite convincingly. So, for a Conservative recovery in the North East to begin, they must first take back seats lost in the not so dim and distant past (actually, 20 years is quite a long time but it feels like yesterday when I was first elected!)

Conservative recovery in the North East? Well, it may happen in odd patches of Tynemouth and Sunderland but here in Gateshead, and over in Newcastle, the Conservatives are dead in the water. It's about 15 years since they put out a local election leaflet in my ward and I am not aware of any leaflets from them anywhere at all in Gateshead this year.

It's 11 years since there was last a Conservative on either Newcastle or Gateshead. Do not expect them to end their unbroken record of failure this year.

I have decided that my colleagues are getting their own back on me. There is one delivery patch that no one wants to do in Whickham. It's actually a very nice area. Cornmoor Road and Millfield Road, with a couple of offshoots are made up largely of detached houses each in their own large garden and often down very long drives. It takes an hour and a half to deliver the 150 houses on the patch. Somehow, for the last 2 deliveries (including one tonight) I had the joy of doing the patch. It makes for good exercise, so I keep telling myself.

Tales from the campaign trail no 4: when in a hole, stop digging

Labour are attempting to spin a message in Whickham, a town that is represented by 9 Lib Dem Councillors on Gateshead Council, that the old buildings of the local comprehensive school are to be replaced this year. The story is simply one of their ridiculous claims that barely resembles the actual facts.

So Labour, having launched a first strike against us with their fantasy claims, were then subjected to a counterattack by us in our literature, in which we pointed out the actual situation at the school (kitchens being refurbished and a small classroom block is being built to replace some mobile classrooms - hardly the new school they claim). We also pointed out that "Labour will say anything to try to get elected here." (An actual quote from our leaflet.)

Labour would be well advised to move on from the issue and not try to defend claims that new cookers amount to a new school. But they are suffering from a serious dose of common sense deficiency syndrome and have rushed our a rather shabbily produced leaflet that attempts to justify their absurb spin.

All it has done of course is focus attention on the fact that Labour tried to mislead people and their well spun story is coming unspun.

But what made me fall off my seat laughing was the absurd attempt to steal a line from our leaflet and hamfistedly attempt to turn it against us. Labour claim that as a result of what we said about the school, Lib Dems are accused of saying "anything to try to get your vote"!!!!!!!

And just to prove that the only contest Labour are going to win here is the "Hypocrit of the Year" competition, their leaflet then goes on to proclaim that Labour "remain opposed to [parking] charges here" - just a few months after having voted to introduce them.

It seems as though Labour's plan to gett out of the hole they are in is to continue digging.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ming speaks to Cowley Street

I'm not going to repeat Ming's speech (Will Howells recorded it so it will turn up soon on YouTube) but here is one of the photos I took.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oops I did it again – Labour MP in trouble for 2nd time on use of Parliamentary mail

LABOUR MP for Blaydon, Dave Anderson, has been taken to task for a second time in three months for misusing House of Commons postage. And for the second time his office has been blamed for the “error”.

Mr Anderson was forced to pay up in January for misusing taxpayer funded stationery and pre-paid first class mail after he wrote to Labour members to attack Lib Dem councillors and drum up support for Labour’s local election candidates.

But House of Commons authorities have investigated him a second time following a second complaint from me.

In September last year, Mr Anderson changed office address and decided to inform each constituent (except me!) of the change. 30,000 letters were sent out in prepaid first class envelopes.

Under House of Commons rules, stationery and prepaid envelopes cannot be used for general circulars and can only be used to reply to constituents who have contacted them.

Mr Anderson was entitled to have the information about his new address sent to constituents. However it should have been produced as a leaflet and delivered by a leaflet delivery company at a fraction of the cost of 30,000 first class letters. Or it could have been delivered by Labour activists (not that there are many of them!)

In an email to me, Assistant Serjeant At Arms Ruby Beech said she was convinced the decision to send out 30,000 first class letters was “a genuine administrative error.”

The email explained that the postage was repaid but only by shifting the costs from one budget to another.

I find it staggering that misuse of 30,000 prepaid first class envelopes has been put down to an ‘administrative error’. Did Mr Anderson not question why 30,000 sheets of Commons headed stationery were going through a photocopier, a job that must have taken days to complete.

Did he not notice 30,000 envelopes in his office going through a laser printer to add addresses? Did he not notice the small army of people needed to stuff 30,000 envelopes?

Then there was the job of taking 30,000 letters down to a sorting office which would have taken a few van trips. It’s hardly the quantity of letters you can pop into the local post box.

Didn’t Mr Anderson notice this rather large logistical operation taking place in his office and ask some questions as to what was happening?

I have no problem with Mr Anderson wanting to tell constituents how to contact him. But he needs to be a great deal more careful in how he gets that information to people.

Mr Anderson has been let off very lightly. Meanwhile the taxpayer has been left to pick up the postage bill which must be close to £10,000.

Copy of email from Ruby Beech, Assistant Serjeant at Arms, to me:

From: BEECH, Ruby
Sent: 18 April 2007 10:25
To: Jonathan Wallace
Subject: RE: David Anderson MP
Dear Mr Wallace

you will have seen from my "out of office" message that I was on leave from the 30th March until yesterday. Prior to my leave I met with Mr Anderson on a number of occasions and he conducted a full audit of his correspondence since he came into post including numbers of letters under various categories, numbers of envelopes of various kinds used. A number of approved items had previously been sent out via an agency and the costs claimed via the Incidental expenses provision.

This time when the staff sent out the change of office address the person who sent it out thought that it would be more efficient to send it out using the pre paid envelopes. The staff member, knowing that change of office address could be sent out using public monies, did not check the exact rules regarding the envelopes. The staff have been given detailed information about the different uses of House stationery. The costs of the envelopes and postage have been repaid to the budget which covers the cost of the pre paid envelopes and the appropriate claim made to the incidental expenses allowance. A number of other minor errors were found during the audit and these have also been put right. I am convinced that these were genuine administrative errors.

The rules regarding the use of House stationery and allowances for communicating with constituents are being amended this month and it is hoped that these will be clearer for both MPs and their staff.

Thank you for expressing your concerns over this matter.

Yours sincerely

Ruby Beech Assistant Serjeant at Arms

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tales from the campaign trail no 3: Labour hands over power to Lib Dems in Gateshead

If only it were true! But reading Labour's leaflets in Lib Dem held Crawcrook and Greenside ward, you would be forgiven for believing the Lib Dems ran the council. And what makes the situation even more amusing is that Labour are backing a petition against a decision taken by, errrr, the Labour Party!

It all comes down to a road junction in the village of Greenside. It's not the happiest of junctions and needs something doing to it to improve road safety. Our 3 councillors there have been trying to get the Council to look into the matter for some time. All the Labour cabinet would consider were traffic lights which they were happy to vote through and allocate £40,000 to installing them.

But the moment there was a bit of public discontent, the Labour party put out a leaflet claiming the scheme was nothing to do with them, it was all agreed by the Lib Dems and Labour were backing a petition against the proposals! And for good measure they accused the Lib Dems of spending 2 and a half times the actual money Labour themselves had agreed for the scheme.

Never let it be said that Labour ever allowed hypocrisy to get in the way of a well spun story!

We are finding more and more that Labour will say anything to get elected in the wards they don't hold in Gateshead.

50,000 viewings on YouTube

Well, I have just hit the milestone of 50,000 viewings of my videos on YouTube. Still in the lead is Copacabana Beach on 5280. Of my top 10 videos, 9 are ones I shot whilst travelling abroad. The only non-travel one in the top ten is the one I filmed about an opencast proposal for my council ward in Gateshead. At 999 viewings, I just need one more to reach 4 figures! If anyone feels the urge to look at any of the 167 videos I've got on YouTube, you can visit the channel on

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tales from the campaign trail no 2

When is an old school a new school? Well, according to the Labour party on my patch in Gateshead, it's when it's a cafeteria!

Whickham School (my old comprehensive) which serves as the secondary school for most of the kids in my ward, is a very successful school which has to endure worn out buildings, many of which are not in the best of shape. General agreement is that a new school is needed.

Previously the school has been allowed only very minimal investment to keep its existing buildings ticking over. The government have now allowed £1 million to be used to renovate the cafeteria facilities and build a new classroom block. Work is expected to take place over the next two years.

And how are Labour spinning this message in the wards we hold? - that there is to be a new replacement school built this year!

Since this has not been agreed, it has left me with the fortunate problem of helpfully explaining to residents that Labour's spin story is misleading, inaccurate, distorted and frankly untrue.

And it appears they will say absolutely anything to get elected on our patch. Helpfully, I am making sure all my constituents know that as well!

Tales from the campaign trail no 1

Hopefully the first of many interesting, amusing and thought provoking blog postings from the campaign trail in Gateshead.

One of our campaigners had a close encounter of the 3rd kind with a Gateshead Labour councillor when out in our top target seat of Lobley Hill and Bensham last night. The councillor in question suggested we have not been putting out any material recently, stating that Labour had "seen nothing" from us. When the conversation was reported to me this morning, it brought a smile to my face! Without giving away too much to my Labour readership about what we have been doing, there has been a certain amount of under the radar activity. So let me just demoralise you Labour people a bit further by telling you that I'm not going to tell you what we have done to contact voters in the ward over the past week. If you haven't found out by now what we've been doing, then I ain't going to tell you!

And now for the inevitably cock up story. When a leaflet is printed, that is the time you spot the mistakes. Most of the time these are typos and you live with them. Except when the typo is in the headline. Fortunately it was a print run of only 700. I quietly went into the office this morning to reprint them and got back to my house with the leafletters waiting for me to deliver them!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Labour make themselves interesting by quoting me

Readers of this blog may recall that last week I wrote a post that said Labour's leaflets were continuing a tradition of being dull, dreary and boring in Gateshead. Well, now they are attempting to brighten up their otherwise tedious trash by quoting the blog of a certain, ahem, Jonathan Wallace.

They decided to quote a remark I made that was complimentary about Labour Councillor Frank Donovan. I said words to the effect of he is a decent bloke. The fact is he is a decent bloke. It's just his party is a pile of something nasty on the ground that you wouldn't want to step in and some of his party colleagues are, well let's put it politely, not the sort of people I would want to share a train carriage with (or indeed anything else!) Let's just say I don't suffer fools, desparate wannabees and nonentities gladly.

What was bizarre though was that the leaflet simply quotes my comments without attributing them to anyone other than a "senior" local Lib Dem (please note I am aware of the leaflet 2nd hand - it was read out to me over the phone this evening. And we both fell off our seats laughing about it!)

So watch this space for more quotes by me about Labour appearing in Labour leaflets. I am especially looking forward to their using the one about them being a pile of something you wouldn't want to step in!

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

My living room is a sorting office

I took this picture the other day of my living room in my house in Gateshead. I am pleased to say that all the bundles of leaflets have now gone to the leafletters. The room will be filled again soon with more bundles of papers!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back to the future - New Labour's very old campaign

I said on the blog yesterday that Labour's leaflets in Gateshead are deadly dull. Shortly after writing that, I was phoned by a constituent to tell me he had received a copy of the Labour leaflet and did I want it (as it seems everyone knows Labour don't put their leaflets through my door!) The blog yesterday was written in response to the Labour leaflet from our target ward of Lobley Hill and Bensham. So the new leaflet was one I hadn't seen before - or so I thought until my constituent dropped it off for me (as a thank you I gave him 300 Focuses to deliver!)

It turns out that the leaflet was a copy of one they put out in the neighbouring Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward 2 months ago with simply a few name changes. No particular problem with that. But then I noticed one article had been removed and the replacement raised a few eyebrows.

The article attacked us for representing the ward for 25 years (actually the Lib Dems have only held it for 21 years!) And it went on to claim we had done nothing to get youth facilities in the village of Sunniside (where I live). "We would do better," screamed the leaflet. Errrr, aren't they the ones who run the council? Aren't they the ones who have denied youth facilities to the village. And aren't they the ones we as the ward councillors have been in discussions with on many occasions about facilities in the village?

But the funniest point about the leaflet is that it attempted to raise from the dead an issue that was settled 4 years ago! In 2003 as the ward councillors, we supported the demolition of the Over 60s Hall in Sunniside village. The Over 60s Assn were desperate to get rid of the hall because it was derelict, it couldn't be rebuilt, it was an eyesore right in the heart of the village, and the Assn's members were wanting to wind up the group. Labour thought they could pull a fast one and laid claim to this derelict building as a venue for youth facilities even though the place had been condemned. The council however offered no help, money or support to any youth group to use the building. But at planning committee, Labour councillors were split and some did vote for the application to demolish the building and build a couple of houses on it. The fact Labour councillors voted for the application was completely overlooked in the tirade of abusive leaflets Labour then sent out in my ward.

The houses have now been built, an eyesore has been removed, the Over 60s gave the twenty grand from the sale to charity and Labour did rather badly at the polls.

Having run such an unimpressive, divisive and losing campaign on the issue, you would have thought Labour would want to move on from it. But no, they return to dwell on it! They even pose the question - what's happened in the past 4 years? And their answer: "Still no Labour councillor despite more than 45 percent voting against Liberal Councillors in 2003."

To which the good people of Whickham South and Sunniside have just breathed a very large collective sigh of relief!

By the way, if Labour want to play percentages, the 45 percent also includes the Conservative vote. And of course since then the overall percentage against us in the ward has dropped to 33 percent.

And one final point, is their whinge a cry for proportional representation!?
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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Disappointingly dull - Labour in Gateshead

We do this every year - wait with interest for the first Labour leaflet of the election campaign, eagerly hoping that there will be some good knock-about stuff in it. And every year, we produce the same response - how dull can Labour get in Gateshead?

I got my hands on the Labour leaflet for Lobley Hill and Bensham yesterday. This is the ward where we cut the Labour majority last year from 900 to 92. Clearly it is top of our hit list! Though it is a glossy colour leaflet on one side, it is deadly dull. Just a list of a few things that have happened over the past year.

The Labour councillor for the ward Frank Donovan is a nice bloke. It's a bit unfortunate he is up for election this year in a ward we have targetted. Mind you, he gives more space in the leaflet to telling people he is a lifelong trade unionist, branch chair, secretary and shop steward than he does to telling people what he has done in the ward.

So without wanting to tempt fate too much, I am quietly confident we could just edge ahead in the ward.

Meanwhile, still no sign of any activity from the other parties in my ward (though expect nothing from the Conservatives).

Actually, I said earlier that Labour's election campaigns are dull every year in Gateshead. There is one exception. In 2004, they ran the vilest, nastiest, sickest campaign I have seen anywhere. Labour's vote went into meltdown in the wards where they made their sick claims. We were also accused of causing all the ills in the world, from eating babies for breakfast to causing hurricanes, death and pestilence. It was fun watching the ring leader of all that filth go down to a monumental defeat.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Putting away the winter coat

After a week at home in Gateshead, I am now heading to London. My winter coat has been put into the wardrobe. Yes, spring is definitely here!

So over the past week, I have managed to draft and print 6 councillors' annual reports, write and print 2400 letters, deliver 800 focuses, edit 19 videos for LDEG and eat a large quantity of chocolate easter eggs! So after my bit of annual leave I am looking forward to the quiet of the office!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Tory urban collapse continues

For the Conservatives, Gateshead is one of their most parched electoral deserts in the country. The last time they topped the poll in any ward in the borough was in 1992 when, in the afterglow of the general election, their one remaining councillor hung on in a ward that the previous year had gone Lib Dem and the year before that had gone Labour. It is now a very strong Lib Dem ward with the Conservatives having collapsed to the point of being so far back in 3rd place that they don't even put out leaflets at election time.

Nevertheless, somehow they always managed in the past to field a full slate of candidates. Quite where they dug the people up from is unclear. They never had any election literature and were simply flying the flag, even if no appreciable number of people noticed it. And hardly any ever turned up for the count.

But this year they have not even achieve a full slate. In one of our wards, Pelaw and Heworth, the Conservatives have failed to put up a candidate. In a second, Blaydon ward, 2 seats are up for election. The Conservatives have only one candidate.

In every ward last year the Conservatives were 3rd, 4th or 5th meaning they were, worryingly, beaten by the extremist fringe BNP (as they were in a by-election we had in one war in September last year.)

Whilst the Conservatives (and the press) talk of a Tory revival, there is no sign of it here in Gateshead or across the Tyne in Newcastle where the Conservatives stand little chance of winning any seats.

For an allegedly national political party that is the official opposition, the Tory prospects here are dire - as indeed they no doubt are in many other parts of urban Britain where frankly, as a party, they are irrelevant bystanders.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Student demo Newcastle March 2007

I filmed this in March - Lib Dem students in Newcastle protesting about students fees and an interview by Ron Beadle, Parliamentary Candidate for Newcastle North, one of our target seats, with Mat Cormack of Newcastle University Lib Dem Students.

Another Hello style photo shoot - at my niece's birthday party

Seeing as so many Lib Dem Blogs readers took such a shine to my last photo invasion of someone else's home, here's another exclusive Hello style spread of what I got up to yesterday, in the privacy of my sister's house in Newcastle. Yes, I took time out from writing and delivering Focus leaflets to celebrate my neice Lily's 4th birthday.

Andrew, my older brother, decided to adopt my camera for the afternoon so yet again, I appear in the pick of the pics. (Just in case anyone thought I was letting the side down by doing no Lib Dem related work yesterday, I did deliver 150 leaflets in Blaydon ward in the morning!)
2 Davids and a Jonathan: Dad, me and David enjoy the five minutes of direct sunshine we had yesterday in the garden.
Matthew cuts the cake for Lily (and later helps to eat it).
If it moves, get it on camera. I use my Nisis video camera to catch Lily opening all those lovely presents.

The BBC phones

I was out this morning delivering annual reports to constituents when the phone rang. It was the BBC. Was I available in an hour to do an interview with Radio Newcastle about the local elections? Thankfully I was nearly finished delivering the patch and made it back to my house to find the place looking a tip. There was no time to tidy up so when the journalist arrived, I explained that my excuse for the untidiness was the election campaign. Fortunately, he was impressed with the piles of Focus leaflets and the large number of petition replies sitting on the armchair.

I'm not sure what the excuse will be after the local elections for the untidiness of the house. I'm sure I'll think of something by them!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

My nomination is in as well

A number of bloggers have posted that their nomination papers are now in and accepted. And one or two are even returned unopposed. Not to be left behind, I suppose I had better mention that my nomination is submitted for the Liberal Democratic Republic of Whickham South and Sunniside in Gateshead. Last year my colleague Marilynn Ord got about 66%.

I can't remember who stood for the Conservatives last year (they put out no leaflets, do no work and don't turn up for the count). I guess there will be a repeat of their non-existent campaign this year. The Conservatives are, after all, dead in the water in Gateshead.

Labour are fielding the same candidate as last year. A pleasant enough chap, he'll probably get out one leaflet and hope that's enough not to get him elected!

Video Focus April 2007

This is my latest Video Focus for constituents.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Email focus wins over dinner

I had some work to do in the evening that took longer than I expected. I also wanted to get my email newsletter to constituents out this evening as well, and to ensure the link to my next video focus was included. The only problem was that the video focus wasn't ready! So I had to cancel a dinner I had planned to go to.

I shouldn't complain though as we went for lunch at the Strangers restaurant in Parliament today. This was a thank you to James Cooper, the intern for whom I have been responsible over the past three months. He leaves tomorrow though I won't be there as I will be in Gateshead.

What was missing from the video focus was the soundtrack. By 7pm tonight I still hadn't written it so I simply wrote a few notes and instead of reading a script, I talked me way through the video. In a great hurry I edited it into the video and whacked it up onto YouTube, put the link onto the email newsletter, prayed it was working and then emailed it out to nearly 800 households. I was at Westminster station when it reached my blackberry.

What it shows is that video newsletters can be put together very quickly. I'll put my latest one onto the blog tomorrow. And the unused footage is likely to find its way into the next edition which I am planning already.

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Grey squirrels - a cause of global warming

I prefer positive action that requires effort on my behalf rather than paying conscience money. So when it comes to off setting carbon emissions from flying, I like to grow trees! From scratch! Last year, to offset a flight to Cuba and another to Turkey, I collected 10 acorns and 10 conkers. The plan was to plant them, get them to grow and after a few years, get them planted in people's gardens. We did this with one conker as an experiment a couple of years ago with the result we now have a 20cm high horse chestnut tree growing in a pot.

I asked Richard to plant the acorns and conkers over the weekend in seed trays in our garden in London. This job was duely carried out, along with planting a load of runner beans as well.

Having just stepped out of the flat this morning to inspect the seed trays, all carefully positioned on the garden wall, I found that the local grey squirrels have had a feast of it. They weren't impressed with the runner beans on the menu and simply dug them up and left them scattered around. But the acorns and conkers made a fine feast and they have polished off the lot.

Grey squirrels - cute looking rats with furry tales, and regulars at the Wallace Restaurant for Fat Rodents. Back to the drawing board on carbon offsetting.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Pic posting is pick of the week

I see on Lib Dem Voice that my blog posting of the pictures I took at Chris Rennard's place was the 2nd top most followed link from Lib Dem Aggregator last week. Well, well, well. So you people are all interested in glamour and glitz! whose house could I photograph for my next "Hello" style (Stephen Tall's word) blog posting? Invites to parties should be sent to me via Cowley Street!

I seem also that Stephen Tall is recommending my posting about having more defections to us from the Conservatives than they have gained from us is worth a read. Not bad for something I rattled off on the train to Newcastle on Friday evening!

I am of course back on the train to London now, having spent the weekend writing the leaflets, delivering the leaflets and appearing in the leaflets!

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