Saturday, June 30, 2007

Get Carter Car Park to be demolished

The multi-storey car park in Gateshead made famous after it was used as a location in the 1972 Michael Cain "Get Carter" film classic is to be demolished. This is the video I produced for constituents about the demolition plan.

Caution: contents may be hot

I hate getting the last train out to London to Newcastle but I had little choice today, or rather yesterday. The journey starts at 10pm and is then interrupted at York where we all have to transfer to another train. I am currently on the York at Newcastle leg of the journey. Due in to Newcastle about 2am.

I have just purchased a cup of tea from the trolley. It counts as one of the worst I have ever consumed. It was barely warm. Rather laughably, the warning on the side said "Caution: contents may be hot." Hah! If only.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The curtain closes and the showman leaves the stage

Well, he has gone, and it seems only like yesterday when Blair became Prime Minister. As I write this, he is up in Sedgefield, telling them he's giving up as MP. Brown is already in place spinning a message that this is a new government and using the word "change" as if he had a large over supply of the word and its sell by date was coming up.

But today it was the curtain closing and the showman leaving the stage. Whatever my criticisms of him, I have to hand it to him that he was a star performer. The content was somewhat dodgy, largely towards the end. The performance started well 10 years ago but then went downhill in 2001.

The new person on the stage is no star performer in the sense Blair was. Brown will be hard pressed to engage in the way Blair did. He does of course have Labour's addiction to spin. Indeed, he has used spin more than most in the Labour top brass. But I am utterly unconvinced by the spin today about a new start, a change of government, and change in direction. It's nothing of the sort. He will change the people, but he will not change the culture of this government.

Nevertheless, Brown is a formidable tactician. He should not be underestimated. He may be a bully, rather dour, unconvincing when he smiles but he is atough operator, Stalin in a suit.

So whilst the Politburo is reshuffled and those who have crossed swords with him are sacked in the name of change, be ready for the political policy fireworks over the next week. And then examine them closely to see if they have as much content as they have headlines.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Oh joy, another by-election

Floods of rain, and seemingly, floods of by-elections. Well 2 to be precise as Blair now looks certain to resign as an MP tomorrow. And so, we will have a by-election in Sedgefield in my own North East backyard. Oh joy!

Flooding near Grantham June 2007

I filmed this bit of video north of Grantham as I travelled on the train through some of the areas hit by flooding.

Menzies Campbell speech to Cowley St June 07 part 2

2nd half of the audio recording I made of Ming's speech today at Cowley Street.

Ming Campbells speech 26th June 2007 part 1

First half of the audio recording of Ming's speech to Cowley Street I made today.

Pic of the flood I went through to get to London

Anyone who read my blog yesterday would have seen that I have rather a difficult journey from Newcastle to London. Instead of taking 3 hours on the train, it took 7 hours. I snapped this photo as we were approaching Grantham of some of the flooding of the track.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I got to Cowley Street at 4pm

When the train crawled into Peterborough, we were all turfed off. So we had to cross over to another platform and try to get on a train there. The first one was too full to get on. So I got one a few minutes later. The Cattle Waggon Express eventually got us into Kings Cross where we tumbled off. I bumped into Alan Beith and Diana Maddock who had been stuck on the same train, only for longer.

I got to Cowley St at 4pm, so it was over 8hours to get here.

Go and stretch your legs

That was the advice from the train guard when we arrived a few minutes ago at Newark. Flooding ahead of us is still extensive. Leg stretching suggests we will be here for some time.

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When I said thank goodness for late trains......

I didn't mean it quite like this. I am stuck on the train at Retford. There is flooding near Grantham. Trains are queuing up to go through the affected areas which also have a 5mph speed limit - meaning it would be quicker to walk (or swim)!

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Thank goodness for late trains

It took half an hour to get through the new traffic lights at the top of Lobley Hill, the next town along from my village of Sunniside, this morning. So we were very late getting into Newcastle to catch the train to London. Thank goodness for late running trains. Mine was supposed to leave at 8.30am. It left at 8.38am.
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Saturday, June 23, 2007

The inspiration for Saxon

Where did the makers of Dr Who get the inspiration for Prime Minister Saxon (aka the Master) from? Any living person spring to mind?

And what a stroke of genius to bring back the Master and Captain Jack at the same time in last week's episode. I'm in Dr Who heaven!

Labour talks up BNP vote

The Dunston and Teams by-election in Gateshead is underway and Labour's strategy for holding onto the ward is to talk up the BNP vote.

I have just picked up the Labour leaflet in which the Labour candidate Gary Haley (who holds the record in the Gateshead Labour party for being defeated the most times at the polls - currently running at 5) claims "Not voting, or voting LibDem or Conservative could let the extremist BNP is."

The claim is of course absolute rubbish. The BNP are third on the ward and even though it has been their top target in the North East, their performance there has been poor. The BNP are a busted flush in the ward. Their candidate from previous elections has thrown in the towel and their hopes of a breakthrough have been dashed.

We are in 2nd place in this ward which in most circumstances is strongly Labour. So Labour should not have to be talking up the vote of the fascist fringe to hold on. There are 2 main reasons why Labour are resorting to this tactic. Either the Labour party are just plain stupid or they really are concerned about their vote. Perhaps they have looked at the abysmal polling record of their candidate and seen how he has a tendency to cause the Labour vote to slip and the Lib Dem vote to rise!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Video shoot tomorrow

Making visits around my ward or neighbouring wards in Gateshead to check out problems or issues is something I have done regularly in my 20 years as a councillor. But tomorrow we are doing one with a difference. Through our email newsletter to residents, we announced we are to do a tour of central Whickham on Saturday morning, but we asked people to email me with suggestions as to the locations to visit and the reasons why. I finished gathering the replies today and as a result, we are having to split into three groups (there are 9 Lib Dem Councillors representing Whickham so we can split up the visits between us). The problem will come with videoing the visits. The plan was originally one walkabout which we would video. The video would then be linked to our email newsletter for residents to see. We would also send copies to the appropriate officers in Gateshead Council. But with only one cameraman and one camera, we aint going to be able to cover every walkabout as they are all happening at the same time. Learning point: instead of giving us half an hour before a surgery to do a walkabout, give ourselves half a day!

We all gather at the same point at 9.30am tomorrow so filming that will be easy and we will meet at the end at the same point. We may have to revisit some of the locations with the camera later on. It's all a bit of an experiment but hopefully it will work.

Sitting on the train now heading up to Newcastle from London now, I have to write the introduction to the video. We only need about 20 seconds so "writing it" may come down to jotting down a few notes and memorising them. Otherwise, everything else will have to be ad lib.

And if this little experiment in using video to communicate with constituents is a success, we will do more of it.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

It upsets Labour more than Lib Dems!

I have previously argued that the so called offer of government posts to the Lib Dems by Brown was little more that an attempt to spin a story by some Brownites that their guy is a nice, cuddly, consensus politician wanting to rid the country of tribal politics. The events of today make me feel even more justified in making the claim.

It also shows that Brown, like Blair, has little concern for his party members. Whilst some Labour activists I have the dubious pleasure of encountering are duplicitous wanabees who have little to offer the world (they view the Labour party as a way of getting on in life) they nevertheless must be feeling their unelected leader Generalisimo Brown has no time for them. They have not been consulted on a significant proposal for their party to enter what was effectively a coalition, when no coalition is needed - Labour after all has a clear working majority.

If I were a Labour member, and I thought Brown was being serious in the offer to the Lib Dems, I would be wondering what the hell the Leader was up to. Indeed, I have heard that today from one Labour member myself. And you can imagine what the old Labour dinosaurs in the Labour Jurassic Park in the North East are thinking as well. Much of it would be unpublishable!

And whilst I thiink our own system that we as a party have to go through to agree a coalition is madly byzantine and gruesomely slow, I still accept some need for the leader to take the party with him. Yet over in the Labour Party Generalisimo Brown treats his troops with contempt.

Mind you, pity poor Peter Hain. Well at least spare him a thought even if you can't bring yourself to pity him. He wakes up this morning to find Brown has offered his job to Paddy Ashdown!

And finally, how will all this play with the electorate? Frankly, not too badly for us. We can show everyone wants us! Cameron wants us, at least in London, to get rid of Not So Red Ken. And now Gordon wants us as well. So if our opponents want us what about the voters?!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Cowley Street jam war breaks out again!

The seasonal jam war in Cowley Street has broken out, coinciding with the first crops of fruit. The story so far: friendly competition took place last year between myself and Linda Seekings, wife of Gordon from Membership Services, to win the affections of colleagues by providing home made jam in the Cowley St kitchen. .
Staff were treated to a huge array of the usual and downright obscure from the world of jam. War weary staff were forced to choose between 6 or 7 different types of jam at the same time to have on their toast in the morning.

This year the jam war is being repeated. This week, my gooseberry and elderflower jam went into battle with Linda's loganberry. But I introduced an unexpected secret weapon into the jam war by bringing in home made elderflower pancakes! So first round in the war end with a win for me with not only jam for the Cowley Street masses, but also something to spread it on!

The Parliamentary Team however demanded their piece of the action and after emails were sent complaining no jam was being delivered to the kitchens in the House, I brought in an extra jar for he who made the most noise, a certain Mr Norman Lamb MP. He even paid up a couple of quid for a jar of gooseberry and elderflower. I could keep my local party funds afloat on jam!

My next jam venture is to make gooseberry and cherry jam. The plan was to make it tonight but that seems unlikely now. I'll do it tomorrow. I also have a large amount of mint growing as well. Will make a rather nice jelly. And that will go well with Lamb!
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Cabinet seats and spin

So much for Gordon Brown wanting to end the culture of spin. The real Brown oozes out of his every pore. So today we have the well spun story, originating in the Brown camp, that General Secretary Stalin Brown is offering Ming places in his politburo once he gets the keys to the Downing St Kremlin.

This is spun to make him look inclusive in contrast to the real Stalin Brown who no doubt has already drawn up the list of internal enemies due for the show trial and the Gulag.

The reality is that politicians of different parties have meetings all the time to discuss issues and how to progress them. Councillors do it at a local level, MPs and ministers at a national level. It is common knowledge that Ming and Brown regularly talk shop. After all, they represent constituencies from the same neck of the woods.

So it is good to see that Ming, backed up by Ed Davey, has said a firm "no" to seats in government, whatever that means (presumably a reference to seats in cabinet).

But beware of Brown spin and the Stalinist style of government. He is the worst offender for spinning, rehashing and exaggerating. He is a bully and hates colleagues opposing him. But don't just take my word for it:

Telegraph, Leader, 12th May 2007
Mr Brown is no spin. For 10 years, he has produced gimmicky budgets, triple-announced spending, hired devious spokesmen. His promise of collective government sits a little oddly with his for-me-or-against-me approach to getting the leadership.

Independent, Andrew Grice, 12th May 2007
New Gordon’s most striking phrase was to say he wanted to lead a government “humble” enough to know its place. It is not a word some bruised cabinet colleagues associate with him.

Observer, Andrew Rawnsley, 13th May 2007
Cabinet colleagues laugh cynically and scan the skies for squadrons of flying pigs when they hear Gordon Brown pledging to run a ‘humble’ government that seeks ‘consensus’. Humility and consensuality have not been the hallmarks of the way he [Brown] has treated his colleagues over the past decade.

Sunday Times, 13th May 2007
A Cabinet member said of Brown, “The man is impossible to deal with in government. He’s rude, rants at colleagues and doesn’t like people arguing with him. Ministers have found decisions get made without them knowing and then handed down to them by officials.”

Independent, Bruce Anderson, 14th May 2007
Mr Brown would have another problem if he were to claim that the era of spin and deceit was at an end. He is a master spinner and he had his dabs all over the first New Labour lie. With the possible exception of the dodgy dossier and the 45-minute claim, the Pulitzer Prize for spinning ought to go to Gordon Brown, because of his record over 11 budgets.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A few photos from the past couple of weeks

It's the jam making season and Cowley St are expecting a regular supply. So we cropped all the rhubard from the allotment to make 27 jars of rhubard and ginger jam. Later I picked 3 kg of gooseberries from the allotment to make 13 jars of gooseberry and elderflower jam.
We've restocked our pond with goldfish.
My aunt Carol was over from New Zealand so the Family went out for dinner. That's my accommodation sorted in New Zealand. The problem now is finding the time to go!
David fell asleep after a long day in the allotment. Freda, our cat, decided to use him as a bed!
The allotment itself. As you can see, having just taken it on, it needs a great deal of work doing to it!

No change in Newcastle by-elections

A double by-election was held in the Newcastle ward of Wingrove on Thursday with both Labour and Lib Dems defending a seat. The contest was a hang over from the local elections when the death of a Green Party candidate caused the election to be deferred.

The by-election resulted in no change.

The double vacancy was caused by our one councillor in the ward resigning due to a change in job. The ward itself has a bit of a mixed history. Until the late 1980s it was strongly Conservative buth then went Labour. During the 1990s and early 2000s it was safely Labour. As with so much of the North East, the Conservatives have made no recovery at all and are reduced to the margins.

In 2004, when Labour collapsed in Newcastle, the Lib Dems took the top seat but the other 2 stayed Labour. In 2006, Labour were defending and held on with a majority of only 37 over us. Labour were assisted this time by the fact it was a by-election. That meant the fringe parties such as the Greens and Conservatives were able to put more effort into the ward. It also meant Labour were able to throw in all their weight. Their campaign was helped by the fact their defending councillor is high profile.

That wasn't enough however for Labour to take our seat. Labour came first and third, we were 2nd and 4th.

In what is politically a mixed ward, this will make for an interesting contest next year.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

BNP candidate throws in towel

Here in Gateshead, for the 2nd time in less than a year, we are facing a by-election in the Dunston and Teams ward, the BNP's top target in the North East. They are not having too good a time of it however. Their candidate from the last 2 local elections and last year's by-election has thrown in the towel.

He has been replaced in the ward by their candidate who stood in the neighbouring Lib Dem held Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward where she got a derisory 5% in May. Indeed, she was even beaten by the Conservatives (though only by 5 votes). Given that there is a tendency for the Conservatives to come 4th behind the BNP in Gateshead, this result was therefore quite an achievement.

Also making an appearance in this by-election as the Labour candidate is a certain Mr Gary Haley. This person was the self-styled champion of Whickham South and Sunniside from 2002-4 when he fought my ward. He spectacularly performed an amazing demolition job on his party's vote in 2004 when he ran a shrill and hysterical campaign against the Lib Dems, blaming us for just about every disaster that has ever afflicted the planet. His reward was a collapse in his vote from 1800 to just 900.

2 years later Mr Haley re-appeared as the self-styled champion of Dunston Hill and Whickham East, another Lib Dem held ward which was created mainly from a safe Labour ward in 2004. It counted as a gain for us in that year though the majority was marginal. Mr Haley's actions and claims in the ward have been outstandingly successful in helping us to increase our majority in the ward in 2006 and 2007. In 2004 our majority was 130. This year it was 520.

So Mr Haley is making his 6th attempt to get on the council, this time as the Labour by-election candidate for Dunston and Teams. In May Labour won the ward with 55%. He is therefore the front runner.

Clearly Labour are struggling to find quality candidates who have an interest in the community to which they aspire to represent.

I delivered our leaflet this morning in part of the ward. Front page included a photo of Mr Haley conceding defeat at the count for Dunston Hill and Whickham East in May. It was taken from the video I filmed of the declaration. It was the same video Mr Haley sought to have removed from my blog. It's still there for everyone to enjoy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One of those moments of despair

I have had a moment of despair today in Gateshead. Labour councillors should hold their heads in shame after voting against a planning application that would have secured the future of the post office in Sunniside, the village where I live and which I represent on Gateshead Council.

The Bank of Ireland want to install a 24 hour, free to use cash machine at the front of the Post Office. It will be the only one in the village. I handed a 240 signature petition into the council in favour of it. The application is well within the planning policies of the council on supporting small town centres, tackling social exclusion and supporting post offices (the Bank would pay rent to the branch for siting the machine there).

The only objection was from the Council's own engineers who opposed it because it was next to a pedestrian crossing.

I spoke at the planning meeting this morning in favour of the application and took with me Paul Mein, Sunniside's post master who spoke for it as well.

The vote split along party lines. 7 Labour against, 5 Lib Dem in favour and one honourable Labour member in favour as well.

Even the officers were talking about their recommendation to refuse being an "on balance" one. It was clearly one where a bit of judgement is needed. But Labour opted instead for the heavy handed and over zealous imposition of a rather nebulous road safety point which is not a problem at the moment - the Post Office is a news agent and there is no parking problem currently with people pulling up in their cars to nip in to buy a paper. With the pedestrian crossing outside the shop, it would be extremely difficult to park there anyway and a few bollards would solve the problem if there was a parking problem developing there (which is highly unlikely.)

So much for Labour supporting post offices. The first opportunity they have to let a branch develop business that would secure its future and they kick it out.

And it is a bizarre ruling that a business on a front street of a community can't be allowed to develop for fear of attracting people to use it. We live in a mad world.

And I still feel very angry about this decision.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Good Life in Gateshead

Next year, our aim is to grow as much of our food as possible. And if we don't grow it, we aim to pick it wild. That is the intention anyway. It's our bid to cut down our carbon footprint. So we now have one and a half allotments which we need to get ready. They are quite a size and need quite a bit of work doing on them. Nevertheless, we have made a start.

One, admittedly small, corner has over the past 2 weekends, been dug over. We have planted onions, leaks, cauliflowers, strawberries and gooseberries. And I have dusted down my wildfoods cookbook which I haven't used for a while.

We have already had our first crops which, I have to confess were already growing on the allotments: last week I pick 6kg of rhubarb and the weekend just gone 3kg of gooseberries. Cowley St colleagues are now enjoying the first jars of jam to be made from these crops. We now have a stock of 27 jars of rhubard and ginger jam and 12 jars of gooseberry and elderflower. I suspect the jars I put in the Cowley st fridge will not last long. (Past experience suggests 2 days!)

So if David and I are doing a Geordie version of the Good Life, we haven't yet decided which of us is Tom and which is Barbara! We don't yet have a Margo and Gerry! Volunteers would be appreciated!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Rennard BBQ video and a few more pics

Seems as though you can't get enough of the Rennard BBQ with the blog having had an unusually large number of visits over the past couple of days to view the photos. So why not view the video as well: Chris Rennard BBQ

And how about a few more photos? Enjoy!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

And a few more Rennard BBQ photos

5 more and you can have some more tomorrow.

Exclusive photos from the Rennard party

You've all been waiting for them so here are the first 5 photos from last night's BBQ bash at the stately home of the Lord and Lady Rennard in Stockwell. More to follow!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

At the Rennard summer party

Well, here I am at the Rennard summer BBQ. Exclusive photos and video to follow over the next day or so.
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Friday, June 01, 2007

A belated entry about Newsnight

I normally avoid watching Newsnight but I was more or less required to watch it last night as Richard wanted to sit through it - and frankly there was a distinct absence of anything else vaguely worth watching.

Sarah Teather put in one of her best performances and she certainly earned her right to be the party's representative on future editions of the programme.. But Caroline Spelman was all over the place and exhibited a shocking ignorance of history with her claims about Churchill not going abroad during the 2nd WW. Perhaps he had a lookalike attending Casablance, Washington, Cairo, Tehran and so on, but what staggered me more was the failure of the historian sitting next to her, Simon Sharma, to pick her up on her monumental historical gaff.

Still, watching her struggle to sell the Tories' latest u-turn on grammar schools was one of the most entertaining episodes of the evening. Back in Margaret Thatcher's days as education secretary, she wouldn't have taken all this nonsense and gobsh*t about demographics. She would have just closed down the gramar school and replaced it with a comprehensive!

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