Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Yesterday, Cameron - Conway staying put. Today, Cameron - Conway is dumped

The Derek Conway affair has just taken a sudden and interesting turn.

Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, a spokesman for Tory Leader David Cameron said, "Derek Conway has apologised fully on the floor of the House. The Whip will not be withdrawn. The proper punishment has been administered."

Today, a Tory press release crosses my desk with Cameron saying, “The usual procedure in these cases is to leave the punishment to the House of Commons authorities, however, having asked the Chief Whip to speak again to Mr Conway and having personally reflected overnight I have decided to withdraw the Conservative Whip from Mr Conway.”

Is this the fastest u-turn so far this year?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Labour donor asks to be left alone

I had a quick read of the front page of The Journal, our regional morning newspaper, before leaving the house this morning to catch the train to London. "Leave me alone" screamed the headline. And the poor victim of needless hassle from the world was...David Abrahams, not so secret donor to the Labour party and the person who kick started the Donorgate scandal.

One of the proxies who was used to transfer the cash into Labour's coffers was a constituent of mine up til 4 years ago when boundary changes transferred her estate from my ward.

Mr Abrahams is complaining about receiving begging letters from all sorts of charities, people and organisations. He is fed up with it all. Ahhhhhhh, poor thing. I don't know why these people have bothered Mr Abrahams. After all, he has demonstrated his donations are destined for an organisation many of us would find hard to describe as a good cause.

Mr Abrahams then went on to blame the government for the Donorgate scandal. All this could have been avoided had a "booklet" been produced to explain what to do and not do when handing over a sum of money to Labour that many people would not earn in a lifetime.

Whether or not such a booklet would have helped Labour's top financial bod to keep within the donation rules is another matter given he knew they were proxy donations but had been trained on the rules.

It seems as though Labour has an arrogant disregard for the rules. Rules, they believe, are for Labour to bring in and others to obey. Alan Johnson's donation story which broke over the weekend is likely not to turn out to be a story of his wrongdoing and my presumption is that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. But the Hain affair is not in the least bit innocent, the Harriet Harman donation is questionable and the Wendy Alexander donation is decidedly dodgy.

It seems all is not coming up roses in Incapability Brown's political garden.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Does this MP live in a parallel universe?

With the government having recently announced a goldplated handout to the directors and shareholders of Northern Rock to ensure the bank is a tempting, subsidised going concern ready for takeover, I thought I would take a look at what Labour MPs had to say on nationalising it. When I looked at what David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon (where I live) had to say, I was left scratching my head and wondering if he had slipped over from some parallel universe.

In the Commons debate on the Lib Dem motion calling for a temporary nationalisation of Northern Rock in December, Mr Anderson laid into nationalisation and made the most bizarre claim:

“I have a very different ideological view from that of my party's Front Benchers: their view is that public ownership is a good thing and we should have more of it.”

He then went on to attack previous nationalisations as all the state did was to take over failing businesses.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that the Labour frontbench are in favour of more nationalisation! Events seem to suggest otherwise.

Mr Anderson's sudden hostility to public ownership also seems to be at odds with so many of his own pronouncements over the years. I have kindly listed a few below for your edification:

4 October 2002: Mr Anderson said, "People who use public services and the workers who deliver those services are united in their opposition of private sector initiatives and to fat cat involvement.” (Evening Chronicle)

20 June 2003: David Anderson at Unison conference - Talked of “strong opposition to PFI and privatisation” and using “our industrial muscle” against privatisation. “There is an ever-reducing core of people in this country who still support the privatisation agenda.” (Unison press release 20 June 03)

10 Mar 2006: Called on the Government to return the train operating companies to public ownership (Early Day Motion 2005/6 1680)

30 March 2006: described privatisation of the National Probation Service in England and Wales as a fundamental misjudgement (Early Day Motion 2005/6 1907)

30 March 2006: attacks the privatisation of South Eastern Trains (Early Day Motion 2005/6 1923)

30 Mar 2006: expresses concern at the increasing trend in Government for the privatisation of public services and calls on the Government to introduce a moratorium on privatisation (Early Day Motion 2005/6 1940)

27 April 2006: opposes privatisation of search and rescue services (Early Day Motion 2005/6 2004)

16 May 2006: in debate in House of Commons, Mr Anderson calls for the renationalisation of the coal industry.

3 July 2006: co sponsor of an amendment to an Early Day Motion calling for Thames Water to be brought into public ownership (Early Day Motion 2005/6 2426A1)

14 July 2006: in House of Commons debate he attacks the privatisation of water industry

26 November 2006: in House of Commons debate he complains about privatisations of utilities by the previous Conservative government

6 December 2006: supports the rail unions and TUC campaign to keep the East London Line wholly in the public sector (Early Day Motion 2006/7 286)

6 December 2006: notes with concern that defence training is being privatised (Early Day Motion 2006/7 297)

8 January 2007: opposes outsourcing or privatisation of civil service jobs (Early Day Motion 2006/7 530)

3 May 2007: attacks the trend in government towards privatisation and wants moratorium on privatisation (Early Day Motion 2006/7 1376)

24 May 2007: co-sponsor of a Parliamentary motion attacking Lib Dem Hull council for selling shares in Kingston Communication (Early Day Motion 2006/7 1571) (the previous Labour administration had already sold off the majority of shares!)

11 June 2007: opposes the concept of privatisation of British Waterways (Early Day Motion 2006/7 1606)

20 November 2007: congratulates trade unionists taking action in opposition to privatisation of public services (Early Day Motion 2007/8 276)

There are more examples of Mr Anderson's foot-in-mouth experiences. Indeed, there are many more. They will probably be making regular appearances on this blog. Watch this space!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Hain in the Neck

So Peter Hain has resigned after failing to uphold the laws about donations the government of which he was a member introduced to clean up politics. A rather sad end to someone who, were you to rate him against some other members of the government, has a bit more talent. This is of course relative.

I get the distinct impression listening to people I know in the Labour party that Hain was not well regarded by the Labour grass roots. I was in the members' room in Gateshead Civic Centre today and I overheard one member saying that it was a poor show when Labour are broke but Hain can raise £200,000 for his own deputy leadership campaign.

The fact that a campaign costing close to the price of an average house failed so miserably suggests that Hain's support was very thin indeed amongst the ordinary Labour member. It seems his resignation has been met on his own side by relief rather than regret.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thank you Mr Brown, but what have I done to deserve this kind gift from the taxpayer?

Mr Brown's New Labour, New Capitalist government has given me a handout. Very nice of them to do so but I'm not sure why I have been given such a generous dollop of cash at the expense of the taxpayer. We are shareholders in Northern Rock and yesterday's announcement of super-goldplated absolutely-no-risk-to-shareholders and investors bond issue has certainly helped to push up the price of the shares, on a day when everything else on the stock market was heading in the opposite direction.

Why I should be a deserving case for burdening the taxpayer is beyond me. Personally, I think there are more deserving cases than me for taxpayer handouts. How about those caught in the rising number in poverty over which this government has presided, separated from the wealthy who are getting richer and richer. How about the police who have been denied their full pay rise because there aint enough money.

And if you want to argue that this is a capital rather than revenue issue, think about what £50 billion could mean to solving the affordable housing crisis. How much of the transport system could be modernised with that sort of dosh?

So thank you Mr Brown. I'm not needy but it was nice of you to be so generous to the shareholders of a failed bank, the same bank whose boss before he left towards the end of last year you were happy to hand over £25 billion in cash from the hard pressed taxpayer.

The biggest gainers from yesterday's announcement have been the hedge funds who swooped on Northern Rock when the share price crashed to Rock bottom. Now they are sitting on a tidy and substantial profit.

Mr Brown, you have certainly abandoned what slither of social conscience your party once had. Get rich quick is the new New Labour catchphrase. And getting rich quick at the expense of the taxpayer is Gordon's very own addition to the mess that Labour is now making.

As an economic liberal, I am appalled at the proposals for the state backed bonds for Northern Rock whilst it stays in the private sector. Brown has created a gigantic private sector quango, unaccountable to anyone other than its private sector owners, paid for by the taxpayer but benefitting only a lucky few.

And meanwhile Britain's social divide widens, our transport crumbles and our elderly freeze in homes they can't afford to heat and for which the state has insufficient cash to insulate.

What a shocking state of affairs.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Boys and their toys

David and I were in York over the weekend. We paid a visit to a model railway exhibition where for the price of £4 we could play the Fat Controller, pressing lots of buttons to may trains stop and go and other buttons that lit up buildings, made cars fall over the edge of roads and so on. And if that wasn't enough, we then went to the National Railway Museum to play on full scale toys! Anoraks at the ready - here are some of the photos!
I normally tell people off when they take photos of people who look tiny in the picture against a huge backdrop. I have made an exception witht he 4th picture above. That train was so huge I have the picture of me next to it just to let people see just what a big one it is.....
Seeing the Japanese bullet train sparked an interest in going to Japan. We added it to our already oversized travel list.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Junket Jones MP and those military flights

I was interested to see that one of the Labour MPs who has reported 80 Tory MPs to the Electoral Commission over the issue of declaring donations from 'patrons clubs' is Kevan Jones, member for Durham North, next to Blaydon constituency where I live in Gateshead.

Mr Jones was a Labour councillor in Newcastle before he was dropped into Durham North by the Trade Union juggernaut that runs the Labour machine in the North East. Jones was also some kind of union hack for the GMB and was a bit of an enforcer for the Labour group on Newcastle Council. I suppose it is a compliment to him to say that Labour has fallen apart in Newcastle since his departure.

The spectacular Parliamentary career that was predicted for Jones by some has not materialised. In the Commons he has reached the dizzy heights of the backbenchers. So that frees him to spend more time stirring up problems within the Durham Labour movement and to attack the Tories (not that there are many Tories in the North East to attack).

But it also leaves him time to enjoy foreign travel, much of it at the expense of the arms industry. A quick scan of his entries in the Register of Members' Interests reads more like a military catalogue and a list of foreign governments keen to buy up British weapons.

So with political warfare breaking out over the funding of both Tories and Labour, I guess Corporal Junket Jones is just the person Labour needs to send into the fray.

Can you hear the echo of "Don't panic" seeping out of the Labour camp?

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Victory and defeat rolled into one

A newspaper hoarding I have just passed on Victoria Street screamed at me "Victory for rebel shareholders" - a reference presumably to the Northern Rock meeting today. Yet as I walk into Victoria Station, I see on the Sky headlines on the huge screen "Defeat for rebel shareholders". Again, I presume it is a reference to the NR meeting.

Interesting how the same story can be so differently reported. I am not sure of the details of what was decided today at the meeting but I do know that only one of the demands of the hedge funds was agreed and the rest rejected.

Whatever the result at the meeting, it is unlikely to have much effect on the future ownership of the company. Nationalisation now looks very likely without a miracle on the financial markets.

So there will be a certain amount of humble pie consumption by the deadwood Labour backbenchers of the North East who laid into the Lib Dems last month for proposing Northern Rock nationalisation. Whether any of them will choke on that same humble pie is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, did you see Vince on Newsnight last night where Jeremy Paxman was praising our shadow chancellor to his face? And what a waste of space that useless Philip Hammond was for the Tories. Quite what the Tory position is on Northern Rock is as clear as smog.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunrise over the North East

The Monday morning chore - catching the train to London - still finds me getting up in the dark and getting to Newcastle in the dark. I am so looking forward to the start of summer when it starts to get light at 4am. But at least this time of the year I get to experience the sunrise over the North East, even if it is from the train. We have just passed Durham City. I should be in Kings Cross in just over two and a half hours. Wake me up when I arrive!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

How not to drive to the pub

I took this photo of David just before New Year when we were at his sister Sally's house in Kent. We decided to make a visit to the local village pub (for one pint only) which was a couple of km down the road. Sally's husband Michael drove me there in his car, and drove David back.

Room for only two in the car, an Astin Martin drives just a few centimetres above the ground. A rather nice car but it is terrible for increasing your carbon footprint. I'll need to plant another tree later this year to compensate.

Friday, January 11, 2008

YouTube milestone

Having reached a total of quarter of a million viewings on my YouTube videos in December, I can announce another milestone. Today, a video of mine reached 50,000 viewings for the first time.

The video on question is Copacabbana beach, Rio de Janiero. However, Former secret, Soviet submarine base, Crimea, Ukraine video is very close behind on 49,971 viewings.

The next milestone I will announce when I have reached it is half a million viewings overall.

Labour, taxpayers' money and websites

I was interested to read the post by Mark Pack on Lib Dem Voice about the use of taxpayers' money (through the Parliamentary Communications Allowance) to pay for a website by Labour's absent minded Peter Hain (it is just so easy to forget about £103,000 one has floating about). Alas, the website turned out to be a bit party political.

The rules on the use of the Communications Allowance are quite clear - party political use of the money is an absolute no-no. Sun tanned Peter was presumably too busy trying to get elected deputy Labour leader, sorry, I mean, being Northern Ireland Secretary, that he presumably didn't have time to check the rules or indeed apply even a modicum of common sense to spending taxpayers' cash.

So well done to Mark Pack, incidentally sitting at the next desk to mine in Cowley Street, for bringing this to our attention (see Hain website).

It has reminded me of a very similar incident where the Tyne Bridge Labour MP David Clelland used his taxpayer funded website to attack me personally. When I pointed out on my own blog in response that this was a rather naughty use of his Communications Allowance and that a letter was on its way from me to the House of Commons finance police, DC suddenly announced that he was no longer taking tax payers' cash to fund his internet extravaganza.

You can read the original post on: Clelland website

Labour defender of right to strike votes to...err...ban strikes

Are there 2 Labour MPs called David Anderson representing Blaydon constituency?

The first one appears to be the one who wrote and sponsored a Parliamentary motion (EDM 1648 2006/7) in July last year attacking moves by the government to end the right of prison officers to strike.

The second is the one who on Wednesday this week quietly slipped through the division lobby in the House of Commons voting to end the right of prison officers to strike.

Could the real Mr Anderson please step forward?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Photos from my recent visit to Kenya

I was in Kenya in November and Kenya (during the election campaign) for a holiday. I left before the troubles started but here are a few of my photos.

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's a long time since I did this journey

The last time I travelled to London on an earlyish Monday morning was in mid November. I have forgotten what a drag it can be to get up so early to experience dark, cold mornings and the joys of National Express operated trains, (the successor to GNER). We are passing Durham now and the sky only just has a hint of daylight.

Lack of daylight also restricted what I could do on the allotments yesterday. Getting 2 derelict allotments back into use is not the easiest of Mission Impossibles! The one I worked on yesterday belongs to our friend Glenys but she is hoping for a large amount of help from us to get it working. I spent yesterday chopping back a gigantic hedge along one side of the allotment. It was almost akin to something from Sleeping Beauty, complete with large thorns (my hands are still painful!) And probably hasn't been touched for 100 years as well. At least now however we have a good supply of logs!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Videos

I decided to take a bit of time off this evening from politics and casework to catch up with some of my video editing. I got back from Kenya 3 weeks ago (before the violence flared up). I edited 6 videos from the safari I went on to Kimana, in the shado of Mount Kilimanjaro. These are now up on YouTube and the links are below if anyone wants to see them. I've also added in a couple of links to some Kenya videos I edited last week.

I am also listening to the soundtrack to that classic film "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) by Ennio Morricone. I saw the film again on tv a few days ago and mentioned to David that if he ever saw a CD of the soundtrack, he should get it. The parcel from Amazon arrived this morning. There's efficiency for you!

The video links:
Hippos and Crocodiles
Monkeys staying at our hotel
Wart hogs
Reptiles and me covered in snakes

Friday, January 04, 2008

The wrong windscreen wipers on the track

For excuses, this one is quite original. The windscreen wipers had broken down on my train. As a result the train was turned around at Doncaster. I am now travelling backwards. Such a pity I am travelling in a carriage that contains a child that shrieks constantly with a terrifyingly shrill ear splitting decibel level that would raise the dead. And sitting a couple of seats in front of me are two guys who keep having very loud conversations in which each repeats what the other says. I think I'll go to sleep now and wake up when we get to Newcastle.
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Highlights of 2007

A bit late but here are my own highlights of 2007. Two sections: political and personal.


1)getting re-elected to Gateshead Council with the biggest vote, majority and share of the vote of any candidate in Gateshead.

2)capturing Labour’s Mugabe-style bully-boy tactics on camera and posting the result up as the “Battle of Trimdon Green” during the Sedgefield by-election. You know you want to see it again!: Battle of Trimdon Green

3)discovering there was to be no election in the autumn whilst out picking sloes near our village of Sunniside – I should have left the blackberry at home!

4)the conference vote for the Trident motion – ever so close but clinched by a last minute intervention from Ming.

5)exposing Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson for spending taxpayers’ money on a personal attack on me and my Lib Dem colleagues in Gateshead – he ended up having to repay the money!

6)experiencing Labour making complete fools of themselves in my ward over a leaflet they put out (in October when they thought there was going to be an election) attacking us (they simply made up ridiculous claims about Lib Dem run Newcastle which didn’t even have a shred of evidence to support them). The editor of the leaflet subsequently denied any knowledge of the contents of the leaflet even though his name was all over it. I’m sure we’ll be reminding everyone in the local elections in May about this, were this person to stand again!

7)enjoying the spectacle of Tyne Bridge Labour MP David Clelland announcing publicly that he has stopped using taxpayers’ money to pay for his website so that he no longer contravened the rules on MPs’ allowances, therefore allowing him to continue to use the site to attack me personally!

8)attending the announcement of Nick Clegg as the new leader. I had to fight with the other photographers to get a place at the front!

9)the shock of learning about Ming’s resignation. We only knew half an hour before it was announced on tv.

10)the Sedgefield by-election campaign.


1)in November, I welcomed the fact I have now spent half my entire life with David – 22 years!

2)safari in Kenya and seeing African elephants in the wild.

3)visiting a reptile park in Mombassa and having a number of snakes put round my neck. I have a video of this: Snakes and Lizards

4)Kayaking along the coast of Madagascar.

5)snorkeling with turtles over a coral reef on the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

6)giving my sandals away in Madagascar because they needed them more than I did.

7)giving away most of my shirts to kids who rowed out to our ship when we arrived at the island of Anjuan in the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean. They needed them more than I did!

8)buying enough spices in Zanzibar to keep us in experimental cooking for years!

9)filming wild ponies on the hills above Penmaenmawr in North Wales. Yes, there is a video: wild Welsh ponies

10)Handing on one of my videos to the London Transport Museum for use in an exhibition they were running. The video: A trip on the London Eye