Friday, February 29, 2008

So much for National Express booking system

I am not impressed with the on line booking system for tickets on National Express trains. The website allows passengers to book types of seats on their trains. I always book airline window seats. Having just got on the 12 minutes late 9pm train from KX to Newcastle, I find I am on a table seat. This is not the first time the National Express system has screwed me up.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Well done Marks and Spencer

In the dim and distant past I was a manager with Marks and Spencer. I didn't get very high up in the chain of command before I moved on to work elsewhere, but it looks good on a CV!

I was reminded of my past employers when I woke up to the news from GMTV (not my favourite programme but someone has to watch it!) M and S, it was announced, are to charge 5p per carrier bag in their stores.

Putting aside all the memos we had from M and S HQ when I worked for them, calling on staff to discourage excessive use of carrier bags (to save on costs), this move by the company is to be welcomed. The move is designed, at least in public, as an environmental policy and if, as I hope it will, it leads to far fewer carrier bags being used only once and then dumped, that is an important step forward.

There are of course business benefits as well. Carrier bags are an overhead for retailers. Reducing such overleads increases profitability of the business. I'm sure M and S shareholders, ahem, will welcome that!

So hopefully this will turn into an example of how environmental good practice can make profitable commercial good sense as well.

Another feature on GMTV today was about bottled water. This stuff is hugely environmentally damaging. Tap water is fine to drink. It has to be. That is a regulatory requirement. Tap water is also locally sourced. Bottled water is hugely environmentally damaging, is shipped often from thousands of miles away, and produced a huge amount of waste packaging in the form of plastic or glass bottles, which themselves took up vast quantities of resources to make.

British tap water is amongst the best in the world. It's so good, what we use to flush the loo is good enough to drink!

So start using tap water for drinking and stop being ripped off for overpriced, environmentally damaging and unnecessary bottled water!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'm on camera duty at conference

I notice that Stephen Tall on Lib Dem Voice has dubbed me words to the effect of the "Hello" magazine photographer of the Lib Dem blogosphere. This proved to be not quite the Tall story it could otherwise have been, after today, that is.

My original planning for spring conference scheduled in two photo ops for candidates and campaigners. That got bumped up to three following a request by the Campaigns Dept. Then after discussions with the Leader's office, the number of photo ops went up to 4. All of these are scheduled for Saturday 8th March.

Then a couple of weeks ago, when I was working at home, Conference Office called me to ask me to photograph a reception and the rally on the Friday evening, 7th March.

Then today, I found I am covering, at least in part, the Leader's tour of the exhibition area. And for good measure, Deidre, who edits Lib Dem News, arrived at my desk this afternoon and booked me in to cover much of what was left of conference!

The power of photographs! So memo to self: remember to take camera recharger and back up batteries!

And watch out Stephen, more exclusive Hello style photos coming your way in the near future!

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Breakneck speed up Victoria Street

I left it rather tight, leaving Cowley St tonight. I left briefcase, cameras etc in the office but took with me a reused carrier bag containing an envelope of press cuttings - sorting them is my job for tonight - 2 novels by Harry Turtledove and 2 empty cava bottles I need for champagne making.

As I got to Victoria St, I realised that to get the 8.17pm train, I had to run at breakneck speed. Overcoat unbuttoned and shoes clattering along the pavement sounding like clogs, I managed to get to the train station with a minute to spare.

Then I remembered the train was at 8.22, not 8.17. And it was late. Bloody typical.

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Let Cowley St cake eat cake

Well, it's my usual Monday morning blog from the train. So after a weekend of writing, printing and delivering Focuses, visiting constituents and hedge trimming on the allotment, what can I report? For Cowley St colleagues I have great news! You will be eating cake!

For the uninitiated, here's the story about what happened. In the new openplan office into which the Communications team was moved a couple of months ago, office conversations and chitchat now involve a larger number of people than previously. So during a discussion last week, involving the use of my now famous (for HQ staff) jam, I inadvertently suggested we could do with one of the chocolate and banana cakes that David occasionally makes. Following some extreme pressure from colleagues (three polite requests and the bribe of a mug of tea) I agreed to volunteer David's cookery services for the benefit of colleagues.

So the cake is currently sitting in a box on the rack above my head here on the train. My best guess is that it won't last longer that lunchtime. So, to colleagues, get the plates ready! See you in a few hours.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Give children cheap sweets – Labour MP

This has to be a classic gaff from the ranks of Labour’s backbenchers. Step forward Sharon Hodgson MP, recently dumped by Labour as their candidate for Gateshead constituency.

Last year, Sharon had a good idea. Clearly, this was an historic event in its own right so I made a note of her grand plan and, I have to confess, I did rather like it, even if the cost of it is sky high.

Her proposal was to give all school children healthy, free school meals in a bid to tackle obesity and poor health. There is a “need to tackle obesity, promote skills and change lifestyles” she told the Commons on 13th November.

I wouldn’t go as far as pouring scorn on the parents who fed pizza to their kids as she did but her point about poor diet was a reasonable one. Sharon, nevertheless, was clearly on a crusade. As she wrote in, “I see it as part of my responsibility as an elected representative to promote policies which could benefit children's health…”

So I find it rather strange that having promoted healthy diets, she’s now whinging about the price of sweets and confectionery being too high. Okay, her attack is about the price paid when visiting cinemas, but how she squares her call for cheap sweets with her previous call for healthy lifestyles for children is something I definitely want to see.

Sugary Sharon has proposed an early day motion which attacks the cimema chains for charging too much for the sweets, pop corn, ice creams, pizzas, cokes and other foods and drinks that no one going to the cinema is forced to buy. EDM 983 goes on to put the boot in to the cinemas for having the effrontery to remove people who have brought along their own healthy alternative of teeth rotting sweets and cola.

So, in a matter of 3 months, Sharon has swung from Fight-the-Flab Crusader to Marie-Antoinette Let-Them-Eat-Cake (and sweets and cola) guerilla fighter. I suspect she has been eating too many of those sweets the House of Commons shop sells. What are they called? Let me think…..oh yes, I remember, Parliamentary Humbugs!

By the way Sugary Sharon, what is your next crusade going to be about? How about this? Look at all those restaurants charging a fair whack for a bottle of wine. Why not have a campaign to force lower prices!? Or you could attack restaurants for refusing to let people bring their own wine. In fact, Sugary Sharon, go the whole hog, and attack restaurants for not letting people bring in their own food as well!

I doubt however that Sugary Sharon will be eating much at the moment. With both feet in her mouth, I doubt there will be room for anything else!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Inky fingers

I have just got back from the Blaydon constituency Lib Dem office having just printed 2 leaflets for a nearby local party and two for Blaydon constituency, one of which is for my own ward! Blessedly free of printing hitches so I am back earlier than expected, despite a queue for the machine. Cllr Chris Ord was there when I got to the office printing his own ward focus. Still, despite the hitch free evening, I still manage to come back with ink stains on my fingers that no effort of scrubbing will remove. Past experience suggests they will be gone by Wednesday.

So I am back at the pc now, a glass of apple brandy next to me to help the evening go easier and a Frank Sinatra CD playing in the background. This of course means that I am writing more Focus leaflets, and perhaps I will edit a few more videos after dinner.

But back to the grind now....

BTW - when I blogged a couple of weeks ago that I had just finished a delivery in a target ward, a political opponent posted up a comment asking me which ward I had been working in. Not unexpectedly, I replied that he could ask but otherwise wouldn't get the information he was seeking. After all, I know this blog is read by two Labour MPs, a splattering of Labour members, some people of unsavoury political leanings (at least to my point of view) and, on at least one occasion, a Tory shadow cabinet member (don't ask me how I know that!)

So for your edification, I was out again today in a target ward in Gateshead this afternoon, delivering a survey. You can ask which ward it was. The clue is, it's somewhere in Gateshead. And that's all you're getting.....

Friday, February 22, 2008

When "hostility" to nationalisation means being in favour of it

Another day goes by. And so does another posture from David Anderson, the "working class" former Unison big knob who now trots about Westminster as Labour MP for Blaydon.

Mr Anderson was a fan of nationalisation. Rail, coal, utilities, and plenty of others I can mention and he's called for them to be nationalised in the past.

On 19th November last year, he praised Unison members for "taking action in opposition to privatisation, marketisation and cuts in our public services". Then later the same day he laid into the Liberal Democrats who were by then supporting nationalisation of Northern Rock.

On 12th December he voted against nationalisation of the bank. Let's be charitable and describe his speech as erratic and his claims as unusual on that day. Nevertheless, he put the boot into the government, claiming:

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.

Well, that's pretty clear to me. He thinks the government is too much in favour of public ownership. So any attempt to nationalise Northern Rock, clearly ran counter to the heartfelt beliefs of Dave New Labour New Capitalist Anderson. His views may have been different to those he had in the morning but perhaps he simply saw the error of his ways over lunch.

So, in the morning he is for public ownership, in the afternoon he is hostile to it.

Mr Anderson however had spun around yet again by February. Now he's in favour of nationalising Northern Rock after all. Well, at least that's what we assume as he voted for it earlier this week.

He has, however, kept very quiet about this. Nothing on his website about his double u-turn. No public statements. No deeply forensic and analytical Commons speeches about the structural weaknesses of the financial services sector. No, this time he is keeping his head down.

But where's the fun in that? So come on Dave, say something and keep us entertained!

Hold on, what's this!? Just arrived - an email from a worker in Mr Anderson's office. This email is to Peter Maughan, Lib Dem candidate in Blaydon. Peter emailed Capitalist Dave on Sunday to urge him to overcome his hostility to nationalising Northern Rock and to back taking it into temporary public ownership. Here's the reply:

I can confirm that he [Mr Anderson] supported the Government's actions re Northern Rock. Contrary to your comments he was not "hostile" to nationalisation in December but was determined that every avenue should be explored before taking such action.

Funny way to show he was not hostile! I guess we are now back to Socialist Dave.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brian Paddick in marathon running gear - exclusive photos

I did some photos and video for the Brian Paddick campaign yesterday. He's running the London Marathon and was out training - and challenging Ken and Boris to do the Marathon as well! So here are a few of the pics.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What will be more entertaining?

Having just got onto my (late) train to London, I can now contemplate the day ahead. The same journey to Westminster will be made by Labour MPs who, up til yesterday were vociferously arguing that public ownership of Northern Rock would spell the end of western civilisation as we know it. But today is a different day. So today they will argue something else, probably something along the lines of "nationalising Northern Rock will save western civilisation etc". As I said yesterday, it will be quite an experience watching these non entities eating humble pie as they try to tell everyone that when they said they were completely, absolutely, irrevocably against nationalising Northern Rock, that was clearly a message they were all in favour. Next time you hear a Labour whinger falsely claiming Lib Dems duplicity, just point the drooling Labour hypocrite in the direction of Northern Rock.

The second entertaining story we will experience today will be the court drama of the Diana inquest. Muhammed Al Fiyed will be giving "evidence" to back up his fantasies that Diana was bumped off by MI6 on the orders of the Duke of Edinburgh. As far as conspiracy theories goes, this rates alongside the claims that the moon landings were fake, the Titanic was never sunk (didn't you know it was a damaged sister ship, the Olympic, that was sent to the bottom to claim the insurance!?) and 9/11 was a plot by the CIA.

So much entertainment coming up today!

Anyway, my arms are feeling a bit strained after spending 4 hours in the allotment over the weekend. So, as usual, wake me up when I get to London.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hitting the Rocks - the inevitable decision to nationalise

After months of indecision, fed by their fear about their own past, the government has bowed to the inevitable and has announced that Northern Rock will, after all, be taken into public ownership.

The dithering over this has been incredible. The struggle by Brown and Darling to find an alternative to public ownership was doomed from the start. The writing on Northern Rock was all over the wall in the autumn. The Chancellor and Prime Minister could read it but still they chose to ignore it. This is a government that is suffering from creeping paralysis.

But what about all those backwoods (deadwood?) Labour MPs from the North East who put on a veritable display of histrionics in November and December in which they laid into the whole idea of nationalising the Rock?

Watch them eat humble pie over the next few days. No doubt they will need lashings of Brown sauce to hide its bitter taste.

Celebrating in the Cowley St Campaigns Dept - exclusive photos

Okay, not a celebration of the recent well-deserved thrashing of Labour in the Leyton by-election, but a knees up for Sarah Morris who has just completed 10 years working for Cowley Street. Meanwhile, youngster Andrew Reeves, the man behind Brian Paddick's campaign, was beginning life as a 40 year old. Long time to go before I reach that milestone (not!). Anyway, inevitably I was on hand to take the exclusive photos. Here are the carefully censored ones.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A good media day

Just back from doing Tyne Tees TV about the Angel of the North, from the site itself. I had a look at the video when I got home. It seemed to go okay. Just listening to the Radio Newcastle article about the Angel. I recorded a bit for it last Friday.

It has been quite a successful media day. I had a 2 page spread in the Evening Chronicle with the photos I took of the Get Carter car park. And I also had a bit about it in the Journal this morning. Meanwhile one of my press releases got Peter Maughan, our Parliamentary candidate for Blaydon, on the front page of the local free newspaper. And our regional Sunday tabloid, Sunday Sun, has interviewed me about eco towns and wants to take a photo of me at one of the suggested sites.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Photos to the press

I am on the train heading back to Newcastle having spent some time this afternoon emailing some of the photos I took of the "Get Carter" car park last Friday. I sent out a news release last night about the video I filmed. The result was a phone call at lunchtime from the Evening Chronicle, our regional newspaper, who were interested in the photos as well. I'm hoping they'll carry some of them soon.

I am heading home early as I am doing a live interview with Tyne Tees TV for the evening regional news about the Angel of the North statue which is celebrating its 10th birthday. I guess I had better think of some amusing, off the cuff remarks!

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City Fox

I walked up Victoria St this morning, heading to Westminster. As I arrived at Westminster Abbey, a fox ran out across the road, successfully negotiating the traffic and heading towards the QE Conference Centre.

At first I was surprised to see a fox in the heart of Westminster. But there again, the place must be a treasure trove of food for them. All those pigeons and rats. And of course, all that food that people so carelessly throw away.

Coincidentally, I saw a fox outside my house in the London suburbs last night. I wonder whether we will get any in our garden in Gateshead? We have an occasional visit from a hedgehog but no foxes yet.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Frost and mist

It was just starting to get light this morning when I got up. It was only when we left the house that we found the place was frosted up. Sunniside is on top of a hill so as we drove out of the village and down Watergate Bank, we hit the mist that was filling the Tyne and Teams Valleys. When we went past the Dunston Rocket block on the A1, we could see the top half of the building hovering above the mist with the bottom half buried deep in the mist. It would have made a good photo but the camera was packed away in my camera bag, and would have needed a nimble pair of hands to get hold of it and attach the lens in the few seconds it took to drive past the building.

I am now on the train heading to London. It will be a short week there. I am coming home on Wednesday evening as I am on the Tyne Tees evening news on Thursday about the Angel of the North statue, which is celebrating its tenth birthday.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Get Carter" car park - exclusive video from the top!

I was allowed up the soon to be demolished "Get Carter" multi-storey car park (so-called as it had a staring role in the cult film alongside Michael Caine) on Friday to take photos and video the building. Demolition will take place in the next few weeks so the fantastic view will be gone soon. The upper storeys have been closed to the public for a number of years. I made it to the top. Here's the video.

What a lovely day for delivering Focus

I have just finished delivering 250 Focus newsletters in one of our target wards. I am just heading back home now. What a gloriously sunny day. Perfect Focus delivery weather! My next job when I get home is to head off to the allotment and do some more back breaking work. I'll either be dead or super fit by the end of this!

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Interesting Reading Habits of Train Passengers.

Just spotted in the reflection of the window that the person a couple of seats away from me on the train is reading "The Strange Death of David Kelly" by a certain Norman Baker MP. I'm actually reading Harry Turtledove's 'End of the Beginning', the second novel in the alternative history series about a Japanese occupation of Hawaii in the Second World War.

Speaking as an historian.........As for which of the two books being read on the train is closer to real rather than alternative history.......
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Returning home early

I am on the train heading home, thankfully leaving London a day earlier than normal. Tomorrow I have been booked in to do an interview with BBC Radio Newcastle about the Angel of the North, which celebrates its 10th birthday next week.

But as we remember the building of one monster size construction, we note the imminent demise of another in Gateshead. The infamous Gateshead Multi-Storey Car Park, made famous by the classic cult film "Get Carter" is due to be demolished soon. Tomorrow morning I am due to take photos and video of the area that has been closed to the public for some years. The building itself is falling down and the restaurant at the top (it was never used for anything but the plan was that a restaurant would be installed there when the car park was built at the end of the 60s) is very out of bounds. Pity, as I was hoping to get some pictures of it for the historical records. I will be donating a copy of all the photos and video I will be taking to Gateshead Council.

And after that, I have my sights set on the Rocket Block, another monstrosity from the same period as the car park, and also due to be redesigned as rubble. It is a huge tower block but most of the flats in it are unoccupied. Big grey concrete, and like the car park, it reminds me of so many of the buildings I have seen in parts of the former Soviet Union. When I was in Minsk a few years ago, they were still building in the same Stalinist, grey monolithic style.

The Rocket (named as such because it looks like, would you believe it, a rocket!) does however have spectacular views of the Tyne and Team valleys. Some photos and viideo from there would be useful.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The cheapest meal I have ever bought comes at a price

I left the office in Cowley Street at about 9.15pm and called into Sainsburys on Victoria Street to get something for dinner. It was the cheapest dinner I have ever bought. For 59p I bought a bag of bagels, a bag of pork sausages and an onion. I am not a vegetarian but I rarely buy meat when in London. Meat production is more environmentally damaging than non meat production. Animal welfare is not what it should be. So I largely cut out meat when in London, though I make the occasional foray into the meat menu when eating out. But at 19p for eight sausages, I let the strict regime slip for once.

As I left the shop I was asked by a rough sleeper for some money for a cup of tea. I ended up giving him all my spare change, which came to more than my shopping bill. There again, a cup of tea in London is not cheap. It was only a couple of minutes later that I thought it would have been a good idea to give him some of the bagels I had bought. I had six in total. I didn't need that many. Too late to go back.

So when I got back to the flat I fried 4 sausages and sat down to watch BBC News 24. And there was a feature about intensively reared chickens suffering poor welfare because they grow too quickly for their legs to hold their weight. It reminded me again why I have cut down on meat. Cheap food comes at a price.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

MP's website entry suddenly disappears

Yesterday I blogged about the appearance in our regional press of the story of how Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson had taken two completely contradictory positions within the space of two days on foreign footballers coming to the UK. I also pointed out that his own website explained why, in his own words, he was "facing both ways at the same time". I rather like the term he used and suggested in my blog that the wording may find its way into future publications by me.

Alas, following this, Mr Anderson has rather quickly removed the article from his website. The problem for Dave is - the damage has already been done! Anyway Dave, thanks for the line on this one. You'll see it on literature going out in your constituency soon!

Monday, February 04, 2008

It's not daylight yet

It was dark when I got up this morning. My arms and legs were suffering from the hard work we put in on the allotment over the weekend. But I caught a couple of minutes of BBC Breakfast just after 7am in which the presenter made some comment about the spring arriving early and it already being daylight in London.

Well, it wasn't daylight on Tyneside (just wait til summer arrives - we have much longer days up north!) As for spring arriving early, it didn't feel like that on Saturday when we slithered about the allotment in the snow, or Sunday when I had to be heavily wrapped up to go out leafletting in one of our target wards.

I even took a print run back to my house on Saturday from our office to dry it off in the warmth before returning it to the office in the evening to print the back page.

I am of course now on the train heading to London with the sun streaming in through the window. As usual, wake me up when we get to Kings Cross.

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MP's own goal hits the press

Last week I wrote about the Labour MP for Blaydon, David Anderson, backing an early day motion attacking football clubs for employing foreign footballers. Mr Anderson's support for the motion was at odds with an EDM he himself sponsored 2 days later which attacked the powers that be for not issuing a work permit to, ahem, errr....a foreign footballer to come to the UK to play for Man City!

Well, I am pleased to say that somehow this story hit the North East regional press on Saturday. (I wonder who caused that to happen!?) Our regional paper, the Evening Chronicle, carried it as a page leade, under the headline "MP's own goal"! Joy joy joy! It was interesting reading and quite challenging to follow Mr Anderson's explanation. He was , he claimed, being "consistent" as the footballer in question was a "special case"

Mr Anderson's website also lovingly reproduced Mr Anderson's contortions (not a pretty sight!) and justified why he was "facing both ways at the same time." This was not a term I had used in this context, but thank you very much. I am sure it will appear in a leaflet soon!

Anyway, I have bucket loads more on Mr Anderson's distinctly interesting posturing and contortions on a wide range of issues. I'll be highlighting them on an occasional basis over the coming weeks and months! Enjoy!

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Safari Kenya!

Well, as promised to some people recently, here is the video of the safari I did in December to Kimana in Kenya, near Mount Kilimanjaro.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tea time on the train

Picture the scene. The buffet car on the National Express train heading north. Customer arrives. Asks for a cup of tea. "Milk and sugar sir?" One milk, no sugar, replied the weary traveller who picked up one small carton of milk and dropped it into the bag that he will use to carry his cup back to his seat in coach E. At that point, the person serving him grabs a pile of paper napkins and a drink stirrer and pushes them into the bag. The customer doesn't want them but is too polite to return them and point out the sheer waste they constitute. Instead, he returns to his seat wishing he had not after all spent one pound 45p on a cup of tea which will produce yet more needless rubbish to fill up a landfill site.

I must stop buying tea on the train I think.

Talking of cutting down on waste, Cowley St colleagues are now providing me with a regular supply of empty jam jars and empty cava and champagne bottles (I use the latter for making elderflower champagne). But some colleagues have also pointed out that the homemade jam has run out in the first floor kitchen. I've got a stock in the flat which we shipped down from Gateshead before Christmas. So to colleagues who read this blog on a worryingly frequent basis, I can inform you that it is jam tomorrow - or rather on Tuesday. As for the other edible goodies I have sort of promised, watch this space......

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Snow doubt about it

I had an email from David today. He had gone home early because heavy snow would make it difficult to get back from work if he left it any longer. But he does work in the wilds of Co Durham.

Then I got an email from a Gateshead Council officer telling me it was snowing and I would be better staying in London!

And tonight I got a text from Richard who is in north Wales rather than looking after the flat in London and, you guessed it, it's snowing there as well.

I'm on the train to Newcastle now and I've just passed Peterborough. Not a flake in sight, so far. Not sure when I will hit the snow, and I just hope David can drive from our village to Newcastle to pick me up from the Central Station when I arrive.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to be shooting a video. I have the people lined up for it. Not sure whether the weather will allow it.

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MP scores own goal

I am not a particularly great follower of football but I was rather struck by what I discovered that the Labour MP for my home constituency of Blaydon has done, in the name of the game. So here it is.

On Monday, Mr David Anderson MP signed up to an early day motion (no. 756) which was actually sponsored by football mad Lib Dem Bob Russell MP. The EDM condemned the huge increase in the number of foreign players now on the books of Premiership teams. Apparently 60% of the players are now from abroad.

The motion went on to say that "this huge increase in players from overseas is to the detriment of the long-term interests of professional football in England and the future prospects of the national team in international competitions."

Now, I'm sure there will be a variety of views on this matter. Personally, if a players is good enough to play for a premiership team, where he comes from should be of little importance. After all, I would think it unreasonable to stop David Beckham playing in the US, for example.

But Mr Anderson has made his stand against foreign footballers coming over here. So there you are. Clear and simple.

Except, 2 days later, Mr Anderson wrote and sponsored an EDM (no. 829) which attacked the refusal to give a work permit to an Iraqi called Nashat Akram. So what, you may reply. And why did Nashat Akram need a work permit? Because he is a professional footballer, playing for the Iraqi national team, and had been signed up for Manchester City!

Apparently Man City manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson (who I understand is originally from overseas) is not too happy with the refusal to issue a work permit.

So Mr Anderson, you can’t credibly attack clubs for employing foreign footballers and then immediately cry foul when a foreign player is refused the right to play here!

Yet again, we have another example of swwitching sides, bad political dribbling and an own goal by Mr Anderson.