Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Parliamentary Office used as Labour HQ

Just passed on to me from the Blaydon ward in Blaydon constituency in Gateshead is a letter from the Labour Party Councillors of the ward sent to various residents. It would be understandable if residents were forgiven for thinking this letter did not come from Labour. After all, this letter is stating that they are opposed to the abolition of the 10p rate and the word "Labour" only appears in a tiny logo hidden away at the bottom of the page. Clearly this is a party that dares not speak its name!

But what caught my attention was the imprint which shows the address of the agent is the Parliamentary constituency office of David Anderson, the Dare Not Speak Its Name Party MP for Blaydon. I may helpfully have to copy the letter for the Parliamentary authorities to read and digest.....

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday morning blog - terrorism laws to tackle dog fouling

This week's Monday Morning Blog is not being written on the train to London but instead comes live from my office at home in Sunniside, Gateshead! I am home this week because of a certain event taking place on Thursday! Meanwhile I am brushing up on my knowledge of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act as I am due to do a BBC Look North interview on it at midday.

I was phoned yesterday by The Journal to give some comments on the use of the Act by local councils. Councils in the North East have used the Act 419 times in the past year to carry out surveillance of residents. This is the highest number in the country.

I am not going to be critical of individual councils for using the powers that law has given them. It is the law itself that is at fault. Whilst the power to bug premises, intercept and read emails and listen in to phone calls should be available to the police and security services to tackle terrorism and serious crime, the Act was never intended when first passed to be used to spy on families to see if they live in a school catchment area or to tackle dog fouling.

However, in 2003, David Blunkett expanded the number of authorities and public bodies able to use the powers from the original 9 to 792, including all councils. So having given anti-terrorism powers to local government to tackle low level crime, it is hardly surprising that some have opted to exercise their acquired rights.

This is a slippery slope and it is changing our country to one where surveillance, covert intrusion and denial of privacy is part of the culture of society. Whilst we are a long way off from a Stasi style form of monitoring under which all private activities are open to monitoring by the authorities, the powers to allow that are already in place. We need to look again at how they are used and return to the original intention that they are there to tackle terrorism and serious crime, rather than to police school catchment areas or monitor those allowing dog fouling to take place.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Leafletting and allotment before the rain

David and I delivered a couple of patches in Whickham and Sunniside this morning where we don't have people to delivery for us as part of our network. We got around the lot in just over an hour. There was an attempt at rain but nothing serious.

So we were free then to hit the allotment! We had someone in a couple of weeks ago to rotovate it. Cheating I know but we would never have had time to dig over the whole site ourselves. So with the ground ready, we already have the spuds planted (done last week) and now have the onions, cranberries and rhubarb planted as well. Rhubard is of course a very important crop for Cowley St. Colleagues kill for rhubard and ginger jam. Take a jar into HQ and generally they are scraping the last bit out by the end of the day!

We don't have a mains water supply so we are dependent on bringing in water in carriers (often my recycled bath water!) or simply waiting for the rain to fall. It seemed as though the skies were waiting for the planting to finish. I got back to the house, went into my office to do some work for the election campaign, and we were then hit by a biblical style downpour. Seems as though the timing was spot on!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

On both sides of the North/South divide (at the same time)

I see David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, is calling on the government to move more government jobs out of London and the South East to the North.

Moves to increase the number and quality of jobs in the region are indeed welcome. No argument there! But the problem for Mr Anderson is that we have yet another example of inconsistency in what he says, to add to his already huge mountain of inconsistent and contradictory statements.

Just a few months ago he was arguing the exact opposite of what he was earlier this week - that jobs should remain in London and not be moved to the North.

Mr Anderson backed a Parliamentary motion on 9th July 2007 which called on the Health and Safety Executive, a government body, to drop plans to move jobs from London to the North. The motion he backed claimed, “that up to 80 per cent. of its staff will not be prepared to relocate” and that the moving of jobs to the North “will result in a massive loss of expertise.”

The motion he supported concluded with the demand that this government body “reconsider its decision.”

Were government ministers to listen to Mr Anderson on the location of government jobs (and many other issues!), they could be forgiven for being rather confused by his conflicting demands.

Perhaps Mr Anderson would like to explain why he is arging for 2 very opposing policies? Is he trying to be on both sides of the North South divide at the same time?

Lib Dems - middle of the road (literally)

I have just been on the Lib Dems' Fickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/libdems) and saw that an embarrassingly large number of the photos on it were taken by a certain JW. It did remind me however that on Tuesday I had to crawl out of bed at a deeply unwelcome time of the morning to get to Waterloo Bridge to do the photos of London Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick leading a demonstration in favour of the cross Thames tram link.

One of the photos I took was on the front page of yesterday's Lib Dem News. However, this one just invites the comment about Lib Dems being middle of the road! And frankly, given I had to keep running out into the road and dodging the traffic to get the photos, being on the island in the middle of the road was probably the safest place to be!

I wasn't the only photographer checking for on coming traffic as this photo shows!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just as I predicted: rebellion goes with a fizzle rather than a bang

I predicted just a few days ago that the Labour so-called rebellion over the doubling of the 10p income tax rate would fizzle out. Great predictions of our time and this one was pretty accurate! Also coming true is my prediction that a minor concession would be made, and would be spun for as much as they could get away with.

Nebulous promises of jam tomorrow have been made by Brown and Darling. It is totally unclear how jam tomorrow will be spread. Put your bets on some kind of complicated tax credit system under which claimants will have to apply for a rebate rather than receive it automatically. Indeed, expect jam tomorrow with very few being able to reach the jam pot.

All those spineless backbenchers however have been rushing to abandon their "rebellion" and climb back on board the Brown train. That's precisely what you would expect from them: all talk and no action. Meanwhile, within a few days, watch as those same backbenchers vote for a second time for the doubling of the 10p rate. (They voted for it first time on 18th March).

And so to other business. I am now on the train heading to Newcastle. And as so often happens, National Excess has given me a completely different type of seat to the one I booked. To add insult to injury, the person sitting next to me is stuffing food down his throat whilst bellowing down the phone. And he seems to be going through the entire phone directory as well. I've heard more of his personal details that I ever would want to know. He is trying to get people to come to the station to pick him up. Yet he has had no takers!

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Monday morning blog: baseball caps, dark glasses and videos

The Labour leaflet arrived through me door yesterday morning. I caught a glimpse of the person delivering it but didn't recognise him immediately. Hardly surprising as he was buried under dark glasses and a baseball cap. It was only when he came down the other side of the street that I recognised him under his cloak of anonimity. He was last year's Labour candidate. He has abandoned all hope of being elected so is not standing this year. Also, I suspect he wasn't inclined to stand again following the rather ridiculous leaflet that was put out in his name in the run up to the election that never was. Turns out the person who was actually responsible for it has a long record of campaigns that have flopped badly.

I have only spoken to him once (four years ago when he was candidate and at the count - he didn't make it to the count last year) but he seems a pleasant bloke. It's just a pity for him that he got dragged into this saga by the actions of someone else.

I did, believe it or not, do something non political yesterday! I had lunch with a group of historian friends in Tynemouth (and a quick wander around the book fayre - one book bought by David for himself on crossbows (don't ask!) and one he bought for me after spotting me looking at it on historical maps of Europe. I did actually have an ulterior motive for meeting up with my historian mates. I am planning to make a number of local history videos this year and I am lining up Frank Manders and Norman McCord to appear in them. Frank is an expert on the history of Gateshead, the region's cinemas, the bridges across the Tyne and many other issues. Professor McCord was one of my lecturers from my old days as an undergraduate at Newcastle University twenty years ago. He specialised in social history (he is retired now) but is a widely respected expert on the history of the North East. He also discovered the Watergate Roman site next to Whickham.

Progress was made on discussing possible videos. No doubt there will be more on this later this year.

Well, I am now on the train heading to London. It arrived back to front at Newcastle, went out backwards with the result we are now going forwards and left 10 min late. But at least it wasn't cancelled!

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The rebellion that will fizzle out

Heading to London today will be the nation's Labour MPs ready, it is claimed, to do battle on the budget which the government has made clear it will not change. One reason for refusing to change it is the simple fact that it is now in operation. Political journalists have focused entirely on the Finance Bill which is coming up for debate this week. They have overlooked the budget resolutions which were passed by Parliament last month. As these were voted through (by Labour MPs many of whom are now complaining about what they voted for), the Finance Bill is simply to give legislative effect to a change that has already been implemented. In other words, the Finance Bill is a rubber stamp for the already agreed and implemented budget. The loss of the bill, or the passage of amendments hostile to it, will simply be a vote of no confidence in the government. I somehow doubt that Labour MPs will opt to be turkeys voting for an early Xmas by precipitating a collapse of the government and a possible general election. And as I have said on a number of occasions recently, backbench Labour MPs like to posture against the government (typically by signing early day motions) but then vote for the measure they claim to oppose.

So expect lots of talk of rebellion this week, particularly from journalists, and then watch as the government spins some utterly insignificant concession - such as "looking at" concerns about the low paid at some nebulous date in the future - and then watch as the budget legislation is passed and the government survives to die another day.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

The catch up

Sitting in the hairdresser's shop in Newcastle as I am now, having my natural highlights removed, reminds me of being on the train. It is a time to do some reading (still plodding through Peter Hennessey's 'Having it so Good') and to write more blog posts.

I managed to miss a few things off the blog through the week. One of them was to say that I had completed the next edition of 'North East Democrat'. I emailed it out to members in the region on Wednesday. I reused a couple of stories in the Democrat that had first appeared on my blog. The main one was the story of Labour MP for Gateshead East, Sharon Hodgson, calling for free healthy school meals living rather uncomfortably with her demand for cheap cola and junk food for kids when they go to the cimema. We're still waiting for an explanation as to how she can attack parents who feed their kids unhealthy diets whilst making it easier to feed kids junk food when at the Odeon.

Wednesday evening also saw Richard acting out a role in Animal Rescue when he turned up on the doorstep at midnight with a hedgehog. He was on his was back to the flat when he rescued the hedgehog from being attacked by a fox in the street. We released it into the garden and fed it a sachet of cat food - whiskas with all the trimmings. Given the garden in London is full of snails, there's probably plenty for it to eat naturally. As for our cat Jess, she took revenge on us for using her food by catching a mouse in the garden and then leaving the half eaten remains in the bath, ready for us to find in the morning. I took a photo of Richard and his new hedgehog friend. It will appear shortly on the blog. Fortunately it didn't occur to me to take a photo of the half eaten mouse.

Meanwhile, back up here in Gateshead, we went potato and onion planting this morning on the allotment, after delivering a few hundred focuses. Alas, technology interrupted my agricultural pursuits. The phone rang a number of times and I got tied up in conversations about leaflets. So, I still have about 50 onion plants to put in the ground. Given I have promised colleagues in Cowley Street some culinary delights made from home grown food, I realise I have to get the planting job finished. The Cowley St Catering Corp has a reputation to keep up!

Anyway, off for my blue rinse in a moment!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Resignation unlikely

I noticed this afternoon that Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson was saying on the BBC website that he was not resigning over the doubling of the 10p income tax rate. The headline seemed to give the opposite impression, suggesting the PPSs were considering packing in their unpaid position. Mr Anderson's resignation would, after all, be odd, given that he has voted for the budget resolutions that brought in the change.

To be fair to Mr Anderson, he did highlight the impact of the scrapping of the 10p rate when he spoke in last year's budget debate. He even pointed out that it was the Lib Dems who had raised the damaging impact on low income earners. So resigning after having voted for the changes, even if he had to do it through gritted teeth, would achieve nothing.

Yet as I said in my earlier blog today, the government can push through unreasonable policies against vocal opposition from Labour backbenchers, knowing that with the vast majority of Labour MPs, there is a great deal of talk but little action to inflict changes on the government's programme. There are the usual suspects who make the effort to vote against but the typical tale to tell about Labour MPs is one of slavish support for the government, as long as they have the opportunity to posture against the government. And it is that that irritates me so much.

Mr Anderson has repeatedly attacked the government but has never once voted against it (and to give him his due he turns out for most Parliamentary votes). Putting aside the anti-government noises to which he is prone, he is one of many backbenchers on whom the government can rely to get its legislation passed. My advice to him would be to do one of two things: either turn his words into actions by voting against the things he opposes in public (and I accept that means resigning as PPS) or stay as a loyalist but argue the case for, rather than against, what he has voted to implement in Parliament.

Your trouble Mr Anderson, is that, at the moment, you are trying to have it both ways.

Anyway, enough politics for the moment. Having just paid an arm and a leg for a cup of tea on the train, I want to spend the rest of the journey home (I'm on the train heading for Newcastle) sipping my drink and reading the book I brought along for the journey (Peter Hennessey's 'Having it so Good'.) The 1950s is after the period I researched for my doctorate. So it's still unfamiliar territory to me. But history is one of the loves of my life so I expect to be totally engrossed by the time I get home!

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Labour Council Leader calls Labour councillors "liars"

Councillor Albert Nugent, leader of Durham County Council, doesn't seem to be having a good time at the moment. First he was slated by the Audit Commission which announced, "There are significant weaknesses in the political leadership provided by the Leader of Council and the Cabinet.” The Commission then helpfully added, “There is limited visible political leadership in key priority areas such as economic development. Politicians are not consistently challenging in holding officers to account.”

Such damning comments must have sent Cllr Nugent's nerves jangling. And so, at a recent cabinet meeting, the last before the elections on 1st May, he comes out all guns blazing. But his target appears to be very much his own side.

Cllr Nugent launched an attack on the "lies, lies, lies" of Labour councillors. “I have come into County Hall on many mornings to find my own party colleagues conniving with the opposition to get rid of me," he said. "I have survived votes of no confidence from my own party members and I have had to listen to lies, lies, lies being told about me."

The press were there to pick up this amazing tirade and thanks go to The Newcastle Journal for bringing us this story.

Labour backbenchers are like spineless jellies

Well, she didn't resign after all. Angela Smith MP is staying in place. She is so like all those Labour backbenchers, spineless jellies who make a great deal of noise about how dreadful the government is yet when it comes to doing anything that will really change what the government is doing, they bottle it.

Take for example, all those Labour MPs signing EDMs opposing the doubling of the 10p income tax rate. The talk in the press this week is of "rebellion". Believe it when it happens! Those spineless backbenchers will vote the way they are told to. The vast majority of them always do so. They are voting fodder and Brown knows it. So he won't make any significant concessions because he knows he can get away with forcing through the doubling of the 10p rate. He may spin a few lines that are designed to look as if he has changed his policy but the substance won't be there.

So as a general rule with the Labour party, expect whinging and whining from the backbenchers but apart from the usual suspects, don't expect them to force a change in what the government is doing.

There is one exception. I accept that matters are a little different on the 42 day detention issue. Opposition in Labour's ranks has a harder core on this issue. But even there, many Labour backbenchers will be looking for an opportunity to climb back on board the Brown government train and will use some ultra-minor concession as the ticket to climb aboard. That is likely to explain why the government continues to pursue this astonishing legislative change. Experience tells ministers that backbenchers can often bottle it when it comes to a vote.

The Brown government may well be a mess, congested by indecision with a Prime Minister who is totally inappropriate for the job. But even though the talk in the media is of changing the man at the top, the ability of Brown to stay in office at least until the general election is enhanced by the spineless jellies who are the Labour backbenchers.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Brown coronation has gone horribly wrong

It has taken a year to get the first Labour resignation over the axing of the 10p rate. Angela Smith has resigned as PPS to Yvette Cooper, even though she voted for the budget resolutions last month and was part of the Treasury team that introduced this measure. That aside, it does show the developing mire into which Labour are sinking. Labour were supposed to be saved by the coronation of Brown. But it went horribly wrong very quickly. Brown's inappropriateness for the top job was masked in the first few weeks of his premiership because of the terror, FM etc crises. He was praised for his handling but frankly, any other PM would have responded in the same way which, in effect, was to let the authorities get on and deal with the issues at hand.

But the election that never was was a turning point. It has been downhill ever since, and given that Labour were already down hill, that was quite an achievement.

Put yourself in the position of those Labour members who believed replacing Blair with Brown would solve all their problems. How depressed must they feel now?

I don't count on opponents to self destruct. They normally step back just in time from the precipice. But a party that has been in power for a long time under a dominant leader may be prone to internal ructions once the dominant leader had left the scene. That happened to the Tories after Thatcher left. Is the same happening to Labour now that Blair has gone? May be too early to say but all the symptoms are there.

The Tories managed to hold together long enough after Thatcher left to win (but only just) the 1992 election. There is a slightly different feel now with Labour. They seem to have gone along the same track much more quickly. After less than a year in office, the talk is very much about getting rid of Brown. We have seen the distraction caused in the Lib Dems when the agenda is dominated, rightly or wrongly, by questions about the leadership of the party. The Tories had it with Duncan Smith as well.

Too early to say whether Brown will be dumped and as he is the occupant of Downing St, and there is no obvious successor, removing him will not be easy for Labour. Time will tell how events turn out, but what is currently happening is clearly not what Labour had in mind when they knifed Blair.

I wrote this for my private diary but thought I would share it now.

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Labour MP resigns as PPS over 10p rate (having voted for it)

Angela Smith, Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough has announced she is to resign as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Yvette Cooper over the scrapping of the 10p income tax starter rate. At last, a Labour MP who is standing by her principles!

Good for you Angela!

But hold on just a minute. Weren't you the same Angela Smith MP who voted for the budget resolutions last month that introduced the actual change? Oh dear, I do believe you are.

But perhaps that was all a big mistake, and she voted for the loss of the 10p rate without noticing it! An easy mistake for a Labour MP to make!

Perhaps she was just too busy as the sidekick of a high flying minister. Perhaps she was engrossed in the policies put forward by that minister to pay much attention to Treasury issues. So, let's see, PPS to Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the ... errr, well the Treasury actually.

So, she was part of the ministerial team that implemented this change and then she voted for it. Now she's resigned from her unpaid position as PPS because she is opposing the tax increase she herself has just voted for.

In a sense you have to credit Labour MPs with their ability to turn sanctimonious hypocrisy into an art form.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Editorial conferences in Sainsburys

I left Cowley St tonight at 9pm and headed up to Victoria Street. For most of the route I was on the phone to Jane Smithard, chair of the editorial board of Parliamentary Campaigner, as we decided the issues to be included in the next edition. I was still on the phone as I wandered around Sainsburys trying to find something for dinner that was vaguely vegan. So between discussions on the failure of Gordon Brown, the impact of the loss of the 10p income tax rate and the closure of post offices, we also had a discussion about the contents of by shopping basket. In the end, I didn't take Jane's advice to go for an American Hot pizza (cheese topping falls at the no-diary-products-through-the-week hurdle) but ended up with two bagels, some potatos and a box of eggs (not vegan but less damaging to produce than milk products). The phone conversation ended by the time I got to the cash till. I had eaten one of the bagels by the time I got to Victoria and the other one before I got on the train.

At least however the change in my diet is having a positive effect. I have lost a small amount of weight. Well, okay, a tiny slither and my belt is still feeling the strain, just a tiny bit less than a few weeks ago! As for my carbon footprint, hopefully that is pinching a bit as well.

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Popping pills or a balanced diet?

There was an article on GMTV this morning pointing out that people taking vitamin pills may actually be shortening their life rather than prolonging it. Vitamin pills always strike me as being a bizarre way to keep healthy. Why not try a balanced, healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables? So much easier and sensible. And by the looks of it, it will prolong your life, unlike vitamin pills. What a world we live in when people compensate for a poor diet by eating something that makes the diet and lifestyle worse!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The monday morning blog: shock as National Express hasn't cancelled my train (and other things)

Well, here I am sitting on the train at Newcastle Central, waiting to head for London. And amazingly, my train hasn't been cancelled! So no gripe (yet) about National Express.

So how was your weekend? Seemed like a typical election weekend for me: writing, printing and delivering Focuses, and still no sign at all of any activity whatsoever from Labour or Tories in my own ward. The Tories are too dead in the water here to get anything out in my ward. Labour will try and get one leaflet out, if last year is anything to go by. It looks likely to be a joint leaflet with the two neighbouring ward (all Lib Dem held) - we have had copies from my mother's ward (she is up for election in Whickham North). The only mention of the three Labour candidates in the leaflet is a reference to them as the "editors". The rest of it is about a former Labour candidate who stood 5 times in the Whickham wards in recent years (and lost badly each time). Three of them saw his vote go into serious decline. He has since gone off elsewhere to get elected. The fact that Labour's leaflet is about a former candidate who was a flop and a failure says a great deal about the state of the Labour party on my home patch.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Proud to be...a political traveller

Councillor Ian Proud of Newcastle City Council, has, shall we say, a colourful history. He started off many years ago as a Labour councillor. Then he defected to the Lib Dems. Not content there, he decided to return to the Labour fold, though by then, Labour's ranks on the City Council were somewhat depleted. But Labour's welcome did not last long. Mumbling of discontent about his performance meant Cllr Proud took up only a short term tenancy in the Labour Party. Rumours have it that an attempt to switch back to the Lib Dems would not have succeeded and so, Cllr Proud went Independent (that's all the rage at the moment across the border in Northumberland).

Now, Cllr Proud has defected again. This time he has appeared in UKIP. He is due for re-election in May and is standing under his new colours. Do not expect a UKIP breakthrough in Newcastle!

Bets however are being taken as to where Mr Proud will turn up next.....

Those two Labour hypocrites at it again

David Anderson and David Clelland, endured by Gateshead as two of the Labour MPs for the borough, are at it again. They have just put in new entries for the Westminster Hypocrite of the Year Awards 2008. Both have put in the same entry, demanding a "rethink" on the doubling of the 10p income tax starter rate.

This duo of Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber voted for this very same tax rise just 3 weeks ago. Mr Anderson even signed two Parliamentary motions expressing concern about the impact of the change, before he voted for the change he so heavily criticises. So at least he was fully aware of what he was voting for.

Both have had a year to "rethink" the change and persuade the government to abandon it. I don't know whether either is capable of "thinking" or "rethinking" an issue of this nature but it does strike me as odd that they demand a rethink from their own beloved government after they have helped that very same government get through the measure they now want rethought, and having done so in the full knowledge of the impact. Makes you think, doesn't it!?

Friday, April 11, 2008

The gang of four becomes the gang of five

I blogged yesterday about the Gang of Four high ranking Labour councillors who have failed to get selected for the new Northumberland county council. The Four had decided to stand as independents. Well, I got the figures wrong. My apologies to Bill Garrett, Labour councillor in Prudhoe for the past 34 years. Seems as though I missed him off the list of those who have put their Labour membership cards through the shredder to stand as independents. So now there are five in the gang.

Cllr Garrett is standing against Tony Reid, current Labour deputy leader of Northumberland. Cllr Garrett is a rather long standing Labour member. He is also a member of the same family at Ted Garrett who was, for many years, Labour MP for Wallsend, until Steven Byers came along.

What a mess!

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And now the Conservatives implode in Northumberland

Anything you can do, we can do better. That seems to be the new catchphrase for the Tories in Northumberland as they attempt to outdo Labour in losing councillors, bloodletting and general mayhem. I blogged earlier about the Labour meltdown in the county as the knives came to save local government careers from disappearing down a plughole, caused by the abolition of the district councils. Well, the Tories are catching up in the chaos stakes.

Step forward Tory Councillors Alex Kerr, Bill Purdue and Ray Thompson from Tynedale. I say Tory. Actually I mean ex Tory as of the close of nominations. They are standing against official Tories for the new unitary Northumberland county council. Somehow, they didn't get the nominations from their mates down at the Conservative club. So this mini army of defecting Tory councillors joins Tynedale Tory Leader on the political battlefield as independents (see my earlier blog about the decision of Tory Leader of Tynedale Council to go independent).

What a mess! I bet the Tories aren't so in favour of spectator bloodsports now!

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Tory Council leader resigns and goes independent

It seems as though it isn't just the Labour party who are making a hash of the local elections for the new, all powerful Northumberland unitary council. I am pleased to bring you news of a big falling out in Tory ranks on Tynedale Council, one of the authorities about to be axed under Labour's abolition of local government policy.

Michael Walton, leader of the Conservatives on Conservative controlled Tynedale, has gone independent. “I just want the chance to represent my people," he told the local newspaper. (Presumably his people no longer includes Conservative people!)

Councillor Walton will have an official Conservative standing against him in the elections on 1st May.

More news of the self destructive tendencies of the Con Labs in Northumberland to follow shortly......

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Labour implodes in Northumberland

Let’s face it, it was always going to be a bloodbath for Labour in Northumberland. I guess the Labour party bosses probably thought the best way to get rid of all their crusty old Labour dinosaurs in local government in the North East was to abolish their councils. It’s the sort of democracy that appeals to New Labour.

Northumberland is undergoing a massive reorganisations. Facing the chop are 6 district councils, all of which have lost out to Northumberland County Council which has successfully launched a hostile takeover bid. The County is Labour controlled but due to the reorganisation, it is having to hold elections a year early.

So the area is going from having over 300 councillors (mainly Labour) to 67. Labour knives have been out big style as the residents of the Labour Jurassic Park go head to head for what few seats are available.

An additional bomb that has detonated within the Labour party has been the introduction of all women shortlists. Some senior councillors have been handbagged by the lack of the appropriate genetalia.

So victims of Labour’s self-imposed downsizing include Bill Ashbridge, councillor for 25 years and former chair of social services; David Montgomery, chairman of the Blyth Valley area committee; Ivan Hayes, member of the council executive and Paul Kelly, former Labour group whip.

In an attempt to continue enjoying life on the council, this “Gang of Four” have decided to go independent and are standing against official Labour candidates.

“The Labour Party has abandoned me. I have been forced to go Independent because the people in my division deserve better than having an inexperienced and unknowledgeable candidate,” said Councillor Kelly. His Labour opponent is Mary Pidcock, a councillor on soon-to-disappear Blyth Valley Council. She lives only 23 miles from the ward she hopes to represent on the county.

Apparently, Labour have a big shindig planned for County Hall in Morpeth, paid for from a fund all Labour group members have paid into (we use our money to pay for Focus leaflets). It’s a big bash to say goodbye. The Gang of Four alas were not welcome and were politely advised to stay away.

As one anonymous Labour member said, “none of us expects the so-called Gang of Four to attend the party. They have turned their backs on the Labour Party for personal gain and I’m sure some people would walk out tomorrow night if they turned up.”

Quite how the 4 indies would be greeted were they to turn up would probably be too shocking to write about on even this blog!

So with the blood sport season having started early, watch out for a difficult day for Labour on 1st May in Northumberland.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I feel like I've run a 4 minute mile!

You know what it's like, sitting in Cowley St and writing a focus leaflet. Having sifted through the planning applications for some column fillers, I spot it is 8pm. I need to catch the 8.35pm train at Victoria. But there's still time to finish typesetting the Focus.

But time flies and suddenly you notice it is 8.20. Finishing touches are quickly added to the Focus and it is emailed to Gateshead. I have 10 minutes to run from Cowley St through the pedestrians and traffic to Victoria. I managed it in seven! I managed to catch the train. Now I am knackered! Feels like I've run a 4 minute mile!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tory candidate quits to spend more time with his kitchen

If you can't stand the heat - get into the kitchen! That, at least, seems to be the way one Tory candidate in Newcastle has rewritten that old proverb. Brian Moore, Tory candidate for Gosforth East, one of the very, very, very few Newcastle wards where the Conservatives stand a chance of more than one in a million of winning (generous estimates put their chances at about 2 in a million), has packed up his election lunch box and quit as a candidate.

The call of the kitchen was just too great. Mr Moore is to star in a Channel 4 cookery programme called "Come Dine With Me", in which 4 contestants each have to cook a meal and host a dinner party for the other 3. It sounds like Big Brother with cake.

Alas, poor Mr Moore's career as an aspiring celebrity chef has crashed headlong into his barely existent political career. Makers of the programme want to transmit this culinary delight on 17th April, right in the middle of the election campaign. This slight problem with Representation of the People Act could have seen the programme laid to rest on the chopping board of Channel 4, especially since Mr Moore used the programme to say what he would do if he were to be mayor of Newcastle (he probably wouldn't have much to do as most people would probably evacuate the city in a state of shock were Mr Moore to reach such giddy heights - still, there's all those mayoral receptions he could cater for!)

So, Mr Moore kindly gave up the role of candidate to keep on the role of cook so the programme is going ahead.

Each contestant has to rate the others and my spies in Newcastle tell me that a large number of Lib Dem campaigners have their videos already set to record at 8pm on 17th April to see how Mr Moore can take unadulterated criticism from his cookery competitors.

Mr Moore is rather well known amongst Newcastle Lib Dems. For a few years in the 1990s he was a Lib Dem councillor. He quit the council and shortly afterwards in a downwardly mobile career move, he defected to the Conservatives. The final collapse of the Conservatives in Newcastle seemed to coincide with Mr Moore's arrival amongst their depleted ranks.

Quite what Mr Moore cooks up is a closely guarded secret. Rumours however are circulating that 'Ego Surprise Pudding' has caused a certain amount of indigestion with competitors.

Mr Moore claims in our regional newspaper, Evening Chronicle, that "he was confident he could win" in East Gosforth, despite the towering Lib Dem majority there. This perhaps gives a clue as to what he has cooked up for his competitors. Apparently grilled pig wings are quite a delicacy.....

Councillor defects to Lib Dems

News just arrived from Derwentside in Co Durham. Bob Cook, Independent Councillor for Burnopfield has joined the Liberal Democrats. Derwentside Council is being scrapped next year and elections are now taking place to the new, unitary Durham County Council. Bob is standing as a Lib Dem in the ward on the county.

Though I am in Gateshead, Bob's Burnopfield ward borders Whickham South and Sunniside, which I represent.

Tory collapse continues

The Conservatives nationally made great play of the fact they came to Gateshead to hold their spring conference in March. We were told this was a clear indication of Conservative revival on Tyneside and a commitment to making sure the party of Mr Cameron is back on the political radar screens of North East voters.

This upbeat message flowed out of an interview Cameron did with our regional paper, the Evening Chronicle, on 14th March: "He [Cameron] refused to make any forecasts about the party’s election prospects, but said it is making progress in Sunderland and North Tyneside and should be winning seats in Newcastle and Gateshead, both Tory-free zones."

The last time the Conservatives won a seat in Gateshead was in 1992 when they held Low Fell ward. This final Tory seat went Lib Dem in 1996 (the Lib Dems had already won the other 2 seats in the ward).

So a come back for the Cameroonies in Gateshead should start in Low Fell. It seems that the Conservatives have overlooked one small problem: without a candidate for people to vote for, recovery can prove rather challenging!

Low Fell has a double vacancy. Charles Jevon, our councillor in Low Fell for the past 14 years, is retiring. Frank Hindle, who first won the seat in 1991, is due for re-election and is standing again. So two seats....but only one Tory candidate.

Not exactly evidence of a Tory recovery! My prediction: after 1st May there will still be no Tory Councillors in Gateshead or Newcastle.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Monday Morning Blog - believe it when it arrives

It's Monday morning and as you would expect, I am at Newcastle Station waiting for the train to London. The past three weeks have seen my train cancelled. All looks okay at the moment but I did say that in my post last week only to find my train was cancelled as it arrived in the station. So I will believe my train has arrived when it gets here, I'm on it and we are leaving the station.

With snow having fallen, train companies do have an off-the-shelf excuse for delays and cancellations. But it is only a light sprinkling up here on Tyneside for a snow storm, a rather disappointing and half hearted attempt at a late winter. Mind you, it was useful that what snow did fall came down after Saturday afternoon - for that was when I was out delivering focus leaflets. We had a meeting last night in my house and found that others had not been so fortunate with their delivery timing.

Breaking news: my train has arrived, I am on board, we are leaving. It's a miracle!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Last year's Labour candidate in my ward gives up

In my 21 years as a councillor for Whickham South and Sunniside in Gateshead, I have seen the Conservatives completely collapse here (I gained by seat from the Conservatives in 1987). And no serious campaign has ever been run by the Labour party in that time to try to win here.

Last year, as is usual, the Conservatives put out no leaflets at all. Labour managed one leaflet, and nothing more. Previous years, they had managed more than that.

Labour's candidate from the past three elections appears now to have given up, though I am not surprised. I did predict it in previous blog posts. Last year, Labour had an interesting head banging episode after they published a leaflet in my ward in the run up to the election-that-never-was which simply made up stories about the Lib Dems. Bizarrely it also laid into the local post office.

The name of the Labour candidate was all over the leaflet as editor. The problem for him was that he had had no involvement whatsoever in putting it together. He wrote back to tell me as much after we wrote to him. We heard on the grapevine that the person who had put the leaflet together received a visit from someone connected with the local Labour party who was, (we'll put it politely) distinctly unimpressed by the content of the leaflet and the use of other people's names without their permission! The real editor was (we'll put it politely) suitably chastised.

Seems as though the candidate and non-editor of the leaflet, having been asked publicly to withdraw the (we'll put it politely) inaccurate and misleading claims made in his name (we politely asked him to do this by post and for good measure printed the fact we had done this on 4,000 Focus leaflets), has now made way for someone else to lead the Labour charge into my ward.

As for the real author of the leaflet that caused the bust up within Labour last year, I must thank this person for the entertainment value provided and for helping to assist (albeit unintentionally) the cause of the Liberal Democrats from within the Labour party! May we have more like this person!!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Get Focus delivered in time for Dr Who

I'm not sure what happened to the snow predicted for today but other than some rather very short lived feeble attempts to shower us with the odd flake, the adverse weather conditions have not shown up. So I headed off to a couple of our target wards this morning and took the photos for the next Focus for Teams area.

I made the error whilst in our office early this afternoon of offering to deliver two patches in one of our target wards. 400 of the Focuses I had put together through the week and had just helped to print were handed over to me, along with delivery lists. Since I wanted a break from leaflets, I called home first for some lunch and ended up watching a Columbo film on one of those film channels for which I seem to pay an excessive sum of money. The result was I only got out to deliver the two patches I had to do at 4pm. This was a dangerously narrow window of delivery opportunity given that Dr Who started at 6.20pm.

So I rushed round the two patches with the 400 leaflets I had and got interrupted by one phone call from Peter Maughan, our Blaydon candidate, who wanted a story in a Focus leaflet about Xmas lights being refused by the council for one of the villages in the west of Gateshead and by a text from David reminding me that Dr Who was starting.

When trying to deliver in a hurry, it is interesting to note that garden gates always seem to be of factory gate proportions and letter boxes always feel that bit more difficult to get the Focus through. Nevertheless, I got back to the house, all leaflets delivered, with 2 minutes to spare. Life would not have been worth living had I missed the start of Dr Who!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Snow go tomorrow

Today weatherwise has been pleasant. Warm temperatures and the odd bit of enjoyable sun. Tomorrow however it is all expected to change. Snow is on the way. I'm doing photos tomorrow morning. Hopefully the snow will hold off for that. Tomorrow afternoon, I am helping to deliver the leaflet for which we are taking the photos tomorrow morning. Snow and leafletting do not mix well. The annoying thing is that earlier this week, I put my coat away for the summer. I didn't think to bring it to Cowley St today. And since I am on the train now to Newcastle from London, I am not exactly in a position to go back and get it. I will have to dig out an old one when I get home. Or borrow one of David's.
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

PMQs - verdict on Harman: make her into kindling

Okay, maybe at times I am a bit biased against LabCons but even the most devoted of Harman admirers must be sharpening their knives after her atrociously bad performance at Prime Minister's Questions today. No wonder she needs to go around with a knife proof shirt on.

She was so wooden and scripted she made Brown look and sound positively glamorous. She didn't even try to hide the fact she was reading prepared answers to prepared questions from the ranks of Labour's backbenchers.

Vince and Hague smashed her to pieces. She's good for nothing other than kindling. Think of all that dosh that was poured into the Labour deputy leadership campaign and this is what they got. Money certainly didn't buy quality for the Labour Party!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Seeing my garden for the first time in 6 months

It was a strange feeling, leaving Cowley St last night when it was still daylight. A combination of the clocks going forward an hour and leaving before 7pm for the first time in ages (I was feeling knackered so left early to have an early night.)

So I got to see my London back garden for the first time in about 6 months last night. I am at home in Gateshead over the weekends and on my days off so in the winter, I just don't get to see the garden. (It will be a few weeks before I see it again as leaving Cowley St so early is something of an unusual occurrence!)

Mind you, what I saw didn't look too bad. Trouble is, leave it a few weeks and it will be a jungle!