Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nick Clegg MP meets the Dalai Lama - the video

This is the video I shot of Nick Clegg meeting the Dalai Lama and introducing his to MPs and peers on 22nd May.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Friday evening blog - National Excess strikes again

I really, really, really want to get home having been away for 11 days. I get to Kings Cross station and what do I find? National Excess have delayed my train. It was meant to leave at 9pm. We were allowed on board at 9.15pm. When we were told we could board, there was a great surge of people dragging bags with wheels on. In the olden days, yes I am old enough to say that!, old ladies were the ones with bags with wheels on. Now, most of the population seems to have one and unlike those for old ladies in the past, the new ones come in all sizes, from juggernauts to handbags. In the stampede to get on the train, a number of people ran their wheels over my toes. Quite why people can't carry bags these days, at least the small ones, is a beyond me!

We have just been told the crew for our train is on a delayed train that has not yet arrived at KX. I am a great fan of rail travel but my patience with National Express is wearing a bit thin.

Deep breath and calm down.

So what did recess week bring us politically? Mayor of Doncaster expelled by Labour - he went out in style with some very colourful descriptions of Doncaster councillors; Labour at their lowest in the polls since, well since ever; Brown's ratings lower than Michael Foot's; confidence of people in the economy at its lowest since the depth of the recession under the Conservatives in 1990; Gordon Brown trying to put the blame for the mess on the oil companies; and finally, Mrs Thatcher appeared in Vogue magazine. Not to be outdone, I will be appearing in a Focus newsletter this weekend!

I am now pleased to announce that the train has just left KX.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

6 empty bottles standing on my desk

One birthday (Will Howells) and one person leaving Cowley St (Andrew Reeves - heading north of the border to be the party's Deputy Director of Campaiigns for Scotland): both had to be celebrated today. So birthday boy meal was in Pizza Express at Millbank, one time home of New Labour and now buzzing with Conservatives (some cruel people would say they were the same!) And in the afternoon it was cake and Cava in the Campaigns Dept, next to our unit in Cowley St.

Cava means a ready supply of empty bottles suitable for making home made elderflower champagne. Collecting the empty bottles before they made it into the recycling boxes caused some amusement. And after everything quietened down, a further supply of empty bottles appeared on my desk.

They will be used tonight. I have 20 litres of elderflower champagne to bottle up when I get back to the flat.

Photos of today's proceedings will appear on the blog shortly. Turns out Will was born only a couple of weeks after Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979. Now that makes me feel old!

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Hazel Blears and her incredibly shrinking claims

Hazel Blears always strikes me as a bit of a Comical Ali figure for Labour, smiling away through the utmost Labour adversity, pushing the message that everything is fine. Well, I discovered on her website a claim which stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking point.

According to a press release in her name, she claimed in April that national debt "had been paid off." And that meant the government was able to borrow lots of dosh.

Here's what she claimed:

Because the Government took tough action in the early years to pay off the national debt - when many argued the money should be spent elsewhere - the Government's borrowing can rise at exactly the time when the economy and working families need the support.

This was of course before Darling had to go his bank manager to borrow £2.7 billion to pay for the Crewe by-election.

Alas, if only the national debt had been paid off! Borrowing the cash for Crewe would therefore have hardly mattered. But since little Hazel was completely wrong in her claim, it means the government is virtually at its credit limit. The next by-election won't be so easy to finance.

Anyone wanting to read Hazel Jackanory Blears' bedtime stories can follow this link: Blear Farce One.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lessons in eating and drinking wild - elderflower champagne

This is something I used to make years ago, then got out of the habit of doing, then two years ago, started making again. Elderflower champagne was something I first tasted as a kid. A family living on the Ravensworth Estate (the big rural area at the southern end of my council ward) used to make it so I was once given a glass to try. Ever since then I have sworn by it!

So, get a large clean bucket (I think the one I used last night was about 20 litres). Pick one carrier bag full of fresh elderflower bunches. (Be prepared to get odd looks from neighbours if you pick it in the streets of London - people there seem to think food grows on supermarket shelves, not on trees and bushes so you tend to get funny looks when picking wild foods).

Fill the bucket with cold water and add the elderflower. Then add the juice and grated rind of 8 lemons. After this, add 3 kg of sugar (yes 3 kg - this stuff is sweet and also needs sugar to brew). Then add 2 table spoons of white vinegar. If like me you completely forgot to buy white vinegar, search your cupboards to find that half used bottle of red wine vinegar left over from making chutneys last year. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the bucket (after this you find a half used bottle of white wine vinegar left over from last year which you completely forgot about but don't panic! Although red wine vinegar is the wrong colour, it still does the job just as well. And given the quantity of water used, the discolouration disappears quickly anyway - well here's to hoping!).

Give it all a good stir and then put the lid on the bucket. Occasionally lift the lid off to smell the fragrance of elderflower.

Leave to stand for two days, stirring occasionally (especially when you want to sniff the fragrance). Then strain and pour into clean, reused Cava or champagne bottles carefully collected at work or from that event I went to in the Lords Whips Office. Do not add yeast! Adding yeast is bad bad bad! Unless of course you want to experience the whole of you champagne brewery self detonating. We discovered this to our costs a few years ago when all 12 bottles of champagne we had made exploded in the wardrobe where we had left them to brew. It was a rather dry year after that. Elderflower self ferments in the right circumstances so adding yeast simply turns these into highly unstable timebombs.

So, having corked the bottles, put wire cages over the top. If you don't, kiss goodbye to your champage. The corks will be blown out with an explosive force that is sure to empty the entire contents of the bottle over the floor.

Leave bottles on their side to brew in a cool room, cupboard, garden shed or garage. You can start drinking it after 10 weeks. Enjoy. This stuff is lovely.

I bottle our first batch tomorrow evening. I'll tell you how it tastes in ten weeks.

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Another example of this MP voting against his own demands

In March, an early day motion was tabled in Parliament that demanded that the Energy Bill, then being considered by MPs, should include a “feed-in tariff”.

This is a system that allows people who generate clean, green electricity in their homes, such as solar power, to sell any surplus energy back to the national grid.

Such a system would reduce our carbon emissions, make the country less dependent on imported energy and help reduce the cost of household electricity bills.

Labour MP for Blaydon, David Anderson, supported this EDM. On 30th April, MPs were then able to vote on an amendment that would have introduced the measures demanded in the motion.

Well, it won't take a genius to guess which way Mr Anderson voted (the clue is that the Labour whips said vote against the amendment). Yes, here we have another example of Flexible Dave demanding one thing one month and then voting against it the next.

Oh, and for the record, 33 Labour MPs voted for the amendment, the biggest rebellion since Gordon Brown became PM.

So come on Dave, plug yourself back into the grid and feed in an answer as to why you changed your mind, yet again, on an issue you backed only weeks ago.

First video with 75,000 viewings

I reached a milestone yesterday in my bid to populate the world with my very own YouTube videos! My top video, Inside a former Soviet secret submarine base, has now been viewed 75,000 times. I filmed it when I visited the Crimea in 2006.

It has now got a comfortable lead over my second most viewed video, Copacabana Beach, on 73,000. I filmed this one when I was in Brazil in December 2005.

My 3rd most viewed video, A trip on the London Eye, has just passed the 50,000 viewing mark.

In a couple of months I hope to reach half a million viewings of all the videos on my YouTube Channel. No doubt I will tell you when it happens!

Sadly I will be posting up videos of our allotment and our attempts to grow our own food! Watch out for these block busters later in the summer!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Typical - weather cold and damp in south, warm in North

We decided that for this bank holiday weekend, we would spend it in London rather than at home in Gateshead. And how typical. The weather down here is wet, cold and miserable. Meanwhile, both the weather forecast and Mother, who is looking after our house and our cat, inform us that the weather is fine back home. And in particular, there is no rain. Alas, the allotment needs a good watering - plenty of seeds planted recently - and we were hoping a little bit of rain would do the trick. Instead, we had plenty last night down here in London - at least it refilled the water butt. But nowt up north.

Fortunately, yesterday, the rain held off long enough to do our garden down here. It had not been touched since last year and for months now has been doing an increasingly good impression of London's very own suburban jungle. Now that everything has been cleared, we are sitting huddled around our log burner trying to get warm. The logs have been sitting in the back garden here for a couple of years, since we last did a major tree pruning exercise. Given the trees are now nearly 30 metres high, and the branches are heavily overhanging us, there may be a repeat tree surgery exercise of removing branches coming up. In the meantime, our neighbours here have just started up the bbq. The smells of summer are with us!

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Labour plotters "couldn't organise a coup"

You can always rely on Austin Mitchell MP to put the boot in on Labour generally. Well, today is no different. As I sit having breakfast in the garden checking the BBC News on my blackberry, I read the following quote from Mitchell, directed at possible leadership contenders:

"This lot wouldn't know how to organise a coup if the research department gave them a manual on how to do it."

As I have said on a number of occasions, there will be no realistic challenge to Brown. I have taken a less cynical view of the situation than Austin Mitchell. My view is there will be no coup as the next generation does not want to take over when they are not sure if the ship they will command has been holed below the waterline. Mitchell's view is simply that they're all a bunch of useless, incompetent nobodies who couldn't organise a coup in a cabinet.

Austin Mitchell for Labour leader please!
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Friday, May 23, 2008

Dalai Lama visit - photos

The Dalai Lama met Nick Clegg and Lib Dem MPs yesterday. My colleague Kate took thiese photos on my camera - I was doing video.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Labour deserves to lose Crewe but Conservatives don't deserve to win

It is over an hour to go before the close of polls but I would be in need of a reality transplant if I were to deny that the Conservatives will win. Frankly, Labour deserve to lose today. The byelection is not just about sending Gordon Brown a message about his performance. It is a message to the whole Labour party. They all sucked up to Brown (okay a few honourable exceptions) and handed him the Labour crown. And on issues such as the 10p tax, they backed it. They cheered it last year. They voted for it. The Labour party is as guilty as sin. Their attempt to back off from the 10p tax is nothing other than panic on a vast scale.

The revival of the class war message may excite the old Labour hacks who will dribble and drool at the prospect of being able to trot out this rubbish but it is a symptom of the lack of a decent, clear message Labour can offer. Class war fills the gap but it shows them up to be devoid of ideas and with nothing positive to say.

Labour therefore deserve the thrashing they will get tonight. Brown won't resign as a result however and no one will want to oust him. After all, the likelihood of a Labour revival sufficient to win the next general election with a majority is small. Which aspiring Leader from the younger generation will want to take over at the helm of a ship already holed below the waterline? They will wait for Labour to go down to defeat then try for the leadership after Brown has been disposed of. Why carry the stigma of defeat? Leave that to Brown.

But what of the Conservatives.? It seems to me that the Vote Blue, Go Green slogan was the first to get the chop. Whilst Labour's stealth tax on older, larger vehicles is unreasonable (the tax was meant to change behaviour - ie to encourage people to buy cleaner vehicles) imposing it years after the decisions were taken is simply a new tax to raise revenue, rather than an attempt to go green. Introducing higher VED on more polluting vehicles bought after the higher VED is introduced is reasonable. People will know what their liabilities are. But the Conservative response to this? Throw out the whole of the green tax. So much for going green. Their first opportunity to back green action, and they abandon it in the pursuit of a by-election victory.

I have seen the Tory leaflets in Crewe which completely misrepresent the VED changes. Their calls to scrap the tax is in direct conflict with what they were calling for last year - a shift in taxes onto pollution. They surely can't with any shred on honesty now say "Vote Blue, Go Green". I suspect if they were to continue using the slogan, it would be a case of Vote Blue go red faced with embarrassment.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I've been to that stadium

I've just realised that I have seen the Moscow stadium where the football match is taking place before. I was iin Moscow in 1999 and we went up to the hill near the Moscow University which overlooked the city. There in front of us was the stadium - it was a bit of a tease to say I had been in it.

That visit to Moscow was before my video camera days. But I did have a 35mm camera (it was before I went digital). So I will have to dig out the photos I took. Meanwhile, penalties are underway.....

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There appears to be a football match taking place

I have to confess that I don't follow football. At the moment however it is impossible to avoid the game. My colleage George Crozier was watching it in the office this evening and when I left, half time was just about on us and Chelsea had scored an equaliser.

I met up with Richard and we are now in a pub on the way back to my house in London. The place is packed full of cheering Chelsea fans. Richard is backing Man U.

We are now into extra time. I called it overtime before but was politely corrected by someone. Both teams are equally balanced. I'm supporting the best team......

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Email newsletter

I have just done my monthly email newsletter to constituents. The circulation for this edition is about 900 homes and businesses. One of the articles is about a planning application to demolish a house in my ward and build five on the site instead. The road with the house is Grange Lane (though four of the five houses will be accessed through Grange Nook, a rather tiny street that currently has 6 houses running off it). There have now been a number of applications for the same street which have involved the demolition of the old, larger houses, and their replacement with smaller ones. This is not a happy situation as this area is starting to split at the seams. The application is recommended for approval though my ward colleage, Marilynn Ord, is speaking at the committee tomorrow against the application and will be calling for a site visit.

The email newsletter also has links to a number of new videos. Some are new on YouTube, some have been up a couple of weeks (I now have 303 videos on YouTube!)

Newcastle City Councillor Doreen Huddart was in Cowley St tonight as I was leaving. She is involved with candidate selection processes and so she was in HQ for that. Not quite my idea of a gripping evening but someone has to do it. Whenever I see Doreen, I end up being asked to include an article in one of my members' newsletters. Tonight was no exception. She will have to email it to me quickly though. I am aiming to get the North East Democrat completed and emailed out this week.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Monday Morning Blog: Leaders Labour Lost (and class warfare)

On Friday evening I went along to the Mayor's Reception at Gateshead Civic Centre. As usual, a good proportion of the people there were Labour party members though their ranks were depleted when compared with previous years. I wonder what caused that! There was one conversation I overheard which is, I suspect, typical of many that have taken place in Labour's fast declining membership in the North East.

Just over a week ago Labour's National Executive Committee stepped in to suspend 5 Labour councillors in County Durham, apparently over some bust up over the failure to get enough women candidates in the Easington area in the recent elections. Included amongst those suspended was Albert Nugent, the then Leader of the County Council. Cllr Nugent is unreconstructed Old Labour, a former miner who seems to have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with coal, as, alas, do many in the North East Labour party. The suspension was interestingly timed for it came the day before the Labour group were due to elect their leader, new group officers and generally share out cabinet places, committee chairs and other treats. So poor Cllr Nugent suddenly found himself locked out of power. The new Leader is ultra-New Labour. Listening to the conversation I heard on Friday and to other conversations by Labour, there is considerable unease about this intervention by Labour's central party bosses in the affairs of Labour's North East Jurassic Park where the dinosaurs have held sway since records began.

What was clearly a stitch up has caused much anger within the Labour party up here. Frankly, had I been in the Labour Party in Durham, I would have wanted rid of Albert Nugent. This coal obsessed dinosaur had been slated by the Audit Commission for his poor political leadership and his comments about his own colleagues (famously calling the "liars") didn't exactly strike me as the words of an inspirational and motivational leader. But instead of finally being allowed to self destruct, Labour's hamfisted intervention has created a bit of a hero (in local Labour eyes) which has masked his considerable failings as the Leader of a major council and of his own group.

There is a further issue arising out of this and also out of the departure of Blair. The language of "class warfare" is raising its very ugly head. I have heard much of this in relation to the sacking of Cllr Nugent. (It was an anti-working class move, it was claimed.) But I am increasingly seeing the language of class warfare where, for years it has been dead. The language of the "toffs" v the "working class" is spouted by many in Labour on a daily basis whereas under Blair, this would never have been heard except from those engaging in empty posturing (my local MP David Anderson springs to mind on this though his voting record in Parliament is one of absolute loyalty to the government.).

This atavistic language can be seen clearly in the Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich. Whilst it may be fair to point out that Labour's hamfisted income tax changes do not hurt the millionaire Tory candidate, the attempt to make the core Labour message a claim he is unable to represent the constituency because of his wealthy background is both absurd and frankly unbelievably hypocritical. Quite how Harriet Harman can go to the constituency and not blush when she sees her own party's literature deserves explanation. Her privileged background as the niece of an earl with a private education at an exclusive and exceptionally expensive private girls' school puts the Tory candidate's background into the shade. Yet here she is, deputy Labour Leader, elected by the Labour membership.

I wonder whether the disappearance of Blair marks the end of the New Labour project. Whilst Brown's policy position certainly appears to be to continue with the Blair reforms to public services, is something deeper afoot? Is it that Labour without Blair perceives a vacuum at the top? Do they feel that the purpose of Labour is no longer to be "New"? Is it the case that the ideological stuffing was knocked out of Labour under Blair and now that he has gone, no one any longer knows the purpose of Labour for the simple reason it no longer services any purpose? Could it be that Labour is simply reverting to its comfortable language of yesteryear as a comfort blanket or something to hide under after the decision to tax the poor whilst relieving the rich of inheritance tax, backing off making super rich non doms make a fair contribution and leaving the most wealthy on a rate of tax lower that the poorest? In other words are Labour trying to cover up tax policies which have benfitted the wealthy at the expense of the rest? Is shame driving Labour's posturing and language? I think so.

So watch out for more of this "class warfare" drivel. It did Labour no favours in the past but its re-emergence is a symptom of the malaise now infecting Labour.

And finally, let me bring you the shocking news from the train to London on which I am currently sitting. National Excess have not cancelled my train. I now believe in miracles!

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

We have a new mayor

Full Council yesterday in Gateshead. We had had no indication before hand of who Labour were putting forward as mayor (all mayors in Gateshead - and deputy mayors - are Labour. They have never allowed anyone from the Lib Dems to hold the position. There are of course no Conservatives who could be offered it anyway.) So we found out in the meeting that the new mayor is Maureen Chaplin.

Maureen has been on the council for four years. I've had only one run in with her. She was once unhappy about a campaign I was running in her ward and so just before the start of a council meeting she walked over to me and told me just what she thought of my campaign. I have to admit that my estimation of Maureen went up considerably following her words with me. After all, she wanted to tell it straight, and that is what she did. And frankly we could do with a few more politicians like that. So Maureen, good luck. I'm sure you will do a fine job as mayor.

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Rain, rain go away

I am due at the Whickham May Fayre at midday. Currently it is raining heavily (I am in Rowlands Gill.) It could ease off a bit but I am not holding out any great hopes. Meanwhile we have quarter of a tonne of dried farmyard manure in the boot (thankfully in sealed plastic sacks). Somehow we have to get this onto the allotment this weekend.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Brown uses GMTV to promote Crewe candidate - but what does she think of him?

Gordon Brown was on GMTV this morning doing his "I feel your pain" and "Believe me I am human, not a robot" turns. The usual unconvincing performance. No matter how much he tried to smile rather than snarl, he just does not convince anyone.

But what caught my attention was the discussion about the Crewe by-election. To give Brown his due, it was Penny the interviewer who raised the by-election by asking if he would be going there to campaign. The answer was no, but Brown then used the opportunity to name and praise Labour's candidate. Interview then over, and no mention by GMTV of the other candidates which begs various questions about compliance with the Representation of the People Act.

But it does come to something when the PM is on tv to discuss his legislative programme but then uses his appearance to talk up the chances of his candidate in a by-election.

Mind you, Brown's compliments to the hereditary Labour candidate for Crewe do not seem to be returned. A couple of days ago she was challenged repeatedly to say whether or not Brown was an asset. She repeatedly refused to answer. See the video here of her interview and judge for yourself: Is Brown an asset?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A little local success

Last year, the Labour councillors on the planning committee in Gateshead voted to reject an application to install a cash machine in our village post office in Sunniside. The argument adopted (paraphrased in my own style) was that putting such a facility onto a front street would bring traffic chaos and the entire ediface of western civilisation would collapse etc etc etc. I had handed in a petition of over 200 signatures in favour of the application. The rejection was met with stunned disbelief by residents of the village.

Well, I am pleased to say that Paul the postmaster phoned me this evening to say the appeal against the decision has been won.

The victory is all the more sweeter since the Labour party, in a fit of insanity, put a leaflet out in my ward in the run up to the election that never was, which laid into me and my colleagues for backing the application. It contained the usual drivel expected from Labour election leaflets in my ward. I shall be at full council on Friday and will be taking great pleasure in being magnanimous in victory over the person we knew wrote this leaflet.

Perhaps in the next leaflet he produces, in 2 years' time when the general election is likely to be held, he can explain why Labour took such an unreasonable position on our village post office. And perhaps an apology to residents, Paul the postmaster, and users of the branch would not go amiss. Don't hold your breath however.

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Stranger than fiction

The remarkable scene yesterday of an emergency budget being introduced at a time when there was no financial or economic emergency took some believing. This stuff is stranger than fiction. The only emergency was in Downing Street where Labour were in a state of complete panic about their vote meltdown.

No doubt there will be a bunch of deadwood Labour backbenchers who will claim credit for this monumental uturn (the same ones last year who were praising or voting for the budget, and who earlier this year voted for the Budget resolutions). The reality is that this was simply the action of a shattered government desperately trying to bail out guy they crowned unopposed as leader.

The actions of this past day have now shot to pieces the position of the government and completely undermined what credibility was left of Labour on the economy and finances. They have constantly claimed that tackling poverty is best done through their vastly complicated tax credit system. They have just gone against their own system. They constantly claim that they are prudent with the nations finances. That claim is now shot to bits. And they constantly attack the opposition parties for uncosted and unsustainable spending plans. Their credibility on such claims, not great before hand, is now gone altogether (though don't expect Labour to stop making such claims.)

We all await however the small print of the government's uturn. With Labour, we all know the devil is in the detail. What will happen to allowances next year is anyone's guess. One likely effect of the emergency budget however is further cuts in interest rates are less likely.

Black Wednesday finally shot to pieces the last Conservative government's credibility on the economy and the nations finances. Whilst crashing out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism was a solution to some of the problems caused by the preceding recession (though many of these problems were starting to be solved by a growing economy anyway), it was the decision by the government to reverse a major policy that completely undermined the Conservatives' credibility. Last year I felt the cancelled election had the equivalent effect on Labour in terms of credibility. So if last year saw Black Saturday for Labour, yesterday must be Black Tuesday. That leaves five days of the week for Labour to completely wreck everything else.

The rapid progression of Gordon Brown from Stalin, master of all he saw, to Mr Bean, (our never ending thanks to Vince Cable for this immaculately accurate but amusing comparison) is nearing completion. The story of Brown as Prime Minister is indeed stranger than fiction.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For and against more regulation in the same speech - Cameron's latest say-anything-to-get-elected posture

I came across these interesting bits from a speech by David Cameron to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, made yesterday.

In it he makes the case for less regulation. And then he goes on to make the case for, errr....more regulation.

Here's what he said:

The third way in which our present regime has undermined social value is through over-regulation.

And then he went on to say:

But government is not only failing to impose sensible new regulations that would protect the countryside. They are even getting rid of existing ones.

You can see the full speech, if you really want to, at Cameron speech.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Monday morning blog no. 2: the battle of the autobiographies

"War!? I must write my memoirs." So went the classic line from the Goon Show. The moment war was declared, there was a rush by the generals to go into print. It feels like we have had a similar experience over the weekend.

With Labour now falling apart at the seams, it appears to be first choice of the ancien regime to join the internal Labour war by lobbing a grenade at the embattled Prime Minister. Prescott, Levy and Mrs Blair are all on a roll with claims in their autobiographies about how bad Brown was under Blair. It all adds weight to the genuine belief that Brown is not up to the job of Prime Minister. Indeed, he is so bad that he has succeeded in making that fake, Cameron, look like PM material.

The battle of the autobiographies is just a sideshow carried out before these three reach the end of their shelf life. Who will be interested in them in a year's time? Get the cash rolling in now by getting their side of the story into print before people think they are very old news.

So it all adds to Brown's woes. But as I have said before, don't get carried away with the idea that Brown will be got rid of in coming months. To do that, Labour needs an alternative leader and at the moment such a person does not exist. And removing a prime minister after less than a year in office will make Labour look more of a laughing stock than they currently are.

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The Monday morning blog no. 1: another National Express cancellation

I have just arrived at Newcastle Central Station to find my train to London is, yet again, cancelled by National Excess. This has been caused by a "train failure". Should this be a National Express company failure? I have had more cancellations of my train since National Excess took over the East Coast line 6 months ago than I had in the whole of the 8 years before then.

It means there will be a battle on the next train to get a seat. It also means a much longer journey. The next service takes nearly half an hour longer to get to London.

I wouldn't put National Excess in charge of a Hornby trainset, never mind a real one.

The next train has now arrived. To make matters worse, we are being told that the train I have just got onto was actually my service but it is being converted to the much slower next service. And we are now being told that the reason for the cancellation of my service is a "set shortage" - that is technical, gobshite talk for not having enough trains. Quite how we are supposed to encourage more people to travel by train rather than by car with such a crap train operator running one of the main services is beyond me.

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Are the Lib Dems set to take control of Northumberland County Council?

I interviewed Jeff Reid, new Leader of the Lib Dem group on Northumberland County Council on Sunday. The Lib Dems are now the largest group and Jeff discusses possible ways forward for the Council, suggesting a "partnership of the willing" for the coming year.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How about this for a Labour meltdown

I stumbled across this whilst looking for something else but I feel it should be shared more widely with the world.

These were the voted cast on 1st May in Bywell ward of Northumberland:
  • Ind 599
  • Lib Dem 506
  • Con 463
  • Lab 94

At first sight, you would think this was a no hope ward for Labour. Actually, you would be wrong to think that. This was a ward Labour were defending. The independent who won was actually the former Labour councillor who went Independent when Labour imposed an all women shortlist on his ward. Since he had testicles rather than ovaries, he got the chop. Labour imported a female candidate from 23 miles away. The independent won and the Labour candidate, as you can see from the result, barely registered.

Labour got only 6% in a ward they were defending. Is that a record?

Labour have lost control of County Durham

Labour's suicide mission knows no bounds. Their National Executive Committee have just suspended 5 Durham County Councillors from the Easington area apparently in some spat over women candidates (Labour in Easington only put up 4 women candidates for 24 seats). But what has been missed by the BBC in reporting this is that the suspensions have now stripped Labour of their majority on Durham County. Previously with a lead of 8 over the opposition, they are now in a minority of 2.

Make a note of this everyone - for Labour had held Durham County Council since 1919.

Adding to their self-inflicted woes is the position of one of the suspended councillors, Alan Napier. He is Leader of Easington District Council. By the looks of it, not for much longer. As a suspendee (is there such a word?) he is no longer eligible to serve in a Labour administration, never mind as Leader. Mind you, his successor as Leader of Easington will be the equivalent of a new captain being appointed to the Titanic after the ship had struck the iceberg but before she finally went down - Easington Council has one year left before it is abolished. Councillor Napier was also thought of as a likely deputy leader of the new unitary Durham County. Not any more.

And then there is the case of Albert Nugent, leader of the County Council until yesterday. He is one of the suspended Gang of Five. The suspension of this Old Labour party boss was perfectly timed for his New Labour opponents. University lecturer Simon Henig, who my spies tell me is New Labour to the core, is now the new Leader - the election by the Labour group was yesterday and dear old Albert was, alas, no longer entitled to stand or even attend the group meeting.

So interesting times ahead in the former Labour fortress of Durham County. The outer walls of the defences have been breached (mainly by the Lib Dems) and the defending Labour guards have turned their weapons on each other. Thanks guys.

Interviewing in Morpeth

I am up in Morpeth, outside County Hall, having just done an interview for the next members' video newsletter in the North East with Jeff Reid. Jeff is the new Leader of the Northumberland County Council. We are now the largest group and Labour are now in third place. The elections gave the Lab Cons 17 seats each but a couple of indies have joined the Con group therefore making Labour the third party.

With 26 seats, we are 8 short of taking control. So discussions will need to take place as to who does what.

Anyway, the Labour group must have just finished a meeting as their councillors are just leaving County Hall. Jeff is off for a quick word.....

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The wrong seat from National Excess

Well, here I am, sitting on the National Excess service to Newcastle and as usual, the seat I booked is not the one reserved for me. Quite why they bother with the section on their website that allows you to book a particular type of seat is beyond me. It never seems to work.

And another thing. The journey time from Kings Cross to London has been increased by 20 min.

Okay, rant over!

The exciting news from back home is that our tomatoes, peppers, gherkins and various other seeds are now sprouting. Well, it just doesn't get more exciting than that! Trouble is, we now need to build a greenhouse. We do actually have one ready to put up. It's like a large Meccano set for adults (I wonder, do they still make Meccano?) Anyway getting the ground ready for it will be the key job for the weekend.

Mind you, it's not all fun playing with big boys' construction kits over the next two days. I am also heading up to Morpeth on Sunday to interview Jeff Reid, new leader of our vastly enlarged group on Northumberland County Council. There is a reasonable expectation he will become the new Council leader - we are the largest group and Labour carelessly lost half their councillors in the recent local elections. (For Labour it was a combination of meltdown, self detonation, suicide and having Comrade Brown as leader! Seems like a winning combination to me - certainly helped us to win plebty of seats!)

Jeff will be interviewed for the video newsletter I produce for members in the region. It's all very experimental at the moment. I will also interview Jeff for North East Democrat, which I edit. I am hoping to get the next edition emailed out to members this coming week. So at some point I had better get round to writing it!

I do of course have other things to do touching on other constituencies. No, I am not going to tell you which ones. I'll keep our opponents, many of whom are avid readers of this blog, guessing.

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Remember Labour's attack on Vince Cable over spending on bee research?

Do you remember the Labour document "100 spending commitments the Liberal Democrats can't fund because their sums don't add up"?

It was popular reading for Labour hacks in 2005. It was packed full of barrel bottom scraping ideas on how Labour could incorrectly paint the Lib Dems as having spending commitments but no explanation as to how we would pay for them.

Number 94 was the one that got the most attention due to the stupidity of the claims Labour tried to hook onto it. Apparently, Labour suggested, the entire economic ediface of the country was at risk because Vince Cable had the following "spending commitment" on his personal website:

"Bees. Twickenham has one of the best bee keeping centres in the country. Many local people support it. Benefits from bees' natural pollination activities are enormous, worth billions of pounds. There is however negligible research into damaging diseases and I have pressed the ministry of agriculture for a bigger research commitment."

Yes, the nation's finances were going to be underminded by investing in bee research!

I have revived memories of this long forgotten Labour work of drivel because I spotted that Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson is making a fuss about the lack of research in, errrrr....bee research.

Here are his recent Parliamentary questions on the subject:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the emergence of an Asian variation of the bee pathogen Nosema ceranae.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department has taken to investigate the reasons for unexplained losses of queens from bee hives.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what funding his Department plans to provide for bee inspectors in (a) 2008-09, (b) 2009-10 and (c) 2010-11.

Rather helpfully, the minister replied with answers suggesting cash was being spent on research into the little honey makers. And presumably, the nation's finances are about to collapse as a result.

Interesting to note that New Labour Queen Bee Blair is no longer in the hive. Could this spell the end of them?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Is tactical voting working against Labour?

The Conservatives have made great claims about their decision to hold their spring conference in Gateshead. It was a sign, they suggested, of their revival at least of interest in the North East. This explanation was trotted out by Conservatives last week on tv whilst commenting on the local elections generally. The equivalent would be Labour claiming a revival in the South every time they hold a conference in Bournemouth.

I don't doubt for a moment that the Conservatives want to do well generally in the North East. And their decision to hold their conference here was welcome. After all, visitors to the region briing money and that means more cash circulating in our local economy. Indeed, Mr Cameron, come here again and keep spending your money.

But the political benefits for the Tories in Gateshead and Newcastle were zilch. The Conservatives made no progress at all on the two local authorities. In many places they struggled to get into third place ahead of the BNP. 1992 was the last time a Conservative topped the poll in any ward in Newcastle or Gateshead. The seats they won in that year can barely see the Conservative now, they are so far behind.

My own ward shows just how far the Conservatives have declined. Twenty five years ago it was very strongly Conservative. Last week, they achieved second place for the first time in 16 years but given we had 68% and a 1500 majority, their success was more a measure of Labour's meltdown (Labour got their worst vote ever in the ward last week). The Conservatives don't have a grassroots organisation that can even get out a leaflet, never mind the vote.

It is not all bad news for the Conservatives in the North East. As I have said previously, had I been in Sunderland or North Tyneside, I would have been pleased last week had I been a Conservative. North Tyneside contains Tynemouth constituency which was Conservative for nearly 40 years until the 1997 election when it went into the Labour fold. Labour's hold on the seat is looking decidedly butter-fingered at the moment.

In the North East outside those two areas, the Conservative story was one of very limited growth whilst it was the Lib Dems who made the surge forward on the big authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle and County Durham. In Northumberland, the Conservatives hold Hexham and once held Berwick (they have aspirations to win back Alan Beith's seat though their performance last week suggests they will need to keep dreaming.) Yet the Tories had a net gain of only three seats and lost their leader to the Lib Dems in the process.

Down in Durham, the Conservatives did grow from 2 to 10, though the figures are inflated as the authority was doubled in size. The Lib Dems had 5 members on the old, smaller authority. We have 27 on the new enlarged one. Clearly we were the beneficiaries.

Yet there may be straws in the wind that could be telling the story about where politics is going in Britain. In Sunderland and North Tyneside, the Tories did well but we were thin on the ground. In Newcastle and Gateshead, the Tories were thin on the ground but we did well. Cross one authority border to the next and the challengers to Labour are different.

Then go to South Tyneside where both Lib Dems and Conservatives are weak. The challengers there are independents.

Back in the 1990s at aconstituency level, the Conservatives were crushed by a huge pincer movement from tactical voting. This boosted Labour's majority to a far higher level than would otherwise be the case. On a constituency by constituency basis, the party seen as most likely to beat the Tories was the one that benefitted disproportionately in that constituency.

Could the same now be happening to Labour? Could it be that the tide that swept Labour into power with such a huge majority over the past decade or so is about to go into reverse? It is probably too early to tell but if it is the case, Labour are in deep, deep trouble.

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21 years as a councillor

It was 21 years ago today, at the tender age of 23, that I was first elected as a councillor in Gateshead. I gained the seat from the Conservatives who have since all but disappeared from Gateshead. I was the 4th member of the group. Now we are 24.

It is amusing in a sense to look back on that campaign. All three parties turned up at the count thinking they had won. The remaining Tory councillor in the ward came over to me when I arrived at the count and told me he was wishing me a "good second place." I wished him the same. Labour were as arrogant as ever, believing they were the people's natural choice, though the people had different views on the matter.

In the end, I was elected with a majority of 850 over the Conservatives and 1100 over Labour. Last week, my colleague Councillor Alan Ord was elected with a majority of about 1500 and 70% of the vote.

After 21 years, however, I am still amongst the younger of the councillors on the authority!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Comical Ali appointed as Labour spin doctor

Former Iraqi propaganda chief Comical Ali has been signed up as spin doctor for the Labour party. Or so you would think if you read the unbelievable claims from Reading Labour party who, according to their website, gave the Tories a "bloody nose" in the local elections. For the uninitiated, Labour lost control of Reading council on Thursday last week, losing three seats to the Tories. And rather carelessly, they lost the seat held by their leader to the Lib Dems. (Meanwhile, as of today Labour have lost another seat there as one of their own band has decided to go independent.)

Spin doctor Comical Ali then goes on to claim, "Labour's results in Reading show our strength locally in that Reading Labour Party has once again bucked the national trend."

I've heard of triumphalism in success, but triumphalism in defeat is a new one on me.

You can imagine this spin doctor's other claims: "Livingstone triumphs over Johnson", "Labour landslide in local elections", "Brown voted best PM ever", ad nauseum etc.

For a bit of enjoyment, visit the site of Reading Labour and have a good chuckle:

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Tuesday morning blog: jam today in Cowley St

Well, here I am on the platform at Newcastle Central, waiting for the 7.40am train to Newcastle. After two weeks at home, I am having to head back to Cowley St to earn my living. I hear on the grapevine that there is a severe jam famine in Lib Dem HQ. The jam tap has, of course, been cut off for the past two weeks but travelling with me to London is a bag of goodies for the starving undernourished workers of Cowley St. Or rather, a bag of homemade jams and a large tin of posh tea. The latter is courtesy of my father who bought a load of Ringtons special edition teas and then passed some of them to me. Given they have sat in the cupboard for ages, we have decided to donate them to a needy cause in the form of Cowley St. So here we have it, unlike Gordon Brown and Labour, it's jam (and tea) today from the Lib Dems!

Train now approaching the platform. Over and out.
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Monday, May 05, 2008

Gateshead local election results May 2008

This is the final video produced about the local elections. In this one, Peter Maughan discusses the election results in Gateshead with a focus on Blaydon constituency.

Could a Lab/Con coalition take over in Northumberland?

Labour lost over 20 seats in Northumberland last week. From having a clear majority, they came out of the elections with 17 seats, having endured a sort of electoral liposuction that left them considerably slimmed down. The Conservatives fared better though compared to the rest of the country, their performance was not fantastic. They went from 14 to 17 seats but their leader lost to a 20 year old Lib Dem in Alan Beith's constituency. The Lib Dems increased their seats from 14 to 26.

This electoral arithmetic leaves unanswered who will run Northumberland. No party has a majority and deals will have to be struck to create an administration with a majority. The question is who will strike what with who?

Perhaps we should look to Castle Morpeth, one of the Northumberland district councils about to be abolished, to get a clue as to possible outcomes. In the town hall in Morpeth, Tories and Labour cobbled together a power sharing scheme last year that was designed to shut the Lib Dems out of power. In one other place in the North East, the Tories have jumped into bed with Labour - in Stockton where the Tories prop up the minority Labour administration. So Lab/Con co-operation (collusion?) is not unknown in the North East.

That is their right so if their aim is to put together a power sharing deal in Northumberland they are entitled to do just that. And I have heard on the grapevine of communications having taken place between the two parties. What I don't know is what was discussed. We await the outcome....

Monday morning blog - believe this rebellion when it happens

Yet another Monday morning when I have the joy of being at home rather than on a train to London! And I'm blogging a bit later than usual for two reasons: I slept in (come on, give me a break - it's a bank holiday) and I've just been down to Dunston in Gateshead to shoot my 4th and final election results video.

For the subject of this Monday Morning Blog I have taken the issue of another, yes another, threatened rebellion on the 10p rate by Labour backbenchers. Haven't we all been here before? Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago when the last so-called rebellion caved in after Brown offered a nebulous plan for jam sometime tomorrow. The so-called plan was, of course, simply a ploy to make it look as though something has been offered by the government. No details, no explanation as to how the package would be financed or how it would work. Labour backbenchers were then only too happy to abandon the rebellion, if indeed, "rebellion" is the right word.

Now we are told that there could be another rebellion in the offing as Labour backbenchers are demanding details of the package. Frankly, it's a bit late for that. Surely they should have been asking about the details when the so-called concessions were first offered, rather than taking two weeks to wake up to the fact that they have been duped. (Mind you, most Labour MPs took nearly a year to start making a fuss about the abolition of the 10p rate - so they are not exactly fast off the mark.)

It seems as though Labour backbenchers can be taken in by a bit of spin. The rest of the country however is not so easily fooled.

Explaining the secrets of the success of the biggest Lib Dem council group in the UK

The Lib Dem group in Newcastle upon Tyne, with 49 members, is now the biggest Lib Dem council group in the UK. John Shipley, Leader of the group, explains how this was achieved. And Parliamentary candidate for Newcastle North, Ron Beadle, explains what the election results mean for his constituency.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

From third to first party in Northumberland - interview

This is the next interview about the local elections we produced for the forthcoming email newsletter to Lib Dem members in the North East. Councillor Neil Bradbury explains the increase in the Lib Dem seats and the Labour wipeout in most of Northumberland. Neil was himself elected on Thursday and is also one of the Lib Dem Euro candidates for the North East.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

From 5 to 27 councillors in Durham

On the new unitary County Council of Durham, the Lib Dems went from 5 to 27 seats in the local elections on Thursday. In this interview, Carol Woods, prospective parliamentary candidate for City of Durham, explains why the Lib Dems did so well.

Friday, May 02, 2008

We are largest party in Northumberland

Labour have gone into meltdown in Northumberland. Results have just come through and we have gone from third to first place. We are short of a majority, on 26 seats. Labour, previously with a comfortable majority, have collapsed to 17, the same as the Conservatives. So on the big, new authorities, the Lib Dems have done well. In the North East.
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How things have worked out in the North East

Durham County at the moment tops our success story list. We have gone from 4 to 27 councillors. Part of the increase can be explained by the doubling of the size of the council, so in theory the baseline was 8. Not a bad rise. No one ever thought Labour would lose control, but they came very close. A handful of byelections over the coming years could finish Labour control.

Lib Dem controlled Newcastle is also on our success list. 4 gains from Labour and one loss in Wingrove. This loss was sort of expected. The ward already has two Labour cllrs and we have not been ablee to issue a knock out blow on them. But after 4 years in power, to make a good set of gains must be good news. Our people are telling me this is the largest we have been on Newcastle, and is now the largest Lib Dem group in the country.

In Gateshead, overall, one seat changed hands. Lib Dems gained Winlaton and High Spen from Labour. The balance on Gateshead is now 41 Lab, 24 Lib Dems and one independent Liberal.

No Conservatives elected in Newcastle or Gateshead. However, Conservatives have made some strong gains in Sunderland and have picked up three seats in North Tyneside and therefore have a majority on the council. However, this is a bit academic. The non Labour parties still don't have enough to block the Labour elected Mayor.

Still, if I were a Conservative in Sunderland or North Tyneside, I would feel rather chuffed! But if I were a Conservative in Newcastle or Gateshead, I would still feel I were in the middle of an arid desert. Mind you, were I a Lib Dem in Sunderland, with our single seat, I would feel I was in a desert.

I am picking up rumours of Lib Dem gains in Northumberland from Lab and Cons but I can't confirm this yet and we may have made some losses to independents. However, our people there are suggesting that overall we are up, Labour will lose control and generally Lib Dems are feeling positive.

And finally, just a thank you to all the political opponents of mine who told me at the count that they read my blog. I may have things to say about your parties occasionally but glad you like to read what I have to say!!!

And another "And finally" - message from my Labour friends in London is that Johnson has got it.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Don't you just love those early morning deliveries?

Seasoned Lib Dem campaigners are used to starting election days in the early hours. Sleepy-eyed, we crawl out of bed whilst the rest of the world is sensibly snuggled up under a duvet. Complete with lists of streets and bundles of leaflets, we attempt to put "Good Morning" leaflets through doors without rattling letterboxes, slamming garden gates and waking up dogs. And once done, we get back home, grab a cup of tea, and put on the television to endure a few minutes of Lorraine Kelly interviewing Rick Astley on GMTV. It just doesn't get better than that!

I would have watched real news if I could get it on the tv but we had a Sky box installed on Monday, with the result that we cannot get any satellite channels at all. This was not quite what we had in mind when we decided to get the box put in. The man with the toolkit is coming out tomorrow to fix it.

I had the experience yesterday of my colleagues inflicting on me the worst delivery round they could lay their hands on. Mind you, I had it coming! It was my idea to put a target leaflet out in a particular ward in Gateshead (no I won't say which one as a significant number of readers of this blog are local political opponents).

Target leaflets are sometimes not always loved by those who have to deliver them as they have to ensure the right leaflet goes through the right door. Finding the right door in always the problem. It is amazing how many people don't have house numbers clearly displayed (or displayed at all) and how many streets are not signposted. Colleagues gave me an estate where the streets were back to front, merged into each other in an unexplained fashion and where house numbers were generally lacking. Thanks guys. It only took me 2 hours to deliver. But think of all that healthy exercise I got by repeatedly walking up and down the same street looking for those handfull of houses that just don't seem to exist!

Anyway, I am about to start my next bit of polling day work. And I will leave opponents guessing as to what it is.....