Sunday, June 29, 2008

So what's the news?

When I landed yesterday at Heathrow, I posted a blog and ended by asking what news was there from the past 2 weeks.kay, I knew about Henley as I used my blackberry to check LibDem Blogs on Friday morning. But other news seems to have developed since I set foot back in the UK.

Firstly, as I got to Victoria Station, the news on the overhead screen screamed that Wendy Alexander had resigned. And then back at the flat I discovered that a byuelection is to be held in the Labour seat of Glasgow East. So Labour still in a mess.

I also see that there are 25 candidates for Haltemprice and Howden byelection. It only goes to show that this particular contest is little more than a circus.

And now for something completely different. I tried out one of the bottles of elderflower champagne I had last month. Alas, it has not fermented. But it does make a pleasant cordial drink! I've relabelled the bottles! There should be another batch brewing at home in Gateshead. Hopefully better luck with that.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm back!

Just back from a trip to the Far and Middle East and have just got on the tube at Heathrow (they are all delayed due to a power failure). The Far East part of the trip was spent mainly in Bangkok but I also did a visit to the Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Middle East part of the trip was spent in Jordan, with a few days on the Dead Sea, a day at Petra and a day visiting the Roman city of Jerash, looking at mosaics at Madaba and a trip to the top of Mount Nebo.

There will of course be plenty of photos and videos to post up!

So here I am back in the UK. Has anything happened whilst I have been away?

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Setting off for Petra and news of Henley arrives

I have come out to Jordan to wander around the ruins of Petra (amongst doing other things). And as I left the hotel this morning and headed to the site, news of another ruin arrived by the marvels of technology. Labour had come fifth in Henley. 3rd was what could have been expected but to be beaten by the Greens and BNP puts this byelection into the history books.

I will be back in UK on Saturday to take part in the celebrations.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Meat free day

I see that Sir Paul McCartney is suggesting people should give up meat for one day a week in an attempt to go green. Meat production, especially from cattle, has a significant impact on the environment. It takes 10kg of grain to produce one kg of beef. At a time when grain prices are soaring because of food shortages (caused in part by big increases in demand for meat), giving up meat for one day a week will help, assuming we were all to do it.

As I have mentioned a few times on this blog, I have gone much further than that. I only eat meat at the weekend or on special occasions and have largely, but not completely, cut out dairy products. (It's amazing how much better tea tastes without milk!)

The solution to a number of environmental problems is to cut out over indulgence rather than cutting out something altogether. Humans evolved as omnivores, ie eating both plants and animals. But we eat too much animal products than we have evolved to eat with consequent harmful effects on health and the environment. Yet calls to cut out something completely may be counter productive. Telling everyone they should go vegetarian just won't work. Suggesting people cut down rather than exclude may achieve something more positive.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shouldn't Osborne and Redwood be at each other's throats?

I was woken by the whinging accent of George Osborne on GMTV this morning. Today's populist campaign from the Tories was to demand a cap on interest rates charged by store cards so that they are brought into line with other credit cards. Quite how this unworkable policy would work in practice, given the large differences in other credit card interest rates, was never explained.

This does of course, completely conflict with what the John Redwood Tory economic report had to say last year on such matters. Basically, state intervention of this nature was savaged by JR. His report was widely praised in the Tory party at the time, including by Cameron.

This is of course an example of the Tories saying anything, no matter how contradictory, to get noticed. Have they been getting lessons from Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson!?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. I had to meet Dad last night. He had come down to London for a few days to stay with us in the flat. I was of course late as I had to complete three different publications before leaving the office. Fortunately, the Parliamentary Campaigner was done and should now be with Parliamentary candidates. Also launched down the slipway was the next North East Democrat. That's now with members throughout the North East. And finally, my next email newsletter to constituents was completed and sent. It was edition number 50. Half way to a century and its only been going for five years.

Our cat Jess has rather taken a shine to Dad. But there again, anyone prepared to feed and fuss over her suddenly becomes her new best friend!

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cutting the cash to Labour MPs

What a joy it was to read that the GMB union is no longer to waste its members money on handouts to various Labour MPs. I was particularly interested to see that Durham City MP Roberta Blackman Woods has been politely told to take her financial demands elsewhere.

I am interested in that case as my friend Carol Woods is the Lib Dem candidate there and Roberta Deadwood's majority over CW is only 3000. Apparently, Deadwood has had thousands of pounds previously extracted from GMB members.

The GMB is telling the world that the cash is being cut off as these MPs aren't supporting GMB policy. That is code for saying they are a dreadful waste of space and the GMB seriously regret signing cheques to them. So it is of great interest that soon to be evicted Gateshead East MP Sharon Hodgson is also being turned down for GMB handouts. Taking the money from her just seems to be adding insult to injury but enjoyable nevertheless.

And finally, to Lib Dem parliamentary candidates, I did finish the first draft of Parliamentary Campaigner this morning and it will go through its revision tomorrow. You should have it soon.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shoveling shit

I went to the Northern Regional Conference in Gateshead this morning, mainly to cover it for the North East Democrat (due out on Monday if all goes well - if it doesn't, publication will be put back a short while as I will be out of the country for a few days after that). Interesting experience of turning up with my cameras. I put my telescopic lens on my Nikon and within minutes I was receiving requests for copies of the photos I had taken. Seems as though if you are well endowed (ie you have a rather large lens on the front of your camera) people automatically assume they can put away their compacts as my pics will "look more professional", as someone said to me.

In the early afternoon I headed over to Newcastle to our hairdressers. David was there when I arrived and told me that he had been speaking to our neighbour across the road from us who also has the allotment next door to ours. The neighbouring allotment took delivery of a wagon load of manure a few weeks ago. David, in an attempt to enter into interesting and informative discussions with our neighbours, asked him which farm he got his manure from as we were after a load ourselves for our own allotment.

To cut a long story short, David reported that a short while later, our neighbour turned up with a wagon load of the stuff for us and we needed to get it shifted from the car park used by the allotment holders onto the allotment itself.

This necessitated a trip to B and Q for a wheelbarrow after our hair was cut and the grey was removed. I didn't realise buying a wheelbarrow could be so interesting! They come in various shapes and sizes and colours. Fitting it in the car was even more interesting.

So, back at the ranch, we started shovelling the stuff into our freshly christened wheelbarrow and I had the job of pushing the barrow down the path and onto the allotment. There were 30 barrow loads of shit - over a ton of the stuff! Took an hour and a half to shift it. It will all have to be dug in as well. I hope our plants appreciate what we are doing for them!

The result of our manure relocation exercise this afternoon is that I am still working on Parliamentary Campaigner at 1am. It is also due for publication on Monday. So if you are a Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate, open your inbox on Monday for you next set of campaign ideas.

In the meantime, I'm off to bed. I'm knackered. I'll do the remaining two pages of Parliamentary Campaigner in the morning.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Have you had a David Davis moment?

I am sitting in my office at home having just spent the past hour watching the Dispatches programme from earlier this week on Gordon Brown and how it all went horribly wrong for him. Was the decision to allow election speculation to get out of control last year Brown's David Davis moment?

I suspect there will now be a new term entering the lexicon of political language given Davis's decision to throw his political career from the top of a cliff over the vote on a bill on which he took a principled stand. Whilst I accept that Davis is a man of honour and deeply held beliefs, he has allowed his judgement to be seriously clouded.

The idea to resign and force a byelection germinated over the weekend. By Thursday it had taken root and grown out of all proportion, producing its own poisonous fruit.

I remember a few years ago sitting in a wine bar with a couple of MPs who will remain nameless as the three of us got through more wine than I would normally drink in a single session. During that time, we worked out how to put the world to rights along with who we were going to tell to do what the next day. We even sent ourselves voicemail messages to remind ourselves of the courses of action we had proposed.

In the cold light of morning, free from the mind bending qualities of white wine, a more realistic view of the world prevailed. Our voicemail messages were quietly deleted and we went about our normal business without carrying out those rather fatally dangerous decisions of the night before.

David Davis appears not to have had the cold light of morning strike him by Thursday when he sprung his Don Quixote impression on an unsuspecting world. There is nothing to be gained by forcing an unnecessary byelection and since Labour won't play ball anyway by putting up a candidate, the whole saga appears more as a pantomime than serious politics.

So, have you had a David Davis moment when you have taken an unnecessary decision for all the wrong reasons? Gordon Brown's David Davis moment was allowing election speculation to run riot simply to destabalise the Conservatives. Brown has suffered ever since, until now, when David Davis himself as taken the heat off him. How Cameron must be feeling at the moment is probably not printable.

I suppose in politics, you should always expect the unexpected. Talking of which, I am still trying to rearrange my diary for the first half of September. It won't be easy trying to be away from Cowley St in the run up to conference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saying goodbye to Alan

There were hundreds of people at the funeral service today for my ward colleague Councillor Alan Ord. Residents, members, school governors, councillors and officers were present. I had asked Marilynn, my other ward colleague and Alan's wife, on Monday if I could take a photo outside the church of people attending the service. This is the photo of just a few of those who came to pay their last respects. My intention is that I use it in our next ward Focus to be produced in the summer.

I have included a second picture. This is of Alan and Marilynn which I snapped in Gateshead Civic Centre on the day in January 2006 when he returned to his council duties after recovering from a major operation. I think it is one of the best pictures I have taken of them both together.

Marilynn was, understandably, unable to attend the planning committee this morning when she was due to speak against an application to demolish an historic house in the Grange Lane area of our ward and build five houses on the site. I stood in for her. I can report that the application was rejected.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Today's National Express problem: hot stuff

An early return from London finds me on the 7pm train out of Kings Cross. Coach F however is overheating. It is like a travelling sauna. So people are trying to avoid the coach and all the seat reservations have been moved elsewhere. Not that that has helped me. I picked up my ticket and there was no seat reservation in sight. I could have gone into coach F but the thought of a three hour sauna did not appeal. So I am in coach H sitting opposite someone eating the vilest smelling burger I have encountered for some time.

It is of course, Alan's funeral tomorrow. I am expecting a large number of people to attend the service to say goodbye.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

There appears to be a second Jonathan Wallace

I had a couple of phone calls on Saturday from people congratulating me on a letter in the Independent. Alas, I had to confess, the letter was not from me. There appears to be another Jonathan Wallace, though he describes himself as from Newcastle (I am from the other side of the Tyne, Gateshead!)

I haven't seen the letter though I am told it is about university admissions. I'm sure it was well written!

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The Monday Morning Blog - power down and solar powered

It is Monday morning and as usual I am waiting for a train to Kings Cross. And amazingly, National Express have not cancelled my service!

I got a message yesterday to tell me that a fire at a substation in London had cut the power supply to the flat. And then I saw it on the news - a huge fire that had cut the supply to 40,000 homes. The latest is that there is still no power at the flat. I suspect that by now the freezer will be well defrosted. Of course, were we producing power in our homes from microgeneration, the problems of the local substation turning into an inferno would be reduced (though it would be unlikely that people would be able to generate all their power at home.)

Having spent most of the weekend on the allotment, I woke up this morning and bleary eyed I looked in the mirror. I looked like I had spent a week on a Mediterranean beach! Solar power has turned me a shade darker! And my skin now feels it has had an encounter with botox though with the wrinkles remaining! I should have used the after sun lotion yesterday!

The train journey is now underway (we have just passed Durham). This is a short trip to London. I return home tomorrow evening for Alan's funeral on Wednesday.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

No politics - doing the allotment instead

No politics, no meetings, no leaflets this weekend. It is all off the agenda until after Alan's funeral on Wednesday. It meant a weekend spent on the allotment attacking the weeds. I had to ship over 85 litres of water (from my Saturday evening bath) to water the plants. We have a 25 litre and a 10 litre water carrier. The larger one we put on a porter's trolley to get to the allotment. I'm sure the plants appreciate the efforts we go to! Whether or not they like having to drink my Saturday evening soak is another thing. Still, if I keep saying to others that reuse and recycling are important, then I must practice what I preach. Hence the recycling of the contents of the bath tub.

One thing I did have a go at on Saturday was making nettle tea. It is the first time I have tried making it (I've made nettle soup and nettle flans before, but not tea). So, I decided to do it on video. Here's the result:

Friday, June 06, 2008

Heading home

I am now on the train heading home. Thankfully this time it has not been cancelled or delayed.

Alan's funeral is to be on Wednesday, at 1pm in St Mary's Church, Whickham. I sent out an email bulletin to constituents about the date and time. Many have asked me over the last few days when it is to be.

I tried to book rail tickets for the coming week on the National Express website tonight. I left it to the last moment, not knowing until last night when the funeral will be. As I got to the last stage the website page crashed. So I will have to book them tomorrow (I had to leave the office at that point to go to Kings Cross to head home). It probably means the last cheap ticket I thought I bought tonight will be long gone.

I also got a message from David today to say he had been down to the allotment. We are, it seems, to spend much of the weekend weeding. Since I spent much of last Saturday doing the same, this raises the possibility that the thistles and other weeds growing on our land are enjoying the manure and soil conditioner we so thoughtfully put down for our spuds, peas, beans, onions, carrots, chard, parsnips etc.

Meanwhile, in our garden in London I have 40 sycamore seedlings growing. This is my very own carbon offset. In a few years' time I will be looking for good homes for them! And with 40 new seedlings growing each year, perhaps I will need someone to take on a ready to plant forest!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Nearly late for Downing St photos

I had been booked in to take photos and video this afternoon for Jo Swinson MP handing in a petition to Downing St about a hospice in her constituency. I very nearly forgot to turn up. Well, it be more accurate, I did forget to turn up until I was phoned by Jo's secretary as they were standing at the entrance to Downing St! I made it over in five minutes from Cowley St. Good exercise, as Jo said!

It is slightly different to the last photo shoot I did in Downing St a couple of months ago. This was for a group of MPs, one of whom was very late and turned up just as we were heading back through the gates back onto Whitehall. 20 seconds later and we wouldn't have been able to head back to the door of Number 10. I will not name names!

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A somewhat depressing day

There is as yet no date set for it. It has however been a somewhat depressing day. I have had to take a large number of calls from the press about Alan. It is still quite a shock to realise a colleague and friend of 20 years has now gone.

The weather has not helped. The rain just keeps on coming. I took an umbrella with me to work for the first time ever though admittedly it was to keep me dry whilst walking to a meeting at which I felt it was important not to sit there dripping wet. I suspect our water butt is overflowing now but at least I won't need to water the tomatoes when I get back to the flat.

Other than that I have nothing more to report from today.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Councillor Alan Ord - rest in peace

I was walking out of Victoria Station this morning when I got the news. My colleague of 20 years, Councillor Alan Ord, has died. He went into hospital two weeks ago for an operation that, if successful, would have assisted him to recover fully from a serious case of food poisoning from which he nearly died in 2006. The operation did appear, at first, to be a success. He came home on Friday. But complications set in and he was taken back to hospital over the weekend. He died this morning.

Alan was elected to Gateshead Council the year after I was. He had just completed 20 years on the authority. His wife Marilynn is also a councillor for our ward. Our thoughts are with her and their two sons Andrew and Arran.

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Rain stopped play

I got a reminder call on Friday evening whilst on the train heading back home that there was a fayre at Sunniside Methodist hall. I try to get to all the fayres and similar events held in my ward. Doing so is a useful way of supporting local groups, maintaining profile and of course, buying plants for the allotment. I bought 7 strawberry plants, whilst David bought a load of bedding plants for the garden.

But going to events like this is also a useful way of sampling public opinion and to find out views on what locally is important. Well, perhaps the local Labour party members who read my blog, especially the one who wrote that half-witted attack on us for supporting our village post office and the campaign to get a cash machine installed, would like to know about the conversations I had with constituents. Are you sitting uncomfortably Mr XXXXX? Then I shall begin.

Labour's victimisation of our local post office has made Labour lots of enemies in the village. People told me they are delighted the planning appeal overturned the decision to stop the post office getting the machine installed. They are looking forward to Labour coming to the village and explaining why they did what they did! Of course, I'll believe it when it happens! And I don't expect much of an apology to Sunniside village from Labour either.

There is of course one obstacle to installing the cash machine. We are awaiting the announcement on which post office branches are to be closed by Labour on Tyneside. That is expected shortly but until then, installation of the machine has to wait.

Anyway, back to my strawberry plants! Having purchased them for 50p each I headed next to the allotment to plant them and do the weeding. Good job I didn't wait til Sunday to do this. Saturday was overcast but without rain. That was not the case on Sunday when it poured with rain. Instead, I wrote, printed and took out to deliverers an estate focus for my ward. And I delivered a patch myself, in between cloud bursts.

Now I am on the train heading to London. We have just past Doncaster. Time to have a snooze. Wake me up at Kings Cross.

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The Monday morning blog: stuck in the Brown stuff

There has been considerable speculation about whether or not Borwn will be dumped as Leader and therefore Prime Minister by Labour over the past couple of weeks. Now that I have stated the bleedin' obvious, it is time to explore this further.

I have up til now taken the view that Brown will not be forced out. Removing a party leader in opposition is one thing, removing a party leader whilst in government is something completely different. However, given the meltdown in Labour's support under Brown's leadership, my view is beginning to change. My view that Brown will be forced out has switched from never to highly unlikely. The reasons for this change in outlook is simply because the dire nature of Labour's predicament puts them in the region where they may think there is nothing to lose by risking the blood letting that will come as a result of a palace coup, whether successful or not.

It could be that over half Labour's parliamentary party is staring defeat in the face. With such a large group of people threatened with picking up their P45s, who knows what desperate act Labour MPs will turn to? Perhaps they will run the risk of a backlash from the public who would have had no say in the appointment of two prime ministers in a row. Perhaps they will think that as things are so dire, carrying out a revolution could not lead to things getting worse (they may think things couldn't get worse anyway) and getting rid of Brown, who they see as they huge obstacle to recovery, could lead to some kind of recovery, even if that recovery is one that avoids total meltdown but otherwise accepts defeat at the general election.

Personally, I think they will be living in cloud cuckoo land if they think dumping Brown will lead to improvements. The problem for Labour is much much bigger than simply who is leading them. The issue is, what does Labour stand for? Why do they exist? What is their purpose? This was never sorted once Blair left. By appointing Brown uncontested to the leadership, they failed to have the debate they needed. The deputy leadership contest was not a real substitute, especially with joke candidates like Hazel Blears taking part. Ironically therefore, Labour would have been much stronger now had Brown been opposed last year. Labour MPs can hardly complain about the state of their party therefore. They sucked up to Brown. They nominated him in unprecedented numbers. They failed to nominate anyone else. Labour MPs must therefore carry the can for the mess they are in.

The danger Labour now faces is that anarky will prevail within Labour as discipline falls apart. With Labour MPs writing off the general election, they will be looking to save their own skins. Whilst there will still be the tendency for MPs to vote the way the whips tell them, their public pronouncements will be increasingly hostile about the government. And whilst ministers will get most of their measures through, a large number of bills and votes will see Labour arguments and rows. Watch out for lots of critical early day motions (and watch out for lots of Labour MPs signing them make a big noise about opposing the government before trooping through the government lobbies.) All this will simply leave the people with the view that, like the Tories in the 90s, here is a party that is falling apart, lost its way, is disunited and at war with itself.

I was very surprised last year when Brown let the speculation about a general election run riot. I was convinced there would be an election because I did not believe any PM could be stupid enough to let that sort of speculation rip without being ready to follow it up with an announcement that they were going to do what the speculation said they would do. But it turns out I had vastly overrated Brown. Instead, he wanted to be the guy who would dish the Tories. That was the thinking behind the 10p tax change when it was announced a year before it was due to come in. That was the thinking behind allowing speculation about an election. The outcome has been the opposite of what Brown set out to achieve. Far from destabalising the Tories, he has single handedly saved Cameron from the beating he was getting on the ropes, and changed him into a potential Prime Minister. And the party that has been destabalised is Labour.

Surely there must be a prize for incompetence of this order?

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Some photos from the past few weeks

Well, no Wallace blog post can go for long without some photos. So here is a completely random selection of photos from the past few weeks.

25 bottles of home made elderflower champagne. Leave to ferment for 10 weeks then enjoy.

This carefully posed picture of me on our allotment in Sunniside, Gateshead, is designed ot make it look as if I am doing lots of back-breaking manual work.
David snapped this one of me walking around the allotment. The photo taken before this one was of me topless. In the interest of good taste, it is not appearing on this blog!
A picture from April, taken in our flat in London. Richard rescued this hedgehog from being attacked by foxes a couple of streets away. We then released it into our garden but instead of eating all the snails, it simply moved on.

Taken from the room I use as an office in my house in Sunniside, looking out to the village of Streetgate, I snapped this rainbow the end of which appears to be in our allotment behind the house in the left hand corner. We are still digging but haven't yet found the pot of gold!
Will Howells turned 29 but after all these years he remains surgically attached to his electronic devices!
Stunned as he stepped into the room, Andrew Reeves is presented with his leaving gift of tokens for John Lewis (or was it just his eviction-from-Cowley-Street notice!?)
Meanwhile, whilst Andrew is busy talking, Debs and Ernest tuck into cake and cava.
Flash back to 2nd May and this was taken outside the count in Gateshead. Lib Dem group secretary Cllr Christine McHatton somehow finds Labour Cllr Stuart Green's new fashion accessories rather amusing. Anyway, get well soon Stuart! (It is still a mystery to us how he got his injuries, whilst out campaigning for the Labour party!)