Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tory collapse in Gateshead

We have held Whickham South and Sunniside in Gateshead with 72.5%. Tory vote has collapsed, down 8% to 9%.

Vote as follows:
John McClurey Lib Dem 1612
Labour 394
Cons 217

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At the count

I am at the Whickham South and Sunniside count now, waiting for the first boxes to turn up. A good turnout of postal votes is expected. Not so good at the polling stations. Rain has discouraged people from voting.

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We now have torrential rain

It's chucking it down here now. This will seriously cut the turnout in the by-election. If only it could have held off for a little longer. But as David has just pointed out, our peas and beans on the allotment are loving it!

4 hours to go.....

It's raining in the by-election

Bad news. Rain is falling here and I am concerned this could depress turnout in the Whickham South and Sunniside by-election. The rain is not particularly heavy but it is not the gloriously sunny weather I was hoping for.

I am busy sending text messages to constituents.

By-election leaflet being delivered

I crawled out of bed at 5am and was greeted by a pleasant sunrise as well as a pile of leaflets for delivery. I completed the two rounds I had to do by 6.30am and was back to my house in time for helpers arriving at 7am to take away more leaflets for delivery.

The weather forecast is predicting showers this afternoon. Hopefully short ones. A nice sunny day to bring out the vote (ie the Lib Dem vote, not that of our opponents) is what I am after.

Labour have delivered a letter to people who vote at polling stations on Monday and Tuesday. I got one as did David and my mother. Unless I have missed the Tories putting out a leaflet today (and I very much doubt that I have) there is nothing to show that there has been a revival in the Tory organisation here which collapsed and rotted away years ago. That is not to say there will not be a revival in the Tory vote, but that is based on their improved standing nationally (assuming of course there is a recovery in the Tory vote). Tactically for us, the best result is Tories in 3rd place though given the dire state of the Labour vote, I doubt that will happen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Some byelection predictions

With less than 12 hours to go before I guest the contest is nearly over bar the shouting, and hopefully we can avoid that for calm discussion instead. I reckon that most votes in this byelection will be cast by post. So most people who are going to vote have already done so. We have 2200 postal votes out of an electorate of 7000. In May, about 1650 postal votes were cast. About 1200 were cast at polling stations.the polls open in the Whickham South and Sunniside byelection, what is the likely result tomorrow? It doesn't take rocket science to predict a Lib Dem hold. The Tories lost this ward to us over 20 years ago, and they have been dead on their feet here ever since. However, we should not write them off. On the back of no local campaign whatsoever, the beat Labour for second place in May. This was the first time they had gained silver medal since 1992. Conservative supporters who had not voted for years had been inspired to turn out for them because of their successful rebranding nationally. Nevertheless, that had only added 200 to their total. Against that was the 1450 majority we had over them.

For the first time in 16 years, the Conservatives have now put out a leaflet in a local election in this ward. It was quite a poor attempt at communication and looked like something that would have gone out in an election 25 years ago. Nevertheless, it will act as a reminder to their supporters that they should turn out to vote. So watch for a modestly healthy Tory vote in this byelection.

And watch for Labour not doing too well. In fact, watch for their coming 3rd again. In a similar way to the Conservatives, the Labour campaign has been little more that a flag flying exercise. Their candidate is an also-ran who stood against Mam this year in the neighbouring ward and who failed to exhibit any determined desire to win. She also has a handicap in my ward of having allowed her name to be used in leaflets last year (when Labour thought they were going to force a general election) which contained the most preposterous and unbelievable twaddle and drivel which backfired pretty badly on Labour. It is interesting to note that the real author of this material has been dragged out of the Labour bunker and dumped in the middle of the battlefield in this byelection for all to see. Clearly Labour have learnt something and I think it is fair to say that this blog has had a significant role in exposing this person.

The problem of defending a ward that has built up a comfortable majority is apathy. With 68% of the vote going Lib Dem in May, getting people to turn out is not going to be easy. I am hoping for a lovely sunny evening in which people decide to take a walk in the warm summer air and call in at the polling station whilst taking their stroll. We do well in Gateshead where the turnout is strongest. So keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow. I'll be reporting the result live from the count.

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Conspiring to stop me

It has been one of those evenings in which you have loads to do but things that normally don't go wrong end up doing precisely that.

It started with the North East Democrat, the regional email newsletter I produce. This evening was the latest it could go out. It is after all the July edition and so recipients should have an expectation of receiving it in July. Tomorrow I can't do it, not with the Whickham South byelection being held.

Newastle had sent me some material for inclusion but somehow, what they sent blocked the document from being converted into a pdf. This necessitated a last minute rewrite to take out their material (sorry Newcastle Lib Dems, I'll try to include it in the next edition) so that I could get the damn document to save. I then threw it onto email to send it out to the 500 recipients. I was already late for my dinner appointment.

It was then a rush to get to my dinner appointment. I turned off the pc only to realise I had failed to send to Gateshead a datafile I need tomorrow. PC had to be turned back on and file recovered.

I rushed out of the building to head off to dinner, only to return to Cowley St to turn the pc back on to recover the code to get my rail ticket from the ticket machine at Kings Cross.

I was then phoned to be told that the restaurant was full so we had to do a quick change of eating venue. I said we should meet at the Chinese Buffet on Strutton Ground. We really were slumming it at this point. £8.90 for all you could eat. The bottle of wine cost nearly double that. The big problem then was that this place took only cash. I had to dash off to a cash machine.

Believe it or not, I got to Kings Cross in time (just) to catch the 8pm train.

I am giving no secrets away when I say I am returning home early for the byelection in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside tomorrow. I'll be reporting live from the count tomorrow!
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another update from the Whickham South byelection

Council Group Leader Noel Rippeth emailed me tonight to tell me the latest turnout figures of postal votes in the Whickham South byelection. 58% turnout so far. We have in the region of 2200 postal votes in a ward of 7000 voters. It looks like we will get close to the turnout of postal votes we had in May. To be sure of getting postal votes in on time, people should complete them and take them to their polling station on Thursday, polling day.

A good turnout in this byelection should be to our advantage though we will have to see if those without postal votes turnout in sufficient numbers. There are two days left so still time for things to go wrong - and right!

Our last letter has now been delivered. All we can do now is wait.

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A raspberry from the Cowley St food testing laboratory

Cowley St has, much to their liking, become a testing laboratory for my cooking. Last week I made a stash of raspberry jam and a jar was brought in for the food fans to try out (along with a jar of plum jam, made by David, and a jar of bramble jelly, made by Dad). All seem to be meeting with approval.

Tomorrow however they will have to test out my bread making skills. I have just bought the flour at Sainsburys (with the result I have missed the train by 2 minutes). So I'll be in the kitchen tonight baking away. David will no doubt read this blog post tomorrow morning and send me an email gently suggesting I do some cooking for him as well when I am back home later this week! I will fit it in around the Whickham South byelection, a meeting about a new riso and a visit to the Gateshead Summer Flower Show.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Should be stay or should he go

I had some interesting conversations with Labour members yesterday. So let me start by saying I sympathise with those who are staff members or volunteers doing the hard slog on the ground. Trying to continue when their party has become a car crash is demanding and challenging, and frankly demoralising as well. I should know, I lived through the 80s when the Owenites did everything they could to wreck the merger of the SDP and Liberals. There are times when the party of which you are a member goes through some stormy waters, and even gets hit by an occasional tsunami. It's not a happy time living through it.

It was however interesting to listen to the two views on offer yesterday from the grassroots. There was the group that believed wipeout could be avoided with Labour plumping instead for simple disaster at the general election which could be achieved by dumping Brown.

And there was the group that felt replacing Brown was a non starter as it would achieve nothing. They fear a change of leader again, without an election, would be treating the voters with contempt and would make matters worse for there would be no election for two years.

Jack Straw, last week's favourite to take over was regarded as an admission Labour "had nothing to say" were he to become PM. And the Lady Harriet simply sent people screeming and runing for the door.

I suspect all the speculation will calm down until September. As the conference season approaches, many of those who were shouting for Brown last year will be shouting the opposite. Labour, in a state of panic, could do anything desperate. It waits to be seen however whether a sufficiently large head of steam builds up behind the Brown-must-go camp by the time of the Labour conference.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

I am doubting my doubts on Brown

I walked into the newsagent's shop near my house in London this morning and was hit by a tidalwave of headlines about Brown. My view til now is that there will be no challenge and he will not be turfed out of office. I am beginning to doubt my doubts. And it wasn't just the headlines today that have started a rethink.

Labour members I have spoken to are now more willing to stick in the knife. As one said to me, "We are desparate and desparate times need desparate measures." The mood has switched since Glasgow. Previously they thought they could hold on to that seat and the members I spoke to were expecting general election defeat but hoping their own local member could survive. Now they fear a complete wipe out. So Brown has to go, so they now say.

I am not convinced Labour will turn around their dire situation just by dumping their leader. The entire Labour brand is contaminated. Just as dumping Gerald Ratner did not save Ratners the Jewellers, so dumping Brown will not save Labour.

I am on my way to a birthday party now. There will be Labour members at it (the guy celebrating his birthday is a Labour staff member) so it will be interesting to hear what Labour people have to say about their predicament.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

At the Kylie concert

There will be an absurdly large number of Lib Dem and gay readers of this blog who will be interested in this. Well, here it is, Jonathan Wallace reporting live from the O2 where Kylie Minogue is due to perform in just under an hour. And we are already in our seats! I really need to get out a bit more, and not take my blackberry with me.

The programme retails at £15 and comes with a sample of Kylie perfume. Yes we have bought a copy. The carrier bag it comes with will be useful for carrying things to and from the allotment.

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What would you do in the shoes of a Labour member?

I suppose that depends of whose shoes. The dire predicament will leave Labour members wondering just what can be done to restore their party's fortunes. That is assuming they have not become resigned to defeat and relearning the arts of opposition.

It seems some are preparing for just that eventuality, and preparing to do it big style by adopting the left wing drivel that kept Labour out of power for nearly a generation. The union demands appear to be extracts from the Longest Suicide Note in History, especially abridged for the soundbite age. Back to Socialism (and permanent opposition) seems to be the rallying call of some. That's about as appealing as a bucket of cold sick. Only the cranks and the trade union barons could possibly want to go down that route.

Then there are those who believe that Labour will be saved if Brown engages more with the people. He should be seen smiling a bit more. This presupposes Brown is the problem and that making him smile (through his greeted teeth) would not be seen as artificial by the electorate. It also presupposes that Labour are unpopular because they don't engage enough and therefore people don't know what the real Labour party is like and have to offer. The problem with that argument is that Labour have been in government for 11 years, easily enough time for people to get to know what they are like.

And then there are the Labour members who think Labour's problems will be solved by dumping Brown. That presupposes Brown rather than Labour is the problem. Would getting rid of him (not easy to do with a sitting PM as I have often said) really lead to a significant improvement? I think the answer to that is no! But it does allow for a little idle speculation.

Suppose the grey men and union paymasters engineer a sudden Prime Inisterial critical illness that requires his retirement? Who then will be up for the job? How about Lady Harriet, public school educated and the niece of an earl. Just the person to reclaim votes from Conservatives in the south. But there again, she really does scare the horses and would as a candidate for PM be seen as a joke.

Still, she wouldn't be quite as hilarious a joke at Hazel Blears whose response to every calamity is to keep on smiling and giggling.

Then there is James Purnell, the recent passing fad. Baby face James could be photoshopped into the role but probably won't be liked by many in Labour's ranks after coming out with a policy of benefit bashing of the poor.

Then there is Jack Straw, otherwise known as Mr Slippery and sometimes as Mr Evasion. He would compete with Lady Harriet to scare the horses.

Alistair Darling could be a contender. His success in life has been to use his speeches to miraculously cure people of insomnia. Desperate times (for Labour) require desperate solutuons. Perhaps Darlings ability to send everyone to sleep could be the answer for Labour with everyone sleepwalking to the polling stations in 2010. After all, it worked for the Tories in 1992!

And then there is Alan Johnson. A competent minister and arguably an unspotted talent. Pack off Brown to the asylum and Johnson could be just the person for the job.

Having the men in white coats take Brown away to spend more time with his non-existant health problems would not improve Labour's position. As I said previously, the problem is Labour itself. They benefitted from a liberalised economy at home which was really an inheritance of the Thatcher reforms. And in addition they have benefitted from an international boom that provided cheap goods, credit, fuel and services. Brown and Labour claimed the credit for something that was not their achievement. Having claimed stewardship of the good times, it is hardly surprising Labour's vote slumps when the bad times arrive. After all, they are failing to deliver what they claimed to control. The ghosts of their spin are coming back to haunt them.

As for the question in the title, it seems many Labour members have put on their shoes and gone off to do other things. Moral is at record lows, as is their membership figure. It's hard Labour for some time to come.

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Heading back to London for Kylie

I am currently sitting on platform 3 of Newcastle Central Station waiting for the train to London (which remarkably has not been cancelled by National Express!) My early return is due to my attendance tonight at a concert by a Miss Kylie Minogue, a provider of popular light music. So I'm off to the 02 for some entertainment.

It could not have been more badly timed. This is the final weekend of the Whickham South and Sunniside byelection to Gateshead Council but the Kylie tickets were booked months ago, well before a byelection in my own ward was ever a possibility. Still, it has not been too much of a problem. Whilst it was my job to produce all the literature (thankfully now all done!) Noel Rippeth, our group leader, has handled the logistics on the ground. John McClurey, our candidate, has led the canvassing.

Meanwhile, I can now report that the miracle has truely happened. I am now on the train and I am heading to London. I even have the correct seat reservation! This is a truely amazing journey. Not a thing wrong. As long as you ignore the fact that the toilet in coach H has sprung a leak and, due to the stench, the coach has been evacuated. So no sweet smell of success here for National Express.....

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Whatever happens, I don't think Brown will go

It is the time of a by-eleciton evening when there is no result and to fill in the time, politicians and commentators are speculating about the result and the consequences were the speculation to turn out to be accurate. The speculation in this instance is about whether or not Brown will go if the SNP win the seat from Labour.

I have said on a number of occasions on this blog that I do not believe that Brown will resign. Getting rid of a party leader in opposition is one thing (a skill both the Lib Dems and Conservatives have developed into a finely tuned artform in the past decade), getting rid of a sitting Prime Minister is another, especially one who has been in Downing St for such a short time. There is of course no clear alternative to Brown in the Labour party at the moment even though the likes of Straw, Milliband, Purnell (even Harman!!!!!!!) have been named as successors were the grey men of Labour to hand Brown the silver pistol.

There is a further point that it is not just Brown who is unpopular. It is the whole of the Labour party. And I think there are many in the Labour party who know this is the case. I was at a party about 3 weeks ago and there were a large number of grassroots Labour members there. A summary of their views, expressed at that event is as follows: what is the point of getting rid of Brown when it will change nothing?; Labour are unpopular; they are resigned to losing the election and frankly, what is occupying their minds is how to salvage a survival of their own local MP. The event I attended was in London but it may well be that the grassroots of the Labour party across the country are of the same frame of mind.

One other point about this by-election is that it illustrates that the party in a constituency that is best placed to beat Labour will be the one that does well. The challenger varies from one constituency to another and in Glasgow East, the SNP were firmly established in people's minds from the start as being the party best placed to beat Labour. Go back to the 1990s and you will see a similar situation only with people lining up behind the party best placed to beat the Conservatives. Labour therefore are facing a pincer movement that they have not experienced since the 1930s when, particularly in 1931, Labour were crushed almost out of site, even though they got a share of the vote not that far behind what they got in 2005.

Tactical voting has benefitted Labour enormously in the past 3 general elections. But just as it has worked for them, Labour can be seriously handicapped when it works against them. Time will tell whether the tactical vote bandwagon picks up momentum against Labour, and if it does, they are in big, big trouble.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

At last Labour's leaflet has arrived

Just back home to find that Labour's by-election leaflet has arrived. And it's full of attacks on the Lib Dems! Lots of demands to know why the (Labour) council have not done certain things in the ward. For most of these we as the ward councillors have been demanding solutions for some time. Seems as though Labour's campaign however is based on an approach of stopping the area getting problems solved and then blaming the Lib Dems. The people will see through that.

They will also probably see through their ploy of being cynical about. Polyclinics. Seems Labour's other approach in Gateshead is to attack Labour policy. "Vote Labour as we are against Labour" seems to be their slogan.

I was beginning to fear Labour wasn't going to put something out in this byelection. I was worried there would be no Labour leaflet reminding people how bad Labour are. Have no fear now!

And finally, Labour are attacking the Tories, for voting against the NHS 60 years ago. Whilst I am a proponent of using an opponent's record against them, suggesting people should not vote for a political party for something that party did 60 years ago does seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whickham South byelection update

The Conservatives have put out a leaflet. This is the first time in 16 years a leaflet from the Tories has been delivered in my ward for a local election. I don't think it heralds a new dawn for them in Whickham South and Sunniside, despite their second place in the local elections two months ago. They were 50% behind us however even though this used to be a Conservative ward. Part of this comes down to the appalling performance of Labour, but part of it was a greater willingness of Conservative voters to turn out to vote. I actually felt sorry for the Labour candidate in May. I spoke to her at the count and found her quite pleasant and committed. But she was there to fly the flag for Labour after the rather ridiculous activities of one of their members in the ward in previous months (all explained elsewhere on this blog). By the way, the Tory candidate for my ward in May is the same person standing in the byelection and he did not bother turning up for the count.

The fact this is a byelection gives the Conservatives the chance to get a leaflet out but they will need more than that if they are ever to make a return to the Council in Gateshead. Still, we are not complacent.

One other issue is the postal votes. In a ward of 7000 voters, 2200 have postal votes. I reckon the majority of votes cast in this by-election will be from postal voters. We have learnt today that the day of delivery has slipped again. They will now arrive tomorrow. Previously they were expected to arrive today (Tuesday) and before that, they were due to arrive on Monday. It's not as bad as 2004 however when the postal voting system came near to collapse. The votes came out a week late - and since it was an all postal vote election, the lateness was a serious concern.

This time I am not overly worried. It means our second letter to postal voters has been delivered before the postal votes arrive. We are still however waiting for an election leaflet from Labour. All we have had so far is a dull letter to postal voters which would be better used as a cure for insomnia. You would almost think from Labour's lack of activity that they want to come a poor third, well behind the Conservatives.

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Another National Express cock up

Who will rid me of this incompetent train operator? I have just arrived at Kings Cross to catch the 9pm train to Newcastle. And there on the board in front of me is "delayed". National Express, the Ratners of the train industry.

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Traffic issues on the A692

This is the latest video I have made for constituents.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Efocus now sent out

Email newsletter now sent to constituents. I hit the send button with seconds to spare. Any later and I would have left the office too late to catch the train. And even then I had to make a wild dash up Victoria Street. I jumped onto the train seconds before the doors closed.

So here I am on a train that has not been cancelled. I am still fuming about the serial incompetence of National Express. But my feelings really do go out to the staff of the company. They have to explain to inconvenienced customers that their trains are cancelled. The managers who take the easy decision of cancellation rather than ensuring their trains are available do not have to face the customers face to face. The train staff, most of whom seem to have been inherited from GNER, do well in the circumstances, are well mannered and good natured even if they are required to give you techno babble in response to queries about cancelled trains. If only National Express could be as good as their staff.

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And on the plus side for National Express

Having poured out my anger about National Express in my last post, I have since experienced the on board staff and how they deal with customers. I feel sorry for the staff as they have to deal directly with the customers who have lost out because of the company's management decisions. Yet just as National Express can be a difficult company, some passengers too can be extremely difficult. I have just witnessed a member of the on board crew deal effectively with one passenger who was obnoxious and rude because he felt he had a right to two seats (on a crowded train). The response from the staff member, called Paul, was firm and reasonable. Time to put him in charge of the company!

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The Monday morning blog - National Express, a bunch of effing, useless wankers

David dropped me off at Newcastle Central Station and joked that the train would be cancelled. I told him not to tempt fate. But it was too late. As I stepped into the station, there was the notice saying the 7.40am service to Kings Cross was cancelled. Regular readers of this blog will have read previous entries about this service. It is the fast train to London (when it is running) and gets in 40 minutes before the next service that leaves Newcastle only 12 minutes later.

Regular readers will also be aware that the 7.40 service turns up on time at Newcastle from Edinburgh and is then cancelled so that it can become the 7.52 slow service. National Express call this a "set swap" but I can think of other words to describe it. So the fast train is converted into the slow train and my day is screwed up. And here we are, 2 train loads of passengers packed into one train. It is now the case that the 7.40 service has been cancelled most times I have booked it since National Excess took over the East Coast franchise in December. I have experienced many more train cancellations in the 8 months since National Excess took over that I did under the previous 8 years of travelling to London.

What their cancellations effectively mean are that they can claim they are putting on the service required of their franchise agreement without actually providing that level of service.
So, National Express, you are a bunch of effing useless wankers who couldn't organise a Hornby train set, never mind a real service.

I did complain to a National Excess manager who was on the platform but I was told that the cancellation was due to the company "implementing the strategic contingency plan". I do not know what that techno-babble bollock meant but National Excess can stick it up their strategic contingency arse.

So, as you can see, I am not pleased that National Express, a bunch of effing, useless wankers, has screwed up my day.

And so to other things. The weekend was a mix of Whickham South byelection, allotment, messing around with photos from my recent holiday, more of which have gone onto both this blog and onto Facebook, and a visit to the Quayside to look at the temporary bamboo bridge built last week over the Tyne. I knew we needed another Tyne crossing but this was not quite what I had in mind! Anyway, watch out for my video and photos on this, coming shortly to this blog.

And finally, on Saturday, David and I tried out the revamped, renamed Italian restaurant in Whickham, Sonny's. We walked there and back from Sunniside therefore working up an appetitie and burning off the calories just acquired respectively. If you live in the area and haven't tried Sonny's, I would recommend them. But book in advance. They were packed.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

By-election meeting

Just had a meeting of the by-election team here in my house. General agreement that the letter distributed by Labour yesterday was desperately dull. No sign of anything at all from the Conservatives. They have delivered no leaflets in local elections in my ward for about 16 years but I thought that as this is a by-election, they may have made some sort of effort. With the postal votes hitting the doormats on Tuesday, time is running out.

We finalised our plans for the rest of the campaign, but of course, I won't be outlining them here for my avid local Labour readers to read!

I phoned a few constituents tonight about casework and put them into my diary for visits later this coming week. Now I am sitting in the office at home, looking out of the window at pink clouds of the sunset and enjoying the smell of the dinner wafting up from the kitchen. David has just announced it's ready so I'm off to eat now.

My new allotment blog

I set up this evening a blog about our allotment and out attempts to grow or forage for as much of our food as we can. This is a sort of a Good Life Gateshead style and I'm hoping to bring you all the successes and failures of trying to be self sufficient. The serious point about all this is that this is meant to be an attempt to cut our carbon footprint.

The blog is:

Photos from my trip to Petra in June

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Visiting Petra in Jordan

As previously mentioned on this blog, I went to Petra last month whilst I was in Jordan. This is the video I shot.

Following Labour on our local radar

We were out delivering our next Focus for the byelection in Whickham South and Sunniside this morning. And that"s when I started to get the calls from people who were tracking Labour across the ward. It was like having them on a radar screen. Our opponents were out delivering a letter to postal voters. It is so far their only literature of the campaign. I predicted they would get a leaflet out this weekend. A copy was in my hands very quickly courtesy of a resident who is a postal voter. People may be rushing for the black coffee to wake themselves up after reading it but I doubt they will be rushing to vote Labour on the back of it.

I have to say that I am disappointed with Labour. I had put in a special request to them that they let their usual leaflet writer for our area write their election material and run their byelection campaign in the style that this person normally uses. After all, when this person puts finger to keyboard, the resulting crazy Labour leaflets often cause fewer people to vote Labour. Alas, the anodyne letter they were putting out this morning suggests the writer of the mad leaflets has been metaphorically bound and gagged. Now that's just not fair! Come on Labour, unchain him and let him do his worst (for Labour!) Mind you, there are still 12 days to go so there's time yet.

Thankfully, I finished my leaflet patch this morning before the rain started. I also had a constituent to visit as well. But as we walked through the streets of Newcastle this afternoon, we got caught in a downpour. We were dripping wet when we got to the hairdresser. No need for a wash and blow dry. All we needed was the blow dry!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

And now a look at what Labour's candidate has said

Elaine Dobson is the Labour candidate in the Whickham South and Sunniside by-election on 31st July. She made a number of claims last year which she has failed in substantiate. .So here are some of the amazing claims she has made.

In an election leaflet edited by Mrs Dobson in spring last year, she spun a story that Whickham School was about to be rebuilt. The leaflet said that "building work may begin this year (2007)." Another leaflet edited by her claimed rebuilding the school would start "eight years earlier than originally planned." No building work has taken place on this new school. That's because under current plans the earliest start date is 2015. What had been agreed was some money to renovate the kitchens. New cookers of course hardly amount to a new school, except in Labour eyes.

And then, with Labour thinking there was going to be an election in October last year, Mrs Dobson chose to edit and promote a leaflet which made the following claim about Lib Dem controlled Newcastle Council: "Lib Dems in Newcastle rushed through a policy (on recycling) which they have had to reverse after committing huge resources and wasting millions."

This was completely made up by Labour. There wasn't even a shred of truth in it. It was after this leaflet was produced that I wrote to Mrs Dobson asking her to withdraw the allegations. I received no reply.

More embarrassingly for Mrs Dobson and her Labour chums is the fact that over the past year Lib Dem run Newcastle has soared ahead on recycling, having the largest increase in percentage of waste sent for recycling in the North East. Labour Gateshead on the other hand was bottom of the league on recycling in the region.

And finally, Mrs Dobson took the amazing decision to have a go at the Lib Dems for wanting to support Sunniside post office and give them permission to install a free to use cash machine that can be used 24 hours a day. Labour threw out the plans arguing that it was dangerous to have a cash machine on a front street as it could lead to traffic. Perhaps that is their reason for wanting to close so many post office branches. Mrs Dobson was pretty strong in her condemnation of the Lib Dems. She argued that "road safety would be significantly compromised had the machine gone ahead."

I am delighted to say that Mrs Dobson's arguments were comprehensively flattened by the Planning Inspectorate. The machine is now to be installed. And there are plenty of angry people in Sunniside who are waiting for an explanation and even an apology from Labour over their petty behaviour towards this planning application and the local post office.

All these claims and the bizarre attacks by Labour simply undermine their credibility. Hardly surprising that Labour performed so badly in the local polls here in the Whickham area in May. It waits to be seen how Mrs Dobson will do in the by-election. We will know in 13 days' time.

Finally, I find it amazing that Labour ever allowed these leaflets to be published in the first place. I am left wondering if the local Labour branch is out of control.

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I have delayed eFocus

Sorry Labour, I know your are gagging for it but eFocus is delayed til Monday. I have a video to add to it but it needs editing. I will do it over the weekend. So Labour won't be able to nick all our material over the weekend and pass it off as their own. Tough!!!

And now for today's National Express screw up. I booked a forward facing, window, airline style seat. I find myself in an aisle reverse facing seat. Well at least they got the airline style bit right. One out of three aint bad. Perhaps it is time for East Coast rail travellers to join together as a protest organisation. We could become the National Express Improvement Front. After all, what's National Express ever done for us?

Meanwhile, a kitchen update. Last night I made 5 jars of hot chili vegetable pickle made from a left over cauliflower, a left over onion, a left over tub of mushrooms and a left over pepper. Added to this was one bottle of white wine vinegar (the only thing that wasn't a left over), a handful of crushed black pepper, likewise of coriander seed, 4 cloves of left over garlic and some mustard seeds I found sitting in a jar. Chuck the whole lot into the jam pan with a bit of olive oil. Add one teaspoon of allspice and chilli powder to taste. Boil and them simmer for about 45 min then stick in clean jam jars. Let it brew for a few weeks then eat cold as a dip or on poppodoms.

This recipe was made up as I went along so it won't be appearing in a recipe book soon!

5 jars made. Two are heading up to Gateshead with me now.

More recipes to follow. I have a crop of gooseberries and rhubarb to pick over the weekend. The jam and tart season has arrived!

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Email newsletter written and waiting

I wrote our email newsletter eFocus this evening before leaving the office. It is edition number 51, not a bad total for a publication I invented only 5 years ago. Those eagerly awaiting it include certain members of the Labour party. I guess you people have written your election leaflet now, to get it out over this coming weekend for the postal votes arriving next week. In which case, sadly for those aforementioned Labour members, eFocus will be just a little too late for you to lift all the stories about what's happening on the ground in the Whickham area to stick in your own leaflet and claim as something you have done. Now, I wonder, was the timing of eFocus for this Friday accident or design?

And so to other things. I missed the train by 2 minutes this evening as I had to call into Sainsburys to get a bottle of vinegar and a jar of chilli powder. Following my blog post this morning about the need for pickling veg recipes, I received nothing satisfactory. So I am going to make my own up, literally as I go along. The only concept I have in mind is that I want to create some kind of hot pickle with these left over vegetables, hence the chilli powder. I'll tell you tomorrow whether it is a disaster or a success but I have a couple of hours ahead of me in the kitchen.

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Billy Elliot and food waste

Those of you who are my "friends" on Facebook will know that I went to see Billy Elliot the musical last night. I feel a slight sense of guilt about going at a time when we have a by-election on in my ward. The tickets were booked some time ago, well before the prospect of a by-election was before us. Likewise with the tickets booked for the Dolly Parton concert and the forthcoming Kylie Minogue concert. As recompense, I will tonight be writing the next email newsletter to constituents.

I did enjoy last night's show but I will be writing about the politics of it soon, though not at this moment. I want to be able to do some reading on the train to work (I started "Imperium" by Robert Harris yesterday). However, as we left the performance much later than expected, I was not back to the flat til nearly midnight. Too late to start cooking a meal. The local Chinese takeaway provided a hot meal instead. The same establishment provided dinner the night before as well. The result is that all the vegetables I bought on Monday are still sitting in the fridge unused. And there is no way they will be allowed to be wasted. The problem is that there is too much for tonight's meal. And they won't keep over the weekend.

So I am after recipes for preserving vegetables. Could the readers of this blog who occasionally communicate with me about food recipes please advise!? The alternative, throwing out good food (into the compost bin) is unthinkable.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Down on the Allotment

Well, here is the long threatened video of the allotment, filmed on Sunday. It was derelict last year, but we are gradually bringing it back into use.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Sports and Social Club

I have never been to the Sports and Social Club in Parliament. That was until tonight. I was dragged along by Richard after I finished in the office at 8.30pm. He was meeting his friend Amie Ibbitson, a Labour councillor from Lewisham. I am heading back to the flat now. I need food!

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A very incompetent attempt by Labour to campaign

Bless him, poor little Doug Henderson. For those of you who don't know him, little Dougie is a top level adviser to nutrition giant and health food restaurant chain operator McDonalds. And in his spare time, he is Labour MP for Newcastle North, a top target for the Lib Dems. Our candidate there is my council colleague Ron Beadle.

Labour in Newcastle have not been having a happy time recently. A large number of their councillors disappeared now the plug hole in the 2004 elections when the Lib Dems stormed to power. They have lost council leaders in a way that makes the Scottish labour party leadership look stable. And their councillors have continued to vacate their seats on the City council by losing more of them to the Lib Dems.

So someone in the Newcastle Labour Party must have had a bright idea and suggested they try to revive their fortunes by, errrr, well doing some campaigning! And even Little Big Mac Henderson has adopted this, for Labour, rather revolutionary idea.

But despite having been the political big boys in the North East for decades (thankfully no longer big in places like Newcastle and Durham) when it comes to campaigning, they are clueless.

Little Big Mac Henderson's so called residents' survey is a fine illustration of how not to do one, and why everything should at least be read before it goes out.

Take question 6: Given that the Labour Government has long term plans to address these issues. [sic] Which party will you think of supporting at the next General Election.

Possible answers: "Yes No Don't know" !!!!!!!!!!

And just to be pedantic for a moment, of the 7 questions asked, only 2 had a question mark!

Quite what Labour can make of the answer "yes" to a question about which party a person is think of supporting would be interesting if they were ever to publish the results. Sadly for Labour I suspect the vast majority of the survey forms will be deposited by residents into the vastly improved City Council recyclable waste collection boxes.

I've posted up the page from Little Big Mac's survey. Enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bagels but no bag

I left the office after 9pm this evening having spent the final 3 hours at my desk writing a Focus leaflet. By the time I got to Sainsburys on Victoria St, I realised I hadn't brought a shopping bag. Horror or horrors, I was reduced to getting a plastic carrier bag, the first time I have had to do that in nearly two years. Still, the bagels were on offer, bags of 5 for 79p. Mind you, until recently, they sold them for 50p a bag at the end of the day. I ate 2 by the time I got to the station.

Now Sainsburys, answer me this. Why sell bread making flour but not yeast at the Victoria St store? The yeast is rather a vital component, and I don't want to buy the ready made bread mix with yeast already included. That's just an excuse to bung up the price.

Meanwhile, let me just say hello to a regular reader of this blog (and regular star in it!) Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon. We bumped into each other on the tube this morning at Kings Cross. Seems we share the same irritations with National Express. He told me he regularly reads about my blog posts about the joys of National Excess travel. Good to see Dave gets the train unlike his colleague and neighbour David Clelland who was found to have made significant use of air travel between Newcastle and London when the breakdown of MPs' travel costs was first made public.

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The Monday morning blog - back to the Monday morning run

It has been quite a few weeks since I last caught the train from Newcastle to London on a Monday morning. And look at what I have missed. How about the seat reservation in coach D on a train that doesn't have a coach D? (You can always count on National Excess to bring us such enjoyable challenges!) Or how about the person sitting close by who talks constantly, loudly and in a high pitch and at such a speed that she has turned her vocal chords into a human machine gun? Or how about the bloke who speaks loudly in expletives about his ex wife. Perhaps these two conversations will cancel themselves out! How have I survived so long without all of this?

Meanwhile, allotment news and I bring you the dramatic information that we have our first gerkin and it has been picked ready for pickling! And not only that, but we ate strawberries and raspberries picked fresh last night. It just doesn't get more exciting than this! Meanwhile, watch out for the allotment video comiing to YouTube soon!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cleared out of leaflets

We decided not to use our delivery network today to get out the by-election leaflet in Whickham South and Sunniside. Instead we used volunteers from outside the ward. I had to look after the office where everyone was meeting at 10am. I was expecting to have a couple of rounds left for me to do but I was cleared out by 10.30am. So I went off to visit constituents instead.

We are now on the way to South Shields for my brother Matthew's 40th birthday. And it's raining so the beach party may be off!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Early indications from Whickham South byelection

The by-election in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside in Gateshead is now underway. Polling day is 31st July. Early indications from our canvassing are encouraging. I guess that with the way people feel about Labour, they will want to deliver their leaflets in the middle of the night, probably wearing dark glasses in the process!

People are also giving us their email addresses so they can get our email newsletter, which continues to be well received. I am working the next one this weekend.

Talking of which, I have an uncomfortably tight weekend coming up. Tomorrow morning I am meeting constituents about casework. And in the afternoon, I am going over to South Shields for my brother Matthew's 40th birthday. The family is supposed to be meeting on the beach. Given the weather, I suspect the beach party will be transferred to Matthew's living room!

I also have a number of unspeakable things to arrange to do to political opponents. Sorry guys, I know you read my blog but I aint telling you yet what I have planned for you. Let's just say I am combing through what you have said and done in the recent past! I also have more video to shoot and photos and video to sort from the recent holiday. And then there is the meeting on Sunday with the other Whickham councillors to discuss various local issues. And I need to get onto the allotment to do some weeding. And the jam and chutney making season starts with weekend as well. And finally, topping it all is the need to see the last edition of Dr Who. I missed it last week when I went to a Dolly Parton concert. But it was saved on Sky+.

Meanwhile, I am stuck on a train heading home and I have run out of history books to read. As an alternative I have rummaged through my briefcase and found some holiday brochures. Uzbekistan looks quite interesting. I suspect however that our next holiday in the autumn may be a bit closer to home and does not involve flying.. I would quite like to get the ferry over to Scandinavia. I've been to Norway and Finland and I once landed at Stockholm airport. But visiting Denmark and staying in Sweden (rather than simply passing through) is something I'd like to do.

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Save our blogs

A government website that allows Councillors to blog to constituents, Bloginabox, may be on the verge of being closed down by ministers. My friend Councillor Suzanne Fletcher from Stockton is keen to keep it going and wants people to sign the on line petition calling for the funding of the site to continue.

You can read Suzanne's post about it and follow the link to the petition on:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Facebook takes off

Friends and colleagues of mine may recall the Facebook group set up during the Sedgefield byelection last year called "Get Jonathan Wallace onto Facebook". In response I said I would go onto Facebook if 100 people joined the group. I eventually was required to keep my promise though I only set up a basic profile at the time.

Well, it started to grow and my fear about getting on to Facebook - that it would start to takeover - is sort of happening. What's more, the last couple of days has seen something of a minor flurry of people wanting "to be my friend".

I blame Greg Stone for this. He signed up as a friend of mine yesterday with the result my presence has been more widely spotted. And alas, I have made a number of visits since to see the latest about what my friends - virtual and real - are up to.

I may be seeking therapy if I let this finally take over my life.

Meanwhile, please enjoy some further trivia about my life which has already appeared on Facebook - we came third in the pub quiz last night, having lost our joint lead we enjoyed at the halfway point. Pity, the first prize was £52. No prizes for 2nd or third. Bloody typical.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sitting in a pub quiz

I left the office at 8.30pm and headed back to the flat. But to wind down after a day of politicing, we are sitting in the local, in a pub quiz. The last time we did this quiz, we came last. Today, we are joint leaders at the half way point! Well this is exciting!

Meanwhile I can report that the gooseberry pie did not last long today in Cowley St!

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Let them eat bread

I made the bread last night as mentioned in my previous blog post. And I took the loaf in to Cowley St this morning. It was gone in about 10 minutes. A success I do believe.

Having just finished some ward work in the office, I am now heading to the flat. We will be picking fruit in the garden when I get back. Cowley St is expecting a gooseberry pie tomorrow!

I can report however that the wood pigeons ate our entire crop of cherries in our London garden whilst we were on holiday. Fortunately, back home in Gateshead, the fruit ripens a bit later. I'll be restocking when I get home.

Any recipes for wood pigeon pie would also be appreciated!

BTW I have another David Anderson (Labour MP for Blaydon) story of his saying one thing then doing another. More about that at some point soon.....

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Monday, July 07, 2008

I agree with Brown

I have to confess that I agree with Gordon Brown on food waste. Britain is very wasteful with food and too much that is still usable ends up in landfill sites. Brown is a bit slow however in taking up this issue. Last year I worked on a small project for the Lib Dems that found that on average people were throwing away perfectly good food that was in weight, twice what basic wartime ratios were! This approach to food is unsustainable and environmentally damaging but is easily avoidable.

One effective thing to do is simply plan meals in advance and go to the shops with a shopping list - and stick to it. And also learn to cook again! Cut back on the ready made meals (and all the horrendous packaging with which they come). Use left over fruit and vegetables to make chutneys. Stir fry left over food!

As for me, I'm baking bread tonight. I was meant to be making a gooseberry pie instead but I got stuck in the office longer than I expected working on a Focus and canvass cards for the Whickham South byelection. Secondly, it rained tropical strength and getting a drenching in the garden whilst picking gooseberries didn't really appeal to me! Meanwhile if I have any frustrations I can take it out on kneading the dough!

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

See you tonight Dolly

This has been planned for months. Instead of spending my Saturday evening at home watching Dr Who, having a long bath and writing the occasional Focus newsletter, I am heading to London two days early to go to a Dolly Parton concert at the Dome. I do not count myself as a fan of Dolly but Richard decided to book a couple of tickets and then asked if I wanted to go. So I thought I would give it a go. And I am rather looking forward to it.

The need to be back in London early necessitated an early return to Gateshead, hence the reason I came back on Thursday evening. I spent the day working from home and in the evening I went round Whickham South and Sunniside ward with my colleagues to shoot a video for our next email newsletter to constituents, due soon.

I was able to visit the allotment for the first time in three weeks last night. I picked a few strawberries and looked on lovingly at our fabulous crop of weeds. Thanks to Dolly Parton, they will be allowed to grow for another week. Mind you, you should see my onions!

I was able to catch up with the last two editions of Dr Who, lovingly recorded by Sky+ in my absence. Wow! Alas, my visit to Dolly means Sky+ will be in operation again tonight.

This morning was spent visiting constituents. We have a problem developing in a particular location and residents had been in touch through the week. So I visited them and walked around the site. Officers will be sent the photos shortly!

I couldn't let a train journey go by without mentioning the latest cock up by National Excess. Today's boob involves a complete absence of any seat reservations. Apparently they had "technical problems in Edinburgh necessitating a switch in the set." I think that means that a train broke down.

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We have chosen a local hero for our candidate

The nominations for the Whickham South and Sunniside by-election in Gateshead closed yesterday. The vacancy has been caused by the death of my ward colleague Councillor Alan Ord.

Our candidate is John McClurey, who lives in Sunniside, near to my house. He is something of a local hero. He runs a shop in Newcastle and in May he saved a young mum and her daughter from a house fire. Someone rushed into his shop asking him to call the fire service. But John also mounted a rescue, broke through into the first floor of the house and battled through smoke and flames to rescue the mum and toddler. He is just the sort of person I want on our local Focus team!

We have a Tory candidate standing. Don't really know anything about him. I'm sure he is a nice person but I am not aware of having met him before. Basically though the Tories put up candidates in Gateshead, they put out no leaflets (certainly not in my area) and very few of their candidates go to the count. There are of course no Conservatives on Gateshead Council.

The Labour candidate on the other hand is well known to us and comes with a large amount of baggage, most of which has been hung around her neck by the antics of a third rate amateur in the Labour party who day dreams about being an effective campaigner. My plea to the Labour party is that they put in charge of their campaign this latter person. He is, after all, a gift to us and his mad leaflets and absurd, unbelievable claims have won us lots and lots of votes. So come on Labour, put him in charge!!!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

David Clelland - thank you!

A special message to David Clelland, Labour MP for Tyne Bridge and reader of this blog. Thank you for providing this week's entertainment. Most enjoyable. What are you going to do for an encore!? Whatever it is, stick with it! You may of course not be too worried by the furore over your comments to your constituent. Perhaps you feel that sticks and stones may break bones, but words will never harm you! Anyway, sticking to the point, you won't want to be stuck in the mud. I guess you are no stickler for punishment and will want to move on. Etc etc etc!

Meanwhile I've just been watching a beautiful sunset through the window. Very relaxing.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

At the Rennard BBQ

It's the highlight of the Lib Dem social calendar - the Lord Rennard staff bbq. And we are here now supping on a significant quantity of Cava (with me eyeing up the empty bottles - oooh just think of the champagne I could make with this bottles!) Nick Clegg has just arrive and that's enough Lib Dem name dropping for today. Anyway, the food is now ready. Let me at it.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Deafened by train announcement

Andrew, my older brother, was in London today for a conference so he arranged to meet me at Victoria Station for a quick drink. And whilst there, David phoned to say a constituent had called and to give me the details. I could barely hear him whilst I was in Weatherspoons (yes we were really splashing out!) So when I phoned the constituent, I went outside onto the balcony in the hope it would be a bit quieter.

Bad idea! At that point the world's longest and loudest train announcement was made. I eventually got enough details to be able to deal with the case. I suspect when I see the constituent on Saturday, I will be able to fill in the gaps caused by what I couldn't hear!

I was actually late meeting Andrew. I spent more time than I realised talking to another constituent before I left the office. Mind you, it was a bit quieter at my desk and I could hear what was being said!

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1180 emails

There are two conditions from which returning holiday makers suffer. There is the slight depression caused by having to go to work and earn a living. And there is the excitement of being able to tell everyone how good a time was had whilst abroad. So it was with a mixture of both that I went into the office yesterday. And with 1180 emails waiting for me, I had plenty to keep me occupied. They were a mixture of work, council and constituent mail.

A selection of Jordan and Thailand photos will be on the blog soon.
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