Friday, October 31, 2008

Lord Falconer, Mr Anderson and an interesting Early Day Motion

I was rooting around old Early Day Motions today and stumbled across the following EDM which first appeared in May 2005, less than 3 weeks after the general election:

That his house is gravely disappointed to learn in this the 20th year since the end of the year long 1984-85 Miners' Strike that it was Lord Falconer, in a previous role, who advised Sir Ian MacGregor, the then Chairman of British Coal, how to get round the collective agreements signed over the previous 40 years between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board/British Coal, resulting in the Board's withdrawal from the all-important Coal Industry Conciliation Scheme and thereby circumventing agreements established by democratic industrial procedures to pave the way for the recognition by British Coal of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers and leading to a worsening of the terms and conditions of all UK coalminers; and calls on Lord Falconer to make a statement.

Co-sponsor was a certain Mr David Anderson, MP for Blaydon. Indeed, it was the first EDM he co-sponsored (he was first elected in May 2005) and joint first EDM he signed.

Quite what Mr Anderson hoped to achieve by demanding a statement from Lord Falconer 20 years after the miners' strike was over is not clear. All I can see is that such a demand would have reminded everyone about how badly led the miners were and how they were on a suicide mission that accelerated the closure of pits. But that is not the point of this post.

Instead it is to wonder aloud about what Mr Anderson must be thinking of the appointment earlier this year of Lord Falconer to head up the Newcastle Gateshead Development Company. Party to the appointment were his own Labour colleagues on Gateshead Council. May be they were unaware of Mr Anderson's thoughts on Lord Falconer. May be they took no account whatsoever of Mr Anderson or maybe Mr Anderson has changed his view or has let bygones be bygones. Perhaps Mr Anderson, you would care to enlighten us.

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An update on our injured colleagues

I blogged yesterday about two councillors in Gateshead who had been injured recently though one I didn't name as I had not received any official confirmation. Councillor Dave Bollands was taken ill last week. I can now report that the second councillor was Gary Haley. By coincidence, both are Labour councillors representing the same ward. And by a futher coincidence, both ended up at the same high dependency ward at the general hospital. Their injuries however were received in completely different circumstances. I understand both are making good progress and I wish both well and a speedy recovery.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?

More particularly, how many does it take to change one in my flat in London? We had the slightly frustrating experience of a busted light switch and broken neon tube in the bathroom in the summer. Try as we did, we could not remove the light cover. David tried as well, as did Dad when he stayed. There just seemed to be no logical way to move it short of taking a hammer to it, hardly the preferred option. And if you think Lib Dems couldn't fix it, neither could Labour member and fellow resident of my flat, Richard.

Light in the bathroom was not too much of a problem in the summer when the days were long. Trying to use the bathroom now that the clocks had gone back turned out to be a challenging experience! So I decided to get the electrician to fix the busted switch and, yes I admit it, change the light bulb.

There is now light in the bathroom, and a bill for £75 waiting to be paid!

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Best wishes

When I boarded the train to London on Monday, I received an email sent to all councillors in Gateshead telling us that Councillor David Bollands had been taken seriously ill over the weekend.

And yesterday, I had a call from Cllr Chris Ord in my own group telling me that another councillor had been involved in a serious road accident. At this point I have not received official confirmation about the second member though it is expected soon.

I want to use this opportunity to wish both members a speedy recovery and to say that my thoughts are with the families of both.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Monday morning blog: Brown in Glenrothes, Miliband in China

Maybe the international community is fed up with Gordon Brown lecturing them on what to do in the financial crisis (part or wholly nationalise the banks having spent 6 months resisting such moves for Northern Rock) but the non-appearance of Brown at the emergency international meeting in China over the weekend was very obvious. I was beginning to think that no one from the UK was present until I saw a photo in the weekend press of David Miliband at the conference. I certainly saw Merkel and Sarkozy making their mark.

Brown however was in Glenrothes, with a cameo role on the by-election stage. This is a major change from the practice that Prime Ministers do not get involved in by-election campaigns. I can think of only two other recent examples: in 1997 in Uxbridge, just after the general election, when Blair turned up and Labour arrogantly thought they could win everything (they lost the by-election), and in 1963 when Alec Douglas-Home spent a significant proportion of his first weeks as PM in a Scottish by-election (but that was understandable as he was the candidate having just renounced his peerage and seat in the Lords!)

It strikes me that Labour must be much more confident about holding Glenrothes. I find it difficult to believe they would be foolish enough to send their chief onto a ship if they believed it was certain to sink. He avoided Glasgow East like the plague, knowing Labour's case there was a dead cause. But now there is a new dynamic at least in Scotland, that was not there previously. The financial crisis has laid bare the claims that any nation can be truely independent and insulated from the rest of the world. In the global financial system, Iceland has brought home the fact that a country with a small population and relatively small economy can go bankrupt. Had Scotland been independent, the Scottish people would have paid an astronomical price to bail out RBS, HBOS and so on. Fortunately for the Scots, they are still part of the UK and therefore had the rest of the UK to support their banking system.

That may well take the gloss off the SNP's appeal. This may be one of the key reasons for the rise in Labour's confidence. That, plus the apparent movement of support towards Brown during the crisis, has given Labour the confidence to take the risk of putting Brown into the by-election firing line. The dangers of a Labour rebellion if the seat is lost is much reduced at the moment anyway. Brown, whatever his fault (and there are plenty of them) has ruthlessley used the financial crisis as an avalanche to bury his internal critics.

Brown however is not free of serious misjudgements. He allowed speculation to run riot about a general election last year and I was convinced there would be one as I did not believe that the Labour leadership would be so stupid to let everyone think there was going to be an election and then have to back down. How wrong I was on that!

Labour are however still well behind the Tories. And as the recession bites further, people lose their jobs and times get even harder, the Labour rebels may start to be heard a bit more. The discontent in the Labour party may be buried at the moment, but it won't stay like that for long.

Meanwhile, I am now on the train to London. It is running late and left behind the slower service that is scheduled to leave 12 minutes after my train. The danger is we'll be stuck behind that one all the way to London. And I do recall that a study over the weekend highlighted the failure of Labour's transport policies.

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A flight of geese

I am on the way to Newcastle, having just left Sunniside and soaring over us is a flight of geese in V formation. Must have been up to 30 birds in the flight. Ages since I have seen anything like that around here.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our new super dooper printing machine

Our new riso printer has arrived in our office in Blaydon constituency. And today we have a bit of training with the man from the company that provided the machine. The print room in our office is not large, as you can see in the photo above, but 10 of us squeezed in to have our first lesson on how to use the machine. Since most of us used the old machine, we were already well grounded in what to do.

This super dooper new machine prints two colours at the same time. So I'm adding a spot colour to everything I am now writing! I wrote the members' newsletter through the week and we ran that as our first test of the machine. That's what's churning off the machine in the photo which was taken by my ward colleague John McClurey.

We're both back in the office tomorrow doing our first Focus on the machine. Life doesn't get more exciting than this!

Friday, October 24, 2008

My BBC Panorama Interview - the exclusive photo!

I did the interview with BBC Panorama this afternoon about the impact of opencast mining on my constituents were it to be allowed in my ward. I drafted in Mam to give me a lift to the site and to take a photo of the interview. This photo will be appearing in all good Focuses shortly!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Labour lie revisited

An article in our regional newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, caught my attention recently. "Residents browned off over their missing bins" claimed the headline. The story was about a street of houses in Lib Dem run Newcastle which had not received recycling bins for garden waste. It turns out that these houses had gardens that were far too small to qualify for the garden waste bins. (The garden waste is taken away to be composted.)

Labour Councillor Stephen Lambert, as ever ready with a quote, was "staggered". But at least it was interesting to see that Labour were keen on the scheme. This however, has not always been the case as the Labour party has a bit of a history on this very scheme.

It goes back a year and your have to cross over to Labour run Gateshead to get the full picture. Labour in Gateshead put out a leaflet which claimed the following about the Newcastle recycling scheme that the city was introducing: "In a classic case of putting the (waste) cart before the horse, LibDems in Newcastle rushed through a policy which they have had to reverse after committing huge resources and wasting millions."

Labour had simply made up this story. There was not a shred of truth in it. It was purely and simply a Gateshead Labour lie. The reality was that the Lib Dem run Newcastle council was investing in a greatly expanded recycling scheme. That same scheme has raised Newcastle to being one of the top performing councils on recycling in the region, recycling 35% of household waste. Gateshead's figure is 25% and is bottom of the league.

Far from being an abandoned scheme on which millions of pounds were wasted, the Newcastle scheme is a green beacon that massively outshines the performance of the Gateshead Labour party who so blatantly attempted to mislead about what was happening.

Now we have a Newcastle Labour councillor suggesting that the whole scheme is so great that he wants more of it.

We did write to the Labour party last year to ask them either to offer some proof for their absurd allegation or to withdraw it. I did get a reply but it offered none of these - instead the person responding simply denied any responsibility for the contents of the leaflet (he was the "editor"!) and fingered another Labour member instead. In the end, no one in the Labour party had the decency even to withdraw the allegation.

And now, having condemned the scheme as a collapsed waste of money, Labour are demanding more of it. What an interesting turn around (to put it politely).

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Heading home for a Panorama interview

I am heading home to Gateshead a day earlier than usual. I am being interviewed tomorrow afternoon by the BBC for Panorama. The interview is about coal mining, or more specifically, opencast mining.

There was an application three years ago for an opencast scheme in my ward. I led the campaign against on the Gateshead side of the border (Derwentside was affected as well). We won the battle at Gateshead's planning committee. The applicant then lodged an appeal but shortly before the inquiry was due to start, they withdrew. They did however state that they were likely to return with a new application at some point in the future.

The interview itself will take place near the site. Not sure when the programme will be broadcast.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I don't believe it

I am in Crystal Palace. I don't believe it. The Christmas decorations are up already!

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The joy of North Eastern delicacies

I went to one of the Parliamentary cafes last week with colleagues and one of them tried a smal bit of peas pudding. She wrinkled her nose up after trying a small amount. She had not tried peas pudding before and found it so unpleasant that she decided to leave it. Not wanting to see it wasted, I offered to eat it. I instantly discovered why she couldn't eat any more. It was vile.

This great Northern delicacy was clearly not made in the way it should be. I couldn't finish it either but I did offer to bring down the real thing from Gateshead. So on Monday, I brought 2 tubs of proper peas pudding to Cowley St. There are some in the office who aren't able to eat ham products for religious reasons or simply because they don't like them. But others tried the peas pudding and it seemed to go down well.

The problem comes in November. There is to be a week of Northern food in the cafeteria in Millbank. Let's hope that the food to be served then beats the peas pudding conjured up last week!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Now, what was it Cameron said about Russians spending their money?

Given the loud protestations of slightly contorted innocence spilling forth from George Pip Squeak Osborne about his dealings with super rich Russians, I was reminded of the posturing by the Tories this summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

What was it Cameron said should be taken as sanctions against the Russians? Oh yes, I remember. 'Russian armies can't march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.'

Yes, Cameron's call was to stop the Russian bear making a bee line for the deli counter and the Harrods toy department to make it clear just how unacceptable the invasion of another country was.

At the same time, Pip Squeak Osborne was living it up on the yacht of a billionaire Russian whose country was busy invading Georgia. Little Mr Osborne claims it was all innocent. Perhaps he was delivering the groceries, given Cameron's edict of no Russians to set foot in the food court in London.

Cameron, after he had finished his photo op in August on his low carbon, "I'm poor like the rest of you" Cornish holiday, slipped off on an expensive cruise off the coast of Turkey (following a detour to Georgia where he presumably told the Georgian government his was having no truck with the Ruskies.) It would be interesting to know who he met whilst cruising around the Greek islands on that expensive yacht.

The cost of train tickets

On Saturday evening I booked a ferry trip to Amsterdam for the two of us. A return journey with inside cabin with shower and WC cost (with insurance) less than £90 each. Immediately afterwards, I booked a return train ticket to London. Cost was over £100. I know that there are some cheap tickets on the trains to London though they are harder and harder to book. But it has turned out to be cheaper for me to go to Amsterdam than London.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Monday morning blog - home-spun repossession

Evette Cooper's demand that the banks should use repossession of homes as a last resort caught my attention yesterday. It was almost a repeat, word for word, of what Vince Cable has been saying for some time. So the pressure on the banks avoid repossession of homes is welcome.

But let's face it, what Ms Cooper was doing was making a well spun statement. She wasn't actually announcing any new powers to tackle the problem. After the announcement that the state owned Northern Rock turned out to be the worst offender for repossessing homes, Labour needed to make it look as if they are tackling the issue, without actually doing anything about it. Hence the Cooper call on the banks.

The call of course completely contradicts the claim by the Chancellor when announcing the bank bailout that the "government is not in the business of managing banks" - in other words, the banks will be free to get on with managing their own affairs unhindered by minsiters.

So, whatever you think about Labour, they continue to be experts at spin (well, at least the people running their party nationally are - my view of the Labour spinners in Gateshead is somewhat different!)

Anyway, I am now on the train to London. You can tell the autumn is well upon us as we drove to the station in the dark. I am having a short week in London. I'll explain why I will be home sooner than usual later in the week but it's something to do with coal and tv!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The award photo

This is the photo taken yesterday of the award I got from the regional party for my email newsletter to constituents. Andrew Stunell MP presented it.

The newsletter goes directly to about 1500 households but plenty more receive it as people tend to forward it to family and friends.

PCA photos on Flickr

I have finished uploading the photos I took at Monday's Parliamentary Candidates Association reception at the. National Liberal Club. If you attended and you want copies of the photos, go to

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Out campaigning

Just finished delivering 400 copies of the cost of living survey in Blaydon constituency. I now need to get back home as my brother Andrew is due over soon to look at the allotment.

We shall return this evening to collect the replies.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

I have just won an award!

I am still at the regional conference and I am pleased to say I have just won an award for innovative use of the internet in campaigning (it includes email and video). Inevitably I was on hand with the camera to take photos of the awards, which left me in a slight problem for my own photos. Fortunately, Lucy Towers, regional media coordinator, came to the rescue. Photos will be posted soon!

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It's not me!

I am at the North East Liberal Democrat conference in Gateshead and a few people have said to me that they rather like the letter in the Independent yesterday in the name of Jonathan Wallace from Newcastle.

Alas, I don't know who Jonathan Wallace from Newcastle is and though people rather like the letter, I did not write it (nor have I even read it). I have a namesake in Newcastle. It's not the first time this namesake has written to the press. But to the Labour record keeper who monitors me for what I say and write, you'll just have to delete the letter from your records!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

If lending at last year's level was the problem, why is it now a condition of government support?

The announcement that government support to the banks is to be dependent on their lending to other banks, and to business and retail and mortgage customers at the level it was in 2007 struck me as an odd requirement when it was first announced. Whilst lending to businesses needs to be maintained (much lending is simply short term to allow for cash flow) the need to lend at last year's level on mortgages and personal lending to individuals suggests that the government actually wants a return to the problems that led to the financial meltdown in the first place.

Lending was previously unsustainable. Loans were made using assets as security that were massively overvalued. And much of the over valuation was itself caused by the easy supply of credit. 100% (or more) mortgages at five times personal income simply drove house prices higher and higher. Their true value however did not increase. And then there was all the unsecured lending at high interest rates for consumption (effectively a few hundred billion pounds of credit card debt for consumption). And then there was the secured lending on the inflated value of homes, in which people were cashing in on the increased value of their homes to pay for consumption that they would not otherwise have engaged in.

The common theme throughout this is that the vast majority of non-mortgage lending to individuals was based on rising house values and an assumption that any debt incurred would at least be covered by the rise in the value of the homes people owned. And if it wasn't based on that, much of it was based on an assumption that at some undefined point in the future, it could be repaid on the back of a prosperity level that was assumed could service past debts. In other words, buy now and hope you can pay later.

I past decades, such a situation would have led to runaway consumer inflation. We escaped that this time, but at the expense of other areas of the economy. All the excess captial converted to consumption was soaked up in a tsunami of cheap imported goods and cheap oil. Without access to all those cheap goods from abroad, our surplus income would have been eaten up either by inflation (which is what happened in much of the post war decades) or by putting the money into savings (the less likely outcome). We ended up with a huge deficit on our international trade. The reliance on cheap oil meant we were highly inefficient in the way we used it and were hit badly when demand rose sharply from countries such as China and India.

The rise in the cost of basics immediately made the servicing of debt a big problem. Forecasts of future growth had to be rewritten downwards. This was the outcome of 2007. The first to feel the heat was Northern Rock. It had provided too many mortgages at a level higher than the property was worth. The bank had assumed that putting people into a negative equity position on the first day of their holding a mortgage would only be a short term problem. The inflating property value would soon wipe our the negative equity. In 2007 that was no longer happening. The system was simply running out of money to lend, property prices could not continue to increase beyond the ability of the financial system to lend the money to pay for them, and confidence in the system was needed to maintain and increase prices - confidence which had reached its limit.

So it is easy for the government to say that banks are required to return to 2007 levels of lending, but as far as mortgage and personal lending is concerned, this is just not going to happen. Nor would it be sensible for it to do so. Lending for consumption simply increases the trade imbalance or causes inflation. Lending to buy a capital asset, provided the borrower has the future capacity to repay the loan, is perfectly reasonable provided the asset bought is not over valued.

Where the asset bought has a real value less that the amount paid for it, and more importantly, the purchaser does not have the future capacity to pay off the debt and the interest, you are in a sub-prime situation. House prices are now dropping fast so lending against them now almost certainly means negative equity in the very near future. Buyers are waiting til the market bottoms out. The banks may now have the money to offer as loans but the buyers aren't there.

So what the government was claiming was pure spin. We cannot return to sub prime lending as this is what has started the collapse in the financial services in America. Ministers knew there will be no return to the lending levels of last year. The only return is to the spin level.

The big problem now is not the level of lending to individuals but the lending to businesses instead. With a recession almost certainly now with us, the lenders will not have the confidence that business borrowers will be able to repay loans. Interbank lending is not the problem. Bank to business lending is. Perhaps the government should have looked at guaranteeing some of that lending instead of guaranteeing lending between financial institutions. It could only be for a short while and should require a risk by any business person taking such a loan. And it should not become a permanent feature of the economy. These are crisis times and sometimes crisis solutions are required that would not be contemplated in ordinary times.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

I can't believe what Geoff Hoon just said

I have just been watching Question Time. I thought Geoff Hoon had been performing reasonably even though I didn't necessarily agree with all that he said. But he has just accused Julia Goldsworthy of supporting a "license to murder" because she did not support the appalling plan of the government to keep a record of every email and mobile message every person has made or website visited.

Whatever people think of the government's plan, the accusation of being in favour of murder if you are not in favour of the government is unworthy of a Parliamentarian. He should apologise, or resign.

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The next general election: in the style of 1997, 1992 or 1945?

I was going to blog a week or so ago about what the next general election could resemble in terms of past elections. I had in mind a rerun of the 1992 and 1997 contests. Both were very different types of election which produced very different results. But I didn't get round to writing it and since then, we have had Gordon Brown striding the world like a modern day Churchill, leading the fight back against the dark forces of a banking meltdown, telling the world what needs to be done and how to do it, yet dependent at the end of the day on the US (and the EU) to control the global menace.

So, is the next election going to be compared to the 1997 contest? In other words, is the prevailing mood going to be that we need anyone other than the existing lot? In 1997 the Tories were in disarray, and had lost all economic credibility, yet Labour, despite having dumped their left wing garbage and posturing, didn't ultimately stand for much but did project themselves as a change in management. It needs to be remembered that in 1997 the economy was recovering and there had been a few years of economic growth - Labour often added the Tory years to the claim Blair and Brown had given the country its longest period of growth since the Romans left Britain.

So despite the economy having turned around and people's personal finances improving, the prevailing view was that the Tories' credibility had been shot to bits by the collapse of the ERM policy and they had to go. Could 2010 be a rerun of this but with the boot on the other foot? Perhaps the US presidential election will give us a clue as to how things could turn out here. By the next general election however, we will either be in a recession or recovering from one. Will Labour pay the price for that? Has their credibility been shot to bits by the events of recent months?

Then there is the prospect of a rerun of the 1992 election. Then Britain was in recession and the Tories had previously been deeply unpopular - and looked set to take the blame for the deep downturn being suffered. Labour felt they were on course for victory. But the public mood was not one of recrimination. Instead, people looked for a safe pair of hands, leaders with the ability to get them out of the trough they were in, even if the same leaders had led them into the mess in the first place. The Major government was helped by an opposition over which people had significant doubts. People went to the polls and reluctantly voted Conservative despite their recent history. In troubled time, better the devil you know.

But then there is the 1945 election. The Conservative had been in power for quite some time (granted in the final 5 years as part of a coalition). For 5 years they had been led by Churchill who dominated all around him and strode around the world leading the free nations against the menace that threatened to undermine the planet. The Conservatives however had been in power when all the problems blew up. They had failed to take action to prevent the rise of the threat from the Nazis. They had run the system that let the calamity, the 2nd World War, take place. Churchill as Prime Minister, was regarded as a colossus by the people who had saved them from the calamity. But they were not in any mood to allow the people who presided over the birth of the calamity to remain in power. Churchill was out. "Never again" was the prevailing mood.

So what will the next election be? 1945 "Never again"? 1992 "Better the devil you know"? 1997 "anyone other than the current lot"? Well, I haven't the foggiest idea. Perhaps the next election will resemble no other but the clock is ticking and the election is getting closer.
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As promised - the Gurkhas, Nick Clegg and Joanna Lumley photos

Monday afternoon and I was at Portcullis House to take photos of the launch of the petition supporting Lord Lee's bill (read the same day in the Lords) which aims to give Gurkhas who have fought for Britain the right to remain here and become UK citizens. Actress Joanna Lumley is one of the most high profile supporters of the campaign. She was there fort eh launch with Nick Clegg, and I was there for the photos.

You can sign the petition at

We won the pub quiz!

Following on from my post last night, I can now report that we won the pub quiz last night! As a result we were £37 better off (between 4 of us). It paid for the pizzas and pints last night with some left over. Pity it only covered a tiny bit of yesterday's fall in share values.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not yet on the pad ready to launch

My plan this evening was to email out the final batch of photos taken at conference, sort and upload to the party's Flickr site the photos taken on Monday with the Gurkhas and Joanna Lumley (outside Parliament), send a few off to the MPs who attended and then complete the North East Democrat, the regional email newsletter I produce. Inevitably, the list was not completed. I didn't get to touch the NED. So it is partially complete and not yet sitting on the pad ready to launch. It needs to be out by Friday.

I left the office at 8.15pm as I am under a three line whip to be at the pub quiz at the local hostelry. Two weeks ago we won, last week we came second. Whether or not we can hold our gains is about as predictable as the stock market which today had its biggest fall on record. And of course, the real economy is now cooling rapidly. Unemployment is rising rapidly. Inflation is at its highest for years. Brown said he had ended boom and bust. He was at least half right. He has certainly ended boom.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More photos

I had an email late on Sunday evening asking me to take photos outside Portcullis House of Joanna Lumley and Nick Clegg with the Gurkhas again. The cause of this was the reading of the Bill by Lord Lee, a Lib Dem peer, which aims to give citizenship to those Gurkhas who have served in the UK armed forces. That took place on Monday afternoon.

And on Monday evening, I was at the National Liberal Club to do photos of the Parliamentary Candidates Association reception. But yesterday, I also got a call to do photos today of the gathering of the Lib Dem experts on the economy. I took all the photos I could and simply uploaded them to the pc of the editor of Lib Dem News. I didn't have a chance to look at the pics myself. No time. I spent the rest of the day sorting through the portrait photos I took at conference. These are a bit behind schedule, simply because so many people came to the photo sessions I put on at conference. Various MPs yesterday gave me gentle reminders that they needed their photos. So a hundred or so were emailed out today. More still to follow. If you are still waiting for yours, it will arrive soon. (I promise!)

I'll post up some of the Gurkha pics soon but I'll be putting much more onto the Lib Dem Flickr site.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Monday morning blog: whatever happened to the Farepak savers?

Amidst all the news that the government has stepped in to save the banks and guarantee saving (at least if you are not a local authority) the poor savers of bankrupt Farepak must be feeling completely left behind. The financial crisis has been caused by irresponsible lending and too many people living beyond their means. The Farepak savers were the responsible people who lived within their means and put money aside in advance of Xmas so that they would not go into debt. Such responsible behaviour may look quaint and old fashioned now, but it is exactly the sort of behaviour that would have avoided the banking crisis had the idea of "living within our means" been the prevailing spirit of our times.

But the Farepak savers were rewarded by having their carefully husbanded resources taken from them and a government that was more interested in the big banks than the small person. It's hardly a great advert for Labour.

I am now sitting on the train heading south to London. I will get more details of the government's bank bailout scheme when I get to the office. (What I can pick up from the BBC website on my blackberry gives only minimal detail. I have with me a bag of produce from the allotment. It will keep me going til Friday, just in case the grocery sector collapses!

Meanwhile, I finished Parliamentary Campaigner last night so Lib Dem Parliamentary candidates should have had their copy by midnight. The Candidates Association AGM and reception are being held tonight in the National Liberla Club and I'll be there to do the photos with Nick Clegg. That is, of course, assuming I get to London. The train has just ground to a halt just south of Durham and the guard has announced that there is a "technical problem" and the "rear of the train is losing power." So, like the banks, the wheels have ground to a halt.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Philip Green's gone to Iceland

Until I read the Guardian yesterday, I had not realised just how much Iceland was involved with the ownership of our economy. Clearly the country had diversified from fish and thermal energy into the UK's high street. I was rather surprised to see House of Fraser in Iceland's portfolio along with other significant high street brands. Now we learn that Philip Green has arrived in Iceland, looking to buy what he can in the Iceland closing down sale.

Iceland is technically bankrupt and the administrators are selling off the assets. The question now has to be asked which major companies in the UK are in danger of going under because of the financial and looming economic crisis. If they are retail companies, the government will not be rescuing them. The banks unfortunately are a special case as they are the blood system of the economy. If they are unable to ensure a flow of cash, the rest of the economy goes down.

Other strategic sectors of the economy may be heading for difficulties. There was passing reference to the transport system seizing up in the Observer today. At some point however there will simply be no money left in the system for the government to borrow to prop up everything. And then the real crunch happens.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Council by-elections: gains and holds

This is not necessarily a comprehensive list of by-election results from yesterday but these are the results that have crossed my desk this morning (2 holds, one gain from Labour, one gain from Tories):

LD GAIN from Lab in St George West (Bristol City Council)
Tony Potter (Liberal Democrat): 923
Labour: 816
Conservative: 509
Independent: 257
Green: 116
English Democrat: 93

Rotherhithe Ward, LB Southwark
LD hold.
LD 1149 (56.8%, +9.2)
Lab 618 (30.6%, +5.3)
Con 255 (12.6%, -4.3)
Swing of 2% from Lab to LD since 2006.
(LDs and Lab both picking up some of the Green vote from 2006.)

Alexandra Ward, LB Haringey
LD hold
LD 1460 (49.9%, -6)
Lab 772 (26.4%, +5.9)
Con 443 (15.2%, +6.4)
Green 221 (7.6%, -7.2)
BNP 27 (0.1%, +0.1)
Swing of 6% from LD to Lab since 2006.

Wantage Town Council
LD gain from Conservatives
Lib Dem 328
Con 201
Lab 130

In terms of winning, then this is a good set of results. As usual, the headline overshadows the percentage changes (I don't have them for Bristol or Wantage). The London results are percentage changes since 2006 which was a particularly bad year for Labour in the capital.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gateshead exposed to tune of £4.5 million

I found out this morning when I was phoned by the Evening Chronicle on the way to work that Gateshead Council is exposed to the tune of £4.5 million in the Icelandic banking meltdown. The cash is with the Heritage Bank which is now in administration. From what I hear within local government sources reasonably close to the centre of things, the government is not guaranteeing the local government cash. Councils always were an easy target for central governments.

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A bit of collusion between Tory Unionists and SNP Disunionists

I hear all sorts of strange goings-on in the Glenrothes by-election where it appears that the Tories are colluding with the SNP to defeat Labour and help elect an MP who wants an end to the union. You can read all about it here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pipped at the post in the pub quiz

We have just got 46 out of 50 in the pub quiz. Not quite good enough to win. We were 2nd. The winning team had 47 points. And we could have done with the money. One of our team works for an Icelandic bank and has been told today he no longer has a job as his company has gone into administration.

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Labour MP - bad times under the Tories were due to the Tory government, bad times under Labour are not Labour's fault

Labour MP for Blaydon, David (call me "Dave") Anderson made an intervention in the opposition day debate on unemployment yesterday. In it, he claimed that the bad times under the last Tory government "was the direct result of Government policy, whereas what is happening today is outside the Government's control."

I'm not sure whether Mr Anderson is being hypocritical, admitting his own government is useless or a combination of both.

Quite what Mr Anderson is thinking of the current crisis (other than blaming others for his own government's inadequacies and failures) would be interesting to know. Last year he was vociferous in his attacks on the Lib Dems for wanting to nationalise Northern Rock (a measure he then went on to support). Does he feel that putting public money into the banking system is a bad idea (as he suggested last year), a good idea (as he suggested in February this year) or is it all completely out of his government's control (as he suggests now)?

But it is now possible to see how the likes of Mr Anderson will fight for their political survival - blame everyone else except themselves.

An invasion of squirrels

We have a new bird table in our front garden in London. Richard decided to buy a new one yesterday. He hangs feeders from a tree but that tree has now died and we are due to chop it down.

So when I left to go to work this morning, there was a great big, overfed grey squirrel sitting on the bird table munching its way through all the bird food. Greedy bastard! Well, at least they aren't eating all my carefully planted tree sapplings this time. (They are to be my carbon sink.) They did eat them last year though.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Junk food supporting MP and her sugar coated u-turn

Sharon Hodgson, soon to be the former Labour MP for Gateshead East and Washington West (she was dumped by her local members in favour of an older man for the new Gateshead constituency) is on yet another food mission. Last week, it was reported that she had visited an establisment that promotes healthy eating. On the trip, which she found "truly inspiring", she heard from some "who are discovering the high quantities of fat, sugar and salt in some fast foods."

All this is in rather marked contrast to the early day motion she sponsored not that long ago which attacked what she saw as the high cost of sweets, junk food, pop corn, cola, ice cream and so on sold in some establishments (in this instance cinemas). Demands were made for cheaper food, drinks and sweets, all of which appear to be packed full of fats, sugar or salt.

Has sugary Sharon made a u-turn? Or is she trying to have her cake and eat it!?

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The Monday morning blog: our first ice and the Mandelson thaw

Autumn definitely arrived this morning. We had our first ice on the car and on the way to Newcastle Central Station, we could see the Team Valley filled with low lying cloud. It was quite spectacular, looking down onto the cloud on the way in to town.

Talking of ice, or more realistically an ice age, there now appears to be a thaw between Mandelson and Gordon Brown. There more I think about it, the more I think the recall of Mandelson was quite a clever stroke in terms of the short to medium term for Labour. It effectively lines up the Blairites behind Brown and calls time on David Milliband. Seems as though the Blairites have given up on him. That's hardly surprising given his less than impressive performance recently and his will-he, won't-he indecision about the leadership. It may also be a recognition that the Blairites just don't have the support they need in the Labour party to mount a challenge. The cold autumn air of reality may have woken up the Blairites.

So for headlines, Brown was certainly grabbed them in the form of Mandelson. Interesting that the reshuffle itself was one of the smallest I have seen. As I said last week, blink and you would have missed it. Not all the headlines were positive over the weekend but the Mandelson appointment was the main weekend political story until Vince dislodged it with his call for a temporary suspension of the Bank of England's independence. But the government cannot govern by headlines alone.

I get the impression that Labour have been studying the first few months of the Brown premiership. Then it was a case of govern by crisis. Terror attacks, foot and mouth and floods allowed Brown to rush about in a frenzy and hold lots of meetings which achieved little other than to give the impression that he was in charge and handling the crisis. The reality was that the matters were being dealt with by people on the ground. Now Brown rushes around the world but the reality is that he is more a spectator of events. The unilateral announcement by Germany of a guarantee of German savings, the day after Brown pressed the European summit for co-ordinated action, shows just how much he is listened to. As for Brown's trip to New York last week, that was billed by Brown himself as an attempt to get international agreement and global regulation. The reality was that this trip had been planned for months and was actually a visit to the UN to discuss third world poverty. Brown repackaged it as financial crisis talks. The people with the power however were too busy dealing with the crisis to spend much time with him. And I am not aware of anything Brown can point to that he achieved as a result of his US trip.

So, not only can the government not govern by headlines, it cannot govern by constant crisis either. It eventually comes apart at the seams, as it did for Labour at the end of last year.

But back to Mandelson. I wonder what all those Labour dinosaurs think of the return of the figure they despise more than anyone else. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when the news was announced.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Campaigning in Blaydon constituency.

We are currently driving through Birtley having been out to deliver our survey on the rising cost of living. 500 delivered to various parts of the constituency.

Yesterday we were out taking photos for forthcoming Focuses. I now have to go home and finish making hedgrow jelly. And then write some Focus leaftets!

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tories blame Labour for Tory policy failure

Those who know me know I am not a great defender of the Labour party but the following caught my eye and really made me giggle. The Tories have backed plans for a high speed rail network. (I will believe it when I see it - the creation of a new high speed rail network under a Tory government.) However the proposed network only goes as far as Leeds and this is causing some problems for the Tories in the North East. Their response to their own failure to include the North East in their proposed rail network is to blame Labour!

When questioned by The Journal about the inadequacy of the Tory plans, candidate for Berwick, Anne-Marie Trevelyan replied that, "It's clear that the North East's strong Labour position means there has not been a loud enough Conservative voice to be heard at the highest level."

So there we have it, the Labour party in the North East prevents the North East Tories being heard in the Tory party. Blame Labour for your own incompetence - the Tories' new slogan.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

National Express, my bank and Upper Crust - time for a Friday evening rant

It has been one of those evenings where too many things go wrong. Firstly, the National Express website crashed out on me just as I was about to get to the end of the process of buying a ticket.

Then I had to phone my bank about a query on my accound. It was one of those situations where bankers are their own worst enemy. I phoned the number on the back of my debit card. The automated voice asked for my account details, and then for my sort code. Then I was asked for the 2nd and 4th digit of my security number. What security number? Certainly not the number on the signature strip on my card. And my bank has never asked me to have a security number.

So I went onto the internet and checked out the bank's website. The number for all customer inquiries was the one I had just phoned. A search produced no other number. Back to the drawing board. Then I remembered phoning my bank from a number on the back of my card when I was in Thailand a few months ago. I therefore phoned that number (it was an international code and a London number so I simply phoned the London bit). Surprisingly I got through. I got the query about my account sorted so then raised the issue of the problem of needing a security number but not having been given any notice by the bank or any information about getting one.

The assistant on the phone was very helpful and explained that all customers can have a security number and having one made life so much easier as queries over the phone about one's account are handled so much quicker. She did such a good job of telling me how great having a security number was that I was gagging to be given one myself. No problem she said, all she had to do was transfer me to the appropriate division who would arrange for me to have the security number of my choice.

Excellent, I said, put me through! She did. I got put through to an automated message that asked me for my account number and sort code. It then asked me for, would you believe it, a membership number. I am not sure if the membership number is the same thing as the security number but since I have never been given a membership number by my bank, I wasn't able to go any futher. The automated voice said sorry but it did not recognose my silence as a number so I put down the phone, though what I then said is not repeatable here!

It is rather frustrating therefore trying to phone the bank but only being allowed to do so if you have a code number, but only able to get the number if you already have another number which the bank hadn't seen fit to provide me with in the first place.

I got to Kings Cross and went to a sandwich shop called Upper Crust. I asked for a sandwich that had no meat, cheese or fish in it. I was offered various sorts of cheese sandwiches but anything that is simply vegan is not available. I ended up with a cheese and tomato sandwich.

And finally, back to National Express. They put the cream on the things-will-go-wrong cake. Yet again they failed to provide me with the seat I reserved. I go for window airline forward facing seats. I found my reservation on a table seat. No use for taking my shoes off and stretching out.

Rant over. I'm now going to have a cup of tea at the cost of £1.45. Don't get me start on the price!

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Back to the Future with Doc Brown and his time machine

Blink and you would have missed the reshuffle. Indeed, reshuffle is much too strong a word for it. Tinkering at the edge would be a better description. But what's this? Peter Mandelson makes a return! What a turnabout for both Brown and Mandy. Both I suspect have had to endure a large feast of humble pie. It will be interesting to see whether Mandy is Once, Twice, Three Times a Quitter.

But I am reminded of one of my favourite films, "Back to the Future" in which another Doc Brown invents a time machine ("You converted a de Lorien into a time machine!?") Marty McFly is accidentally sent back in time to the day his parents first meet and Doc Brown first thinks up the Time Flux Capacitor. Marty unfortunately changes the course of history and Doc Brown is tasked with getting Marty back to the future, but only after they have restored history by getting his parents together so that ultimately Marty himself can come into existence. When he gets back to the future, he discovers a better world as a result of the chain of events he had caused by going back in time.

So now we have Doc Gordon Brown going back to the future by drawing Peter Mandelson into the government. Perhaps they are looking to correct the mistakes of the past and make the future a better place. Or perhaps Brown has run out of options, seen how talentless his cabinet is, as they have been dominated by the Blair-Brown axis for too long. Perhaps he has to pull in talent that was long since cast away. I do actually believe that Mandelson is a talented guy. I don't believe he is the solution to Labour's problems as I think they go much deeper than anything a few face changes can bring about.

I notice another of the walking dead is back as well: Margaret Beckett. She held the office of Foreign Secretary whilst Tony Blair exercised the powers of the Foreign Secretary. I wonder how Labour members feel about the return from the graveyard of a minister who stood by as her boss sucked up to a right wing American president.

So a case of back to the future with Gordon Brown. We wait to see whether the future is better now that the walking dead are back on board.

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Labour crushed in Redcar by-election

Just got the news through now of a stunning Lib Dem gain from Labour in the Kirkleatham by-election in Redcar, Teeside, in the North East. By-election held yesterday. Here's the result:

John Hannon (Lib Dem) 1031
Paul Dixon (Lab) 486
Brian Mundy (Con) 204
Dawn Castle (BNP) 106

Well done our colleagues in Redcar and Cleveland.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The reshuffle

I have just left Cowley St with news that the reshuffle is underway. At this point there is no news as to who is in or out. How extensive it will be is unknown though I doubt it will be major. After all, the last thing Brown wants is a bunch of alienated ex-ministers joining the other alienated ex-ministers outside the tent pissing in.

Unfortunately BBC on my blackberry is giving me no clues either. Will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, if anyone is interested, we won the pub quiz last night. We called ourselves the Bradford and Bingley Buskers. Me and 3 Labour members. At last I have found a use for some of Brown's people. Whether or not all his minister find Brown has a use for them is a story waiting to be told.

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