Sunday, November 30, 2008

Labour Mayor defects to Lib Dems

Just back from my sister's house in Newcastle from a family get together. I pick up my work emails and find a message from Penny Reid, our Leader on Blyth Valley District Council in Northumberland. I'll let Penny explain:

As some of you may have already heard, last year's Mayor of Blyth Valley, Councillor Cilla Isles, has resigned from the Labour Party and has joined the Liberal Democrats. Cilla is a hard-working, community councillor and we are very pleased to have her in the party and in the Lib Dem council group. Labour continue to show their darker and more devious side as the end of their reign in the south-east approaches and whilst Cilla is the first to see them for what they are, I hear she may not be the last.

My weekend video shoot

I had an unexpected trip to Corbridge in the Tyne Valley, Northumberland, today, to take David to a magistrates reception. The house where the reception was held was just along the road from the Corbridge Roman site. So I dropped off David and went along to Corstopitum, armed with cameras.

I have filmed videos in all sorts of places throughout the Roman Empire. And at some point I am going to pull them together onto one dvd. But that requires shooting lots of footage on Roman sites in the North East. It is, after all, Rome's northern frontiier. So watch out soon for my video appearing on YouTube.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Plucking pheasants and other forthcoming weekend stories

We have traded some homemade jams and chutneys for some pheasants. This will make for an interesting weekend of pheasant plucking! Now that we are part of the self-sufficient fraternity (or rather, we are attempting to be - the plan is to be largely self-sufficient in food by 2010) we can expect more plucking weekends engaged in food preparation of this nature!

And when I am not plucking, I will be writing and printing Focus leaflets. I had to spend tonight changing a village focus from an A4 to A3. We had a load more news come in we needed to report to constituents. And when I'm not writing Focuses, I'll be printing them! The interlude amongst this will be spent at a local fayre. I seem to have donated a fair chunk of the tombola prizes for our stall - a supply of jams and chutneys!

We will however have a family get together on Sunday, at my sister's house. Andrew, older brother is up from Leicester.

I am now on the train heading home. As we are not yet at full self-sufficiency level, I am eating an M&S sandwich. At least this time I have avoided buying a bagette from Upper Crust. I'm not touching them again.

Irritatingly, National Express have lengthened this journey by 20 minutes (at the same time as they were telling people at from the end of next year they wil be introducing shorter journey times.)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Neil Trafford RIP

It was announced today that Neil Trafford died on Sunday following a road accident. Neil was the campaigns officer for the North West region. I have known him for some years and saw him last week when he came into Cowley St. He was a first class campaigner and had made a significant contribution to the party, especially in the North West.

It is a great tragedy that such a young and talented person has been taken from us. I worked with Neil on the Sedgefield by-election. He was on the literature team. He was usually amongst the first to get the photos I had been sent out to gather in.

A great guy. Neil, you will be greatly missed.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

What the 45p rate will buy

So, 45p income tax on the super rich in 2011. The government estimates it will raise £670 million a year. For the super rich community, that is the equivalent of 10 yachts or two football clubs. Hardly going to be noticed by them.

Meanwhile, Darling plans to sting the lower and middle income people for a National Insurance rise that will raise considerably more than the 45p rate.

Perhaps this is not New Old Labour after all.

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45 today

Well, it's my birthday. 45 today. Only 5 years to go before I can go on a Saga holiday. Theoretically I could retire in 5 years' time. Well there's a thought, but I am not the retiring type. I am on the train now heading to London, armed with two large cakes so that Cowley Street can join in the celebration of my advancing years!

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The Monday morning blog: tax cuts, tax rises and tax spin

New Labour is dead. Long live New Old Labour. Well not quite but we could be forgiven for thinking so. After all, this is a government that continues to spin like there's no tomorrow (and borrow like there's no tomorrow as well). And spin is what we are getting as the major feature of the Pre-Budget Report. We are, I saw from the BBC last night, to have an additional higher rate of income tax for the highest earners. It will not, however, come in until after the general election. The talk is of a 45p rate on incomes above £150K.

I guess the first thing I will do when I get to the office is to dust down all those Labour leaflets from the last general election predicting the end of the world, death, destruction, pestilence plague and a variety of other improbables were the Lib Dem policy of a 50p rate to be introduced. If I remember correctly, Labour claimed that the level of revenue from this tax would be far smaller than we claimed. It is relatively easy to avoid but, so Labour claimed, would drive business people abroad thus reducing the tax take. Now Labour are set to announce a slimmed down version which will raise very little relative to the enormous black hole in the government's finances. But it does mean that Labour will go to the country in 2010 claiming that the super rich will carry the extra burden of tax to pay for the recession. Watch out for Labour spending the extra revenue predicted from this new tax many times over. It will be a bit like their claims on the Lib Dems' 1p on income tax for education in 2001. They claimed it was "magical" because, so they claimed, we spent the same money many times over. (The claim was rubbish but it never stopped them from lying.)

And so we come to VAT. Labour are set to make a temporary reduction of two and a half percent. This will not do a great deal to help those nearest the breadline. For starters, bread, like some food, is zero rated. Gas and electricity pay VAT at the lowest allowable rate of 5%. That rate therefore will remain unchanged. Public transport ticket prices have gone up above inflation and are zero rated for VAT The people who have suffered the most from inflation over the past year are those on low and lowish incomes, and fixed incomes (typically pensioners). .A much larger proportion of their income is spent on VAT free or minimal VAT goods and services. A VAT cut will only help them at the margins. The big gainers will be the people buying large household goods. It looks like it will soon be time to buy that plasma screen tv you have always wanted. It's just a pity that it is likely to be imported but it is nice of the British government to be so supportive of foreign based manufacturers!

You also need to add into the equation the impact of interest rate cuts. Whilst it was right to cut interest rates to reduce the costs on business and mortgage holders, those, particularly the elderly, who have built up savings by careful financial management and a commendable desire to be self-supporting, are now faced with a sharp reduction in income. Whatever package of support is put together must take that into account. The pension credit and benefits system works against such people. That's why a significant increase in the basic pension is what is needed. Means testing works against those who try to support themselves. Means testing needs to be reduced.

So, the proposal Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have put forward to restructure permanently the tax system is also the most redistributive. But it is also the one that will help to get us out of the recession more quickly. Whether we like it or not, people are spending less because too many of them are fearful of the personal debt they have accumulated. They are desperate to pay it off and many won't start spending back at previous levels until their debt has at least been reduced to managable proportions. Even price cuts will not be sufficiently enticing to bring them back into the shops in significant numbers. They look at the state of the economy, worry about jobs, worry they may lose their home and therefore try to reduce the millstone of debt.

Once the debt level is reduced, they will start to spend. Putting money into the pockets of these people will lead to many of them reducing their debts earlier. And they then start spending again earlier. Like it or not, the people who have driven consumption to record levels have been those with the debts on the credit cards which were accumulated when they thought future prospects could easily pay off what they owe. We now need them at least with a lower debt burden for the economy to recover. Stopping the taxman from taking more of their income in the first place will he a significant help.

You only have to look back at the recession of the early 1990s. People then were worried about jobs and prospects but had built up considerable personal debts. The length of the recession was increased because people were paying off debts rather than spending. We are likely to be entering a similar period now. Getting the debts cleared as quickly as possible is now the key to getting us through the recession

Anyway, watch for lots of spin from Labour today as they project their favourite image of hyperactivity to tackle the recession. We have seen New Labour legislate by the bucket load on tackling crime (often with few results and often with the legislation repealed even before it is implemented.) New Old Labour will do the same on the economy whilst trying to portray the Tories as wanting to let the recession "take its course."

Well, it has taken me al the way from Newcastle to York on the train to write this post. Time for some shut eye (after writing my next post!)

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

My post office picture

I wanted to post up this picture to illustrate a small victory over Labour in my village of Sunniside. Labour declared that putting a cash machine into the village post office would lead to the end of the world, plague, pestilence and so on as an explanation for refusing planning permission for the machine. Well, here is the machine, suitably installed, despite the best efforts of the Labour party to prevent it happening. The Council lost the appeal, Labour managed to avoid forcing the closure of the village post office and the machine has now been installed, to the general pleasure of the village who can now have 24 hour, free to use access to their cash for the first time. The fact the world financial system came close to collapse during the installation of the cash machine is, I understand, just a coincidence!
We held this ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the installation of the machine. Pictured above are me, Paul Mein, (Sunniside Post Master cutting the ribbon)) and Councillors John McClurey, Marilynn Ord and Peter Maughan.
Peter is our Blaydon Parliamentary Candidate. After this ribbon cutting ceremony (it happened last weekend) we headed off to the village of Lamesley for the church fair. We were seen and plenty chatted to us. Somehow Peter managed to win 2 raffle prizes. I won nothing.

23 years

Yesterday marked 23 years David and I have been together. And as I am 45 tomorrow, that means we've been joined up for over half my life. Shockingly, we have now been together longer than some of the interns in our office at Cowley St have been alive. That must make me seen exceptionally old to them!

I am in Rowlands Gill now, having just finished a couple of leaflet patches. David is back home making a couple of cakes for me to take to work tomorrow for all those young people to have to celebrate the fact I am only 5 years away from being able to go on a Saga holiday!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Paying more for the privilege of having my train cancelled

One of the countless emails into my inbox today was from the party's transport adviser Alice Douglas, all about the inflation busting fare rises planned for the trains. As of January, regulated fares go up 6% in nearly all cases, and on National Express East Coast, the unregulated fares go up 7.4%. All that extra to pay so I can enjoy the privilege of having my train to London cancelled.

Talking of which, I notice that Adrian Pearson of the Journal has taken up the issue of National Express and the constantly cancelled trains from my regular blog posts written in despair on Monday mornings when I turn up at the Central Station to witness my train being cancelled. The power of blogs! Keep up the good work on this Adrian!

Sticking with the National Express theme, I read in the Journal recently that National Express are to introduce a shake up of their timetable from December 2009. All sorts of promises are made about additional services with journey times typically being cut by 17 minutes to London. Good news if this comes about. And much better than my experience of National Express who have been in the habit of adding 35 minutes to my journey times.

I will believe the promises when they happen however. And I would remind National Express that they appear to have changed the current timetable by adding 20 minutes to the journey time for the 9pm service out of Kings Cross to Newcastle (I am on it now) whilst the 10 pm service appears to have been replaced with a.n 11.30pm service that does not get in until 7am the next day, at least according to their website where I order my tickets.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whisky Galore

It's been a bit of a whisky week. Let me explain. A few months ago, I set some blackberry whisky brewing. To make it, you get some blackberries and stick them in a storage jar then pour in a bottle of cheap whisky. Then add some sugar, close the jar and leave to stand for 3 months at which point strain off the liquid and bottle it.

This did of course leave me with a large quantity of whisky soaked blackberries. Rather than throw them out, I made them into a pie and took it into Cowley St. The third floor was throwing a party for Kate Webb, who was leaving the Communications Team to move on to pastiures new. Any excuse for a party! The pie was demolished in fifteen minutes. Estimates suggested people would exceed the breathiliser limit at 3 mouthfuls of the pie.

Interesting rumours have now circulated around Cowley St about the pies served up on the third floor. I guess for good reason! The blackberry whisky itself is being severely rationed. I made three bottles and they have to last a few months. Each of us in the flat is allowed one small glass once a week. The same policy of strict limitation will apply to the cherry vodka, raspberry gin and sloe gin that is ready to be bottled at home in Gateshead.

Anyway, step forward Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon. No, for once I won't be taking up my sword against him, well not in this blog post. We bumped into each other on the train to Victoria yesterday morning. We chatted about various thing and I learnt his favourite novel is Whisky Galore. Alas, duties of political life prevent his reading as much as he would like, a situation with which I totally sympathise. Train journeys and the time spent in the bath on a Saturday evening are the only times I get to read nowadays. (I am currently reading David Faber's "Munich: The 1938 Appeasement Crisis")

Anyway, I am now arriving at my station. Time to finish this blog and get some dinner (and having spent the journey writing this post, I got no reading done!)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

3 million unemployed?

The CBI yesterday predicted that unemployment could reach 3 million by the end of next year. Not only would that be a disaster to the people concerned and to the country, it does open up the prospect of revising my estimate that the general election will be in 2010.

Quite how a Labour government would be able to explain away such economic competence would be interesting to see. But with the spectre of 3 million unemployed haunting Labour, Brown may be tempted to go a year early if Labour's poll ratings are close to the Tories' position (which at least for the moment seems to be happening - a feature of the Tories' inability to present a coherent, set of policies on the economy). This would of course be very risky for Labour. They would, after all, be putting up for grabs a very fragile majority (30 seats lost by Labour under the new boundaries and they are in no-overall-control situation).

My feeling is that Brown will still hold out to 2010 but the chances of a 2009 election have probably increased.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Monday morning blog: Labour MP and the obesity crisis

There can be no doubt about it. Britain is facing an obesity crisis. The North East has some of the highest obesity levels, affecting all age groups. The Government, in response, launched Change4Life last week in Newcastle. The North East is going to begin the fight back against fat.

The focus of the scheme is the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables from corner shops. In effect, the government is aiming to make the purchase of healthy food much easier by subsidising local shops to sell it. I hope this works though some questions remain about whether this scheme will reach many people.

Firstly, not that many people shop at the corner shop. Too many get into their cars (a cause of obesity in the first place) and head off to giant out of town centres, like the Metrocentre, to do their shopping. I don't think it appropriate to subsidize Asda and Morrisons and so on to sell what they already sell.

But even if fresh fruit and vegetables are available, that does not mean people will buy and use them. As the old addage goes, you can take a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink. The only way this scheme will be successful is if both parents and children are educated about the need for a healthy diet and exercise. Children in particular need to learn in school that cooking a meal is more than just opening a packet and slinging it in the microwave.

So were I running the scheme, I would ensure cookery lessons are taught to all in school. And how about doctors prescribing fresh fruit and veg for obese patients?

Anyway, step forward the gaffe-prone Labour MP for Gateshead East and Washington West, Sharon Hodgson. Sharon has three claims to fame: she notoriously wrote an early day motion praising herself, she was dumped by the Gateshead Labour party after only two years as an MP and she campaigned for cheap junk food for children. It is the latter claim to fame that stands so uncomfortably with her most recent pronouncements on the need to tackle obesity.

Don't get me wrong. I welcome her support for tackling obesity. But stating she is "proud" that the North East has been chosen to launch the government's project suggests her rush to get her soundbite into the press is somewhat misplaced. The North East was chosen to launch the scheme because of the very high levels of obesity. That, Sharon, is not something of which to be proud.

Hopefully, this scheme is a success and obesity levels do come down. But it needs to be more than just making healthy food available. To have healthy hearts, we need to change minds as well.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

A few photos from our Amsterdam trip

A few photos from our trip to Amsterdam earlier this month.
Me trying out my new shoes.

Bridge over the River Amstel

The canal lock right outside our hotel


Another canal lock

Me caught blogging on the blackberry.
More photos from the trip are on my Flickr site:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Upper Crust and the complete lack of environmental concern

I am going to have one of my occasional rants about companies from which I buy goods and services. No, I'm not going to put the boot in on National Express. Tonight, it's Upper Crust, the sandwich chain.

I arrived at Kings Cross to catch the 9pm train having had no meal this evening. Regular readers will know that for environmental reasons I do not eat meat or fish thrugh the week. I also try to cut down on cheese and diary products as cattle raising is quite a damaging environmental activity. Furthermore, the human body did not evolve to eat such large quantities of meat and fats that are typically consumed in over weight Britain.

Until a few months ago at KX there was a Boots branch which sold sandwiches at a reasonable price and always had vegan options. Alas, that store has closed. The alternatives are Marks and Spencer or Upper Crust. M and S have a better range and frankly are cheaper than Upper Crust. But tonight the M and S range amointed to empty shelves. So I was left with Upper Crust.

I knew it was a waste of time asking Upper Crust if they had a vegan option. I know they don't. If you want veggie, you have to have cheese. I confess I also went against one of my guidelines and bought a packet of crisps. Apparently the manufacture of crisps produces more carbon that they weigh. However, I very nearly didn't buy them. At 99p, I thought they were a bit of a rip off.

Anyway, there was my sandwich and crisps on the counter and suddenly a bottle of still water was put next to them. "I didn't ask for water," I said. "If you get the water, the whole of what you buy will be cheaper."

I repeated again that I did not want water. Bottled still water is one of my pet hates. Environmentally they are appalling. The waste involved in shipping water around the planet and then bottling and packaging it up when we have some of the world's best tap water (produced from local sources) literally on tap is an environmental scandal.

Bizarrely the staff began to insist that I take the water. I refused. The staff looked at me as if I had just attempted to shoplift the place. It felt like they were about to cal for security. Again, I insisted I did not want water, but I did ask if they could give me a cup of tea as an alternative. The staff looked at each other, muttered something between themselves and then turned down my request.

So Upper Crust, crap customer service combined with an appalling lack of awareness of the damage you are doing to the environment. In future, if I get to KX without having eaten, and you are the only people supplying food, I prefer to starve.

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A few Remembrance Day photos

Slightly late but here are a few of the photos from the Whickham Remembrance Day parade on Sunday in Whickham. A full set of photos is available at

Putting out leaflets brings the election process "into disrepute" - Labour

I spotted this little nugget and can't resist the temptation to share it with the world. The Lib Dems comfortably held the North Road ward by-election in Darlington yesterday, taking 51% of the vote.

Labour however seem to have been a bit upset by the quantity of Lib Dem literature. Labour Councillor Nick Wallis, who is also Labour Euro candidate for the North East, on the day before the election, was muttering about how terrible it was that such a tonnage of information was being delivered through people's doors. On his blog he wrote:

The North Road by-election ends tomorrow - any kind of debate between the parties has been drowned out by the usual LibDem Sturm und Drang. Frankly, this number of leaflets from one party brings the whole process into disprepute [sic]. Still, we'll see the result on Thursday night.

Seems that Nick believes that in an election, debate should only be between the parties and he resists the idea that voters should be told what the candidates and parties believe in and want to do for an area.

"We shall see" he said. Well, we did see (and the people saw the Focuses) and Labour lost, taking less than half the votes of the Lib Dems.

Frankly though, the idea that putting out information to voters in an election brings the democratic process into disrepute is mindbogglingly ludicrous.

Perhaps there is an explanation for Nick's thoughts. Maybe he is simply basing his comments on people's responses to Labour leaflets. In my patch, when Labour used to put out leaflets, their vote went down. Now they have given up putting out leaflets, except for the odd one (normally very odd) that appears during an election.

Anyway, Nick's comments can be read here:

We are, of course, looking forward to Nick's Euro campaign next year. The non-appearance of any leaflets from the Labour campaign will be most welcome!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next email newsletter done

Just finished the latest edition of eFocus, my email newsletter for constituents, and emailed it out to about 900 addresses. It is a little later than I wanted but I've had loads on recently. However, it does act as a good prompt to residents of my village of Sunniside for an event I am running on Saturday. We are cutting a ribbon to launch the cash machine installed in the village post office. We had a battle to get it installed. Labour councillors threw out the planning application and then justified it with all sorts of end-of-the-world claims if the application had been installed. Well, the application went ahead because there was a successful appeal.

So, with the machine now in place (boosting the vitality of the Post Office and the village centre) we will have a celebration to promote it. 11.30am Saturday morning, outside Sunniside Post Office.

We are wondering if the local Labour party will turn up to demand the machine's removal. From what I hear my constituents say about it, they will be demanding Labour's removal!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Monday morning blog: National Excess at it again

I arrived at Newcastle Central Station a few minutes ago to catch the 7.40am fast service to London only to find the damn thing is cancelled again. I should be thankful for small mercies. After all, it has been a few weeks since National Express last pulled that trick.

In the space of five minutes however we have had two different excuses. The information desk tells me the cancellation is due to engineering works. The train announcer however tells us it is due to a "fault on the train."

Perhaps the real reason is that National Excess couldn't run a Hornby trainset, never mind a real rail service. I have just boarded the slow service which arrived at Newcastle as the fast service I was originally supposed to get. That just makes this whole National Excess screw up all the more annoying.

Cancellation rather than finding trains to run scheduled services appears to be the policy of this company. It is the lazy option for a company that has a near monopoly on the East Coast It allows them to claim they are running a full service without actually putting on a full service. It's time this bunch had some competition on this rail route to give them a kick them up the backside.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Another low carbon day

The last day of our break and we were determined to keep it as low carbon as possible. So we headed to Tynemouth on bus and Metro to go to the Blue Reef Aquarium Centre. Then back to Newcastle for lunch at a restaurant called Pan Haggerty. They make their own chutneys so I was keen to find out what they produced. We are now waiting for the bus to go back home to Sunniside. No car used. Carbon count kept low.

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Glenrothes and election timing

Great predictions of our time and this one came true. I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Brown's visit to Glenrothes and suggested Labour were confident about winning as they would never have risked sending him into a losing battle. The Labour hold last night was therefore not unsurprising even if the majority and share of the vote were.

Don't however get carried away with the belief that Labour are back in election winning form. The real story from Glenrothes is that playing the anti-incumbency card can prove to be very effective. Labour mercilessly targeted the SNP candidate who happened to be the leader of Fife Council. Labour's challenge to the SNP focused on charges being introduced for services for the elderly. They ignored the fact that many of their own authorities have similar charges. And they hammered away at the same issue, attacking both the SNP led council and the SNP Scottish government. In other words, they used incumbency against the SNP despite being incumbents themselves. A very clever move that worked. There are clear lessons for us all in by-election campaigns: nail your opponents on their record.

Some of what happened in Glenrothes is a reflection of what is happening across Scotland generally. The SNP can now be held to account for their decisions and I also suspect there was a reaction to their arrogance.

The Glenrothes scenario however does not translate well over to the UK wide political agenda. There is no equivalent English dimension in England and in Wales, the Labour party (supported by the Welsh Nats) are the incumbents. Come a general election, attacking the Tories on their record in office over a decade ago may have some sway over voters, but not a great deal. The Tories' incoherent and rudderless approach to the financial crisis will have some sway as well. But the Labour government will not be able to use anti-incumbency. They are, after all, the government and there is no English government led by another party which can conveniently be blamed for unpopular political decisions.

Labour will therefore have to fight the next election, amongst other things, on their record. And that's why I feel there will be no election next year. Unemployment is set to exceed 2 million by next year, repossessions will be up, bankruptcies up, business collapses up. The recovery is more likely to happen in 2010 and Brown will need that to start kicking in before he risks an election.

Parallels are often drawn with the 1992 election where people opted for devil-you-know by voting back in the Tories despite their having been in office during the recession. But the Tories were defending a very comfortable majority of 100. They went on to win in 1992 but with a majority cut heavily to less than 30. And they didn't have millions of pounds of bad debt hanging around their necks, unlike the current Labour party (no doubt built up during what Brown calls the "Age of Irresponsibility". Labour's local organisation in large parts of the country has been shot to bits. It's not just in the marginals in the south where Labour's grassroots have rotted away. In their heartlands as well, they have organisations that are thin on the ground. I hear on the grapevine that Labour were canvassing in Glenrothes in the by-election without any previous canvass having been done in large parts of the constituency. The constituency was dependent on the national party to swing in to action to run the election campaign. Whilst Labour may not be troubled too much by weaknesses in their organisation in safe seats, in those where other parties are fighting them hard, Labour may not yet be able to sustain sufficient local activity to ensure the seat is held at the general election.

Organisation on the ground is one of the keys to winning a particular seat. Labour do not yet have either the grassroots organisation or the money to fight an election in 2009. The only scenario that would see an election next year is one in which Labour builds up a very large lead and sustains it for long enough through the summer for Brown to risk going in the autumn. And I cannot see circumstances which would create such circumstances.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back on Tyneside

We have just arrived back on Tyneside after our visit to Amsterdam. We were welcomed by the rain. We are on our way home now in the car. I have a council meeting this afternoon to attend. So it's back to work straight away!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama wins, and other stories from Amsterdam

I wasn't able to stay awake for long last night. Shortly after 1am I saw the projection for a McCain win in Kentucky and an Obama win in Vermont. Neither was a surprise and I decided to switch off the tv rather than attempt to stay awake. I woke this morning to the news of an electoral college landslide, if not a vote landslide.

Back in the UK, both Brown and Cameron appear to be reading diametrically opposite meanings into the result. Cameron argues that people voted for change. Brown argues that the Americans voted for substance. What Cameron disregards is that the change people looked for in USA may not be the change they are after in the UK. And what Brown overlooks is that you don't have experience to have substance.

We don't know whether or not any of this will translate over to the UK. People may well be looking for a change here but may not regard Cameron as much of a change. Others may prefer devil-you-know.

I have a suspicion that uppermost in the minds of American voters was a desire to see change and to sweep out of office that they regarded as responsible for the present economic crisis. Labour take note.

And now for an Amsterdam update.

We had a canal trip this morning to get to the Anne Frank Museum. This was one of the main sites I wanted to see on this trip. We had lunch near the Victoria Hotel and we're now on the coach heading back to the ferry port. We should be back there in half an hour. I am pleased to say that the mist had cleared before we left the hotel this morning and so I was able to take a few photos (about 120) and a few minutes of video.
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Amsterdam

We are in Amsterdam on a mini-holiday and the following is my diary for today:

It's 9.35am and we have just arrived in the port of Ijmuiden and we can barely see a thing. The mist is thick here. The ferry is in the process of mooring and once that is done we will be off on the bus to Amsterdam.

10.15am: just through passport control. The officer thumbed through my passport. "You travel a lot," he said. I certainly do. Pity that next year I need to get a new passport. There are only 4 pages left in my current one but they won't be used up before the passport is due for renewal.

We are now on the bus waiting to leave the port of Ijmuiden.

2.30pm. It was a 45 min bus ride into Amsterdam. We got to our hotel, the Bridge, to find it sitting next to an interesting loch on one of the canals. Unfortunately, due to the mist, I am avoiding taking photos and video today.

Our first visit was to the Resistance Museum where we spent longer than expected. We left about half an hour ago and are now in a bar having some lunch, on our way to the Van Gogh Museum.

8.30pm Very pleased we did the Van Gogh museum. Learnt quite a bit about him in the process. Afterwards we stopped off for a coffee in a bar on the way back to our hotel. We are now in a Javan restaurant. We came out looking for a Dutch restaurant, found only one and it was fully booked, so went for the next best thing - Dutch colonial.

11.15pm Back at the hotel now. If I stay awake I will watch some of the early election results from America. Failing that, I'll sleep. In the meantime, I've been getting emails about how to get the wreath for this Sunday's Remembrance Day ceremony in Whickham.

Next report tomorrow, probably from the ferry.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

My low carbon mini-holiday

This was meant to be a low carbon, low budget holiday. We are currently on the ferry crossing from Tyneside to Holland for a short stay in Amsterdam. I reckon I have used up my ration of flights for the year hence the ferry instead.

The low carbon attempt had a slight knock at the start. We had planned to get the bus in to Newcastle and then get the DFDS bus to the ferry port. And then I booked myself in for a meeting at 2pm with the leader of the council and chief exec. So we had to bring the car just to get to the ferry in time.

And then the budget bit took a knock when we got to the terminal and were offered a cabin upgrade at check in which we decided to take. The result is we have moved from the bowels of the ship to a cabin with sea view. Cost an extra £10 each.

We then went up to the top deck to watch as we sailed past Tynemoth and the piers. Ice Age strength breeze cooled us considerably. Seemed like an excuse to go to the bar to warm up. Cocktails here are priced in Euros. The budget has taken another battering.

Meanwhile Mam is looking after our house and cat.

Back on the ferry we are not walking about in shorts and t-shirts as we were the last time we went on a boat trip (Indian Ocean December last year between Kenya and Madagascar). Time to ge something warming in me again!

The last time I crossed the North Sea on a ferry was to Norway in 2003. We were both horribly sea sick (so was most of the passengers - that happens when you cross the sea in a storm). So we have taken the seasickness pills this time. Fingers crossed they will work.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Back to Chopwell again

We were out again in Chopwell again today. 6 of us were there to deliver a few hundred more Focuses. All part of our move into the Labour areas in Blaydon constituency. We have plans ready for launching for other activities in other parts of the constituency as well. I will say more about them once we have carried them out.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Campaigning in Little Moscow

There is a village in Blaydon constituency called Chopwell which is nicknamed "Little Moscow" because of its previous socialist inclinations. It has streets such as Marx Terrace and Lenin Terrace. Chopwell is still something of a Labour stronghold, though we are not deterred by that and are looking to make in roads there.

So 7 of us, including myself and Peter Maughan, our PPC for Blaydon, headed up there today to deliver a Focus, which also covered the neighbouring village of Blackhall Mill. We delivered about 900 and will complete the rest of the village shortly.

Given that Moscow has turned capitalist and socialism collapsed there nearly a generation ago, I'm not sure whether the tag of "Little Moscow" is appropriate any more. But there again, calling it a Labour stronghold is not the same as calling it a socialist stronghold. After all, under Blair and Brown, Labour and socialism are hardly the same thing!

Peter Maughan and I, and my two ward colleagues Marilynn and John, also paid a visit to the Methodist Chapel autumn charity fayre in my village of Sunniside this morning. I stocked up on cakes and peas pudding (the people on the stall loved my story about taking peas pudding to London for people down there to try it out!) and David stocked up with more plants for the garden.

Now I'm writing more Focuses. A Glen Miller track is playing on the pc and the cooking smells of dinner are wafting up the stairs from the kitchen to my office. How wonderfully civilised!