Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Interview from the car

A few minutes ago I finished writing my diary on my blackberry, which I then put into my pocket. We are currently on the road to London with David driving. As I put my blackberry away, it rang. It was the Evening Chronicle. They wanted to do an interview about flooding on the Derwent. So above the roar of the car engine, the meowing of Freda our cat and Classic FM playing on the radio, I talked about the need for greater flood defences along the river. We had a number of flooding incidents in September and I made a video about the flooding in Blackhall Mill, which I included with the eFocus sent out last night. Seems as though doing these videos works after all!
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The Wednesday morning blog - all aboard

We have just loaded up the car, one of those rare times when we drive to London rather than take the train. Dad is looking after the house whilst we spend xmas at the other place. We are avoiding the Metrocentre traffic by heading south out of Sunniside, via Stanley. Freda our cat is coming with us as well. We even have a journey's worth of oldie music. Roxie Music is playing at the moment!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Something nice to say about National Express

I got to Kings Cross tonight in time to pick up my ticket from the machine and catch the 9pm train (made easier by its late departure). It was only when I found my seat reservation did not tally with what was on my ticket that I realised I have caught completely the wrong train. My ticket was for the 7.30pm, not the 9pm. The latter was what was in my diary. Somehow I had managed to book the earlier train (rarely done as seats on it are like gold dust) but made the wrong note in my diary. I decided to go off in search of a train guard and explain the situation. The result was that I was allowed to continue without being charged anything extra, even though the mistake was mine.

As I said in the Journal earlier this week, the staff of National Express are reasonable and understanding. And they have just proved to me again that description is quite accurate.

Meanwhile the latest twist in my cat story. This will mean nothing to readers of this blog but Facebook friends may know what I am on about. Our London cat, Jess, went missing on Wednesday. She had never been missing before, ever since we got the flat 9 years ago when she adopted us and moved in to take advantage of our hospitality.

So her disappearance was of some concern to us. Richard decided to produce a leaflet for the neighbourhood and deliver it this morning. It worked. To cut a long story short, she was located trapped in a flat in the neighbouring block to ours where the occupants had gone away for the xmas period. Jess had been heard by the people in the next flag crying and trying to get out. The RSPCA had even been called. Anyway, she was suitably rescued. Jess is back in our flat and we can relax again.

Anyway, I am now finished work for the year though tomorrow I have a photo op with Fiona Hall MEP and I have to finish the email newsletters. So much for trying to get them finished today. A mixture of too much to do and a number of new issues to write up. I hope to finish them this weekend but don't hold your breath.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Love food, hate waste

Given my well know interest in growing food and avoiding food waste, the following issue was bound to catch my attention. Gateshead Council is running a competition as part of a programme to raise awareness of waste issues. The competition is to write the. most interesting recipes using food that would otherwise be thrown out. The prize for the best is a meal for two at the Southern Indian Cuisine Restaurant. Anyone wanting to enter can email their recipes to Closing date is 5th January. I would enter myself is I wasn't a councillor! All entries could be published and the 20 best will win a copy of "Eat Well, Waste Less" by Bish Muir.

So, it you have any good recipes or tips, send them in.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Working on email newsletters

I left Cowley St less than an hour ago, having spent the evening working on my next email newsletter for constituents. Actually, I am working on all 3 editions, one for the Whickham area, one for central Gateshead and one for western Gateshead. Rather ambitiously, I am hoping to get them all done by Friday. And just as I was about to leave the office, the draft Newcastle email newsletter arrived for me to check. I'll do that tomorrow as I had to leave to go out for dinner.

Meanwhile, if you are a Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate, check your in box. Parliamentary Campaigner was sent out this evening.

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Facepacks and Father Ted

There is something rather irritating about having to sit next to someone on the train who is busy putting their makeup on. Elbows and arms flying because they didn't get round to doing these things before they left the house. Whatever next? Perhaps people end up having a wash or getting dressed on the train!

Rant over, especially since I have just moved seats.

I was amused this morning by one of the performances on GMTV. 3 priests had formed a group. I think they called themselves "The Priests" but can't be sure of that. But the whole thing struck me as being like something from Father Ted and I was reminded of the edition when Ted and Dougal were in the competition be become the Irish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest!

Anyway, good luck to The Priests though I think it unlikely I will be buying their cd.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why part privatisation is right for Royal Mail

So the Hooper Report has been published. There are no great surprises. Royal Mail is in sharp decline. Doing nothing to address the problems would mean leaving Royal Mail to a lingering death.

When I was involved with writing the policy proposals on Royal Mail for the Lib Dems 3 years ago, the problems then were very much the same. Declining business, antiquated equipment, a hiuge pension fund deficit. Royal Mail, by no stretch of the imagination, can be said to have prospered in the state sector

In the good years, the company was milked for cash by its owners, the government, very little of which was ploughed back as capital investment. At the same time, the government as owners were not prepared to put in the capital that was needed to modernise the business. And as a fully state owned business, it simply could not go to the financial markets to raise capital. At the start of 2006, the mail market was fully liberalised. Competitors with access to capital moved in on the contracts to sort mail for big businesses. Royal Mail's manual sorting of mail is finding it difficult to compete with these largely mechanised mail sorting companies.

Putting Royal Mail into the private sector but with the state holding a significant shareholding means the company has access to the private capital currently not available to it. Such a move will create a level playing field, putting all competitors on the same footing.

I watched Labour MPs lining up today to attack the proposal for private sector involvement. Their claim is that events have moved in a different direction recently, with the state stepping in to save the private sector. Yet stop and think for a moment. The structure of most of the bailed out banks (admittedly not the fully nationalised ones) is not going to be that much different to what is likely to emerge for Royal Mail in which the the state has a substantial shareholding in a private sector business. If it's good enough for the banks, it's good enough for Royal Mail.

There is of course one significant difference between what is likely to emerge for RM and what we proposed three years ago. Our model had a significant role for employee shareownership and management. We took as our model the John Lewis Partnership, though we proposed a quarter of the shares be placed into a trust for emplyees, rather than all which is the case for John Lewis. The bailouts of banks and possibly of large businesses should however create the opportunity to introduce employee shareownership, once the financial and economic crisis has passed.

Royal Mail currently has the structure of a monolithic corporation designed to run a state monopoly. The world has moved on however and Royal Mail will die if it doesn't move on as well. Staying where it is will not be a stay of execution. A do nothing approach, advocated by many Labour MPs, will be a disaster.

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Part privatisation of the Royal Mail

I haven't seen the details of what is proposed for the Royal Mail but if what I have seen of the broad thrust is accurate (it was reported on GMTV so let's see) then it has an uncanny resemblence to what the Lib Dems proposed 3 years ago. And since I was very closely involved in writing the policy of part privatisation, then we are looking at something we could support. Whether or not the Labour party has the political will to go ahead with the proposals is another matter. That should be interesting to see.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The weekend round up

As I sit here in the waiting room at Newcastle Central Station for my delayed train to London, I thought I would use the opportunity to catch up with my own events of the weekend.

It is not unusual for people to be given a job to do when they do not turn up for a Lib Dem meeting. Giving me a job to do when I did turn up for a meeting seems to be taking things to an extreme! I went to the Blaydon constituency AGM on Saturday and ended up being elected to the executive.

Also, not happening on Saturday was the Journal article about National Express for which I wrote one of the contributions. Perhaps the vast hours (well about 10 minutes actually) I spent writing down my thoughts on National Express East Coast services will be rewarded with the article appearig shortly and, more spectacularly, fewer cancellations. (BTW my train has still not arrived.)

And so to Sunday, delivering my Focus leaflet on my home patch (literally) only to find I was 6 short (7 if you count my house.) I'll be doing a hunt around for spares.

And last night, I watched the repeat of the Peter Kay spoof on these "reality" tv contests. I had seen clips of it on YouTube after Richard recommended watching it. I'm still laughing!

And finally, I am heading to London armed with a large apple crumble. David made it last night but we decided not to eat it on the grounds the dinner was big enough. So colleagues in Cowley St will have to feast on it instead. There was no room for it in the freezer as we had just put into it 6 pheasants and 2 ducks. In our bid to become self sufficient, we traded jam for game but we overlooked the need for freezer space!

Anyway, it's now 7.30 and stil no sign of the train due 10 minutes ago.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Pizza in Cowley St and other interesting incidents of the day

I was sitting in Cowley St this evening, putting the finishing touches to the North East Democrat, when my colleague Jake offered to go to a local pizza shop. Did I want anything? I thought to myself: pizza or an M&S sandwich for dinner. The pizza won. After I ate it, I felt a twinge of healthy eating guilt. Perhaps I should go to M&S at Kings Cross Station to get some fruit for the journey back to Newcastle? Fruit in Marksies comes in large quantities. Indeed, buy one sack of clementines (okay a sack is a bit of an exaggeration) and get one free. So I clambered aboard my train weighed down with clementines, enough for a marmalade factory. I suspect that's what some of them will be used for. (Watch out for recipes using surplus to requirement clementines and peel on my self-sufficiency blog.)

I mentioned last night that I had been asked to write a small bit for the Journal about National Express. I sent it off this afternoon. I hope it will be published but I have this abiding memory of proudly announcing recently that I had been interviewed by BBC Panorama only to find they had cut my bit at the last minute. So here's to hoping. Anyway, what I forgot to mention last night was that the Journal also did an interview with me about plans by National Express to install ticket barriers at Newcastle Central Station. The interview was carried this morning. The result was that there was a phone call to my house early this morning from Radio Newcastle. David took the call and then phoned me at the flat down in London. And this resulted in a four minute slot on the Mike Parr show this morning, right when I was in the middle of a meeting in which I was leading a discussion on how to improve how we do interesting things to political opponents!

Ultimately I can say all this coverage is down to this blog, read not just by Lib Dems, constituents and political opponents, but by journalists as well. My experiences of National Express are certainly getting noticed!

I have now got through 4 clementines. Only 18 more to go. At current rate of progress, I should have finished them by the time I get home. And by then I guess I'll look like that orange creature on the Tango adverts.

Meanwhile, I shall endure the National Express train journey back to Newcastle. The passenger in front of me is singing along to his ipod in a monotone, the couple behind me are talking loudly about the inheritance they are going to get "now that granny has gone" and the man across the aisle hasn't yet learnt to blow his nose but has got making disgusting noises with the contents of his nose and throat down to a fine art. Only two and a half hours more of this and I'll be in Newcastle. If anyone is thinking of a Christmas present for me, ear plugs would be a good idea!
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another mad dash and other things

I really need to stop living life as a mad dash from one event or office to the next. Tonight I was working on Parliamentary Campaigner - it is published this weekend - but also agreed to go out for dinner at 9.30pm in Crystal Palace. I left Cowley St at 8.35pm, having just sent the latest (incomplete) Campaigner by email for checking. That meant getting to Victoria Stn before 8.52pm to catch the train. This time I made it with 6 minutes to spare. Having had the mad dash, I now feel I have burnt off the calories I am likely to gain from the meal.

I am pleased to say that the train is now leaving the station, with me on it. Talking of trains, I got a phone call from The Journal today. Would I like to write something as a regular passenger of National Express to mark their 1st anniversary of running trains on the East Coast? How could I refuse!? 150 words will be on their way tomorrow!

Good sign of the day: it is always a good sign when a constituent sends me notification of change of email address. It shows they like getting our email newsletter. Had another this evening and one yesterday. Keep them coming!

Good news on a small project I was working on in Blaydon constituency. It's going national. Can't say any more about it for a while but I'm rather pleased with it!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cowley St Xmas Party - exclusive photos!

The Cowley St Xmas Party was held yesterday. Santa was there but as the event was held in the Lords, he needed a temporary pass to get in!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Monday morning blog: does this MP live in a parallel universe?

Labour MP for Blaydon, David Anderson, has an occasional column in the Journal, our regional morning newspaper. I am, as you know, often eager to experience the wit and wisdom of political opponents, so I read his article with interest on Saturday.

I was particularly intersted to read his claim that once the National Insurance increases are introduced, "no one earning less than £40,000 a year will lose out. To put this into perspective, only 10% of the workforce earns above £40,000 and half earn less than £23,000."

This must come as great news to the entire nation. Even the Chancellor said in his Pre-Budget speech that only those earning less than £20,000 would be worse off.

Mr Anderson also came up with an entirely new set of figures for the new top rate. Instead of applying to incomes over £150,000, he claimed, "Increasing the top rate from 40% to 45% for those earning over £100,000 raises valuable monies."

Unless I have missed something, the claims made by Mr Anderson are somewhat different to those made by the Chancellor. Or is it just that Mr Anderson lives in a parallel universe where things are a bit different?
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Latest National Express news: 77 is the new 67

I arrived at Newcastle Central to catch the 7.52am to London, clutching my seat reservation for coach D, seat 67. Try as I might, I could not find seat 67. All the other passengers helped and we were defeated. No seat 67 existed, and all other seats were booked. So I went to the next coach and no seat 67 existed there either. So I went in search of a train guard, found one and brought him to the coach. He eventually found my reservation on seat 77. It was, he explained, due to a "set swap" (train industry speak for changing the train at the last minute). It does strike me as rather bizarre that seat 67 (and 68) do not exist on Intercity 225 trains. So, 77 is the new 67 with National Express. Just add 10 to your seat reservation!

It's a bit like buying a ticket from National Express. Try to book the £10 single fayre but all you find available are the fares that cost considerably more. All you have to do is add to the original amount!

Anyway, as you can now see, I am on the train to London. I am armed with a bag of food for colleagues. All home made, though the cake I have was not made in my home. It came from one of the 4 fayres I went to on Saturday in Blaydon constituency (Whickham, Swalwell, Ryton and Winlaton Mill).

The apple slices I have were made by me late on Saturday night. I have long threatened my Cowley St food guinea pigs with products made from acorn flour. These slices also contain apples we picked wild. They will be tested later today. More details will be on my self-sufficiency blog shortly.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Photos from the Vince Cable dinner

You can see a full collection of the photos taken at the Vince Cable dinner in Newcastle yesterday on my Flickr site:
Yes, that is me in the last one. David took it of me interviewing Vince for the video newsletter.

Vince Cable MP interviewed in Newcastle December 2008

Vince Cable was in Newcastle last night so I interviewed him about tax and the economy for my constituents' video newsletter.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

At the Vince Cable dinner

I am at the Falcons Rugby Club in Newcastle, packed out with Lib Dems, for the Vince Cable dinner. There are double the number of people here that normally attend the North East Region AGM. So, here's my suggestion for the agenda for the next AGM: charge more and put on dinner with Vince! Quite a crowd puller.
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Heading home for an evening with Vince Cable

I am not in Cowley St today. Instead, I have just struggled across London on the rush hour Tube to get to Kings Cross. I rarely travel on the Tube in rush hour and I had forgotten how bad it is. I pity those who have to do it everyday. Anyway, I am on the train to Newcastle now, just waiting to leave KX. I am heading home early as Vince Cable is speaking tonight at the Newcastle local party dinner. All 180 tickets have been sold but I will be there, doing photos as well as eating dinner. The added interest is that I am interviewing Vince for the regional video newsletter I occasionally produce. This will have a slight difference however as it will be used with constituent email newsletters as well.

Doors of train have just closed. I'm now on the way home.
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jack Straw may regret his comment on the Lib Dems

I was digging around the Parliamentary website yesterday (someone has to!) and came across this comment from Jack Straw, made in May 2007. “It is utterly irresponsible!” he exclaimed about the Lib Dem administration that had just taken over Hull City Council.

The issue at stake was the Council's 31% stake in Kingston Communications PLC. The Lib Dem administration decided that it was time to cash in the shares and bank the money instead. Apparently, such a move was regarded by the new Lib Dem council leadership as safer than playing the stockmarket with council taxpayers' cash.

Hull Labour MP Diana Johnson, however, seemed to think the sale was a bit of a bad idea. Nevertheless, the sell off by the Lib Dems netted the authority a cool £100 million.

The shares in the company were trading at around 80p when the sale went through last year. Now they are less than 10p.

Under Labour, the investment would now be worth about £12-13 million. I bet the residents of Hull are sighing with relief that the Council decided to follow the "utterly irresponsible" policy of protecting their investment. Apparently, the money from the sale last year could now buy the company twice over!

Interestingly, when the fuss first blew up, Blaydon MP Dave Anderson came rushing in with an EDM attacking the sale of the shares. Were he to lose his seat and need to get a new job, can I suggest that becoming a financial adviser may be an occupation he would wish to avoid!?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Just when Shadow Cabinets thought it was safe to go out...

Along comes another rumour to send them running back to the trenches. And this time, it's David Cameron expressing unhappiness with his band of merry wanderers. According to the Whip in The Sun:

Now senior Tories are aghast at rumours that David Cameron was rubbishing them during a private dinner recently. He is said to have told a pal: “I’ve got six or seven people in the Shadow Cabinet capable of working in the government. The rest are useless.”

You can enjoy the fun at The Spectator

Monday, December 01, 2008

Well, I'm not on Panorama

Got an email from BBC Panorama this morning. Unfortunately, my section of the programme has been axed. Oh well, at least I got a good photo of my being interviewed! The thing was, I had forgotten about the programme until the email arrived! I guess I'll have to stick to appearing in my own YouTube videos - one of which has had nearly 100,000 viewings!
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It's cold outside...

It has been some time since I last experienced temperatures this cold in the UK. Yesterday we had to defrost the car before going to Corbridge. It took about 10 minutes before we could leave the drive. And we had to make another stop on the way to clear the windscreen again. So we planned to leave the house a bit earlier today to give us time to clear the car of ice. It was done a lot quicker than expected, helped by my taking the car down to the office in Whickham last night. I ended up with a much longer wait for my blessedly non-cancelled train at Newcastle Central. I hid away in the waiting room, trying to keep warm whilst I waited.

I am now on the train to London. It will be a short week in the capital. Vince Cable is coming up for a dinner in Newcastle on Thursday and I'll be back for that. Apparently all 180 tickets for it sold out in record time. Watch out for the exclusive photos on Friday!

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The Monday morning blog: Green light for repressive tactics

Government ministers were not made aware of, or involved in, the arrest of Damien Green MP, the Tories shadow immigration minister, claims Jacqui Smith. I believe her. But that is not the point. The use of anti-terror powers in non-terror issues, the clampdown on legitimate protest, the requirement to register your personal details with the government and face fines for failing to do so, the plans for records to be kept of all phone calls and emails, the bullying of the media: these are all part of the culture of government Labour has created. Ministers do not have to be involved in the decision to be complicit. They simply have to express a desire to be rid of a turbulent problem or civil servant, and the structure they have created goes into action. Ministers did not order the arrest of Green. They didn't need to. They simply let the repression of their own system of government kick in.

Labour is a party in a democracy. Too often they exhibit a one party state mentality in which other parties and alternative points of view are regarded at best as an extreme irritation, and at worst a form of insubordination and insurresction which the system needs to destroy. I have seen this for years in the North East where Labour believe their birthright is to rule unhindered. Now, with a Prime Minister whose only guiding motive is staying in power, we are enduring the same style of government across the whole of our nation.

Labour's guiding principle of staying in power at any cost leaves the people of the country to pick up the bill. And it ain't cheap.
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