Thursday, April 30, 2009

Backing the Gurkhas then stabbing them in the back

On my blog yesterday I praised the Labour MPs who rebelled against the government on the Gurkhas. A number of Labour MPs also openly abstained. Those abstaining were still standing out against the government. They did it knowing they could contribute to the defeat of the government, though it doesn't quite have the pulling power of a vote against Brown and his festering government.

That brings me to the Labour MPs who backed the Gurkhas in an early day motion that attacked the government for aiming to kickthe Gurkhas out of Britain. It also called for the rules to be rewritten to allow them to stay. It is reasonable to think that any Labour MP signing this motion would either vote against the government or at least abstain. No Labour MP calling on the government to scrap its rules to kick out the Gurkhas could possibly vote against a motion in Parliament calling for precisely that, could they? No one could be that two faced and hypcritical, could they? No one could be that eager to please two completely opposing sides by opting for both diametrically opposite points of view at the same time? Or could they? Could a Labour MP really sink to that level of complete and utter hypocrisy? Read on to find out.

Yes, you guessed it. At least one Labour MP was on hypocrite heat, drooling about how dreadful was his government and demanding a rethink on the Gurkhas by putting his signature to a pro-Gurkha early day motion only for him the very next day to vote the opposite and back the government's policy of booting most Gurkhas out of Britain.

David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, hang your head in shame.

I don't know if there are other Labour MPs who have wallowed in the trough of hypocrisy like Mr Anderson. I didn't check. But if there are, they deserve the hard time that people should rightly give them.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Labour - losing on the moral low ground

To go for a vote and lose on the moral high ground is one thing. To press for a vote and lose on the moral low ground is unforgivable. Well done to the Labour Gurkha rebels. Shame on the rest of Labour.
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The video - Nick Clegg leads rally welcoming Gurkha Commons vote

Just back from Parliament where I filmed Nick Clegg's speech to the Gurkhas after the historic Commons vote. Here's the video.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Labour oversteps the boundary (again)

The other day I brought you news of an impromptu redrawing of the boundaries of constituencies in Gateshead when Labour MP for Blaydon Dave Anderson MP announced that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was somehow in his constituency (it's actually some distance from it!)

Now I can bring you another story of Labour not knowing where the boundary is. Chopwell and Rowlands Gill ward in Gateshead is in the west of the borough, bordering Derwentside. It is currently undergoing a byelection. And where does Labour deliver their byelection leaflets? In Derwentside, over the border not just from the ward but from Gateshead Council!

It gives a new meaning to all those Labour soundbites that they were "delivering for Britain." Keep it up guys!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekend round up

Where is the rain when you need it? For the past month, ever since we fitted water butts on the allotment, we have had next to no rain. The result is we have had to bring water over from the house, some of it recycled grey water, but the rest from the mains. Pouring water suitable to drink ourselves all over the ground is a bad use of a resource and is unsustainable environmentally. So collecting rain water is a sensible option when you need large quantities of it to pour all over your plants. No rain falling is a bit of a pain so whilst wishing for rain may be a bit of a minority interest, the fact it did rain on Saturday was met with a significant degree of relief by us!

Talking of the allotment, I was canvassed by one of the candidates for the Blaydon Lib Dem selection, whilst down on the allotment yesterday afternoon. He phoned when he found we were not at home. Since it was just a 2 minute walk, I invited him down. I am keenly waiting for the other 4 candidates to knock on the gate of the allotment as well!

Saturday was spent at the Northern Region conference where the guest speaker was Party President Ros Scott. She and husband Mark had endured National Express to get to the North East. I was there mainly to do photos. I will post up a few soon.

I am now on the train to London. Someone recently posted a comment asking me if I ever have anything positive to say about National Express. These things are of course all relative so here is my relatively positive comment about National Express: what a joy - National Express has not cancelled my train. How jolly good of them!

Anyway, wake me up when we get to Kings Cross. And if I don't fall asleep (unlikely) I have a book on keeping chickens to read.
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The Monday Morning Blog: between a Northern Rock and a hard place

I was rather struck by the lead story in the Journal this morning. It was about Northern Rock. There is a suggestion doing the rounds that the government will sell it off by the end of the year, possibly to Sandander or Virgin. The explanation was that the sale may be needed as the government's finances are in such a dire state.

Whilst I don't think the possibility of a sale can be ruled out, I think the chances are rather distant. Northern Rock is still a loss maker and still owes the government quite a few billion quid. The current state of the markets means that financial shares are not fetching a great deal. Any sale will generate few returns and make only a marginal impression on government debt. The situation may be different in a few years' time. Financial shares hopefully will have recovered and privatising the bank will make sense at that point.

What strikes me as interesting is that Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins was quoted in the Journal as wanting assurances the sale will not go ahead. Mr Cousins, however, was one of the leading critics of the Lib Dems for proposing nationalisation of the Rock back in 2007. The Labour party in the North East back then where unanimous in their belief that a government buy-out of the bank would lead to the end of civilisation and the death of all first born. Now they are concerned that the same outcome will occur if the bank is sold off. It's a funny old world.

Mind you, a sale to another company has to be resisted. If there is one thing we should learn from the recent banking crisis it is that the banks as individual organisations are too large, remote and, given the chance, irresponsible. Merging more of them just perpetuates the problem. It's one of the main reasons why Lloyds should not have been able to take over Halifax. Northern Rock is downsizing, hence the ability to pay off over half the company's debt to the Bank of England. When it is in fit shape to return to the private sector, it will be smaller but leaner. And it should be independent and free standing.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hollinside Manor

My latest local news video for constituents, this one is about the repair work to Hollinside medieval, fortified manor house which is on English Heritage's At Risk list.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Labour need a war - after all, it worked for Thatcher

Gordon Brown, sitting in the Downing St bunker, contemplating the reception to his budget and attempting to generate a new image for his party as New, Old, Retro Labour, needs to look around to find the winning ticket for the next general election. As things stand at the moment, the prognostications are not looking good.

He needs something that will unite the country, drive the bad economic news out of the headlines and get the nation backing him. He needs a war! After all, it worked for Thatcher back in the early 80s. Down in the polls, recession biting and unemployment rising, the Argentinians gave her a hand up by invading a colony few people in the UK could place on a map. Since Brown is a bit of a Maggie fan, having had her round for tea at Downing St (whilst making sure the press were there to cover it), perhaps he could follow her example and have a war.

So, as luck would have it, Britain and the Argentinians are currently having a bit of a spat about where the boundary lies in the South Atlantic between Argentina and the Falklands. It's all about fishing rights and oil.

Brown would, no doubt, argue that a war would be a great boost to the economy (look at the 1930s!) The Conservatives could be painted as a "do nothing" party on the war. In typical new Labour style, they could have targets for shooting down enemy planes and capturing Argie soldiers. The war could be blamed on irresponsible bankers who lent rival fishing fleets unsustainable sums of capital to build new fishing fleets. And ministers could introduce a scrappage scheme for old British warships. They could argue the war will be over by Christmas and 2010 will see a year of strong growth in international relations.

Meanwhile Derek Draper could be drafted in to compile a dossier on the Argentinians with lots of unfounded smears on their leading fishing vessels (they can launch a fleet of trawlers in 45 minutes - and other stuff like that!)

Without a war, there ain't much left for Labour to give them hope of winning a general election. That's not to say they won't win, and it's certainly not saying the Conservatives will win. They do, after all, have to gain 130 seats and even with an 18% opinion poll lead, they are still a year away from the election and they still keep screwing up on the ground - two council byelection losses today for example, one to Lib Dems, one to Labour.

Mind you, last time Labour took the country to war, it was a disaster. So perhaps not such a good precedent after all!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

National Express complaints rise by 22%

I couldn't let this go by without a comment. The Newcastle Journal recently carried an article informing readers that complaints about National Express "have soared", making it the 2nd most complained about train company in the country. (They were beaten by Virgin West Coast.) A spokesman for National Excess blamed "operational issues" - in other words they couldn't "operate" a Hornby trainset, never mind real trains.

It is however interesting to note that the term "complaint" is used in this context. I asked for a "complaints" form a couple of weeks ago when Nat Excess cancelled my train yet again (operational issues of course) and was given a "comments and compliments" form.

The Journal article quoted Dave Clelland, the Labour MP for Tyne Bridge. I did actually agree with what he said but he was an odd choice. Mr Clelland much prefers to fly to London. His sky high expenses bill shows that to be the case.

Anyway, as luck would have it, I am now on a National Excess train heading home to the North East. Because of a completely unnecessary strike on the Victoria Line (something to do with the way train doors open) I ended up going on a long detour around the tube. So when I got to Kings Cross, there was no time to get a sandwich. So a few minutes ago, I headed down to the train's buffet car and discovered they are out of everything except lager, tea and crisps. I decided not to have the lager. So, hungry as I am, I've had to phone home to ask David to make me some sandwiches which I can have when I get home, which won't be til about 2.30am. Oh joy.
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Did the earth move for you today?

Do you remember the Labour attack on the Lib Dems before the general election, claiming we had "uncosted" spending plans, and our "figures didn't add up"? Vince Cable was slammed for wanting to spend a few hundred thousand pounds on bee research, one of the "100 uncosted spending commitments" Labour dribbled and drooled about. The end of the world was predicted if such sums were spent. Now the same Labour party casually announces that they have put us one hundred thousand million zillion pounds in debt. Oh, and the end of the world must be near as well as they have also agreed to funding bee research.

Can anyone take these people seriously again?

The announcement of £175 billion of debt this year was earth shattering. This is of earthquake proportions.
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City Status for Gateshead

I was in the sandwich shop near Smith Square in Westminster when I got the call from the Journal a couple of hours ago. They wanted my views on Gateshead applying for city status. A great idea, I replied. Go for it. As a Gateshead lad, born and bred, wouldn't it be great to be on Gateshead City Council?

By the way, do you realise how difficult it is to do a media interview at the same time as ordering a sandwich? If I am quoted tomorrow, and the words, "Yes, I'll have onions with city status" appear, we will know that the two conversations got mixed up!

Now, back in the office and I am being buried under the weight of budget details. I need a mug of tea to revive me!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MP oversteps the boundary

I stumbled across this oral question from Labour MP Dave Anderson in the House of Commons to Health Secretary Alan Johnson on 24th March:

"Will the Secretary of State look into the situation where Newcastle hospitals have withdrawn from the joint partnership on laundry services with the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead in my constituency?"

The question was a reasonable one to ask. Newcastle have decided to ship their laundry 200 miles down the road to put it through the washing machine. From an environmental perspective, it doesn't make sense. The explanation to the reason for sending dirty linen such as distance probably lies with simple costs.

That however, is not the reason I raise this. I just thought I would point out to Mr Anderson that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is not is his constituency. It is, infact, a modest distance to the boundary!

So, just to be helpful, I'm thinking of pointing out Mr Anderson's need for geography lessons in future copies of Focus!

Perhaps Mr Anderson was launching an invasion to save the poor people of Gateshead East from being represented by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson (though she has been dumped by the Gateshead Labour Party as candidate for the next general election). She altruism does you proud Dave!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekend round up

I spent surprisingly little time on the allotment over the weekend. A couple of hours weeding on Saturday and a visit to check all was well on Sunday. Looks as though we are heading for bumper rhubarb, onion and garlic crops. And everything planted in the new greenhouse is coming along in leaps and bounds. Otherwise, nothing new planted (but there's plenty coming up).

It was however something of a history weekend (history, not historic!) I did some research on various old buildings in the Whickham area. And yesterday, I had lunch with a couple of historian friends of mine in Tynemouth, Norman McCord and Frank Manders, hopefully getting them interested in some of the work I am preparing. Meanwhile, I filmed more of a video I am working on.

I am now on the train to London. It will be a short visit. I come back home on Wednesday for full council on Thursday.

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The Monday morning blog: when predictions go wrong

I guess we have all been there: made a prediction that turns out to be we'll off the mark. For example, back in September 2007 I predicted there would be an autumn election as there was no way the government would allow all that speculation to grow and they wouldn't be stupid enough to allow all the hype to run riot. I rather underestimated Labour's stupidity!

So the talk in the media this morning is of how far from reality were the Chancellor's predictions last November for the economy. Clearly the predictions suggesting boom times ahead are going to have to be revised by the Treasury. What gets me however is that last November, no one believed the predictions other than ministers. I remember listening to them in sheer disbelief. People without even a basic grounding in economics knew they were rubbish. Presumably the Chancellor will have to correct them on budget day on Wednesday. They will probably blame the "international situation."

Meanwhile, I will have to revise my analysis of the polls which I posted on this blog last week and which was written originally for Parliamentary Campaigner. The polls over the weekend have been dire for Labour and the smears issue seems to have damaged them, at least temporarily, far more than I expected. Interestingly, though the Tories have a strong opinion poll lead, their vote share has not improved from earlier this month. Their lead is based much more on Labour weakness than their own strength.

Whether or not this Labour weakness is carried over into the general election, which will presumably be in May next year, will only be known once that contest is held. Predictions for the outcome, however, need to be taken with a strong dose of caution. After all, we don't want to do a Darling.
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It's a miracle: National Express doesn't cancel my train

Whenever I book the 7.40am Newcastle train to London on a Monday morning, I always turn up at the station with a sense of trepidation. Will the service be cancelled? It often is. Today, I am pleased to report that the departure board indicates a minor miracle. The train is not only not cancelled but is alleged to be on time. Wow!
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jacqui Smith's carbon footprint on MPs' expenses

The Sunday Times lists some of Jacqui Smith's expenses for housing her husband. We all know about the cost of the Smith family porn viewing habits (what they do in their own home is their own business - except when the taxpayer has to pick up the tab). What is included in the list however is a patio heater.

So at a time of rising fuel poverty when hundreds of thousands of people, especially the elderly, cannot afford to heat their homes, those very same people are having their taxes spent on heating the great outdoors on the patio of the Smith family. Not only are these heaters absolutely appalling for the environment, morally and socially it is absolutely wrong that such an item could be claimed as an expense.

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All that glistens isn't Gould

Before the Labour selection for Erith and Thamesmead was abandoned yesterday, I did look at the allegations against Georgia Gould and thought they were a bit thin. Basically, it looked like the whinging of people who thought their favoured local son should be given a nice cushie job which is about to be whisked away from underneath them by a better organised individual who has a well run campaign team behind her. The allegations of nepotism seem a bit far fetched. She has not been imposed on the constituency as a shortlist of one person. She has to run the gauntlet of a selection process in which the members vote to choose their new candidate. My suggestion to the other candidates would be (had the whole selection process not been halted) get out and engage the members.

But that sort of thing doesn't enter the mindset of so many in the Labour party. Engaging with people is not a priority. I have seen too many examples of Labour being fundamentally hostile to engagement with people once they are elected. It's simply not part of their culture. So when someone comes along and disturbs their cosy quiet life and attempts to take from a favoured son (or daughter) an elected position they believe is theirs by right (whether that be an opposition candidate or an outsider within their own local ranks) they don't know how to react.

Labour has, of course, since self-destructed in Erith. Trust Labour to screw up. It seems they have a remarkable willingness to drag all their squabbles and infighting into the open. Were Labour to lose the next general election, they will be free to let all their internal tensions rip. And if you think there is plenty of blood on the walls now, just wait til they enter the killing fields after defeat.

As for Georgia Gould, she is probably feeling rather sore at the moment. Today could have been the first day of her election campaign. Instead, it is just another day of bloodletting..

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Friday, April 17, 2009

I suppose this is why Brown was elected unopposed

I assumed back in 2007 that Brown was returned unopposed because he was seen as the clear front runner and indeed a dead cert to get the Labour leadership. Why alienate the guy who was virtually certain to be PM? Recent events given an indication as to how he was able to achieve such a position.

It seems that the machine Brown built up around him whilst at the Treasury was what helped him to bludgeon his way to the top unopposed. Anyone who stood out as a potential rival was simply bumped off in the middle of the night by a briefing with the press. Instead of inspiring respect and admiration, he propagated fear and in some cases loathing.

The same machine followed him into Downing St, becoming a loyal Prime Ministerial Praetorian Guard or a Brownite secret political police with files and information on everyone, free to fill those same files with any innuendo, misrepresentation and unfounded rumour they could get their hands on. And when the time was right, the contents of those files, whether true or false, could be released to destroy opponents.

Brown didn't have to know about what was happening. He didn't need to. All he needed was a system that got rid of turbulent opponents. And whilst the medieval practice of hacking difficult archbishops to death may not find favour now, the hacking to death of others' political careers is what the Brown machine excels at.

There is a certain degree of rough and tumble in politics. What someone says and does in public office is fair game. The Brown cabal not only over stepped the mark however, they pole vaulted across it. Brown may try to blame out of control individuals - and I have seen the damage out of control individuals in the Labour party can do locally to their own party - but he created the machine and he must carry responsibility for it.

Derek Draper - always a Labour ticking timebomb waiting to go off - and Damien McBribe may well have been cast out into the wilderness by Labour but there is nothing to suggest the machine itself has been dismantled. Brown's inner sanctum may well be an old machine that pumps out lots of poisonous emissions, but he does not look set yet to introduce a scrappage scheme for it.
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Email newsletter just done

I suspect my email account at the Lib Dems nearly burnt a hole in the Cowley St server tonight. Firstly, my Gateshead colleague and regional Euro agent Frank Hindle wanted me to send a message out to everyone on my North East Democrat list. Then I sent out eFocus, my email newsletter to constituents which had additions only minutes before I hit the send button. So a four figure number of people who got emails from me this evening. Next week brings the North East Democrat (publication hopefully on Tuesday) and more eFocuses. What did we do before email?

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No BNP candidate in Chopwell and Rowlands Gill

I have just received notification of who isn't standing in the Chopwell and Rowlands Gill By-election, the ward next to mine in Gateshead. And the BNP are not standing. I know we are. I know Labour are (they are defending what is one of their afest seats in the area). Not sure about the Conservatives though I guess they will fly the flag. The BNP didn't stand here last year but they did in a previous contest. I guess they think western Gateshead is rather barren territory for them.

The byelection is on 14th May. It's all hands on deck now. With nominations closing today, I can blog a bit more about the contest. I have personally delivered 1000 leaflets in the ward over the past month or so. It tends to be done on Sunday afternoons when I enjoy a walk around Rowlands Gill watching the red kites swooping above me.

Meanwhile, my spies tell me that Labour aim to be out and about in Chopwell on Saturday morning.

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New facilities for councillors?

I was sent a survey yesterday by officers in the Civic Centre asking my opinion on facilities and accommodation for councillors in Gateshead Civic Centre. Was I satisfied with what we had? Were improvements needed?

Now is hardly the time to be considering investing in better accommodation for councillors. This should be at the bottom of the list of priorities. I wrote back:

Given the current financial circumstances, the demands on council resources and rising unemployment in the borough, I feel it would be very inappropriate at this stage to refurbish members' accommodation.

I'll keep you posted on whether or not my views have any impact.

Polls and by-elections analysis March - April

I wrote the following article for Parliamentary Campaigner but thoguht it useful to post it here as well. The analysis covers polls and council by-elections from 1st March to 9th April.

If Labour had hoped for a G20 'bounce', all they got was one very short lived blip. On 4th April YouGov put them at 34%, with a Conservative lead of 7%. Two days later, Labour were back down to 30%.

The range of shares of the vote from 1st March to 6th April are as follows:

Conservatives: 40-44% - but 7 out of the 11 polls put them on 41-42%
Labour: 28-34% - but 7 out of the 11 polls put them on 30-31%
Liberal Democrats: 14-20% - but 8 out of the 11 polls put them on 17-19%

In effect the polls have been steady for six weeks. Blips have happened but they were small. This means that the Conservatives, who need a 10% lead in the popular vote to win a majority, are only scraping along at the lower end of what they need to win. When the general election comes, that lead, enjoyed whilst Labour are suffering from the recession and a strong dose of midterm blues, is not large enough to give them the cushion they need to be assured of victory.

The Conservatives cannot afford any slip up in the General Election. They need to gain over 130 seats so with such a huge challenge, failure to capture any individual seat on their target list will make it all the more difficult to win with a majority.

Council by-elections

The Conservatives' performance in recent Council by-elections has not reflected their opinion poll performance. Whilst patchy, it nevertheless makes uncomfortable reading for David Cameron's party.

They were 4th in Manchester, Redcar and Cleveland and Dundee and 5th in St Helens.

In a seat in Camden they held til 2006, the Lib Dems saw their majority rise from a handful of votes to a 3 figure sum.

In Calderdale, they held on to the seat but their share droped from over half to just over a third.

They lost 3 seats: to Labour in Redditch and North Warwickshire and to the Lib Dems in Broadland (where the Lib Dem share increased by 50.4%)

In the 30 by-elections fought by the Conservatives from the start of March up to Easter, their vote went down in 20 (9 of them by over 10%)

In conclusion, whilst the polls are showing a Conservative lead, they are only at the fringes of the comfort zone. When faced with voting Conservative in real elections however, the Conservative performance fails to hold on to the gains made in local election votes that have come their way since the 2005 general election.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Marley Hill's missing banner

Sunniside History Society have been in touch with me to ask for my help in tracking down a missing Victorian miners' banner. Marley Hill is a small, former pit village just up the road from Sunniside where I live. As well as being the location of Dad's allotment (!), it was also the last, non coastal deep mine in the region, closing in 1984. It was also the last pit in the region to use pit ponies, and once the pit closed, the ponies went into retirement.

Members of the history society are concerned that the banner, which has enormous historical value to the former miners of the area and to the local community, has gone missing from the NUM Headquarters in Durham. Enquiries have so far failed to locate it.

If you know of its whereabouts or any information that could help us locate it, please get in touch with me on

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wandering around the sewage works

No, not a video about Downing St as someone suggested to me on Facebook the other day! This is me with my historian's hat on, wandering around the derelict sewage works that up to 60 years ago served one of the villages near to where I live. The plant is long forgotten but I rediscovered it again 3 weeks ago. I returned over Easter to filmed and photograph it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weekend round up: planting potatoes and investigating sewage works

Four days at home. Bliss! The time seemed to be split between the allotment, making videos, trying out new wild foods recipes and visiting local places of historical interest.

So, I am now the proud owner of 4 furrows of potatoes on the allotment. In total that's 20 metres of spuds growing. Following the disaster of our crop last year, this time we meticulously planned what we were doing. So hopefully, this year we will have potatoes galore.

Local historical sites of interest visited were the Tanfield Railway, the world's oldest steam railway, which happens to be within walking distance of my house. And yesterday, we walked down to some woodland near our village where, a couple of weeks ago, I discovered a large set of foundations. A bit of research and I discovered the building was the sewage works built by Chester le Street Rural District Council in the early twentieth century. Maps suggested the site was out of use by the early 1950s. Since I had come across no references to the site in any histories of the area, David and I decided to explore the site a bit further and took cameras and video with us.

A weekend wouldn't go but without my coming up with new recipes for wild foods. I produced two. The first was a wild leaf salad consisting of dandelion, wild parsley, bramble shoots and hawthorn leaves, with a dressing made of raspberry vinegar. Very nice! The second was a wild garlic loaf. That's in my bag now, heading to London, along with two fillets of smoked salmon. I was give a food smoking kit for Christmas and we tested it out last night on a couple of piece of cheap salmon. The results are encouraging.

No weekend can go by without a Focus delivery. I did two patches.

And finally, back to food. We did a full check on the contents of the freezer. Quite why we have frozen tarragon, best before 1999, is a point we can't answer. I made a note of all the contents, though the really old stuff we decided to put out for the birds or put in the compost bin. Now I have to plot a series of meals to get the food used up. After all, we'll need the space soon for our first crops (and the ice cream we are planning to make).

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The Monday morning blog on Tuesday - time for a Tory apology now

The Tories are demanding an apology from Gordon Brown over the Damian McBride affair. They are owed one but don't wait by the phone. As we all know, neither Brown nor Labour do apologies. I'm still waiting for an apology from Labour 17 years after they ran a pretty vile campaign against me in Hexham in the 1992 general election.

Yet there is something missing from all this. The Tories themselves owe the Lib Dems an apology. For years their candidate in Watford conducted a campaign of criminal damage and smears against Lib Dems in the constituency. The candidate ended up being found guilty after a long running police investigation and a major court case. The candidate has since gone but there has not been a word of regret or apology from the Tories. Watford was, at the time, a target seat for the Tories. The chances are that the criminal behaviour of their former candidate has sealed the Tories' fate of coming 3rd in Watford.

So, David Cameron, despite repeated requests for an apology, nothing is forthcoming. It would appear that, like Gordon, you don't do apologies.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

What I was doing yesterday - the Tanfield Steam Railway

I went to the world's oldest steam railway, the Tanfield Railway, which also happens to be on the edge of my village of Sunniside in Gateshead yesterday. It was like a giant trainset for boys who haven't grown up! Great fun. Enjoy the video.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Emily Thornberry television car crash

I have just watched Labour MP Emilly Thornberry being inverviewed about the Damian McBride affair on News 24. It was a car crash of a performance, claiming she couldn't care less about whether or not this civil servant Labour hack should be able to stay in his job. And she even tried to blame the whole mess on right wiing bloggers who, she claims, are much more keen on running smear campaigns against their opponents. Hardly makes it okay, does it?

Whilst I don't expect attempts at running smear campaigns to be an institutional decision within Labour, the fact that someone so senior and close to the centre of power has been caught red handed highlights the depths of despair to which Labour have sunk as they see their hopes of winning a general election outright slipping from their grasp. What it suggest is that the next election will not necessarily be a clean campaign.
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

What possessed me to get this train?

I guess the answer to my own question is the availability of tickets. Normally I try to avoid getting the 10pm train out of Kings Cross to Newcastle. I have been quite successful at avoiding it for the past year or so. But not tonight. I guess there has been a rush of people to get tickets on the earlier trains due to the bank holiday tomorrow. The additional drawback with this service is that we all have to change at York. Literally, everyone on the train, including the crew, transfers across the plaform at York station, and then waits of the other train for about 25 minutes until it is scheduled to leave. For this frustrating activity, I am not going to blame National Express. GNER used to do the same thing.

I am not expecting to get home until about 2.30am. I have a weekend of allotment gardening and video making but tomorrow morning I am having a lie in!

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Early spring on the allotment

Just in case anyone is interested, here's the latest video about what I get up to on my allotment!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Red faces as Labour councillors forget words to Red Flag

Thursday 26th March saw the final meeting of Blyth Valley District Council. The decision to consign the authority to the history books had been controversial, but nevertheless, as the ruling Labour group gathered to rule for one last time, the tones of "Red Flag" started to pour from the lips of the "socialist" brethren.

Alas, this last act of defiance against the new Lib Dem run Northumberland Council (or was it against their own government? - both are viewed as the enemy by the departing brothers and sisters) turned out to be a bit of a disaster as so few of them knew the words!

Apparently many of the red hot socialists had to fill in their gaps in their knowledge of the lyrics by singing "la la la". No one had thought to download the words to this Socialist singalong favourite from the internet.

I guess they won’t be keeping the Red Flay flying there anymore.

Monday, April 06, 2009

2nd video with 100,000 viewings

Thought I'd post this video I filmed on the London Eye to celebrate its becoming my second on YouTube to reach 100,000 viewings. My top video, "Inside a former secret Soviet submarine base", is on 109,000 but London Eye is closing fast.

Weekend round up

Quite what possessed me to get the 7am train this morning to London is beyond me, but at least National Express has been kind enough to avoid cancelling the service. Whether or not they cancel the 7.40am, their favourite candidate for the chop, is something I don't know.

Anyway, seeds was the theme for my weekend. We must have planted thousands on the allotment. Peas, beans, chard, parsnips, courgettes, carrots, leeks, you name it, we probably planted it! And three videos made as well, about the allotment and wild food foraging and cooking.

Screw up of the weekend was to forget to go to the Saltwell Park Fair, despite its being in my diary. But at least I got my weekend allocation of focus newsletters delivered.

Anyway, we have just passed York. Next stop is Kings Cross. Wake me up when we arrive.

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The Monday Morning Blog: General Election Predictions

I haven't seen any polls over the weekend so I don't know if Brown has had a G20 bounce. My feeling is that, whilst it no doubt helps to restore some degree of success to Brown's image, the gathering itself was largely irrelevant to the day-to-day concerns of the majority of ordinary people. That is not to detract from what the conference achieved. Oiling the jammed up wheels of international trade will ultimately benefit all of us.

The resulting spring in the heals of Brown won't tempt him to go for an election this year. Whilst these may be famous last words, Brown knows that recovery and a feeling that the economy has turned a corner and things are improving are what Labour needs to stand any chance of winning an election. With the Chancellor already claiming that there will be no recovery this year, Labour's window of opportunity is now just a very narrow slit in an imposing wall.

So come the next election, what are the possible outcomes? Polls currently suggest a Conservative victory with a comfortable majority. Polls mid term however tend to do just that: show a lead for the opposition. I am not convinced however that the Conservatives have what it takes to win a majority next time round. To scrape in with a minimal majority, they need to gain 130 seats. That means there is virtually no room for any individal constituency cock ups. Every single seat on their hit list has to be won. The evidence suggests that that is going to be extremely difficult to achieve.

And look again at what the polls are showing. Look at the Conservative share of the vote. It is, with a small number of exceptions, in the low 40s. That compares poorly with the Labour performance under Blair in opposition in the 1990s (and Kinnock's Labour Party often had much higher ratings in 1991, only to lose the election a year later). The reality is that whilst Labour are unpopular, the Conservatives have not yet reached the critical mass of public support that will be strong enough to propel them into government in one leap. There is no public burning appetite for them like there was for Labour when Blair led them through the final years of the Major government.

Whilst it is fair to say that Cameron has successfully decontaminated the Conservative brand, there is as yet a failure to present an alternative vision other than "We are not Labour." That is not enough to ensure a groundswell of support sufficient to win an election.

As for Labour, the difference between winning comfortably, and losing a reasonably large number of seats is quite narrow. Labour's grip on power is precarious. Their share of the vote at the last election was 36%, the same as they got in 1979 when they lost the election badly to Thatcher. In 2005 Labour were saved by a voting system that looked on them favourably but which can equally give them an absolute pasting and keep them out of power, which it did in the 80s and early 90s.

Labour has three significant systemic weaknesses at the moment: their national organisation is in a mess with massive debts; their constituency organisation is shot to bits; their great selling point - that they are strong on the economy, abolished boom and bust and delivered prosperity - has gone up in smoke. All three of these are needed if they are to win a general election outright.

So predictions on the outcome, whenever the election is called? Sorry, no can do! The next election is probably going to be the most unpredictable for decades. What is predictable though is that the real battles will be fought out in individual constituencies, far more so than across the airwaves. And that could see seats going in all directions.

My advice however is that no one in politics should rely on their opponets to deliver election success for them. That is your job to do that for yourself.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

What's coming up this weekend

I am now on the train heading back to the North East. The weekend will be the usual mix of allotment, Focuses, campaigning and video making plus a hush hush meeting about which I ain't going to tell you anything. We also have to make a visit to B&Q. I don't know what for, I simply got the message from David that we need to go to buy something for the allotment.

Anyway, I need to shoot some video about our drive to self-sufficiency. Surprisingly, my videos about this are getting a healthy number of viewings on YouTube. There seems to be an 'appetite' for them! I never would have guessed so many people would be interested in how to make nettle tea or build a greenhouse! I also need to do some research for some history videos I'm planning though whether or not I'll fit that in is questionable.

I also need to make a start with Parliamentary Campaigner. Publication date is this Thursday so I'd better get a move on.

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The Brown G-string and the smile on his face

The G20 circus has now left town and Gordon has enjoyed himself. I hadn't seen him smile like that since he announced the abolition of the 10p rate and thought he'd got away with it. Pity for him that he has to stop hanging around with his fereign buddies and return to work with all those Labour ministers and MPs who have grown to despair of him.

Trade credits and the decision of the creditor nations such as China to pump a trillion dollars into the IMF is a significant step. No doubt Brown will claim it was all down to him. Perhaps he had some hand in the outcome, or perhaps it was going to happen anyway as world leaders could see the dire consequences of not oiling the wheels of international trade.

Action on tax havens was also welcome and on this, Sarkozy can probably claim more credit than Brown. After all, the latter has, since 1997, been the protector of offshore tax havens. Only recently has be realised he's been seen hanging around with the wrong kids on the financial block and has turned on them to create the impression he's been against them all along.

It appeared yesterday that Brown had pulled a rabbit out of the hat with the agreement. As is always the case with Brown however, wait for the headlines and euphoria to die down and then look again at the rabbit. Too often in the past, the white rabbit pulled out of the hat is little more than the victim of a spin doctoral roadkill which is already reeking and rotting. We shall need to see what the G20 agreement details are before we should make our final judgement.

It could be that Emperor Gordon is posing in his new clothes and until the euphoria has passed, no one can bring themselves to tell him all he is wearing to cover his embarrassment is his G-string.

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The barriers go up at National Express

No, they haven't seen me leading the Charge of the Light Brigade. It's much worse than that! Work is taking place at Kings Cross which looks as though it is to set up ticket barriers. So not only do we have the privilege of having our trains cancelled by National Express, we can add to that the privilege of being delayed at the station as hundreds of people, complete with bags galore, attempt to squeeze through the barriers. It will be chaos. So, are you up to the National Express steeplechase gold cup challenge? Get ready to enjoy the spectacle! As for those of us who will be competing on this obstacle course, have pity on us.

I did of course expect this work to be carried out. Last year National Express announced they were seeking planning permission to install barriers at Newcastle Central. I found out as The Journal phoned me for a comment. Writing blog posts about this bus turned train operator certainly helps to get me noticed, even if it hasn't led to the end of my train service being cancelled.

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Gain from Labour in Redcar and Cleveland

News has reached me of a gain from Labour in the Dormanstown byelection in Redcar and Cleveland yesterday. And yet again, the Conservatives trail in 4th place behind the BNP.

The result is:
Ken Lucas (Lib Dem) - 809
Marion Fairley (Lab)- 667
Lynn Payne (BNP) - 305
Barry Hughes-Mundy (Con) - 125

Labour have had quite a bad time of late in Redcar and Cleveland. looks as though things there for them are not getting any better.