Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Norway and Faroes now done

The GPRS signal is rather variable out here as we head around the north of Iceland so whether or not this post will get through immediately or wait in the queue for the signal is yet to be seen. Anyway, we did Norway last week, visiting Flam and Alesund. We were whale watching as we headed for the Faroe Islands on Saturday and we also experienced 24 hour daylight.

We've done one stop in Iceland this morning, to look at lava flows and go swimming in a hot lake. Very relaxing, except we had to get up at 6am to do it. We are now heading anti-clockwise around Iceland and should be in Reykjavik tomorrow.

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Dave Anderson expenses - councillor's business benefits

Before going on holiday, I found a bit of time to go through the claims and receipts of Labour MPs in Gateshead. And some very interesting reading they make. So here's the first in a series of interesting highlights.

Blaydon MP David Anderson paid a company from his taxpayer funded office allowance £2056.25 in March 2006 for "consultancy, constituency office support and development, staff development, casework management, media handling and parliamentary reports."

In December 2007 a payment of £4,459 was paid to the same company, this time in connection with Mr Anderson's annual report.

The company in question is Mapset Ltd. I can reveal that the director of this company is a Mr Gary Haley, a Gateshead Labour Councillor.

He had previously been Labour candidate in my ward but at his 3rd attempt at election his vote spectacularly collapsed. He then turned his attention to Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward, a very marginal Lib Dem held seat. During his two attempts to get elected there I am pleased to say that the Lib Dem majority increased substantially.

Mr Haley then jumped wards again in July 2007 to be Labour candidate in Dunston and Teams, a safe Labour ward, which resulted in his election as councillor (it was his 6th attempt.)

I found the following description of Mapset on the Journal website from 12 August 2003:

"Mapset has built up a reputation for high-quality book design for large-scale projects in environmental publicity.

"But it also works on projects including map-based corporate publicity."

Quite how all this fits in with running a constituency office, casework management, media handling and parliamentary reports is not clear.

£6500 of taxpayers' money paid to Mr Anderson's friend's business is a great deal of money. I am a great believer in ensuring as much support as possible goes to local businesses where they are able to supply good quality goods and services at a competitive rate.

So I can only hope that Mr Anderson wanted to ensure other local businesses got a fair chance to bid for the contract. After all, I'm sure Mr Anderson would not want to be seen favouring a business run by one of his Labour chums.

So perhaps he could enlighten us as to the tendering process he used and, without giving away any commercial confidentiality, indicate how many other offers for the same work resulted from the bidding process and therefore how much was saved by opting for Mr Haley's company.
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Just arrived in Norway

A very calm crossing of the North Sea. It was more like sailing on the Mediterranean, especially given the temperatures. The last time we sailed across the North Sea to Norway was on the ferry in November 2003 in the middle of a heavy storm. Yours truely was very seasick!

We have just arrived at Flam and we are due to go ashore shortly.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

About to pack

I have just left George Crozier's leaving do in Westminster. Contrary to popular opinion, as implied by one of my regular readers, only a small number of people are leaving Cowley St. We are moving on for different reasons and we are all being replaced! So sorry Kevin, not quite the story you were suggesting!

Anyway, I am heading back to the flat now to pack for our holiday. We leave tomorrow for a cruise to Norway, Faeroes, Iceland and the Orkneys. A chance to take lots of photos and video. The house, allotment and cat Freda are being looked after by Mam, Dad and our friend Glenys. We have decided however that this is possibly not the best time of year to go on holiday, just when the first crops are ready for harvesting on the allotment.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Back in the UK

I am on the Eurostar having just arrived on the UK side of the Tunnel. A pleasant trip and a bag full of digital photos and videos to sort.

Sitting down to have a sandwich for lunch shortly before leaving Paris, and looking at the messages I sent on my blackberry, I spotted a dreadful typo in my blog post yesterday about Labour MP Doug Henderson. I wrote about his being "burghered" (as in the citizens of a town) by Gordon Brown when I meant to say he was "burgered" as in made into the food so beloved of McDonalds! Oh well, time to burger off!

Meanwhile I got a message this morning. A request has gone in that an additional section be added to one of the publications I produce. It inevitably means I will be working tomorrow. Oh joy! This was meant to be my holiday.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Costing an arm and a leg in Paris

As promised in my earlier post, here I am at Montmartre, Paris, having dinner. I have to confess I am horrified at the costs here. £10 for a pint for example. Over £10 for an omlette. Paris has gone up so much in price since I was last here in 2002. But at least the Metro is cheaper than the Tube!

We've done Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe, Pyramid at the Louvre, Notre Dame and now Montmarte. Having broken the bank, we'll try to find somewhere that does not measure its prices in astronomical units. Not even MPs on £400 a month taxfree food allowances could survive here!
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Is MP Henderson about to be burgered by Brown?

Little Dougie Henderson, Labour MP for Newcastle North, could see his Parliamentary salary reduced if Gordon Brown gets his own way. Chairman Brown, no doubt supported by First Secretary Comrade Mandelson, is looking at paying MPs less when they have significant earnings from outside Parliament. Little Big McHenderson is earning a whopping £25 grand a year for "advice" from the capitalist giant that is so loved by the socialist brethren. He claims that he only has to give 10 days a year to the job telling McDonalds how to sell burgers to the great British public.

The talk in the press is of Brown moving to cut the pay of MPs earning bags of cash from outside sources as it is a way of putting in the boot on Tory MPs, so many of whom earn great dollops as directors, company advisors and so on. The problem is that a bunch of Labour MPs will be caught in the same net.

So, is Little Big McHenderson about to be burgered by Brown?

Mind you, Comrade Alan Milburn, part time MP for Darlington and a fan of keeping people in emplyment (he practices what he preaches by having 5 or 6 jobs himself in addition to being MP) looks set to be burghered even more by Brown. His earning from outside interests make Little Big McHenderson's burger money look like chicken feed (which is probably more nutritious than the burghers he promotes.)


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Off to Paris

I'm on Eurostar travelling to Paris, having just left St Pancras. I'll be in France only for a one night stay. It's my first Eurostar trip since the international terminal was moved from Waterloo and having now seen St Pancras, it thoroughly deserves all the accolades it has received.

Not everything this weekend has gone to plan. I had intended sorting my rather neglected garden in London yesterday. I didn't even manage to set foot in it. My excuse is that it was the first day of my holiday.

Anyway, my next report will come from somewhere in Paris, probably from Montmartre.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Over and out

This is me outside Cowley St today, my last day on the Lib Dem staff payroll. I am busy clearing the last bits from my desk. In a few minutes I will be out of the building......

How to make elderflower champagne

Okay, not a political story but I made elderflower champagne over the weekend. When I made it last year and posted up the recipe, various people spoke to me afterwards, having read about it on the blog. So inevitably, here comes the video!

Last day in Cowley St

I am on the train now heading to Victoria for my last day working in Cowley St. I've already had a leaving lunch and a bit of a surprise party with colleagues in the office yesterday. My main leaving do is in July.

So, there we are, another life changing decision has been taken and many challenges ahead. And of course the opportunity to wreak as much havoc on Labour in Gateshead as possible!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leaving Cowley St for the Good Life

This Friday is my last day at Cowley St. I am leaving for the Good Life in Gateshead! Literally! My department is being reorganised and I was offered redundancy or interview for one of the new jobs that will be created. The reorganisation is the result of the Bones Review. Lib Dems will know what that is - in a nutshell, a reformed structure for the party centrally that is designed to deal with the demands now placed on the party and takes the organisation forward. Any sensible organisation must review its structure to ensure it best operates in the current and likely future environment.

The outcome for my job is that my functions are being split between 2 new posts and my current job ceases to exist. My original plan was to apply for one of the new jobs but after a great deal of thought, I realised that now is the ideal time to pick up where I left off 9 years ago when I first started working in London.

One of my big aims has been to become self-sufficient, to grow all our own food. We have made a start with this, taking on a derelict allotment 2 years ago. It is now into production but needs more work. Saving the environment is not just something I want to talk about. We each have to do our bit and for me, I want to do that bit more. Growing all our own food means we will greatly reduce our impact on the environment. I am looking forward enormously to working on this.

But there are other things in the pipeline as well. I will be able to pursue a career as a failed novelist and finish the novel I have been writing for the past 10 years! Finding a publisher may be a bit more difficult. I also have plans to make a series of local history videos and publications. All these have been shelved for years but now there is a possibility of doing them.

And finally, I am much more at home in politics being a field officer rather than stuck behind a desk in HQ producing material for others to use. I have done as much campaigning as I can in Gateshead whilst doing my London stuff but I want to do so much more on my home patch. We have target seats I am now signed up to help in the region. And in Gateshead I will be taking a more hands on role in taking the battle to the Labour party. The socialist brethren had better watch out - I'm back!

So, after 7 years at Cowley St, and 2 before that at the LGA, I'm coming home for good. Deciding to leave HQ has not been easy and I couldn't have asked for a better bunch of people to work with. But there are times when you know a lifetime opportunity is waiting to be grasped and may never come again.

So thank you to all my colleagues in Lib Dem HQ, it's been a great 7 years. And to everyone else watch out for things happening in Gateshead.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Monday Morning Blog - Balls and the lack of Tory scrutiny

I see that the Guardian today has interview Ed Balls, the scariest member of the Government and the Chancellor Brown never had. In it he argued that Labour is in danger of letting in the Conservatives by fighting themselves. The bout of infighting means that Labour are not scrutinising Cameron and his party.

Balls, dare I say it, is correct. He is also correct in his assertion that parties that are divided do not win elections. Asking what the Conservatives stand for is a perfectly legitimate question. With the greatest of respects to the Conservatives, being nice and cuddly does not constitute a political programme. Even Blair in his cuddliest days in opposition had some policies, limited though they were. It could be argued that with little of substance in Tory policy, there lurks a bigger danger of old style Toryism waiting to raise its ugly head when it feels the time is safe.

All of this is of course being overlooked whilst Labour engages in its own suicidal civil war. Perhaps the focus on the divisions helps mask the fact that few seem to know what Labour now stands for, reflecting the outlook people have on the Conservatives. Maybe there is method to Labour's madness after all!

"Clinging to Power" is hardly a great campaign slogan. It didn't work for John Major in the mid 1990s and there is no reason for believing it will work for Labour now.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

When an apology is all about saving your skin

Had I been a Labour member last week, I would have been livid at the behaviour of Hazel Blears. Resigning from government is one thing. Resigning on the eve of an election, and sticking the knife in the back of your own party on the eve of an election, all for the sake of your own ego, is unforgivable. Blears, always something of a joke in government, and always with that irritating grin welded to her face, set out to do the maximum damage to Brown. And she did it in the most arrogant of ways.

She banked on bringing down Brown. She believed she had the power to set off the powder keg below the PM. She ended up showing how arrogant and out of touch she is. That's not an unusual description for many government ministers. They've been there so long that they think the world revolves around them. Blears, like Flint, simply had egos that were too big to cope with the situation.

What struck me most when Blears stormed out of the Cabinet was that the people on the ground in her Salford constituency were not in anyway complimentary about her. Yet she was behaving as if her journey back north would be met by acclamation by the people.

I suspect her contrition and apology today have been inspired by the verbal savaging she is likely to have received from local Labour members and constituents. She does of course have a selection meeting coming up and a skin of her own that needs to be saved.

No doubt a week ago she was dreaming of a cabinet position under a new PM. Now she has the nightmare of being booted out of her job as MP by her own party. If that is what happens, I'm sure plenty of Labour members will be happy to see the back of her. The rest of us won't miss her either.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heading back to Gateshead

I have council later today but instead of travelling home last night, I am heading home this morning. Last night was Greg Simpson's leaving do (he was Director of Policy at Lib Dems). He is off to do a high powered job at the Ministry of Defence. Anyway, the leaving do kept me in London overnight.

Coming up at council will be a motion to be moved by me calling on National Express to drop its new seat reservation charge. I am completely unaffected by the charge as it only applies to open standard class tickets. The tickets I buy to travel between home and London are prebooked and therefore come with an automatic seat reservation. National Express say that unclaimed seats are blocking the chance for other passengers to have a seat whilst travelling. This is rubbish. No unclaimed seat remains empty for long! In reality this is just a way of raising extra income.

Anyway, the big hurdle today for me lies just ahead. When I get to Victoria, I have to get across London to Kings Cross with the Tube on strike and the buses packed out. I've worked out the route I can take on foot instead. Lots of good healthy exercise in all that clean central London air!
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Excellent news from the Commons

Brown survived last night, as predicted. Excellent news. He survives to lead the government of the walking dead to Labour defeat.
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Monday, June 08, 2009

The Monday Morning Blog - Brown will survive tonight

Having predicted for two years that Brown will survive to the general election, I did have a wobble last week when Blears self-destructed. All is back to normal now in the sense that Brown is on the rocks but secure in his hold as Labour leader.

The problem for the Labour rebels is that they have no candidate to challenge Brown. And even if they did, they would have to get over the hurdles which have been placed in the way in the rulebook which were specifically designed to prevent leadership challenges. It is also clear from the past week that the Rebel Alliance is a disorganized bunch who have failed to attract big names from the cabinet. With Darling, Milliband and Johnson staying loyal, Brown is safe.

What also holds it together for Brown is MAD - mutually assured destruction. Were Labour to dump Brown now, the demand for a general election would be all-consuming. And do you think Labour would want a general election in the current climate? Their one and only option is to hold on to the bitter end in the hope that the expenses scandal can be sorted and there is an upturn in the economy. Even then, there is no guarantee of improved Labour prospects. The economy recovered under John Major in the mid 1990s but the Conservatives went down to heavy defeat in 1997.

So whether Labour love him or loath him, they are stuck with Brown.
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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Fiona re-elected in North East

I was at the Gateshead count where we got just under 9000 votes to Labour's 13,000. UKIP were 3rd and the Tories 4th. I got home and waited nervously for the North East result to be declared.

Our fear was that Fiona Hall could lose out to the UKIP surge. Fiona only just won her seat last time round from Labour. Once the picture of Labour collapse was clear, we knew Labour were not the risk this time. As it turned out, Fiona was re-elected with a comfortableish majority. UKIP did surge butt not by enough. Delighted to see her back in.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Houdini Brown strikes again

Watching the news this afternoon is like watching a drama unfold. As it was, when I got back from the verification this morning, I watched the news of the reshuffle and then fell asleep for three hours. I woke up to a back-to-the-future world in which Brown was still PM and Labour were still at war with themselves.

Nevertheless, Brown appears to have seen off the rebellion. The suicide bombers of Blears and Purnell have been nothing but duds. Caroline Flint has failed to spark a rebellion. And she looks absurb anyway following her gushing praise of Brown less than 24 hours earlier. Now, she simply looks like she has thrown her toys out of the pram following a strop caused by not being offered a cabinet post.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet has a ring of something from the nineteenth century. All those Lords. Seems as though Labour have run out of talent in the Commons.

So Houdini Brown escapes again and the spineless jellies of the Labour party are stuck with the person they know is so very wrong for the post of PM. Not that the opposition want him gone before the general election. Time, I guess, to say thank you to all those jellies for their spinelessness.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

All previous predictions are off

Gordon Brown will continue as Labour leader until the general election. That is the prediction I have been making for the past year or so, ever since the rumblings of discontent began within Labour ranks about Brown. The resignation of Blears could well be the final nail in the coffin of that prediction. The Jacqui Smith announcement yesterday was something Brown could survive with a reshuffle. Now I am not so sure. It appears Blears has deliberately attempted to undermine Brown. What a strange time we are living in. I have never known anything like this before.
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More focus deliveries

I am currently walking to Lobley Hill from my village in Sunniside to deliver 500 focuses. It also gives me the chance to check out some casework issues and check on wild food sources on the way! Then I have to get back home to write my final focus for this election campaign.
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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Monday Morning Blog - move over Darling

It's day 23,456,936 of the MPs expenses scandal (or at least it feels like it!) and the spotlight is on Chancellor Alistair Darling. His sin, according to the Daily Telegraph, was to claim on two homes at the same time. Effectively, he claimed in advance for the service charge on his flat and shortly afterwards was appointed Chancellor with a posh address in the exclusive and sought after suburb of Downing St. I understand from the BBC this morning he has paid back the sum in question.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that Mr Darling appeared to have been living previously at no fixed abode - or rather, had switched his 2nd home 4 times in 4 years. What a pity he is presiding over increasing housing shortages and a slump in new house building for everyone else. But at least he's okay (until Brown decides to rid himself of Darling and appoints his chum Ed Balls in his place.)

The sacking of Darling as Chancellor is not that far fetched. Vince Cable has called for it! And if past precedent is anything to go by, Labour will ignore Vince's call, and then a while later will adopt it as their own idea.

No train journey to London this morning for me. No experience of National Excess's cancelled trains. No crawling out of bed at an uncivilised hour of the morning. This week I am at home to help in the Euro elections on my home patch.