Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Labour can't complain

Labour are complaining loudly about the timing of the Sun's decision to switch to the Tories. Whilst I have some degree of sympathy for their case - it was a clear example of creating an alternative political news story to detract from and undermine the Labour conference - Labour can hardly complain. Back in 2007 Brown headed off to Iraq during the Tory conference in what was a deliberate attempt to shift media interest away from the opposition. Having let the chickens out, Labour can't complain when they come home to roost.
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The Sun no longer shines on Labour

The Sun has decided to back the Tories and abandon Labour. That's hardly surprising and the question has to be asked, when was the last time the Sun actually backed Labour rather than sniped at them. The Sun is a classic example of a political weathervane. It always backs the party that looks likely to win an election so that it can claim it was the Sun "wot won" the general election for the party it claims to be backing.
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The Conference Video

This is the video I put together about conference. It is mainly about Northern members but there are other bits of national interest as well.

Chris Rennard speech to Lib Dem rally, Sept 09

Chris Rennard has retired as chief executive of the Liberal Democrats. This was his first speech to conference since his announcement he is stepping down. Chris spoke at the rally at the start of conference on 19th September. He was introduced by Party President Ros Scott.

Voting reform - but not yet

Brown may come to regret his cowardice on this. He boldly announced yesterday he will do nothing on voting reform whilst spinning the message he will do everything. Bringing in alternative vote in place of first past the post for Parliamentary and council elections is a good first start that can be done rapidly. Brown chose to announce merely a referendum on this mild reform will be included in Labour's manifesto.

The reality is that Labour will be defeated and the referendum will never be implemented. He can make the offer to spin the message that he represents "change" (despite 12 years at the heart of government) whilst keeping the dinosaurs and reactionaries of his own party (typically Labour in the North East) happy by making an offer of reform which he knows he will never have to keep.

Spin over substance - how typically Brown. 10 out of 10 for polished spin, 0 out of ten for competent governance.

The interesting point is that voting reform could be the change that saves Labour but if they are kicked out at the general election, they may never get the chance to implement their own survival. After all, the Tories aren't going to bring in AV. Despite the history of the past 12 years, and the huge hurdle they face in going from where they are now to a majority government in one election, a study of elections over the past century shows that the current system benefits the Tories. Too many in Labour are too short-sighted (or too stupid) to realise that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Charles Kennedy MP speaking at Lib Dem Conference rally 19th Sept 09

This is the video of Charles Kennedy speaking at the rally at the start of Bournemouth Conference last week.

Vote no-change for change

I am currently watching Peter Mandelson giving his speech to the Labour Conference. I am on record as liking Peter Mandelson. His skills have to be admired. He turned Labour from the unelectable bunch of dinosaurs into a great election winning machine (a quality Labour now appears to have lost). Anyone who could achieve that must have impressive skills.

He is also something of a comeback kid. Twice resigned from the cabinet but back for a third time. The question is, can he give Labour the comeback it needs. That may be the mission impossible for Mandy. His argument in his speech is that Labour at the election needs to pose as the party of change. Vote for no change if you want change. That seems to be his message. I really can't see that working.

Nevertheless the attacks on the shallow Conservatives were good stuff. It is likely to be a sign of what will be kicked about at the general election. And as I keep pointing out, whilst I think Labour will go down to defeat, the outcome of a majority Cameron government is not a certainty.
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The Monday Morning Blog - back on National Express, polls and nuts

A strange feeling of deja vu - it is a Monday morning and I am on a National Express train. No, I'm not heading to London. Actually the reverse, I am heading out of London to Newcastle and home to Sunniside. Amazingly, the train is not cancelled! Stranger things have happened.

I caught the Independent poll on GMTV this morning. Labour and Lib Dems both on 23%. I hoped to pick up a copy of the Indie at Kings Cross but WH Smith must have had a run on them. I ended up getting the details of the poll from the Indie website instead.

What was mentioned in passing, but not given sufficient attention, was the low rating of the Conservatives. At 38%, this is short of the minimum they need if they want to become the majority government after the general election. Think back to 1997 and you will recall the stratospheric support in the polls for Blair and the "new" Labour project (perhaps it should be "Labour" that is in inverted commas). Despite this, Labour fell well short of the shares of the vote predicted by the polls, with about 41% when people went to the polls yet there was a gut feeling amongst the majority of the population that the Tory government had to go and Blair and his team should take over. (It was clearly a long time ago!) Anyway, that same gut feeling just does not exist for Cameron. There is no yearning for a Cameron government.

Polls of course should be taken with a great pinch of salt, especially when they come from ComRes. Nevertheless, they can show trends - and in this instance they continue to show that the Tories are comfortably ahead of Labour only because Labour are so comprehensively behind. And it also show that Eric Pickles and his attempt to lovebomb the Lib Dems have failed. Mind you, the attempt by Eric Pickles to pass himself off as a progressive Liberal is like a drunken alcoholic claiming to be teetotal.

Anyway, my long weekend in London is now over. Some of it was spent in park and woodland in Crystal Palace picking nuts - sweet chestnuts to be precise. They are all packed into a box which is coming up to Sunniside with me on the train. All part of the self-sufficiency drive.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blood on the walls or weary resignation?

The questioning of Gordon Brown this morning about his health by Andrew Marr was unreasonably direct. A bunch of disorganized anti-Brown malcontent Labour moaners twitter away to the press about excuses for Brown to go and the media jumps in feet first. Brown's health is not an issue. His competence to be prime minister is the issue. The intrusion into his health was inappropriate and unreasonable.

Nevertheless, as the gathering of Labour's great and the good (and the not so good, the useless and the malcontents) takes place in Brighton, the question has to be asked: is this a blood on the walls conference or one dominated by defeatist resignation. My guess is that whilst Brown will come out fighting against the Tories with claims of a rosey future and a fantastically strong economy that is leading the world to amazing prosperity unlike anything ever seen before, most Labour people know the reality on the ground is that their chances of a Labour 4th term with a majority is one in a million. I am of course being nice. Many in Labour are looking at the next election as a choice between unmitigated disaster and the slightly better appalling losses.

There will be no blood on the walls in Brighton. Labour don't have the stomach for regicide. They are stuck with a person who cannot lead, inspire or deal with the difficulties faced by his party. Now they must accept the consequences of their own decision to put Brown at the helm. Some more charitable people would say "Good luck" to them.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

I am a star in the BBC Village People video

There was great amusement on Tuesday evening at Conference when it was discovered that I had appeared in a BBC video about Conference called "Village People". No, I hadn't been caught dressed as a new York cop or a builder. Instead, unbeknown to me, the BBC had filmed the photo op I held for campaigners with Simon Hughes and the carbon footprint props.

Despite all the handheld devices we were carrying, we could not access the video and we were away from a pc so viewing it had to wait til Wednesday morning. I'm about one and a half minutes into it:


Nick Clegg speech at Bournemouth Conference rally

This is my first video from conference: Nick Clegg's speech to the rally on Saturday 19th September

Still processing those conference photos

I have nearly 4000 photos and 3 hours of video from conference which I spent yesterday processing. The job is not yet finished but some of the member photos with MPs are now on my Flickr site and the rest will go up today. I have had a string of emails from members eager to get their pics asap. If you are one of those people, they should be on Flickr by this afternoon. Check

Also started is the editing of my conference videos but that job is secondary to sorting the photos. I'll be posting them onto YouTube and this blog when they are done.

I am on my way to Cowley St now to do more sorting, editing and uploading. I won't be back home to Gateshead til Monday. Meanwhile I went to the theatre last night. It was the smallest theatre I have been in, Shepherds Bush. I saw a play called 2nd May 1997, set in the hours immediately after the general election. It followed a Conservative MP and his wife preparing to go to the count knowing he had lost and worried about being seen as a failure, a Lib Dem activist who ended up taking a girl back to his home after an election party but she turned out to be drunk and then discovered she had got off with the wrong guy, and two gay Labour students, one of whom was from a wealthy household who was unconsciously patronising towards the other who was his best friend (who was also 'working class') but the richer one wasn't prepared to give his friend what he wanted. It was an interesting satire of politics as it is nowadays.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Conference is now over

3500 photos and 4 hours of video: Conference is now over and I am on the train heading back to London. A successful gathering and Nick spoke well this afternoon. Such a contrast to Brown. Labour as we know are now leaderless at so many different levels of their party. It will be interesting therefore to see how they cope next week with their own gathering.

I'm staying in London for a few days to sort out the garden. There is likely to be a trip to Cowley St in the next couple of days as well. I don't fancy uploading to YouTube and Flickr all the video and photos via the dongle on my laptop. I've asked the powers that be and I can do that instead from one of the PCs in HQ.

Tonight however is pub quiz night. Since most of the people on my team are Labour members, I'll not mention politics.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Photos galore

Day three at conference and the customers have been rolling through the photo ops. Today the queues were long for Simon Hughes with carbon footprints and the Guardian's 10:10 logo. The 2nd photo op today was with Tim Farron about fair trade and the lack of fair trade for British farmers from supermarket chains. That required an early morning trip to Tescos to buy some props for the event. Alas, all Bournemouth Tescos could offer was one brand of fair trade tea and one of coffee. Seems as though this town is not massive on fair trade - or possibly its only a gimmick for Tesco.

We did a Nick Clegg session with candidates this afternoon. However, this was invite only for key seat candidates - which meant Neil Bradbury from Blaydon was there as well. The really busy one will be on Wednesday. We have an open invite to conference members to have their pic taken with Vince Cable. We are expecting queues - long ones.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Heading off to the Lib Dem jamboree

I'm on the train now, heading to Bournemouth for the Lib Dem conference. Yes, it's that time of year - the Lib Dem annual jamboree, complete with late nights, scans of the directory for events with "refreshments" and a week on adrenalin.

I should arrive at 11am. My first activity is to photo Nick Clegg's arrival. In total I have lost count of the number of events and photo ops I need to photo. I also managed to leave the printed version of my diary in Gateshead Civic Centre. Thank goodness for memory sticks and here's to hoping I can get access to a laser printer at conference!
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Speculating that Brown will remain

Steve Richards in the Indie has an interesting article about Gordon Brown remaining as Labour Leader to the general election. It is interesting because it focuses on Brown remaining as leader as if that were a new concept. Ever since the fiasco of the election-that-never-was, the coverage of Brown in the media has never strayed far from the view that he will not survive as leader. So the article in the Indie is a bit of a refreshing change.

Richards argues that the Parliamentary timetable prevents a Labour leadership election. With virtually no time left before the election, Brown will remain in place. Gordon as Labour leader at the election has been the line I have followed since 2007 (except for one small wobble). Unseating a sitting Prime Minister against his or her will is extremely difficult. It's happened only once in my lifetime. So, Brown remains as Labour leader til the election. Then the Labour bloodletting may, or may not, begin.

The other issue touched on was the actual timing of the general election. Richards rules out June as going right up to the buffers. Clinging on to power to the very end does not inspire as an election slogan. He accepts May, coinciding with the local elections, as a possibility but downplays it. His argument is that it is still too close to the buffers. Instead, Richards believes that April is the likely time, the same month chosen by Major in 1992. He says he has spoken to a number of Labour ministers who favour April.

Whichever date is chosen, the one certainty is that with the party conferences starting tomorrow with our own in Bournemouth, the election campaign has started. Oh joy!

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Back in London

Having smelt the stench of fear on Labour in Gateshead yesterday, today I am giving them relief from their trauma. They can save their running-round-like-leaderless-headless-chickens performance for another day. Today I am in London. I came down last night to sort a few things in the flat before going to Bournemouth for Conference on Saturday.

I need to be at the Marriott Hotel by midday for the arrival of Nick Clegg. It's my first photo duty of Conference. Then I will be on the beach. Alas, this is not to go sunbathing. It is for a photo op we are running about flooding in the North East. And a candidate wants his photo taken there in jogging gear at the same time!

Any other candidates wanting specific photos taken can catch up with me at Bournemouth but be quick, my diary is nearly full.

Meanwhile, I am off to pick sweet chestnuts (as part of my self-sufficiency drive). There are a load of trees here which are ready for picking.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

My badge of honour

I am on the train from Newcastle to London, having just finished a full meeting of Gateshead Council. And what a great meeting it was! I feel energised and even more determined to put an end to Labour rule in the borough. And now that I have given up my Cowley St job, I have much more time to do it.

Today's antics from Labour, led by Cllr Mick Henry, are good reasons alone why they should be dumped at the ballot box. If only more people from Gateshead could see council meetings. They would see how he "leads" his band of merry followers. I proposed a motion opposing the proposals of Network Rail to create a high speed rail network that bypasses the North East. I wrote the motion in the expectation of cross party support. It went on to call on the Transport Secretary to ensure the East Coast was included in any high speed network. There was no criticism of the government, nothing attacking Labour, it was purely a motion attacking Network Rail. As far as I could see, it was fully in line with with Lib Dem and Labour aspirations.

Except that Labour cannot vote for an unamended motion from the Lib Dems, especially one moved by me. So they did one of their wrecking amendments. Every reference to Network Rail was removed, a big chunk of the motion was taken out and then put back, word for word the same and the real teeth of the motion - calling on the Transport Secretary to back the inclusion of the East Coast Line - were axed.

But the really interesting point was that I could barely be heard because of repeated interruptions from Cllr Henry. He even interrupted me before I had said my first word. And every few seconds I was interrupted. The few people who were in the public gallery must have thought Labour were using a barrage of noise, shouting and bellowing to drown out what I had to say.

After the meeting was over, fellow Lib Dems congratulated me. Labour are getting rather nervous now that I'm back. Some members even described Labour as "scared". After all, if I wasn't a threat to them, they wouldn't waste time attacking me so vehemently.

So I am definitely looking forward to the next full council and another Mick Henry performance. I am also hoping far more members of the public attend and see for themselves just what Labour are like in Gateshead. Indeed, I can foresee an article in my next efocus encouraging people to come to the Civic Centre to see Cllr Henry and his band perform.

Meanwhile, I have had a message from a friend saying that I should wear Cllr Henry's attack on me as a badge of honour. I certainly will!
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Conference photo ops

Okay, a message for all those attending Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth this coming week. Here are the photo ops I am running which are open to all Conference members to attend:

Sunday 20th 3pm-4pm: Lynne Featherstone, knife crime

Monday 21st 10.30-11.30am: Simon Hughes, environment/carbon footprint/Guardian 10:10

Monday 21st 12pm-1pm: Tim Farron, fair trade/farming

Tuesday 22nd 2.30-3.30pm Norman Baker: Labour/Conservative rail failure

Wednesday 23rd 10.30am-11.30am: Steve Webb, unemployment

Wednesday 23rd 11.30am-12.15pm: Vince Cable

In addition, we will have a number of previously used props which we are bringing to conference for use without MPs. There will be two of these “general sessions” in the Tregonwell Hall: Sunday 20th, 12pm-12.30pm; Tuesday 22nd, 6pm-6.30pm. (These two sessions can be used for taking portrait sessions as well.)

There will also be a session for candidates to have their photos taken outside the front of the Bournemouth International Centre on Sunday 20th from 11am-11.30am.

If you have other photo or video requirements, catch up with me at conference.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Food for thought on the phone

There has been a long string of phone calls to the house tonight but the one that stands out was one of those calls from market research companies trying to build a profile of my shopping behaviour. I guess I wasn't much help.

After asking if I could spare a few minutes to answer a few questions, I was asked, "Where do you do your food shopping." "We don't," I replied. "We grow our own food." Silence for a few moments. "I guess you've not had that answer before!" I continued, successfully breaking the awkward silence that had met my answer. He admitted it was a new answer to him.

I was asked a few more questions about my buying activities.

"Where do we buy bread?" - Answer: "We make our own."

"Where do we buy clothes?" - That was a bit more challenging. I rarely buy clothes these days. The last time I went clothes shopping was just before Conference last year. House of Fraser, Victoria St, was therefore my considered reply.

"Where do we buy books?" Amazon (and Waterstones).

So, all in all, I'm not sure, after answering a whole range of questions, whether or not there was a category into which my retail activities could fit me.

Or maybe I am about to be hit by lots of offers for books from Amazon about growing your own food whilst shopping for clothes in a store over 400km away from home! I wonder if someone has written such a book. Well, that's food for thought!

Meanwhile, I am pleased to say that I have just completed and circulated the pre-Conference edition of the Northern Democrat. It comes hot on the heals of Parliamentary Campaigner which I finished over the weekend.

I was planning tonight to write my speech for a motion on highspeed rail I am moving at Gateshead Council tomorrow but I think I'll have a cup of tea instead, leave the speechifying til tomorrow and go to bed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nick Clegg on Tyneside

I spent today in Newcastle doing photos and video for the Nick Clegg visit. We met him at the Central Station and then went to look at City Council apprenticeships, then the Newcastle Jobs Fair, the Cyrenians (training former drug addicts, in this instance in gardening) and then to Gosforth for a public meeting. All captured on video. I'll edit it and post it on Youtube tomorrow.
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Monday, September 07, 2009

Vince Cable to do conference photo op

The final piece is in the conference photo op jigsaw. Vince Cable will be doing one of 6 that I am putting on at Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. I will post up the list soon. I can't at this precise moment do so as I am sitting in the Moti Jheel in Whickham waiting to collect my takeaway (it's David's birthday so we are taking a break from homegrown food.) As I don't have the list of photo ops on me you will have to wait.

The Vince event is open invite for all those attending conference.

In the meantime, I have just returned from doing a leaflet delivery in Newcastle North. One hell of a delivery patch as well. Massive posh houses with drives as long as the A1 covered in range rovers and BMW 4 wheel drives. The leaflet is about Nick Clegg coming to Newcastle on Thursday. Having delivered 200 I have now worked up quite an appetite!

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Video newsletter from conference

With Conference now on the horizon, I am putting together the pre-Conference edition of Parliamentary Campaigner. Lib Dem candidates should receive it within a few days. I have included some ideas on the innovations page about how to communicate with people back in the constituency whilst in Bournemouth.

One of the ideas I am suggesting is a daily email newsletter to local members. But that brings me on to another idea I am hoping to test out which is to do a daily video newsletter which I will send to people on my regional email list. Producing this assumes a number of things: that I can work out how to use the new high powered, all-singing-all-dancing laptop I have just got with video editing facilities; that this wonderful new laptop will give me internet access (it is being rather temperamental at the moment but I think it's just the signal strength around here - hopefully there will be a wifi connection at Conference); and finally that I actually have the time to film and edit it all.

The videos will go onto YouTube and then onto this blog. Now that I have a Partner account with YouTube, I can put bigger videos up. So, all very experimental, but watch this space. It may work wonderfully, or is may be a complete failure. Trying it out however will be fun.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Historic setting for a friendly encounter

The world's longest continuous running steam railway, the Tanfield, is in my council ward. Most of the line itself is now a footpath rather than a railway. The bit at Marley Hill that continues to run trains is a tourist attraction as well as a heritage centre.

The whole length of the line from Pontop Pike to the Tyne at Dunston, Gateshead, is now featured in a book and dvd called "Like Taking Coals to Newcastle", produced by Sunniside History Society, based in my home village. They had a repeat launch of the dvd today (I couldn't make the first one because, ironically, I was meeting some historian friends of mine two weeks ago). It took place at Beamish Museum, which is in Co Durham, but near Sunniside.

The guest speaker was Government Chief Whip Nick Brown MP. Among the guests was Dave Anderson, Blaydon MP, with whom I had a friendly word, at the tram stop as we waited amongst the American tourists for a 1923 built tram to whiz us around the Museum! It beats having to get a National Express train to London on a Monday morning!

Anyway, I am back home now. If you are a Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate, watch out for the pre-conference edition of Parliamentary Campaigner coming your way soon. I'm working on it now. (I'm fitting in the work between going to the allotment, editing videos and salting my runner beans!)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Reducing personal debt - we should not be surprised

The media yesterday seemed rather surprised that the UK's level of personal debt fell last month and for the first time since records began in 1993, more mortgage cash was returned by borrowers to lenders than the lenders lent out.

Think back to the early 1990s. Reducing personal debt was then, if not an obsession with people, then at least an aim. Over indebtedness was a millstone around the neck of the British economy and people were worried about their jobs and therefore their future incomes. As debt is taken out against the prospect of continuing income into the future, people were trying to avoid a burden many felt they could not sustain.

There are significant differences between the current recession and the one in the early 1990s. Then, part of the driving force of the recession was high interest rates, brought about to tackle rising inflation, some of which (though not all) had its sources in the reunification of Germany and the absorption of the Ostmark into the Deutschmark. Nowadays, the problem is the opposite in that demand for goods and services has slumped and therefore prices (other than for basics such as food and fuel) have dropped.

Nevertheless, a common thread to both recessions is indebtedness. The credit fueled booms of the late 1980s and the 2000s saw too many people take out an unsustainable level of debt. At some point that money has to be paid back. In boom years, people think they can pay it off on the back of rising house prices. With that gone, now they have to pay it off from income.

Massive personal borrowing is a cause of boom and bust (a problem Brown claimed to have fixed but simply allowed to get worse). The bust is when we pay back for the boom. And with hundreds of billions of pounds owed by UK citizens as consumer (as opposed to mortgage) debt, my guess is that people are going to be paying off more debts than they take out in new borrowing for some time to come.