Saturday, January 30, 2010

Retiring MP opens up race for heartland seat

David Clelland, Labour MP for Tyne Bridge, whose profile was raised significantly by the MP expenses issue (buying an "oriental rug" at taxpayers' expense, financing an "equity release scheme" for his wife at taxpayers' expense and clocking up massive travel expenses for his wife) has announced he is quitting at the election. He also clocked up a large bill for flying between London and Newcastle. So it's goodbye to him. He says he will be too old to continue and wants to enjoy his retirement.

So, now that Mr Clelland has departed on his flying oriental rug, who will be in the running for the new Gateshead constituency which, at the last election was something like Labour's 40th safest seat, under the new boundaries?

This was a question I put to a Labour member on Thursday. To my surprise this person expressed a strong interest in standing. I will of course remain silent as to who I asked as I rather like the person and think he will do a good job as MP. Any endorsement from me is likely to kill off his/her chances immediately within Labour ranks.

We are of course mounting a strong challenge in Gateshead constituency in the form of Frank Hindle, the councillor with the largest vote of any cllr elected in the constituency. Should be an interesting fight, both in the Labour party and in the constituency.

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Blair performance as expected

I missed much of the coverage of the Blair appearance at the Iraq inquiry yesterday because I was travelling to London. What bits I did pick up were not complimentary. It seems his performance however was just what I expected. No regrets, the world is a better place as a result of the war, he did no wrong. No contrition. No apology. He's do it all again.

Perhaps he has been living in a parallel universe. He certainly doesn't inhabit the real world.
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Putting best foot forward for healthy living

Yesterday saw the launch of Gateshead Council's healthy living campaign. Councillors are taking part to encourage others to do so as well. Last week we were asked to make a commitment to change something in our lifestyle that will lead to better health. Yesterday the launch involved a walk from the old town hall, down to the Quayside and back again. I decided to bring some extra weights to carry in the form of my cameras. This of course meant that for the photo op, I was on the wrong side of the camera and other than a few shots one of the photographer took with my camera, I didn't get to star in the pics.

However, I did snap this one. Not sure if it is Council Leader Mick Henry explaining to an officer he doesn't like his report, or he is just posing for the photo!

Mick Henry photographer Jan 10

The following was taken on the Millennium Bridge. A case of putting best foot forward to encourage people to take exercise every day. I'm the one in the red coat in the middle.

health walk Jan 10

Meanwhile, yesterday evening I went over to Newcastle Business School for the launch of "The Three Secrets of Green Business" by Griff Kane, a Lib Dem councillor in Newcastle. There was a healthy contingent of Lib Dems there including Neil Bradbury.

Griff Kane book lanuch Jan 10 no 2

Griff (real name Gareth) with his book (1500 already sold!):

Griff Kane book lanuch Jan 10 no 3

And finally, where there is Jonathan, the laws of nature dictate you find cameras:

Jonathan camera Jan 10

Back to the joys of train travel

I am due in London this evening for the start of a week of shooting video and taking photos. This is the first time I have caught the London train for nearly 2 months. And would you believe it, it is late. I hope this isn't a foretaste of how East Coast is going to operate though they couldn't do worse than National Excess.

I am of course missing the coverage of Tony Blair at the Chilcott Inquiry. I will have to catch up with it over the weekend, in between shooting videos. I don't expect any expression of regret from him.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speaking at the CBI

The CBI in the North East are holding a conference today for rising stars of the business world. They are having a political panel discussion and I have been invited as the Lib Dem speaker. Labour will be represented by Nick Forbes, their leader on Newcastle Council, and the Conservatives by Wendy Morton, their Tynemouth candidate. I am on my way there on the bus now. The event will be held in the Baltic Art Gallery.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gateshead Democrat January edition published

This is the latest edition of our Gateshead Lib Dem members' newsletter. Happy reading!

Gateshead Democrat Jan 10

Meeting to discuss anti-social behaviour

My main task today was to go to Whickham to have a meeting with local police, neighbourhood wardens, environmental services and neighbourhood officers to discuss anti-social behaviour in the area. Last year, after discussions with the police, we carried out a survey of 500 homes in the area nearest some of the hotspots and got replies from over 100. My colleague, Cllr Peter Craig put a report together about the results and the meeting was held to discuss the results.

Overall, a useful meeting and we hope to be moving forward on some of the matters we discussed.

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Bumping along at the bottom is the best it gets

As expected, the economy has moved from recession to growth. Yet with a growth rate of 0.1%, it means we are bumping along at the very bottom, barely escaping recession. Gross domestic product fell 4.8% in 2009, the biggest fall since records began in 1949. So we are over the worst but there are big difficulties still in the economy. The next few months could see a slip back into recession.

Nevertheless, expect Labour to shout loudly that everything is now wonderful and that the Lib Dems and Conservatives will eat your babies for breakfast.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The BBC interview

We recorded the BBC Politics Programme as we have been in York over the weekend. I have only just watched it now. Well, I had about 10 seconds! A pity the BBC didn't keep in the bit I said about actually supporting 1NG, (the local development company) and the concept of the conference centre for Gateshead the issue I raised was that it is still not clear in detail how it will be paid for and if Gateshead makes a capital contribution, what gives to pay for it?
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Boy George: Do you really want to hurt me?

President Obama's decision to adopt Liberal Democrat policy on breaking up the banks has certainly caught the headlines. It should be remembered that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have consistently opposed moves against the banks when called for by Vince Cable. Now, they say, Obama's proposals are the best thing since sliced bread.

But the response of George Osborne is the most remarkable. Boy George claims to be at the forefront of this policy, suggesting Obama has come into line with the Tory position. This is of course the man who attacked Labour's weak regulation of the financial markets on the eve of the recession as being far too heavy. Even less regulation was needed, he claimed.

So are we really meant to believe that Boy George has completely uturned and become some kind of red rinse Tory? I find it a bit hard to swallow. I just can't believe they are going to take action against the banks that will hurt them.

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Interviews, grills and pledges: Thursday in action

The last time I did a big interview for the BBC, it wasn't broadcast, despite having put in a large amount of work and research for the programme (it was Panorama over a year ago - I was interviewed about opencast mining). I am a bit more hopeful that the interview I did this morning will be broadcast. It was for the BBC Politics Programme, North East edition. Mark Denten interviewed me about how the proposed conference centre for Gateshead will be paid for. I'm not going to go into the details of it now. I'll save it for another day. I feel a little more confident that this interview will be broadcast. Fingers crossed for Sunday. The programme starts on BBC1 at midday.

BBC interview Jan 10 no 4

BBC interview Jan 10 no 2

The 2 photos above were taken at the interview. In the 2nd one, it looks like I'm playing the air guitar! Maybe I thought I was performing at the nearby Sage Concernt Hall!

Inevitably I took an interest in the camera they were using. Meanwhile, Mark asked me if all my stories on my blog about jam making and growing our own food was spin. Sadly, it is all for real! And with 5 tonnes of manure due shortly for our allotment, this politician for one will be up to his eyeballs in muck shortly!

Then to the Civic Centre where a group of children from Fellside Primary School grilled us on life as a councillor. We were told to expect questions about what time we get up in the morning and when do we eat dinner. We ended up instead with questions about whether we need qualifications (Council Deputy Leader Ian Mearns said no but pointed to me - as the only Doctor in the Council village - saying that I had a bagful of them: "Not sure if they have helped me!" I joked); what age do you have to be to stand; is it a privilege to be a councillor and what are our greatest achievements (I think mine was to survive the grilling!)

Shortly before full council we did the next part of our promotion of healthy lifestyles. We had to write on a note something we were pledging to change in our lifestyles to make us healthier. The note then went on to a display where everyone could read it. I announced I was giving up nibbling between meals. So out go the cheese, chocolate shortcake (with caramel), salami (yes, I confess, one of my favourite nibbles, but they are very very thin!) and other such foods. Eating is to be done at meal times, unless it's health fruit etc.

Photos below - my ward colleagues Cllr John McClurey and Cllr Marilynn Ord and I agree to change our lifestyles for something healthier:

health pledge Jan 10 no 6

health pledge Jan 10 no 3

health pledge Jan 10 no 8

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BBC interview

I am currently heading on the bus to central Gateshead to meet up with Mark Denten from the BBC Politics Programme (North East edition). He is going to interview me about the funding of the proposed conference centre that is being considered for the Gateshead Quays area. The problem at the moment is that I am stuck in the traffic congestion in Bensham. My bus has taken 10 minutes to move forward 10 metres!

This afternoon is full council. I'll report later on how I get on at both.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Funeral for a local lad lost in Afghanistan

David Watson was a soldier in the Royal Engineers. He was raised in Whickham, went to school there and his family still lives there. He was on active service in Afghanistan and it was whilst on duty on New Year's Eve that he tragically lost his life to a road side bomb at the age of 23. He went there to save lives and did so by making the ultimate sacrifice himself.

His funeral service was held today in St Mary's Church in Whickham. I attended. So did hundreds of others. Outside the church, hundreds of residents also gathered to pay their last respect.

David Watson RIP

Monday, January 18, 2010

I can appreciate his disappointment

Say what you might about Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson, and I often do, but one issue that he has led on and which is close to his heart is the campaign for compensation for sufferers of pleural plaques, a form of asbestosis. A judgement by the House of Lords a few years ago overturned the previous position in which sufferers were entitled to compensation. David Anderson is campaigning for that previous position to be restored.

He was due to team up with a group of likeminded MPs and meet Gordon Brown last week to take the issue further. However, the meeting was cancelled by Downing St and Mr Anderson is, understandably, angry and disappointed.

He said, "It is imperative that the government departments who will have financial responsibilities accept their responsibility and work with us to put through the legislative changes required to reinstate the previous position. The Prime Minister needs to tell them to get on and do it. We are not going away."

I can appreciate his disappointment and frustration. I can also see where Mr Anderson is coming from. This is an illness that is more likely to afflict people who worked in the old heavy industries. Sorting out their compensation is clearly needed but the danger now is that many will not live to see it.

So on this issue Dave, good luck and hopefully you are successful.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Burstow to Brown: go to police with your election rigging claims

Nick Brown, Labour's Chief Whip, made unfounded allegations of electoral fraud against Newcastle City Council's ruling Liberal Democrats earlier this week. He claimed he could not trust the Lib Dem council with ballot boxes and papers to be left overnight so that counting could take place in the day after polling day.

His groundless comments have caused a storm of protest. Now, Lib Dem chief whip Paul Burstow has written to Brown demanding he raise the matter with the police rather than the press.

Paul wrote, " are accusing the ruling group on the council of vote rigging because the count is being held on the Friday."

He then went on to write, "I believe that unless you have evidence, this is an unfounded attack on the integrity and independence of the officials responsible for running and overseeing the electoral process. You will know very well that these officials are not affiliated to any party.

"If you have evidence of any conspiracy to rig the election you should be passing it to the police not issuing press releases condemning officials who are in no position to defend themselves. I hope you will take this opportunity to apologise to the officials concerned and withdraw your remarks."

In reply Brown simply reiterated his allegations were about the Lib Dems, not officials.

So everyone, no withdrawal of his claims, no evidence to back them, no specific allegations, just a vile smear from the man who is at the heart of the Labour party. Watch out folks, I think we can see the desperate tactics Labour will use in the coming general election.

Meanwhile, my colleague, Clare Mills, who works in Alan Beith's office, pointed out to me this morning that Friday counts in Berwick are the norm. There have been no problems with fraud, vote rigging or any other misdemeanours.

And here in Gateshead, we have Friday counts for local elections now. The process goes smoothly. Officers behave with the greatest integrity - and so do both the parties on the council, Lib Dems and Labour. Maybe Mr Brown should venture across the Tyne to speak to his Labour colleagues who, on this issue at least, have a saner view of the world.

Northern Democrat now published

Thanks to my former colleague Mark Pack for posting up a government document on his site using Scribd. I have to confess I had never come across this site before but now that I have, I've signed up and can now put various publications for which I am responsible directly onto the web.

The following is the Northern Democrat which I finished last night and which is about to be emailed to Lib Dems in the north.

North East Democrat No 47 Jan 10

Thursday, January 14, 2010

4 meetings

I was in the bizarre situation yesterday of walking to a meeting in the morning in Gateshead because it was quicker that using any vehicle on the roads. I was supposed to be in Gateshead at 9am. I am taking part in a health promotion drive with other councillors and it starts with a health check. That was my 9am meeting. The bus I got from Sunniside took me as far as the Teams when I decided that the traffic was so congested it was time to put my legs into action and walk the rest of the route. The last I saw of the bus was when I got to the end of the Redheugh Bridge. I could see it in the distance, barely moved from the bus stop where I had decided to get off.

I was of course late by then. Arrival time was not helped by my turning up at completely the wrong place for the health check. For some reaon I have St Mary's visitor centre next to the Tyne Bridge as the venue. People there knew nothing about it. A phone call to the Civic Centre and I discovered it was meant to be in the Old Town Hall. Fortunately not too far to walk but I was now running very late. The health check was rushed through so I could get to a 10am meeting in the Civic Centre. For any political opponents hoping the health check showed me at death's door, I am sorry to disappoint them. Apart from a need to marginally reduce my waistline, I am in fine health, ready to do battle!

The reason for the visit to the Civic Centre was to attend planning committee and represent Councillor Peter Maughan who was opposing a planning application to build a house on the old farm on Whickham Highway. Peter had been called away on business so he kindly offered the task to me! Such was the ferocity of my argument and the skill with which I presented Peter's case opposing the application in such a superbly convincing way that the application was agreed unanimously!

Back home for a bit of news release writing. And for the foodies amongst you, I also plucked and gutted a pheasant, given to us by one of the other allotment holders. A few jars of homemade jam and chutney will be winging their way to him shortly.

Having ripped the innards out of this formerly feathered friend, I was in the mood to head back to Gateshead Civic Centre for some politics and a group meeting to decide on motions for council next week. I had a vague idea about a motion about holding general election counts on the day after polling day, following the "vile" claims by Labour chief bruiser Nick Brown MP that suggested the Lib Dems are politically corrupt. But my idea was as popular in the group as Gordon Brown is at a Labour love-in so I didn't push it. Given that it was barely a twinkle in my eye, never mind a fully formulated motion, I didn't feel I had wasted any time on it. We opted instead for a motion on the impact of the recent winter weather.

After the group, I went along the corridor to the Gateshead Lib Dem executive meeting and gave my media and communications report. Mention was made of the coverage I got on the non-demolition of the Gateshead Multi-Storey Car Park (known for its starring role on the Michael Caine classic "Get Carter"). This same coverage had ruffled one or two feathers amongst some Labour members, one of whom before Christmas had made a passing remark to me in a corridor in the Civic Centre. At least then I was only ruffling feathers, not plucking them!

My day ended back home when we decied to watch the 2nd dvd of "Victorian Farm" which included a bit about pheasant shooting and cooking. Ideas have now been generated for forthcoming dinners!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Vile" claims by Labour chief whip on Lib Dems

Labour Chief Whip, Nick Brown MP, has now stooped to the lowest of the low with outrageous and "vile" allegations of electoral fraud and cheating against Lib Dem run Newcastle City Council.

The row involves the decision of Newcastle Council, supported incidentally by a majority of Labour councillors on the authority's constitutional committee, to hold general election counts on the day after polling day. Brown claims, "Leaving blank ballot papers and lists of those who haven't voted and the ballot boxes all together in the same place overnight is not a reassuring prospect. The scope for fraud is obvious."

He then went on to claim, "I wouldn't trust Newcastle Liberal Democrats to be left alone with the blank ballot papers and ballot boxes overnight."

The unfounded and untrue allegations that Newcastle Liberal Democrats are corruptly abusing the electoral process really are "vile". That was the description applied in response by Newcastle City Lib Dems.

It should be remembered that the person making these despicable, vile and untrue claims is the Government's chief whip. This is the level to which those in the heart of Labour have now sunk. And I suspect it is a foretaste of the Labour campaign in the general election battle to come.

Brown however may have shot himself in both feet whilst placing them both in his mouth. Our regional newspaper, The Journal, was distinctly unimpressed by his disgusting claims. According to their leader column, his comments were "outrageous" and, "Such shameful politicking has the power to impair his party's cause."

Now we await the announcement, assuming they make one, of Newcastle Labour's distancing of themselves from Nick Brown. Let's hope we are not kept waiting.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Regrets, I have a few, but there again, too few to mention

You would have thought that there would have been at least a vague hint of contrition from Alistair Campbell. Perhaps a small concession to the obvious reality that Labour got it utterly wrong over the war. But no, nothing of the sort. As far as Campbell was concerned, he had no regrets at all. He stood by the "evidence" that weapons of mass production existed in Iraq and said Britain should be "proud" of her role in the Iraq invasion.

It will be interesting to see what Hoon, Straw and of course Brown and Blair have to say when they get their grilling from the Iraq inquiry.
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Some more snow pics

Yes, I've been out with the camera and snapped a few photos around my ward. Here are some of them:

Sandy Lonnen Jan 10 no 13

Sandy Lonnen Jan 10 no 7

Sandy Lonnen Jan 10 no 2

The three above are of the Sandy Lonnen, the medieval lane that runs from the Derwent Valley, between Whickham and Sunniside. We walked down it on Sunday to go to Hollinside Manor House. Here are some of the photos we took when we got there.

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 38

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 33
(and through the square window)

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 17
(I can imagine that this one will end up appearing on Xmas cards later this year!)

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 6
(I was not half feeling the cold at this point!)

The following is the railway viaduct in the Derwent Valley. I put the telescopic lens on the camera and snapped it from Hollinside.

Derwent Valley rail viaduct Jan 10 no 4

Labour didn't repair the roof when the sun shone!:

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 4
(Taken near Hollinside, I think the derelict building is an old farm worker's cottage)

Out filming for my latest snow epic movie:

Jonathan and camera Jan 10

Is that an icicle in your hands or are you just pleased to see me?:

Icicle Jan 10

Labour suicide tendency dents poll position

Today's poll in the Times putting the Tories at 41%, with Labour on 28% and us on 19%, does not show any significant degree of difference from the previous poll picture. In other words the position of Labour continues to be dire. The behaviour of the Hewitt-Hoon Labour Suicide Action Team has hardly helped their own party to make the recovery they need to stand any chance of salvaging even a vaguely respectable result at the general election.

At 28%, Labour are on the same share as they won in 1983, their worst general election proportion since 1922. Even in 1931, when Labour dropped to only 50 seats, Labour's share of the vote was over 30%. In 1983, tactical voting barely registered as a factor. In the past three general elections, tactical voting has significantly reduced the number of Conservative seats and artifically boosted the number of Labour ones. The same could happen in the 2010 election, only in reverse for Labour. Gordon Brown's party could be heading for their worst ever result since the first world war.

This is of course speculation. There is a possibility of a rise in Labour support in the polls as people move away from a mid-term view of politics. Nevertheless, Labour are leaving it late in the day to get into winning form and at the moment I see no signs of the late surge coming.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives are yet to close the deal with the voters and the final general election result could leave them short of a majority. The final result is likely to hinge on what happens in individual constituencies. With a national swing less applicable than for decades, there remains all to play for in those constituencies where a change of control could take place. For those of us involved in campaigns in Labour held seats, such as our constituency here in Blaydon, Hewitt and Hoon have been a godsend. (I hear Hoon may now be in trouble with his local party in Ashfield and it waits to be seen whether or not that helps boost the Lib Dem candidate, Jason Zadrozny, in a constituency that has developed as a winnable one for us.)

So, at a time when Labour need to be recovering, their own suicide tendency have dented their own ratings. Whilst minor in its own right, it is a classic characteristic of a party that is losing the will to win.

Monday, January 11, 2010

After a day of writing press releases

Today has been a day for writing news releases and sorting candidate photos. So we are taking a few hours off this evening to celebrate David's new job. The interview was this morning. So we walked down to the Marquis of Granby pub, near our village of Sunniside (it is one of the historic pubs of the area). The meal is ordered. And I am drinking a pint of guest ale called "Brains"!
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Friday, January 08, 2010

Time travelling MP demands vote in debate that never happened

You couldn't make this up! Some MPs think their mission in life is to sign as many early day motions as possible. New one, old ones, completely out-of-date ones! They'll sign them. And that's when they start to get into difficulties.

So step forward time-travelling David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon. Mr Anderson loves EDMs. The more, the merrier. He signed around 600 in the past year, though that's less than some EDM junkies.

Anyway, here's one of the EDM's he signed:

That this House welcomes the Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau Bill as a long overdue reform; believes that it will provide the necessary mechanism to ensure compensation for employees who suffer injury, illness or disease as a consequence of the acts or omissions of a negligent, but uninsured employer, or an employer who has ceased trading and whose insurers cannot be traced; notes that the provisions of the Bill would particularly benefit sufferers of diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, which are often diagnosed long after the negligent response to harm; and urges all hon. Members and the Government to give the Bill a second reading on 13 March 2009 and a fast passage through committee.

It all seems proper and in order. Except.......

This EDM was the last one signed by Mr Anderson in the 2008/9 year. According to the Parliament website, Mr Anderson put his name to it on 11th November 2009. "Better late than never" could be Mr Anderson's defence for signing a call to action 8 months after the event has passed. Unless of course, Mr Anderson has invented his very own Tardis and is able to whip his colleagues back 8 months to March so they can vote in the debate mentioned!

But the story doesn't end there. It is reasonable to assume that having put his signature to the EDM late, he was at least present on 13 March 2009 to take part in the debates and vote that day. Alas, a quick check on the votes taken that day show Mr Anderson was not present!

Nice one Dave!

The story however doesn't end there either! It gets even more interesting.

I have no doubt that Mr Anderson was committed to the Bill. He has a record of campaigning on the illnesses mentioned in the EDM and his concerns are genuinely held. But....

The vote on the bill did not take place on 13th March 2009. In fact, it never took place at all. The bill was abandoned before 13th March 2009 by its sponsor Andrew Dismore MP!

So, 8 months after the event that never took place, Mr Anderson asks colleagues to attend and vote on a day he himself was not present on a bill that had been dumped before the non-existent vote could (but did not) take place.

Mr Anderson must therefore be appreciated for his ability to make politics that bit more interesting!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow photos

I couldn't let the last few days go by without a few photos.

Team Valley snow Jan 10 no 2

This one's a bit fuzzy as I took it from the train on the way home from London on Tuesday. It's the Team Valley with Lobley Hill in the background.

Sunniside snow Jan 10 no 14

A bird in the hand is worth two in the snow! Our bird table in our back garden in Sunniside, feeling the weight of all the snow.

Sunniside snow Jan 10 no 5

Our back garden yesterday morning. A bit more snow has arrived since then.

Sunniside snow Jan 10 no 3

Breaking the ice: well, thawing a bit of it on our barrel pond. David melted the surface to allow in oxygen for the fish.

Sunniside snow Jan 10 no 8

Down at the bottom of the garden and David applies WD40 to the shed just to unlock it.

snow from train Jan 10 no 11

This one I took from the train on Tuesday whilst travelling at high speed. I think it is somewhere in North Yorkshire.

Allotment snow Jan 10 no 5

Our fruitcage, straining under the weight of snow on our allotment.

Allotment snow Jan 10 no 1

The allotment yesterday just before sundown with the snow cleared from the greenhouse and fruitcage.

Allotment snow Jan 10 no 2

The allotments in the Whinnies, Sunniside, just after sunset, yesterday. Ours is off the picture, to the left.

Fizz and Ice: the Labour leadership crisis

As predicted, the latest Labour leadership crisis didn't even melt any ice, never mind put the skids under Brown. A short fizz and then nothing. So the latest bout of infighting has simply damaged Labour. Quite what Hoon and Hewitt were thinking when they went off half cock is difficult to work out. Perhaps the cold has affected their ability to think sensibly (as far as Labour are concerned.)

What I find more interesting however is the slowness of the chief cabinet members to come forth with gushing praise for Brown. This probably said more about internal Labour dynamics than the fizz of the Hoon-Hewitt self-indulgence. It shows that whilst cabinet members accept Brown is there to stay til the election, there is absolutely no enthusiasm for him at all. They are stuck with him because they have lacked the will to dump him previously and because Brown has been very good at using his office to maintain his own position.

Labour are in an ice age of their own making. The slow-moving glacial Gordon is here to stay a little longer. The chances are that political warming will come with the election. Brown may melt away then but that is not certain. After all, events of the last three years show he has a remarkable ability to survive, even if the cost of that is serious damage to his own party.
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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Labour turn their guns on themselves

Does Labour suffer from a suicide tendency? Are they really sufficiently off their trolley to take pot shots at themselves rather than their opponents right at the start of the unofficial election campaign? The answer seems to be yes. Just when Brown and Darling seemed to score a successful hit against Cameron on the married people's tax, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt come sweeping in from the cold and like a couple of abominable snowmen amongst the Labour pigeons are causing chaos.

Were I a Labour member (and thankfully I am not) I would be in a state of despair. This action seems to be uncoordinated. It is not a major conspiracy in which large numbers of Labour MPs are taking part. So, yet again, Brown, who won't be prised out of office before the election, is faced with individual, irresponsible, self-righteous cranks who think they can bring down the PM. Blears and Purnell last year thought they could bring down Brown. All they did was wreck their own party.

Brown is secure as leader until the election. Any attempt to dislodge him by disgruntled Labour MPs will simply be an internal row that damages Labour. So Labour must have taken leave of their senses, on the eve of the election. It's not the longest suicide note in history but it is certainly the longest political self-strangulation session on record.
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tories rewrite history

If only the Tories had a Tardis of their own. They would be able to go back in time and change the past rather than talking in the present as if their own history were different to what it is. The issue at point here is the Tory attempt to claim they were conned into supporting the Iraq invasion. Chris Grayling has just had a go at Alan Johnson in the Commons about this, whilst debating the recent attempted bombing of an airliner in the US. The Tory posturing is that they were conned into supporting the war. No word about the others, especially the Lib Dems, who questioned the dodgy dossier. No mention of the Tories as the cheer leaders for war. No mention of the fact the Tories failed in their duty as the opposition to hold the government to account.

Watch out for forthcoming general election claims by the Tories that they were opposed to the war, supported nationalisation of the banks and opposed privatisation of the railways. The Tory Tardis will need to be in overdrive.
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Half baked policies give Tories indigestion

It was good to see the Tories in a mess yesterday over their policy on tax breaks for married couples. This Tory bit of social engineering deserved to give them trouble. In the morning it was merely an aspiration. In the afternoon, it was changed to be a hard core policy but with no explanation whatsoever as to how they would pay for it.

I wonder how many more of their half-baked policies are going to give the Tories political indigestion. Still, it could lead to some interesting Tory cock-ups during the 4 month election campaign. I suspect there will be a number of them.
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Heading North

I am currently sitting on a train heading north to Newcastle, having spent the Xmas/New Year break in London. There is no snow in London but the news says it has fallen heavily in Yorkshire. The result is East Coast services have been delayed. I seem to be the lucky one. My train is only 9 minutes late. We have not, however, got as far as Yorkshire. David returned home over the weekend and has sent me a message to tell me the snow has fallen back home. With a load of Focuses to deliver, that is not good news.
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Monday, January 04, 2010

Let battle commence

Actually, it has already begun with both Tories and Labour engaging in high profile political cross dressing. Yes, Election 2010 is underway and the first skirmishes have taken place. The Conservatives claim to be in love with the NHS - and I can imagine A&E depts of NHS hospitals today being flooded with people who fell off their seats laughing at the Tory claims. Meanwhile, Chancellor Darling highlights gaps in the Tory spending plans, carefully overlooking the rather interesting gaps in his own PreBudget Report.

Meanwhile Cameron complains about the widening gap between rich and poor under Brown. Alas, his claim is true. How his plans for inheritance tax cuts for millionaires and giving wealthy couples a tax break simply because they are married will solve this crisis is not clear.

Anyway, we now have 4 months of this. Enjoy it whilst it lasts!
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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Fighting for everything he has got?

No early election, screams BBC News 24. And then you look at what Gordon Brown said. He expects a Labour budget. That was the basis for the no early election claim. Whilst 6th May remains the most likely date, nothing he said rules out 25th March, the date that would allow Labour to go to the polls without having a budget. Still, I would put my money on 6th May, were I a betting person (which I am not!)

One interesting point I heard Brown make on the Andrew Marr programme was his claim that he had always had to fight for what he has. That isn't quite how I remember the Labour leadership election in 2007. That was a Stalinist triumph of an unopposed coronation. It happened because Brown's opponents had previously been bullied and brow-beaten into inaction and because Labour are stuffed full of spineless jellies looking for a place in government. But Brown hardly had to "fight" for the leadership. A little bit of rewriting of history is a favourite activity by Labour!
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My less-than-happy highlights of 2009

I could not think of 10 but I do have 8, and they are not in any order:

Shock of Paris prices: I went to Paris in June, the first time in 7 years. Last time I was there, the Europhobes were rubbing their hands at the thought of the Euro doing badly and the banking system was sucking vast amounts of money into the UK with the result of the pound going sky high in value. How times change. I was horrified at how expensive Paris has become. Even a cheap meal cost an arm and a leg.

Death of Freda: Freda was my cat. She was nearly 21 years old so in cat years she was super-elderly. Nevertheless, her going in October was still a shock.

Death of Margaret: Margaret was my aunt, Dad's half sister. There is a great family history to be told, and I will tell it soon, but the key feature of the story is that Dad and Margaret did not meet until 7 years ago when he was 72 and she was 89. Alas, Margaret died in October.

Missing the heatwave whilst in Norway: the heatwave that was predicted to last for ages in the summer lasted a week. Typical that I should be in Iceland and Norway when it happened! Still, I got to experience daylight at midnight. And that was spooky!

Wrecking hard drive: October was a really shitty month for things going wrong. Having experienced the loss of Margaret and Freda, I proceeded to drop an external hard drive on which were stored thousands of documents, photos and videos. Fortunately, the vast majority of documents were back up copies. But not all of them. Most I have now recovered from other sources but not all.

Wrecking the video camera: as if wrecking the hard drive was not enough, I followed it up the next day by dropping the video camera. With the camera wrecked, and a trip to Morocco coming up, I had to do an urgent search for a new camera on the internet. And in a sense, the accident turned out to have a silver lining. I had planned to buy a new, professional camera at some point and set up a small business to make videos (mainly for Lib Dem candidates and for small businesses). As a result of buying the camera, I am now in business earlier than I expected! The amusing point about all this is that the new camera arrived just in time for me to take to Morocco (one hour later and I would have missed it.) And when I got to Marrakech and made my first visit to my first location on my first day, I wasn't allowed to bring in the camera. The guards thought I was from a tv company and despite protestations to the contrary, they were convinced that the camera I had was only used by professional tv programme makers! So I put the camera away and got out a small camcorder I had borrowed from a friend and which I had brought along as a backup.

Shambles of Sunniside junction traffic lights: we are now into our third year of promises and deadlines from Gateshead Council over proposals to put in traffic lights on the busy Front St/Sunniside Rd junction in Sunniside village. Three years ago we got the council to agree to put them in. And we are still waiting. Every few months we get a new deadline and none have seen the lights introduced. The last deadline was December. We are of course in January and there are still no lights. What a shambles by Labour Gateshead.

Remaining beds in allotment: my plan for 2009 was to bring the remaining uncultivated beds on my allotment into use. We got two of them going but two still remain. So lots of hard graft still to do.

So that's the not-so-good side of 2009 for me personally.
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My top ten highlights of 2009

Happy New Year everyone, including all my avid Labour Party readers in Gateshead! I thought that I would bring you my personal highlights of 2009 whilst sitting at Crystal Palace station waiting for the train to arrive to take me to Westminster

So here are the top 10 positive highlights, in reverse order:

10)Reaching the milestone of 750,000 viewings on YouTube. I got there at the end of June. The even better news is that I am now approaching one million viewings. Give it 6 weeks or so and I reckon I'll be there.

9)The Government's defeat over the Gurkhas: I was there to witness it. Well sort of. I got a call in Cowley St when the vote went against the Government. "Get your butt over to Parliament and get some photos and video done!" Being in the crowd outside Parliament was quite something. And seeing the line up of snivelling hypocrite Labour MPs who had signed the EDM calling for the Gurkhas to stay only to vote the opposite way shortly afterwards was quite something as well.

8)Visiting Morocco: I was there for two weeks in November. Facebook friends have already had to endure my photos, as have visitors to my Flickr site. The videos will be coming soon!

7)Being the victim of attacks carried out by Cllr Mick Henry: this really was fun! And thanks to the Labour Leader on Gateshead Council, who spent a large part of the council meeting in October attacking me, and constantly interrupting me, my profile and standing in my group went up significantly. Keep up the good work Mick!

6)Whale watching in the North Atlantic: early July saw me in the North Atlantic armed with binoculars to spot whales, east of Iceland.

5)Building the greenhouse: we built it on the allotment in January and February and immediately saw it go into crop production. The video I made about building it has been an incredibly minor success on YouTube in the US, for some odd reason.

4)Fiona Hall's re-election: I attended the Gateshead count for the Euro elections and we were all nervous about whether or not Fiona would hold on as Lib Dem Euro MP for the North East. I drove home after the count and waited only a few minutes for the result to come through. The UKIP surge we had feared had not been enough. And happily, Gateshead saw a higher share for the Lib Dems than the average across both the region and the UK.

3)Stokkur geyser: a must visit when in Iceland so I visited it in July. Don't worry if you miss it going up when you first arrive. It goes off every five minutes. Quite an amazing natural feature.

Joint first)Leaving Cowley St/Crops from allotment: these two are actually closely linked. I loved my job at Cowley St but I also had a long list of other things I wanted to do. June was, I felt, the right time to leave. Now I am heading for self-sufficiency, though we have plenty still to do. We are looking for more progress in 2010. And leaving Cowley St also means that I am able to put much more time into battling Labour in Gateshead!

Coming up soon, my negative highlights!
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