Saturday, February 27, 2010

The calm before the storm

I am due in Oxfordshire tomorrow to do a set of photos for one of the constituencies there. Inevitably, I have been paying attention to the weather forecasts. Typically, a massive storm is on its way. It is somewhere over the Iberian Peninsula at the moment but it is expected to hit southern England tomorrow. So I am likely to get rather wet.

Currently it is patchy sun. The calm before the storm.

Talking of calm before the storm, for the first time ever the Conservatives have put out a leaflet outside an election in Blaydon constituency. Actually, come to think of it, they never normally put out leaflets even during local elections in Blaydon either.

Anyway, it's an 8 page leaflet all about the local links of the candidate (well, a bit about the local links and the rest about the Tories nationally). Alas, I can reveal however that the candidate actually lives over 400km from Blaydon in Tunbridge Wells. It inspires headlines about "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".

He complains in his leaflet that Blaydon is "dominated by the Lib Dem - Labour political machines". It sounds like an admission of no Tory action in the area. Anyway, I doubt this candidate will be looking to sweep to victory. His party scored a whopping 8% here at the last general election. Tory efforts will be directed at places like Tynemouth instead.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mad Mad World of Labour in Northumberland

I blogged recently on the absurd and ridiculous posturing of Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley in Northumberland. One week he was slagging off the Lib Dem minority administration in the county for supporting an equestrian event which he dubbed "a weekend outing for toffs" and the following week he was full of praise for the event.

Ronnie comes from a Labour tradition in Northumberland of bluster, inconsistency and shambolic posturing. His Labour colleagues on the county illustrated that tradition yesterday.

Northumberland had been run by Labour for decades until 2008 when they crashed to third party status in the elections. The Lib Dems leapfrogged everyone to become the first party but without a majority. No vote in council can therefore be taken for granted and the story of the past couple of years has been one of Labour and Tory grandstanding and, especially with the Tories, blocking a proposed policy at a council meeting and then abstaining on it when it is brought back in exactly the same form the following month. An abstention in effect counts as a vote to let it through.

This year's budget process has followed the same path. On 10th February, Tories and Labour joined forces in an unholy alliance to vote out the budget despite having no alternative of their own tabled at the meeting. Yesterday the same budget came back with only one very minor change. The Tories announced they were going to abstain. Then someone got up from the Labour group and announced that they had originally planned to abstain but on seeing the Tories were doing just that, they would now vote against!

An interesting uturn performed in the middle of a meeting.

I attended the Northumberland council meeting on 10th February (I missed the one yesterday as I am filming in London this week but I was told what happened as soon as the meeting was over.) What I witnessed earlier this month was the most unbelievably shambolic shower that has ever passed itself off as a Labour group. Some Labour contributions must have made any sensible Labour member cringe with embarrassment. They were so bad they were funny.

With people like that dominating Labour in Northumberland, a speedy recovery for Gordon Brown's party in the county is looking less and less likely.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

What if...? The Gordon Brown survival manual

I've just finished a weekend of filming and photographing candidates and I'm sitting on the train at London Bridge waiting to go back to the flat. The news is of Brown the bully in the press. Well, this is hardly news. He's known for brooding and being bad tempered. Basically he is not well tailored for the job of PM.

Nevertheless, PM he currently is. How long he remains is yet to be seen. There are a number of different possible outcomes at the general election. The most likely, which I have argued for the past two years, is that there will be no overall majority majority for any party. Labour losing does not mean the Conservatives have won. What if Labour loses but is still the largest party? What happens to Brown then?

Does Labour continue in office and if so, with Brown as Leader and PM? Losing a Parliamentary majority at the election is not necessarily a requirement to leave office. If Labour were to remain in office, could they get rid of Brown if they wanted to? Certainly his determination to hold on has been demonstrated over the past two years. Indeed, it could be a scenario in which Brown feels more secure: the election behind him, the Tories haven't won, he's still in office, Labour are trying to run a majority government. Hardly the time to attempt a prime ministerial political assassination.

And even if Labour are not the largest party, Brown may still survive as long as the Tories are short of a majority. The chances are, there will be a second election (I would put my money on May 2011 if I were a betting man - which I am not.) Labour may want to avoid a leadership challenge if they go into opposition to a minority Conservative government for fear that a bout of infighting could tempt the Tories to go even earlier and tempt the country to give Cameron a majority.

So Brown the bully? Tell us something we didn't know. Brown the quitter? No, he isn't! We may all be stuck with him for some time to come. His survival manual would certainly make for interesting reading.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

James Purnell photoshops himself out of politics

Former cabinet minister who turned out to be a failed anti-Brown suicide bomber, James Purnell, has announced he is to leave Parliament at the general election. So another Labour MP, and another Blairite, passes through the Labour resignation floodgates.

Apart from his attempt to sink Brown the moment the Euro-election polls closed last year, Purnell is memorable for only one other event. He was late for a photo call at a hospital in Greater Manchester, so he had himself photoshopped into the photo he missed. Now he has photoshopped himself out of politics.
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On a train but no sign of Nicholas Winterton

I have just got onto a very crowded train heading from Newcastle to London. Standard class, please note. For ten years I did the weekly commute to London and in most instances I travelled by cattle waggon class. Sometimes I would get my hands on a cheap first class ticket. But not very often and not today.

So the comments by Tory MP Nicholas Winterton really caught my attention. He doesn't want to mix with the sort of people who frequent standard class. They will disturb him, they look over his shoulder, generally they are from the lower orders and should know their place in society is certainly not something that merits first class. Nasty Nick, it seems, wants to travel with nice businessmen in the comfort of first class, paid for by the taxpayer.

Well, many businessmen travel standard class. It's precisely what I am doing now. I'm heading to London not because I want a jolly time, but because I run a business and I have 20 customers there who I am seeing over the coming week. All businessmen know that the business will fail if costs aren't kept under control. The smaller the business, the more the lid has to be kept on costs.

Nasty Nick's comments are both offensive and inaccurate. And on the small number of times I have travelled first class, I don't find the people there behave any differently than those travelling in standard class at the other end of the train. The only difference in first class is that people have more room and comfort to behave like people in standard class. But his comments also show he just does not get it when it comes to the expenses saga.

I guess all political parties suffer from loose canons. Certainly the Wintertons have been firing off in all directions over the past year. The good news is that it's the Conservatives who have been damaged the most by his self-destructive actions.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Horse fetish MP" gallops to u-turn but fails to scare the horses!

It's official! There's only one entry in this year's Anti-Toff Class War Gold Cup and the runner in this prestigious horse race is Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, riding his horse, Class Warrior. Ronnie, bless him, has been providing us with light entertainment and amusing relief from the realities of politics for many years. His ability to avoid serious political comment is well respected despite the competition from some of his Labour colleagues for the glamorous position of "MP Least Likely To Be Taken Seriously".

Unfortunately however, the Anti-Toff Class War Gold Cup 2010 one horse race has ended in disaster with Ronnie falling at the first U-turn! Last week Ronnie laid into Lib Dem run Northumberland Council for supporting an equestrian event in this otherwise rural county where the economy is heavily dependent on tourists visiting and spending wads of cash in local hotels, shops and businesses. (Though there is an urban area in the South East of the county which is represented by Ronnie in Parliament.)

According to Ronnie, the equestrian event was a "weekend outing for toffs". He implied that the cash for this horsey event (from the government's Working Neighbourhoods Fund) should be spent instead on social care for his elderly constituents, despite his own government strictly forbidding the money being spent in that way (it has to be spent on projects that boosts employment).

But, as Ronnie approached the first bend in the race, lots of local residents laid into him for his comments. So Ronnie has changed horses mid way through the race. Class Warrior has been abandoned in favour of a new horse called Toffs Are Welcome Here!

Yes, Ronnie has turned from Class Warrior into New Labour, New Toffs, We-Love-The-Rich-and-Especially-Their-Horses Warrior in the space of just a few days.

According to Ronnie, the confusion over his position is because the local press "has not fully understood the point I was making." Apparently, when Ronnie says that public cash should not be spent on a "weekend outing for toffs", what he means is: let's spend lots of cash on this wonderful event to attract these wonderful people and their horses to Northumberland." Just how Ronnie was misunderstood is beyond me!

This however is not Ronnie's first hoof-in-mouth experience when it comes to horses. Not that long ago Ronnie, bless him, was approached by the organisers of National Fetish Day to wear something purple to support the cause. Ronnie obliged and promised to wear a purple shirt (we don't know if it was a jockey shirt).

But when approached by a local newspaper to be asked why he was backing the fetish cause, Ronne, bless him, explained that he thought the word fetish meant "Worry, like worrying about backing the wrong horse." !!!!!

Ronnie may not yet scare the horses but it is time to put him out to grass!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Latest edition of Northern Democrat

This is the latest edition of Northern Democrat. Number 48, it features the two visits by Nick Clegg to the North East. Alas, I missed both visits as I was tied up on business on each of them (shooting videos for other people) so my thanks go to the regional office for supplying the photos of the visit.

Northern Democrat No 48 Feb 10

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Football hooligan" set to be chosen as Labour candidate

Labour will announce their candidate for Wansbeck constituency in Northumberland on Monday where they are defending a majority of 10,000. Favourite to win the nomination is National Union of Miners boss Ian Lavery. Given Mr Lavery's background, the Blairites must be turning, indeed spinning, in their graves. Mr Lavery, it turns out, has convictions for football hooliganism, according to the Mail and Times.

Mr Lavery's football related crime allegations go back to 1985 when he was successfully prosecuted. According to the Mail, he was also arrested 6 times for activities carried out during the failed and botched miners strike in 1984-5.

In 2005, according to the Mail, he claimed he had 'absolutely no respect for the police'. He also claims to be the 'natural successor to Arthur Scargill'.

And when Lady Thatcher went into hospital last year, apparently he said, 'I for one would not be sorry had Thatcher not been coming out of hospital.'

Mr Lavery seems to come from Labour's Jurassic era. Deep mining has gone from Wansbeck. The area is changing. Morpeth is the main town in the constituency and is full of residents who have never had anything to do with coal mining, or football hooliganism, who would be horrified with Mr Lavery's record. Morpeth is also a substantially Liberal Democrat town.

Ashington, one of the other towns in the constituency, has also seen the rise of the Lib Dems in recent years.

So, Wansbeck could make for an interesting battle in the general election.

Finally, I have experienced being in a meeting that has been addressed by Mr Lavery. It was on 19th January 2008. This is the tongue-in-cheek piece I wrote in my diary following the meeting:
Ian Lavery, big honcho in the NUM gave a presentation on "clean coal". ...

We heard an hour's rant about the failure of the government to back coal and how disgraceful was the decision of the government to build new nuclear power stations. (At last, something with which I could agree.)

And Mr Lavery's solution to global warming - more coalfired power stations. After all, if the Chinese can do so, why not the Brits?

Mr Lavery's Old Labour bull in the New Labour chinashop style speech (hereafter refered to as a lot of old bull) even found time to hero worship St Arthur Scargill, saviour of the coal industry in the 1980s when evil Baroness Thatcher of Falkland Island attempted to boost the tourism industry of the UK by converting pits into museums.

Mind you, I have seen before Labour candidates indulging in pathetic political posturing to win selection as candidate. But once elected they turn into poodles, doing as they are told by the Labour whips, voting for privatisation, Trident, new nuclear power stations, higher taxes on the poor and so on. Everything they said they were against.

Meanwhile, the Lavery article in the Mail can be found at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Purile drivel from this ridiculous MP

Ronnie Campbell is the Labour MP for Blyth Valley. He never got off the backbenchers. Somehow, neither Blair nor Brown saw fit to bring him into government. With Campbell's most recent pronouncements, it is not difficult to see why his "abilities" have not been put to any use by Labour Prime Ministers (if indeed any use can be put to his "abilities.)

Mr Campbell loves to fight the class war. Indeed, I remember when he was first elected in 1987, he made a big fuss about accepting only an "working class" wage, rather than the pay of an MP. That was quietly dropped and more recently the expenses scandal drove him to offer to repay thousands he claimed for purchases bought in shops that most of us would regard as not normally frequented by the "working classes".

Anyway Mr Campbell's most recent move has been to attack Lib Dem run Northumberland County Council for supporting an equestrian event which he dubbed "a weekend for toffs". So, what is all the fuss about?

The County Council has provided a grant from the Government's Working Neighbourhood Fund of £80,000 to support the equestrian event in rural Northumberland. So that means the event had to be agreed by the government in the first place. The benefit to the local economy of this event is great. 5,000 visitors buying local services and staying in local hotels. Think of the jobs. Think of the extra money ringing through the tills of local businesses.

Mr Campbell doesn't think of them. He said, "It is a weekend out for toffs...making sure the rich and the so-called elite of the county have a good weekend out."

He then suggested the money could be spent on care of the elderly and disabled. That of course would not be allowed by his own government. The money can only be spent on activities that boost employment.

The area where the event will be held is very rural. Equestrian businesses are important to the local economy, as are hotels and other tourist centres. Mr Campbell may look back in sorrow at the loss of the old, heavy industries but the world has moved on. Mr Campbell hasn't and he prefers to fight a class war rather than work with the local council to help find new jobs in the real world.

I'm glad to see that Northumberland Council's leader, Jeff Reid, put the boot in on Mr Campbell this morning. And it's time to scrutinise much more Mr Campbell's claims, words and actions more closely. Watch this space!
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Monday, February 08, 2010

So Cameron is disgusted?

David Cameron is "disgusted" that Labour MPs are attempting to hide behind the Bill of Rights and Parliamentary privilege to avoid prosecution for expenses fraud. Errrr, what about feeling disgusted about the Tory peer who is doing the same?

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Student fees: an interesting example of Labour forgetting their own decisions

In my occasional monitoring of what candidates from other parties are saying, I came across this video from Labour's Luke Pollard who is contesting what is for Labour the no hope seat of Devon South West. It is about a meeting hosted by the National Union of Students on the issue of tuition fees.

Mr Pollard is joined by Linda Gilroy, a Labour MP in Plymouth. Judging by what both said, any viewer would be forgiven for thinking tuition fees had nothing to do with Labour and that the Labour government was on the brink of a vast reform that will sweep away the problems created by charging students for their education. It certainly doesn't sound like a party that created the system in the first place.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

One million viewings on YouTube

Well, I have hit the milestone. One million viewings of my videos on YouTube. Or to be precise, 1,000,012.

So if you want to boost my viewings (and my advertising revenue as well!) visit my channel at

My top video is "Inside a former secret, Soviet, submarine base" which I filmed inside a nuclear bomb proof submarine bunker inside a mountain in the Crimea, Ukraine, in 2006. It has 142,507 viewings, boosted by its status as a YouTube featured video.

Number 2 is the video I shot on the London Eye. I filmed this on a cheap Casio camera that had no microphone. Viewing figures are 138,125.

Number 3 is Copacabbana Beach in Rio de Janiero where I also happened to film the QEII sailing out into the Atlantic. 85,936 viewings.

Number 4 is now the fastest rising on my site. Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai. It's the world's only 7 star hotel. Alas, I wasn't staying there. 63,665 viewings.

Number 5 is "Santiago de Cuba", filmed in 2006 in Cuba. 35,416 viewings.

Number 6 is "View from the Petronas Towers" which I filmed from the Skybridge between the two towers, 43 storeys up. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, they are worth a visit. 20,178 viewings.

Number 7 is "Gauchos and Horse Riding" which I filmed on a ranch in Argentina in 2005. 17,085 viewings.

Number 8 is "New York at Night from the Empire State Building" which was recently become a YouTube featured video. 16,017 viewings but likely to rise faster now. I filmed this in 2003though only more recently added it to YouTube.

Number 9 is "Cruise on the Nile" which I filmed in January 2005. Whilst everyone was freezing back in Britain, I was getting hot with the camera in temperatures of 30C! 15,801 viewings.

And number 10 is "Pyramids and the Sphinx", filmed in November 2004. 14,606 viewings.

So, it seems my travel videos are getting many more viewings that my gardening, cooking, self-sufficiency and political videos.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Searched under Terrorism Act

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gives the police the right to stop and search people who are taking photos in public places. Well, there I was next to the Churchill statue in Parliament Sq this morning, waiting for some MPs and candidates to turn up and have their pictures taken when I found a policeman standing next to me. I was actually working on my blackberry at that point.

Anyway, he asked me what I was doing, asked for some for of ID (he had to make do with my debit card) and looked inside my bag. It contained one Nikon SLR and one Sony video camera, a notebook, a pen and a pair of sunglasses and two microphones and spare tapes for the camera. He didn't ask to see the contents of the camera. All it contained however was 100 photos of John Barrett MP taken half an hour earlier.

The policeman filled in a form and in the process asked if I was "white British". It left me wondering if I were checked just so the numbers of non-whites stopped and searched didn't look too disproportionate.

Parliament Sq is of course full of foreign tourists snapping away at one of the most famous buildings in the world. And the image of Parliament is already spread around the globe. Quite what can be gained from stopping and searching in this way and in this location is not clear. Anyway, I cooperated. My details were checked. They were happy I was not an Islamic bomber or a member of the militant wing of the Green Allotments Liberation Front (or the Front for the Liberation of Green Allotments!)

I really wonder whether or not this is a good use of police time. Is it effective? Is it being used sensibly? I was under the impression that the last time there was a hoohaa about section 44, the government said it should be used sparingly and sensitively.

Given that so many photographers have been stopped and searched under this legislation, I'm not sure whether it should be a badge of honour or treated as an infringement of my right to go about my legitimate activities. Discuss.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Clare Short speaks with the benefit of bitter hindsight

The remarkable attack today by Clare Short on Blair and Brown over Iraq at the Chilcot Inquiry may have the power to produce headlines but it doesn't throw much light on her own role. She spoke with an incredible degree of bitterness and a considerable amount of hindsight. Her claim that the Cabinet was misled by legal officers claiming the war was legal is all very well but there were clear doubts being expressed at the time, not just about the legality, but also about the moral case for war and about the evidence. Frank Cook, her Cabinet colleague, did resign before the war. She resigned after the invasion. And I wonder whether her allegations of being marginalised by Blair are more to do with the possibility Blair was likely to find her a waste of space rather than a troublesome minister with a mind of her own.

Don't get me wrong, I opposed the war as I thought at the time the evidence was shallow and unbelievable. Clare Short however looks like someone rewriting history to obscure the fact she didn't take a stand until it was far too late.
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Tories - like nailing jelly to a wall

First there was the Tory plan for social engineering and making marriage into a tax avoidance scheme. The policy changed twice in one day. Now we have spending plans mark II. The Tories re not, as of this weekend, going to be tough on spending, well, not this week at any rate. Maybe next week they will be.

Press the Tories hard enough on any policy and they will change it. Pinning them down on what they believe in and will do in government is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

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