Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What the constitution permits

We don't have a written constitution in Britain though there are some constitutional laws that are part of our written statute. We have an unwritten constitution much of which has been set by convention and previous actions. Interestingly, much of the constitution grew out of a period when the concept of a political party was a great deal more woolly than it is now. Parliamentary majorities in the earlier nineteenth century were not always easy to define. And throughout our history, including during the 20th century, there are many examples of minority governments. In my lifetime we had minority Labour government in 1974 and 1976 to 1979 and minority Conservative governments in February 1974 (for 2 days after the election) and in the mid 1990s when a bunch of Eurosceptic MPs were suspended from the Conservative Parliamentary party.

There is no requirement on a Prime Minister to resign after losing a majority. John Major didn't, Ted Heath took 2 days after the election to resign in 1974 whilst coalition talks took place with the Liberals (talks that failed). British history is littered with examples of majorities lost at elections but governments continuing in office.

So it is odd that it comes as a surprise to the media that Brown may continue in office if no one party wins a majority in the coming election. As I have pointed out before, this is perfectly constitutional. It may not be liked by the people, it may feel to many that it is not in the spirit of democracy, but it is legally correct. Alas, that's what our written constitution has given us. It should of course be changed. After an election, the Commons should be allowed to vote for who is PM, rather than having a summons to the Palace.

What all this does is highlight the need to overhaul our constitution and have it written down.
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Newcastle update

The campaign in Newcastle is going well and I have been lined up to do some deliveries later this week in Central. Talking of which, I mentioned a few days ago on my blog that there seems to be an interesting split developing in the Labour vote in parts of Newcastle Central. Westgate ward in particular was reporting that people were voting for Nick Forbes as the local councillor but not all the Labour vote was transferring over to Labour for the general election.

I now learn that Cllr Forbes in not up for election this year, which makes me wonder what will happen to his local vote. My spies tell me that not a single person canvassed mentioned the name of the other 2 Labour councillors in the ward. Seems as though profiles win prizes!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The return of Blair

It's nearly three years since Blair was pushed out by Labour. Remember the relief all those "socialists" in the Labour party exhibited when he went? Phew, he's gone! Three years on and Labour are desperate to have him back. How things have changed. Blair was deeply unpopular when he left, amongst most of the electorate as well as the Labour party. Brown however has trumped that record. Now the desperately unpopular PM has called in the deeply unpopular former PM to bolster his campaign. Possibly something of a double edged sword.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Clapometer and blood on the floor (not)

I guess it was never going to be a bloodbath, or indeed a session with any bloodletting. The Chancellors' debate saw no blood on the floor. But for the political anoraks, it was great stuff. And if there was a clapometer, Vince would be the winner. His dry wit was fired at Osborne on one memorable occasion in particular. In typical Vince style it was balanced, with an attack on the "fiction" of Darling's "efficiency savings", a fiction Osborne himself attacked last week and now uses to form the basis of his own revenue plans.

The important point for Lib Dems is that we were there at the top table, and were treated equally. The two-party bias was knocked for six by that.

Anyway, we did not have an entirely blood free day. Kevan Jones, Minister for defence, was ripped limb from limb by Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley. He's lying in the Lumley morgue next to Phil Woolas.

Anyway, back to the debate. The coverage I have seen on BBC and Sky is that Vince was the winner.
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The most challenging Focus delivery round on the planet

I did two delivery rounds today and my legs are now feeling the effects. I walked from my house in Sunniside to Whickham and started by delivering the Cedars with a leaflet highlighting how the Conservatives cannot win in Blaydon and only the Lib Dems can beat Labour here.

From there I headed over to the Broom Lane/Cornmoor Road area. On the latter road in particular, the drives are long. I mean, really, really long. This street started out in the late Victorian period as large allotments on which people built bungalows. It was all done through an Victorian allotment society. Quite a few of the bungalows are still there but many of the houses are now very large and many back gardens have been built on.

So what started as small houses with very big gardens is now quite an exclusive area with some substantial houses. And it means long, long drives. They all got their Focus newsletters in the end. And I had some interesting conversations with people about the drains, the history of Cornmoor Road and why someone who normally votes Labour has decided to switch to us because she doesn't like the current MP.

Some 260 houses in the Broom Lane/Cornmoor Rd patch and 120 on the Cedars patch (the latter patch I can do in little over half an hour.) I was wondering if any of my Lib Dem readers know of more challenging patches. No doubt I will be told stories of having to drive between houses in rural settings where there are more sheep than Focus leaflets. Nevertheless, my legs need time to recover before going out canvassing tonight.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Photos and Focus

I took a trip down to one of our target wards this afternoon to take some photos for the Focus newsletter I spent the morning writing. I spent 2 hours in the office tonight printing it (plus the one I wrote last night). I am thinking of running a competition for "Things you don't want to do on a Saturday evening but know they have to be done." I suspect quite a few Lib Dems will be entering with similar Focus printing activities.

I did however get another candidate video edited today. I think I have about 8 left to do from last week's visit to London. Tomorrow however I probably won't be video editing. I've got all those Focus newsletters to deliver instead!

My first video to hit 150,000 viewings

Another YouTube milestone for me. One of my videos has now reached 150,000 viewings. I filmed "Inside a Former Soviet Secret Submarine Base" when I was in Balaklava in the Crimea, Ukraine, in 2006. It has been a consistently good performer on YouTube and is also a YouTube featured video. So, if you really feel the urge to view it, here it is:

Friday, March 26, 2010

A trade union or a surrogate passenger safety agency

The RMT is an organisation that makes even the most dinosaur of Labour backbenchers look like an evolutionary-advanced species. Their decision to strike on the day Brown will call the election is politically motivated. It's nothing to do with pay and conditions. It's all about kicking the government.

Don't get me wrong, I am no fan of this government, but neither are the RMT. Their strike over fears for passenger safety means they are posing as a surrogate agency for the protection of passenger safety. There are other organisations officially carrying out that role. The RMT's self-appointment to the position is nothing other than a smokescreen for the RMT's leadership to pursue a political agenda of their own.

The result of these strikes will be fewer people using rail and more vehicles on the roads. And of course, less business for the railways means less cash to pay the wages of those working on the railways.

Ironically, I am sitting on a train as I write this. After a week of filming in London I'm heading home. With the rail strikes now likely to happen, I've decided to do no more trips to London before the general election. That does of course mean I have more time to spend on campaigning on my home patch. It seems each cloud does have a silver lining!
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I wonder what the dinosaurs think of that?

For a year now we have heard from Labour backbench dinosaurs about how awful the Tory cuts will be if they win the election. Famine, plague, babies eaten for breakfast and so on are the images conjured up by the denizens of Jurassic Park. And when it is put to them that Labour will have to introduce cuts, it is explained that somehow Labour cuts are good, Tory cuts are bad. The Labour mood music is that the Tories are instinctive cutters of services whilst Labour are nice people who support the poor (having however spent years sucking up to the rich and the City financiers). Whilst I have a modicum of sympathy for that view with regards to some Tories from the Thatcherite right (Tory dinosaurs to keep the metaphor running) actually trying to pin down what the Tory leadership stands for is far more difficult. Lots of spending pledges have been made, lots of tax cuts offered, lots of black holes in the accounts still to be explained.

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to hear what the Labour dinosaurs have to say about Alistair Darling's comments that a re-elected Labour government will make cuts rivalling those of Mrs Thatcher herself. Given that the Thatcher government failed to reduce the overall share of our wealth spent by the state, it could be argued that Darling is setting himself an easy target.

But for those Labour MPs who foam at the mouth at the first mention of Margaret Thatcher, Darlings comments must be a shock to the system. I'll be watching and listening with interest.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Email newsletter for constituents - edition 59

I wrote my email newsletter for constituents and sent it out on Monday. It goes to 1000 homes in the Whickham area directly but we know many more people receive it as it is forwarded by friends and family (including to some expats on the other side of the world!). Edition 59 led on school closures but also had coverage of other local news stories, including the latest news on the failed plans to apply for opencasting on the edge of local villages, plans (at last) to refurbish and rebuild Whickham Comprehensive, Sunniside and Swalwell Parks and some planning news stories. We also slipped in a political story about the general election and the fact Blaydon constituency is a two horse race between Labour and the Lib Dems. The Conservatives are well out of it here.

The advantage of having a big email list is that I can produce much more up to date information about what's happening locally. The timescale for a leaflet can be measured perhaps in days, more likely in weeks. With an email newsletter, we can send out news stories which will be yesterday's news by the end of the week. It also allows for a much easier two-way flow of information - my inbox now has a large number of emails from residents replying to efocus by raising other issues.

Anyway, we are already working on edition number 60 which should be ready in a couple of weeks' time. And we hope for have some links to our latest videos and audios on it.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heading to Westminster to shoot some videos

I spent the morning in my flat in London editing more videos for candidates and now I'm heading in to Westminster to film a few more. These ones will be about the budget.

I watched the Chancellor present the budget and decided that the rabbit out of the hat moment was the agreement with Belize to crackdown on tax evasion! A nice bit of political drama and comedy combined but not greatly relevant to the majority of people. It does bring me on to a point about my constituency of Blaydon. The Tory from Tunbridge Wells who is aiming to save his deposit in the constituency has written a new post on his blog. That in itself is news as it is not a site updated everyday. He has challenged the Labour MP to say whether or not he gets any funding from Unite and if so, whether or not he will refuse to take the cash.

I personally have no idea about Unite's funding arrangements with Mr Anderson, but if the last election is anything to go by, it was private business that was bankrolling Mr Anderson's election campaign. He got a donation of £5000 from a firm of solicitors - Thompsons - who have made a fortune out of miners' claims for industrial diseases. Not bad for a "socialist" opponent of the capitalist system.

Maybe the Tunbridge Tory would care to tell everyone whether or not be has received Ashcroft cash. My guess is that he hasn't as the money only goes to seats that are winnable for he Tories. That means the cash is well out of reach for the Tunbridge Tory. Still, it's worth asking the question and also worth asking if he were offered Ashcroft gold, would he refuse it?
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The GMTV candidate in Lib Dem target seat

I am not a great fan of GMTV. Too often it is a programme that sucks up to the Labour Party in the most nauseating manner. Today we learn that Gloria De Piero has been parachuted in by Labour in Ashfield constituency following the early retirement of Geoff Hoon who attempted to suicide bomb Gordon Brown into resignation.

Ms De Piero is the ex-political editor of GMTV but has no apparent links with the constituency and lives in London. Clearly a case of using a constituency as a stepping stone to a career in Parliament.

Jason Zadronzy is our candidate there and has been going great guns over the past couple of years. Let's hope the good people of Ashfield vote to keep Ms De Piero on the morning tv slot rather than occupying a seat in the Commons.
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The Conservatives' magic pot of money

I came down to London yesterday and found a Conservative leaflet waiting for me when I got to my flat. Having now read through it, I am amazed at the claims they make for paying for their spending commitments. And in some cases I am amazed at the spending commitments which have no explanation as to how they will be financed.

Take for example this so-called policy: "Conservatives will "protect spending on the NHS but cut the salaries of Government ministers and cut the number of MPs."

So, cutting ministerial salaries and the number of MPs will free up the billions needed to protect the NHS budget? Have the Conservatives been guilty of putting the decimal point in the wrong place again? Their proposal at most would save a few million quid. Their spending commitment runs to billions. And just how will cutting the number of MPs save any cash at all in the coming Parliament? A cut to the number of MPs could only come into effect at the election afterwards. It seems the Conservatives either have a magic pot of money that keeps refilling itself with cash from nowhere, or they are treating the British public as if they were stupid.

Here's another interesting spending plan. Anyone going into an NHS hospital would be able to have a room of their own. How many MPs will they have to get rid of to pay for that? The proposal would mean a restructuring of every hospital at the cost of billions of pounds. It would also mean fewer beds as individual rooms take up far more space than beds in wards. So for a vast outlay, under the Conservatives even fewer patients would be treated.

Then of course there is the Tory plan to turn marriage into a tax avoidance scheme. How many billions will that cost?

Let's just hope that all this shallow Tory drivel falls apart under the scrutiny of a general election.
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Conference - The Movie (starring Chris Huhne)

This is the programme I filmed for the party about conference. Starring Chris Huhne, it is the inside story of conference. So if you were not there, have a look to see what you were missing. And if you were there, have a look to see what I captured you doing!

I finished editing the video yesterday. It's on the party's YouTube site rather than mine.

Watch for rabbits out of hats

An essential feature of the Brown spin machine is the pulling of rabbits out of hats. It's all trickery and often as not the rabbit is as dead as a dodo, often the roadkill victim of a political story or posture adopted by Labour. Scrapping the 10p income tax rate was one such roadkill rabbit plucked out of a hat to gushing acclamation by Labour backbenchers who praised it when it was announced, ran scared of it when they woke up to the effects and voted for it anyway because they are backbench cannon fodder.

So, I am wondering what rabbits will be extracted from the political hat by Darling on Wednesday in the budget. He has less room for tricks this time but I wouldn't put it past Labour to announce some incredible scheme to grab the headlines. If past practice is anything to go by, it will be a re-announcement of a scheme that has already been agreed with the cash quietly extracted from something else. We shall see.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just finished my next Focus

I seem to have spent the evening doing my accounts, editing the Chris Huhne programme about conference and writing and putting together another village Focus. I'll not say where the Focus is for. After all, I don't want to tip off the Labour members who avidly read my blog for clues as to what we are up to. I see from comments by a certain Conservative who does not live here in Blaydon that the Cameroonies are also avid readers of this blog. It's a minor boost for my ego that the Tory from Tunbridge Wells, who is fighting to save his deposit in Blaydon, expends so much of his intellectual energy in his recently established (but not very often updated) blog on attacks on me! I'm already looking forward to the next one!

The useful point about Focus is that I have been given more than enough news to fill an A3 Focus. Some stories will have to be held over to later editions. I'll also get as much of the material I have been given into the email newsletters I produce for residents of Gateshead. Hopefully I will get the next one written tomorrow. Watch this space.

As for my plan to curl up tonight with a history book to catch up on my reading - forget it! Reading and writing about wheelie bins, removal of rubbish, school closures and how the Conservatives can't win here got in the way of that!

Not so "Blaydon born" as was thought

The Tory from Tunbridge Wells who is standing for the Tyneside constituency of Blaydon, where I live, is battling from a distant 3rd place under the banner "Blaydon Born and Bred". After so many years away from our area it is always enjoyable to see those who have abandoned the North East return for at least a momentary stay back on the patch. Whether or not this Tory candidate stays around after what is very likely to be a heavy defeat on 6th May is not clear.

However, I was intrigued by the claim about being "Blaydon born". The reason I raise an eyebrow about that is because he says on his website that he was born in Newcastle. Whilst Blaydon and Newcastle face each other across the Tyne, being born in Newcastle is not quite the same as being born in Blaydon!

Perhaps his slogan should be "Born in Newcastle and abandoned Blaydon years ago, now based in Tunbridge Wells". It's a bit of a mouthful but has a great ring to it! Another slogan could be "Lives closer to Brussels than Blaydon". I'm sure that would look good in a leaflet.

Mind you, despite the Tunbridge Wells Tory's long absence, he does claim to be a local candidate and criticises our candidate for not being local! (Neil Bradbury lives in Prudhoe, which borders Blaydon.) Short of a shifting of the tectonic plates which went unnoticed whilst I was editing videos or forking manure onto my allotment, I was under the impression that Prudhoe is decidedly more local than Tunbridge Wells.
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Taking leave of their senses

The RMT have just announced the results of their ballot to cut their own throats. Strikes seem to be the flavour of the day with unions in the transport sector. BA cabin crew, amongst the best paid in the industry, are striking. The rail maintenance and now the signal workers are going on strike. There seems to be a new militancy in the trade union leadership. And it comes on the eve of an election. Not only is union militancy undermining the industries in which they work, they could be undermining the Labour party. I don't have a problem with Labour support falling in on itself, but it leaves you wondering about Unite. They pour vast sums into Labour coffers and then kick the party in the knackers.

The RMT is a different kettle of fish. They were kicked out of Labour years ago. But they behave like a bunch of dinosaurs.
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Interesting campaign results from Newcastle

I've been doing a bit of work in Newcastle recently to help out the Lib Dems with campaigning. I seem to have used up plenty of shoe leather in Denton and thanks to Ron Beadle, our candidate, who has kindly asked me to deliver another stack of leaflets, I am due back there shortly. I guess now I could walk the streets with my eyes closed there.

Kenton was more interesting however. The tabloid has gone out there and members are getting rather excited at the response. They are getting far more replies than usual and I hear on the grapevine that the before and after phone canvass has produced some very interesting results. The calls were targeted at those undecided between Labour and Lib Dems. As a result of the tabloid, those moving from undecided to Lib Dem has increased. Organisers won't say by how much, but the smiles say it all!

I shared the train back from Birmingham on Sunday with James Hollis who is our candidate for Westgate ward in Newcastle. He is young and enthusiastic so that needs to be factored in to any discussion of what is happening there. Still, what could be happening there is interesting. It should be a safe Labour ward. Interestingly, the existence of Nick Forbes, uber New Labour leader on the city council and councillor for Westgate is a positive factor for, well for Nick Forbes. A high profile seems to do him no harm. But it seems Labour voters will back him personally. Voting Labour in the general election on the same day seems to be getting a definite NO from the same people!

Anyway, I'll keep you posted on how things are going here.

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Northern Democrat March 2010 no. 49

Post conference edition of the Northern Democrat has now been published. I produce this monthly for Lib Dems in the Northern regions though most of my readers are in the North East.

Northern Democrat No 49 Mar 10

Bob Russell MP - the movie

This is one of the videos I've produced recently for Lib Dem MPs. In this instance it is Bob Russell who is one of the colourful characters in the Commons. He is rather chuffed with this Lib Dem Oscar winning 3 minute video, complete with sky diving photos and pictures of him in Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with khaki.

I'm currently editing the video I shot with Chris Huhne at Conference over the weekend and hope to have it ready for sometime over the next few days. Watch this space.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

10pm and still a queue for the print machine

I came down to our constituency office in Whickham 10 minutes ago thinking it would be an ideal time to print my village focus. Photos done this morning. Desktop published this afternoon. Proofed this evening. When I get to the office however I find Durham North West here printing their Focus!

Plenty of activity going on. What mad life I lead! Now I have to join the queue for the printing machine.
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Social media at the Council

I had a very interesting meeting last night with officers of Gateshead Council about the use of social media for communicating with constituents. Currently I am the only member of the council to have my own blog. More of us are on Facebook. I am the only one with a YouTube channel and as far as we are aware, I am the only one with a Flickr site. So we had a good look at other sites and how to use Facebook more effectively.

What got my attention however was a proposal the officers raised with me about setting up online petitions and surveys on the Council website. This would be a great step forward and definitely something I hope the council decides to implement.

It was also an opportunity to press forward some ideas of my own. I am keen for full council and cabinet meetings to be recorded and broadcast via the council website. No need for video but an audio recording would suffice. It won't need lots of extra, costly equipment. It could be done very cheaply. I also suggested the leader of the council should do a monthly podcast. Whether or not my ideas will be taken up is something I will, no doubt, report on via a podcast or YouTube video!
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A bit more fun at the expense of the Tory from Tunbridge Wells

My two ward colleagues, Marilynn Ord and John McClurey, arrived at my house this morning for a quick tour of the area and photo session for our next Focus leaflet. Marilynn said she had just received a call from a local resident who was furious with the Conservative leaflet and was angry that their candidate was posing as a local guy. The resident had tried to contact him but all she got was an answering machine.

What Marilynn didn't realise was that the Tory is from Tunbridge Wells, not exactly a neighbourhood in or close to Blaydon constituency. (More than 400km separate the two areas.) I understand Marilynn is now heading home to get back on the phone to tell the resident precisely where Tory "Blaydon Born And Bred" Candidate actually lives!

Anyway, we did our tour of the ward, took our photos, met the headteacher of Sacred Heart School in Byermoor village and got some fresh air in Sunniside and Byermoor Parks. Then I headed back home where I found the local delivery company had put through the door leaflets for cavity wall insulation, local taxis and, yes, the Conservative candidate. The only problem is that it is the same Conservative leaflet that was delivered last week by a commercial company. As I wrote recently, Conservative leaflets are like buses: you wait ages for one to come along, and then a load arrive at the same time!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lib Dem video with music specially written

A first for me. A group called Courage Playing Blind wrote and performed the music for this video I shot for Ian Lindley, candidate in North Durham. I've never worked on a video with a music soundtrack before so this is a bit raw and looking at it today, having edited it yesterday, there are bits I feel I should have done differently and I need to sort the sound levels more effectively.

Nevertheless, as a first stab it has been both interesting and challenging. The song is called "Wasted Youth", all about the need for change.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Brown says he will stay on - are we meant to be surprised?

Whatever you think of Gordon Brown's character, one point about him on which we can all agree is that he won't give up his position as Prime Minister and Labour leader without one hell of a fight. As the winner of all the battles to get rid of him since he was crowned Labur's king, he has proved he has some degree of staying power.

I did speculate recently in this blog that were Labour to lose their majority at the election without the Conservatives winning, his position could be strengthened rather than weakened against elements in his own party. His tenacious hold on the leadership in recent years should have made his announcement today that he will fight on unsurprising. We could however get into some interesting constitutional waters if Labour slips to be the second party but with no one having a majority.

In that instance there is no constitutional requirement for the Prime Minister and government to resign. (The moral requirement is something else.) In February 1974, Ted Heath hung on for a couple of days after the election whilst he tried to negotiate with the Liberals a deal that would at least keep him as Prime Minister. It was doomed to failure. And in 1923, Stanley Baldwin continued as Prime Minister for six weeks after the election. His Conservative party was the largest in the Commons. The election however saw them losing their Commons majority. After 6 weeks and a lost vote in the Commons, Baldwin resigned and Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the Labour Party, the second largest party, became Prime Minister without another general election.

And in the first election of 1910, the landslide Liberal majority was wiped out and Liberals and Conservatives were level pegging in the Commons. Nevertheless, Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith stayed in his job.

The point is, a prime minister who loses a majority in a general election can stay on in power if no other party has taken a majority of seats. So the possibility of Labour continuing in office even as a minority second party under Brown is not an unrealistic outcome in May. And given Brown's desire to hold on to his job at whatever cost, even the application of a crowbar to the clenched, clunking fist may not be enough to loosen his grip on the reins of power.

Ashok Kumar MP RIP

I am currently in Stockton on a photo shoot and the news of the death of Ashok Kumar, MP for nearby Middlesbrough South arrived by email. I announced it to the Lib Dems for whom I was doing the photos and there was general, all round sadness. He was genuinely liked across all parties.

I remember the Langbaugh by-election in November 1991 when he was first elected, winning his seat from the Conservatives. The Conservative candidate was Michael Bates who came from Gateshead and who had stood a few times for Gateshead Council.

I have interesting memories of driving around the constituency with Gerald Vernon-Jackson in a Transit van delivering thousands of leaflets. We would start first thing in the morning and keep going til we dropped in the evening.

Ashok Kumar lost in 1992 but this short tenure as an MP was overturned when he won back the seat in 1997 and held it comfortably ever since. The constituency was one of those which needs to be won by the Conservatives but looks unlikely to go back to Cameron's lot this time.

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This must have been a first - conference media coverage

It was always the case in the past. Spring conferences of all the parties were covered by tv news in a rather minimalist way. Normally for Lib Dem spring conference minimalist coverage amounted to zero airtime. So, as I sat down to my dinner last night of homegrown potatoes and sprouts with lashings of liver casserole (homemade but not homegrown) I was amazed that we were the lead story on BBC News 24. Suddenly we are all the rage.

It was after all a successful conference, even if I did see most of it from behind a lens!
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Led up the carbon footpath

I have been a bit quite on the blog over the past week or so because of a rather heavy workload. This post should have gone up on the blog just after the last full council in Gateshead but fell victim to the onslaught of videos demanded by candidates. As I am on the train and was hoping to get some kip but have been unable to fall asleep, I am using the moment to catch up with a few things on my blackberry instead.

Councillor Mick McNestry is Labour cabinet member for the environment. At last council he was talking about an award Gateshead had received. Something to do with cutting carbon footprints. Except that Mick referred to cutting "carbon footpaths" instead. He was initially unaware of his mistake and looked a bit bemused when people started laughing at what was supposed to be a serious point.

Fortunately for Mick he saw the funny side of it when his mistake was explained to him. At the risk of destroying Mick's standing in his own group, I just want to say I rather like the bloke and get on well with him. But his error was quite amusing. It wasn't that he was trying to lead us up the carbon footpath. Maybe at a future meeting he will repeat the mistake - or make a carbon copy of it!

I'm trying to think of ways of getting in carbonara but perhaps that's enough of that!
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Storming speech from Nick

It was a storming speech from Nick Clegg today at conference and if he carries on like that he should perform well in the general election. His voice was going a bit yesterday when I was doing the photo ops for candidates with him. Today despite that, he spoke very well.

I am now on the train having just left Birmingham so I won't be home for three hours or more. I have over 1000 photos to sort for candidates and over 6 hours of footage in the can. All that needs sorting as well. The programme I filmed with Chris Huhne seemed to go well but I will reserve final judgement until after it's edited. If it comes out okay, we'll have it on the blogs and websites by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, I am going to get some kip. Wake me up when I'm back in Geordieland!
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

How much!? The cost of going to conference

Let's get straight to the point. I'm knackered. I've been on the go all day. I've filmed a stack of videos for candidates. I've run three photo ops for candidates and campaigners with Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg. And I have been filming Chris Huhne for a party video about conference. Chris agreed to be presenter when I contacted him a couple of weeks ago. The aim is to have a documentary video about conference aimed at members who don't go to these gatherings to show them what they are all about.

So having just finished filming in the glee club, I went to the bar and, feeling very dehydrated from running around all day, I ordered 2 large fresh orange drinks. That cost me £7.20. I sometimes think conference hotels take the piss (and our money). I was too thirsty to argue.

Anyway, watch this space for the Chris Huhne conference video. It should be ready this coming week.
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Friday, March 12, 2010

Off to sunny Birmingham

It is Lib Dem spring conference this weekend and Birmingham is the lucky location for this gathering. I'm at Newcastle Central Station now, waiting for the train. I got here unreasonably early but at least I had the chance to chat to constituents on the bus on the way in.

Before I started working for the Lib Dems in London in my various guises, conferences were always leisurely affairs for me. Once I took on the HQ role, suddenly I was occupied full time at these half yearly jamborees. When I left Cowley St last year I expected conferences to lighten up a bit for me. And then I launched my business selling video and photography services. My diary for this conference is therefore busier than ever before!

On leaving Cowley St, I also got agreement that I would continue to run the candidate photo ops at conference, in a voluntary capacity. I have three this weekend, with Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, all on Saturday.

Anyone at conference wanting other photography, video or audio recording services can catch up with me. I'm based in Hall 5 of the ICC. Or just watch out for the guy running around with the cameras!

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Conservative local bus service leaflet delivery system

Conservative leaflets here in Blaydon constituency are like buses. You wait ages for one to turn up, and when it eventually does, a load of them arrive at the same time! Alas, that is the saga of the leaflet delivery for the Tunbridge Wells Tory who is contesting Blaydon. A couple of weeks ago, a local delivery company kindly put three of the Tory candidate's 8 page leaflets through our door here in Sunniside. It is the first Tory leaflet outside a real election campaign here in living memory.

Today, I can report that a delivery company delivered a further two copies. Very kind of the Tories to keep repeating the same message and send us the same leaflet but one copy is enough. The rest are in the recycling box.

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Shock as Labour peer agrees to obey law

A non-story spun as something major. How New Labour can you get? Labour peer and donor Lord Paul is announcing that he will abide by the forthcoming law and become a full UK taxpayer, rather than a non-dom. Wow! Labour peer announces he will obey the law! What is overlooked is that the law is changing and peers will have to be full UK taxpayers if they want to keep their seats in the Lords.
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Sunday, March 07, 2010

My first music video

Having spent a couple of weeks filming and editing videos for candidates, today I am doing a video with a difference. I have just arrived in Chester le Street in Co Durham to film a video for our candidate. But this one has its own music. The Lib Dem candidate Ian Lindley has persuaded a musician to write a campaign song. All that is needed is the campaign video to go with it. That's my job!

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Afghan Groundhog Day

An amazing coincidence or a cynical ploy? Well, Gordon Brown is in Afghanistan on the day after his Chilcot Inquiry appearance. It's right that political leaders should see for themselves the conditions in which our troops serve, but Brown never does anything without considering the tactical advantages that can be gained politically.

It is of course all a bit of a groundhog day. Recall Brown's visit to Afghanistan in October 2007, coinciding with the Conservative conference. It was clear the visit was to knock the Tories off the headlines and was meant to be the springboard for the launch of a general election campaign. The only problem was he bottled out of calling the election. And as we all know now, the election will be announced shortly.
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Friday, March 05, 2010

It's amusing who you bump into in the Asda zepplin hangar

We are just pulling out of the Metrocentre Asda car park, having done one of those rare expeditions to a supermarket to buy the food we currently don't grow ourselves. It's the first time I've been to this store for about a decade and it always looks like a Zepplin hangar to me.

Anyway, by coincidence, at the next till to ours was a certain Labour Councillor from Gateshead. I waved. He nodded back and then left as quickly as possible. I have that effect on people! However he didn't leave fast enough for me to not spot the 4 bottles of Alberto Balsam he was buying. Not quite sure why he needed 4! Slapped wrists however. He didn't have a reusable shopping bag so took a disposable one instead. Not so good for the environment.

Anyway, here's to hoping your hair stays super clean!

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Labour choose new candidate

Congratulations to Councillor Ian Mearns. He is currently deputy leader of Gateshead Council but yesterday he was chosen as Labour's candidate for Gateshead constituency. I've known Ian for the past 23 years, since I was first elected as a councillor and I can't find a bad word to say about his character. He's an all round good bloke though were I a voter in his constituency (I live in Blaydon constituency) I would have to tell him that whilst he's a good guy, his party stinks!

Ian has been one of the figures on Gateshead Council leading the battle to beat ill health caused by smoking. Soon-to-be-former MP David Clelland spoke in the Commons from a much more pro-smoking position. I pointed out in a Gateshead Council debate on a motion calling for MPs to support anti-smoking legislation last year that there was something of a contradiction between Mr Clelland and his own troops on the council. I came in for heavy criticism from Labour councillors when I described the motion, which happened to be moved by Ian Mearns, as a shot across the bows of Mr Clelland. Perhaps it was actually a shot right into the bows of Mr Clelland. He's now going.

We are not going to give Ian an easy ride in the election. We are second in the constituency and my colleague Cllr Frank Hindle is our candidate for the coming contest. If Ian is elected, let's hope it will lead to an improvement in both the health of local residents and the representation of the borough in Parliament.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Mick Henry Life President Constitutional Amendment

Gateshead Council today and we had another discussion about the constitutional amendment to move us from the system in which the leader and cabinet are appointed every year by full council to one in which the leader is appointed only once and this person appoints the cabinet and remains in office until such time as his/her constituents turf him/her out as a councillor. This is a system that is imposed by the government but there is some leeway giving the council scope to decide how to sack a council leader.

And it is on that point that disagreements emerged again this afternoon. Labour have introduced a system in which a two-thirds majority is needed in council to sack the Leader. We argue that this is excessive and a simple majority should be used. If it's good enough for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, it's good enough for a leader of a council.

The effect of requiring a two-thirds vote is that in Gateshead Labour could lose an election, but as long as they have over a third of the seats, the Leader, and therefore Labour, will be able to continue to in office and run the council in the face of a Lib Dem majority on the authority. Hence the nickname we gave to the amendment, the Mick Henry Life President Amendment (Mick Henry being leader of the council). Alas, Mick jokingly said he liked the idea of being life president. The amendment is also dubbed the Mick Henry Longevity clause.

We did have an amendment on this but it was ruled out of order by the Mayor. Nevertheless we could still speak to the report which I did, despite repeated interruptions by Mick Henry. Given my previous comments on being interrupted by the Leader, my thanks go to Mick for his efforts to raise my profile within my group.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The death of an old generation of politician

The death of Michael Foot marks the end of a generation of politicians who were great platform performers. As an historian, I came across Foot's family when I was doing research for my PhD. A great Liberal tradition was what he came from, though it was Labour's ranks into which he entered and eventually led.

He will be a loss for two reasons. He was greatly educated and widely read, a type of person of whom we need more in politics. But he was also a great platform performer, an approach which fell out of favour in the days of tv news soundbites and 24 hour news coverage.

Yet, with the decentralisation of communications created by the internet, platform performers like Michael Foot will find a new niche. The misfortune for Foot was that he was both too late and too soon for his time.

We have lost a great speaker and, in contrast to so much in politics today, we have lost someone who passionately believed in something, even though I do not necessarily share all those same beliefs.
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The boxing match of PMQs

I've just watched PMQs and it looked more like a back street boxing match than ever before. The health warning on this blog post is that I am biased but even taking that into account, the calm and dry presentation of Vince Cable was head and shoulders above the shrill Lady Harriet. Given a choice between listening to nails being scratched down a blackboard and the voice of Labour's deputy leader, I feel the blackboard would win!

In terms on the contest between Lady Harriet and failed boy wonder of the Conservatives, I think Hague was ahead on points. But the Ashcroft issue is certainly going to dog the Conservatives. And for good reason too.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

25,000 council jobs to go

The BBC has been leading with the story that 25,000 jobs are to go this coming year in English local government. Not unexpectedly, the biggest losses are in Birmingham, the biggest council in the country.

Job losses are common across authorities of all political persuasions. The main reason is simply that there is less money in the coming year for local government to spend. The biggest drop in income is due to the government reducing what is given to councils to spend. Given that for every four pounds spent by councils, three come from central government, any cut by ministers to the overall level of grants awarded to councils will have serious consequences.

Secondly, the income councils receive from other sources have been hit by the recession. Most have capital reserves that previously paid good interest. Nearly every council earned interest on their revenue balances. But interest rates are now next to nothing. Income from commercial property has also gone down. There has, after all, been a recession. So cash sources have been drying up.

The other main source is council tax. Given that central government will only allow limited rises, and council tax payers can stand only so much in terms of tax demands, council tax alone cannot take the strain caused by the loss of other revenue.

So, budgets have to be cut. Labour postures that spending will not be cut yet to protect the recovery. Their posturing is of course completely artificial. They have already started the cuts. They may not be as bad as what is to come, but they are still happening. There needs to be a bit of honesty from Labour about that.

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Heading home with a stack of videos

In a fit of excessive precaution, I left my house in London to catch the train and then Tube to Kings Cross for the 2.30pm train to Newcastle. I am heading home after 10 days of filming in Westminster with a couple of trips to Greenwich and Oxfordshire to take a few memory cardfulls of photos. Alas, I have arrived at KX with 50 minutes to spare. So I am making use of the new seating area in the station to write another blog post and read the book which I brought for this trip to London and barely had time to touch, "Victorian Farm".

I have a whole stack of videos to edit from this trip which will keep me going for the next week. Also needed this week is the next edition of Parliamentary Campaigner. For non-Lib Dems reading this, it is a campaign newsletter I edit for Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates. It needs to be done for Friday. Sadly, I'm not expecting to get out much over the coming days!

I have however timed my train to get me back in time for the Gateshead Lib Dem council group meeting at 6pm tonight. We have John Robinson, boss of the council's waste management system, speaking to us tonight to update us on arrangements for the forthcoming waste disposal system. Should be interesting and not something I want to miss.

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What if?....Cameron fails

Having argued for over two years that the outcome of the general election is likely to be one in which no party wins a majority, the Yougov poll yesterday, giving the Conservatives a lead of only 2% highlights the possibility that they may not become the largest party in Parliament. I speculated last week about Brown possibly being strengthened against his own party if he leads a minority Labour government (a likely outcome with Labour as the largest party after polling day.) Now we need to speculate on what such an outcome means for Cameron.

Having seen the perception of his party shift from being an election winner to one in which Cameron may remain Leader of the Opposition, the right wing of his party may see the chance to strike. They have remained silent (or largely so) in the face of Cameron's so-called modernisation of the Tories. Occasionally they get tossed a bit of true blue Tory meat (eg turning marriage into a tax avoidance scheme) but generally they have looked on Cameron as the Tory Trojan horse who will get them inside government. If he fails to deliver that, and fails badly (coming second in terms of votes means doing badly) he could be for the chop. The Tory right, having stomached his modernisation for long enough, may well agitate for his removal.

The issue then is, will the Conservatives enter a bout of internal war or pull together under Cameron? Do they delay the day of Cameron's reckoning as a second election is a strong possibility?

Interesting times ahead.
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