Friday, April 30, 2010

Car crashes and endorsements

This is definitely the Election-Like-No-Other. It is more like the plot for a political novel in which the storyline gets more outlandish the more into it you get. With the Labour campaign widely regarded as a car crash, what do we get? None other than a car crash right in front of the PM, just as Peter Prince of Darkness Mandelson is speaking. He is halted by the screeching of brakes and the slamming of a car into a bus shelter. Fortunately no one was injured. But it just says it all about the Labour campaign.

Meanwhile, Labour has just lost the support of two more newspapers. The Times has gone back to the Tories. And now the Guardian has come out in favour of the Lib Dems with a crushing editorial about Gordon Brown.

Not to be left out, I can officially announce that the Northern Democrat, an email newsletter I edit (and which is independent of the party) has unsurprisingly come out in favour of the Lib Dems! I edited the latest edition today and have just sent it to the mailing list. I'll get it onto my scribd site on Saturday.

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Watching the Debate in Swalwell Social Club

Swalwell club envelope stuffing Apr 10

Team Blaydon (or some of it at least) headed down to Swalwell Social Club last night to watch the Leaders' Debate and stuff envelopes. All envelopes were completed by the time the questions on the economy were done.

There was a resounding cheer when Brown gave his infamous smile at the end of his closing presentation! It is likely to put off a few more voters.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blaydon candidates' hustings meeting

The hustings meeting for the 3 main party candidates in Blaydon was held tonight in Birtley's St Joseph Parish Centre. Neil Bradbury was there for the Lib Dems, Dave Anderson for Labour and Glenn Hall for the Conservatives.

And here are a few photos. When I sorted through them, some looked like the three were entering a singing competition!

Blaydon hustings Apr 10 1

The three candidates on stage waiting for the music to start.

Blaydon hustings Apr 10 Neil Bradbury 2

Neil Bradbury, Liberal Democrat

Blaydon hustings Apr 10 Dave Anderson 6

David Anderson, Labour

Blaydon hustings Apr 10 Glenn Hall 3

Glenn Hall, Conservative

Glenn Hall said to me at the end that he remembered being canvassed by me 23 years ago, when I was first elected to the Council. I must have made an impression! Whether it was favourable or not is up to Glenn to say!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Conversations with constituents

My two ward colleagues - Marilynn Ord and John McClurey - and I took the decision that the big target mail drop we were doing today should be delivered by us, rather than by our delivery network. Whether or not this was a sane decision is a debatable point but we had 1500 letter between us for delivery. We felt we had asked a great deal from our team of volunteers so it was time to give them a break. That's what I kept telling myself when we set out at 9.30am to hit the streets.

After a break at lunchtime, I finished the chunk of the ward I was doing by 6.30pm. It was however an interesting time as constituents stopped to talk to me. Issues covered included the expenses scandal, traffic lights in Sunniside, what makes good garden compost, history research carried out by the U3A, houses in Whickham that no longer exist and vanishing local streams. Quite a mix!
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Coalitions don't just happen in wartime

It's been interesting watching the media coverage of the issue of no one party winning a majority at the election. Coalition government is on the agenda (though it is not a definite outcome of an election resulting in a "hung parliament"). Look at Scotland where there has been a minority government for three years.

Wartime coalition is often brought in to the media coverage of hung parliaments. However, coalition government does have peacetime precedents as well. In 1931, when the Labour government took leave of its senses in the face of an economic crisis arguably worse than the one we have just gone through, the Tories eagerly entered a coalition with the Liberals and those elements of the Labour party that realised posturing was not going to get Britain through an economic crisis.

There were a number of complex reasons why the Tories entered a coalition at the time. One of the main reasons was the coalition nature of the Conservative party itself. At the time there was an influential right wing element that was determined to undermine the Baldwin leadership. He sent them packing but also secured their long term exclusion from influence by bringing the Conservatives into coalition. The astute move also secured Baldwin's leadership.

The National Government has had mixed historical reviews but it did secure the economy and stop it from going down the pan. On the negative side was the appeasement policy of the government though it was a policy at the time that widely supported by the British people. (It was only later in the 1930s when people turned away from it.)

So, in Britain, coalition is not just a wartime precedent. They happen in peacetime as well.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Brown's non-appearance in Labour literature

I was struck by the news this evening that Gordon Brown is, according to Labour sources, going to take on a more active role in the Labour campaign and will get out to meet more people. It made me think, "Does Brown appear in Labour literature in Blaydon constituency?"

I got out my file of leaflets and checked through them. I could find no mention of Brown and no pictures of him either. Rather odd for David Anderson not to include Mr Brown in his re-election campaign. He was, after all, a committed Brownite whilst Blair was Labour Leader.

Maybe Mr Brown will put in a late appearance in Mr Anderson's literature, or maybe Mr Anderson simply wants to get re-elected instead!

Baked in the sun

Such a lovely day today. All the better to be out in the sun, enjoying the fresh air, getting in a bit of exercise and, yes you guessed it, delivering leaflets. I did a couple of patches in my own ward this afternoon. My face now feels it caught the sun.

Anyway I returned home to write yet another leaflet and whilst tapping away at my pc, I heard the clunk of the letterbox. Anything coming through the door is checked with anticipation whilst elections are on in my house. What arrived was a Tory leaflet though it was nationally produced. It had no local content and the central pages was a dog's dinner of press cuttings. There were too many to give a clear message. Anyway, I'll let the Tories sort out their own presentational style. The point was that I then had to go out to get some spare leaflets from my car and at that point I spotted the Tory leafletter on the other side of the street.

I'm sure the Tory candidate will forgive me if I am wrong but I am sure it was the Tory candidate himself. Had I not been working on a leaflet myself, I probably would have invited him in for a cup of tea (I'd probably do the same with Labour's Dave Anderson.) Such a kind gesture does of course come with the advantage of tying up the candidate needlessly instead of being out on the doorsteps.

Had the aforementioned Tory candidate taken up the offer of a friendly cup of tea, I could have used the opportunity to point out that his leaflet was printed in Surrey. "So what?" I hear you say. The point is he recently attacked us for having leaflets printed in London - most of our leaflets are actually printed at our office here in the constituency! Apparently, printing in London is something that requires wrists to be slapped. Printing in leafy Surrey it seems for the Conservatives, is a must-do.

Talking of opposition leaflets, we found Labour had had their local election leaflet commercially delivered in Chopwell. This is hardly a terrible crime except that the town used to be where Labour was once well organised. As far as I am aware, Labour have held Chopwell at the local government level for close on 100 years. It seems the leafletter shortage for Labour has resulted in their election leaflet being delivered with one for double glazing.

Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Nick Clegg in Newcastle - the Video

Nick Clegg was in Newcastle yesterday and visited the Aviation Academy with Lib Dem candidate Ron Beadle. Here's the video.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Photos of Nick Clegg at the Aviation Academy in Newcastle

Nick Clegg was in Newcastle this morning visiting the Aviation Academy near the airport with Ron Beadle, candidate for Newcastle North. Here are a few of the photos I took.

Nick Clegg visit Newcastle Apr 10 15

Nick Clegg visit Newcastle Apr 10 14

Nick Clegg visit Newcastle Apr 10 5

Nick Clegg visit Newcastle Apr 10 8

A well prepared, fully rehearsed, off-the-cuff remark

This is classic New Labour spin. And classic Gordon Brown clunking fist (in which he issues himself a knock out blow). Brown's comment last night about Clegg and Cameron comparing them to his sons squabbling at bath time was clearly well rehearsed (and poorly presented as Nick pointed out immediately). It was also a poor copy of Nick's comment in the previous debate about the two old parties.

Alas, evidence of just how not off-the-cuff Brown's remark was has been reported on Sky News. His notes at his podium were photographed. And apparently there in the photo was a prompt note of his off- the-cuff comment!

I think it was Churchill who was once quoted as saying he had to prepare his impromptu comments for the next day. And I guess this is one of the few times Brown has been compared with Churchill!
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Love bombing Labour at the Council

Full council in Gateshead this afternoon and the smooth flow of events hit a bumpy patch when my colleague Frank Hindle proposed an amendment calling on planned increases in home care charges be referred to a scrutiny committee. The amendment was defeated. Well, there's a surprise. Next up was the cabinet report. I got up to speak on plans for play equipment in Sunniside Park. I was welcoming what was proposed (though I have been involved with this project for nearly three years.) As I was agreeing with what was on offer, I announced that I was about to "love bomb" the ruling Labour group! This got cheers from some on the Labour benches, and shudders from others!

Anyway I watched the Leaders' debate and then headed down to our office to print some more leaflets. I kept getting text messages about the polls. It wasn't easy to read them whilst standing over a riso that was having a temperamental strop. Fortunately the print run was finished by midnight.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cameron needed a knock out blow

Both Cameron and Brown tonight had to up their game and both did. Nick needed to hold his own. He did. But Cameron needed a knock out blow and whilst his performance was more self-confident this week, he did not dish out the knock out blow on either Nick or Brown. And for Cameron that could be a problem. It waits to be seen however what effect the debates will have on voting. Polls are one thing, real votes are another.

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The hounds of hell have been unleashed

As many predicted, the hounds of hell have been unleashed on the Lib Dems by those who are fighting to save their precious 2 party system. The right wing press, acting as proxies for the Conservatives, are fighting a rearguard action to save the system for Cameron and Brown. We will have more of their attacks in days to come.

The choice of subject matter is interesting and shows a bottom-of-barrel scraping technique of news reporting. Apparently, an 8 year old article written by Nick can be misrepresented to make him a Nazi. And we have the Torygraph allegations that money was paid into Nick's private account with an implication that it was for private benefit. In reality, a huge number of MPs of all parties get funding for their own offices from donors who don't want it for the party generally. And that was what these donations were for.

How this will affect the opinion polls is yet to be seen. I suspect the froth on the Lib Dem ratings will be blown off.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

North East Lib Dem Manifesto Launch

The launch of the North East Lib Dems' regional manifesto was on Monday 19th April. Here's the video.

Lib Dem candidate interviews

On Monday I interviewed 6 Lib Dem candidates in North East constituencies which have, shall we say, better than average prospects of success. The interviews all took place at the launch of the Lib Dems' North East manifesto. They all have had good training! Everyone was short and to the point. So all 6 plus Cllr John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle City Council, are on this short film.

Volcano eruptions worse under a hung parliament

The desperation in the Tories' ranks is now clear for all to see. Ken Clarke claims the pound is at risk if there is a hung parliament (in other words, the pound is at risk, claim the Tories, if there is no majority for them). The IMF will have to step in if Cameron is not given a majority to do whatever he wants to do. So the scare tactics are underway. What claims are coming next from the Tories? How about volcanic eruptions are worse under a hung parliament? Plague and pestilence will be worse if the Tories don't have a majority. Hung parliaments will lead to babies being eaten for breakfast.

The problem for the Tories is that the more extreme their claims, the less people will believe them. Given the state of the polls for months, a hung parliament has already been factored in to its value. And given the history of the decline of the pound over the past 65 years of majority government, the Tories are not in a position to make their claims stick.

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When even the generals are backing Lib Dem policy, something strange is afoot

This election is more like the plot of a political novel than the expected events of the democratic process. Gordon Brown, survivor of coup attempts and one-time superstar of Labour, is third in the polls. Tory David Cameron, once dreaming of walking into Downing St as PM, saw his lead crumble after one lacklustre tv performance. And the Lib Dems have soared in the polls after one strong tv performance and a manifesto launch.

Gordon Brown has had his crisis (which did not go ahead without some negative headlines), the Tories have trashed a party political broadcast and the ghost of elections past, Norman Tebbitt, is on the warpath. Now, of all people, the generals have come out in support of Lib Dem policy on Trident.

For Labour and especially the Tories, these comments could not come at a worse time. Tomorrow is the next Leaders' debate and it's on foreign policy. Tory attempts to nuke us on our Trident policy could end up with their own attacks on us exploding in the missile silo before they even launch the missiles at us!

Meanwhile the unemployment figures bring bad news for Labour, as well as those out of work. They have just been published and show a rise of over 40,000. No doubt Labour will point to the figures for those showing a fall in the claimant count (that's the more convenient count that removes unemployed people who inconveniently get in the way of a good news story for Labour).

I keep thinking however that one day we will wake up and things will be back to how they were. At the moment however - am enjoying the dream.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nick Clegg stares down on a marginal

When I went to our group meeting last night I drove past a massive poster of Nick Clegg staring down on a marginal Labour ward in Gateshead. It turned out to be a poster for the Sky Leaders' debate on Thursday. An excellent place to put this giant close up of Nick.

Today has been another delivery day. And there's plenty more in the pipeline, much of it written by me and ready to be printed. I wrote another today. However, politics stops for the next hour. It's time for V on the Sci Fi channel. The election will have to wait.

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Some photos from the North East Lib Dem manifesto launch

The North East regional manifesto of the Lib Dems was launched at the Falcons Rugby Club in Newcastle yesterday. Here are a few photos from the event.

Regional Manifesto launch Apr 10 1

Neil Bradbury, left, is our candidate in Blaydon.

Regional Manifesto launch Apr 10 8

Left to right: Ian Swales (Redcar), Wendy Taylor (Newcastle East), Lord Shutt (Lib Dem Chief Whip in the Lords), Carol Woods (Durham City), Ron Beadle (Newcastle North) and John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle City Council.

Regional Manifesto launch Apr 10 6

Lord Shutt has a firm grasp on the situation!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Labour candidate launches petition to Brown asking him not to introduce Tory policy

Quite what Labour candidate for Blaydon, David Anderson was thinking of when he came up with this idea is not clear, but launching a petition on his website calling on Gordon Brown not to introduce a particular Tory policy strikes me as rather odd.

Mr Anderson has a go at the Tories over what he claims is a policy to "massively put up rents", end secure tenancies and generally eat your babies for breakfast (okay I made the last one up!). I have no idea whether or not this is Tory policy. I'm not in the business of answering for the Tories. Their candidate in Blaydon I expect is quite capable of doing that himself.

What is interesting though is that Mr Anderson's petition is not to David Cameron who is in a significant position to decide which of his party's policies are implemented were he to become Prime Minister. No, Mr Anderson chose to make his petition opposing Tory policies on council housing to Gordon Brown. The petition to Mr Brown goes on to demand "the government reject any proposal [to] change the status of tenants in council and social housing."

The question has to be asked, why petition the Leader of your own party not to introduce the policies of another party? Does Mr Anderson believe Mr Brown is going to bring in these Tory policies? Or was this just a silly attempt to whip up fear (the leaflet posted to council tenants by Mr Anderson has a screaming headline "Be afraid!")

I can just imagine his next petitions. Perhaps he will petition Gordon Brown to reject Nick Clegg's calls not to replace Trident (Mr Anderson voted for replacement of Trident so as someone with a record of backing plans to spend billions on nuclear bombs he may find this petition very attractive.)

Or how about a petition opposing Vince Cable's plans to raise the tax threshhold to £10,000, taking millions of low paid people out of tax? Afterall, Mr Anderson has form on this issue as well - he voted 3 times to double the rate of income tax on low paid people. (By the way, Mr Anderson is calling the tax cut for low paid people a "gimmick". He has however called for an increase in VAT.)

Labour's leafletter shortage

Our group meeting this evening was a good place to pick up political gossip. One item that previously slipped by me was a Labour councillor deselection in Gateshead. Another story that I had already heard about but was elaborated tonight was an interesting bail out of Labour's rather meagre delivery system in parts of Gateshead that used to be reached by Labour but now seem to be causing them problems.

Pelaw and Heworth used to be amongst the safest of safe Labour seats. Then, 11 years ago, the Lib Dems won there. Since then, Labour have given up any hope of regaining the ward and now simply put in a half hearted campaign during the election. The ward itself is in Jarrow constituency. Interesting to learn that Ian Mearns, Labour deputy leader of Gateshead council and new (and improved) Labour candidate for the new Gateshead constituency, was spotted in the ward having to deliver Labour's leaflet.

Then at the other end of the borough we have Chopwell and Rowlands Gill ward. Again, once a rock solid Labour seat. It is still Labour held and certainly in the Chopwell area (which used to be dubbed Little Moscow) Labour used to be well organised. And who was spotted delivering there for Labour? None other than the roving deputy leader and new, improved Labour candidate Ian Mearns.

Whilst I accept that we all move around to help marginal seats and seats under threat from opponents, the fact that Labour have to move such prominent local politician to bail out what should have been (but no longer is) safe Labour territory to do a basic campaign task is a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Interesting indeed.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcanic Clegg grounds Labservatives

The political tectonic plates are shifting (hopefully) following the performance of Nick Clegg in the Leaders' debate on Thursday. Labour and Conservative campaigns seem grounded as they try to work out how to deal with the Lib Dem lava surge and the political ash cloud that has drifted over them.

I predicted they would switch from love bombing us to nuking us after the debate. And now the Tories, at least, have attempted to do just that. According to them we are going to destroy the defences of the UK by not replacing Trident. This missile system has of course been fantastically useful in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars in which we have been able to nuke the Taliban and other terrorists into submission without needing permission of the Americans to deploy the ultimate weapon.

Watch out for the Tory claims about giving murderers community service orders and tax plans that will result in hard working millionaires being taxed into forced exile in Switzerland (or Belize).

Mind you, having seen the drivel put out by Labour in Newcastle (Lib Dems eat your babies for breakfast; don't leave your home as thugs will burn it down whilst you are out as Lib Dems didn't vote for some bit of legislation 7 years ago are just 2 slightly paraphrased lines of attack they have adopted) it seems clear that the Labour attack on us at least at the local level is well underway.

So, all we need now is for the Labour attack to start nationally. Bring it on!
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The sun shines on Lib Dems

The sun was certainly shining today, and I'm not referring to the opinion polls (which I take with a pinch of salt). It has been gloriously sunny all day in Blaydon constituency. Useful for when we are out canvassing and delivering.

My day started when I delivered a pile of letters that appeared on my desk last night. To my candidate Neil, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, or the bottom of something, for this extra exercise you inflicted on me! Back home after the delivery to get some lunch. I also made a trip over to the allotment. I have a fantastic excuse for getting David to do all the hard, manual graft on our self-sufficiency project at the moment: elections in the spring digging and planting season, oh what a wonderful idea. Anyway, we quickly shot some video on the allotment for my monthly self-sufficiency update.

Back home to shower and change into the suit. Then off to canvass with Neil and our Euro MP Fiona Hall. More sunny weather. The outs won by a landslide. There was also a significant number of don't knows. Drill down a bit and they were nearly all life long Labour voters who are deeply unhappy with their own party. Will they turn out for Labour, for us, for someone else or stay at home? This is one of the factors making this election uncertain in Blaydon.

We found no Conservatives voting Conservative. Indeed, we found precious few Conservatives at all, and the ones we did find were either voting for us of staying at home.

Cameron abandons sharing power

The "Big Society" idea of the Tories doesn't seem to stretch to politicians sharing power. The Tories claimed a Tory government would share power with the people. What they meant was that they want a majority so they don't share power with anyone.

That at least seems to be the response to the Lib Dem surge in the opinion polls. David Cameron warned that his party must have a majority to take "decisive" decisions. So, forget about power sharing with anyone, the Tories want it all for themselves. They've just chucked a central theme of their manifesto on the bonfire.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

I don't believe it!

I wasn't out canvassing today but our Blaydon candidate Neil Bradbury was. He said the feedback was positive. Nevertheless, I have been in politics too long to get euphoric about a surge in the polls. At the end of the campaign it is votes that count and we still have to earn them (as do our opponents). So I am taking with a pinch of salt the YouGov poll that puts us in 2nd place, ahead of Labour and only 3% behind the Conservatives. Indeed, I am finding the poll a bit hard to believe. It takes however more than a first rate performance by a Leader in a debate to do well in an election. A local campaign machine with strong grassroots is needed to deliver victory in winnable constituencies on polling day.

Nevertheless, a surge is welcome, as will be the attacks on us by our opponents who will soon switch from love bombing us to attempting to nuke us instead. What that will show to the voters is that the other two really do see us as a threat.

Mind you, surging too early has its problems. There are nearly three weeks still to go to have to maintain this.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Do not get carried away with the poll results

The Populus poll result on the Leaders' debate has just come through, putting Nick on 61%. Whilst this is good news, and added to the other polls all showing Nick in the lead (with Sky's poll putting Nick on 51%) I feel I am going to bed with a buzz, we should be cautious. Firstly, the shares in the polls are wildly different. Secondly, we now have a new challenge. The public perception is that Nick won. Now we have to maintain the momentum and hold on to the newly gained territory. And that will be a significant challenge indeed.

But watch now for the other parties turning their guns on us. I won't have a problem with that as it will look like the old parties ganging up on us to protect their own system. But we will have to be ready for it. Challenging times ahead.

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No knock out blows but a good performance from Nick

Just as with the Chancellors' debate, there were no knock out blows in the Leaders' debate tonight. No one seriously believed there would be one. I was concerned that Nick not being in the middle would end up with his being sidelined. My fears were unfounded. It worked to Nick's advantage. The programme came over as one in which Nick was at the top table but where the debate was one in which it was Nick versus the other two. That was very useful. The shots from the wings were particularly good. They showed Brown and Cameron together facing Nick. Very useful - the two old parties together versus Nick and the Lib Dems.

But ultimately this is massive airtime for us, the chance to put over our policies and have a huge audience. That was very, very useful.
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Ashes to ashes for election escape plans

For those who planned a holiday now to avoid the election, this must be a terrible day. Airports closed due to ash in the air from an Icelandic volcano. Airspace closed, planes grounded. Holidaymakers stuck in the UK. Maybe this is Iceland's reply to the UK's decision during the banking crisis to use terrorism powers to seize Icelandic assets.

This morning I had a very useful meeting with environmental services. On the agenda were flower beds, hanging baskets, tree planting, new recycling bins and litter. Meeting was in Chase Park in Whickham. From there I headed off to deliver some more Focuses. Back home now to start work on writing the next Parliamentary Campaigner.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Canvassing again

Freed from the need to write or print leaflets tonight, I did a bit of that other time honoured campaign activity - canvassing. This is not the first canvassing I have done since the PM called the election. I did some last week as well. Last week's most memorable canvass was of a lady in Whickham who told me she was once a Labour activists, is now UKIP but is voting for us.

Tonight's most memorable was the lady who is Conservative inclined but votes for us at every election going but whose daughter went to school with me a modest number of years ago! There was a gentleman at another house who is a committed Labour voter (and I think member) who said that years ago the Labour vote used ot be weighed in Blaydon constituency, but not any more. Another interesting house was one where Mr Voter was voting for us because we had called whereas Mrs Voter was a committed Conservative. "You have to vote for what you believe in," she said, after I put to her the point about her vote not counting in Blaydon as the Conservatives are well back in 3rd place. Mind you, there were other Conservative inclined voters who said to me unprompted that they will be voting Lib Dem as their party doesn't stand a chance of winning here.

There was quite a bit of Labour support that was edging our way and some that was edging towards the stay-at-home party. And there was one person who was in the plague-on-all-your-houses camp. I may have talked her round or I may just be engaging in wishful thinking. But at least she listened so she may well be thinking about it.

Back home and a different job had to be done. I needed to sort through a pile of old photos from the 1980s. I'll explain why in a few days' time but I found what I was after. In addition, I found some pictures of me looking distinctly younger from when I was first on the Council in the late 1980s. Also dusted down was a pile of photos from the Gateshead National Garden Festival in 1990 which includes some interesting pictures of Councillor Ian Mearns, now deputy leader of Gateshead Council and Labour candidate for the new Gateshead Constituency.

Ian, if you wish to contact me, I'm sure we can come to a special arrangement that stops the photos from appearing on this blog. You know my number!

It's all very well to admit mistakes now but...

Okay, we all make mistakes and yes, it's good that we admit them. But.....Today we have both the Prime Minister and Ed Balls admitting they failed to regulate the banks sufficiently before the banking crisis. It should be remembered that when Brown was Chancellor he deliberately had a light touch approach to the City. Ed Balls, when city minister, actually welcomed and praised the light touch approach adopted by Labour. And remember all the end-of-the-world claims Labour made about Lib Dem calls for better regulation of the banking system?

The simple fact is, Labour got it totally wrong (and so did the Tories who attacked Labour at the time for too much regulation.) The people will decide whether or not to accept the apology.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Time off from politics

After a dose of leafletting this evening, I returned home for a politics free evening. Or rather, I returned home for a sci-fi evening. The remake of V is on the Sci-Fi channel. I'm writing this during a commercial break!
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Radio Gateshead

We have now got our plans for a podcast to Gateshead residents off the ground. The format we have adopted is that of a local radio talk programme - some local news plus a panel to discuss local issues and in some cases give a more light-hearted view of the elections. This is of course all rather experimental but the main audience at the moment is the group of people who receive our email newsletters. The next edition will contain a link to the podcast.

This edition was recorded on Saturday evening (after a day's Focus deliveries and Dr Who). Guests were Cllr Brenda Osborne (Winlaton and High Spen Cllr and regular on BBC Radio Newcastle's Zoo) and Neil Bradbury, Lib Dem candidate for Blaydon.

We started with local news and had a few recorded interviews with others during the programme. Issues covered incude the "Get Carter" Gateshead car park which has been standing for some time as a half demolished monument to things we really want to see the back of, the election campaign, life as a first time local election candidate, favourite films of the panelists, why allotment-grown food is the best, and proposals to introduce parking charges in some local town centres not going ahead.

Link is:

Bottom of the "political class"

I have just watched the shambolic launch of the UKIP campaign which amounted to a bunch of journalists crammed into a small room and the members of the panel talking over each other. The only words I could pick up from Lord Pearson, the low profile UKIP leader, were "political class". These are his favourite words. He peppers all speeches with them. The question is, does this life peer who leads UKIP in Parliament regard himself as part of the "political class"? Secondly, what the hell does he mean by "political class"? Using a term like that without defining what is meant by it is normally enough to send you to the bottom of the class.

I am not sure yet if UKIP are standing in Blaydon. Last time they did but got only about 3%. We shall see.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Blasts from the past

The nominations for the local elections were published today. Since there has been no local literature at all in my area from Labour or the Conservatives, today was the day to learn who is standing against us. It was yet another eyebrow raising session.

In Whickham North, Labour's candidate is Paul Tinnion. He used to be one of the leading lights in the Labour group and I have to say I had a great deal of time for him. Though he lives in Whickham, he represented a ward in the east of Gateshead until he left the council in 2004. There had been a disagreement between himself and the Labour party. I said at the time that I thought Paul had been unfairly treated by Labour. Anyway, he is not exactly making a comeback, but does seem to be flying the flag for Labour again. Whickham North was once a safe Labour area but we first won the seat from them in 1992 and it has been strongly Lib Dem ever since.

Paul is also the Labour agent in Newcastle North so I guess his attentions are directed there rather than south of the Tyne in Whickham. Newcastle North is one of the constituencies we could pick up if Labour has a bad night on 6th May.

Two other blasts from the past are in my ward. Readers may recall the interesting saga I explained (in some detail) during the election-that-never-was in 2007 when Labour put out a leaflet in my ward filled with the most ridiculous and incorrect allegations and claims about the Lib Dems. There were screaming headlines alleging that Lib Dem run Newcastle had spent millions on a recycling and waste collection system that had to be abandoned straight away. The whole story had been made up. The name of Peter DeVere, Labour's candidate against me in 2007, was all over this leaflet.

Mr DeVere was contacted by me to be offered space in our Focus so that he could withdraw the incorrect and wildly inaccurate claims. His reply was that the leaflet had nothing whatsoever to do with him and he pointed the finger of blame at another Labour member. Well, it all resulted in a terrible mess for Labour and in the 2008 local elections, Mr DeVere was no longer a candidate. Now he's back....and I may be going through my archives to remind people again of the claims that were made in his name. But there again, I may spare him that. It hardly seems fair to hang around his neck again the daft things someone else hung there nearly three years ago.

The second blast from the past is Edward Parker. He used to stand for the Conservatives 20 or so years ago in our area but I have seen nothing of him for two decades. I recall he retired from the local branch of bank where he worked in the late 80s. He used to serve me when I went in. Pleasant chap. Always got on well with him.

So, good luck to Paul, Edward and Peter. We will of course be doing everything we can to ensure we beat you in the election, but I doubt you would have expected anything else from us!

A view from inside the print room

In the mad, mad world of Tory election claims, the most amusing I have found is that of the Tory from Tunbridge Wells in Kent who is standing in Blaydon. He claims most of our leaflets are printed in London. So, when I was in our office this morning in Whickham, which is in Blaydon constituency, (which is not in London but on Tyneside) I snapped a couple of shots of our group leader Cllr Noel Rippeth, and Ryton Councillor, Ione Rippeth, working on printing and folding leaflets.

Noel and Ione printing Apr 10 2

Noel and Ione printing Apr 10 1

And just to reassure the Tory and Labour readers of this blog, I can assure them there will be plenty more Lib Dem Focuses coming out of this office shortly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some photos from tonight’s Newcastle Lib Dem adoption meeting

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 20

Wendy Taylor, candidate for Newcastle East (currently held by Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown) speaks to the meeting.

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 15

Newcastle North candidate Ron Beadle runs out of fingers to count the number of council seats won by the Lib Dems from Labour in recent years in Newcastle.

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 13

A unanimous vote for the candidates.

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 9

Meeting chaired by City Council Leader John Shipley

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 16

Gareth Kane from Newcastle Central waiting to speak (we keep hearing rumours of Labour’s vote sinking quickly here).

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 11

Guest speaker was Alan Beith MP

Newcastle adoption meeting Apr 10 22

Diamonds are the Lib Dems’ best friends, especially in the form of poster boards! I set up this photo at the end of the meeting.

Weekend round up

A rare event happened yesterday. The Tory candidate from Tunbridge Wells was spotted in Blaydon constituency. And the person who saw him was none other than our own candidate Neil Bradbury. Neil was going into our office in Whickham at the time. Quite how long the Tunbridge Tory was hanging around outside our office door is not known. Why he was outside our office is not know either.

Perhaps he was wanting evidence to correct his recent allegation that we get most of our leaflets printed in London. Actually, most of our leaflets are printed in our Whickham office, right in the heart of Blaydon constituency. The Tory candidate's allegations are somewhat rich - after all, London is closer to Blaydon that Tunbridge!

Anyway, having spent yesterday morning delivering Focuses (printed in Blaydon constituency), I spent the afternoon preparing for the podcast we were recording in the evening. Stars of the podcast were Neil, Cllr Brenda Osborne and me. It will go out with our next email newsletter.

Today I had a bit of time off. Cause of this slack approach to election activity was Mother's birthday. I went to Newcastle this evening. Adoption meeting for the Newcastle candidates. There was some talk of feedback picked up from within the Labour party about Newcastle Central. I was shown some of the evidence for Labour's nervousness. Nice!

Anyway, I'm just about to sort the photos from the Newcastle meeting. Will report back again soon.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Labour's totally contradictory messages - in the same leaflet!

I called into the Newcastle North Lib Dem HQ yesterday to see how Ron Beadle was getting on. Whilst there I joined in the general merriment and hilarity about the totally contradictory claims about crime and public safety that had been found in the same Labour leaflet.

Turn to page 2 of Labour's "Local Voice". It states, "With a Lib Dem reluctance to vote in favour of the power to break up teen gangs, it's hardly surprising that many local residents have told The Local Voice that they are afraid to leave their homes at night."

Then turn to page 3 of the same "Local Voice" and find a quote from a Stuart Hepinstall, presumably a "local resident". What does Mr Hepinstall say? Here it is: "It feels safer to walk around here than in the past: there's more police and less crime."

I'm looking forward to the next edition. Apparently it will say on page 2 that Lib Dems spread plague and pestilence and as a result people are dying. On page 3, the "Local Voice" will be claiming that everyone is living longer, happier, healthier lives with Labour having eradicated all disease and illness.

The edition after that, it is rumoured, will be looking at the way Lib Dems eat babies for breakfast whilst simultaneously claiming that under Labour all breakfasts are vegetarian.

Friday, April 09, 2010

More on Labour's early freepost

I blogged yesterday about Labour having to make an early use of the freepost as they no longer have the manpower to deliver an early leaflet themselves in Blaydon. I speculated that Blaydon Labour Party may not be alone. Well, I was right. I was in Newcastle today to give a helping hand and I discovered Labour have done the same there as well. And I was told that Mark Pack has blogged about it happening across the country on Lib Dem Voice. If I wasn't so tied up writing and delivering literature I would read Mark's post myself!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised about this Labour tactic. Their organisation has been shot to bits over the past few years and volunteer manpower is in acutely short supply for the "socialist comrades".

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More on the Tory smoke and mirrors campaign

I blogged recently about a possibly Tory smoke and mirrors campaign in Blaydon constituency in which the Tories appear to be delivering their latest leaflet only to the homes of Lib Dem councillors. We think the aim is convince us they are putting in a campaign here when the reality is somewhat different. Well, I can report that more of my fellow councillors have received the Tory leaflet but none of their neighbours did!

For those not in the know, Blaydon is a marginal Labour held constituency with a 5000 majority over the Lib Dems. The Tories got only 8% last time. There are no Conservative Councillors in the constituency. The last time a Conservative was elected to Gateshead Council here was in 1984. They held on to the then Whickham South ward by 25 votes over us. In the following election we won the seat with a majority of around 700. The year after that we won the 2nd seat from the Tories with a majority of 856 ( I remember it specifically as I was the winning candidate!) The rest is history, or rather The Tories are history here. In my ward in the last elections, the Tories got 9%, and that in a ward where a generation ago, they used to get over 50%.

The point is that the Tories here were finished years ago. Their choice of a Parliamentary candidate who lives in Kent is not inspiring confidence amongst Tory voters.

Meanwhile, Labour weakness in the constituency is adding an interesting ingredient into the battle.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Labour's freepost leaflet arrives

I have blogged recently about the lack of any Labour literature in Blaydon constituency. Well, today (Thursday) we had the answer. A Labour leaflet arrived. The fact that it was their freepost to the first name in each household was enough to raise an eyebrow with me. Labour have had to use their main freepost literature as a flying start leaflet. Yes, this frees up some election expenses for use on other literature during the campaign, but it also suggests that Labour have a significant problem getting material delivered. In other words, in Blaydon constituency much of the Labour grassroots have died out. I guess Labour faces rhe same problem elsewhere.

My guess is that Labour will use the freed up election expenses to send direct mail by post. Royal Mail can do the delivery that Labour's crumbling grassroots can no longer do. Quite how Labour will deliver their local election material is yet to be seen.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Election Podcast Day 2: Tory smoke and mirrors (and other things)

My not so serious take on the days political events. It's day 2 and the Tories may be running a smoke and mirrors campaign in Blaydon.

Tory smoke and mirrors exposed?

A car drew up outside my house this morning. Out stepped a man who came to my front door and popped something through the letter box. I watched this from upstairs. Time for a break, I thought, and a chance to find out what had been put through the door. So I went downstairs and saw that it was a Tory leaflet. Through my front room window I then saw the person heading back to his car without delivering to any other house in the street. I walked out into the front garden and looked up and down the street. There was no one else delivering. The car drove off.

Very odd, I thought. Someone had driven into my street and delivered a Tory leaflet to me only. I probably wouldn't have thought much more of it except that 20 minutes later, my ward colleague Cllr Marilynn Ord arrived on my doorstep to tell me of an interesting experience: a few minutes earlier a man had pulled up outside her house, delivered the same Tory leaflet I had received, then drove off without delivering a copy to any other house.

Is this a Tory smoke and mirrors campaign designed to make it look as if they are putting out leaflets and running a campaign in Blaydon constituency, one of the most unwinnable seats fort eh Tories in Britain? If so, delivering in broad day light was perhaps not the best way to try to pull off this trick.

My other colleague Cllr John McClurey hasn't been home yet. He's in our office in Whickham printing more of our own leaflets. I guess the print run of our leaflets is a bit longer that that of the Tories. He will check tonight to see if he has received the Tory leaflet, and whether or not his neighbours have.

Talking of leaflet deliveries, Marilynn and I went out leafletting over lunchtime. Neither of us saw any evidence of any other political leaflets having been delivered recently. We did however see previous copies of Focuses and our constituency tabloids.

Election Podcast - day 1: beware of the dragon

I'm doing a regular podcast about the election, more lighthearted than serious. Beauty sleep disturbed by leaflet nightmares, the Focus cock-up and watch out for signs of dragons. It must be day 1 of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

My first post announcement, pre-election, Focus delivery workout

I am just back from delivering 200 Focuses with 200 flying start leaflets added on for Neil Bradbury in Blaydon constituency. I can forsee lots more of these. Indeed, I woke up at 5am today thinking about leaflet deliveries. I can imagine I will have lots of sleep sessions interrupted by such thoughts in the coming weeks!

I have seen no sign at all of Labour literature being delivered in my ward. We know Labour have been doing some phone canvassing in some parts of Blaydon constituency. We know they have put out a letter in one ward and a leaflet in another, but I have seen little evidence of anything else other than some soft Labour supporters who have been phoned back by David Anderson, the Labour MP here.

Yet in 2007, when the election-that-never-was was about to be not held, Labour managed to get a leaflet out in my ward, and in two of the neighbouring wards which also are Lib Dem held. I know the Labour party self-destructed over the ridiculous content of the leaflets and there were all sorts of rows as a result. But even so, I would have expected something from Labour by now.

Even the Tory from Tunbridge Wells who is standing here has managed to get more leaflets out than Labour (though 5 copies of the same leaflet delivered to my home over a 2 week period seems a bit odd.) Mind you, the Tories have no grassroots here so their leaflets are delivered by a commercial company along with flyers for the local pizza takeaway and taxi company (which is not called Stephen Byers Cab Co!)

So from Labour we are not picking up much on the radar. Below the radar we see little bits happening, but not a great deal. May be they are complacent, or possibly they have no manpower or cash left, or possibly they've done lots that I haven't spotted.

Anyway, I'm off to collect some more leaflets now for delivery tomorrow. Oh joy!

Wall to wall coverage of closed doors

The entire nation's tv news teams are huddled in Downing St waiting for the unsurprising news that Brown is going to go to the Palace to fire the election starting pistol. So for ages, all we have had are wall to wall views of closed doors and the Queen's helicopter landing at Buckingham Palace.

And as I write this, Brown emerges from the Downing St bunker and we are getting a detailed explanation and helicopter view of the car journey to the Palace. Well, it doesn't get more exciting than this!

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Shock news from Sky

I have just finished writing Parliamentary Campaigner for publication on Tuesday so I thought I would catch the news headlines before sliding into bed. And the shock news from Sky is? "Labour sources: Brown will call the election today (Tuesday) for 6th May." Sky must have some incredible sources! This news will come as a shock to the entire nation! What a well kept secret!

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sun tans courtesy of Focus leaflets

I last caught the sun in November last year whilst doing some filming and travelling in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Today, the not so sunny weather of Tyneside still ensured I got a pleasant hue to my skin that some would pay a fortune to acquire on a sunbed (or on some sunny beach somewhere abroad). Others pay wads of cash to pass through the doors of a gym to work off the excess fat. Delivering Focus newsletters (and Parliamentary campaign leaflets) meets the fat challenge head on (though given we pay for our Focus leaflets it may be cheaper to do the gym instead!)

Anyway, I am back home now ready to do battle with the PC on the PC - I'm writing the next edition of Parliamentary Campaigner on my PC and the clock is ticking on this one. I need to finish by Tuesday morning. I see late nights ahead.

Labour below 30%

I had expected Labour's opinion poll ratings to rise as we got closer to the election. Indeed, from the lows of last year there had been a general recovery in the Labour poll position. The Conservative lead had been narrowing since the start of the year.

But recently, Labour has slipped below 30%, a rating that puts them around where they were in the 1983 general election. It is not just the events of the past week that have delivered such a poor position for Labour. The drift downwards predates the row over big business backing for the Conservatives' plans not to tax big business on National Insurance.

Labour below 30% represents a meltdown in their vote. With a degree of tactical voting added in to the mix, Labour could be facing a loss of over 150 seats. The question is, will this happen in the election?

I suspect Labour's poll ratings are higher than the opinion polls show. Like the Tories in the later 90s, people are less inclined to admit to their embarrassing little secret of being a Labour supporter. And just as the polls over stated Labour's support in the 1990s, they may be doing the same with the Conservatives now.

Nevertheless, polls taken together can reveal trends. And the trend at the moment is one of sinking Labour support with the Tories staying level.
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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Missing Dr Who for a print run

This is a terrible experience. I have missed the first edition of the new Dr Who so that I can be in the office printing Focus leaflets. And they weren't even for my ward! Plus, there was a queue to use the machine when I got here. Fortunately David has recorded Dr Who so when I get back home, I will have an evening of sci-fi bliss.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Helping in Newcastle

I have just finished a delivery round in Newcastle and I'm waiting for the rest of my team to switch on their phones so I can tell them I'm finished. However, putting aside the irritating problem of people not switching on their phones, I can report further on the interesting development in Westgate ward of Newcastle. I mentioned in passing recently that Labour voters are developing an increasing tendency not to back Labour in the general election and that only one of their ward councillors has a profile sufficient enough to generate a personal vote.

I now hear rumours from our people on the patch that the councillor who is defending the ward this year, Cllr O'Brien, has a bit of a negative when it comes to where he lives. I understand Mr O'Brien lives some distance away in posh Gosforth. This isn't a useful selling point. Whether or not this is enough to keep victory from Labour in the ward in May is not clear but Cllr O'Brien got in by less than 200 votes when he was last elected. And I hear a few of our people are fancying our chances there.

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Decades ago, when I was at Whickham Comp 6th form taking my A levels, and when I was first studying history at Newcastle University, I used to watch a sci-fi series called "V". I loved it. Couldn't get enough of it! And tonight I discovered on YouTube that there has been a remake. It's on the Sci-Fi channel starting on 13th April. Back in the days when I was of a younger disposition, my studies were put to one side whilst I enjoyed the invasion of earth courtesy of a bunch of lizards disguised as humans.

Later this month, the election campaign will be put to one side whilst I watch the remake of "V". I'm not missing it for anything!
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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Excellent news about the trains

A second major ballot on industrial action has collapsed in tatters. The RMT left the courts this afternoon with their strike plans turned to dust. Though Unite are engaged in a dispute at BA, their initial strike plans fell apart because of the sloppy nature of the ballot. Hopefully, the RMT members will take the opportunity to reject strike demands in the follow on ballot the union will hold for rail signalmen. 54% voted for action last time so the desire for an industrial strike is not overwhelming. A rail strike is needed like a hole in the head.
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Jumping the gun in the cold

We didn't have snow yesterday in Gateshead but it was very cold. And typically, it had to happen on a day when we were doing a tour of Whickham village centre. We started in the car park behind the library, then went over to Chase Park, and then walked down to the Hermitage Community Garden. When that was done, we headed in to the Community Centre for a meeting of the Inner West Forum.

Park equipment in Sunniside and Swalwell Parks were amongst the issues discussed. Then at the end, a known Labour supporter congratulated the chairman of the Forum, Cllr Ian Mearns, on his selection as Labour candidate for Gateshead and said this was therefore his last meeting as chair. There is the slight issue of the general election and people's right to democratic participation and the right to vote for one's MP to take into account. Ian was a bit more circumspect, saying he hoped it was his last meeting! Ian is defending a comfortable Labour majority and many may feel he is on his way to Westminster. But wouldn't it bring a smile to the faces of some if Cllr Mearns were to retain his position as Forum chairman and not have to look for that one bedroom rented flat in London after all!?
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