Sunday, 28 February 2010

Vote for Change - but is it change for the better?

I was out in Winlaton today, for most of the day the weather held and I got a good reception. Then I met an old friend for a bite to eat and a chat. When I was at college with her, she was a died in the wool Tory. Now she is fairly apolitical but was scathing about Cameron, who she considers lightweight and too much of a toff to understand the problems of normal people. We also had a really interesting chat about the worrying situation in Pakistan, a country some of her family live in.

Then I came home and watched the news and got to see the aforementioned Cameron launching his agenda for change. Fine words but does anyone really feel the Conservatives naturally in their hearts are much changed from the party that started the slip in social mobility in society that Labour has continued with? As a party their policies will embed disadvantage. An example their policy for "fair votes". Each constituency would have the same number of voters under the Conservatives apparently. That will co-incidentally give the Conservatives extra seats. But the current stagnant situation from an unfair electoral system where there are lots of safe seats where there has been no change in the party winning it for 30 years (50%) and where voters have little chance of booting out their MP is welcomed. Fortunately Blaydon has ceased to be such a seat and this election, here at least promises to be one where there is a real choice between Labour and the Liberal Democrats

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Challenge Accepted

A friend of mine, who lives outside of Blaydon constituency, bizarrely received a leaflet from my Conservative opponent, Glenn Hall. Very interesting reading! There is one thing at least that he agrees with my Labour Opponent on. That it is between the Conservatives and Labour here and you definitely shouldn't consider voting for the pesky Lib Dems!

I welcome these silly season articles from Glenn and our outgoing Labour MP, because it gives me another opportunity to remind readers of the actual facts of this election in Blaydon. The Conservatives got 8% of the vote last time and don't have a single councillor in Gateshead or Newcastle. The bookies place Glenns Odds of winning at 66-1. It's simple, if you are sick of Gordon Brown the Lib Dems are the only party credibly able to beat Labour round here.

I had a look at the Conservatives website for this area (office address Westerhope, Newcastle!) and in it was a news article from Glenn saying he had written to me challenging me to a debate. Great news. Now I have a contact email for him, I have responded straight away. As I believe in full disclosure, here is my reply:

Dear Glenn

Firstly, let me welcome you to the race to be the MP for Blaydon. I am pleased that the Conservatives have finally selected a candidate. I have had a look at your website, which had a news article saying that you had challenged myself and Mr Anderson to a debate. I’m afraid I have not yet received this “challenge” by email or post but am happy to debate with you, Labours candidate and indeed any other candidates for Blaydon Constituency. Like you, I think it’s vital that people are given the opportunity to question the people who want the honour of being elected to Parliament and am happy to have a debate in any format.

I would suggest that it would be great to take the debate to as many communities in the constituency as possible. Ideally, it would be best to have as many debates as possible in the 10 wards in the constituency. In terms of a date, I am aware that you are probably a bit more inflexible than me with your legal work in the City of London and your council duties in Royal Tunbridge Wells and David is quite rightly in Westminster a lot, so I will leave date proposals to yourself and our Labour opponent.

I am looking forward to a robust exchange of views and a clean campaign over the coming months.

Kind regards,

Neil Bradbury

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Brewing Up Support

I was very pleased to sign the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) Beer Drinkers and Pub Goers Charter, which can be seen here:

There are many great community pubs in the Blaydon constituency serving natural British real ale. There is a wealth or Tyneside micro breweries who, unlike Newcastle Brown Ale for which production is being regrettably moved to Yorkshire, are investing int he North East and promoting our regional identity. As a result CAMRA have kindly allowed me to use the logo on the left. So there it is! The loss of local pubs partially due to cheap supermarket booze is a great loss to local communities.

My current favourite pub in the constituency is the Golden Lion in Winlaton Mill but I would be interested to know where else readers enjoy.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Chopwell couple Begin Again

regular readers of my blog will know I occasionally "big up" local businesses. I have recently been contacted by a local Chopwell Couple (Fiona and Dean Teasdale) who have set up an online shop,, which sells a range of gifts in recycled packaging. All very ecologically sound so have a look. They are also organising a craft fair in Blackhall Mill Community Association on Sunday 11th April. It's for people who mainly make or produce their own goods for sale, which sounds like a farmers market for people who make things and is a really good idea.

The Fair will run from 9.00am until 4.00pm and anyone wishing to have a stall, can email them at:

The costs for stalls are:
  • £10 per table if you need them to provide a table - although we only have a very limited number.
  • £5 per table if you bring your own tables.
It seems like a good event, with all proceeds from the raffle on the day going to the Community Association. So come along and buy some stuff or brings some stuff and have a stall!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Confidentiality a must from the charitable sector

I was appalled today to see the founder of the charity the "National Bullying Helpline" breach a confidence and state that workers in Gordon Browns office called the line. As a charity manager for a CAB, who are mildly (and rightly) obsessed with confidentiality, I cannot conceive of a reason for releasing client details without permission.

The charity is actually a very small one and not part of the national network of helplines, the helplines association. I agree with Nick Clegg that the allegations of bullying should be investigated but this charity has breached one of the cardinal rules of charities that help people, that clients details should not be released. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

How do you solve a problem like Gordon?

This is the question people in the Labour party must be asking. After a weekend out on the campaign trail its clear that Gordon Brown does not have the confidence of voters. So its clear that Labour have to do something. They've tried to show his human side in the same week that allegations of him bullying staff surfaced. I am not sure there is a way to solve it. People do not trust the judgement of a man who for years promised "no return to Boom and Bust" and then presided over the biggest recession of any major western democracy.

After a day and a half of campaigning, I went to the Gateshead International Stadium to watch North East Rugby League side Gateshead Thunder take on Batley but the game had been called off due to a frozen pitch. Once home I watched the film District 9, which is an interesting science fiction film that makes some really interesting satirical points about South Africa under Apartheid

Monday, 15 February 2010

Casework and Co-ops

After work I have spent an hour with a future constituent helping them with a problem, part of which is problems with the decent homes programme which is meant to ensure that social housing is brought up to a minimum level of habitable living. There are real problems with this programme, from which the government has raided money from to fund affordable housing construction, a noble aim but not at the expense of existing tenants.

Then I returned home and read, on the BBC, about the Tory plans for public sector workers to be able to set up workers co-operatives to run their own services. The three main parties are in broad agreement that voluntary sector organisations should be able to run public services. In fact, under Labour some limited examples of "spin offs" where staff form charities and run the services, have happened. An example is Central Surrey Health, which has taken over community care and was spun out of the Primary Care Trust. It is suceeding because of the visionary leadership of a management team and because the staff team were at such a low ebb this option seemed attractive.

However, as someone who spent 5 years helping voluntary groups scale up to win public sector contracts and now bids for them as a Charity manager, I have a few issues with the Tory proposals. I think the Tories underestimate the complications of part of a public sector spinning itself off. We are encouraged to consider a Social Enterprise model in the NHS but the problem is that new staff cannot be part of the NHS pension scheme, immediately making it less attractive as an employment option. If you do allow access to the same public sector employment terms you expose public sector finances to considerable risk in that this co-op would be effectively subsidised. For example, in the NHS the pension system is a pay as you go system so if the pension liability encumbered by the state increases at a later date, the Co-op staff members do not pay.

If Co-op members can profit from cost cutting, a proposal in the Tory plans, then what happens when the reverse happens - i.e. when the co-op fails and the service is essential and hard to provide by other bodies? It is very likely the co-op members would not be liable. So its hard to make work without stacking all the cards in the contracted organisations favour. In addition, I am a critic of the Foundation Trusts and Academy model, as it has reduced the joint working in the public sector and incentivised public bodies to hide information.

This is not to say that charities and indeed private sector organisations will not have a vital role in delivering public services. They always have, from your NHS funded Dentist to independent firms maintaining the roads. But the Tory Plans are overly simplistic and strike me as an attempt to appear not like the nasty party interested in preserving the affluent lifestyles of the rich few at the expense of the rest of us. As usual their plans lack intellectual rigour and are a cheap attempt to grab a headline. Real reform takes decades not weeks.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentines Day is for ... Residents Surveys

I am not a total unromantic but spent the beggining of today surveying residents of Dunston Hill who use Lobley Hill Bank on the changes to the roads there. A real mixed bag but a lot of people are not happy with the work the council has undertook. Then a meeting with some Whickham Councillors.

This afternoon, however, I took a rare afternoon off and took my wife to a lovely little Cafe followed by a trip to Waterstones. Donna is happiest when she has her head in a book so this is a romantic gesture! She is going to return the gesture soon with a romantic gesture of her own, when she's going to serve me a Beef Goulash, pretty devoted stuff from a vegetarian!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Doorsteps, Pensions and Council homes

Out on the doorsteps again today and had trouble finding Labour supporters - maybe they are too embarrassed! I met plenty of former Labour voters however. One recounted how she had just had a letter telling her that her state pension had cone up by 34p. She was annoyed that the increase wasn't much more than the cost of posting the letter.

Three residents also mentioned how they were worried about the lack of affordable housing and all p-laced the blame on the Tories sell off of council houses in the 1980s. People have long memories and don't forget it when they are betrayed. I wonder how long it will be before Labour are forgiven for the mistakes of Mr Blair and Mr Brown?

Monday, 8 February 2010

The cosy consensus needs breaking

I was disgusted to see the three Labour MPs (one of whom is my in-laws MP!) trying to claim Parliamentary Privilege, the age old principle that most of us thought was there to enable MPs to have full freedom of speech in the chamber, to stop them being taken to court against charges of fiddling their expenses.

This Labour government (and indeed the Tory opposition) has been late in the day to realise the need to reform expenses. MPs like the Lib Dem Norman Baker and Labour MP Kate Hoey were in the minority taking the house of commons to task.

Nick Clegg launched his "Take Back Power" agenda before the new year, which went much further than other parties in calling on parliament to use this opportunity to totally reform the rotten situation in parliament.

It calls for:
1. Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full
2. Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct
3. House of Lords reform
4. Party funding reform
5. Fixed term Parliaments
6. Enabling legislation for a referendum on proportional representation
7. Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power

It's still not too late but I suspect this will only happen when more Lib Dems are elected to Parliament.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Hard to learn from your mistakes when you don't believe you ever make any

Interesting to see Claire Shorts account of the build up to the Iraq war today. To me the war was an illegal one and Blair bears a heavy responsibility for legitimising the agenda of the Bush Administration. The shame about the Iraq enquiry is that the media seems focus all about the legality of the war. Important as it is, it is even more imperative that we learn from it and don't repeat the mistakes. It was a shame to see that Blair thinks there was nothing that he would do different and in fact he would be tempted to repeat his action in Iran!