Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The apathy party

Went canvassing with my colleagues tonight again. Got a good response and some great feedback. I think the big enemy to all parties at this election is likely to be apathy. A lot of people are increasingly turned off by politics and by the increasing tendency for the politicians to just engage in yah boo politics. They think we're all the same when they see the MPs misbehaving in the current parliament. Unfortunately by not voting they are handing their vote to others.

All I can say is that I am who I am and how I would operate if elected. I think we need to get back to politics being about ideas and what I am advocating to help the constituency and the country over the other candidates. Naive perhaps but I think this is what voters want.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Dunston Hill and Debate

Had a great day out delivering leaflets, first in Birtley then in Blaydon. Then it was over to Dunston Hill for a session of canvassing with our excellent candidate for Dunston Hill and Whickham East, Sonya Hawkins. She is relatively new to politics at a formal level, having been involved in very grass roots campaigning to date, so it is great to have her enthusiasm for the month ahead. We formed a dynamic duo on the doorsteps and I think residents were quite chuffed to be canvassed by both their local and parliamentary candidates at the same time.

Sonya hadn't done much of this before so I accompanied her for a few doors. The first two people were coming out of the shower. One was in his boxers only and the next in a towel! I felt sorry for Sonya but it got much easier from then on. Ten years ago voters were embarrassed on the doorstep to confess they voted Tory. Now it seems, it is Labour voters who are embarrassed. I found it hard to find Labour voters. I still don't underestimate the scale of the challenge the Liberal Democrats face in winning Blaydon. But it is "do-able" and people are really really sick of Labour and want a change here. It was gratifying to talk to people who normally vote Tory but realise that they have the chance of a lifetime to get rid of their Labour MP and are switching their vote this time.

After all this, I watched the Chancellors debate on channel 4. As always I was very proud of the good sense and straight talk of Vince Cable, our shadow chancellor. George Osbourne came across as very inexperienced and I do not think he is an asset to the Tories at all. Darling seems to be much bolder since it became known that Brown was trying to sack him in the last reshuffle. But he can't escape the fact that it is the last 13 years under Labour that this country went on a debt fuelled boom, all whilst every Labour minister promised "no return to boom and bust"!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Whickham, Brushes and TV

I have had an eventfull day on the campaign trail today. Early on (and it felt much earlier on due to BST starting today!) I was out with the team leafletting in Whickham. Then it was off to a Brush Factory (Cottam Brush in Hebburn - a very modern and impressive facility) to be interviewed by BBCs Politics show about the budget and manufacturing.

I was with a candidate for the Conservatives and one for Labour. Curiously we were all 33! It's odd talking to perfectly nice people who, when the cameras come on want to argue with you. It was interesting that neither of them has had any experience of being a councillor or of being involved in public administration at all. I personally think it really helps me that I have been involved in local government for 7 years now. It gives me experience of how things work. I wouldn't like to go straight into Parliament without any experience of these things.

Anyway, I haven't really done live TV before so it was a bit daunting, especially as we were wired up for sound and the wire to my microphone was to short for me so I had to have it strapped into my pocket! Anyway I didn't feel like I got enough of my views across about manufacturing, so I will post them later. Anyway must dash, more leaflets to deliver!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Full campaign starts now!

Well its been nice today, spring is here but instead of pottering around my garden, I will be going around Blaydon constituency in earnest. I was out today knocking on doors and I've got to say I am really enjoying getting out there and talking to people.

Full credit to Donna, my wife, who is putting up with me during this time. Today she produced a Goose egg she had got from an old fashioned grocer. It is massive and I'm going to have it boiled for breakfast tomorrow. That should give me plenty of zip to get through another long day in the constituency.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

"Its not as awful as it could have been and anyway it's not our fault"

This was the message of Alistair Darling in todays budget. The most exciting thing was news of tax sharing with Belize and a stamp duty holiday for first time buyers if they meet stringent criteria.

It neither took the radical steps I believe are necessary to make the tax system fairer for lower income people in work nor did it address at all how this country will make the necessary cuts to balance our budget in time. Labours approach is to stick its head in the sand whilst the Tories think if they make a lot of noise no one will notice that they have very little idea of where they are going to make cuts and efficiency savings. Vince Cable on the other hand has been quite clear.

I am getting a bit cheesed off with Gordon "no return to boom and bust" Brown and Alistair Darling trying to blame the mess the UK is in totally on the global situation. Why then are we one of the last western countries to come out of recession. It was this government who encouraged an over dependence on banking rather than actually making things we can export and it was this government that encouraged a massive personal debt bubble. So a nothing budget and, as Nick Clegg said today, the obituary of 13 years of failure.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Proud to stand up for children

I was pleased today to be able to sign up to the NSPCCs pledge for candidates at the general election. This signs me up to:

  • A better resourced child protection system and ensuring it is protected from cuts.
  • Better protection for children living with domestic violence.
  • More therapeutic services for children who have experienced abuse.
  • Continued government funding of helplines for children and for adults concerned about a child.
I am passionate that we need to do more for child protection, especially for those who have suffered from abuse. I think there are a lot of innovative approaches being developed by the NSPCC and others.

Altogether Rather Grubby

For once I agree with Peter Mandleson in his assessment of the behaviour of ex Labour ministers touting for business with Channel 4s journalists who posed as lobbyists looking for influence in Government. Although the irony of Lord Mandelson criticising others for using their political positions for personal enrichment is somewhat thick!

I watched Channel 4s Dispatches programme last night with some trpidation, because politics needs some more political sleaze like a hole in the head as we try to get people to vote in the forthcoming general election.

North East Stephen Byers came off worst in my opinion as he bragged of how he could help clients change legislation. Either he was grossly exaggerating his work or he really has done the things he claims. Neither reflects well on him. But equally worrying was the way in which Patricia Hewitt (former Secretary of State for Health) has gone onto the board of Boots and a body which provides private healthcare and has apparently used her influence to help her clients. Geoff Hoon also appeared somewhat desperate for work post April. Is suspect these people will now not be going automatically to the house of Lords and will see their earnings potential drop substantially.

Unfortunately all people interested in being involved in politics get tarred with the same brush. That upsets me because if elected I would not behave in this way. I'm not perfect but if I am lucky enough to be elected, I promise to:

*Not take any additional jobs for which I receive payment (although I reserve the right to continue to do voluntary work in my spare time)
*Not accept money from external agencies or bodies to fund foreign trips or other freebies
*To openly declare on my website any hospitality I have enjoyed
*To post all receipts of expenses and copies of forms submitted to the House of Commons on my website so everyone can see within weeks what I have claimed for
*Not to buy a flat in London and to get an economical place to stay that costs the taxpayer as little as possible
* To press for complete transparency of expenses in the House of Commons and for getting rid of people profiting from the expenses regime

Monday, 22 March 2010

Chopwell needs more identity?

I was in Chopwell again today campaigning. It is true of a lot of parts of the constituency that they feel separate from Gateshead, the local authority. I live just over the Stanley Burn where in Prudhoe there has always been a tradition of a local parish council, of which I am a member. As one of the two senior councillors in Prudhoe my Town Councillor colleagues often use it to give me hell but local government is alive and well. I really think that, for the communities in Blaydon who are furthest away from the centre (I'm thinking of Birtley, Chopwell and Rowlands Gill for example) local people could do with more local representation than just a few Gateshead councillors.

This isn't a party political issue and in other communities in the community, such as Blackhall Mill, this has been achieved through a really strong community association. In Birtley I am aware the Town Council folded. But I think that local communities should try to look at how they can get together and help turn their communities around. A good start of course would be to elect good Liberal Democrat councillors to Gateshead Council on May 6th!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A day off!

A very unusual Sunday in that I did nothing on the campaign trail! It was my wifes birthday and went out for sunday lunch with friends to make a bit of a fuss of her. She sees a lot less of me these days than normal with all the candidate responsibilities, which may or may not be a good thing from her perspective! One things for sure, I am not pulling my weight around the home so I'm going to try to get to grips with the Ironing.

I also went to see Gateshead Thunder Rugby League win for the first time this season. They lost by 96 points earlier in the week so it was a must win. In truth the team are not yet very competitive but Chris Hood and the team have worked minor miracles after the clubs previous benefactor pulled out in the close season and the club effectively was liquidated. To have a club at all is a miracle. I keep saying that I will take up a suggstion of poster on this site and go and watch some Rugby Union with one of the great teams in the constituency. Blaydon are playing Launceston in National League 1 next week I think so I will try to get along.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Campaigning and Phone Masts

Today was a good day. Started off with a bit of leaflet delivery in a key part of the constituency, then went to lend a hand in Newcastle to a good friend of mine, Gareth Kane, who is running a great campaign to be elected to parliament in Central Newcastle.

Then I went over to Whickham to the Glebe, where there are already a lot of mobile phone masts. Vodaphone want to have a mast not on the playing field but by the bus stop on the main road. A lot of residents are objecting to the location and say it should be set back like all the other masts in the playing field area rather than on a main road. I think they have a point and our councillors are looking into it.

Finally I went to see some councillors in Ryton to discuss issues they have. A busy day!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Soldiers Club Crawcrook Fire

I was saddened to hear of the Soldiers club in Crawcrook being burnt down last night. Amazingly this is the fourth time in six months that the club has been attacked in this way and now is burnt to the ground. It's really shocking, I know many people who are members. Anyone with information is urged to ring police on 08456 043 043 ext 64347 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Reform and the NHS - worrying calls from the right

I must say that I was again shocked by the latest report of public services think tank Reform. They argue for reductions in NHS hospital beds and for care to be moved out into the community, therefore saving money. This is fair enough and replicates much of what goes on in the country.

Unfortunately they then focus in on the fact that the North East has more beds per 1,000 population, with the clear link that the North East has over provision of hospital beds. I recall Tory health spokesperson Chris Grayling making a similar point on a visit up here. These right wing think tanks ignore that the North East has high levels of poor health due to its history of heavy industry and poverty. In addition, it has a relatively low population meaning that the number of beds per 1,000 people will be lower as you need minimum bed numbers. All of the hospitals need to be careful with their budgets but I sense that the right in Britain is edging towards wanting to cut the NHS further and to focus in on the North East.

Reform has both Labour and Lib Dem MPs on its advisory board. I worry that this gives too much of an image of Reform as a balanced think tank. I wonder if these centre left MPs should rethink their position.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

A great speech

I have just come out of the conference hall when Nick Clegg made a great speech to conference. The media (and increasingly my Conservative opponent!) are desperate to engage us in discussions about who we would vote for if there was a hung parliament, if we were the third smallest party and if could swing a vote. Quite a few "ifs"! Nick is determined to put forward why people should vote for us. He has quite clearly stated that we are not going to play some kind of "king maker" role.

The main thing is that the more people vote for our policies, namely fairer taxes, more investment in education and politics cleaned up with power passed from Parliament to local people, the more they will happen.

In Blaydon constituency the choice is clear, its between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. I would encourage readers to have a look at the two parties websites, www.libdems.org.uk and www.labour.org.uk and decide which is best for their area. Now going to spend an evening with my grandma who is in her nineties and a living advert for the excellence of the NHS! I don't see her as much as I'd like to so I am taking a day out from conference to see her.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A good day at conference

I had a good day at conference today. Firstly I was called to speak on our Fair Taxes debate. We are the only major party with a radical plan for reforming tax, which has been drawn up by our inspirational shadow chancellor Vince Cable, who spoke later.

I spoke about how our policy of helping the working poor and other low income earners by abolishing the unfair Council Tax and raising the Income Tax allowance was typical of an approach that summed up my reasons for involvement in politics. I must admit that I also questioned the need for a pilot of our Local Income Tax before it was rolled out. I wouldn't call myself a rebel on this one but I do think Council Tax is such an unfair tax I would prefer us to move more quickly than our current "safety first" approach. However, you have to trust that Vince and his treasury team have good reasons for this approach so I will be asking them about this.

Then I was able to speak to Chris Huhne, our Home Affairs spokesperson, about the issues that have arisen from the Swalwell Advice Centre problems I have spoken about earlier and the need for effective regulation of advice organisations. We have promised to speak next week to look into this.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Great atmosphere at conference

I am at the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference in Birmingham this weekend. Birmingham has certainly moved on since I was last here and is a great venue. The good news is that this conference will be coming to Gateshead in two years time, so great for the delegates and even better for the local economy. Nick Clegg gave a great speech at tonight's opening Rally and there is a real feeling of positivity about our chances. This is tempered with a need to be even more practical than ever and make 100% sure that our policies work and are completely transparent and understandable.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

In praise of Nora

I have returned from a great evening addressing the DSD residents group AGM in Crawcrook. I really must pay tribute to the chair Nora who has led the group from the front. The community group has really brought the community together and ensured that a small council estate always gets lots of attention from the council and the housing company. A true community gem.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Lost Labours

Was shown a very interesting paper today by John Kampfner, former editor of the New Statesman and top journalist. Called Lost Labour, it details how most of what he hoped for from New Labour has not happened.

It is an interesting read and poses as many challenges to my party as encouragements. John voted Lib Dem for the first time in 2005 over the Iraq war. Now he supports us because he sees us as the true inheritor of the progressive politics championed by Robin Cook in the Labour Party.

The paper can be found here:

http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/lost-labours.pdf

Monday, 8 March 2010

Need for accredited advice


The terrible case of Lilian Rayne, a Paralegal who operated an organisation called the Swalwell Advice Centre and was found guilty in January of duping couples into paying her to arrange divorces and who then forged fake divorce certificates, emphasises the need for a requirement for any organisation that provides advice to have the proper quality mark. The Swalwell Advice Centre was not a registered charity or company and did not appear to have appropriate liability insurance or accreditation.

It is shocking that in this day and age anyone can set up offering advice on legal and financial advice without any training. CABx are well audited as are organisations that are part of Advice UK. The Legal Services Commission issues organisations with a Community legal Services mark. This would be a good thing to look for in an advice agency. I will be raising the need for a more compulsory scheme for advice with the Lib Dem justice department to avoid other innocent people being duped.

CLS logo - what to look for

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Indecent Homes part 2

Gateshead Council and my Labour opponent are very keen to boast about the governments Decent Homes standard and the great work Gateshead Council is doing in improving homes. I am getting an increasing load casework from Council tenants who are not so impressed.

Today I visited the home of a Council Tenant in Blaydon, who is having her house rewired by the Council. I have to say I was totally disgusted. As a council tenant in the house of 13 years and a single mum with three young children, she has been treated very shabbily.

The house is riven with damp and one of her daughters had to be taken to hospital a year ago with pneumonia. The windows get drafts through and her extremely inefficient boiler is not to be replaced despite all the neighbours getting combi boilers in.

The decent homes work has only permitted a rewire and the councils team are now going to take 3 weeks rather than the original week. They state that she has to put all the furniture in the room by 8am but that it is acceptable to live in the property. This would require all the beds etc to be put down at night, work that is beyond her physical capacity. Gateshead homes are letting this person live in squalor and putting the health of three young girls at risk. In addition the work requires her to be found alternative accommodation. All in all a disgrace and certainly not something to be proud of.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Back to the Future with Labour

If you want to read last months news read Labours leaflets. I was given a copy of Labours Spring 2010 "Action" leaflet from Winlaton and half of the articles looked familiar. This is mainly becuase they were identical to those in the Winter edition of the Lib Dem FOCUS newsletter. I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so on behalf of our hard working team of councillors for Winlaton and High Spen, thanks!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

World Book Day in Winlaton

I was out and about delivering leaflets in Winlaton today on a lovely clear sunny day.

But today is World Book Day and I wanted to speak up for the humble book. People are predicting that electronic reader will do for the book like the MP3 did for the record and CD. But I think there is something inherently satisfying about a book and that's why the role of the Library for people who can't afford books is so important.

On world book day, I am currently reading two books! Not at the same time of course. One book I am working my way through is Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin. It is a history book about Abraham Lincoln, about how a relatively obscure politician overcame great odds and became president. Once he was there, the book demonstrates, he intentionally brought in the biggest personalities in the US to his cabinet despite fears they would outshine him. It's said to be one of Obamas favourite books and is genuinely interesting in shining light on a period of history I didn't know much. I've not finished it yet but one of my colleagues has given the end away. Apparently Lincoln gets shot!

I'm also reading the 39 Steps by John Buchan. A real classic thriller and good for a bit of escapism.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Obamas mentor - Labour is a "major force for Alienation"

Interesting interview in the Guardian from the guy who trained Obama as a community organsiser in Chigago (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/feb/26/labour-party-alienating-force). He has been working with community groups in Manchester and says "In my experience the Labour party in your big cities like Manchester is one of the most alienating forces in Great Britain." He goes on to say, "Barack could never have been elected in Great Britain. He would have had to suck up to the Labour party for 30 years before they gave someone like him a chance."

I hope that in the Liberal Democrats community activists will find a better home than in the stagnant environment of the Labour party. Many of our councillors (me included) started off being involved in community activity and charity work. Email me at neil@blaydonlibdems.org.uk if you are interested in making a difference in your community at whatever level of involvement you want.