Saturday, May 30, 2009

Comment Moderation

I guess given that I am a candidate and polling day is approaching, it was inevitable that some would choose to peddle slurs against another candidate on my blog.

With reluctance, therefore - as I'm out campaigning most of the time, and simply can't respond quickly to take down such comments - I've turned comment moderation on.

All being well, this blog will become unmoderated once again on Friday.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Out and about

At last some sunshine! Yesterday, I was combining campaigning for the European elections with two local council by-elections which are taking place at around the same time.

In the morning, I was in Brambles Farm in Middlesbrough working with Len Junier's team knocking out Labour voters. It was one of those curious sessions where the Westminster allowances issue wasn't raised once, and Labour voters seemed genuinely keen to come out and support Les. The result was a clear win for Labour, which finished with three times as many votes as any of the other parties.

Then it was on to Stainton Grove and Barnard Castle, where Labour's Sharon Longcroft is a candidate in the Barnard Castle East by-election that will be fought on the same day as the European poll. The best contact of the afternoon was with a young couple who were incensed by the BNP party political broadcast the night before - as the young mum observed, "They said they weren't racist at least 10 times, so it's obvious that they are!" In the house was also their friend from a neighbouring street who wasn't registered to vote. Of course, it's too late now for the elections next week, but she wanted a registration form sending out to her so she too could support Labour at future elections and help beat the BNP.

We were happy to oblige!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Action not soundbites

Gordon Brown in Meadowell, North Tyneside

At lunchtine I was in the Meadowell Centre in North Shields for a visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The centre epitomises the very strong community network that exists on North Tyneside. My table included Barnados, 2 local community centres and a pastoral project helping disaffected young people.

Gordon came to every table (with Sarah) to listen to the work that is taking place in the area, and to take on board how national government can support some excellent local projects.

I've heard Gordon speak directly at several events, and today he was easily at his most relaxed and authoritative best. He got a great reception from the floor.

Afterwards for me, it was on to Charltons in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to talk to local residents, and then to the St Marys Centre in Middlesbrough for a 2nd hustings session organised by the PCS trade union in advance of the Europena elections. But more of that anon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hope Not Hate

Hope Not Hate in Ferryhill

On Saturday, the Hope Not Hate bus rolled into County Durham. Sponsored by groups such as trade unions and the Daily Mirror, it acts as a focal point for campaigners who want to warn of the dangers of voting for the racist BNP.

It was a pleasure to join up with the bus crew, and lots of supporters, first in Spennymoor, and then in Ferryhill Market Place. In Spennymoor, I chatted to residents with local MP Helen Goodman. In Ferryhill, I managed to grab an interview with an old friend Mike Routledge. Mike is a seasoned anti-racist campaigner, as well as a fellow member of the Labour Party's Regional Board.

Then it was on to Hartlepool to knock on doors with Mayoral candidate Chris Simmons, just before the heavens opened...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Just like an Episode of Coronation Street"

I'm not a violent man. Far from it. But when I heard the interview with Tory MP Anthony Steen yesterday, I could happily have slapped him round the head and shoulders with a wet fish. The man is evidently completely detached from reality, and to blsme the the Government's Freedon of Information Act for his resignation simply beggars belief.

I've embedded his interview only because I think it will encapsulate for years to come the extent to which some MP's had become completely isolated from the communities they purported to represent.

On a positive note, I was heartened by the interview Labour MP Frank Field gave on the Week In Westminster programme. Clearly he gets it. Frank has his own blog, which you can see, where he will flesh out his ideas as he campaigns to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons. It should be well worth reading.

Fruit & Veg

Nick's Vegetable Plot

Despite the rigours of my various commitments this year (see M. Swainston, passim) I've had some time to work on the vegetable patch.

There have been a few disasters (notably the cauliflowers), but we did harvest our first spring onions, which gave me a disproportionate amount of pleasure in ratio to the actual amount of crop! The patch is surrounded by a fence, to keep the rabbits and the chickens out - anyone who has tried to turn over soil whilst 4 curious chickens scratch around for worms and generally get in the way, will appreciate the necessity...

Annual Council

Annual Council - Darlington Borough Council

It was Annual Council on Thursday, when traditionally the new Mayor is sworn in, and the various positions on the Council, including Leader and Deputy Leader, agreed.

Ian Haszeldine was the outgoing Mayor - in his year, a stupendous amount of money has been raised for charity (from memory over £50,000). Ian paid tribute to the work of the volunteers in the Mayor's Charity Shop, and pointed out that they had raised this sum despite the difficult period when conversations were taking place over the future of the premises. We're all glad that these were successfully resolved.

John and Bill were re-elected Leader and Deputy Leader - for the 19th time. Cabinet too was approved, although subsequently, some changes have been made to the holders of various portfolios - after a very successful tenure, Chris McEwan moves from Children's Services to Resources and Efficiency - his place is taken by Jenny Chapman. Steve Harker becomes the new Cabinet Member for Health and Leisure, whilst Jenny's role in Communities and Engagement has been taken on by Andy Scott. All other portfolios (including mine at Sustainable Environment and Climate Change) remain unchanged.

The incoming Mayor is Tory Jim Ruck. As Bill Dixon pointed out (as someone does nearly every year) Darlington has a unique approach to selecting Mayors, based solely on seniority, which means that you can have a Tory as Mayor under a Labour administration, and vice versa. The feeling of the greater majority of Council members (and indeed the public in last year's referendum) is that our historic system has much to recommend it.

Jim is a universally popular figure on the Council. His easy bonhomie masks a principled politician who has added a huge amount to debates on transport and the environment. He is a consensual figure, but nonetheless one who is prepared to speak his mind, even if that doesn't necessarily accord with his Party's position. I can't help feeling that politics needs a lot more Jim Rucks just at the moment.

I've included a brief snatch of film from Annual Council as outgoing Mayor came into the Chamber. After Jim had been proposed and seconded, a vote was formally taken, and Ian declared that he was unanimously elected. Actually, I'm sad to say that I'm not sure that is the case, as one sour-faced Tory seemed to sit on their hands throughout the proceedings. And who is that, you ask? - ah, my lips are firmly sealed!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Expenses - are Politicians all the same?

Vlog Interview with Stephen Hughes, MEP

Certainly not Labour MEPs, who have had strict rules in place for the last 9 years. North East MEP Stephen Hughes explains.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eviction Scandal of Newton Aycliffe MIND

MIND Premises Scandal - Newton Aycliffe

Very busy on Wednesday, spending the afternoon and early evening with members of Ashok Kumar's team in Lingdale. Earlier in the day, I joined Labour MEP Stephen Hughes in Newton Aycliffe canvassing in the Washington Crescent area.

Afterwards, we visited the MIND drop-in centre in nearby Oswald Park. The facility draws members from all over south west Durham, including Tow Law and Darlington. Centre volunteers have worked hard to help transform an old bowling pavillion into a great facility for people recovering from mental health problems. Quite why Great Aycliffe Town Council would want to summarily evict the charity from the premises is beyond me. No good reason for not renewing MIND's lease appears to have been given to the charity. The situation is quite simply scandalous.

I'll be writing to Great Aycliffe Town Council to ask them to reconsider their decision, even at this very late stage. This is a project which deserves to stay put!

Carbon Management

Cutting down on Carbon

To London yesterday, to take part in an initial meeting with the Carbon Trust.

How does a Council like Darlington, determined to play its part in tackling global warming, know whether its various initiatives are working? Fortunately, the Labour Government has helped fund the Carbon Trust to work with local authorities to establish what their baseline carbon dioxide emissions are (via energy use, transportation and the like) and then to help the council work out how to reduce them.

Being accepted onto the carbon management course, which means that councils have free access to the expertise of experts in the field, is an extremely competitive exercise, and I'm delighted we were selected this year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beauty & the Bike

Beauty & the Bike

Beauty & the Bike has its own website which you can see here.

Monday Morning Smile - Old Mrs Galloway

For those of you who don't listen to Centu... sorry Real Radio, Old Mrs Galloway is a character from Robin Galloway's repertoire of telephone wind-ups (he's a DJ at the group's Scottish station).

I think this is one of his earlier spoofs - you can catch a couple more at the Real Windup site, where Mrs Galloway tries variously to adopt a dolphin and audition for a rock band.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find one of the more recent classics, with Mrs Galloway applying to become a church organist - I was laughing so much I had to stop the car.

You can catch the show at 6pm each Sunday, 100 - 102 FM.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Saving the Minimum Wage

Backbench MPs' bills, particularly those from opposition parties, rarely attract much attention. After all, they have little if any chance of passing into law.

Not so today. 11 Tory MP's had previously tabled a motion to allow employers to 'opt-out' of the National Minimum Wage (NMW). It would have effectively killed the NMW, introduced by Labour in 1999. The bill was due to have its Second Reading this afternoon. Unbelievably, they claimed it was against workers' Human Rights to have a Minimum Wage!

This was a telling piece of draft legislation - the Tories are itching to reverse many of Labour's key reforms, and look forward to a time when Britain will once again be a low wage economy. I had a look at the debate in the Commons at the time the Act creating the NMW was introduced - then, a chip shop worker for example was receiving £1.20 an hour, and a waiter was paid £12 for an 8-hour shift, and had to pass any tips back to his employer.

As John Hannett, General Secretary of USDAW, the shopworkers' union said,

"This shows the Tories in their true light and is a little insight into what a Conservative Government would do. They are still fighting the battles of the 1980s and 90s when they abolished the wages councils and left my members and millions of other workers without wage protection. David Cameron talks about an age of austerity, well we now know that he means for low-paid workers."

Remember too that one of David Cameron's few public pledges is to take Britain out of the European Social Chapter if he becomes Prime Minister. Important protection for millions of workers will be lost.

A campaign against the Tories' bill was mounted in Parliament by Labour MPs led by John Prescott. I'm pleased to say that today, Tory Christopher Chope MP deferred his bill, and effectively killed it. This is a good victory for Labour, especially as the internet and Facebook in particular were used extensively to raise awareness of the Tories' plans.

Still, if elected next year, there will be little if anything we can do to stop the Conservatives returning Britain to the dark ages of poverty pay and worsening working conditions. A battle has been won, but the war is far from over.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vlog Interview with John Harrison - Elected Mayor for North Tyneside

John Harrison Interview

I've spent 3 days now campaigning with Labour's John Harrison, North Tyneside's elected Mayor. He's up for re-election on June 4th, the same day as the European poll, so we've had a common interest knocking on doors and meeting people at street stalls.

Regular blog readers will know that I'm (ahem) not the greatest fan of elected Mayors in principle, but John has really made the office work in North Tyneside. He's very approachable too, and it was striking just how many people came up to him to say thank you for helping deal with their problems. He thoroughly deserves a second term.

Griffin Out, Gurkhas In!

There's a strong consensus developing in Westminster regarding the treatment of the Gurkhas. Remember, it was only this administration that has been prepared to do anything for these brave warriors - previous Governments have turned their faces against reform.

It was instructive yesterday that this issue once again showed the BNP for who they really are. Nick Griffin yesterday branded Gurkhas "mercenaries" who should not be allowed to stay in Britain.

The leader of the far-right British National Party said:

"We don't think the most overcrowded country in Europe, can realistically say, 'Look, you can all come and all your relatives.' When the Gurkhas signed up - frankly as mercenaries - they expected a pension which would allow them to live well in their own country."

Griffin made the comments on Nicky Campbell's BBC Radio 5 Live breakfast show.
Martin Howe, solicitor to the Gurkhas, said: "Nick Griffin does not recognise the depth of feeling around the country about the Gurkhas." Griffin also claimed football stars Rio Ferdinand and Theo Walcott were not English.

Disgusting. There's a Facebook Group just launched named "Griffin Out Gurkhas In!" I'll be adding my name today.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Canvassing in Sunderland

Interview with Bridget Phillipson

There's been no let-up after two days of solid work in Hartlepool's Rossmere by-election. On Friday I joined Asok Kumar's team in Guisborough, and yesterday I was out again with Julie Elliott's 8-strong team on the Hollycarrside estate in Sunderland Central.

And it was back to Sunderland today, but instead to what will be the new Houghton and Sunderland South constituency, where I joined Labour's excellent new PPC Bridget Phillipson, local councillor Betty Gibson and party members in Doxford.

After the downpour in Darlington at lunchtime, I was dressed for a gale, but in fact it was a glorious afternoon, and we chatted to lots of residents. It was good that Labour supporters needed little persuasion to turn out in the crucial European elections on June 4th.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Harrowgate Hill Tip Problem

Harrowgate Hill Interview

I hope this short interview with Harrowgate Hill Labour ward councillor Mark Burton is self-explanatory. The site concerned really is a mess, and worryingly accessible to local kids. I'm really pleased Mark brought this to my attention, and I'll be following the issue closely over the next few months.

(Note - I refer to this as my second diary shoot in the video, but I had to abandon my first effort from the Rossmere by-election for technical reasons).

Flippin' 'Eck! - it's Vlogging!!

It's time to give vlogging a go - or video blogging. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my very poor, blurry films via my BlackBerry device - I've never been satisfied with the quality, but haven't had a real alternative.

Then during filming of one of our Northern Decision Makers, Chris Lloyd, Deputy Editor of the Northern Echo showed me his new Flip device - he'd just used it to conduct a quick interview with David Cameron. The picture quality was amazing, and has the benefit of being very affordable. I've been itching to buy one ever since.

It's small, and has an inbuilt USB link, so no more leads to add to my huge collection of redundant wire.

I'll still be writing "standard" posts, but hope to use the Flip to chart the European campaign over the next few weeks. I'll be chatting to leading North East Labour Party figures, and residents, to hear their take on the events of the day.

Be warned - until I master the format, we're not talking BBC production values here. There are some awkward moments as the camera gets passed from interviewer to interviewee (you'll see what I mean in the first few posts). Still, I think it's got the potential to make the blog more accessible - I'd welcome your views as the format develops.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Rossmere By-Election

On Wednesday and Thursday, I worked in Hartlepool as part of Labour's campaign team in the Rossmere ward by-election.

Brought about by the untimely death of popular local Labour Councillor Michael Johnson, the by-election was a key test of opinion ahead of June's European poll, as well as the Mayoral contest in Hartlepool itself.

For all the salacious national media coverage of politics at the moment, I found canvassing for Labour in the ward a thoroughly positive experience - there was little sign of erosion of the party's vote. Our candidate, Chris Akers-Belcher has a strong record in local community activity.

Sad to say, the BNP had been active in the by-election, persecuting people who dared to stand up to them via YouTube and engaging in homophobic taunts. Their boasts of victory came to nothing, however, and they finished fourth.

The result (a win for Labour) was a huge boost for the party, with a swing of 6% away from UKIP. The full details are;

Labour: 532 42.3% +6.1%
UKIP: 300 23.9% -3.8%
LibDem: 166 13.2% -8.0%
BNP: 157 12.5% +12.5%
Tories: 102 8.1% - 6.5%

I love working in Hartlepool, and knocking on doors on Thursday evening with MP Ian Wright, and local councillors Steve Wallace, Carl Richardson and Stephen Akers-Belcher was great fun, and also a masterclass in getting Labour's vote out.

Hartlepool is unique in the North East in returning UKIP councillors - why I'm not clear about. Certainly they were also-rans in this contest.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Civic Amenity Site goes from strength to strength

Yesterday, I'd arranged for councillors to be able to have a tour of the revamped Civic Amenity (CA) site in Whessoe Road. Wades took over the management of the facility after Easter, and as I've blogged previously, they have ambitious plans to improve customer service and drive up recycling rates.

If you've not been there since, you'll notice some big changes. The staff are now focussed on helping residents dispose of their waste, and the unsightly mess next to the portakabin has been cleared away. Because the skips are emptied more frequently, they become full far less frequently, and so there's much less evidence of paper and carboard litter around.

Now Wades have planning permission to turn the vacant site next door into a multi-purpose facility which can both deal with smaller loads of commercial waste, and also compact and send on material from the side devoted to householders. This should lead to improved efficiencies, and further reduce the carbon footprint of the operation, making some long journeys to the waste transfer station in Heighington Lane redundant. Already, the amount of waste recycled at the CA site has risen to 75%.

There were lots of questions yesterday, but everyone seemed happy. Ironically, the site is closed today owing to high winds, but even this eventuality should happen far less frequently under the new management.

I hope the pictures give a true sense of the changes made since Easter.

Proud Dad Corner

Well, it's my blog, so I should be allowed to indulge myself once in a while. On Bank Holiday Monday I had some brief respite from the campaign to take AJ to the North Yorkshire Chess Championship in York. There were children from all over the county, and beyond, competing - AJ was in the U7 category, although he played in a group containing 8-year olds too.

James played chess competitively when he was at primary school too, so I was prepared for the long, long day. There can lots of pressure on some very young shoulders at these events, and it was a great shame to see a few children in tears after results didn't go their way.

Fortunately, AJ treats those twin imposters just the same, and was relaxed about his 2 defeats. Nonethless, he won 4 matches (including a nail-biting decider at the end) as so was crowned the North Yorkshire champion (or Supremo in chess-speak). He's now qualified for the regional finals in Manchester in early July.

Meanwhile, I'd like to be able to write about James' national swimming achievements - but he's banned me from talking about it on the blog. No matter - I'm as proud as punch of both of them.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Scandal of Longer Working Hours

Very interesting piece on the local section of the BBC's Politics Show today on the plight of workers being made to work ridiculous hours by management. There was a debate afterwards featuring the the North East 3 MEP's and a UKIP candidate - it was telling that only Labour's Stephen Hughes had the research to back up his arguments.

I'll post a link to the debate when it becomes available on the BBC site.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sunny Wallsend

First full day proper of the short campaign for me - after some leafletting in Killingworth, it was onto Wallsend town centre to collect signatures for a petition.

Labour elected Mayor John Harrison has pledged to fight for a "multi-versity" on the banks of the Tyne in Wallsend.  Characteristically, the Tories have opposed the plan, although it would bring huge benefits to the area.

Judging by the sheets of names we had on the petition, John seems to have judged the public mood spot on. 

Now onto the Meadowwell Centre to join a garden party and look at the sustainable environment programme (right up my street) and then onto campaign in Durham. 

No rest for the wicked!  And its only Day One!!

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