Firstly, an apology for the relative lack of posts as the European election campaign drew to a close. In truth, blogging and being a candidate for one of the mainstream parties are uneasy bedfellows (as Jody Dunn would probably attest). And most nights, staggering in after voter contact sessions in several constituencies during the day, I was just too knackered to compose anything sensible. I hope my first faltering steps as a vloggger gave an insight into some of Labour's leading personalities during the campaign.
I've been staring at the screen for about 20 minutes wondering how on earth to summarise the last four-and-a-half weeks. Trying to avoid the almost freakishly bad breaking news on the BBC over the past four hours, maybe I should start with the positives.
It was a privilege to work at close quarters with committed Labour activists, party workers and MP's. Although on occasions we retreated into gallows humour, Stephen, Fay and myself were brilliantly supported by members around the North East.
It was heartening, too, to reconnect with Labour voters in all of our communities. Believe me, after some of the abuse I have taken over the last few weeks, a kindly word and affirmative response from an elector was much appreciated. In one of the last houses I 'knocked out' in Park End in Middlesbrough yesterday evening, a lady told me in hushed tones that she thought Gordon was doing a wonderful job and didn't deserve the criticism. I thanked her for her support.
Finally, it was fantastic to stand for Labour in a national election. I have really enjoyed my time as a candidate in the European elections, and relished the new opportunities it has afforded - hustings sessions and addressing 200+ at an open-air trade union rally stand out as highlights.
Otherwise, as I kept telling myself, it was a campaign to tell the grandchildren about. That is if my grandchildren, if I have any, are interested in the finer points of political organisation in the early 21st century. Which they probably won't.
I have been knocking on doors, man and boy, for 25 years. Never have I met such a reception from voters. Some were simply too angry to articulate their feelings - they were apoplectic with rage. Others (via slammed doors or shouting) made their disaffection very plain. Those who were calmer told me that this wasn't directed at me or indeed necessarily the party - rather the "crooks in Parliament" as they described them. Two common threads ran through their comments; firstly, incredulity that MP's couldn't seem to manage on £60k a year without fiddling their expenses, when most people had to live on far less; and the thought that if an ordinary member of the public had acted like some MP's, they would have lost their jobs and probably their liberty.
I should say that most people recognise that all the parties have MP's who have been caught up in the scandal, although there was some genuine sorrow that this included Labour MP's, who voters thought were above the kind of abuses more associated with ahem another mainstream party. The Telegraph's revelations have confirmed a sneaking suspicion in the minds of a naturally distrustful electorate that politicians are only really interested in fleecing the system.
And that has been achieved in glorious technicolor. I would imagine that until a fortnight ago, 99.5% of the population didn't have the faintest idea that floating duck islands existed. Now, we could all probably recognise one at 20 paces. One colleague expressed the hope that the furore over expenses would die down in a few weeks, and we could refocus on issues like the economy. I'm not so sure - anger about the abuses has been seared into the consciousness of the electorate, and I fully expect to have it repeated back to me by voters for years to come. Maybe the General Election will act as a catharsis, but I think MPs from all parties will have to act in a superhuman fashion to persuade voters that the system is clean.
So I spent an awful lot of time apologising. Apologising not for myself or for Labour, but for the excesses of some MP's of all parties. I repeated it so often, it became a mantra. Over and over and over again.
And my mood was hardly improved by the self-indulgent behaviour of some party MPs. Their antics kept a toxic story running against Labour well into polling day. There will be some defeated, hard working Labour Councillors who otherwise would have survived had it not been for them. Unforgiveable.
We're still standing though, with a new ministerial team to make the political weather. On Friday, the results of the European elections here in the North East will be announced, and I'll be in Sunderland, where the figures from each of the council areas will be collated. I intend to blog live from the count, so log on occasionally, and I'll try and give a flavour of the atmosphere and what the various parties are saying.