Monday, June 29, 2009

Bright Sparks

Education Village Presentation

Dragons' Verdict

To the Dolphin Centre this evening, where over 200 adults and pupils mingled in Darlington's own Bright Sparks awards.

Sponsored by Bannantyne Fitness, the contest attracted entries from the Borough's 7 secondary and 2 independent schools. The task followed the BBC's very popular Dragon's Den format - come up with a business plan that would impress the judges and, in this case, scoop a £1,000 prize for the most enterprising entry and £500 for the best business plan.

I was able to ctach the first half (before having to hot-foot it to a Whinfield Residents' Association meeting). It was striking how many of the presentations picked up on innovative ways to develop environmentally-sensitive business ideas. Really encouraging too were the number of young people presenting who could easily have passed for seasoned business people, given the maturity and eloquence of their speeches.

Certainly. extra star quality was added to the evening by the presence on the judging panel of Duncan Bannantyne OBE, the arch dragon himself. It's great when a entrepreneur like Duncan is prepared to put his money where his mouth is, and help foster young talent at a local level in this way. The judges, who also included Northgate plc's Alan Noble, showed the right amount of respect to the young people by asking some pretty searching questions.

With the active support of many local businesses like Cummins, HSBC, Barclays, Sherwoods and Alpha to name but a few, this was a real partnership event. Every secondary school in the Borough had an entry.

And the result? - well it was a triumph for Haughton's own Education Village and their "Green Machine" idea for marketing garden furniture to local businesses. The best business plan was produced by Eastbourne School and their 'Adore our Eatables' initiative.

I've included film from the Haughton Village presentation and the 'dragon's' Q & A. Apologies for the film quality - alas the Flip doesn't really do "distance" video!

Comment Moderation - again

Time for comment moderation to 'do its thang' again, I'm afraid - there have been a number of allegations regarding 3 parties posted by anonymous contributors, and I'm not at a screen constantly to police everything.

I hope to turn it off when matters cool down a little.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Darlington Community Carnival Procession 2009

Darlington Community Carnival Procession 2009

And now for something completely different!

It was great to sit on the High Row this lunchtime with the family and watch the Carnival procession. Hundreds of hours of work clearly had gone into the costumes and models. It was fantastic to see.

Some Initial Thoughts

Well, I was gobsmacked, and so I think was almost everyone there.

As you can probably imagine, it was quite an emotional meeting, and a lot of tributes paid.  Many of us have known Alan since he was a fresh-faced prospective PPC back in 1990, and have been with him since then.

He has been a hugely positive figure as MP for the town.  His work as a constituency MP has been flawless, ably assisted by his office staff.  At the same time, he has been a high profile reforming Secretary of State, and a leading voice in the Party.  Thumping successive majorities over the Tories in what remains a marginal seat tell their own story.

And behind the scenes, he's been first class too - his work to help secure significant inward investment into the town, like the Eastern Transport Corridor, was literally the difference between projects happening or being shelved.

Still, the meeting respected Alan's reasons for wanting to move on now - 19 years in front-line politics is a long time for anyone, and as Alan said, he's not ready for the knackers yard yet!

He will of course continue to be our MP until the next General Election, and promised to play his part in Labour's efforts to hold the seat with a new candidate. 

The end of an era, but as the Chair John Williams reminded us, change happens.  Fortunately, the Party in Darlington remains in robustly rude health, and is spoiling for the next General Election.

Breaking News! - Alan Milburn to stand down

At a hastily convened meeting of Darlington CLPs General Committee this morning, Alan Milburn announced that he won't be contesting the seat for Labour at the next General election. 

More later.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In the foothills

We had what I thought was a very successful meeting of Darlington Assembly today, focussing on the green agenda facing the Borough.

About 100 people were there, mostly representing a myriad of organisations from across the town.

An early presentation was given by Adrian Hilton, the Regional Climate Change Co-ordinator based at the North East Assembly. Adrian spelled out just how climate change, happening now around us, could accelerate and alter life in the North East forever, whether as a result of higher temperatures, flooding or storm surges.

The Minister of State Ed Milliband MP had wanted to attend, but unfortunately had to pull out - he sent a personal message to the Assembly which was well-received. Our local MP Alan Milburn came too to add his thoughts to the proceedings, and launch the Greener Darlington awards, of which more anon.

The most valuable section was devoted to practical examples of how organisations are doing their bit to cut CO2 emissions and help lower the worst predictions for global warming. Alistair Mackenzie, the parish clerk at Sadberge talked about the energy saving project in the village which has changed residents' patterns of use for the better. An environmental engineer from Cummins explained how the local company has made a real dent in their carbon emissions, and energy bills too. And there was a lovely presentation from schoolchildren at Harrowgate Hill Primary school about their work, which has earned them a coveted green flag.

In my 15 minutes, I tried to give a sense of where we all are in the Borough at the moment on the sustainability agenda. We have the plans and the strategies, but by themselves, they simply tick boxes. Having a strong and vibrant Local Strategic partnership, under the leadership of chair Alasdair MacConachie is a huge boost (in evidence from the Assembly today).

All too often, thinking about climate change leads to feelings of despair - turning round the metaphorical supertanker seems impossible for a mere individual, so why bother? Yet in Darlington, we are making real progress, as evidenced above. And local council schemes like the Local Motion project, or the new household waste contract, or the Green Fair, or the work we are beginning to reduce the authority's carbon footprint, all will make a real difference.

To mix my metaphors, as a Borough we have a mountain to climb to play a full and active part in the international drive to limit climate change. We have made progress however, and are (at least) in the foothills. We should feel good about that, whilst not minimising the scale of the task ahead. There was plenty of food for thought for all the attending Assembly members after today's event.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So where does all our recycling go?

A couple of regular blog contributors have queried where the contents of our recycling bins and bags go? Paul Cain has pointed me towards an article in the Times regarding recyclables sent overseas - sometimes the end result frankly makes a mockery of the efforts householders have gone to to recycle in the first place. Reports of streets in India strewn with slimy plastic waste are simply unacceptable.

I've got the definitive lowdown from Wades on the destination of the various items we recycle here in Darlington. One point I should make at the very start is that our recycling has an audit trail, so the Council can where necessary check up on the destination of our materials. The Times report suggests that not all local authorities maintain these standards.

Anyway, here's the key information for Darlington;

Aluminium Cans

Collected and sent to Teesside initially, and then processed in Liverpool. Are used to make other cans.

Steel Cans

Collected and sent to a local depot, then to a UK CORUS plant.


Sent to a company in Spennymoor. May be sent to another part of the EU, depending on market strength (ie where the demand is) for reprocessing. Germany is a popular destination at present.


Sent to Derby, where they are turned into plastic granules. Can be returned to other plastic products.


Crushed into aggregate, and used appropriately. May be turned into tarmac.


Good quality product is sent to Hexham to be turned into chipboard. Other material may be mixed with other green waste, and used as a medium for restoration of the Aycliffe Quarry site.

There's no reason, of course, why some recycled product shouldn't be sent abroad for processing, if that can't be undertaken here in the UK for economic - surely that's far better than simply throwing it into landfill? And some finished cans or plastics will certainly be sent abroad - that's inevitable in our globalised market. Still, it seems a few bad apples in the local authority/waste disposal industry are letting the rest (and their residents) down with very shady practice which flies in the face of the principles of sustainability.

I'm reassured that we have a reputable, high quality partner in Wades, but we will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that our recycling is handled appropriately.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Out and about

I've been on my travels again, visiting Local Strategic Partnerships and Parish Councils (at least those who wanted to hear from me) on the issue of the new waste disposal arrangements.

I think it's good for Cabinet Members to get out there and communicate directly with partners over key issues - I tried something similar in 2007. So in the last week-and-a-half I've been to North Road Partnership and Redworth Parish Council.

The question time after my presentation at North Road was stimulating, and I'm in the process of chasing down the answers to the questions I couldn't respond to then and there. The session at Redworth was very useful too, and it was good to hear very positive feedback on the revamped Civic Amenity site at Whessoe Road - I'm writing to Bruce Whitley at Wades to pass on their comments.

Perhaps inevitably, given the prominance given to the issue by some of the national media, debate turned to wheelie bins. When I set out the Council's objections to them, there were lots of nodding heads round the table. Wheelie bin supporters would get very short shrift there, I think.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


It's not often that I give house room to the Daily Mail. My attention has been drawn to its latest campaign by a party member in Darlington, who thoroughly approves of its campaign against the introduction of wheelie bins.

The cause celebre at the moment appears to be their intrusion into Henley-on-Thames, which I'm guessing (because the Mail doesn't tell us) is a Tory-run council. Today's edition has a fresh update on their campaign, with some lurid pictures from round the country of streets and front gardens containing wheelie bins and, well, not a lot else.

Wheelie bins or black plastic sacks? It's a debate that clearly divides Middle England (as the comments accompanying the article makes clear) but it is a fact that wheelie bins are especially unpopular in terraced streets with limited yard or garden space. It was a complaint I heard several times during the European campaign. For sure, black sacks can be targetted by foxes and crows, but they are much easy to store in advance of bin day.

Leaving aside the Mail's permanent Euro-hysteria (blaming their introduction on EC waste targets) it is a fact that councils who embark on the wheelie bin adventure seem to end up forcing residents to have smalled bins (to minimise waste) and then fining people for placing the wrong rubbish in the variously-coloured bins.

Labour In Darlington has never seen the need for wheelie bins to be introduced, and indeed now our new waste contract can deal admirably with black bags. I'm not aware of any public upswelling of support for them. It would appear from the ConservativeHome website that the Tories are falling into line with the Mail's campaign, and all of a sudden are also against them. Which only leaves local LibDems as the wheelie bins' friends - in their last manifesto they wanted households to have at least 3!

We'll see how this issue plays out in the coming months...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Upping our Game on Recycling

MBT Plant - Aycliffe

My latest vlog interview, this time with Bruce Whitley, Operations Director at Wades in Aycliffe. This is an on-site interview at the site of the new MBT plant that will process Darlington's household waste, and boost recycling rates to 50% and beyond.

The new scheme begins on September 7th. You should be reading plenty more about it between now and then.

Friday, June 12, 2009

When Protest Voting goes Wrongggggg....

This interview between the newly-elected Mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies (English Democrat) and BBC Radio Sheffield's Toby Foster could easily have been badged under Monday Morning Smile. If it was Monday. And I hadn't listen to the interview wincing with embarrassment for the poor mutt.

Listening, I couldn't help recall Ray Mallon's prediction during Darlington's Mayoral Referendum - if you get a good Mayor, all well and good. A bad Mayor would bring the town to its knees.

Expect Doncaster to drift into further political crises. Mayor Davies should be another nail in the coffin for the discredited Elected Mayor bandwagon.

Hat tip Luke Akehurst (who prints the interview transcript).


Dave Cole has this on some of the unsavoury elements swilling around the English Democrats.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So who voted BNP last Thursday?

On a previous comment thread, regular contributor to this blog Paul Cain repeats the allegation that the BNP's success in gaining 2 seats in the European poll is down to Labour neglect. Paul says,

"Is it any wonder that when New Labour spent more than a decade telling its natural constituency that they are racist bigots, then said voters respond by saying "If you're going to call me a racist bigot, I'm going to vote like one"?"

Paul reflects a commonly-held view in the media that BNP voters are predominantly ex-Labour, feeling betrayed by the direction of New Labour. But is this assumption correct?

I'm indebted to Hopi Sen, who publicises some key research on the UK Polling site. Drawing on a huge poll by Channel 4 in the run-up to the European elections, it finds that those voting BNP were, "more likely to be C2DE social class, likely to read the Sun or Star and almost certainly not a broadsheet, they are likely to work in a manual occupation... They are also likely to come from a Labour supporting background - 47% of BNP voters say their parents voted Labour."

So far so good. But at this point, the 'Labour as progenitors of the BNP' theory falls down. BNP voters were more likely to have favoured Cameron over Brown, and positioned themselves roughly on the right of the political spectrum - in other words, what pollsters would call 'working-class Tories'.

The analysis makes for fascinating reading. A majority of BNP voters, unique amongst all the other parties, disagreed with the statement “Non-white British citizens who were born in this country are just as ‘British’ as white citizens born in this country”. As the piece notes,

"Large majorities of every party’s supporters agreed that there was no difference in intelligence between black and white people…except for BNP supporters, where only 41% agreed. Almost half (49%) of BNP supporters thought employers should discriminate on grounds of race in favour of white people (compared to 11% in the general population), and 58% thought most crime was committed by immigrants (22% in the general population). 72% of BNP supporters wanted the government to encourage voluntary repatriation, compared to 27% of the country as a whole."

It came as no surprise to me that BNP voters were more likely to believe in classic conspiracy theories such as the 'Holohoax' or Jewish world domination, but not, interestingly to any great extent. The BNP leadership is therefore way off beam from the views of most of its own (temporary) supporters.

Where does all this leave us? Concerns about immigration predominate amongst BNP supporters, but these are worries which are high on the agenda of other voters too. The Government has responded and introduced new controls to address the issue, but clearly myth has become dangerously entangled with fact on this combustible issue. One voter told me, for example, that they knew that asylum seekers received a year's worth of benefit up front when they came to this country, and then weekly allowances. As a local councillor, I've heard repeatedly before the complaint that immigrants receive cars and mobile phones free of charge.

Fiction has become dangerously entangled with fact. I'll be blogging on the implications of this for the 3 main parties at the weekend.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Final North East Result

1. Labour 147,338
2. Tories 116,911
3. LibDems 103,644
4. UKIP 90,700
5. BNP 52,700
6. Greens 34,081

6 other parties polled between 2,904 and 13,007.

Result - status quo.  Labour 1 seat, Tories 1, LibDems 1.


Placings from Darlington

Tories first, then Labour.  Ukip beat the Libdems to third place.  This is across the whole Borough rather than just Darlington constituency, so includes the rural villages which are normally in with Sedgefield.

Otherwise, everything I'm hearing suggests that Labour and the Tories will win the first 2 seats.  Its too close to call between UKIP and the LibDems however for the third seat.


Mad Dash

Its a truly impressive set-up here in Sunderland, where the council wants the count to be the first to declare in the UK, and possibly in the EU as a whole.  I guess there are 100 + staff from Sunderland City Council counting frenetically.

We seem to have done well here in Sunderland, but as you might expect, the picture around the North East is decidedly mixed.  UKIP seem to be doing very well in a region they have had previous little success in before.


The Final Countdown

Off to Sunderland now, where the results from voting in the European elections all over the North East will be collated, and the final result announced.

I hope to blog from there - as last time I did something similar I managed to trigger a spurious compaint to the Standards Board from my very good friends at the "Yes" campaign in Darlington's Mayoral referendum, I would just make it clear once again that I won't be commenting on the contents of individual ballot papers. I'll also be following any guidance issued at the count by the Returning Officer.

Now for the main event...

Friday, June 05, 2009

What I did on my holidays...

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.