Friday, April 30, 2010

Northern Decision Makers - Live!

Yup, we're going live at 4pm. You can see Graham, David and myself, all ably chaired by Chris Lloyd from the Northern Echo in our final Northern Decision Makers of the campaign. And I promise not to cry... here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Darlington Churches Debate

Although they have been hawking their wares before some exotic audiences before now (most recently local estate agents) tonight was potentially the defining moment for Darlington's 3 hopeful PPCs (together with UKIP representative Charlotte Bull) at the traditional Churches Debate.

I estimate over 200 people packed themselves into the school hall at Polam to listen to Jenny, Mike, Edward and Charlotte. This is the first election since the 1983 by-election when none of the main parties are fielding a sitting candidate, so the stakes are high. The debate ran for 2 hours. For me, these were the highlights;

Edward responding to a question about what he would do for young people by responding he would make voting compulsory for the under-25's. Not a policy to rouse the nation's teenagers out of bed anytime before lunch.

Mindful of Gordon's predicament, Jenny cracking a joke about not wanting to be wired up after problems with the sound system.

Edward accusing Jenny of going on "frolics" not mentioned in Labour's manifesto, before setting out on a jaunt of his own by suggesting he supported the re-regulation of the bus industry.

Mike engaged in a tortuous form of words when responding to a question about future VAT rises - faced with the awful possibility that might actually be part of the next Government, LibDems are finally having to give responsible answers to sensible questions!

All the candidates pledging they would spend 100% of their time on working for the constituency. (I think this got the biggest cheer of the night).

On balance, I was impressed by all the candidates. Edward was a bit too sure of himself, and heavy-handed on the politics (he rather misjudged the auduence in this respect, I thought). Mike and Jenny scored heavily in their contrasting styles, whilst Charlotte probably helped explode the stereotype some of us have of UKIP members being a bunch of gin-swilling golf club bores.

Needless to say, I felt that Jenny gave the best all-round performance, but there was something to cheer for the supporters of each of the main parties. Roll on May 6th!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Straws in the Wind

I can't remember any election in the last 20 years in which first-time voters may play such a pivotal role as 2010.

They're a key demographic for all the main parties - so the outcome of today's mock election at our QE 6th Form takes on particular significance. It has been reported to me that the results were as follows;

Labour: 61 votes (52%)
LibDems: 30 votes (30%)
Tories: 20 votes (18%)

That suggests that Jenny Chapman has a clear lead amongst younger voters, with the LibDems easily outstripping the Tories. Interesting times!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Northern Decision Makers - Election Special 2

The latest Decision Makers, featuring Graham Robb for the Tories, David Stoker for the LibDems and myself for Labour has been recorded and is ready to view now. You can see the programme here.

Ably compered (referee'd?) by Chris Lloyd the Assistant Editor at the Northen Echo, there's some good knockabout. Remarkably, LibDem David Stoker is confident enough to 'call' Newcastle North for his party before a ballot has even been cast!

Although I engaged in a bit of gallows humour at the end of the programme, we had our best night canvassing this evening on Kingsway in my ward. Loads of positive responses for Labour. That's how I like it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vote Yellow...

Around Darlington, the Liberal Democrats are busy telling disillusioned supporters of both the main parties that it's safe to "lend" them their vote. My blogging colleague Mike Barker boldly states (in response to what was originally a national Tory line) that if you vote yellow, you get yellow. But is that really true?

The results of the last election here in Darlington were as follows;

Labour: 52.3%
Tories: 26.1%
LibDem: 18.5%
Others: 3.1%

So the LibDems, whilst improving on their 2001 performance, still trailed in a poor third.

For Mike to overturn Labour's majority requires an 18% swing from Labour to the Liberal Deomcrats - that would put both parties on or around the 34/35%. But the further Labour's vote is driven down, the closer the Tories get to the winning post too.

Enormous swings do occasionally happen in constituencies at General Election time - usually because of local factors. Nationally, the polls are only showing something like an 8.5% swing from Labour to the LibDems. So even if things are slightly better for the Liberal Democrats here in Darlington, (and I'm not sure they are) they are going to fall well short of the votes needed to pass the winning post - but they will drag Labour's vote down to a level where the Tories are within striking range.

One thing is clear from the doorstep - Labour waverers may be flirting with the Lib Dems (or not voting at all) but one thing they definitely do not want to see is a Tory MP or (God forbid) a Tory Government. So the question I'm asking them (very nicely, of course) is, "Are you feeling lucky?" Plenty take a look over the precipice, shudder, and tell me they'll be voting Labour on May 6th.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dad's Army Gambit

I spent Monday evening walking and chatting round the ward - this time in the Hercules Street area. David and I bumped into a couple of LibDems canvassing too - I'm sure Mike will report on his blog that the people of Springfield were thronging to the LibDem banner...

In truth, unless you are stuck up a pole in the middle of the desert, things aren't easy for politicians of any stripe right now - the mood seems not to have shifted one iota from the visceral anger that erupted during the European elections over MPs' expenses. Then there was a general recognition that politicians from all the Westminster parties were implicated to a greater or lesser extent, and that is still the case today. Many times residents vented their anger with me about fairness - whether about MPs or benefit seekers or other groups. "You're all the same" goes the refrain. Still, I'm not reaching for my tumbler of whisky and pearl-handled revolver just yet.

How to respond to the astonishing rise in popularity of the LibDems is taxing both the main parties right now. To some extent, the question is most acute for the Tories and David Cameron - having seen his 20 point plus lead squandered, Cameron must be coming under intense pressure from the hard right of his party who would dearly love a "bash the immigrants/welfare scroungers" agenda to shore up his core vote. Cameron is not a complete fool however - he must kmow that tacking off in that direction, even given the current mood, would be a suicidal move. Even beating the old familiar drum of anti-Europeanism carries huge risks - it is the LibDems after all who want at some stage to have an "in or out" referendum (a policy I think isn't completely daft, but which does carry huge risks with the national interest) which would appeal to some Tory/UKIP floaters.

Labour is presented with some different problems. Labour and the LibDems have a fraught but complex relationship, as the recent brilliant post by Hopi Sen sets out. To suggest however, that Labour strategists are relaxed about the current state of the polls, in which Labour are running third, can't be right - and if it is, those strategists should be quietly taken out of the room and shot. Polling around Michael Foot's level of popularity back in 1983 is hardly planning for success.

Over on his blog, Mike has suggested that Labour in Darlington are panicking - nonsense of course, but as I shall blog shortly, there is real truth in the "Vote Yellow Get Blue" line here in Darlington. Instead, rather than "Don't Panic", another refrain from Dad's Army might be more apposite - if there's one thing we've come to learn about the LibDems over the years, it's that "they don't like it up'em!" Willing to tell half-truths and campaign negatively to their hearts content in contests around the country (and I exempt Mike from this, by the way), they are notoriously thin-skinned when attacked themselves.

The Tory-supporting press have already got to work on this, pointing out LibDem crackers policies on crime and justice, and drugs reform for example. Lord Mandelson is busy pointing out that Nick Clegg wants to restrict Working Families Tax Credit - a line which brought 2 Labour supporters back into the fold on Monday night in discussion with me.

My personal favourite, which I don't think has attracted a great deal of attention to date, is the LibDem policy that children as young as 16 should be able to not only enter sex shops and buy hardcore porn, but be able to take part in hardcore porn themselves. Don't believe me? - have a look at the article from the Independent here. I needn't tell you that pornographers (and worse) would be queuing up to take advantage of that change and exploit potentially vulnerable young people.

So here's a challenge to Mike - I'd be happy to go onto the High Row with him and talk to 10 voters currently uindecided about whether to vote LibDem or not, and see how they feel about the LibDems after learning about that little gem. How about it, Mike?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Survey Results

Tied up with the election, I didn't manage to blog on the results of our survey on anti-social behaviour in Riverside Way and Wheeldale Close in the ward.

It would appear that anti-social behaviour is a problem experienced by a number of residents in the area, although positively, more householders told us that this was not the case for them – especially at the upper and lower ends of Riverside Way. 13 households told us they had contacted the police or the council, and again it is good to report that their experiences were broadly positive. At the same time, there was a strong feeling that police patrols in the area should be stepped up.

The survey was triggered by the problem caused by the snickets that exist around Wheeldale Close and Riverside Way, reported at the last Springfield PACT meeting. There was support for their closure by a majority of over 3 to 1, although strong opinions were also voiced against their removal.

The other principle problems described by residents were in respect of illegal motor and quad bikes on the open space by the Skerne, and road safety concerns.

We have passed the results of the survey to the police, the Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour team and the Planning Department and asked for their comments. We have also reported the other issues to the relevant council officers, and asked for action.

When we have the feedback, we will be writing to the residents again with the outcome. Quadbikes and illegal motorcyclists come up again and again around the ward as issues of concern.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Northern Decision Makers

Not sure what to think about the Leaders' Debate last night? Perplexed as to who's up and who's down as General Election campaigning hots up? Then simply sit back and enjoy the revived Northern Decision Makers as Graham Robb (for the Tories) myself for Labour and LibDem Cllr. David Stoker from Durham County Council chew the fat, all ably compered by Chris Lloyd from the Northern Echo. You can see the programme in full here.

(The bit where Graham and David tear into each other probably presages the Cameron/Clegg spat to come in the next Leader's Debate.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Neighbourhood Watch Audit - the Results

In our last Haughton West Community News, we wrote about an audit of Neighbourhood Watch across the ward, and we asked the local police for their help. Neighbourhood Watch is one of the best front-line defences we have against crime, and it helps everyone feel that bit safer. It’s a great way for all of us to look out for our neighbours, especially those who might be vulnerable.

We now have the results – many thanks to Vicky Ord at Darlington Police for her assistance.

There are 23 members of Neighbourhood Watch across the ward (to put that in context, there are about 4,200 adults and 2,500 properties in Haughton West). Not a great figure, but by no means the worst apparently in the town.

Rather than list all the streets which don’t have a Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, it is quicker and easier to list those that have. So here they are;

Balmoral Road, Cairngorm Drive, Beauly Drive, Cragwellside, Danby Court, Glamis Road (has 2!), Hardwick Close, Hercules Street, Hutton Avenue, Idaho Close, Inglewood Close, Largo Gardens, Leven Gardens, Littlebeck Drive, Mendip Grove, Moray Close, Nightingale Avenue, Rockwell Avenue & Sparrow Hall Drive.

By our reckoning, that means that around 57 streets in the ward have no active Neighbourhood Watch presence.

We’d encourage everyone to think about joining up to the scheme – or re-joining, if you once were a member and for whatever reason have drifted away. It is not time-consuming, and is one small way we can all do something for our community as well as ourselves.

As you may have seen in the Echo last month, Francis Jones, the self-styled community protector who runs the for-profit Sparta set-up, had the front to describe his two-bit organisation as the Neighbourhood Watch for the 21st Century. I beg to differ - I think people are still community minded enought to look out for each other - Neighbourhood Watch is more relevant than ever, and we don't need Jones' Keystone Cops outfit in our streets.

If you are interested in joining up to Neighbourhood Watch, simply contact Vicky Ord, the Community Liaison Officer for the Police, who is based at the Central House Annex in Gladstone Street. Her direct line number is 346832, mobile 0781 3675733. Vicky can also be contacted by email – her address is

If you do sign up and you live in Haughton West, please let me know, so we can promote progress via our newsletters. We will be reminding everyone about Neighbourhood Watch when we circulate our Street Surgery Notices in future.

NEWSFLASH - after circulating a version of the above post in our Haughton West e-newslketter, one resident has already come foreward to give his name as a co-ordinator. Let's see if we can't get 9 more people signed up by the end of the summer!

Palybuilders - Have Your Say

In our recent newsletters, we’ve been keeping local residents informed about the Playbuilders scheme – a pot of money secured by the Council to substantially upgrade play facilities in the Borough. We argued that Springfield Park deserved to share in the cash, and were delighted when the Council accepted our arguments. David, Andy and I have also been arguing for years that a new play area was necessary south of Whinfield Road, and again this has been agreed by the Council.

Consultation is being led by the Groundwork organisation – they have already begun by knocking on doors of properties overlooking the playing field in Whinfield Park. The response from local residents was very positive - no one was against the play area, and families came to the door with their children because they all wanted to have their say.

There were some comments about anti-social behaviour issues but most of the parents were saying why should they let the older ones ruin it for their children? We completely agree.

Groundwork are now holding a free play and consultation sessions during the Easter holidays to give children, young people and adults the chance to speak with them. If you live in the area, why not get along and let them know how you would like to see money made available for play provision in our community. We've put out 600 letters around the ward promoting the work.

The sessions will take place today, Tuesday 13th April 2010 between 11am and 2.30pm on Springfield Playing Field, and on Thursday 15th April 2010 between 11am and 2.30pm on on Rockwell Nature Reserve (by the river) – it would be great to see you there.