Sunday, 31 May 2009

"Six Jobs" in the Sunday Sun

Never known to use one hyperbole when three are available, the Sunday Sun today has a deserved pop at Alan "Six Jobs" Milburn, variously describing him as a "top dog", "big beast" and "bigwig". As I blogged recently, the Sunday Sun confirms that Six Jobs has "made hundreds of thousands from private firms".

It also lists the huge amount of time he spends abroad on activities unconnected with his work as our MP and points out that he lives in Stocksfield, Northumberland, which the RAC website tells us is an hour and half's drive from the constituency. The Sunday Sun kindly points out that, although the Tory candidate also lives some way from the town, I have lived here for 26 years and am a local councillor here.

You've got to have a laugh though. Labour MP Stephen Byers is reported on under a headline that reads "Buyers (sic) under pressure to reveal all". Newcastle North MP Doug Henderson, who lives in Fife, is described as "living in another country". And the Sun's story about Frank Cook claiming back a church plate donation appears under the Headline "MP CLAIMED EXPENSES FROM GOD!"

Sadly, the Sunday Sun didn't report that Six Jobs hasn't spoken in Parliament for over a year and appears to spend relatively little time there. Much the same can be said about his constituency.

Frank Cook: couldn't have happened to a nicer guy

I've had dealings with that Frank Cook, Labour MP for Stockton North, (aka Mr Grumpy) before. It breaks my heart to hear he has been humiliated for claiming back a £5 church donation. He's such a nice, friendly chap.

During the 2005 General Election, when I was Lib Dem candidate in Stockton South, I was asked by the Principal of the Further Education College in Frank's Constituency if I would step in to a Question Time event at the college because our candidate in Stockton North was unavailable on that day. Of course I said yes. However, when Frank heard that I was taking part he refused to do so, saying he would only debate with the candidate from Stockton North. This is despite the fact that at similar events in Stockton South, candidates from both constituencies intermingled. So the students were deprived of hearing our views.

My comment that Frank must have been scared to debate with me made the local paper.

At the Count, where both constituencies were counted in the same hall, there were a few administrative problems, so the counting took a bit longer than usual. When Mr Grumpy got up to make his acceptance speech, instead of thanking the Returning Officer and staff he launched into an attack on them for taking too long. Then he had a go at me, saying he wasn't scared of debating with anyone blah blah blah.

Frankly, it doesn't surprise me that such a mean-spirited man should be trying to claim back a church donation from the tax payer.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

St Modwen Development set to be rejected

Sadly, the planners on Darlington Borough Council are recommending that the proposal to build 250 houses and flats on Whessoe Road, on the site of the old Corus works, be rejected by the Planning Development Committee when it meets this week. They say there isn't enough affordable housing in the scheme. The Echo has the story, and a chance for you to comment, here.

This development was welcomed by local residents. It would have restored an ugly, dangerous, derelict and useless 18 acre site (half of which falls within my North Road ward) and provided much needed housing.

What I don't understand is, weren't there any discussions between the officers and the developers at an early stage so that the planners could have indicated they were unhappy about this aspect of the plan? St Modwen could then have amended their plans accordingly. Or maybe there was such a discussion and St Modwen went ahead with their plans anyway.

It's all very disappointing. I hope, assuming councillors accept the recommendation of the officers, that a revised plan can be brought forward in due course.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Alan "Six Jobs" Milburn

If your MP had made NO speeches in the House of Commons in the past year...

If your MP sat on NO Select Committees in the House of Commons...

If your MP has ALWAYS voted against ALL bills designed to create a more transparent Parliament...

If your MP worked for Lloyd's Pharmacy, Pepsico, Diaverum Healthcare, Covidien and Bridgepoint Capital...

If your MP earned more from his outside jobs than he does as an MP...

If your MP claimed the MAXIMUM Additional Costs Allowance to enable him to represent his electorate, despite playing no discernible role in the House of Commons...
If your MP lives over 50 miles from his constituency...
If you're wondering what bloody use your MP is to his constituency...

You probably live in Darlington.

Will's Medal Ceremony

Been up to RM Condor, Arbroath for a couple of days for Will's Afghanistan Campaign Medal Ceremony. While the day was obviously generally happy and filled with pride, there were plenty of tears among the couple of thousand family members present as the names of the fallen were read out and the Last Post played. 45 Commando lost eight men in combat and others were severely injured, many of whom took part in the Medal Parade in wheelchairs having had their legs blown off by land mines and suicide bombers.

The Commandant General and other senior officers spoke movingly and well about what, it appears, was the toughest campaign the marines have fought for many years in terms of casualties. While they stressed the positive outcomes: new schools and medical facilities built, for example, it is clear this war will continue for many years and many more will lose their lives in a far-away land.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Missing leaflets

With Euro postal ballot papers arriving on voters' doormats, I have so far received leaflets from the Lib Dems, UKIP and BNP - but nothing yet from Labour or the Conservatives - what's going on? Interestingly, I've been told that postmen working in Darlington have been told they need not deliver the BNP leaflet if they object to it! Maybe that option extends to all the parties, and they're refusing to deliver the Tory and Labour ones!

As usual today, as with almost every day for the past few weeks, I'll spend an hour or two delivering Fiona Hall's tabloid newspaper in Darlington.

So far our small local team has delivered 22,000 of these tabloids - we have the inky fingers to prove it - with many more to go. With her Annual Report delivered earlier in the year, and our ward and PPC Focuses also featuring Fiona prominently, households across the constituency have had plenty of reminders about just how hard she's worked for them since her famous election five years ago.

And yet last night an email arrived from a good friend of mine in the local party wondering whether, even with our party's relatively blameless exposure to the MP's expenses scandal, all that work will be wasted come June 4th if some of our vote slides away to the fringe parties. I'm certain his worries are unfounded: Fiona will be re-elected with a larger share of the vote than last time.

But it is clear that all politicians from all parties at all levels are being tarred with the same brush. It's a rough ride out there at the moment. Even some of our FREEPOST envelopes going out with my PPC Focus are coming in stuffed with abusive comments about politicians.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

What's been happening?

Both my regular readers will have been wondering why my blogging has been less prolific than usual recently. Well, it has nothing to do with the 1,400 miles I have travelled in the past couple of weeks watching Reading lose to Birmingham and Burnley (twice). These days I can blog from a moving train if needed, so that's no excuse. Though I drove to the match at Turf Moor. I don't suppose anyone reading this has ever tried to travel by train from Darlington to Burnley and back: if they have, they're probably still wondering why.

It's because I blog mainly about local politics in Darlington which, it must be said, is going through a very quiet, uneventful period at the moment. This week's Full Council meeting is a case in point. Apart from Alan Coultas, who can be relied on to dish it out, particularly if the Leader of the Council is his target, there was very little controversy or excitement.

Our Leader, Martin Swainston, asked Nick Wallis, portfolio holder for Climate Change (he's against it) whether his European ambitions (sadly, because we'd love a by-election in his ward, not to be fulfilled this time around) were interfering with his work as a Darlington Councillor (they aren't, we were assured). As expected, this was the only exchange the Echo reporter reported on.

I spoke twice. Firstly to ask David Lyonette, transport portfolio holder, whether anything could be done to stop the many drivers who each day break the law and put pedestrians at risk by driving through the pedestrianised areas of the town centre. It seems there is no prospect of anything being done about this because Durham Constabulary, in their wisdom, can't be bothered to enforce these laws (my words, not Cllr Lyonette's).

Secondly, I asked the Chair of the Health and Well Being Scrutiny Committee, Marian Swift, whether she had seen an advert in the Echo, where a nightclub in the town were advertising a cheap drinks promotion. This type of promotion, which is an open invitation to excessive drinking, does nothing to help Cllr Swift's campaign against the health problems caused by binge drinking. She agreed with me.

This question did produce one mildly diverting interruption from a Labour Councillor. I don't know his name, I don't remember him ever coming within my radar, but as I mentioned the cheap drinks promotion he leapt agressively to his feet to ask whether advertising was allowed in the Council Chamber. Poor love, he didn't realise I was being critical of the promotion! But I bet he's got a really big car.

So, the last Council of the year went out with a wimper. If you want to see how a mayor is made, come along on Thursday to the Annual Council meeting, where Conservative Jim Ruck will have the chains of office passed to him from Ian Haszeldine. I suspect we may have a somewhat different style from the Mayoral Chair in the coming year.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hartlepool MP plans ahead

I haven't spotted anything so far about the part-time MP for Darlington, Alan Milburn, but one of the other local MPs, Ian Wright from Hartlepool, is revealed today as having claimed £1200 for bedding and electrical equipment for a second home he hadn't even bought yet. Respect, Ian! Vera Baird, meanwhile, MP for sunny Redcar, tried to claim for Christmas decorations, though the Commons authorities sent her packing on that one.

On a weekend when four more British soldiers died in Afghanistan, the world's economy teeters on the edge and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in various battle zones around the world, the petty nature of so many of these claims by MPs of every party beggars belief.

As we found from questions at a recent Queen Elizabeth 6th Form Question Time event, the general public does not hold MPs in high regard and this permeates down to all levels of elected politicians.

Alan Milburn earns so much money, he probably doesn't need to claim his full share of the expenses gravy train. Pepsi kid Milburn does alright for himself. In fact, he's raking in the cash. The fizzy drinks firm Pepsi pays him £25,000, Lloyds Pharmacy over £30,000, and investors profiting from NHS privatisation another £35,000.

Add £25,000 from his own firm AM Strategy plus a £62,000 salary as my MP and I reckon he's on £177,000 a year. So he probably won't be claiming for any bath plugs, toothpaste or yogurts.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Finding candidates

Last night, representatives from many local Lib Dem constituency parties across the region went to Newcastle Civic Centre for a seminar about finding local council candidates. This is an initiative from the Government which is funding programmes like this in all the mainstream political parties. ALDC are enabling this within our party.

The intention is to broaden the base of people willing to become candidates, and in particular to get more women, ethnic minorities and younger working people - in fact, anyone who isn't like me and the majority of people present last night: a 50 to 70 year old white male. We were forced to challenge our own assumptions and the way in which we recruit and approve of candidates for local government and to realise that these people generally don't just step forward, they have to be found, courted and asked, and then asked again several times, before they'll say yes.

The Leader and Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, two of the most powerful Liberal Democrats in the country, played a full part in the seminar, which shows how seriously our party is taking this agenda.