Saturday, September 16, 2006
The Blog hits The Big Time
I know that Cllr Andrew Garner nominated me, but I also know that this has only been a blog for a month, and so there was little chance of me being shortlisted.
And I wasn't.
However, a few clicked-links later, I discovered that Iain Dale, the political commentator and ace-bloggist, has done a "top 100 Lib Dem blogs," and lo-and-behold, there I am! At number 58!
So, this is the 58th best Lib Dem blog in the country! Hurrah!
I'm not quite sure how I made it to the list, but I did intend this blog to be topical, light-hearted and relevant to local people. So hopefully Mr Dale thinks that I've achieved that. And maybe next year, with 13 months of material as opposed to just 1, I may have broken into the top 57!
And well done to Cllrs Ann and Andrew Garner, who make it to numbers 47 and 94 on the list!
Whilst I do indeed have immense dedication to blogging, my travelling companion and I misjudged the scale on our map, and have arrived at our motel in the desert wilderness with hours to spare and little to do.
This is great in itself, as it allows me to type this post. But it has left us the unfortunate prospect of a ten hour drive to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, rather than doing a bit more today, and a bit less in the morning. I only hope that there are fences up to prevent me from driving INTO the Canyon, having fallen asleep at the wheel en route... I certainly won't have crashed beforehand - the roads here are so long and straight that I could turn on the Cruise Control and drift away for hours!
I have been here a week now, and am currently in a desert town called Twenty Nine Palms, about 150 miles east of Los Angeles, where we were for the last couple of days. Unfortunately, despite traipsing round the streets of Hollywood all day, I wasn't spotted by a movie mogul, and so it looks like my film career will have to be put on hold for the time being at least.
We began in San Francisco, taking in Alcatraz and the sealions, and gaping like slack-jawed simpletons at the hills all around. I thought that Lowther Road in Prestwich was a hill, but it pales into insignificance compared to the ones in San Francisco. Which is probably high on the list of reasons why SF is a world tourist hotspot, and Prestwich isn't. Although you can come and visit us if you want!
What struck me about San Francisco (aside from the rantings above) was the efficient and cheap public transport system they have. The city is positively teeming with public transport opportunities, as well as other non-car alternatives. They have the Muni train system, the famous trams, light rail, bike lanes, car-pooling, and the very impressive BART system. The BARTs are cheap, frequent, clean and modern. All a far cry from Manchester's Metrolink, which in my opinion is in sore need of improvements to virtually all facets of the customer experience if it is to be as helpful to Manchester as its potential promised.
But more on the Metrolink when I get back.
From San Francisco we journeyed southwards to Monterey (of cheese fame, and a lovely aquarium), and then down Big Sur, stopping in the town of Cambria. We popped in on Hearst Castle, which I think I may model my next property purchse on. And then to LA, with Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, all so far out of my price range that it almost made me weep.
Tomorrow, as I say, we are heading towards the Grand Canyon, then it's off to Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, and back to SF before coming home in two weeks. If I get the chance, I'll post on another day before I get back.
I hope all is well in Prestwich.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Off on my holidays!
I have saved up lots of annual leave, and even more money, for what I hope will be a cracking holiday. We are going to visit a friend of mine who works at the University of California, Berkeley, doing something so scientific that it makes my head ache just to think about it. I haven’t seen him since he moved out there four months ago, so it will be a great reunion.
I am going with my best friend, and we are hiring a car and going for a tour of the State (with a bit of a foray into Nevada and Colorado for the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas). But assuming I don't win big on the poker tables in Vegas, I'll be back in Prestwich at the start of next month. And there may even be photos for the blog!
Despite the hiatus in blogging, Bury Liberal Democrats continue to work for you even when I’m away (believe it or not!), and you can contact any of your local Councillors by clicking here if you want to contact them by phone, or here if you want to contact them by email.
Have a good few weeks, and I will be back blogging when I get back!
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Overviewed and Scrutinised
And tonight it was the “CPA Direction of Travel Self Assessment”, the rationale for which you can find out about here. Obviously I don’t want my meagre readership to dwindle to zero, and so I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that after an 8 hour working day, the last thing anyone needs is a three hour scrutiny meeting where my item was number 12 on an unfeasibly long agenda.
I am being a bit harsh about the agenda I suppose. It isn’t any longer than necessary, and it merely reflects the variety of Council work requiring scrutiny. It’s just that I know all about the issues because I work with them all day long, so I don’t need to sit through another briefing for the benefit of Members. And of course it’s not there to entertain me, but to inform the Councillors doing the scrutiny. But my bit was only a ten minute report, and I spent the rest of the evening staring menacingly at my watch and imagining painful ways to punish the succession of speakers who were delaying my return home for a much needed tea.
Still, it is all good knowledge-building for anyone interested in local government. O&S Commissions at all Councils are open to the public, who can raise questions to be asked at the meeting. It is the place where Councillors can scrutinise any aspect of the Council’s work that they choose, and hold the Cabinet and Council officers to account. And it is great to see the passion with which they do it. Members from all sides of the political spectrum are just as passionate about the people whom they serve as one another. It is a shame that more people weren’t there to see it. Public attendance was zero tonight.
I would recommend them though, to anyone interested in finding out more about their Council. They are a great way to see Councillors at “work” to, doing what they’ve been sent there to do, namely to make sure that Council Tax payers’ money is spent wisely for the good of the local area, and that residents get the services that they deserve.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Vic D'Albert elected PPC for Bury South
The process of electing the candidate involves all the local party members voting for one of the three wannabe PPCs. And tonight was the big vote. And, whereas the X-Factor Grand Final took place in a massive TV studio and was watched by millions, this was held in St Margaret’s Church Hall and was peered on with suspicion by several curious members of the passing public.
Unfortunately, like all the political parties everywhere these days, Lib Dem membership in Bury South is not exactly through the roof (we are always on the look out for more!), but there were a fair number of us there to cast our votes this evening. Still, it wasn't like a Local or General Election, where thousands will vote. I could effect quite a large swing in any direction at the mere flick of my pen. Thankfully the power didn’t go to my head, and I was still able to cast a meaningful vote without laughing maniacally and stroking a fluffy white cat. Still, this is grass-roots democracy at its purest, and well worth the membership subscription!
And I am pleased to report that Cllr Vic D’Albert was duly elected the PPC!
Always one to break with tradition to impress a crowd, I will now immediately violate the sanctity of the secret ballot by confirming that he was my choice. And here’s why:
In his speech tonight Vic confirmed to me that he has all the qualities I would look for, not only to fight a good campaign, but to serve Bury South in Parliament if called to serve there. Regardless of party, I can ask for no more than that from an MP.
His commitment to Bury is decades long, and his passionate defence of what local people hold dear is as solid as the high esteem in which he is held by those he has served as Councillor for 15 years.
His support for local schools, local post offices, local people and their endeavours has marked him out for many years, and is in stark contrast to others who seem to put the interests of political parties and personal careers before those of the people who have elected them.
He is a man whose ideas are sensible yet ambitious. He speaks softly, but with a determination not to give in, and to try through persuasion and honest debate to sway the minds of his audience. He will bring dignity, honesty and good humour to political campaigns too often mired in personalities and not issues.
But there is a personal reason for my vote, which goes beyond tonight and which I think reflects why Vic D’Albert would make a fantastic local MP.
I have been a member of the Liberal Democrats since the Spring of 2005, and I joined because of Vic.
He was the candidate here at the 2005 General Election, and organised a public meeting to promote his campaign, which I attended at Prestwich Methodist Church Hall. It was scheduled to last for two hours. And I was the only person who turned up. The only one. And at the time, not only was I not a Lib Dem member, but the party probably weren’t going to get my vote!
Vic changed my mind that night. Through honest, open debate, and a willingness to stay and talk to me, the only person to turn up, for the full two hours, Vic and the other two local Liberal Democrat Councillors there that night showed me that this was a man and a local party whose commitment went way beyond the superficial.
Vic could’ve packed the whole thing in as a bad job and gone home early that night. But he stayed to talk, my one voice worth a whole evening. And it worked, because I joined the party and have been actively campaigning with Vic and the other local Liberal Democrats ever since. If Vic can affect me, and pursuade me that the ideas of the Liberal Democrats will work nationally and locally, then he can do it for the whole constituency.
His commitment to local people, and the strength of his ideals are a role model, and they are the hall mark of what I seek from an MP
And so I am glad I will get the chance to campaign for Vic at the next General Election. We have tonight elected a man willing and able to represent Bury South, and to do it well. I only hope that the party can convince the voters, and that we can work together to challenge in Bury South at the next election.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Don't believe everything you read in the papers
I don’t mean sick of Tony Blair being Prime Minister, but sick of Tony Blair’s future being at the top of every news programme and on the front page of every newspaper! Sick of the disrespect some quarters are showing a man who has served the country for 9 years as Prime Minister (and the people have re-elected his government twice) . And sick of superficial nonsense getting in the way of real debate.
Surely I can’t be the only person who thinks that the government’s policies are more important than who fronts them? It won’t shock (or indeed bother) the world to know that I’m not a Labour voter, but it puzzles me how anybody can meaningfully vote for anyone when policies get mired in a media driven crazy by personalities. And I wonder that anyone gives any government any respect at all when its leaders are lampooned in the press with alarming regularity for no real reason at all (So John Prescott played croquet. So what?!)
I said it last week about Charles Kennedy and Sir Ming Campbell, when our Health policies appeared on page 25 whilst the “Charles had a drink” story appeared on pages 1-10. And now, on the day that Mr Blair further enunciates his policies on pre-birth intervention in families, which are interesting to say the least, again the news is buried by constant jibing and name-calling and accusations from every corner of the Labour Party, given the red-carpet treatment by every news outlet in the land.
I care very much about who leads the Labour Party, and I care even more about who the Prime Minister of the country is. But I care even more than that about what that person and his party stands for. And I’m having to turn more and more pages of the newspaper to find out.
I don’t think that it’s Tony Blair’s fault. He said that he’d stand down giving his successor enough time to bed in before the next General Election, which seems to have incurred the wrath of commentators who say “he should have known better!” and arguing that of course this is the only topic of interest now. But I’m of the view that, even if he had kept his mouth shut, speculation would have been just as rife. We’d just be one step behind where we are now in terms of how honest the Prime Minister was being.
I know that blaming the media is the easy option, but if there is to be a culprit at all in this, I feel that it has to be the news organisations. What purpose are they serving by focusing so much on personality, and so little on policy? What value to the world is a front page screaming about a leaked memo about Tony Blair's farewell plans, other than to mock the head of our government, and to further lessen public regard for the offices of state? I am no mystic, but I bet the vast majority of newspapers, and all the TV and radio news outlets will lead on the leadership tomorrow, not the anti-social behaviour speech. Or David Cameron’s trip to India. Am I the only one to think that this is wrong?
People are turned off my politics these days. The Power Inquiry is a great way of finding out some of the reasons why, but one of them is that people feel that they have little knowledge of formal politics. Today was a great time to let people know about some of the issues. But again it has been an opportunity missed because the focus has remained with party squabbling and the continuing Westminster in-fighting.
I know it’s the Prime Minister’s future we're talking about, and I know that it's important. But he isn’t the President of the United States. He is a man who leads the largest party in Parliament, and so if his party loses the General Election, he isn’t Prime Minister any more. So I ask again, why then do so many people concentrate on the man rather than his party and his policies? Yes, he has more power than Prime Ministers of old. But he is still the Prime Minister, not the President, and that’s why terror suspects can’t be held for 90 days.
As Liberal Democrats I feel that we have a raft of policies that appeal to such a broad range of people: The young, concerned with social justice. Everyone in society concerned with the future of our environment. Families worried about unfair and regressive taxation. Older people worried about having to pay for long term care.
And yet we seem to obsess about the merits of our leader, rather than the merits of these policies. We compare “old” Campbell against “young” Cameron, and look glum-faced (unreasonably, in my view). But we should be comparing “old” Conservative ideas with “young” Liberal Democrat ones like green taxes. We should be leading the agenda and pushing our values so hard that they move the fluff from the front page and replace it with real, tangible politics that will re-engage and reinvigorate the public.
I am sick of Tony Blair, but it’s the speculation about his future I’m sick of, not necessarily his policies. I think that if we hear more about the policies, and more about our own Liberal Democrat ideas for the future of the country, we’ll have far more chance to win around voters than we do at the moment.
I know it’s hard, and I know that resignations and in-fighting sells newspapers, and that tax policies don’t. But surely we owe it to people to have a proper debate and to more away from petty squabbles. People can see right through it, and it’s no wonder they don’t vote.
No news is good news. Apparently.
“Write a blog!” they said. “It’s easy!”
“Yes! That’s just the ticket! The ward and the world can find out about my life of excitement and non-stop community action!” I replied, teeth twinkling in the moonlight, looking skywards with a glance of hope.
And yet, today, I have absolutely nothing of substance to report whatsoever. And I apologise. Not for that, but for typing this message anyway, and wasting your valuable time.
I could write about work, and the meetings and emails that I was faced with from 8.30 this morning until 5 o’clock this afternoon. But they depressed me then, and they continue to do so now. So I won’t.
I could write about the haircut I received having stopped off on the way home at my friend Howard’s hairdresser’s (Mr Howard’s in Crumpsall, and very nice it is too), in preparation for my holidays which begin at the weekend. But I shall write more about the holidays on Friday, by way of explanation as to why there won’t be any blogging for three weeks.
Or I could write about my Grandpa, who is now officially the longest-staying resident on Ward E6 of North Manchester General Hospital (37 days and counting), and who was more coherent than usual this evening, although painfully thin. But, whilst the nurses do all they can, it doesn’t do me any good to go on about his decline. Not whilst it’s touch and go whether he’ll ever reverse it in any meaningful way. I think discussion of that will have to wait.
So we’re left with the dregs of the day. Journeys to and from work (uneventful), lunch (home-made sandwich and fruit), and a conversation with my landlord during which he said that whilst he’d fix the fence (the star of yesterday’s blog), I would have to sort out the garden.
And so the thought of heavy-duty yard-work, like the meetings and emails and, sadly, my home-made sandwich, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Tomorrow we select the Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, so at least I’ll have something positive to say then! Unless the ridiculous electoral system we’re using makes my brain explode. In which case I’ll probably be joining my Grandpa in the spare bed next door!
Monday, September 04, 2006
Not leading by example...
I rent a house on Clifton Road, and the back garden and back fence, which back onto Warwick Street, have got into a bit of a state, especially since they were damaged in the fire at the warehouse a few months ago. I don’t like it either, but I can’t fix a fence that isn’t mine, so it rests in the hands of the landlord.
So I have contacted my landlord and asked him to fix the fence and cut back the shrubs as soon as possible. Hopefully he will! If not, my next course of action is the letting agent. Either way, I hope that the situation will be rectified as soon as possible! In the meantime, I apologise to my neighbours!
Meeting the Youth Offending Team
It was a real learning experience, as I discovered the scale of the work done by the team, as well as the effects of youth offending on the community at large – this year’s young shoplifter may well become next year’s older violent offender, and we need to do our utmost to stop this happening. I also found out about some of the fantastic schemes in place, partnership working with organisations like Connexions.
But I also heard about the awful re-offending rates, and the dilemma about what to do with young people with criminal records – how can they leave criminality behind when schools won’t teach them and employers won’t give them a job?
It is certainly a hugely difficult, complex and important issue, and one which taxes minds more capable than mine. But it is something which effects people far outside of my comfortable office, making a difference to people’s lives in communities like Prestwich. It really did bring home some of the complexities behind residents’ issues like anti-social behaviour.
It’s meetings like this one which make me more determined than ever to become more involved in local issues, trying to bring all sides together and find workable and successful solutions to problems like these.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
The Battle of Man vs Machine (in the Bury rain)
My mum has recently taken up doing exercise as well, and has purchased a bicycle. She lives in Unsworth ward (Sunnybank) and has come up with a route that she cycles, taking in Sunnyank Road, Manchester Road, Moss Lane and Randale Drive. The circuit is about two and a half miles, and she does it twice. Apparently it takes her about 45 minutes, which is hardly Lance Armstrong pace (it is barely Louis Armstrong pace, sorry Mum), so I thought I could probably run it in about that time.
Always ones to face a challenge, mum and I (and Tam, my girlfriend, also on her bike) set off. I had imagined a "Rocky" style scene of me running along, accompanied by encouragement from the sides in the form of my biking accomplices. Unfortunately I hadn’t reckoned for the hills, and whilst the cycling competitors free-wheeled down Sunnybank Road at 25mph, I could only lag behind in their wake. Whilst I got close to catching them up on the flat and the uphill, unfortunately in the great battle of Man v Machine, it was Machine Wot Won It. But only just, by six minutes. I came home in 46 minutes, and Mum beat her record with an accomplished 40.
But, due to the monsoon rain we were travelling in, I don’t think the conditions were conducive to a fair fight. The ground was slick for Mum’s tyres, but my t-shirt soaked up about two gallons of rain water and weighed me down! I think I will have to have a rematch in the dry!
Beware of the Leafleter!
A couple of months ago I was leafleting in Sedgley and was on the receiving end of a nasty nip from one of my dog friends through a letterbox. He was clearly unimpressed by our policies... It was bound to happen before too long, as my hand must appear through the best part of 1,000 letterboxes a month. But on this occasion my luck finally ran out, and I must apologise to the householders who were on my route after the incident, and received a blood-stained and probably quite threatening copy of Focus. Not quite the “friendly neighbourhood delivery” I was hoping for.
Anyway, since that day I have been very wary of a repeat performance, and significantly less gung-ho in my leafleting. Whereas before I would battle gainfully with any sticky letterbox and stick my arm in up to the elbow to ensure adequate clearance from the door, now I am a tad more reticent. So much so that I tend to resort to crumpling the leaflet at even the faintest whiff of letterbox-stickiness. So apologies to any reader who has received a scrunched up Focus of late. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t want to get my fingers bitten off.
And woe betide any house where I can hear growling. When this happens I just leave Focus on the doorstep and run for my life! I had to do this more than once today, as several houses had particularly violent-sounding pets. At one house, in a scene worryingly reminiscent of the “Raptor bit” in the film “Jurassic Park,” a massive Alsation about the size of a cow actually OPENED THE DOOR BY ITSELF and charged towards me. I turned and ran.
I have noticed a lot of houses have “Burglars! Beware of the Dog!” stickers on the front door. This is the kind of warning I need! not because I've come to rob the house, but because I'll know to push from the outside rather than drop from within!
But I get the impression that a lot of dog owners don’t want potential burglars to know that there’s a dog there until it’s too late, and so neglect to inform them (and me) with a sticker of the risks involved in inserting one’s arms into the house. Whilst my intentions are to deliver Focus rather than steal the video, I feel that it is only fair and right for this situation to be rectified as soon as possible… Or, at any rate, for all non-dog-owners to put a sign to that effect on their own doors! At least that way I know I’ll be safe!
Saturday, September 02, 2006
A wet Saturday in my exciting (not really) life
So it rained all day, and continues to do so. Still it hasn’t stopped an action-packed Saturday, including such James Bond-style activities as SHOPPING!!! ENVELOPE-STUFFING!!! and WATCHING TV!!!!!
This morning we made our weekly pilgrimage to ASDA, where the car park had begun to resemble Lake Windermere by the time we arrived, making the task of trolley-navigation all the more difficult. Then, on my return, I headed over to Cllr Vic D’Albert’s house to join Vic and Cllr Andrew Garner for some leafleting. Given that by this time we were in the midst of a monsoon-style downpour, which would have led to each of our Focus leaflets being reduced to pulp between bag and letterbox, we decided to spend the time stuffing envelopes instead.
After an hour and a half of that, and with my hands caked in a mixture of label-glue, Focus leaflet yellow dye and my own saliva, I headed off into Manchester with Tam, where we ducked and dived between a variety of shops, getting soaked in the process. You can stick as many “continental style cafes” on Deansgate as you like, but it ain’t Rome in the rain!
We arrived home in time for the England game, watching England’s most successful manger ever continue his “100% wins, no goals conceded” record, which now stands at two matches! Apparently, Old Trafford (where the game was played) can hold more than the entire population of our opponents Andorra. So it was little surprise to see us win 5-0. Of continuing jaw-dropping shock though, is the ongoing scoring streak of Peter Crouch, our nine-foot tall striker who keeps hitting the goals despite being undeniably rubbish. The game did make me think though, how good do you have to be to play football for Andorra? Not professional standard, clearly, since none of them are, so could I play? I’m not bad in goal… Maybe I will investigate whether any of my ancestors were of Andorran descent.
Still, I can’t help but think that, despite us only playing Andorra, and despite the travesty that Phil Neville, Peter Crouch, and Stewart Downing wore the three lions with barely a question raised in anger, England are looking pretty confident. And about time too, after the horror that was the World Cup. The starting eleven probably earn the best part of £1m a week between them, so being able to string three passes together (as they can do now, but couldn’t in Germany) is the least I can expect!
Anyway, that was my day. And the night is still young… Sadly, I don’t feel quite so young, and will probably go to bed!
Friday, September 01, 2006
Action update - anti social behaviour
I think that this issue may well crop up at the next Prestwich Area Board on 25th September. All local residents are welcome, and I would encourage anyone with an issue that they would like to raise to attend. The venue has yet to be confirmed, but check local press nearer the time for details.
In the meantime, I referred the resident to Sgt Campbell at the local police station, and will certainly raise the matter with Cllr O’Hanlon when I next see him.
The resident was concerned that, despite lots of people raising this as an issue, not much seems to be happening to resolve it. He hinted that he was losing faith in the Police. Whilst I admit that sometimes progress is slow, what I can say with confidence is that all the local Councillors are working with the Police to try and target resources to problem areas more effectively. We can only do this properly through effective communication with local people, so it’s vital that any issues or incidents that you have are reported to the Police. This way we can all keep a track on the local trouble-spots, problem-patches and areas where problems are getting better.
And if you don’t want to go directly to the police, or are unsure of who to contact, please feel free to contact me via this site or on the phone (798 4996). I will be happy to chat to you!
The Bin Man
Working for the Council can be quite a challenge, but at least it’s varied, and today I sampled a form of work that I hadn’t tried before, namely dressing up as a giant bin!
As you can see from the picture, a six-foot bin with limbs was available for viewing today at the Spindles Shopping Centre, Oldham. What the picture can’t tell you, but which I can now reveal, is that inside the costume was none other than me. And those shapely limbs, clad in green Lycra, are indeed mine!
Oldham Council has had a stand in the Shopping Centre all week, publicising its e-enabled services. And today we decided to have a go at letting people know about the importance of recycling, hence the ridiculous costume! I imagine I may have scared a substantial number of the population into recycling, at the very least!
It was great to meet lots of local people – even though nobody knew it was me! And, just this one, I think I might forego recycling the costume, and see it thrown into a landfill site at the first available opportunity! Lycra and I don't go very well together...
Recycling is obviously important – we don’t want to get into any more trouble using up the Earth’s finite resources than we’ve already got, not to mention what to do with the waste. But, I ask myself, is it REALLY worth dressing this badly…?
It brings a whole new meaning to “Dress Down Friday”!