Saturday, December 30, 2006


In Between Times

This is always a strange time of year, between Christmas and New Year. Lots of people are off work, there's people to see and things to do - and I'm never sure quite what day of the week it is because it feels like one long weekend.

Today I was quite surprised to discover that it actually WAS the weekend.

The Christmas break means no leafletting though. In fact, political activities of all kind seem to have stopped, which leaves me at a bit of a loss. I have seen the people that I only see at Christmas - I have a number of friends who live far away who, like Mince Pies and Noddy Holder always serve to remind me of Christmas.

I hope you all had a great time over Christmas. I was in Farnborough at Tam's parents' house. There were presents a-plenty, and lots of food. Still not enough presents to stop me from a retail splurge yesterday though!

At one point over the holiday season I even went ice-skating. I am no Jane Torville, I'll admit, but my progression from clinging to the side for dear life, all the way to shaky gliding in the space of a single ice-borne hour leads me to believe that, given a bit of practice, I could be sliding my way through triple axles and Ravel's Bolero before you can say "Sarajevo 1984."

I have been away for a while, hence the lack of blogging. And I am away again for new year - we are going back down south, to London, for a fancy dress "murder mystery" party. Assuming that I am not the one to be murdered, I shall return to regular postings when things calm down and I am back up north on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. When of course it will be 2007 - a year which sounds distressingly like something out of an Arthur C Clarke novel. We live in the future all of a sudden...

The fancy dress element of the new year party has me torn. We are all given an instruction as to how our character should dress. Mine should wear "a cloth cap, velvet jacket and ill fitting trousers." I have none of these things to hand. I have borrowed a cloth cap from a relative, so that is sorted. As for a velvet jacket, well, I have something that can pass for that (it's corduroy, but froma distance it looks quite shiny). And a pair of Tamsin's "city shorts" will do for the trousers, although they won't go round my waist so I have to improvise with a belt.

An alternative arrangement, which may come into play if I am feeling giddy, involves further raiding of Tam's wardrobe, and the acquisition of an absurdly short pair of denim shorts, and some blue and pink tights.

Several of my Liberal Democrat colleagues at Westminster would be proud.

So Happy New Year to you all. I hope that 2007 is happy, peaceful and prosperous for us all.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


Christmas hiatus

Well, today is my last day at work for the year. I shan’t be back in until January 3rd, a duration which appears on a calendar to be 13 days, but will in fact go by in precisely one blink of an eye. I speak on this matter with bitter experience.

And, for the next few days at least, I won’t be blogging either. I am going down to Farnborough in Hampshire for some festivities with Tam and her parents, and it’d just be rude to break off from them for a while to record everything.

Of course this does mean that anything amusing that happens will be magnified to outrageous proportions by the time I come to write it down here. And the hours and days of dragging tedium will be forgotten. So it’s actually all good news for you!

So I hope you all have an enjoyable and happy Christmas.

And, if there is anyone reading who celebrates the Winter Solstice, I hope you’re enjoying your day today too!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006


5 tips to change the world

The Co-op, my excellent hosts at last night’s film-screening, gave some extremely interesting climate change facts to the audience.

They handed out a booklet to show how small changes to lifestyle can make a big difference to climate change. I am going to take the challenge to follow the tips below, and I urge you to do the same.

We can try and achieve the big things - We can campaign for countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We can vote for parties that have real climate change policies and will act on them - But even if we achieve success with these things, it’s our own behaviour that can also make a massive difference to stopping catastrophic climate change.

If half the people in Britain (30 million people) did the following five things for just one year, just look at the difference that we could make together:

1) If we only filled the kettle for the drink we’re making, it would save 1,650 BILLION cups of CO2 being released.

2) If we replaced one normal lightbulb with an energy efficient lightbulb, we’d save over 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

3) If we switched off the TV at the mains rather than leaving it on standby, we’d save 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted.

4) If we turned down thermostats by just 1 degree, we’d save 12 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

5) We could save 22.8 million tonne of CO2 if we all walked or cycled short journeys instead of taking the car

You might think that you can’t make a difference. But by being a small part of a big change, by being one of the people to do these five things, we can start to take the action that is needed now.



An Inconvenient Truth

Last night I was fortunate to be invited to a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” organised by “the Co-operative”. I think this is the most important film I have seen, and I urge everyone to see it.

Essentially it is a film version of the lecture on global warming that has been given by former US Vice President Al Gore over 1,000 times to audiences around the world in recent years.

Vice President Gore was of course President Clinton’s Vice President, who ALMOST won the Presidential election in 2000, losing to George W. Bush by the tightest of margins. The lecture is what Vice President Gore has been doing since he left office. I think the fact that he’s dedicating his life to spreading the message about climate change, rather than running for President, indicates quite how much this means to him!

Other than a few snippets of his life in Congress and the White House, and some stuff about his childhood the break up the film, the movie is just his lecture on film.

And it is incredibly powerful. Vice President Gore is an engaging speaker, but what he has to say is by turns shocking, affecting and deeply disturbing. Analysing the relationship between increased CO2 emissions and rising global temperatures, he shows how devastating the consequences will be for the planet – humans and animals.

His evidence is overwhelming. The polar ice caps are melting NOW, at a rate which will cause devastating consequences – sea levels will rise, obliterating countries like the Netherlands in their entirety, and flooding parts of the developing world in places like India and Bangladesh that are home to tens of millions of people. And we aren’t talking about rivers bursting their banks and then receding. These places will be underwater forever. And tens of millions will die or be made refugees.

As ice melts, water gets warmer rather than colder because it can absorb far more of the sun’s rays. As water temperature rises, not only does this cause more ice to melt, but increases the risk of hurricanes and heavy rains. It’s happening NOW. Remember Boscastle and New Orleans. This isn’t a problem for some far-off outpost of the world. It’s happening here today. There were more typhoons in the Pacific in 2005 than ever before. More deadly hurricanes in the North Atlantic than ever before. And the first hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic.

These things are happening NOW. The atmosphere has many, many, MANY times more CO2 in it today than at any time in human history. This means that the sun’s warming rays are trapped, and the temperature of the planet rises yet further. The top ten warmest years in history have all been in the last fourteen years. This year is the warmest ever. Nature’s order of things – predators being in the same place at the same time as their prey, ice forming to give polar bears a place to rest and breed – they are all changing because of climate change, and the consequences are disastrous.

Some of the most horrendous disasters facing us today – the Darfur genocide for instance – are partly caused by climate related problems. More frequent droughts are occurring, caused by changes to the patterns of rainfall as a result of warmer air flows. Drought leads to refugees, which leads to unrest, which leads to war.

Climate change causes flooding. It causes drought. It causes war, and it causes death.

We have to start to change things NOW.

The Liberal Democrats are the only major political party with a long-standing and absolute commitment to the environment. All of our policies have a “green” thread running through them, because we realise the consequences of environmental damage to our economy, to our health, and to our communities.

Our Green Tax Switch campaign highlights our unique position amongst the political parties – advocating cutting taxes like income tax, and raising taxes which penalise environmentally-damaging behaviour. We want to improve public transport provision dramatically to make it an acceptable alternative to travelling in the car. We want to take action NOW because it is needed now.

This isn’t the moment for small steps. This is the moment for decisive action to save our planet. The Liberal Democrats are the only major party to offer policies that will combat CO2 emissions and make a real difference to the environment.

Bury Liberal Democrats will be showing “An Inconvenient Truth” in the new year. Look out for more details. And, for more information about small things that you can do to help reduce CO2 emissions, read my next post.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


All shopped out

I have achieved something momentous today. Inform the Prime Minister. Fire a cannon of some kind. Declare a national day of thanksgiving. Today… I have finished my Christmas shopping!


And I achieved it without descending into the midsts of Christmas madness and having to join the thirty million other shoppers journeying to the crowd-ridden retail-tastic madhouse that is The Trafford Centre, the venue of my most frenzied last minute purchases for much of the last decade.

The reason for my calmer and more rational purchasings this year has been the internet. I’ve bought the odd thing on-line before – a book here, a CD there, some DVDs, maybe a concert ticket or two. But this year I decided to leap head-first into the digital abyss and buy my biggest items on ebay.

Admittedly, this had less to do with world-wide-web exploration, and more to do with the fact that it’s cheaper to get something from a dodgy trader on an auction site than it is to buy stuff from Curry’s. But all the same, the results are that I am now a seasoned ebayer.

My major purchase this year, and the one that I suspect Santa may have most trouble fitting down our chimney (due in part to the rigid rectangular shape of the gift, but mainly because the chimney was bricked up in the 80’s), is a DVD recorder, manufactured by Sony but sold “as new” by some guy from Bedford on ebay.

Buying from ebay is cheaper, yes. But unfortunately, whereas buying from the high street enables the purchaser to carry the gift home in a carrier bag that remains on the verge of catastrophic disintegration throughout the journey, the e-buyer has to rely on other forms of delivery. And so it was with my DVD recorder.

My gift was shipped to me by a firm of couriers who, like all parcel delivery professionals, attempt to deliver to people’s houses in the middle of a weekday when the vast majority of recipients aren’t there. This has happened to me on a number of occasions this year, including once when the bright spark delivery driver dumped my package in some overgrown shrubs in the rain, forcing me to go out in the dark armed with a torch, search for a good few minutes and then finally dig out the sodden present from underneath a pile of leaves.

This gift was taken back to the depot, which I found lurking in the depths of Eccles. The man from Bedford had packaged my DVD recorder in a box comfortably big enough to accommodate a baby elephant, so that it needed to be dragged out from amongst about two tons of shredded paper. And then I discovered that “nearly new” refers to products that appear to work perfectly well, but are housed in packaging that looks as though it’s gone ten rounds with a rabid bear. Still, it was a bargain at under a hundred quid…

So I’m all done now. A trip to Manchester Fort to top up the pile under the tree with books and DVDs means that, for a few days at least, my Switch card can retreat from the near melting-point temperature that it has been operating at of late.

And now all that remains is for me to perfect my stomach-expansion exercises and prepare for the copious and frankly shameful gluttony that the next couple of weeks will bring.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Metrolink Madness?

In amongst the eating at last night's party was a serious chat about the future of the Metrolink, and the fact that the entire Bury line is going to be shut for a substantial part of 2007 whilst tracks are being renovated.

I think it’s great that the track is being updated – At the moment it’s like riding on one of those Pirate Galleons at the funfair at times, it’s so rickety. And it’s fantastic news for residents living near to the tracks who have been blighted by the noise for years – but I am worried about the effects that such a long-term closure will have on Prestwich, and the ability of residents to travel. There is a definite lack of information on the Metrolink website. In fact, I can’t see it mentioned anywhere. Lots of people seem to be unaware that it’s going to happen at all, and even less have a grasp of the details.

Which bits of track will be closed when? And for how long? Metrolink is crazily busy in peak hours. How are all of these people going to get to work? Replacement buses take much longer, and a lot of the stations aren’t easy to reach by bus. Roads are already jammed, so forcing many more people into their cars will be a disaster. With any luck, Bury New Road might get some more buses, but it’s unlikely given that the only station near to the road is Prestwich. All the other stations are much nearer Bury Old Road, already well-served by the 135 and other services.

What about people who have bought annual tickets? Will they be compensated? What about people relying on the service to get to North Manchester General Hospital? I don’t know the answer because there’s been a lack of communication at all levels. Where was the consultation? Did I miss it? What about alternatives, like weekend closures or closing one track at a time? Have they been considered?

I use the Met fairly regularly, and I have long been dissatisfied by the experience. It’s too expensive, too noisy, too rickety, very unreliable, dirty and not properly policed both in terms of fare-dodgers and anti-social behaviour on board. There are good points - it is very fast and, when running to time, is very convenient. I know it’s very popular, but I think this comes out of necessity and a lack of viable alternatives, rather than a genuine desire to use the service.

Some of these problems will be addressed with renovations. But in terms of customer services and making Metrolink a more palatable prospect for lots of people, the lack of information about the closure does no good at all.



Christmas and Chanukah celebrations

Last night was the Bury Liberal Democrat “thank you” Christmas party for all our leafleters and helpers. It was great to see so many people there, meeting up to share the festive atmosphere.

My own personal way of saying “thank you” was to bring round about 48 chocolate cake bars, and then eat my way through half a dozen mince pies.

It's also Chanukah at the moment, when Jewish people the world over celebrate the miracle of a day's worth of oil lasting for 8 days in the Temple, and keeping the light burning there. So happy Chanukah to all the Jewish readers of the blog.


Friday, December 15, 2006


The weekend ahead

Again I have a busy weekend planned – although, again, I imagine the reality will be different from the plans.

Tonight Tam and I are going to see The Beautiful South in concert at the MEN Arena. Last time we saw them was a couple of years back at the Apollo, so hopefully the show won’t have lost anything transferring to the soul-less cavern that is the MEN. I have my doubts though…

We are out delivering Focus for the final time this year over the weekend. So the angry dogs of Prestwich can stand down for a couple of weeks, safe in the knowledge that none of my fingers will emerge through their letterboxes for biting until the new year.

And of course we have the flat to deal with this weekend too. The estate agents are coming round to measure up and stick it on the market. I am delighted that we have taken possession of the flat, which we are desperate to sell, a week before Christmas, when nobody on planet Earth is desperate to buy…

Estate Agents are now tied for the gold medal position with conveyancing solicitors in terms of professionals to whom I have to hand over vast sums for unclear purposes. Well over a thousands quid seems a bit steep for a couple of signboards and an advert in the paper the size of my thumb. But then, I suppose, they are getting the flat off my hands, so we can be thankful for that.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Feeling Flat

Yesterday I became a home-owner.

I put the deposit down on a flat “off plan” in 2004, and it finally made the transition from plan to reality yesterday. And so, after some “Will they? Won’t they?” shenanigans involving the release of the keys, casued by ineptitude on the part of banks and solicitors from far and wide, we officially became the owners at around teatime.

They say that buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do. Other than realising that I was inadvertently wearing shades to a Remembrance Sunday parade (as I did last month), this was pretty much the most stressful thing I’ve done in a while.

Watching money trickle out of my account to pay for conveyancers to do very little was the worst part. Quite how they can justify their fees is a mystery to me, and I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of racket going on there! The best part of £50 for a “telegraphic transfer” fee (do you not mean a “click of the mouse” fee?) to transfer the money... Ridiculous, and utterly unavoidable. And I don't quite understand how, in a block of flats, there has to be a title search and survey for EVERY single unit... But still, it's all over now.

Anyway, we’re in there now. I say “in,” but I actually mean that we own it, rather than live in it. We remain living where we always did, and are now looking to sell the flat straight away. Not to make a quick buck (although this would be nice, obviously), but just because times have changed, I want to stay in Prestwich (and the flat is in Blackley), and I don’t really want to live in a flat… That’s what happens when it takes 30 months to build a flat! Plus, the developers have put the service charge up 50% since we bought it, and so we can't afford it any more. All rather worrying really...

So my property trials continue. When I actually acquired it yesterday, rather than the jubilation that I hear people are supposed to feel when completing on a property, I actually felt a bit deflated. Bring on the day we sell it and complete on somewhere we actually want!


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Poetry in Motion

It is often quite difficult to think of things to write,
To put upon my blog and keep updating every night.
But keeping all the effort up is of value you see.
I get to spread the news of liberal democracy.

Today has been a boring day and not much news occurs,
So I have lapsed into a slightly laboured form of verse.
Some out there amongst you may consider it poetic,
Frankly I am of the mind that it is quite pathetic.

But still it gives some insight into how I spend my time,
Just thinking of new sentences that really strain to rhyme.
It’s also quite important lines have fourteen syllables.
Explaining that though limits choice of rhyme-word possibles.

Sitting at my desk I ponder, is this worth the fuss?
I think the answer’s “yes” because people rely on us.
To spread the news and talk of all our big local campaigns.
It seems to work as well – we’ve made some good election gains!

It seems to me that writing on this blog will help to boost
Us locally whilst bringing Labour lies back home to roost.
Like “Education! Education!” Tony sounded cool.
It didn’t quite work out though - Labour tried to close our school!

We Lib Dems joined the protest and we fought to win the day.
And like so many other issues we stood up to say
“The future of our children and the fabric of our town,
Is up for grabs! We can’t sit by and see people let down!”

We’ve also fought for action on the sorry old “Retreat,”
Labour seemed to revel when they stalled and dragged their feet.
But now our plans are coming good, the benefits soon seen.
The concrete goes and is replaced with flowers, seats and green.

On lots of other issues we will always serve you well.
We’re open, honest, trusting and so you can always tell
Just where you stand with us because we’re always working hard,
And also I can do this mean impression of The Bard.

I’m coming to the finish now, you will be pleased to know.
One message though I have to say before I am to go:
Whenever there’s an issue and it’s causing you a fuss,
Just call your friends, the Liberal Dems, always remember us.


Monday, December 11, 2006


Big Bullies

A local resident rang me last night, very upset that on Friday she’d been sent a court summons for an overdue £6 Council Tax bill. She wasn’t working because she was ill, and lived alone. She had a sleepless weekend thinking about the debt, not helped by the fact that a final reminder for the outstanding amount (which should’ve been sent before the summons) actually arrived after it, on Saturday morning.

When she explained the situation to me, it became clear that it could easily be resolved with a visit to the Town Hall or a card payment of £6 over the phone, which she assured me she would do. But the issue served to highlight the frustrations that many of us face these days in dealing with massive service-providers. I can very much relate to the sense of powerlessness and despair that this lady felt in having to deal with these situations - I am currently buying a property, and dealing with the lawyers makes me want to tear out my hair!

But I think so many of us share the same experiences of unavoidable confrontations with big organisations. And often they leave a sour taste.

I went on holiday for three weeks not so long ago. On the first day I was away, a gas bill arrived, which obviously wasn’t paid because I was away. Over the course of the next fortnight, a reminder appeared, followed by a summons and a threat that my gas bill would more or less treble with all the excess fees on top. Now, obviously, I was three weeks late paying, but surely there must be a less heavy-handed way to deal with the situation? I pay my bills on time, every time, like the lady with her Council Tax last night. This must be known to the Council and to the gas company. So why the rush to go from bill to court summons? All it does is make the customer angry and the demand, increase everyone’s blood-pressure, and does nothing to make either side happier.

I know how to pay bills easily – I have phone, internet and vehicle access and I can articulate my thoughts well. But if I was more vulnerable, or less sure how to deal with big companies, or unsure of how to pay my bills, then this kind of approach would really scare me. It simply isn’t fair to those amongst us least able to help themselves with these issues.

There is a raft of data available to service providers, who should tailor their responses to the individual circumstances of the customer. Gas companies know how good bill-payers are at settling their accounts on time, so shouldn’t come down like a ton of bricks on people who’ve gone on holiday for a fortnight. If I was always late, and I never sought help, then react differently.
Councils know whether someone is on JSA or sickness benefits, or lives alone, or is old, so they too should tailor their responses to meet individual needs. Last night’s sick lady didn’t deserve to be treated like that. She just hadn’t got round to paying yet. An elementary search of her records would’ve shown the reason why. And instead of a summons, she could’ve been sent some information to help her out.

It wouldn’t cost the Earth to have half a dozen standard letters to customers who pay late, rather than just one. And it might increase satisfaction all round.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Does God vote Liberal Democrat?

This weekend’s Focus deliveries have been spoiled somewhat by the inclement weather. Delivering in torrents of rain reduces even the hardiest of Focuses to pulp, and that was the basic scene this weekend. A number of local residents will havbe received pictures of me and Cllr O’Hanlon in various states of mush.

All of which makes me wonder, why does God permit such weather-related mishaps to occur to us? We’re only out spreading the good word. Does God vote Labour?

Analysis of canvass data doesn’t seem to give an adequate answer. We have a Mr and Mrs Gold, and a Mr Gode, but nothing on “God.”

But I do know of His work, and some of that gives me a bit of a clue as to his likely voting intentions.

I suppose his best known project would be the “creation of the Universe,” which he achieved in six days, taking Sunday off. We Liberal Democrats can knock of an entire edition of Focus in six days, so we share His values in that respect. But we like a bit of Sunday leafleting, so we probably wouldn’t win many votes letting that one slip.

God was the boss of that entire “Universe creation” project in fact, showing little regard for bureaucratic red-tape and planning regulations. That marks him out as a Conservative in my book. A bit of entrepreneurialism and the creation of a thriving small business out of nothing.

I suppose as the freehold owner for the entire known Universe he could also be regarded as one of the landed gentry. So maybe that’s another tick in the Tory box.

2-0 to the Conservatives.

God shows a few characteristics in common with Labour as well. After all, God was instrumental in the rise of the Trade Union movement which freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. A bit of collective industrial action in the form of 10 plagues got around the appalling working conditions that our pyramid-builders were toiling in. And, like much of the 1980’s for Labour, there then followed a prolonged period in the desert wilderness for the Ancient Israelites too.

But then He strikes a blow for Liberal Democracy in terms of his work in the field of conservation. Taking special care over the ORIGINAL Eden Project, and then giving explicit orders to his underling Noah to preserve a breeding pair of all of the World’s species during his early wetlands experiments. As the party of the Environment, God is on our side here I’m sure.

God is clearly also a fan of alternative energy sources. His experiments in “parting” the Red Sea were clearly early probings into wave power, and many an insurance company have wriggled out of paying up citing His influence in all manner of accidents caused by potentially useful alternative energy sources (such as last week’s London tornado – was that just a freak accident, or God messing about with a celestial wind-turbine?). He also cleverly sited The Moon a mere quarter of a million miles away, close enough to enable tidal power to be used, but far enough away to stop Cleethorpes getting drowned twice a day.

He is also with us Lib Dems on long term care for the elderly. How else does one explain Methuselah living to be 969 years old and never once having to pay for Meals-on-Wheels?

Admittedly, his penchant for animal sacrifices in the early days isn’t going to thrill the policy wonks at the Lib Dem conference. But that has all stopped now. And if conclusive proof were needed of God’s Liberal Democracy, look no further than the Church. If God’s veins flow with blood that is actually wine, I am beginning to suspect that not only does he vote for us, but that he might actually do a pretty good job leading us too.

Which, if true, makes me ask Him, why oh why do you only let it rain when we want to deliver Focus?


Friday, December 08, 2006


Music and Mutts

This weekend promises to be another busy one. The excesses of my Christmas shopping binge last week have left me virtually penniless until pay-day, but I am going to Oxford for my friend’s birthday, which will doubtless mean relying on the generosity of LloydsTSB and their overdraft provisions. Our banks are so generous, only letting me beg for a few weeks for an overdraft facility, that I almost forgive them their billions of pounds in profit. Almost.

A number of my friends were thoughtless enough to be born over the festive period, which requires dual present buying. Some (like the one in question) have done me the double dis-service of moving far away, requiring even more financial investment. And now there is a third pecuniary catastrophe in the making, as the entertainment for us in Oxford on Saturday is an evening at the greyhound track.

I have been once before, with remarkably consistent results. After half a dozen races, I managed to pick the winner in absolutely none of them. This despite following the various tips from my “expert” friends, such as “choose the one with the shiniest coat,” or “choose the one that looks the most lethargic, as he’s just psyching himself up.” Or, my personal favourite: “If you see one go to the toilet, choose him because he’ll be lighter.”

In the end, it was me who was lighter. About £20 lighter. And I could do without such financial pressures at the moment. Of course, the only sure-fire way to avoid losing money is to go to the dogs and WIN, which is what I am intending to do.

Oxford and back in a day, because I am in Prestwich on Sunday for more Focus deliveries (I have been slack and reliant on Lib Dem colleagues in the last couple of weeks for various reasons – sorry), before work again on Monday.

Which of course neglects tonight – another entertaining evening is promised as I go to the Manchester Apollo to see the XFM Winter Wonderland concert (thankfully I bought the ticket some time ago!). I thought it was great news for Manchester when XFM got its licence and started broadcasting. I used to work at Century FM in Salford Quays, where XFM started their broadcasts from, and their operation is very professional, slick, and a credit to the city. On the bill is Badly Drawn Boy, another local celebrity.

So, onward into the weekend… I hope you all have a good one too.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


The Guv'nor of the Governors

So I am now officially an alumnus of the Bury MBC Governor Training Unit, having completed the fourth and final module of the “Introduction to School Governorship” training course. Last night was about the Accountability role of the Governor – who we Governors are accountable to, and who we can hold to account as Governors. Sadly, I can't subpoena senior politicians or Royalty, but it wasn't all disappointment...

The course last night closed the circle that had begun a month ago in the first session, and has introduced us all to the other roles of school governors – our strategic role looking for the long-term success of the school, and our place as a “critical friend” to the school. My role also includes being the person to receive a Christmas Card from his school before any cards from friends. It sat forlornly alone for three days before another one arrived. A lovely, sweet thought, but it makes me look better when placed amidst ones from friends and family. For a couple of days there I looked like a school governor who dined on ready meals for one and sat alone in a dark room between meetings. Which isn't always true.

The whole training process has been very informative, and I have enjoyed the style of our highly knowledgeable and experienced tutor, David Lee. He has certainly shown me many ways of becoming a more effective governor – getting more out of it myself by being able to put much more in, and giving the school much more of a help as well. This is the end of the introduction course, but there are plenty more available, and I will look out for him.

It’s all new to me really, this Governor role. I have only been to one meeting, and I have yet to really get to grips with the school’s agenda. I have certainly yet to get to grips with any of the pupils, although I have been invited in to meet the class that I am shadowing!

When the next meeting comes though, next term, I will be much better places to be more effective. I know a lot more now, and I am ready to use that knowledge for the good of Butterstile Primary School. So thank you Mr Lee and thank you Bury Council Governor Support Unit.

I have been amazed by the Governor Support Unit and the remarkable amount of material that is available to help governors. From a well-stocked library to very helpful staff on call to help us, it really is very impressive. They are bound to be able to get me out of any governor-related muddles I find myself in as I find my feet!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


By-election successes are great news

It’s been great to see the Lib Dems winning performance in council by-elections held in November.

At a meeting of local members where campaign plans for next May’s local elections were stepped up a gear, it was clear the results showed that Labour have everything to fear from the Lib Dem challenge.

The Liberal Democrats ended November with the most gains, whilst the Conservatives made no gains at all from Labour in November and we Liberal Democrats gained 4 from them.

In cities and in urban areas like Prestwich, it is the Liberal Democrats who are challenging Labour hard. In May here in Prestwich, the choice will once again be between Labour and the Lib Dems. The Tories came a poor third last time and remain without any councillors in the area.

Overall, the net changes in seats contested in the November by-elections were:
Liberal Democrats +6
Conservatives +4
Labour -3
Independents/other -7



Training, Bleeding, and Eating

Tonight is my final session of training on the Introduction to School Governorship course. The first three modules have been very informative so hopefully the last one will continue the trend.

I received a Christmas card last night from the school at which I am a governor. I am touched by their consistent communications with me. That’s the second hand-written letter I’ve had from them in three weeks.

My Christmas card-writing began as well last night. Unfortunately it began immediately I had cut up some potatoes for my dinner. I had inflicted a painless but persistently bloody wound to my finger, and proceeded to drip blood on about half a dozen Christmas cards. So I had to stop.

The same thing happened a few months ago when I was bitten by a dog when out delivering Focus – lots of residents got blood-spattered leaflets. I only hope that nobody at the top of my Christmas Card list also received a bloodied Focus, or else they’ll begin to detect an entirely unintentional yet highly disturbing pattern.

Today has also I think marked the official beginnings of the office Christmas food-a-thon. Between now and Christmas, colleagues will bring in chocolates and food a-plenty, ensuring that I develop a Santa-esque belly in time for the festive season. It has been arriving in dribs and drabs of late, but today there was a positive flurry. We had Lindor chocolates from one person, mince pies from someone else, the French market outside resulting in croissants making an appearance. And then, oddly, a colleague’s wife made a dozen lamb biryanis. All very odd. But tasty.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Prestwich Precinct

Last night I was walking through Prestwich Precinct and noticed a potential problem spot by the public toilet there. It's one of the new types of convenience, with the "Star-Trek" style sliding doors. Lots of young people seemed to be banging on it and making a lot of noise, and I noticed when the door slid open that there were about half a dozen young people using it as a place to shelter from the rain! They were sat inside making themselves very much at home!

I think we need to work with young people locally to find them real places to gather - not on street corners and not inside public toilets! I will talk to my Liberal Democrat colleagues to see if we can bring this issue up formally, and I will also talk to the police locally to see if there have been any other problems reported there. Some of the people I saw were familiar faces I have grown to know recently after conversations with the Police. The precenict is a family area, expecially at this time of year with the Christmas Tree on display. The barriers by The Retreat make it less appealing already and I wouldn't want anything like this to spoil it further.

So I will work to assess the opportunities for working with the young people of Prestwich to find out what they want, and whether we can do something for them.


Monday, December 04, 2006


A couple of links

For some reason, the hyperlink function seems to have disappeared from my blog-writing page since I upgraded. So I will have to type the long addresses rather than just sticking a link behind the word "here" or whatever.

Anyway, there are some photos of Tam and me at the Civic Ball at

And also, after my Daily Express rant the other day, here is a great site to look at and see some of their ridiculous front pages from recently

If I had the time (I certainly have the inclination), I would like to find out the relationship between the amount of front pages / letters to the editor saying "How dare they ban X" (usually something British, like the stocks) compared to the front pages / letters saying "We must ban Y" (usually something "foreign", like a veil). I reckon there's about the same number.

And also the number of articles and letters raking up stories about Diana compared to the number of articles and letters begging for Diana to be left to rest in peace. Again, I predict a similar number!

I know it isn't an original thought, but it intrigues me nonetheless.



More cash for our MPs?

MPs want a pay rise, taking their salary to £100k pa. I have read lots of comments from people about this today, and almost nobody has agreed with what I’m about to say.

I think we should give it to them. £100k a year is a lot of money, sure. But it isn’t really the fantastic sum that so many people seem to be suggesting it is. These people run our country and represent us all. These are intelligent, very gifted people. They work extremely long hours, are away from home most of the week, and certainly don’t stop at weekends. And at £60k a year I'd say they are underpaid.

I know lots of people think that politicians are power-hungry and self-interested egotists in it for the fame. I challenge this strongly. On the whole, MPs aren’t fantastically wealthy, or well-known. I challenge these people to name a dozen back-benchers, or a dozen MPs who out-earn their private-sector peers. And how much power does an opposition MP have? Or even a backbench Government MP? Not much, I reckon.

Top lawyers, top people in industry and professional services all earn many times more than the average MP’s salary. The Chief Executive of the biggest Council in the UK earns more or less the same as the Prime Minister. There are people in my office earning more than an MP. And none of these people have to stand for election and risk losing it all every 4 or 5 years.

Politics should be full of good people. Honest, hard-working, brilliantly able people who do their constituents a great service and represent them to the best of their outstanding ability. They should uphold the standards of their office, and of Parliament and of the country. And the vast majority do. The vast majority.

MPs shouldn’t demand the pay-rise. But they should get it.

Salary shouldn’t be the reason for their desire for the job. But salary should not deter the best from wanting to be MPs. Salary should not mean that MPs have second jobs as non-executive directors or after-dinner speakers or anything else. We should pay them enough so that all they do is work for us. We should look after our MPs as they should look after us. And if the MPs don’t deserve the money, we should trust voters to vote them out.

So yes, I think MPs are underpaid. I also think that nurses and teachers and social carers are underpaid. But it’s the politicians who will make our country able to pay teachers and carers and nurses more. So shouldn’t we seek the best people for the job? And shouldn’t we reward them amply for their work? Theirs’ is a public service after all. It isn’t a selfish one. And they should be given their pay rise.


Doesn't The Devil hold a Trident...?

Trident is in the news today, and Sir Ming Campbell’s call for a halving of the UK’s nuclear warheads seems to me like a very sensible suggestion. We’d lead the way in disarmament, sending a signal across the world that we are serious in our wish to stop nuclear proliferation. And at the same time, we’d maintain a very high level of protection.

The government proposal is for four new submarines, each one carrying 16 warheads. 64 new nuclear missiles, each one 8 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, seems a hugely unnecessary arsenal. I find myself asking, if it will cost up to £25 billion for them (i.e. £390m each, or £6.24bn per new submarine), why not have half as many, and spend the rest of the money elsewhere?

I may be being a bit naïve, but how many nuclear warheads is it necessary to have? If we have 32 new warheads, nobody is going to be less deterred than before, are they? No would-be attacker is going to think “well, they’d have done some damage with 64 warheads, but with 32, I reckon I could have ‘em...” And we aren’t going to be any less protected, are we? If you think we are, please tell me. Please tell me it’s not so simple.

The Conservatives' Dr Liam Fox talks about “one-sided disarmament,” and I’d agree with him if we were reducing the number of warheads to zero. If Iran and North Korea have the bomb, I’d like us to have it too. But we aren’t talking about reducing the number of warheads to zero. Sir Ming wants 32! That’s 256 times the Hiroshima bomb. Is that not enough Dr Fox? Or do we really need to blow Hiroshima up 512 times?

We can’t act like the world’s policeman, telling Iran and others to stop building nuclear weapons, and maintain any type of credibility, when we’re doing it ourselves. How will this news play in Tehran I wonder? What’s better to strive for – us having 64 warheads and Iran having a few? Or us having less then Iran having none?

And just think what we could do with £12.5bn we’d save. £12.5 BILLION. It could be spent on a phenomenal increase in internal security, intelligence services, or other things that will help protect is against the type of rogue elements seeking to harm us today.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Just about present, then stuff about presents.

It's been a busy day today. Over lunch I popped along to an event in Prestwich bringing together activists from across the region talking about strategy successes and plans for the forthcoming election and beyond. It was nice to see some of the familiar faces from Birmingham a fortnight ago.

Despite the event being in Prestwich, I still managed to get lost. I thought it was in St Margaret's Church Hall, but I arrived to find a parishioner locking the place up and looking mystified by my request. I drove around the area like a madman, staking out the potential alternative venues (Woodthorpe pub function room / Education Centre at Heaton Park etc), but to no avail. I returned home frustrated, only to be informed a few minutes later that it was actually taking place at St Margeret's Community Centre, the next building along from my first port of call!

Anyway, after that it was fine.

Then later I braved the crowds once more to finish off the Christmas shopping in Manchester. At a conservative estimate I would say that there were at least 18 million people at the Christmas Markets in Albert Square. It was absolutely heaving. I am a big fan of the European Markets. There are lots about these days - although it does make me wonder where they find so many market traders to live in Manchester for two months. And also whether there is some kind of exchange programme whereby we send some market traders of our own over there. I don't think Bavaria would be quite as enchanted with us as we are with them. Although Bury Black Pudding may go down a treat in the Black Forest...

I bought a couple of Bonsai trees for people, and a bizarre wood creation which I won't detail in case its recipient reads this blog.

So my Christmas shopping is pretty much done now. All that remains is the big present for Tam, which I am buying off ebay, and am worried that I may forget about in the excitement of buying everything else.

And that's my Sunday.


ps - my Blog administrator informs me that this is my 100th post. In the spirit of successful Liberal Democrats everywhere, I will have a drink to that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Going to Balls and Decking the Halls

Last night’s Civic Ball was a hugely enjoyable evening. Where else of a Friday night do you get accidentally barged into by an MP’s buttocks? Where else can you have a bottle of free wine mysteriously turn up at your table when everyone else has had to pay for theirs’? And where else is there a higher concentration of Mayors than ladies’ night at a stud farm (that joke doesn’t really work written down, does it?)?

Nowhere, is the answer. So last night was great. The Lib Dems had a couple of tables, and we ate and drank our way through the proceedings. I discovered a number of startling things last night. First, I was horrified at the amount of food I can cram into my gob, given the opportunity. Second, Cllr Donal O’Hanlon is a spectacular dancer. The man is an unstoppable grooving machine, and I may get him to quick-step his way between houses next time we’re out delivering Focus. And third, the lead singer of the band used to teach me music at school. Which was a bit disturbing because in the fifteen years since she appears to have got younger, whilst I have clearly not.

THe event also raised loads for the Mayor's charity appeal, which was great news. Although my terrible luck in raffles continues. Another ten tickets purchased last night. And following my abysmal performance at the Lib Dem quiz night and annual dinner raffles, once again I left empty handed.

Anyway, that was last night. Today I successfully negotiated the crowds in Manchester to do most of my Christmas shopping. Thanks to the good people at Hotel Chocolat, who enabled me to take care of most of my friends and relations with a variety of “slabs” of chocolate. Tonight we are putting up our tree and burying the presents underneath it. There was an unfortunate incident in WHSmith when I emerged with four books, none of which were for anyone for Christmas, and all of which are for me. I didn’t want any of them when I left the house this morning, and yet I must have left my will power at the door of the shop because, oops, there they are in my bedroom now, waiting to be read…

Friday, December 01, 2006


Bury Ball Shirt Drama

I am off to the Mayor’s Civic Charity Ball this evening at the Longfield Suite in Prestwich. The great and the good of Bury will be there (as well as Tam and me) for a good cause. And it means that I don’t have to worry about what to have for tea.

I opened up the suit protector containing my dinner suit and shirt this evening to discover that it hadn’t done its job at all. In between me putting the shirt away the last time, and getting it out this time, it had developed several brown marks that looked mysteriously like a cross between a coffee cup ring and a crop circle. Whatever their origin (and it is a mystery, since I don’t drink coffee and certainly don’t rest mugs of it on my shirts), the stains meant that I had to make a mad dash to borrow Cllr Andrew Garner’s spare one. So thanks Andrew, you have saved me from looking like a fool, and you have saved the good people of Bury from the distasteful and vaguely horrific prospect of potentially seeing me arrive bare-chested as if I was the strip-o-gram entertainment. Which I would like to assure one and all that I am not.

Anyway, I must go…


Express Delivery

I was shocked to read the headline in the Daily Express yesterday, “Muslim Law Reaches Britain.” It is unusual for a tabloid headline to irritate me quite so much as this one did, but I think it’s pretty outrageous that so-called “journalists” can get away with this blatant religious prejudice and half-baked explanation of the facts.

The article describes how Sharia law “allows people to be stoned to death, beheaded or have their limbs amputated” and how Sharia courts are now becoming established in the UK. It completely ignores a number of facts, such as:

1) People have lived and are living by religious laws of all persuasions right across the UK. Which is why lots of Express readers don’t want Camilla to be Queen (a divorcee on the throne? Good Lord no!)

2) Jewish courts such as the London Beth Din have been operating successfully and in line with UK law for many years. The Express don’t mention this, preferring instead to give the impression that unsuspecting middle-class Brits are about to be executed by angry Muslims for not dressing modestly.

3) The article neglects to mention the fact that the courts are NOT a substitute for the English legal system, and that all participants give their consent to accept the court’s jurisdiction.

All this from a paper who’s response to all forms of criminality is almost as draconian and illiberal as even the most hard-line Islamic regime!

There are a couple of things that I find hard to believe. First, that there are people who give their professional lives to write the type of one-sided, jaded and sensationalist articles contained in The Express. And second, that there are people out there who believe them unquestioningly! Intelligent, reasonable people who seem to take in this stuff without blinking!

The letters page on the on-line edition asks “Was Diana Murdered?” “Yes! It was a cover up!” screams Evelyn from Australia, ignoring the opinions of the experts who have spent years analysing the evidence. “Should Muslims be allowed to have their own laws here?” it asks, “Definitely not. What is going in Great Britain? Another reason why I left the country,” argues Liz from Germany, adding a very reasoned point…

What’s going on here? How can a multi-million selling newspaper be allowed to spout this kind of stuff...? I don’t know if Diana was murdered, and neither does Evelyn from Australia. I suspect she wasn’t, but Evelyn is convinced that she was. And so the Daily Express scream from the front page that she must have been! Should Muslim Sharia courts have legal precedence over English courts in criminal matters in England? No, of course not. But that was never on the cards. So why are the Express giving the impression that it is? How does this kind of insane headline do anything but enflame prejudice, raise tension and foster ignorance?

I think the Daily Mail should run a poll to see if we should ban it!


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