Thursday, May 31, 2007


Paper-based email and Value For Money

Last night I attended to lots of casework that has come my way over the past couple of weeks. All of the issues I'd picked up at the street surgeries, and all of the other stuff I'd been contacted about in recent days. I also received a message from the Council's "Ask your Councillor a question" service, accessible from the Council's website. Bizarrely, despite this being an online service for residents, in order for the question to reach me, it has to be received by a Council officer, printed off, and posted out to my home address! I'm not sure why it can't just be emailed straight through... But whatever the reason, if indeed there is one, it's a great way to get in touch if you want.

Tonight I am immersing myself in the Audit Commission's Value for Money statistics, which have just been produced and show how Bury Council ranks against other Councils in terms of the money it spends on various services. I am the Lib Dem Finance spokesman for the Council, so it's important that I get a grip on who's spending what and where across the services. And all this ahead of the first Finance Scrutiny meeting next Wednesday! It's not the most exciting thing in the world, I must admit. In fact, ploughing through hundreds of pages of graphs is probably one of the least thrilling things in the world! Maybe there's a graph in there somewhere about how many emails to Councillors are needlessly printed off and posted to us... But the end results of all the graph analysis are worth it, so plough I shall. It's a good job Tam's away this week, leaving me devoid of human contact, otherwise I don't think I could stomach it!


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Busy today

Last night's street surgeries again let Cllr O'Hanlon and I meet some local residents and tal through some of the issues - anti-social behaviour, cracked paving slabs and street cleanliness (again) were the main discussion points last night.

Today I am busy all day interviewing and entertaining some of the new crop of graduates hoping to be management trainees here at work. So I am blogging on a flying lunch break, and need to get back to it!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Street Surgeries tonight - Performance-arama this afternoon

Tonight I am back out on the streets of St Mary’s with street surgeries three and four. After the success of numbers one and two last week, tonight I am at the junction of Butterstile Lane and Venwood Road between 19.00 and 1945, then travelling to the corner of Carr Avenue and Cawley Avenue between 20.00 and 20.45. If you want to say hello or have any issues you'd like us to have a look at, please come on down.

All this assumes of course that the rain holds off. It’s been pouring this morning in Oldham where I work, so hopefully nothing will come between us tonight in the form of a liquid deluge! If it's lashing it down I will have to take shelter in my car. Or, more likely, my house.

Before all that though, I am meeting with the Council officer leading on performance improvement this afternoon. In my role as the Lib Dem spokesperson for the Finance scrutiny I am getting up to speed with the agenda in this particular field, and one of the main areas of interest is Council performance – performance indicators, business planning and the like.

Although all this doubtless sounds about as interesting as being forced to watch a ten ton block of ice slowly melt in front of a weak radiator, it is my bread and butter and it’ll be great to understand how Bury are doing. Hopefully the fact that I know what I’m talking about (supposedly) will help us all get to where we want to be.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Congestion charging and the long weekend

The news has been full of congestion charging stories today. My advice is not to believe everything you read, and certainly not to get carried away in the hyperbole of it all. From what I was hearing this morning, the media was carrying on as if people would be charged a fiver a day from next Tuesday! This simply isn't the case, and any charge will be many years off if it ever happens at all. The important thing to remember is that this is a decision to be made at a Greater Manchester wide level by a huge number of people and groups, as part of a long and democratically accountable process. And as your local Councillor I will make myself very heavily involved in making sure that the right thing happens in the right way. Lib Dems remain committed to greatly improving public transport as a first resort.

The impending long weekend means three days of leafleting sessions, and not a lot else unfortunately. Tam is off to Rome with her family, taking in the most romantic city in the world whilst leaving her boyfriend (me) at home. Other people I know are busy with family or away, which means I get the opportunity for some quiet time to catch up on casework and start thinking about the next edition of Focus. Aside from road-charge news (if there is any real news to report) we have successes in Prestwich Clough (flooding cleared up) and the Village (graffiti removed) to report, news about the street surgeries and lots more.



The truth about the run?

In a shocking oversight which was pointed out to me today, I forgot to mention that, yes, Cllr O'Hanlon beat me in Sunday's Great Manchester Run. By about a minute.

However, I maintain strongly that this was due to a number of competitors recognising me from the recent campaign Focus leaflets, flocking towards me, and causing congestion which slowed me down. Meanwhile, so alarmed were the other runners by Cllr O'Hanlon's "unique" running style and and the frankly frightening vision of him bounding up and down Chester Road, that they allowed him enough room to go at his own pace.

Plus, I'm pretty sure that the course he ran had more downhill bits in it.

So there you have it.


Thursday, May 24, 2007


Casework and football

Today I have begun working with Councillor colleagues and officers of the Council to address some of the issues I picked up at the street surgery the other night. A lot of them are to do with highways – cracked pavements and the like, so I have been in touch with the Highways people to see what we can do. I have also been in contact with a local resident to try and organise a meeting between me, her, her neighbours and the Council about closing off a troublesome alleyway. So hopefully we can see some movement there. I do wish things would happen quicker though. I feel like I've let residents down if I can't get back to them quickly with a resolution - but by the time I find an hour to get in touch with the Council, and b the time they respond, and by the time we've clarified what it is we actually want, weeks can go past. It's frustrating.

I missed the football last night, having decided to go out for dinner instead. The UEFA Sony Playstation Ford S-Max Canon Disneyland Champions £££££ League Grand Final Superbowl doesn't hold that much of a draw for me these days - not like the European Cup finals of a few years back. I caught the last ten minutes, which meant that I saw two of the three goals, so my luck was in there, unlike the FA Cup Final the other day which was seventy four times more boring than sitting watching a stalactite form in a cave.

I must say that club football bores me these days. International football is interesting in theory, although deathly dull in practice. But club football is as tedious as it is predicatble. I can't remember the last time something truly unexpected happened in the worl dof club football. The fact that Steve Sidwell, a fantastic young British talent, gives up on a club he's taken to their most glorious days, to join several other young British talents (Bridge / SWP etc) on Chelsea's bench on £60,000 a week is testament to all that's wrong with the game today.

As a Bury fan there’s not much to look forward to year-in, year-out, other than maybe a cup tie somewhere glamorous. Morecambe away in February isn't going to tempt me to shell out £15 to go, I'm afraid. And the top four are so far above everyone else that it barely seems worth anyone else bothering. People may accuse me of harking back to days gone by, but I think safe terracing and some kind of limit on foreign players would be a boon for the game. At the moment, squads change from one collection of multi-millionaires to the next so quickly that I lose track, and the corporate suits render stadia utterly devoid of atmosphere. I simply didn’t care who won last night, and I think that’s sad.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Standing on street corners has never been so much fun...

Last night was the first of (what I hope will be) many street surgeries in St Mary's, when cllr O'Hanlon and I can meet residents on their home patch and talk about the issues affecting them.

I was at Agecroft road East/West and Sandy Lane last night for 45 minutes, before holding a second surgery at Gardner Road / Harold Street. Lots of people came down to say hello, and there's a lot of case work to take away and work on in the coming few days - everything from major planning applications to Japanese knotweed!

I feared that I may have ended up stood on a street corner alone and looking shifty, but I was kept occupied the whole time, which was fantastic. No arrests for loitering means that, all in all, the evening was a success!

One issue that did come up more than once was street cleaning. I must have been contacted on half a dozen occasions now by reisdents concerned about the state of their streets. I don't know if more people are dropping litter, or cleaning is difficult because of parked cars, but it seems that the streets aren't being cleaned often enough or well enough to please local people. The Council have said that every street in the Borough is cleaned every six weeks (with ones in commercial centres like Bury New Road through Prestwich Village cleaned much more frequently), but a lot of residents seem to doubt this because of the state of the streets. I have asked people to be my eyes and ears on this, and report back in 12 weeks time. The street should've been cleaned twice by then, so if it hasn't, we can ask questions about the reasons why! And if it has been cleaned, but needs to be cleaned more frequently, we can explore alternatives like more public bins, more effective equipment, or more targeted intervention. But we can only do this with your help - so keep an eye on the state of your street, and keep in touch.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Street Surgeries Tonight

During the election campaign, we promised to work for residents all year round. We intend to keep that promise, so as well as continuing to produce and deliver our regular “Focus” newsletter, we are now introducing street surgeries, which will take place regularly across the ward.

Street surgeries give you the chance to come and meet us, and give us the chance to meet local people and talk through any issues you may have. Whether it’s a problem that we may be able to help you with, or you just want to meet us and say hello.

These are the first street surgeries we've done, so the timings etc may change as time goes by. But we hope that Donal or I (and preferably both of us) will be out as regularly as possible in the future. This week, I will be in attendance, and the surgeries will take place tonight at the following locations:

19.00 – 19.45: Corner of Sandy Lane, Agecroft Rd West and Agecroft Rd East.

20.00 – 20.45: Corner of Gardner Rd and Harold St, Prestwich Village.

We'll vary the venues as the weeks go by, so don't worry if we're nowhere near you tonight. Obviously we remain commited to meeting as many people as possible all the time, so if you can't make these times or venues, just get in touch with us through the normal channels if you want to discuss anything.

Hopefully we'll see you tonight!


Monday, May 21, 2007


No internet leaves me irritated

Obviously my internet at home is no longer working. The weekend's flurry of activity was just a flash in the Orange pan. We are back to square one with them now, and I return to my look of casual acceptance, with occasional head-shaking. Unfortunately I am not being helped by Bury council, who are still to provide me with an email address or IT facilities to answer constituent issues. So blogging at work is my only way of contacting people, which isn't really good enough. I am trying to rectify the problem with the Council. As for Orange, I may as well just carry on staring at the modem and sending it positive thoughts.

My legs ache today after yesterday's exertions, but I am sat at my desk at work, so I don't feel it most of the time. It only affects me when I get up from my chair. It's like the opposite of being drunk. After half a bottle of wine, getting up suddenly brings about light-headedness and a feeling of joyous abandon. Right now, after 10 kilometres of Mancunian street, getting up heralds feelings of heavy-leggedness and pain, as I try to drag my malfunctioning limbs across the office to join the rest of me.

Tonight is a meeting of the Lib Dem council group, as we reflect on events since the election and look forward to the future. After that I am going to see a local resident about an issue he has (not sure what yet!), and if my legs are still carrying me at that point, I shall give them a well-earned rest!


Sunday, May 20, 2007


Great Manchester Run - My Feet Hurt, But I'm Alive!!

This morning's Great Manchester Run saw me cross the finish line in 59.48, which beat my target time by twelve seconds. Although it wasn't a personal best, I was hampered by the fact that I'd done no training to speak of, and also because trying to get some pace going when surrounded by 30,000 people dressed as pantomime horses and Elvis isn't easy. My first kilometre took over seven minutes, but once the field spread out a bit I got into my rhythm and kept to my target pace more or less. I think the training I did last year for Birchwood and Accrington stood me in good stead.
As you can see from the picture, I was still standing at the end, although now my right foot is hurting quite a lot! It's not used to this level of pounding, especially on a Sunday.
I'm not sure how Cllr O'Hanlon got on (worryingly, although we were texting freely before the race, I have heard nothing since!), but doing it in less than an hour felt good. I have raised well in excess of £300 for the George House Trust, so thanks to everyone who sponsored me (and there's still time to give to give to this worthy cause on my website here).
Many thanks to the organisers for their hard work - the warm-up people, the marshalls, the police, the helpers at water stations and at the start and finish. Thanks to all those who have sponsored me. And special thanks to the crowd - this was my third organised 10k race, but the first in a big city, and the crowd were a great help!
There are a few more photos on my photo site if you fancy seeing the before and after versions of me!


Orange nearly get something right!

I have had an internet connection at home for over 24 hours now, which is a giant step in the right direction. Unfortunately the Orange Broadband School for Technical Engineers / Circus Clowns (Motto: "Who Knows Which One You'll Get When You Ring??") has once again thrown a spanner in the works by delivering me "broadband" at a quarter of the old speed. So every step forward is accompanied by another one back, and the battle for some level of service goes on.

I have no idea why my line suddenly works again, but it does (to some degree), hence me being able to type this. Will it work tomorrow? Who knows? Such are the joys of living in the mysterious world of Orange Broadband.


Friday, May 18, 2007


Great Manchester Run

This weekend is the Great Manchester Run, which I am running for the George House Trust, a Manchester-based charity for people living with HIV. If you would like to sponsor me, please visit

I haven’t run a 10k race since Accrington in November, in the aftermath of which I was so proud of my achievement that I forgot to keep the training up. With the campaign and everything else since, I do fear for Sunday since I haven’t really had the chance to train since. My fellow St Mary’s Councillor Donal O’Hanlon is also running, for Diabetes UK, and I know that it will be great fun being cheered on by the crowds thronging Manchester’s streets. I only hope that I don’t have any untoward meetings with members of the St John Ambulance. Like police officers and undertakers, it’s fantastic that they’re there, but if you can avoid dealing with them wherever possible, that’d be great. I want to report that both of your Lib Dem Councillors are alive and well on Monday morning. Not least because the last thing anyone wants is a by-election...

Prior to the run I am considering less strenuous but more dangerous pursuits – I am thinking about going ice skating on Saturday, which will be fun and may provide me with an injury sufficiently severe to warrant my withdrawal from the race. I can live in hope…

And of course this weekend provides me with a joyous reunion with my leaflets - the first "Thank You" Focuses will be hitting the doormats of St Mary's this weekend. The election period is well and truly over with now! Or has it just begun again...?


Thursday, May 17, 2007


No Deal

Following the recent local elections in Bury which resulted in no party having overall control on Bury Council, the local Lib Dems yesterday voted not to enter into a coalition or arrangement with either of the other two parties. The Lib Dems abstained in proposals put forward by both the Labour and Conservative groups at yesterday’s annual Council meeting.

We feel that it's in the best interests of the local people who elected us that we take each issue that comes up on a case by case basis – that’s why we didn’t enter into any arrangement or coalition with either of the other parties.

We didn’t stand in the way of the largest party on the Council -as voted by the people of Bury - taking the lead on the Council this year. So the Conservative’s are now the ruling group in Bury, for the first time in 21 years. They are the largest party in Council, with 23 seats to Labour’s 20.

We aren’t in coalition with either of the other two parties, and with 8 Lib Dems now on the council, we'll be making the most of the increased influence of the Lib Dem Team to stand up for sensible policies on issues like the environment, crime and defending good local services.

Yesterday’s Annual Council meeting also saw the Liberal Democrats appointed to two positions on the influential Greater ManchesterPassenger Transport Authority. As Bury’s representatives on this body, we'll make sure the voice of Bury is heard loud and clear in demanding good public transport services like improved Metrolink and sensible local bus services. During the campaign, these issues were of great interest to lots of people, and as one of the two Lib Dems chosen to sit on the Authority I give my word that we’ll strive to improve transport provision across Greater Manchester for everyone.

Yesterday was of course my first Council meeting – my first exposure to the debates, and the cat-calls and petty insults that occasionally fly across the chamber. Hopefully we can concentrate more on the substance and less on the squabbling in the year to come. And in addition, I am investigating the possibility of changing my name – yesterday’s big vote on the council leadership proposals was a “named” vote, where all Councillors indicate their voting preference out loud when called by name, alphabetically. I am the first Lib Dem to be called on because I am a “B,” and thus had to be the first to abstain! All of which made an already nerve-wracking occasion even worse! So I may pop down to the registry office and insert a silent “X” in front of Baum for next time…

My thanks to the outgoing Mayor Cllr Jack Walton for advising new Councillors “especially those whose surnames begin with A or B” to consult their group whips before the vote! And also my congratulations and best wishes to the new Mayor, Cllr Farook Chaudry, who was elected yesterday and who will be the first citizen of the Borough of Bury for 2007-8. I wish him and his family a successful year.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Past and Future

The other day I received a hand-written letter from Hampshire, from a man asking about his grandfather, who had been a Liberal Councillor in Ramsbottom in the early part of the 20th century. Last night I penned a reply saying that, after asking around likely party archivists in the area, I’d had little success. Most of our archives relate to Prestwich, and there’s not much that goes back more than about 40 years.

I referred my correspondent to our party President in the Borough, and one of our members in Tottington who may have some older archives from Bury North. But this is an online appeal to anyone who may have information about the Ramsbottom UDC in the 1930s, and particularly a Cllr Longworth who served as a Liberal member for many years. It would be lovely to find out more about the party’s past in the Borough, especially since we had some very dedicated Councillors very many years ago. It would be a shame to have lost information about them.

But thoughts of the past must turn to thoughts of the future today – it is Annual Council today, when the Council meets for the first time since the election to formalise appointments and hold the State of the Borough debate. For the first time in 21 years, there is the chance that Labour may lose control in Bury. They are no longer the largest party on the Council, and today’s vote on who will form the administration is bound to be very interesting. As a lifelong Bury resident, it is a privilege to be involved in the decision as to who runs our Borough, and rest assured it is not one I will be taking lightly.



Thinking about goals

Last night I went to see my Councillor “mentor” Vic D’Albert, to talk about some of the things I want to do as a Councillor – for St Mary’s and Prestwich, for Bury and for my own development. It’s great to have an experienced Councillor to bounce ideas off, especially since I don’t really know what’s going on half the time at the moment.

For instance, we talked about the procedure at Council meetings, and how to vote, which is very important because I feared missing something vital and accidentally voting for the restoration of hanging for sheep-theft or something like that, simply by scratching my nose at the wrong moment. Apparently there is little chance of this happening, but at least any livestock-rustlers in the Borough can rest easy knowing that they are safe from the noose.

We talked about possible revisions to recycling provision in Prestwich, and about the things that I want to try and do with young people. As one of the Borough’s youngest Councillors, I really want to try and make a difference here, and I hope to be able to bring you news about how in the near future. And we talked about street surgeries, which I will start to do very shortly when we begin delivering the first Focus of the new year. Again, there’ll be plenty more on these in the near future.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


AGM and Tulle Court

Last night was the second part of our Group AGM, where we gave thought to which of the other Council and outside bodies various Councillors will sit on in the coming Municipal year. After that it was a meeting of the local party Exec, where we updated the membership on the ups and downs of the campaign, and the latest goings-on in the party in terms of fundraising, membership and associated things like that.

Prior to that meeting, I met with a couple of local people to talk about Tulle Court. Since the controversial planning decision a couple of months ago, not much has happened, but all of a sudden the site has now been fenced off, and a lot of local people are worried about possible construction issues and noise. So I have penned a letter to the developers and started talking to the Council to try and get answers to some of the questions raised. The development is a massive issue for local people, and has the potential to be a huge bonus to the local area when it’s done – removing a blot from the landscape. But let’s hope that the construction work is as good for the residents as the end product.


Monday, May 14, 2007


A Grand Day Out, in The Wrong Trousers

Yesterday was the second annual Prestwich Clough Day. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the Clough, and we had a fabulous day celebrating local groups and people who contribute so much to the community and the outdoor life in Prestwich. Someone suggested that we make it an annual event, which prompted some smart-alec (me) to remark jokingly that you can't celebrate something's 100th birthday more than once. Thankfully I was ignored, and yesterday we celebrated the one hundred and first birthday of the Clough! It's one of the undoubted treasures of the Borough of Bury, and it's a privilege to have it in St Mary's ward!

It was an excellent turnout again, with stalls from countryside groups, friends of local parks, local artists and groups like PADOS who mean so much to local people. I enjoyed wandering round meeting lots of local people, and enjoying the sights like birds of prey from the falconry team, and the brass band playing. I enjoyed a great organic burger from the Fetish for Food barbecue, and then, as the rain started turning the grass to mud, I began to regret wearing light coloured trousers, and retreated to The Church Inn.

At The Church there was some great musical entertainment - bagpipes, morris dancing and folk music carrying on despite the downpours. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon with a drink, good people and good music. And all in the company of The Mayor, who was a very welcome guest of honour.

It was a very successful day - hopefully the second of many celebrations of Prestwich life and the Clough. My sincere thanks to all those involved in its organisation, and to those who gave up their time to be there manning stalls yesterday. Also to The Church Inn and their folk festival performers, and to all those who came to visit and make the day a success.



Quiche etiquette

Saturday night was the annual Lib Dem post election party, which thankfully for the last few years has been a time of celebration, rather than bitter recriminations / evil and revengeful plotting / tears and sadness. This time of course we had a triple celebration, as we thanked all the leafleters, envelope stuffers and volunteers who helped elect me, Steve Wright in Sedgley, and Wilf Davison in Holyrood.

A detailed list of provisions was drawn up, and each Councillor was allocated one type of food / drink to bring. I landed on the "quiche" space, and so had to bring that. I am not a fan of quiche, so had no real idea of quich etiquette - how much quich is it acceptable for one person to eat? If I brought one quiche, would it be chopped up into enough tiny pieces? Or is one whole quiche just right for one person? What type of quiche is favoured amongst polite company? I'd hate to bring one with brocolli on it, only to be laughed out of the room... How does one store and prepare a quiche? Is there a particular quiche manufacturer famed for making superior / rubbish quiches, and which I should use / avoid at all costs? Such were the debates raging in my head as I traipsed around ASDA. I didn't want to become the first Lib Dem to be expelled from the party for bringing the wrong type of quiche. The last thing we need right now is a by-election.

In the end I plumped for the old maxim, that my dear old Grandma was so fond of saying, that "you can't turn up at a Lib Dem post election party with too much quiche." So I arrived carrying six boxes, in a bewildering array of flavours, and plonked them with a heavy thud on the table. In case I'd made a quiche-related faux pas, I also brought a sizeable case of lager, and some Twix fingers on special offer. And thankfully I seemed to have brought enough to enjoy the party without a guilty conscience.

Although apparently Cllr D'Albert now has several tonnes of spare quiche, if anyone is interested.



Orange with rage

Apologies for no weekend blogging - the staff at Orange Broadband obviously mistook the exam in buck-passing for the exam in internet technical maintenance, and passed the former with flying colours whilst neglecting to take the latter. Hence they now blame BT for the ongoing lack of broadband action at my house. Idiots, the lot of them. Unhelpful in the extreme, and just plain unable to sort my problem out after 21 successive days of me ringing their high-rate 0870 "help" line.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Blair out, me in

The Tony Blair resignation has obviously got a lot of publicity, and rightly so. I’m no political commentator, so I won’t add to the fray except to say that some of the coverage, especially on message-boards and letters pages, is almost unbelievably vitriolic in its criticism of Mr Blair. Yes, there have been disappointments, and yes, we are in a mire in Iraq – but regardless of political persuasion, it can’t reasonably be argued surely that this man is some kind of selfish criminal? Economic prosperity, social cohesion (relatively speaking) and the fact that he’s managed to keep the lights turned on for ten years unlike a number of his predecessors, are quite some achievement. Not to mention some incredible things like peace in Northern Ireland. The man might not be perfect, but he’s been a dedicated public servant, and I get upset sometimes that people seem so keen to scream criticisms and a lot less keen on rational argument. I for one believed him when he said that he did what he thought was right. I think the country would be happier if people and especially the newspapers took him and others at their word when they say that.

Last night was our Council Group Annual General Meeting, where the Lib Dems on the council meet to decide who will sit on various scrutiny groups and other committees, as well as other things. Once everything is ratified at Annual Council next week I can start to think about the committees I’m on and the things I hope to achieve on them. At the moment we are in this strange period between elections and Annual Council when nothing is finalised and no work can be done – so I won’t know for sure what I’m going to be doing until the middle of next week, even if I have a fair idea about which committees I’d like to be on and the once I’d be best at. But last night it was great to see the (newly expanded) Lib Dem council group together having constructive conversations about the future of the party and what we all want to get out of the next year for Prestwich.


Thursday, May 10, 2007



Last night was the induction for new Members of Bury Council. My first surprise (other than my complete inability to attach an ID badge to my jacket which, on reflection, wasn't that much of a surprise after all) was that there were only four of us. Cllr Penketh and Cllr Grimshaw, together with Steve Wright and me. I had expected lots more, but then I suppose the results last week weren't quite as stunning as the Conservatives had hoped. It was great to see that Lib Dems made up half the total number of newbies!

We were given a tour of the Town Hall, its rabbit-warren-esque design ensuring that I will find myself lost there frequently within a short period of time. The distance between the Lib Dem group room and the Council Chamber can probably be measured in inches, but there is still scope to become dangerously disorientated on journeys to and from meeting rooms on corridors identical to one another...

I was introduced to the Council chamber itself, a grand old room which I hope will be the scene of some good debates in the future. Unfortunately it wasn't built with amendments in mind, and the shifting ward boundaries of 2004 created a problem when three new Councillors were elected to a room with no spare seats. Hence now there are three odd chairs perched on the ends of the rows, looking slightly like the poor Councillors sitting there aren't really supposed to be there at all.

We were given some informative presentations from the Chief Executive and Leader, although I was in the fortunate position of being familiar with lots of the material due to my job in local government - I'm not sure how much of it I'd have taken in otherwise. The words "Scrutiny Panel" and "Partnership Board" are scientifically proven to induce unconsciousness without suitable precautions being taken, but I think the speed at which information was being imparted to the audience staved off the slumbers which may otherwise have been caused by the minutiae of local government jargon. And then we met some of the Council's Chief Officers over sandwiches, which enabled me to indulge two of my least favourite activities - eating finger buffets and sharing chats with people I've just met. Everyone was very kind though, a good sign, and a symbol of the close working relationship between officers and Members that I have heard very positive things about.

My thanks to Cllr Holt for showing us all round, and to the Organisational Development team at Bury MBC for putting the programme and literature together. And to those officers who gave up their evenings to meet us - I am grateful.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007


How many Councillors does it take to make some dinner?

Last night I took advantage of my final night off of the week by doing very little. In honour of the 18th century communication methods which must have frustrated the life out of William Pitt the Younger, I am making very slow progress on William Hague's biography of him. But I managed 50 more pages yesterday evening, in between bouts of Orange Broadband Helpdesk-baiting (my new favourite past-time, although one which is meeting with no success) and dinner ruining.

I decided to create a chicken and gnocchi Italian style treat, but I had forgotten the fact that the elementary laws of physics often conspire to spoil my culinary efforts - in trying to keep the gnocchi edible for longer than a couple of days, I had frozen it. When requiring it to be thawed quickly (the chicken was already on the grill by this point) it was of course frozen solid into a single massive block, far too big for the pan and containing way too much gnocchi even for me. Having attacked the gnocchi brick with a variety of sharp implements (number of pieces of cutlery bent beyond recognition as a result: 2), screeching like a banshee as I raced across the kitchen brandishing carving knives / scissors / even, at one point, a cricket bat, I succeeded only in removing a single piece. I plonked the remainder into the pan, and watched the bottom few cook nicely but remain stubbornly stuck to the frozen rest.

Eventually there was a limited amount of success, and I ensured that most was cooked. Unfortunately I had yet to complicate the already sorry tale with the addition of sauce, approximately 3 gallons of which flowed forth from the container with the merest hint of a tap on the bottom of the pesto jar.

So early visions of a chicken and gnocchi culinary tour de force turned into an ugly mess involving a small portion of chicken which was entirely dwarfed by a mound of gnocchi that could've fed my extended family quite nicely, all of which was swimming in a bath of pesto.

1,424 votes, and I can't even cook my own tea...

Thankfully tonight I have dinner taken care of, courtesy of the good people of Bury Council, who are providing me with sandwiches as part of the new councillor's induction. And I shall report back on that tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Back to Work

The sky's angry grey and heavy rain indicated that, mood-wise, it was with me this morning as I dragged my unwilling self out of bed and towards work. There's something unutterably depressing about the combination of returning to work and drizzle. When I was younger I used to dread the first day of term. On the last night of the holidays there were frequently tears, well into my teens (I should be embarrassed to say this, but hey, I'm elected now...). But today I made it in all the same, to be greeted by the congratulations of my colleagues, none of whom had taken it upon themselves to rid my desk of the build up of work, or my inbox of the hundreds of unanswered emails, during my absence last week. Kind words are all well and good, but I'd have preferred no work.

Having been expecting a phone call from Orange Broadband for the last three days ("We'll call you within 24 hours, I promise"), naturally they chose the thirty seconds when I was away from my phone to make the call. Now, having rung them back on their cheekily expensive 0870 number to try and speak to the person that rang me, I am informed by a screen-reading and hugely unhelpful member of their staff that I'm back to the end of the queue again. So we are no nearer a resolution of this problem with my line which now dates back, according to my records, to the very beginnings of time. I believe that if Stephen Hawking were to analyse my broadband connectivity issues, he would probably find that the MbPS speed increases the closer we get to the Big Bang.

The message that Orange left me asked if I could "give an update as to the status of my line." This is an interesting request given that I require precisely that information from them, and they are supposedly technically trained. Although, credit where credit's due, they at least appear to have mastered the use of a telephone to make the call in the first place, even if I am no nearer to remedying my complaint than if I'd asked a troupe of dancing penguins to fix it instead.

Aside from the ongoing drama that is Orange, I have today been speaking with a number of my Lib Dem council colleagues about plans for the future. This week will be all about finding my feet and laying down the early plans to help make St Mary's a better place. I am impatient to get cracking - there's lots to be done - but I know I have to rest on my laurels a little bit to give the Council itself time to draw up plans for committees and the like, and give Council officers time to find their feet in a new civic year. I have drawn up a list of priorities, and now have a fellow Councillor as a "mentor" to discuss these with. Updates will come as soon as possible.

And as well as the business at hand, there is still the small matter of formally celebrating the stunning election success, so this morning we have been laying the plans for the post-election party for helpers and supporters. As a victorious candidate I have to bring along supplies for the masses, which creates a number of potential problems. First, judging quantities of booze has never been my strong suit (a sure sign that I was cut out for the Lib Dems...), although I am not much of a drinker (to the disappointment of many), and as a result have little idea as to the correct amount of drink to bring to such an event, especially when I am involved in its organisation. I could nip to Tesco and buy a couple of crates of beer, but I have no idea whether this will paint me as a miserly skinflint, or a dribbling alcoholic. Hopefully somewhere in between. Second of course there is the problem of food. Again, I don't want to bring so little that I leave a roomful of hungry voters who will never give their support again. But then there is the converse risk that I will buy enough food to feed Greater Manchester for a fortnight, and single-handedly screw up Bury's land-fill figures for years. Such trials...


Monday, May 07, 2007


One final day of rest

As well as writing a blog, I also like to read other people's, and applaud those Councillors / MPs / candidates etc who have their own - especially when they write their own. We local Lib Dems are pretty good, with Cllr Ann Garner flying the flag for us, as well as this one of course.

The only other regular blogger in Bury that I'm aware of (and please correct me if I'm wrong - by regular I'm meaning a couple of times a week or more) is Conservative PPC Michelle Wiseman who today writes about her TV debut. I must say it is amusing to note that my own TV debut was last week, a few days ahead of Michelle's. But then her's is on the BBC for The Politics Show, watched by millions and presented by Jeremy Vine, and mine was on the Channel M Breakfast Show, which required me to roll out of bed at 5am and talk to an audience of 8. So the smile of smug success is only on my face briefly... Anyway, I am a fan of Michelle's blog, even though we come from different ends of the political spectrum, so keep up the good work. A bit of good debate never hurt anyone.

Today I am enjoying one final day of doing not very much, before returning to work and cracking on with my important new role as Councillor tomorrow. Yesterday I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I'd like to achieve for St Mary's over the next few weeks and months as a Councillor, and I'm going to talk it over with colleagues in meetings this week. I thought about lots of things - from crime and more things for young people to do, to better recycling facilities and the chance to use the fact that I'm one of Bury's youngest Councillors to get more young people interested in what it is that we do. How practical these things are, I don't yet know. But, as I found out when I got a large ice cream for the price of a medium at the pictures the other night, you never know unless you ask.

But today, given that the weather held off just long enough for the election, and has now turned its attentions to soaking anyone who dares venture outdoors, I am spending the day frittering away needless amounts of money in the Arndale Centre, buying exciting things like lever arch files and paper to enable me to keep on top of the administrative nightmare that will be Council meetings.

Enjoy your bank holiday everyone.



Blog in New Statesman

I was delighted to see this blog mentioned in The New Statesman magazine recently. I must confess that I don't read it (although I might start now...) and am an Economist reader instead - but still, this is great news, and hopefully will push the regular readership up towards the magical double digits. I have to say though that I am not entirely sure whether the article will attract people to the blog, or turn them away, running and screaming towards other blogs to do with Bury Council. Let us consider the few precious lines one by one...

It begins:"For anyone interested in the minutiae of a council candidate’s campaign trail look no further than Richard Baum." Well, I would imagine that wild-sounding invitation has already reduced the audience to one (me).

However, all is not lost, as it continues, as we step from run-of-the-mill political tedium to Harrison Ford-esque adventure with: "Hear how Richard confronts rain, borrowing a wayward umbrella from a councillor." I challenge any fan of Jackie Chan or Steve McQueen not to be lured to the Lib Dems by that one.

"Gasp as he tells of his opinions on luxury flats," it continues, perhaps not realising that my demonic vitriol aimed in the direction of the laminate flooring that is slowly taking over our once green and pleasant land is at least partly based in my own bitter experience of trying to sell one of the bloody things.

And finally "bite your lip along with Richard as he recounts his tale of frustration with Orange customer services." This, I admit, will attract at least one or two other hardy souls who, like me, are forced by the contract they foolishly took out with these incompetent clowns, to deal with the chattering gibbons in Orange's far away "help" centre on an alarmingly regular basis. At the moment I am in a rare oasis of modem compliance amidst the usual desert of "error 891 - no dial tone." So I am seizing it with gusto and writing this.

But, all in all, another tick in the box that makes this one of my better weeks. Thank you to The New Statesman - I will keep on bloggin'.


Sunday, May 06, 2007


What to do now...?

Without my leaflets and canvass sheets I was at a bit of a loss for a time. Having been so tied up in campaigning for weeks on end, it is a bit of a shock to the system to be able to take a leisurely walk round Heaton Park and lie down for two hours reading a book. But that's what I did yesterday (this book, should you be interested). And after that, I took a couple of my most loyal campaign helpers out for a meal on me to celebrate the result. Not a leaflet in sight all day!

But today I am going to sit down and think about the future - reflect on what the people of St Mary's have told me on the doorstep through the campaign, and think back on the issues we've been working on all year. Thursday night marked the beginning of the most important thing I've ever done, and I want to take it as seriously as the office deserves. There's been a lot of tough talking and promises made in the last few weeks, and I'm determined to live up to them. So I'm going to think about how best to work with party colleagues, the Council, and of course local groups and local people, to achieve what you've said you want.

During the coming week there are a number of important meetings which will lay the foundations for what I hope will be a successful first few weeks - amongst them the induction for new Councillors where I can meet my fellow newbies as well as chief officers of the Council. That will be a crucial evening I think, because one of the things I am keenest to do is work as closely as possible with the Council so that we can get what is needed for Prestwich.

So, that's my day today. And still not a leaflet in sight! Although this may well end soon, because it's about time we said "thank you," and the first Focus of the new year will be produced very soon to say just that...


Saturday, May 05, 2007


Not so manic now...

Well, the most manic week of my life is over. Aside from the election, I crashed my car, and my mum sold her house! But here I am now at 10.30 on a Saturday with no campaigning to do at all. Joyous.

The final couple of days of the campaign were truly hectic, and I don't think I've ever worked so long and hard at anything in my life. The most inspiring thing about the entire process was that plenty of others on the team worked just as long and hard, and that despite the silly hours we were at voters' doors, they still greeted us with smiles most of the time! Even as United were getting panned in the Champions League and we were knocking on doors!

The final countdown began at 6am on Wednesday morning when I arrived at the studios of Manchester's Channel M for a live interview about the Metrolink information campaign. Seeing the centre of Manchester absolutely deserted except for some pigeons and some hardy street-cleaners made me think I'd stepped onto the set of "28 Days Later," until my still-sleeping brain caught up with me to remind me that only a select breed of individual finds himself in the middle of a city centre at 6am.

The interview went well, although the caption underneath me labelled me a "Labour Councillor," and Channel M followed me back home for a second interview at Prestwich Met station soon afterwards. The campaign itself is still ongoing, and the leaflet produced by GMPTE is still not good enough - we want to see prices and a bus timetable now, as well as re-assurance on traffic and road safety issues caused by the many replacement buses necessary. They've had a month since this leaflet to produce a better one. So where is it? But more on that next week.

The rest of Wednesday was spent in a hurricane of leafleting - and for the first time even in this campaign I found myself leafleting the same street twice in one day. My legs are paying the price for it now, but at the time I actually felt remarkably energised. There is something satisfying about watching a pile of leaflets as tall as me dwindle to nothing through the day. And not a single furtive expedition to dump 1000 in a skip... Although I was sorely tempted.

Thursday (election day) started at 6am with my team of helpers including Tamsin and my neigbour Laura. "Baum's Babes" did a sterling job leafleting at that pre-work hour, and I only hope our front-gate-fumblings didn't wake up too many people!

The election day operation for Prestwich Lib Dems really was a sight to see - computers and rushing around... Having voted myself, I went to the other polling stations in the ward and thanked the poll clerks for their hard work. I have been both a poll clerk and a presiding officer in the past, and know that it's a hell of a job.

Election day afternoon was spent "knocking up," reminding our supporters of the importance of the day, and making sure they get out and vote. Thankfully lots had already voted, and I didn't have to resort to threats, hair-pulling and other nastiness to drag them to the polls. A simple promise that the leaflets would stop now seemed to do the trick.

I am told that the primary purpose of knocking up is to ensure that as many supporters as possible make it to the polls. I am of the opinion that in relaity the main purpose of this activity is simply to stop the candidates going utterly insane as the clock ticks down. Anything to keep me occupied, as a mixture of nerves, tiredness and excess Lucozade in my system reduced me to somewhat of a nervous wreck.

The count was, eventually, a joyous affair. Not so much before the declaration, when I was pacing the floor like some kind of angry sentry. I have spent many a long evening beating my friends at squash in Castle Leisure Centre, but don't think I've ever sweated quite so much as I did then! I tried to stay away from the counting itself, but curiosity got the better of me, and my pacing soon ended up with me stood by the table with my opponents and supporters.

I must confess that I didn't realise what was going on - first of all the votes were organised into piles, then taken away to be counted in their totality to check that all the votes cast had made it to the count in one piece. Then they were all brought back for counting out into candidate's piles. Somewhere in all this the postal ballots were added in, but I didn't realise that when the counting stopped and I was in the lead, that was it. I thought there was more to come, and so when I was informed that "I'd probably won by two or three hundred votes," it's no wonder people looked surprised when I said "Yes, but we're only halfway there."

But soon enough the truth dawned, and was confirmed when the returning officer drew candidates and agents together to discuss the proposed declaration of the result. A majority of 322 for us - a remarkable result, and what a turnaround from a few years ago in St Mary's.

When the declaration was made, there were hugs all round, followed a few minutes later by similar hugs for Steve Wright in Sedgley and for Wilf Davison in Holyrood. I rambled something barely coherent to a MEN journalist, and then went back to Vic's for celebrations.

And now the hard work starts...


Friday, May 04, 2007


Duly Elected

So, after weeks of hard campaigning, and a year of big issues across the ward, the people of St Mary's put their faith in us yesterday. I am immensely grateful to everyone who voted, and all those who helped in the campaign - Councillors, friends and family, community volunteers, neighbours and others who gave their free time to help us over the last few weeks.

I haven't slept much for the last few nights - these last days have been hectic to say the least. My tiredness, combined with the woeful ineptitude of Orange Broadband who STILL haven't fixed my PC at home (I am at the library typing this) mean that I will keep off the blog for a few days now I suspect. Full tributes and a reflection on the events of the count will come in due course, when I am not nodding off in front of the screen like now.

And I will be back next week with the usual daily postings, and look forward to keeping in touch with you all through the blog as your new local Councillor. It is an immense privilege to serve, and I want to re-pay the faith you've shown in me.



Victory in St Mary's - Glorious night for Lib Dems in Prestwich

Last night's election results were fantastic for local Lib Dems. After a hard-fought and tough campaign, I was elected Councillor for St Mary's ward, with a majority of 322. In Sedgley, Steve Wright won the seat for us, pushing Labour into third place. And we held Holyrood with another large majority.

Here in St Mary's, the result was as follows:

Richard Baum (Lib Dem) 1424
Keith Grime (Lab) 1102
Stephen Morris (Con) 789

My immense thanks to all who voted for us - we will keep our promise to work hard for you all year round. I know that today is a new dawn for Prestwich, and I am proud to be a part of it.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Zero (excuse not to vote)

Remember - polls are open from 07.00 - 22.00 on Thursday.

You DON'T need a polling card to vote - just turn up if you've lost it or never received it.

Even if you had a postal vote, you can hand it in at the polling station and it WILL be counted.

If you want a lift to the polls, just give us a call - o161 798 0117.

I will let you know how it goes. Thank you all so much for your kind words and good wishes. I will always be grateful, regardless of the result.



One (day left to change the future of Prestwich)

Tomorrow is election day - the day YOU can change the future of Prestwich. Don't forget to vote, and think about how you want the future of Prestwich to be. Do you want four more years of shrinking services, potential school closures, increasing taxes, increasing traffic and Councillors caring more about staying in power than answering residents' concerns? Or do you want another hard working Lib Dem councillor to stand up for what you want? In the last year we've given what local people have asked for on recycling, schools, traffic and parking. Let's keep that going for the next four years.

Politicians make lots of promises, but I think that only one counts. For the last year I've worked hard for the people of St Mary's, getting involved in campaigns supporting residents on issues both big and small - from Save our Schools to fixing lamp-posts. And I promise that I'll carry on. I promise I'll keep you informed every few weeks through Focus, and pretty much every day through this blog. And I promise I'll try my best for the town I've lived in my whole life. And I'm asking for your support tomorrow.

Now's the time. Stand with us. V ote Liberal Democrat tomorrow for a brighter future for Prestwich.



Two (Lib Dem Councillors for St Mary's?)

Not long to go at all now - and the choice is clear: Another four years of Labour let-downs or second Lib Dem Councillor for St Mary's.

Since Donal was elected last year we've achieved so much and made a lot of progress - on The Retreat, on traffic, on improvements to the local environment and on recycling. I have been lucky enough to play a role in these campaigns and now I can make it official.

Don't forget to vote on Thursday and remember that it's a choice for the next four years.


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