Wednesday, 16 December 2009

We've come over all mutual

Wow, this is all very interesting. Government in "seriously considering mutual ideas shocker". Tessa Jowell, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham to be involved. Great!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I have in my hand a piece of paper...

I couldn't resist this, but in the spirit that perhaps of our lifetimes this really is the most important conference, perhaps I can get away with the comparison.

Will our world leaders step up to the plate? Or will they leave the conference with some good soundbites, and a hasty fudge to make it look to everyone that a life-saving deal has been done which will avert the impending disaster?

It's interesting to note that, contrary to the recollection of many, Chamberlain was hailed as a hero when he returned from Munich in September 1938, having betrayed both the unfortunate Czechs and, ultimately, his country. Everyone thought that he had delivered the country from war, whereas in fact he had brought it another inexorable step closer. Funny how differently history can view these things looking back.

Let's give them all the benefit of the doubt, for now at least.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Go Gordon

Ok, so maybe it's not necessarily cool to have a link to the prime minister in your blog, but he's one of the few world leaders who've got the importance of the next two weeks - read him in the Guardian here.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Climate change - how co-ops can help

As the negotiating teams arrive in Copenhagen, thought it appropriate to link into an article I've just contributed to the excellent Politics For People, the Co-op Party's "unofficial" blog, about co-operative solutions to climate change. Check it out here.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Copenhagen countdown - staying the right side of 2ºC

Less than a week to go to Copenhagen: to what might, when we look back in twenty or thirty years, turn out to have been the most important inflection point of our lifetimes between two possible futures: that of truly putting us on the road to resolving climate change, or not. In the UK, it is also quite likely to be the last important action of the Labour administration which started in 1997, and the country therefore has a short window of opportunity in which to act (frankly, it's incredibly unlikely, despite Cameron's protestations to the contrary, that a Tory administration would act in this area aggressively).

Our political systems, however, so adept in acting in the event of immediate threats such as military attack, seem hopelessly inadequate to act in the event of a slow-moving crisis. In the event of failure, even such measured and sensible people as Al Gore are advocating that "civil disobedience has its role to play" and, despite myself, he may just have a point.

Let's not fluff it.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Principle vs expediency

As a complete aside, just stumbled on this great clip of Jerry Sanders, Mayor of San Diego (hat-tip: A Big Block Of Cheese).
In 2007 he changed his mind - publicly - on the subject of gay marriage. Although it might seem like a slightly "Hollywood" moment in part, there's also real emotion in this speech and nice to see principle finally triumphing over political expediency. It also shows you that bigotry can never really win in the end, because eventually everyone will know and like a few people who are gay (or black, or transsexual, or whatever). Great.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Jeremy, Jeremy - What's Left?

Also wanted to highlight this slightly old news story about Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North MP) standing in on PressTV (Iranian state mouthpiece in English) for - you guessed it - George Galloway, that nasty apologist for dodgy Islamist regimes the world over.

It does underline the point made in Nick Cohen's excellent book, "What's Left?", where he uncovers the lengths to which the right-on brigade will go in cuddling up to awful regimes, so as not to be considered anti-ethnic. I'm sorry, Iran is a pretty ugly regime right now, and Jeremy, in doing this you are going from being endearingly altruistic to just plain naive.

Disability benefits and what the Tories want you to think

I needed something to be outraged about to blog after a couple of weeks' (well-earned if you ask me!) break, so here it is: the Tories are trying to make everyone believe that Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance are going to be scrapped with nothing to replace them.

It's odd, but this seems to be taking in a lot of our own natural supporters, for an example see the discussion here, not to mention an earlier comment in this blog, from my Darlington comrades, the "two Ians".

Although it's quite obvious that, politically, Labour couldn't possibly get rid of this without replacing the funding from elsewhere (probably diverting it through local councils in this case), Labour is doing a lousy job at putting its case across. Although they quite rightly draw attention to the Tories' outrageous untruths here, what they fail to do is allay voters' concerns by even outlining anything about what they are actually going to do instead.

The Tories' campaign is being highly effective, and we need to deal with it. Fast.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

You can’t always get what you want

As a long-time music anorak, yesterday the familiar words of Mick Jagger were playing in my head as I left the Coachman Hotel after the Co-op nomination meeting, as they often do at such times.

The meeting had just voted, out of a field of two, to nominate the excellent Dan Whittle, which means, under Co-op Parliamentary Panel rules, I as the other candidate must withdraw from the race to become Darlington’s next Labour PPC. A shame, as the campaign had been going well, I’d got some solid support and was looking forward to making a showing in the three branch nomination meetings to come. But this could only have happened in the event of winning the Co-op nomination.

Firstly I’d like to thank everyone who has been kind enough to support my campaign. I’ve really enjoyed the last month or so - it’s reminded me of why I want to be in politics. I’ve really got back into the issues and learnt a whole lot about what really matters out on the streets of Britain. Being fairly selective in the seats that I go for nowadays, it seems unlikely that I’ll fight another one before the election (unless Hugh Bayley decides to stand down in York, that is). But you never know.

I also want to mention, by the way, that the selection process has been handled in a highly professional way by Steve Harker and the other candidates have been of high quality, courteous and chivalrous.

I would only question one thing (and by the way, to me personally it wouldn’t have made any difference), and it’s this: one has to question the Party Rule Book, when its selection process looks likely lead to a shortlist of only four from an original field of 11 serious candidates (i.e. those who turned up to the candidates’ event). There are easy-to-see reasons for this and, if by chance anyone’s reading this from Head Office, I’d be delighted to give you - hopefully in a spirit of complete objectivity - a list of some small changes which would certainly improve the somewhat flawed current process. I haven’t met one candidate who thinks it’s a good system, and that can’t be right.

Anyway, thanks again to those in Darlington and elsewhere who have supported this blog. The Centre Left will be continuing to blog with some political thoughts and rants, although, inevitably, not so often about Darlington. Keep in touch.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Members' concerns #6 - Letting licences

One member has raised with me the new licencing system for landlords currently being trialled in Sedgefield, article in the Echo here, and it's certainly conceivable that it could also be applicable within Darlington itself (and, indeed, any part of the country which has issues with either the quality of any of its rented accomodation or apathetic landlords).

Predictably, the Times bills it as an additional layer of bureaucracy for poor, hard-done-by landlords, which seems a little unlikely to me. It's clear the social problems are a much more important issue.

Whether it can effectively address anti-social behaviour and crime is another matter, but since the pilot is in the next-door constituency (Commons debate is being led by our very own Phil Wilson), we'll have a chance to observe it first-hand and make up our own minds. Certainly it seems to me a step in the right direction, but I'm interested to hear from members on this subject, especially any residents of areas of Darlington suffering the same sort of problems.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Members' concerns #5 - NHS: specialisation versus convenience

Had a chat with a member the other night who made an interesting point: that a relative had to go to Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Durham for three different parts of the treatment for the same condition. Another made the point that in residential care, it was seemingly impossible to find places - even private ones, which most are nowadays - which could care for patients with both physical and mental incapacity.

Are we specialising too much in our search for the Holy Grail of "centres of excellence"? Or is this a necessary price to pay for improving the expertise of medical staff? And if the solution should be somewhere in the middle, where is the right balance?

Comments please (especially anyone from the medical profession).

Members' concerns #4 - The People's Rail?

This is another issue that I know is close to some members' hearts. I know that the new renationalisation of the London-Edinburgh line (which as you all know passes through Darlington, home of the railways) is of the operating company and not the track, but isn't the second renationalisation in not-so-many years giving weight to the argument of the Co-op Party for creating a network where passengers have a say, The People's Rail?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

OneNorthEast closure

I've just written to the Echo on the following subject, published here with the usual comments:

"I was struck by a mixture of concern and outrage to read in your newspaper this morning about the proposed effective scrapping of OneNorthEast if the Tories were to achieve power next year.

Concern, because it would be typical of the party’s centralising tendency and laissez-faire attitude to regional development, which would undoubtedly hurt the region’s chances of investment. Not that they have ever been very interested in the fate of a region they see as irreconcilably against them.

But it’s more than this - you might expect us to disagree on policy. I’m outraged, because it’s more than a political stunt. In making the announcement that they would not continue with the selection of a chairman under current terms, they are clearly trying to sabotage the recruitment process of a democratically legitimate body. Who’d apply for a job that might conceivably disappear within a few months?

The Tories are playing politics with real people and real jobs, both in OneNorthEast itself and the companies for which it helps secure investment. Beneath the veneer of Eric Pickles’ recent charm offensive towards the region, perhaps this demonstrates much more accurately the true contempt they have for the North East."

As you can see, what annoyed me most was their willingness to show contempt for a legitimate body, and try and hobble it in an opportunistic way which clearly goes against the principles of normal democratic politics. At best, we will end up merely with a period of unnecessarly stagnation, as the headless body cannot move either forward or back until after the election.

Comments please.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Discipline in schools

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders.... They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company…and are tyrants over their teachers."

This was not a quote from a concerned Darlington parent from today, but from Socrates in the 4th century BC. Humans, it seems, have a habit of overestimating the scale of the rebellion or bad behaviour of any new generation, and always seem to think it’s never happened before.

However, could it be true that in certain areas, in the early years of the 21st century, that in some specific areas it has finally come to be true? For example, in Socrates' final worry - that they are "tyrants over their teachers"?

It’s clear that in some classrooms, and certainly in many state schools, disruptive children are preventing others from working, I believe in a way that they really didn’t 20 years ago.

Here’s an example issue, that of physical contact. I've just talked to my dear friend Richard, who is a schoolteacher in Huddersfield. He is assertive, smart, streetwise and funny. A good teacher, and kids like him. But he tells me that he, like all teachers at his school, sometimes finds keeping order difficult. Why? Try the following conversation:

- “Stephen, I don’t think you should be playing MP3s on your mobile phone in the classroom, you know that’s not allowed. Please give me the phone.”
- “No, you’ll have to get it off me.”

Now Richard can’t do what my teacher would have done, simply reach over, grab the child gently by the wrist, and remove the phone from his hand. Because that’s assault. Detentions are useless because the kids don't turn up. He can send the kid to the head, but he’s already sent 3 this week for similar things. And you can’t really suspend or expel a kid for playing a mobile phone, so what will the head do (even if he did ultimately expel the kid, the school loses funding for every kid expelled)? So he’s stuck. And he’s a good teacher – someone less self-confident wouldn’t ever achieve a sensible lesson in that school.

Now, here’s the question: is it right that we are now so protective against the possibility of corporal punishment – or is it that we really secretly believe that our teachers are all trying to molest our children? – that we preclude any kind of physical contact, even when it’s quite harmless and in the interests of the whole class? And what about other things which have changed in the last 20 years which might affect order and discipline, like the seemingly ever-increasing intervention of parents on the side of the child, rather than that of the teacher?

I'm not talking about the wider issues of the curriculum, teaching standards, academic standards and so on - just whether teachers can keep order or not with the tools they're currently given. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Members' concerns #3 - Facilities for young people and anti-social behaviour (not necessarily related)

I've just spoken to a young member of the CLP - in his early twenties, I'd guess - who made the point about the need, in his opinion, to improve facilities for young people in Darlington.

Firstly, whether it is a concern shared by most of the members remains to be seen, but it's been the first time it was mentioned in calls to a large number of members. But it got me to thinking that, because the profile of not only Darlington but practically every CLP in the country has a tendency towards older members (and I count myself in that bracket, being a tender 42 years old), sometimes we can under-emphasise issues that are of great importance to people under 30. (It's also interesting that climate change has also been mentioned only sporadically by members so far, despite it being an issue which young people are overwhelmingly concerned about, and understandably so.)

Secondly, his comment also chimes in with some of Nick Wallis' interesting posts on anti-social behaviour in Springfield and elsewhere. And here there really have been quite a number of members echoing this as an issue during my calls over the last couple of weeks.

Questions: (i) Could these two areas be related, or is it just coincidence? And (ii) in our discussions, should we as a Party take proportionally more notice of issues raised by young people, so as to better represent what's important to the electorate?

Anyway, it's a thought. I certainly think quite differently now, married with a two year-old daughter, than ten years ago when I was single and living alone.


Friday, 30 October 2009

Climate change: Angela, put your hand in your pocket

It seems that although the UK and Scandinavia are doing well to try and cover poorer countries' contribution to the anti climate change program, the Germans are reluctant to pay up. Full story here.

Come on! We need to be united across Europe and stop squabbling ahead of Copenhagen. If we're not as Europeans, and we're the greenest of the lot, how on earth are we going to convince the US or China to move on this?

Copenhagen is a big deal, for all of us. Particularly for my two year-old daughter, who's going to have to live with the decisions they make.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Members' concerns #2 - Town centre traffic

A couple of different members have said to me, what can we do about Darlington town centre traffic, which can be horrendous, without affecting our ability to attract shoppers and, by extension, major retail chains to the town? It's a tricky one, which I hesitate to plunge into because I am sure that my colleagues on Darlington Council have looked at it in detail, and is ultimately within their jurisdiction.

Park and Ride, it seems, is dead, following the July 2008 report of the feasibility study, at least until there are major investments in Metro or buses. But in the meantime, I'm genuinely interested to know what the interim plan might be. And is there any way that an MP could help clear the way for this? Your thoughts please.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Members' concerns #1 - stimulating the local economy

A number of members have mentioned the local economy as their no.1 concern, and have asked me about how I'd help in bringing money and jobs to Darlington, were I to be selected as candidate.

Well, firstly I got my masters in economics and I work an adviser to small business, so it's a subject which I've got some working knowledge of. Darlington also has a high proportion of businesses in the SME sector, which is the sector I work in, helping exactly these sorts of companies.

I'd like to see:
- Mentoring for small and startup businesses to reduce failure rates (something like over 70% of new businesses fold in their first two years);
- Better access to funding for companies in their startup stage, including the encouragement of venture capital, and not just bank loans;
- In the current economic climate, it's clear that there may be an opportunity to secure infrastructure projects for the region and the Darlington area which might not otherwise happen, as the government looks to stimulate the economy at a national level through such investments. We should take advantage of such opportunities.

I'd obviously also be wanting to continue providing support for existing large development projects, such as the Oval development, which will undoubtedly bring jobs and economic growth to the area.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

It's either be at the centre of Europe, or be on the outside - again

Now it's time for that other Milliband, the Foreign Secretary - great interview with Gavin Hewitt here. Now, we have a choice at the moment, to shy away from supporting a European president, or run away from even the idea of it, like the Tories. Let's leave on one side for a moment whether you like, or don't like, Tony Blair as that figure.

But let's suppose that the other countries of Europe, support the creation of that figure - as seems wholly likely on past experience - engage with the idea, and cede power.

Now look forward to 20 years' time, or less: we are then looking at standing outside and looking on, "semi-detached" (in the expression which has now become a cliché for the British towards Europe), while Obama negotiates with the European President, the Russian President and the Chinese President. If you think that sounds far-fetched, read some basic economics - the Chinese economy will be bigger than the US economy by 2050.

I know what I'd prefer, and I know what a future Prime Minister Cameron would do if he got elected. Let's have a bit of vision for the future.

Monday, 26 October 2009

North East Lib Dems at it again

You can see how they try and twist whatever we do for political point-scoring. Jacquie Bell, Lib Dem candidate for Stockton South, complains about Labour not voting for their parliamentary motion on climate change. This was a nice try, but fundamentally misleading. As I helpfully point out in the comments to her letter...

Now, Ed Milliband doesn't sign up for the 10:10 campaign vote organised in the House, because (a) it was set up by the Lib Dems as a stunt to try and make Labour look bad, rather than make a genuine difference to climate change, and (b) because we are already committed to higher targets. Full story here.

Aesthetic solar panels from Sedgefield

This is a great story for the Darlington area on making solar panels pleasing to the eye. It's great to see the North East taking the lead on an issue dear to my heart.

Great meeting, nice people

Just got back from the Darlington "meet the candidates event" at the Arts Centre this weekend. Darlington I know pretty well, having grown up nearby, but it was nice to be back. Really nice bunch of people, and extremely well-organised. I had some grillings, as expected, from a few members, but that's part and parcel, and actually I'm always glad that people take the process seriously. Anyway, a very positive response.

I've already started the long and involved task of talking to all CLP members, as I really want to find out everyone's views. And if you're a Darlington member reading this, please, tell me what you think's important.

We are now 11 candidates out of the original 30, assuming that no serious candidate would have been absent. Less than 3 weeks till nominations close, and may the best candidate win...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Darlington - and they're off...

I set up this blog ages ago, but now I have much more of a reason to use it. Yesterday I announced my entry into the Darlington parliamentary selection, so this will be a place, initially at least, for my thoughts during this process, as well as on political issues in general in areas which interest me such as the local and national economy, job creation and sustainability. Right now, I also hope it will be useful to members of Darlington CLP who want to know a little more about me - hope you find it informative.

It's going to be a tough election at national level, that's for sure, despite a little "fightback spirit" at this year's Party Conference. At the Darlington level, the applications process closed on Monday and tomorrow is the "meet the candidates" event at Darlington Arts Centre.

I'm looking forward to meeting the members.
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