Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Chocolate factory and cycle path

OK, I went on a site visit to Elizabeth Shaw today, and met with people from Squarepeg. To summarise as briefly as possible...

I like their plans, especially the fact that virtually all of the original buildings will be retained, whereas Persimmon were only going to, reluctantly, keep the office building. I think the finished development is going to be quite stunning, especially the lofts, the duplex apartments and the town houses. The community will also get a community centre, a bocca bar, some shops, about 40 workspaces, and more. That's what they wanted, and that's why they were so unhappy with the Persimmon plans for just housing, housing and yet more housing.

I think the developers/ architects are genuine people, who understand Greenbank and what sort of development would be appropriate to the area. They agree that the Persimmon proposals were awful.

I also think they're genuine about wanting to enhance, not detract from, use of the cycle path - e.g. with the cycle hut, the hostel for cyclists, the cafe, cycle storage, the cycle houses. I was shown the small piece of land which would have to be removed to build the cycle houses, and from the plans it looks as if it should have been included in the original site sale anyway as it's just a kink in an otherwise straight line which stops them owning it. I was told that some of the greenery that will be removed for building work (which isn't very much) will be replaced, and that overall - taking into account the common spaces, roof gardens, etc - there will be more green space in the area than there is currently. It was also confirmed that the closest any of the cycle houses would be to the path - i.e. the tarmac - is 4 metres.

Finally, I'm convinced they're entirely genuine about consultation. They've had several events, each of which has been attended by 150 people or so. They've written out to the closest 500 households. They are still - despite what I was told the other day - very much in touch with the community activists who originally opposed the Persimmon application. They are bemused by what's being said on the blogs, because the feedback they've been getting from local people has been very positive.

So... what next? They're having an open day on October 18th, actually at the site itself. Anyone who wants to can come down, look at the plans, look around the site, and put into context what they've read or heard about it.

I'm told that none of the people who have been opposing the cycle houses on blogs - Chris, Glenn, Adam, Blogger (and yes, we do know who you are) - have been in touch with the developers directly. So here's the offer. If you want to visit, they'd be happy to meet with you, either on October 18th or at some other time. In fact, why not all come along together? (And that's not a Reservoir Dogs style attempt to lure you to a deserted warehouse where you'll be tied to chairs and forced to listen to Stealer's Wheel... although it's tempting). If you don't like what you hear on the 18th, you still have until the 22nd to submit your objections.

Food Climate Network report

New report out by the Food Climate Network, on the environmental impact of eating meat. But I think we're still a long way from winning - or even beginning - the public debate.

And here's what Boris Johnson thinks: "It's not eating meat that does the damage. It's the huge and remorselessly growing number of people who want to eat it." It's over-population we really need to tackle, says father of four, Boris. I like the suggestion in one of the comments that the obvious solution is therefore to allow the meat-eaters to eat vegetarians.

Banking crisis (2)

Martin Kettle says pretty much the same thing as me about the Conservatives, and says it very well. I'm sure Terry would approve.

And just to be even-handed, here's Guido on what the Lib Dems have been up to.

Energy Question Time

Just received notice of this event from Oxfam SW. Thought some of you might want to attend.

STOP CLIMATE CHAOS Energy Question Time
Thursday 23rd October, 6.30pm arrival for 7.30pm start. (Finishes at 9pm)
Conference Hall, Bristol City Council House, College Green, Bristol. BS1 5TW

Your Question Time Panel! Bryony Holden (CEO of the SW Regional Assembly) will host the event, with a panel of experts including Steve Webb (Liberal Democrat MP - North Avon), Robert Key (Conservative MP - Salisbury), Anne Snelgrove (Labour MP - Swindon), Tim Jones WDM and Graham Wynne (RSPB CEO).

Scientists state that to avert dangerous climate change we must limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. Rich countries need to cut their carbon emissions by 80% and we need massive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Southwest's environment & economy is under threat but it is poorest countries who will be the most affected despite being the least responsible. Now is a critical moment and energy is the key question. Crucial decisions, such as the Kingsnorth coal fired power station, the Severn barrage and nuclear power loom in the run up to International Climate talks in Poznan this December. We are asking the UK Government to tackle the greatest source of climate pollution in our economy: our power sector. If the UK could do one big thing to slash its carbon emissions, it would be to transform the power generation sector from one that is wasteful and heavily dependent on traditional fossil fuels to one that is highly efficient and relies on the UK's abundant renewable resources of wind, sun and surf. If rich countries do not act - how can we expect poorer ones to do so ?

The STOP CLIMATE CHAOS coalition (Oxfam, RSPB & WDM are members) is staging energy question times around the UK . We have panels of politicians and experts to debate the issues but mostly we need you to come along with the challenging questions about climate change, energy and the future for people and wildlife. We can have a future that's fairer, cleaner and greener, where people and nature can thrive in a safe climate and we get our energy from truly sustainable sources.

To register for your FREE place contact: Steven Roddy on 01767 680 551 or email

Banking crisis

Saw a little of Cameron's impromptu performance at Tory conference today. (They've had to rejig the Conference schedule - how many cheesy stunts, months-in-the-making, have had to be pulled so they can look 'serious' and grown-up? Cameron is apparently going to deliver his big Conference speech from a podium, with notes, not walking around with his shirt sleeves rolled up like last year. But isn't that just as much a stunt? He's doing it to 'look' serious and statesmanlike, just as last year he was doing it to 'look' like the sort of guy you wouldn't mind having a pint with. And while we're on the subject, I hope you all saw the story about him going for a jog at Conference, walking when the cameras weren't there, then starting to run again when he saw them?)
I think the Tories are probably doing the right thing, in saying that this is no time for party political point-scoring, and they'll support the Government's rescue package. Of course, this is partly because they haven't got a clue what they'd do in our situation - not least because they're not involved in the high-end discussions, so couldn't really be expected to - and this way they can simply sit tight, try to impress us with their gravitas (which will be difficult for the devil child) and secretly hope for it all to go horribly wrong so that they can blame us.
Actually, that might be slightly unfair. Let's not forget that many of the Tories will be victims in this too. As I never tire of saying, half of the Tory 2005 intake were millionaires. (And that's just the new boys). Not all of them made their fortune in the City, but even those who didn't will probably have their money tied up in property or shares or other investments. Some of them are still combining a bit of financial wheeling and dealing with being an MP. Not sure if they're going to toe the party line. I expect there will be an emergency statement on this on Monday when Parliament returns, either from the PM or the Chancellor. Will be interesting to see how the rank-and-file Tories respond.
On a more serious note, obviously many ordinary people, with modest savings and investments, or their money tied up in their homes, are worried about what's going on. I had a call yesterday from a constituent, a pensioner who gets his pension paid directly into his bank account. He wanted to know what would happen if his bank went under. Of course, up to £35,000 savings would be protected by a Government guarantee, but I guess that takes time to arrange and he's worried that he wouldn't be able to withdraw the money he needs to live on from week-to-week. So when people argue against rescuing failing banks, on the grounds that they (meaning the financiers) have brought it on themselves and have only their own greed to blame), they should bear in mind that we're not doing it for them but for their customers. And to prevent a knock-on effect on other banks, and other customers.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Conservative conference

I am trying to remember who called George Osborne "a puffy-faced devil child" last week. It caused quite a heated debate in the office, over whether he really could be described as puffy-faced. Anyway, I look forward to hearing him being questioned as to how he squares the Conservatives supposed commitment to local democracy with his dictat that there will be a freeze on council tax rises under a Conservative Government. Hopi Sen has a good post on other Tory inconsistencies - they're all over the place on regulation, for instance - which saves me the bother.

Bridget Jones

No, I'm not going to start doing a Bridget Jones diary type blog. (Cigarettes smoked - nil (v.good); units of alcohol - nil (v. good); weight - don't know, haven't got any scales. Nope, I'll leave that to Mad Nad).

Here's some enlightened thinking from David Willetts, who has form on this, though I seem to recall everyone made excuses for him last time. It's from the Telegraph.

Tory party conference: Bridget Jones generation blamed
The "Bridget Jones" generation of career woman who struggle to settle down and start a family is driving the breakdown of British society, the Tories have said.

Men are being left behind by university-educated women who cannot find a partner with the academic achievements and career prospects to match their expectations. As a result, David Willetts, the party's work and pensions spokesman said, an increasing number of young men were entering adult life without the opportunity to settle down and act as the main breadwinner for a family of their own.

In the film starring Renee Zellweger, the character Bridget Jones works in publishing and despairs of settling down with one of two feckless suitors, played by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, he added: "Bridget Jones is a real phenomenon, driven partly by the way the pattern of university education is changing. For the first time, in a historic experiment in our society, we have more women than men emerging from university. The majority of young people not in education, employment or training are men. Of course the world is changing, and it is fantastic, it is. But the fact is that even if men want to be the breadwinner, they are no longer being given the opportunity of being the breadwinner. They are no longer given the opportunity to bring home the bacon, and the evidence is that that is bad for families. Of course the family is an emotional and personal thing, but it is also an economic institution and what we are describing is the collapse of the economic circumstances that hold families together. The man who can't go out and command a decent wage is not going to be able to hold a family together.''

Mr Willetts said that research showed that the most important factor in the increase in the number of single-parent families over the last 30 years was unemployment in men.

In contrast, the majority of university graduates were now female, with 45 per cent of young women going on to get a degree compared to 35 per cent of their male counterparts.

Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, said: "The Conservatives seem to think there is something worrying in more women going to university. Is David Willetts saying that someone as clever, funny and creative as Bridget Jones should not have gone to university?''

Ignore for a moment whether there is any point to what he is saying (there isn't)... He obviously hasn't even seen the film. Mark Darcy, internationally renowned human rights lawyer didn't get where he was without going to university. And whatever the Hugh Grant character was called... erm, he was her boss. So presumably not a man 'who can't go out and command a decent wage'. The lesson of this is, Mr Willetts - stick to the 'Two Brains' stuff in future. Popular culture is obviously not your strong point.

Politics Show

Received an email today, Monday 29th September at 16.57, from the Politics Show, telling me all the exciting things I could expect to see on their next show on... erm, lunchtime on Sunday 28th September. So it (probably) wasn't me who got it wrong last time.

Cemetery gates

I fear that my car may have been spotted parked outside the Massage Parlour in Bath Road yesterday. (That would be my new Smart Car Roadster, which I finally got round to showing to my Luton mates the other day. They burst out laughing: “It looks like a cartoon sports car! It looks like you!” I am not quite sure what to make of that).

I digress. Can I just put on the record that I was in fact attending an event at Arnos Vale cemetery, and a religious event at that. It was the annual event to honour Rammohun Roy, who died of meningitis at Beech House in Stapleton and is now buried beneath a rather impressive tomb in the cemetery. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Richard and Joyce Smith, who were instrumental in rescuing the cemetery from the clutches of its evil capitalist owner (we’re allowed to say things like that now), and getting the Council to do a CPO, then successfully applying for lots and lots of Lottery dosh to restore it to its former glory.

One of the things I’ve finally, finally got round to doing this recess is starting to add people to my Local Heroes page on my website. It’s always annoying when you’ve put something off for months and months, and then you find it only takes a matter of minutes to do it. The idea of the page is to mark the contribution of people towards helping their community, or in some way making life in east Bristol better. Richard and Joyce are on there, along with the wonderful Reg Gregory from Barton Hill. More will follow, and pics.

The Rammohun Roy tomb has recently been restored with the aid of a substantial grant from someone in Calcutta; I think they said £70,000. Difficult isn’t it? I love the cemetery and want to see it restored in all its Gothic splendour. But would £70,000 have been better spent helping kids in the slums of Calcutta? (Or Kolkatta as I think we call it these days). Discuss.

One of those embarrassing moments which only ever seem to happen to me occurred during the speeches. I’d been introduced to the master of ceremonies, if you can call her that, earlier on. In her closing remarks she said, “And I want to mention two very special guests. The first is the MP for this area, Jean Corston….” Silence. Jean, my predecessor, now Baroness Corston, had done an awful lot of work in supporting the Lottery bid. Was she there? Or did they mean me? “Jean, can you make yourself known?” I looked around. Everyone was looking in my direction, so in the end I kind of half accepted the accolade and half pretended I wasn’t there. Profuse apologies were offered to me afterwards.

I will be back at the cemetery in a few weeks time. They’re going to be ringing the bells in the bell tower for the first time in maybe 90 years or more. I was introduced to Betty Utting and her son Howard, who used to live in the cemetery gate house, which must have been fantastic. Betty is in her 80s now, maybe older, and has never heard the bells.

After the Arnos Vale event I caught up with my three firefighter friends in St George for some door-knocking. I spent most of Saturday delivering leaflets there too (which include a picture of me perched on a fire engine, which I would share with you, but I don't have a copy yet). Came across Richard Eddy fiddling with a map and looking lost, and a rather humourless Lib Dem leafleter (is there any other sort?) Also came across an English Democrat leaflet, which is basically bashing the Scots for taking all our money, raping our women, pillaging our homes, wearing kilts and playing bagpipes… that kind of thing. Substitute Scots for Somalis and you’d have a court case on your hands.

Spoke to one woman who was thoroughly confused by all the contradictory things being said in the rainforest-worth of leaflets piling up on her doormat. I told her it was quite simple. Just work on the assumption that the Lib Dems are lying, the Tories are clueless, and the Labour candidate is a lovely man who rescues people from burning buildings. I may have said this before, but I never cease to be amazed by how many people Kevin knows. And by his ability to turn people from a ‘don’t know’ to a ‘definite’ within two minutes of being introduced to them. Of course we might be proved wrong on polling day, and a lot will depend on getting the vote out, but it looks like we have reasonable grounds for being ever-so-slightly optimistic at the moment.

Severn barrage

So, I'm on a train on my way to London for some meetings and this evening will turn round and come back again. Doing a walkabout with the police tomorrow night, and Ed Balls is coming to visit some schools on Wednesday. (Actually I am no longer on the train... but I was when I wrote that. When are FGW going to get WiFi sorted on their trains? Even a decent phone signal would be a start, especially round Swindon, which is hardly a technological desert. And while I’m on the subject, shouldn’t people who want to talk to each other be banned from the quiet coach too?)

I was in the office this morning for a presentation on the Severn Barrage by a fisheries scientist from the Environment Agency, who is now working on climate change issues. It was fascinating. I now know all about tidal surges -vs- tidal streams, the mechanics of barrages -vs- tidal lagoons, and the breeding habits of shad and salmon, lampreys and elvers. Must admit, I hadn't realised quite how little the barrage would contribute to the UK's energy needs - about 0.6% [CORRECTION - THIS SHOULD BE 6%], though of course that depends on whether we manage to reduce energy consumption significantly over future years, in which case it could be higher. The figure most often cited is that the barrage could provide 90% of the UK's tidal power, which gives a bit of a misleading impression of its overall significance. It's estimated that for far less than the cost of building the barrage (c.£15bn for the most likely location) we could insulate all the homes in the South West and save as much energy as the barrage would provide. But in order to meet our renewables target - 15% by 2020, and we're lagging massively behind most other EU countries on that, except Luxembourg and Malta (which is historical because of our reliance on coal and North Sea oil) and our 60%/ 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 we may need to do both, and much more. (Interesting that both the reps from the EA said that they'd had to rethink their opposition to nuclear power in recent years). Based on today's discussion, I think that the scheme may fall at the first hurdle, in that the planning application won't meet the Habitats Directive criteria. But we'll see.

OK, over to you Glenn, Chris, Paul and the rest! But if you're going to suggest that in the future we'll be able to rely solely on renewables, I want to know what, when and where. Solutions, not slogans! And if you're going to say the solution is a massive reduction in energy consumption (which certainly has to be on the agenda), I want to know how you're going to get people to sign up to it. Carrot or stick? Incentives or regulation?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Dispatches - Monday night

At last the spotlight is falling on the Tories... Looks like tomorrow night's Dispatches programme is a must-see. Would be interesting to know how Cameron's and Osborne's millions are invested too. I don't suppose they're in a Bradford and Bingley savings account.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Paul Newman

Sad news about Paul Newman. This pic is from Sweet Bird of Youth, probably my favourite of his films.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Polls and websites

My website - the official one - has been attracting admiration in some quarters. I'm told by one MP that it was used as the basis for a training session at Labour conference, and several other MPs have now signed up the same guy - Andy at HBR - to do their sites. Unfortunately I'm not on commission. One of these is my colleague, David Drew. I particularly like his current poll. I have voted maybe. Twice. (Although I can mock - my current poll results add up to 98%).

I'm thinking of introducing a less serious poll on the blog page. Maybe something along the lines of: Are you fat? Is it your fault? With the options being (a) Yes and yes, (b) Yes and no, or (c) No and no. What do you think?

An unguarded moment (2)

Turns out David Cameron has form on this too. This 'wanting things to get worse' is actually the reason I veered away from involvement in far left politics when I was a student in Liverpool in the 1980s. The middle-class lefty students I came across seemed to relish every time unemployment figures went up, as it brought the revolution a day nearer. No concern for those whose lives were actually being affected by the misery.


Paid an interesting visit today to the Catholic Children's Society adoption agency in St. Judes. Had a really useful discussion about its role in placing children with adoptive families, and how local authorities and the courts have to strike a balance between taking the time to gather enough evidence to ensure that adoption is justified (i.e. where a child is taken away from its family for its own protection) and not delaying for so long that it affects the child's well-being. She gave the example of a child born in 2007 who entered the care system at 5 days old. The adoption proceedings are not scheduled to be brought before a court till December 2008, so the child will have been in a temporary foster placement for the first year of her life. Obviously, as it now seems sure that the child will be placed for adoption, you could argue that the case should have been fast-tracked and all the formalities completed much earlier. But what about those cases where the birth mother is, for example, addicted to hard drugs but has promised to kick the habit for the sake of her new-born baby? Or where the mother has mental health problems, but is undergoing treatment or therapy? Or where the mother is in an abusive relationship, but people are trying to persuade her to break free? How long do you wait? We've all read horror stories about children being taken away from parents without good cause, but we've also all read about children suffering harm because they've been left with families when they should have been removed much earlier.

The issue I expected to raise its head, the Sexual Orientation Regulations, didn't. (These, inter alia, prohibits adoption agences from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, so they can't refuse to take gay/ lesbian couples onto their books). The local Catholic diocese and the CSS took the decision last year that they would comply with the legislation, which is good.

An unguarded moment

Back to song titles already!

I'm prepared to accept that Andrew Mitchell didn't quite mean this to sound as callous as it does, although he should have been more careful in his choice of words.

I'm more interested in this bit, when he says: "It [Conference] is an opportunity for us to explain how Conservative policies offer the best prescription for some of the ills that are besetting Britain at the moment.... We want to be absolutely clear what we do and how we would do it for Britain."

I'll be on policy watch next week.

For those of you who want to know what to look out for, here are some of the tough questions Cameron should be answering.

Paul McCartney in Tel Aviv

Should Paul McCartney have played in Israel? Discuss.

Cameron on Sky

Just seen clips from Cameron being interviewed by a panel of experts on Sky TV. His mantra re Osborne's 'it's a function of financial markets to make money out of other people's misery' is to repeat 'we take no pleasure from it' ad infinitum, but he couldn't quite bring himself to say it was unacceptable. The whole thing is being shown at 8pm tonight. From what I saw, Kate Burley was doing a fine job.

Ed Vaizey was on the Wright Stuff this morning wearing a hoodie.

Lukewarm Lib Dems

While we're on the subject of the Lib Dems, I've belatedly realised that the full title of the Radiohead song I used as a title for the posts about Nick Clegg's mastery of economic matters, is 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm). Damn - what a missed opportunity!

The song titles will resume in October. I'm having a bit of a break.

War breaks out in Bristol West

In case you didn't see this in Latest Comments - tension mounts as the Lib Dem Spring Conference draws ever nearer. And still no word from the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West regarding Nick Clegg's latest slap on the wrist. Will he be telling his leader I told you so? (Actually I've been getting mysterious missed calls from a Leeds number over the last few days; wonder if it's Nick?)

Didn't get a good look at Mr Williams' face at this morning's Cabot Circus opening, as Council Leader Helen Holland praised Paul Smith for being the guy who started it all when, as a councillor, he set up a City Centre Development Committee and pushed forward plans to revitalise that part of the city centre. Lib Dem talk, Labour action!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Back to work

Went to the opening of Cabot Circus today. It's pretty stunning - far more impressive than I expected - and the thousands of people who flocked in as the centre opened seemed to feel the same. (Apart from the four young girls who saw me being interviewed for TV and asked me if it was true that Johnny Depp was coming along to open it; I guess they went away disappointed).

It's much better designed than most shopping centres, spacious, with a glass dome roof which creates the impression of being outdoors rather than the usual cooped-up, claustrophobic feel you usually get (or is that just me?) 4000 new jobs, including part-time, flexible working for people who need it - and many of those jobs being filled by people from the poorest parts of the city. I also like the way it shifts the focus of the city away from Clifton, towards the east, which should help regenerate areas like Old Market and St Judes too.

When I was in Manchester I went for a drink in Clouds, a bar on the 29th Floor of the Hilton Hotel. Looking out at the cityscape you realise just how much regeneration has gone on in Manchester, and what a vibrant, exciting city it is. (And what complete rubbish that Policy Exchange report was). We've got a long way to go in Bristol, and I'm not suggesting that shops alone are the answer (although there's a cinema too and some fairly decent looking restaurants), but it's a start. And no, I didn't go shopping. Unless you count a decaf soya latte from Costa.

Chatted to a few people while I was there, including Malachy McReynolds from Elizabeth Shaw and George Ferguson from Square Peg, who basically said - and I guess I run the risk of misquoting them here, so remember - I wasn't taking notes and this is my recollection 12 hours later, but here goes: (a) there has been, and still is, an unprecedented level of community consultation re the development, (b) the cycle houses will make the cycle path safer, more interesting, and will be set some way back from the path, (c) the greenspace being cleared is full of Japanese knotweed and other such stuff at the moment, and (d) don't believe what you read on blogs. I've been trying for a while to arrange a site visit, and George Ferguson said he'll try to sort it for next week. It probably won't go to planning committee till December or January, so people still have lots of time to make their voices heard.

Also had a nice chat with Mike Norton, the Bristol Evening Post editor, on how he bumped into Peter Hook at an airport, was surprised at how short he was, but couldn't quite pluck up the courage to say hello, and how Bernard has lost his looks (sad, but true, but then he did look about 14 until he turned 50). Mike said he'd always thought that if Bart Simpson was a real person he'd look just like Bernard, which means I spent my late teens nursing an obsession with Bart Simpson. (OK, a fair bit of my twenties too. He did have the most perfect haircut ever). Also talked about what we both thought of Control, and I told him about the JD documentary I saw earlier this year and the Bernard Sumner biography I got for my birthday. And that was it.

Rest of the day spent in the office signing post, catching up on emails, making phone calls... Then canvassing in St George. Either people are too terrified of me to tell me the truth, or the Labour vote is holding up incredibly well. I should be at the launch party for Cabot Circus now, but after 5 days at Conference I've run out of steam...


I am going to try to add that thing to my blog which gives a rolling update on the latest comments. Otherwise there's a danger of missing gems like this.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Labour Conference round-up

I'm on the train back from Manchester and having failed several times to download the parliamentary intranet so I can look at my emails have resorted to blogging instead. And I know I said last night's was the last blog, but they have power-points on Virgin trains so I can plug in my laptop (which has a battery life shorter than the average goldfish's memory). Can't even get a mobile phone signal most of the time on FGW.

I think one of the good things about Conference this year was that I spent quite a bit of time with people who'd never been to Conference before and were therefore a bit wide-eyed about the whole thing. For example, the fact that everyone, no matter how important - except of course the PM - has to join the same queue as Conference delegates and visitors to get into the secure zone. There's always at least one reported 'Don't you know who I am?' incident each year, when some VIP forgets their pass. Interestingly, the media have their own special fast-track entrance. Cabinet Ministers don't. So Alistair Darling had to endure a good ten minutes of being personally addressed by the mad vegetarian on a soapbox outside the Conference barrier, booming "Are you prepared to give up meat to Save the Planet, Chancellor?" John Hutton was a few places behind in the queue, but very cleverly made sure he kept his back to him, so went unnoticed. Or perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference anyway.

The other good thing about Conference is the reminder it gives of just how many good friends I have within the Labour Party. At one point I found myself having a coffee with (a) someone I met at someone's hen night, who is at the NLGN and wants to do some work with me on child poverty, (b) someone I used to work with at Britain in Europe and (c) someone I met when she was a parliamentary researcher for a Government Minister. All people who are very much involved in politics, and all know each other, even though I met them all separately - and people I will probably (I hope) still be having coffees with at Conference in five, ten, twenty years time. Some of the people I spent time with are in their twenties and will probably (I hope) be running the country in 20 or 30 years time, when I'm the old lady being wheeled out at the closing session to make delegates cry. Some are much older than me, or from completely different backgrounds, or different parts of the country. But we all have one thing in common - Labour values are, as Gordon said in his speech, in our DNA. (Sorry, getting a bit sentimental there - Conference does that to you).

Didn't get into today's Conference session till gone midday, (bed at 4.45am, up at 9.30 to pack and potter). Made it just in time for Alan Johnson introducing a Happy Birthday NHS special. Our delegate from Bristol East, Ang, was roped into sitting up on the stage along with other NHS employees - she's a nurse, and it's her birthday today too. It is traditional on the last day on Conference to wheel out a very old person who will talk about Nye Bevan and the 1945 Government and make people cry (usually followed by a very young person who will revive everyone's faith that the future of British politics is in safe hands). Today we got a whole host of tearjerkers. The very old lady was the youngest person and the only woman to be appointed to the first ever NHS Board by Nye Bevan. Then there was the first ever baby born in an NHS hospital, at one minute past midnight on July 5th 1948; the nurses kept telling her Mum to 'hold on in there for another minute Edna'. Then there was a student nurse, and then a young man who was diagnosed with tongue cancer last year but has now been given the all-clear. Turns out he is actually an intern based in my London office, though not working for me but the MP I share space with. Kevin, our fearless firefighter from St George, had tears in his eyes; he's a big softy really, although his verdict yesterday on Gordon's speech was succinct: "He kicked the knockers up their arses!" I did try to get him to repeat that on camera, but he went into candidate mode and was far more polite.

Final act of the day was Harriet, who was actually very good. I might sound a little surprised at that. When she became Deputy Leader I couldn't really see her doing the end of Conference Tory bashing/ troops rallying cry, which has traditionally been the domain of rather more pugnacious characters like Prezza and John Reid. But she has a nice line on Cameron, telling delegates: "He's the kind of man your mother warned you about. He'll woo you with promises, but after he's had his wicked way with you at the ballot box, you'll never hear from him again!" There was also a funny moment for delegates sitting in my block when Harriet mocked the hubris of the 'future Tory Cabinet' pictured in the pages of, she sneered, Tatler. At which point we all pointed the finger at the moustachioed bloke sitting a row in front of us reading - you've guessed it: Tatler. He was engrossed in looking at pictures of posh girls in posh frocks, from what I could gather, and I don't think he even heard her mention it. On the topic of the top Tory totty in Tatler (which is quite a tongue-twister), guess who turned up at Labour Conference with a press pass? None other than Charlotte Leslie. She gets abso-bloody-lutely everywhere, that woman. We thought she might be planning her defection, but don't think she'd want to slum it with us lot.

Conference closed with a quick rendition of the Red Flag (because most people these days don't even know the words to one verse, let alone the rest of it) and Jerusalem, and a mad race to the station. Made the train with seconds to spare, to find the First Ladies of Bristol politics, Dawn P and Helen H in the same carriage. We compared Conference freebies. I have a fluffy white seal from the Respect for Animals stand. Helen has a translucent pink "credit crunch" piggy-bank. Dawn came away empty-handed.

Arriving in Bristol now. No doubt the fridge will be empty, the house will be cold and the cupboards will be bare when I get home. Today's Conference diet has been fairly typical: iced decaf soya latte and a bar of dark chocolate, followed by peppermint tea and a bag of crisps on the train. I have the usual post Conference sore throat and will inevitably spend the last week of recess feeling ill (and not just because the Tories will be all over the telly). Tonight I'll be booking next year's accommodation for Conference in Brighton; we've decided the Entourage will rent out a big house or a load of apartments and all stay together. I quite like the idea of being waited on hand and foot for an entire week. The reality will probably be that I end up being Mum to lots of hungover researchers and interns, and clearing up after them.

Train now pulling into Temple Meads. Apologies for rambling. I was bored! Over and out!

Labour Conference Special - the quiz

So, this is the last of the Labour Conference Specials. Tomorrow we will assemble, looking absolutely wrecked (or in some cases still being absolutely wrecked) and we will sing the Red Flag and go home happy. BBC News has just (at 3.45am) broke the news that Ruth Kelly is to stand down from the Government; I got that news by text at 2.16am, and not from anyone in 'the inner circle' either. The Beeb's on-the-scene journos are probably wrecked too.

Anyway, on to the quiz. For the last couple of years Sky have published a conference Top Trumps pack. Last year was more fun, giving points for most charismatic, best-looking, etc. The young men in the Cabinet pretended they didn't take it at all seriously, but were all secretly checking out their scores. This year it's all about expenses and Google hits and how much they'd get for their memoirs, but they also have a brief description of the politicians in question. So, have a go at guessing who these are. (They're all frontbenchers, from the three main parties).

1. "Mary Poppins' mum"

2. "Image-obsessed, no-nonsense nanny"

3. "The wittiest political speaker of the times, inside and outside the House"

4. "Rising government 'glamour puss' prone to exposing her briefs"

5. "Proves you don't have to be young to be good"

6. "Heart-melting, blokish and Northern"

7. "Super-confident, sometimes cocky, less shrill than he once was"

8."Sometimes too clever by half, but he's set for great things if he develops a more populist tone and steers clear of smugness"

9. "Bright and likeable, he talks to the public in words they understand"

10. "Cameron-like or Cameron-lite?"

11. "Posh but cool"

12. "Battles through parliamentary squalls like a teacher in an unruly classroom"

13. "Small and perfectly formed... but perhaps too independent (or oily) to prosper permanently in politics"

14. "As sharp as a blade and currently underrated"

15. "Combative and diminutive.... frustrated that his talents have not been properly recognised"

I am tempted to make up a few of my own too, but that might get me into trouble. You can if you really want to.

Labour conference special (6)

The previous post was actually written at 7pm, but then the computer crashed. It's now 3am and I've just got in from the Labour Students bash. Spent most of that perched on a bar stool while very drunk young men from my newly-acquired entourage (mostly former interns) did silly dances to amuse me.

Gordon, who was jolly good and is going to be our Great Leader for many years to come, turned up at the ITN do earlier in the evening. He told his Amy Winehouse anecdote about how he had to introduce her to Nelson Mandela at the 90th birthday concert, and struggled diplomatically to explain the precise position she occupies in the British celebosphere. She told Nelson: 'you and my husband have a lot in common - you've both been in prison'. And when she led the singing of 'Free Nelson Mandela' on stage, she was singing 'Free Blakie My Fella'. (And singing it badly too, as I blogged at the time). A complete travesty.

Today was pretty busy actually. Went into the Hall in the morning to hear Hazel pay special tribute to the minority Labour leadership in Bristol and wishing Kevin Herniman the best of luck in the St George West by-election. We forced Kevin to his feet to gracefully accept the applause. Also met with BUAV (more on that when back in normal land), the WWF (no, not the wrestlers), and Alf from the Norwegian embassy. The Blogger will be pleased to know that Hazel hit the dancefloor at the ITN bash, tho' she wasn't tap-dancing.

Before doing the evening reception circuit I went to a dinner hosted by the Foreign Policy Centre, at the invitation of Mr Stephen Twigg, who will be back in his rightful place in Parliament after the next election. It is something of a Labour Conference tradition that Stephen always leads the masses in jumping up and down to 'Things Can Only Get Better' on the dancefloor, and true to form he did the honours at the end of the Labour Students bash. Eddie Izzard was there too. He's mates with Lucy Powell, PPC for Manchester Withington (and Guardian blogger and my ex-boss although she hates me saying that, probably because it makes her sound old). Lucy gave a brilliant speech at today's Conference, having a go at the Manchester Withington MP, John Leech, for sitting on the fence over road-pricing. He's a Lib Dem. Obviously.

I think that was it... oops, almost forgot the hair situation update. Unfortunately the ITN do was very packed and very warm and within ten minutes I was forced to go for the 'ponytail with a Mr Pringle fringe' option (so called because it goes all wavy and looks like the man on the Pringle tubes. Not a good look).

Conference quiz to follow... I had a diet Pepsi at 1am; I don't do caffeine and I'm wide awake.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Labour Conference Special (5)

You will be pleased to know that today has, so far, not been a bad hair day.

So... he did it. It was a phenomenal speech, had everyone spellbound. Definitely the best leader's speech I've seen since I started coming to Conference many moons ago, and up there with Mandela and Clinton guest appearances. He was introduced by Sarah, who was great, and started off by saying "I'm not going to try to be something I'm not. And if people say I'm too serious, quite honestly there's a lot to be serious about - I'm serious about doing a serious job for all the people of this country". And he handled the 10p tax issue in the way he should have done from the start: "And where I've made mistakes I'll put my hand up and try to put them right. So what happened with the 10p stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes - because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I've ever wanted to be. And from now on it's the only place I will ever be." Then a bit of a debate on the turmoil in the markets and what action could be taken to curb city speculation, and the role of government in not allowing 'unbridled free market forces' to run riot. "And I say to our opponents: those who don't believe in the potential of government shouldn't be trusted to form one." Laid into George Osborne's recent comments too, that "it's not a problem caused by the financial markets" and "it's a function of financial markets that people make loads of money out of the misery of others".

As for the substance, there were some concrete policy proposals - and even spending commitments! The child poverty pledge probably passed some people by: basically he has given the campaign groups in the End Child Poverty coalition what they've been asking for. We're going to introduce legislation to enshrine in law Labour's pledge to end child poverty. Which means that if the Government doesn't do what's necessary to meet the commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020, they can be challenged in the High Court. And if the Tories manage to get into Government, they will either face the same legal challenge (highly likely given that for them abolishing child poverty is only 'an aspiration' not a firm pledge) or they'd have to introduce legislation repealing the laws introduced by Labour. I phoned Save the Children as soon as I got out of the Conference Hall, and they're delighted.

Biggest ovation - apart from the one at the end - came when Gordon said, "We did fix the roof when the sun was shining" - a riposte to claims that we didn't do anything during the good economic times. We did.

And yes, it may have been just a little bit naughty to say "I'm all in favour of apprenticeships, but now is no time for a novice" - but he's right!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Labour Conference Special (4)

While Conference wrestles with the challenges of the downturn in the global economy and the UK's response to the credit crunch, I am faced with a far more pressing decision: do I attempt to try to straighten my hair again, or give it up as a lost cause? It looked fine when I left the flat this morning, but after a ten minute hike to the 5 Live show dressed in a frankly climatically inappropriate cashmere sweater dress and knee-length boots, I looked like Monica in that episode of Friends when they all decamp to the Caribbean for a paleontology conference. It is not supposed to be sunny up North.

David M is on the television making his big Conference speech. And it's very good. Yes, he's quite Blair-like but (and I know I'm probably in the minority on this) I've always thought Tony's speeches were a little bit too hammy. You could see the actor coming through. Both Cameron and Clegg have gone down that route, but David avoids it. As predicted, Sky is interpreting David's challenge to Cameron on Europe as a sign that he's positioning himself as Cameron's future opponent at the despatch box. And his rallying call against defeatism in the party, saying we can beat the Conservatives at the next election, is 'obviously' a sign that he has the leadership in his sights. Adam Boulton has however noted that the body language between Gordon and David was 'quite warm', which might mean that perhaps they're willing to work together. I can't believe people get paid for this stuff.

Have been straightening my hair while typing this - I'm a woman, I multi-task - so heading back to Conference centre now for Douglas. Read his speech on his Spad's Blackberry last night: Food, Fuel, Finance - you heard it here first.

Labour Conference Special (3)

Just come from doing Radio 5 Live. They've had a three hour Victoria Derbyshire show in front of a live audience, with a changing rota of MPs. I was told they wanted me to 'come in at the back end of Jacqui Smith', but I ended up being sandwiched between her and David Blunkett, and naturally they fielded most of the questions. Met a young lad from Bristol, Dominic, who had come all the way to Manchester to be in the studio audience and wants to be a political journalist, so have invited him down to Westminster for PMQs. Also met some of the young PPCS who are standing at the next election: Chuka Umunna from Streatham, Rachel Reeves from Leeds West, and 20 year old Claire Hazelgrove who is standing in Skipton. And then I met Tony, one of the guys doing the security at the Conference Centre - who lives in Church Road, St. George - so managed to do a bit of by-election campaigning too!
After that I headed into the hall for Alistair Darling's speech, which was good, serious stuff. He got a standing ovation and looked like a little boy who had just been given a gold star in front of the school assembly. I know politicians are meant to be ego-fuelled publicity seekers, constantly thrusting themselves into the limelight, but I like the fact some of our Cabinet are so self-effacing. An MP told me the other day how Gordon came to her constituency for the opening of something or other, and when it came to cutting the cake, he handed her the knife; she had to point out to him that the organisation would far rather the Prime Minister of Great Britain did the honours.
Yesterday was OK. Did the Save the Children fringe on food security, went to the South West reception, met up with Oxfam, and then went to the Save the Children reception with Douglas. At any Conference event there is usually a slightly weird delegate hanging around, who attach themselves to Ministers and won't let go. I spotted Douglas being accosted by an unshaven, rather scruffy character with long curly hair, dressed in denim. His Spad was deep in conversation with a journalist, so I knew it was my duty as a loyal PPS to rescue him, so I headed off, full of resolve... Thankfully I was interrupted just before I got there and during the intervening seconds managed to glean the information that the scruffy bloke was in fact the celebrity guest of the evening, the Dad from Shameless.
The Dad from Shameless actually gave a very good speech. Not easy to follow Douglas who is supernaturally articulate; he uses phrases like 'commensurately constrained' which I write down in my notebook but never quite manage to work into the conversation. But the Dad from Shameless did a really good job. He finished on a point about the Manchester City takeover, and how something must be a little bit wrong when millions are being put into a football club when children are living in poverty, which got a big round of applause.
Gordon had spoken earlier at the South West reception. It shows the pernicious effect of media commentary that I found myself thinking, 'wow, he's stringing sentences together, he's making a really cogent argument, he's got the audience eating out of his hands' (and looking pretty trim too - that personal trainer has obviously put him through his paces over the summer). I've seen Gordon speak loads of times, and I've seen him wow an audience loads of times - but it's easy to forget just how good he is when all you read is the negative stuff. And while we're on the media - can I just say how absolutely ridiculous Sky News' reporting of the Progress Rally was? They were running all night with the story that two Cabinet Ministers were calling for a change of leadership, because both David M and Hazel had said we couldn't rely on our past achievements to win the next election. This was seen as a 'coded' message that we needed a change at the top. Well, can I just say exactly the same: we can't rely on our past achievements. You can't fight an election on the basis that ;we've done X, Y and Z for you, so you ought to be bloody grateful'. People want to know what you're going to do next. I wouldn't be surprised if Gordon doesn't say exactly the same thing tomorrow.
On a more trivial note, I missed a scoop yesterday when I was in Starbucks meeting Stephen from the Scottish Credit Unions. (And before anyone pulls me up on patronising Starbucks, show me somewhere else you can get an iced soya decaf latte near Manchester Central conference centre). David M came in with his entourage and apparently had his credit card refused. Is he another victim of the credit crunch?
Something else I've found amusing over the past couple of days is the realisation that absolutely no-one seems to know that the post of forestry envoy, recently vacated by Barry Gardiner, was actually to do with rainforests and deforestation and climate change, rather than, as I think Prescott put it, 'talking to the trees' or as another MP said, 'leading the frontline battle against leylandi'.
Douglas is on at a fringe now, so going to shoot off. More later.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Labour Conference Special (2)

I am beginning to see the perks to this blogging thing. Following my recent post about songs I wanted to get hold of for my iPod but couldn't, I am now in possession of Different Drum (thanks Delbert!) and Mattress of Wire (thanks Stephen from the League of Scottish Credit Unions!)

Didn't make the Fabians blogging thing because they didn't send through any info about where it was, or put it in the Conference guide. Instead I paid a visit to the UNHCR stand and swanned around the exhibition centre with my entourage as MPs do. This is my 16th or 17th conference and I have never had an entourage before, but I 've noticed that absolutely every other MP seems to, so I collared Sophie from my Westminster office and Laurence from my constituency office who are both at Conference this year. Our tour lasted about 15 minutes before they both made their excuses and left. (Laurence seems to have joined Paul Smith's entourage. They have gone somewhere to talk about furniture).
Also met the Bradford posse again, and they told me that their school makes pupils pay for printing out their work, so basically kids on low incomes can't afford to print out their essays! They raised it with Ed Balls when they met him this morning, and he's going to pay the school a visit. He's also coming to Brunel soon, I hope.

Labour Conference special (1)

So - arrived in Manchester yesterday afternoon. Great apartment, looking out over the Conference centre, but the secure zone means I have to walk all the way round the outside so still takes a while to get in. Suggested to the police officer it would be quicker if I abseiled down from my balcony - at which point he waggled his machine gun at me.

Missed quite a lot of what was going on in the Conference centre and the fringe, because of meetings. (And being waylaid by people I hadn't seen for ages who insisted on having a drink. And just for the record, I don't drink but I have no objection to watching other people do so. In fact it can be quite entertaining). I did spend some time at the End Child Poverty reception, which was really useful - spoke to people from Save the Children, End Child Poverty campaign, CPAG, the Children's Society, NSPCC, Barnardo's, and some great kids from Bradford who I'd met at a Save the Children fringe last year. They're meeting Ed Balls today, and I told them I'd catch up with them at the End Child Poverty rally in Trafalgar Square on October 4th.

I'd really wanted to make the Fabian fringe, which had Polly Toynbee, Iain Duncan-Smith, Liam Byrne and Martin Narey from Barnado's talking about child poverty. But I didn't. I'm told it was really good. When IDS was congratulated on being brave enough to face the Labour masses, he quipped that next week - Tory conference - would be much tougher! From reports, Gordon was really good at the various receptions - Young Labour said he was 'really funny' - and Ed Miliband's rallying of the troops on the opening session of Conference went down a storm.

As for the leadership issue - despite the hordes of journalists roaming round looking for evidence of dissent, I'm going to stick my neck out and say I think it's a non-issue. The real debate this week is about the economy, and how the Party responds to the banking crisis. We have to emerge from this week with a clear direction, and a united resolve to tackle those problems. Jon Cruddas was actually very good on this on TV earlier. Give him a job!

It's frustrating to read some of the press about the leadership. The Express - I read a copy which had been left on the train - had a story that only 8 out of the 25 PPPs to Cabinet Ministers were prepared to back Gordon publicly. Well, I happened to be one of those 8, but if the journalist had called even 24 hours earlier I would have been one of the 'no comments' or wouldn't have returned the call. Which is what my other colleagues did. It says nothing about whether or not they support the PM; it's just that many of us took the view that we didn't want to fuel speculation or add to the credibility of stories by co-operating with them. And then some of us changed our mind and decided that silence would be misinterpreted. I know many Cabinet Ministers have been through the same thought process, which is why they're all speaking out now.

Another annoying bit of reporting was on TV, about the letter that has been signed by 20 MPs calling for the party to unite in supporting the Go Fourth campaign for a fourth term, which John Prescott, Alistair Campbell, Richard Caborn and Glenys Kinnock are launching soon. The BBC reporter took the line that 20 MPs represented fewer than 1 in 10... so it was hardly a ringing endorsement. Well.... as one of the twenty original signatories, let's get this on the record. I was called by Martin Salter MP, asking if I'd sign up. I suggested a few other names who I knew would support it, but Martin said no, we don't need lots of names, just a representative bunch - and then other MPs can show their support by signing up to Go Fourth. We could have got loads more if we'd wanted. And BBC reporter - how come a handful of MPs asking for nomination papers is seen as statistically significant and "obviously" indicative of mass support within the Parliamentary Labour Party, but twice as many MPs signalling their support for the leadership isn't?

Anyway, got to head back to the Conference centre now. Meeting someone from Scottish Credit Unions, then hoping to make the Fabians blogging event. Then meeting Save the Children and speaking at their fringe on the impact of rising global food prices on children (have been swotting up this morning). Then meeting Oxfam, and then a Save the Children event at which Douglas is speaking. I'm told he was excellent at the Compass/ Tribune rally yesterday. It's also the RSPCA's Beer and Curry night, and I've promised to pop in...

Friday, 19 September 2008

That's not my name

Tom Harris has just scared me with his latest blog post. I think he did it on purpose.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Everything's gone green*

*Yes, I know I've used it before, but it deserves another outing.

For some reason my local 'neighbourhood convenience store' (so-called because it's not on a corner) always stocks Australian rather than British Vogue.

This month's lead cover story: How Green is your Lipstick? Hmmm... not sure that's such a good look.

Take five

It's not really time for another frivolous music-related thread, but what the hell... To mark their 50th anniversary Motown are releasing a 50 track album this December, and you can vote for which tracks should be included.
Popbitch* is plumping for: Love Hangover (Diana Ross), I've Never Been To Me (Charlene), As (Stevie Wonder), Dancing On The Ceiling (Lionel Ritchie), Let's Get It On (Marvin Gaye).
I must admit to something of a macabre fascination with the Charlene track and you might even be able to get me to own up to knowing all the words: "I've been undressed by kings, and I've seen some things that a woman ain't 'sposed to see. I've been to paradise but I've never been to me" And the spoken bit... I might come up with a list of songs with spoken bits one day.
Here's my Top Five Motown, although how can you narrow it down to just five? Reach Out I'll Be There (The Four Tops); I Second That Emotion (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles); I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye); The Happening (Supremes); Bernadette (The Four Tops).
What's the betting Grapevine will top the poll? I went through a long period of preferring other Marvin Gaye tracks because it was just too familiar, but I'm now appreciating it all over again. Sounds fantastic on the iPod.
*Popbitch also has this quote: "What's wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally" - Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Black is black

On a more frivolous note... I bought a copy of Ebony magazine in Botswana, with a cover story on 'The 25 coolest brothers of all time". There were:
  • Barack Obama
  • Don Cheadle
  • Billy Dee Williams
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Quincy Jones
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Richard Roundtree
  • Denzel Washington
  • Sammy Davis Jr
  • Bob Marley
  • Ed Bradley*
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Adam Clayton Powell Jr*
  • Gordon Parks*
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Miles Davis
  • Walt Frazier*
  • Jay-Z
  • Samuel L. Jackson
  • Malcolm X
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Prince
  • Michael Jordan
  • Marvin Gaye

Leaving aside the three or four I've never heard of (*), I'd have left out Prince and Lenny Kravitz on the grounds they both try too hard (as the article says, cool should be effortless). Snoop Dogg is just a tad too sleazy and sexist, and I'm not sure that Tupac really deserves to be singled out - I'd probably have opted for Dr Dre, just on the basis of talent.

As for omissions - Sam Cooke without a question of doubt (see above pic if you really need persuading). Michael Johnson, the athlete - not just for his remarkable running style, which always looked like a cartoon character running off the edge of a cliff, but also because he's a decent commentator these days too - and seems like a really nice guy. And while we're on athletes, how about Tommie Smith and John Carlos? Maybe John Coltrane rather than Miles Davis? And Nelson Mandela - for the shirts, as well as everything else.

And can I make a special case for Billy Ocean? No, I thought not.


Take one big investment bank. It employs, amongst other people:

  • traders: who follow market movements and book the deals;
  • salespeople: who manage the relationship with counterparties and talk to them about what sort of business they want to do;
  • research analysts: the economists, who tend to specialise in particular business sectors and analyse developments in the financial world (and also political developments) which are likely to affect commodity prices, equity prices, currencies, and so on;
  • credit risk analysts: who assess the creditworthiness of potential counterparties and factor this risk into the price of a trade (this is partly based on ratings given by credit ratings agencies like Moody's and Standard and Poor, but they also carry out their own research)
  • market risk analysts: the so-called 'rocket scientists', who use sophisticated financial modelling to predict future market movements and factor this risk into the price of a trade (here's an example - the Black-Scholes model for options pricing)
  • lawyers: who document the trades to allow for netting of obligations, which significantly reduces exposure, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements
  • accountants: who monitor capital adequacy requirements (i.e. that the bank has the required capital set aside in order to meet any likely call on its funds - this figure is reached by looking at the credit rating of counterparties, market risk, existence of netting agreements, diversity of portfolios, etc), and
  • settlements team: who arrange for payment of monies (i.e. settlement of trades), and (usually automatically generated) confirmations of individual trades;
  • senior management: not quite sure what they do, but they get paid a lot for doing it.

And of course there are also the external regulators, like the SEC and the FSA, and bodies involved in monitoring the stability of the financial system, like the Fed, the Bank of England, and the Bank for International Settlements.

So for a top player like Lehmans, there are checks and balances built into the system. (This wasn't the case with Barings, when Nick Leeson was more or less allowed to carry out the entire front and back office operation by himself - but that was then, and this is now, and they were a tiny institution by comparison).

So at what stage of the process did this break down? You can't just blame the traders, as they have to get permission to trade from the back-room boys. I suspect it must have been a combination of the research analysts and the market risk guys both wildly miscalculating what was going to happen in the housing market, and the credit risk guys being over-optimistic about the creditworthiness of the sub-prime mortgage lenders with whom the bank was trading. And then the accountants were presumably happy for all those eggs to be put in the property market basket. And the regulators weren't asking the questions they should have been, or were being fobbed off with the wrong answers.

But the buck stops with senior management, doesn't it? So I look forward to seeing how many of them are called to account when the current situation calms down, and how many simply walk away with huge pay-offs...

You've got to learn

I know no-one is remotely interested in the Lib Dems, but here's another 'interesting' story. Perhaps they should enrol Nick Clegg for some of these lessons while they're at it?

The telephone always rings

Thanks to Iain Dale for another example of Lib Dems saying one thing and doing another... Any chance of a response from Stephen Williams? (The phone story, not the one about Bear Stearns or Lehmans - although that's also worth a read).

And perhaps Stephen could also confirm at the same time whether it's true - as I was told last night by an impeccable source - that on taking up his current frontbench post he proudly told his Labour opposite number, 'I've been given this job to persuade the party to accept tuition fees?'

Twenty-four hour garage people

Trying to get the Conference diary together.

I'm speaking at two fringe meetings:

Save the Children event - ‘Hungry for Change: is the global response to the food crisis failing children?’ on the Sunday, and The House Magazine - 'Joined up thinking to resolve global food security', on the Monday.

Also attending a private Foreign Policy Centre dinner on 'International Development in a Global Economic Downturn' which should be interesting. Apart from that, got lots of one-to-one meetings in the diary - New Local Govt Network, BUAV, Every Disabled Child Matters, WorldVision, Oxfam, Scottish Credit Unions and more - and a handful of receptions and fringes to go to. Will be doing what I can to promote the Votes at 16 and the End Child Poverty campaigns. And I'm doing the 5 Live Victoria Derbyshire show on the Monday, 11am to noon, from Conference in front of a studio audience.

I hope Andy Burnham says something about Tony Wilson in his Conference speech....

Stand by your man

Dinner tonight with eight or nine other MPs, including a couple of senior Ministers. The get-together had been planned a while ago, to give us a chance to catch up with each other before Conference, but of course we ended up talking about events of the past few days. Everyone 100% supportive of Gordon and between us we'd spoken to a lot of colleagues and party members who absolutely feel the same. Earlier on in the day I'd had a call from Newsnight, wanting to know whether I was going to request nomination papers; I did my usual 'no comment' on the basis that I don't co-operate with these stories, but then immediately regretted it. So to go on the record now - no, I'm not. I don't know anyone else who is. I still believe - no, I know - that Gordon is a man of immense ability and integrity, and that during these turbulent economic times we need someone of his experience at the helm. (And just as a footnote - apparently today's Cabinet meeting bore absolutely no resemblance to media reports either).

2+2=5 (the sequel)

Nick Clegg thinks the state pension is £30 a week. And he still wants £20bn of tax and spending cuts?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Get the message

I've just received an email newsletter telling me what's going to be on the regional bit of the Politics Show this Sunday. (Academies in Bristol this coming week, by the look of it). You can sign up to it here.

Too early

I'm in the office looking at all my Conference invites. One is for a breakfast meeting to discuss waste management, which starts at 7am. So allowing say, half an hour to get to the venue and through security, that means getting up at about 5.30am. Don't these lobbyists realise that no-one goes to bed at Conference until at least 3am?

2+2= 5 (revisited)

For those of you who didn't catch Newsnight, here's the link. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00dk76n/

The best bit is when he says he's not going to reveal how he's going to find the £20bn because then the other parties might steal his ideas - reminds me of a kid trying to cover up his exam paper in case anyone else copies his answers.

Monday, 15 September 2008


I hope you're all watching Nick Clegg on Newsnight... Actually he's finished now, but I couldn't think of a title quickly enough. Should have just gone for Michael Jackson's 'Bad'.

I simply don't know how anyone could possibly take them seriously.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Francis Maude is coming to Bristol East on Wednesday. But is he going to tap dance?

Some speculation

At times like this, with rumblings as to what is happening behind closed doors within the Labour Party, one would think the blogosphere would come into its own. But instead I'm struck by just how inaccurate some of the speculation is. One blog cites Bob Marshall Andrews as a rebel who is about to declare his hand - and yet he was on television only a couple of weeks ago, staunchly defending the PM's leadership (and he's hardly someone who would feel under any obligation to do so unless he meant it). Guido has Kelvin Hopkins listed as a 'coded' rebel. Speaking as Kelvin's ex-constituency chair (actually, ex-constituency secretary too), I can categorically state that Kelvin, as the second most rebellious MP in Parliament (after John McDonnell) has never been 'coded' about anything when it comes to his view on the leadership. No doubt he fantasises about a Campaign Group takeover, but likely to join forces with Blairite ex-ministers? No way.

Some of the speculation about a possible reshuffle is similarly off-beam. Ruth Kelly for Chief Whip? (That was on LabourHome, I think). So she's going to be steering the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill through its final, controversial stages in Parliament, is she?

Just over a year ago the Labour Party was in Bournemouth for its annual Conference. Labour was riding high in the polls and speculation about a snap General Election had been mounting all week. At the party on the final night, as delegates and MPs danced badly to a rather dodgy covers band, the rumour spread like wildfire that at least a dozen senior Tories - including MPs and peers - were going to announce their defection to Labour at the start of Tory Conference the following week. This was, we were assured, 'on good authority', from 'reliable sources'. Of course, it didn't happen - and we all know what happened at Tory conference.

It serves as a reminder that most speculation ought to be taken with a very hefty pinch of salt.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Which side are you on?

Guardian music blog asking "Why are British musicians so scared of politics?" I suspect the answer is simply that Labour is in Government. If one was absolutely forced at gunpoint to identify something good about having a Conservative Government... the protest songs were better. (Here's an older Guardian article on the same theme.) Meanwhile, this month's Q magazine has an interview with not-at-all-political parliamentary rock band, MP4, with guest guitarist Andy Burnham who says that it's was Billy Bragg's Which Side Are You On? which inspired him to pick up a guitar.

So - off the top of my head, here's some of the best political songs:

1. Ghost Town - the Specials (with hon mensh to their version of Maggie's Farm, the Special Aka's Nelson Mandela, and the Beat's Stand Down Margaret). I don't think there's ever been a song that captured the mood of the times so presciently as this, which hit number 1 during the 1981 riots.

2. A Change is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke, and Strange Fruit - Billie Holliday. Two very different takes on segregation in the deep South: one showing defiant optimism, the other probably the bleakest song ever written. Also, Hurricane - Bob Dylan.

3. Alternative Ulster/ Suspect Device - Stiff Little Fingers. And a highly commended to Belfast - Boney M. Well at least they were trying!

4. The Revolution will not be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron. The Godfather of rap. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy. (And I think there's a good case for regarding Eminem as one of the most political writers of recent years.)

5. Between the Wars EP - Billy Bragg; Shipbuilding - Robert Wyatt; Good Technology - the Red Guitars; Pills and Soap - Elvis Costello. Classic 1980s Peel shows.

6. This Land is Your Land - Woody Guthrie. And the Irish songs I should know but all tend to blur into one.

7. How Does it Feel? (To be the Mother of 1000 Dead) - Crass. (Never actually listened to it, of course - could anyone? - but used to read their sleeve notes avidly and draw anarchy signs on my school books. Those were the days).

8. California Uber Alles/ Holiday in Cambodia/ Kill the Poor - The Dead Kennedys. Because they're funny too.

9. Dread Beat an' Blood - Linton Kwesi Johnson; Mi Cyaan Believe It - Michael Smith; Two Sevens Clash - Culture.

10. Equal but Different/ Come Again - the Au Pairs; Damaged Goods - the Gang of Four. The personal is political.

11. Anarchy in the UK - the Sex Pistols. Obviously. And too many to mention by the Clash; Babylon's Burning - the Ruts; Sound of the Suburbs - the Members; Eton Rifles - the Jam (was never that keen on the Jam, but at least it's topical).

12. Fall on Me - REM. Environmental politics twenty years before everyone else cottoned on. And probably their best song too.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

She's a lady

Unsurprisingly, Sarah Palin has captured the heart of at least one Tory MP. Meanwhile, Political Betting is speculating whether Kitty Ussher could be Labour's answer to the mad and scary one. (No, not Nads). Kitty is of course not at all mad or scary, though she does have a rather alarming speaking head on her website which used to start talking at you without being asked. Stephen Williams has something similar, but I think you'd have to be very soft indeed to be even slightly scared by him.

And now William Rees-Mogg has joined in, saying 'Labour's Best Hope is the Palin Effect' - I'm sure Ruth Kelly and Harriet Harman are delighted to be singled out by the mighty Mogg for his approbation.

Well perhaps this is time to launch my bid to be the female politician who is the polar opposite of Sarah Palin in as many respects as you can possibly imagine?

  • Christian creationist -vs- atheist Darwinist;
  • gun toting moose-burger munching hunter -vs- a vegan who won't even kill mosquitos;
  • 'hockey mum' of five strangely-named kids -vs- no kids, never wanted them (tho' proud auntie of thirteen (sort of) sensibly-named nieces and nephews - or at least not called Trig, Track or Bristol);
  • opposed the designation of polar bears and Beluga whales as endangered species -v- campaigned against seal hunts, badger culling, whaling;
  • finalist in Miss Alaska -vs- ..... ok, let's not go there.

And then there are her views on the death penalty, abortion, gun control, same sex marriage, climate change. And the glasses. My only weak spot is that apparently she likes riding snowmobiles - which I suspect might actually be quite good fun if not entirely environmentally sound.

The Vogue picture is photo-shopped by the way, by one of her constituents. There is however a real picture of Top Tory Theresa Villiers in this month's British Vogue, modelling 'workwear'. Tatler one day, Vogue the next - there are glammed-up Tories everywhere these days.

PS Have just come across a website suggesting Barack Obama must be anti-American because one of his daughters - Natasha - has a Russian name. Only in America...

So what about it? (2)

As you may have guessed from the last post, I am of course already regretting my rash pledge to commit to the blogosphere my thoughts on 'what Gordon should do', which could broadly be summarised as 'he should bash a few heads together and then get on with the job'. I can see me being misquoted (or quoted out of context) already. So I'm going to leave it at that.

Heavenly pop hit

Songs I want but can't get on I-tunes.

1. Heavenly Pop Hit - the Chills
2. The Unguarded Moment - the Church
3. Different Drum - the Lemonheads
4. Mattress of Wire/ Just like Gold - Aztec Camera
5. Shack Up/ Do the Du - A Certain Ratio (apart from on a live album)

And the Billy Ocean album is not as advertised - all the hits are missing.

Billy is coming to Bristol soon!

Where's Captain Kirk?

Note to Labour activists. If you need cheering up, just switch over to the Parliament channel for the Lib Dem conference. My favourite bit so far? Ed Davey mispronouncing 'machismo' - well, what do you expect from a Lib Dem?

Was expecting to see my Bristol neighbour, Mr Williams, being thrown to the lions - i.e. being forced, as Universities' spokesperson, to announce their u-turn on tuition fees - and no, of course I wasn't looking forward to it. Sadly, I've now been informed that it's been shelved till their Spring Conference because they didn't think they'd win the vote, and have got enough on their plate getting the 'Orange booking' of economic policy past the bearded and sandalled masses.

I went to Lib Dem conference once on a fleeting, work-related visit. Lots of large ladies wearing yellow. And yes, lots of socks and sandals.

So what about it?

I'm quite impressed with myself today - have just managed to dismantle the u-bend under the sink, remove the blockage - (decaff) coffee grounds and burnt lentils: cliché, moi? - and put it all back together again without even making that much of a mess. Which seems to me a far more useful way to spend the afternoon than that chosen by some of my parliamentary colleagues.

As I've said before on this blog, those of us - the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs - who still very much support Gordon's leadership are in a difficult position. By joining in the 'debate', if you can call it that, you simply add fuel to the fire and give the commentariat something to keep the story running that little bit longer. Which then gives the public the impression that all we're doing is squabbling amongst ourselves when we should be sorting out the problems facing the country. But if you say nothing, then you cede the floor to a few disgruntled Blairites, (who, ironically, were the very people who were so big on Millbank-style party discipline a decade or so ago).

So what I'm going to do later - when I've put the washing on, taken the rubbish out, vacuumed the stairs - is to try to suggest what I think Gordon should do next. In the meantime, here's the view of one Labour Party activist:

From LabourHome.
Re: Siobhain McDonagh breaks ranks! (#20)
by RedRooster on Fri Sep 12, 2008 at 11:31:47 PM GMT
Key thing for me was the she said that in Westminster they talk about this ALL THE TIME.
This really, really annoyed me in her interview. I've done a hell of a lot of door-knocking and face-to-face meeting with voters since May. Of all the people I've canvassed, do you know how many people raised the issue of who the Prime Minister was?
Lots of concerns about other things- energy bills, parking (and parking, and parking, and parking), too many flats, pensioner poverty, crime and ASB... you know. Things that exist in the real world.
If this woman believes that EVERYONE is obsessing about who the PM is, then she has seriously lost sight of what really matters in this world. Most people, if it really came down to it, don't give a monkeys about who the PM is- all they want to know is how it affects their bottom line- themselves, their family, and their community.
McDonagh didn't name ONE policy that she had a problem with. Not ONE THING she would have done differently. All she complained about was that her constituents kept on asking her 'what's labour doing'... and she thought it was someone else's job to tell them!
Here's my advice to Siobhain McDonagh. Get out of the Westminster village. Get some perspective. Start working on tangible policy issues that actually mean something to the 99.999% of the population who don't have their heads stuck up the collective Westminster arse.
And shut up until you do.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The race is on (2)

Here's Kevin, on the left, with Hazel and his fellow firefighters Chris Jackson and Jeff Lovell, both of whom are already Labour councillors. At this rate, we'll soon have enough for a calendar.

Leaving on a jet plane (2)

Here's a bit more info on the story, from Theo Blackwell.

From the Ritz to the rubble*

Of course being away last week meant I missed the opportunity to give my verdict on Sarah Palin (I'm torn between 'mad' and 'scary' - it's a close call) and her strangely-monickered family.
The Bouncer has an interesting take on it, to quote: "Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has a daughter named 'Bristol'. The young lady in question is 17 years old, unwed and five months pregnant, which seems somehow appropriate."
Somehow appropriate? What does he mean? Is he commenting on the 'white trash' connotations of giving kids wacky names? (Freakonomics has an interesting chapter on this, on why black parents with high aspirations for their kids give them mis-spelt names - usually ending in '-iece' or '-elle' as in Shanniece or Shantelle - which are more likely to hold them back; their verdict, from what I can dimly recall, is that the parents believe such names to be aspirational). Or is he saying that Bristol is full of 'young ladies' who are unwed and pregnant? Come on Bouncer - enlighten us!
*As in, "Last night these two bouncers, And one of em's alright, The other one's the scary one, His way or no way, totalitarian"

The race is on

So, part of the reason I've not been blogging since my return is that I've plunged (ho, ho) straight into the murky waters of the St George West by-election campaign. The final line-up will be revealed after nominations close tomorrow, but Labour's candidate is Kevin Herniman, an all-round diamond geezer (as we don't say in Bristol). Kevin grew up in St. George, on Clouds Hill Road where his mum and dad still live. Having been out on the campaign trail with him over the last few days, I don't think I've come across anyone he doesn't already know; he either went to Summerhill or Speedwell school with them (or their daughter or their dad), or used to deliver groceries to them when he was an errand boy at the corner shop in Hudds Hill Road, or (in the case of the garage along Church Road) did some building work for them many, many years ago. And he's full of anecdotes; for example, that the building opposite Summerhill School, which looks like a small church, actually used to be a college for housewives. Kevin's a firefighter and has been based at Speedwell firestation for the past 31 years. (Which is where I should produce the pic of me perched on a fire engine with him, wearing a fireman's helmet, but I don't have it at home. And there have probably been enough ridiculous photos of me for one week).

We were joined on the campaign trail yesterday by Hazel Blears, who ended up tap-dancing down Seneca Street with 89 year old Labour stalwart, Gwen Watson. Wish I'd had my camcorder with me... Hazel then joined us for the launch of our 'Flat Fare' campaign. First Bus have told me they'd be willing to consider trialling lower fares on one or two routes, and we're calling for them to give it a go on the A420 Showcase Bus Route, at £1 each way. (It's an extortionate £4.20 return into the city centre at the moment). We spoke to one young mother who works part-time in Broadmead, for just over the minimum wage; that's a big chunk out of her weekly wages. As I keep saying over and over again in the child poverty debate, it's these things that make the difference between people choosing welfare or work. With Cabot Circus opening soon - lots more shopping and 4000 more jobs - and the Christmas rush just around the corner, congestion can only get worse - so we want to encourage more people to use the buses. Got good coverage in the BEP today, but it's not on their website. Why?

Have also met a couple of people out on the campaign trail who have never voted before. One was a guy in his late fifties, who said he didn't understand politics. The other was a young woman who I'd met previously at the Single Parent Action Network; she's come out of a difficult relationship and is finally regaining her self-esteem and beginning to be ambitious for the future. I chatted to both of them for a while, explaining what difference voting could make, and I think I won them over (to the importance of voting, if not the importance of voting Labour). That's why getting out on the doorstep and meeting voters really matters.

As for the other candidates, first out of the blocks was Colin 'the Cat' Bretherton for the Tories (so-called because he's already used up all his nine lives standing nine times in other seats). The big question is, just why did the "lunatic" Tories decide to ditch the guy who almost won the seat for them in 2007? And is he going to stand as an Independent?

The first Tory leaflet I've seen illustrates the (non-existent) 'threat to St George's Park' with a picture of a rather shady looking unshaven character loitering in the park after dark... who on closer inspection, turns out to be their candidate. I suggest he takes some lessons from his Conservative comrade, Charlotte, who was pictured looking rather glam in a designer frock in Tatler this month. Not that I'm suggesting he hangs round St George's Park after dark in a designer frock, you understand.

Lib Dems are running their usual guy*, and their usual trick of putting out leaflets saying 'only the Lib Dems can beat Labour here' (yup, that's why they came third last time, nearly 400 votes behind Labour and the Tories). Their latest leaflet - and they started whacking them out within days of John Deasy's death - also criticises the Tory leaflet for 'no solutions and no action - just a catalogue of what they think people want to hear'. (My italics... need I say more?)

*We assume they're running their usual guy because he's all over the leaflets, but they haven't declared his candidacy yet - presumably so that those leaflets don't have to be counted in the election expenses.

So that's it. Obviously difficult times for Labour to be fighting a by-election, but we've got by far and away the best candidate; it's a joy to be going out campaigning with him. And judging from the leaflets so far, we're the only ones who are talking about the real issues in the ward. Of course we're going to be pointing out to the voters that the Lib Dems bottled the chance to run the council, which rather raises the question of what is the point of electing a Lib Dem in the first place? But we're going to run a positive campaign. The by-election is on October 9th. I promise not to go on about it too much.