Saturday 22 May 2010
Friday 14 May 2010
From the bottom of my heart - thank you.
Thank you for voting Conservative on Thursday. Every vote counts and you helped Britain vote for change.
More than that, I want to thank you for fighting and campaigning so hard for the past few weeks. I know how hard every supporter, member and activist worked during this campaign. I know how tough and gruelling it was. I know how tired you all feel now. You'll have blisters from all the pavements you've pounded; paper-cuts from the envelopes you've stuffed; bruised knuckles from the doors you've knocked on."
Etc, etc. I have been trying to compose bitingly sarcastic replies, but got stuck for inspiration and ended up just saying "Dear Dave. I am a Labour MP. Ergo..."
Anyway, if it were not bad enough that I've been unwittingly and completely involuntarily been conscripted into the Tory ranks, I also received last week:
- an email thanking me for signing up to receive news from the Liberal Democrats
- an email regarding my request to subscribe to the UKIP mailing list
- an email thanking me for signing up to Julia Goldsworthy's website and ticking the following options "I will display a poster at election time/ I can help with general campaigning/ I would like to join the Liberal Democrats/ I would like to recieve [sic] regular updates about Julia's Parliamentary work"
The last of those was received three days after she'd already lost the seat... if only I'd signed up sooner. She'd have been in the Cabinet now.
Here's the press release from Action Aid:
"ActionAid is urging people in the South West to send in self portraits for a major public artwork before it’s too late. The deadline to ‘Make Your Mark’, and send a self portrait on a specially created template is Monday 17th May.
Unveiled on Bristol’s College Green on 1st June, a sea of West Country faces will make up this giant mosaic of the face of 5-year-old Enid from Uganda. Enid hopes to make her mark on her village by becoming a teacher. But first she needs to go to school. Making Your Mark and submitting a self portrait will help to raise awareness of the 72 million children around the world, like Enid, who do not attend school because of poverty.
West Country celebrities have already made their mark by submitting self portraits, including Bristolian comedy writer and actor Stephen Merchant; comedian Mark Watson and none-other-than Darth Vader himself (Bristol actor David Prowse).
Leading anti-poverty charity ActionAid is holding the event to help find a thousand new child sponsors in Bristol and the West Country, so they can support children like Enid and their communities. ActionAid works with communities to create an environment in which children can thrive. Regular donations from sponsors help communities turn that support into whatever’s needed most – whether it’s a new school building, trained teachers, healthcare services, clean water supplies or help to build sustainable livelihoods.
Mark Watson: “As a comedian I spend my life talking about myself, so I thought drawing myself would make a nice change.” [Despite his flippancy here, Mark Watson is very involved in this, and will be blogging and tweeting his way through Senegal for Action Aid soon - on Twitter as @watsoncomedian].
Bristol writer and actor, Stephen Merchant:
“I sponsor a child in India. My donation each month helps to support her and her entire community - it’s such a rewarding relationship.”
Liz Waldy, Head of Supporter Marketing at ActionAid:
“Sponsoring a child is a unique way of getting help direct to the people who need it most. ActionAid works with the world’s poorest people, helping them access many of the things we take for granted like education, healthcare and clean water.”
More info & self portrait templates available on the Action Aid site."
Tuesday 4 May 2010
The four parts to the pledge are:
- international agreement to tackle climate change, where those responsible make the deepest cuts first and developing countries are supported to grow in a local carbon way;
- local carbon budgets;
- a 42% reduction in UK emissions by 2020;
- tackling greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation caused by the UK's dependence on imported feeds for livestock.
I'm not sure where on the Friends of the Earth website you can check which candidates have signed up to the pledge, 'though I've found the bit which records how many letters each local candidate has been sent. (I've had six, the Tory has had nine).
Anyway, for the record, I signed up to three out of four of the pledges, and gave the other one half a thumbs up. (That was the one on a 42% cut in emissions by 2020. Ed Miliband has said that signing up to a new agreement would mean increasing our current commitment to cut emissions by 34% by 2020, and it would have been easy for me to go along with the 42%, but I'm just not sure it's deliverable and didn't want to make an empty promise. But in theory, yes, we need to up our targets and be more ambitious).
My most enthusiastic response was, as you might expect, for the "Fix the Food Chain" pledge, about livestock's impact on the environment. I may not be one of the 277 MPs who signed the Early Day Motion on this (because I couldn't, not being a backbencher), but I think I'm still the only MP to have called a debate on the topic in the Commons.
By the way - the last hustings of the Bristol East campaign is tonight, at the City Academy, hosted by Greenpeace. I've watched the Bristol West one online, on Paul Smith's website, (well, it's two hours long and I can't claim to have given it my undivided attention, but it was on in the background). It will be interesting to see how the questions differ in our patch.
One issue is the conversion of private housing into flats, which is something I've become more and more concerned about over time. (Indeed I may have blogged about it quite recently? Anyway, I'm doing so again!) I think it's a trend that has been exacerbated by the recession, with developers buying up repossessed properties and turning them into flats, which generate far higher profits for them. Planning permission seems to be readily granted, despite objections from local residents about additional pressures on parking and more traffic. I think the concerns go wider than this. For a start, it's yet another family house lost, and we have a real shortage of them in Bristol. Secondly, it changes the nature of the neighbourhood, if there's a steady turnover of tenants, some of whom might not care so much about keeping their front yards tidy, or getting on with their neighbours.
This, incidentally, is something addressed by Labour's plans for the local authorities to keep a full register of all private landlords, so that they can far more easily be held responsible for the actions of their tenants, even if the landlords themselves don't live on the premises. But we also need Bristol City Council to factor this into their planning policies, so that we don't see development by stealth, until our communities become choc-a-bloc with flats and cars and parking problems. I am, by the way, very keen on promoting urban living too, and more flats being built in the city centre, e.g. warehouse conversions. It's transformed city-centre living in Manchester, and I think areas like Redcliffe are ripe for such development.
On a related point, I never got round to blogging about the meeting I had a few months ago with the developers behind the Parcel Force building along Cattle Market road, i.e. the huge derelict building you see as you pull into Temple Meads. (I said it was an eyesore, they weren't happy, we had a meeting at which we ended up going completely off topic and talking about independent record labels of the early 1980s and how much we missed Tony Wilson, from what I recall). I'm not sure how much they want in the public domain at the moment, nor what's happened in the last couple of months, but let's just say that if they pull it off, it will be a fantastic project and really bring life to that part of the city.
Saturday 1 May 2010
The email goes on to say: "We believe that the way we treat animals is a fundamental indication of the state of our society, and 87% of the public agree, according to a YouGov opinion poll. Your support for measures to protect animals is, therefore, a positive sign that you have the character and values much needed to stand in Parliament and help restore the integrity of our political system. We wish you the very best of luck in the General Election, and we hope we can work with you in the next Parliament to build a more compassionate society where animals are treated as individuals worthy of respect rather than expendable objects to be exploited and abused."
You can check out candidates' responses to the PAD questionnaire here: www.vote4animals.org.uk/constituency.htm
Friday 30 April 2010
One of the issues I've flagged up on my latest leaflet is the lack of community and youth facilities in some parts of east Bristol. There's never space to go into much detail about what is in the pipeline, but there are positive things at the planning stage, and I hope that we can deliver on these over the coming year or so. Councillor Ron Stone is chair of the St George Neighbourhood Partnership, and, having been the driving force behind getting a new play park in St George's Park and securing funding for Meadowvale Community Centre, he's now involved in a deal where the Kingswood Foundation will take over the running of the Kingsway Youth Centre and invest in youth provision there, which will be fantastic when it happens.
Ron has also been leading the charge on Bristol City Council, trying to pin the Lib Dems down on the future of the Speedwell pool. This dates back to 2005, when the pool was closed down. There was meant to be an all-party agreement that ageing pools would be replaced before they were shut, but when the Liberals took over, they reneged on this. They're now promising a new pool for Speedwell, but questions from Cllr Stone have revealed there's no money in the capital programme for this... they're funding some sort of feasibility study, but as Ron says, you can't swim in that! At the moment it just looks as if they're promising pie-in-the-sky.
As for other parts of east Bristol, in Brislington we need to make more of Wicklea Youth Centre, but people have quite rightly said that there's also a need for better facilities elsewhere. And in Stockwood, there are suggestions that the site of Stockwood Green school could be used for a community centre, which the area desperately needs. As I mentioned in a blogpost not so long ago, Ron has identified millions of pounds of unspent s.106 money sitting in the Council's coffers. It's time some of that was spent in the community.
We've had quite a few such calls, of people just wanting to wish us well. (I say "us" - I mean the Labour Party, and my local Labour team. I might be the person up for election, but it's not just about me). I have also been moved by the number of people working in the public and voluntary sectors who have privately told me how worried they are about the prospect of a Tory government.
But to return to topic... virtually every household in the constituency should have had a copy of a hand-delivered newspaper, entitled Bristol News, which went out before the election was called (and I suspect some people have already forgotten they've had that). We have also been delivering surveys as we've been door-knocking - and we've covered virtually every area of the constituency in recent weeks, if not every street - and have been giving out copies of Labour's manifesto for families "Your Family, Your Choice" too. The election address, which is delivered by Royal Mail, is going out now, and we also have a "Change We See" leaflet going out now, to at least half the households in east Bristol. It's a great leaflet with a very positive message. We've also done a fair bit of street campaigning, e.g. with John Prescott in Fishponds, and in St George on St George's Day, as well as having a bit of fun with a fox in St George's Park. And we've been at the school gates, where the reaction from parents has been really good.
So sorry if we've missed you, but it doesn't mean we're not out there trying our best to make contact with as many people as possible. And we're certainly not complacent at all about the result in east Bristol. I don't detect any enthusiasm at all on the doorstep for a Conservative Government, but that doesn't mean that people who are Labour inclined will turn out to vote unless we convince them we're listening to their concerns, and tell them about what the election strategists would call "the future offer". (In other words, what we're going to do for them, their community and the country if we are re-elected). And we will be continuing to do so over the next few days until polling day.
I might try and post pdfs on the leaflets on here, or on the website, so that anyone who hasn't received a copy can download. And if you really want to talk to me about anything before polling day, and you're a constituent, by all means get in touch!
Thursday 29 April 2010
"On hearing the results of a random and unscientific sample of postal votes, I posted them on Twitter. It was a thoughtless thing to do, and I very quickly realised that it was not appropriate to put such information in the public domain. Because this was not official information, and no votes had been counted, I thought of it as being akin to canvass returns, i.e. telling people how well we were doing with Labour promises on the doorstep, but I appreciate now it was wrong to do so. I have personally called the Returning Officer at Bristol City Council to apologise, and assured him I have removed the information as quickly as possible, within a matter of minutes. He has advised that it would not be lawful for anyone else to publish the information, for example, by re-posting my original Tweet."
I am not the first person to make such a mistake, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but as you can imagine, I'm cross with myself. Tweet in haste, repent at leisure....
Update on the boundary changes... I happened to speak to Stephen McNamara, the Returning Officer, today, and it looks as if they are reasonably confident that the situation can be resolved. It seems that most, but not all, postal voters in Lawrence Hill and Easton have been given the wrong ballot papers. Those who have recently moved into those wards, or have recently applied for a postal vote, have been given the correct ballot papers, i.e. for Bristol West.
The Council will be able to tell whether someone has voted twice, so if anyone in those wards has received and returned a Bristol West ballot, and then, say, gone off on holiday before receiving the reissued ballot paper, (see below for a possible scenario), then that will still count. The only people who will miss out will be those who have mistakenly received a Bristol East ballot paper, and go away on hols before the replacement arrives. However, the Council are hand-delivering the replacements and want to get them all out before the weekend (not May 4th as they stated in their letter). There is no guarantee given as to how soon before polling day postal vote ballot papers have to be sent out anyway, but the guideline is at least four working days, which will be met is they are received by Friday. So... the only problem will be if the result in Bristol West is close, i.e. within a few hundred votes.
The second is next Tuesday, at the CityAcademy. That's a 7pm for 7.30pm start. It's organised by Greenpeace, but open to everyone. I think it's just Labour, Tories, Libs and - of course - the Green candidate.
I've paid tribute on here before to the work of Richard and Joyce Smith; sadly Richard died recently, after a long battle with cancer, but he lived long enough to know that his dream of seeing Arnos Vale restored and open to the public in all its gothic glory was about to be realised. If you have never visited, you really should; it's a stunning place.
Wednesday 28 April 2010
The office had a call this morning from a voter in Easton who knew she was backing Paul Smith this time, but then got a postal vote with my name on it, and an election address from me. And then she got a letter from the Council telling her the postal vote ballot paper was wrong and she'd be getting a new one. Can't blame her for being confused!
Meanwhile some people in Lawrence Hill ward have received letters from the Council apologising for being sent Bristol East ballot papers, telling them to scrap them, and that they will be sent Bristol West ballot papers by May 4th at the latest. But they haven't actually been sent Bristol East ballot papers - they've had Bristol West ones! (It seems the wrong ballot papers have mostly gone out in Easton, but the Council has recalled all those sent out to the bits of Bristol East going into West).
So... what happens if they've already sent off their ballot paper? Will they realise they have to vote again? And what if they've gone away on holiday by then? Surely there must be a way, when verifying the postal votes, of checking whether people have voted once or twice, and if they've only sent back the first Bristol West ballot paper, then that should be allowed?
Tuesday 27 April 2010
I am also getting very, very fed up with Nick Clegg. He's getting rather full of himself, isn't he? How dare he presume to dictate to the Labour Party who we should have as our leader in the event of a Lib-Lab deal? Memo to Nick: we choose our leader, you don't. And if we were to have any say over the Lib Dem leadership, it wouldn't be you. We've read the Orange Book and we have just an inkling that you're something of a closet Tory.
Speaking of closet Tories, the Lib Dems in Bristol are of course fielding a former Tory councillor, in the person of Mike Popham. I have yet to see much evidence that he has repented his right-wing ways. If you vote Lib Dem in Bristol East you either: a) split the progressive vote and let the Tories in by the back door; b) vote for a party whose leader seems to be expressing a clear preference for getting into bed with Cameron; or c) vote in Popham and get a Tory MP in all but name!
You would of course be far better voting Labour... You know where you are with us ;-)
Monday 26 April 2010
I've got to know lots of voters in Easton and Lawrence Hill over the past five years, through attending community events, dealing with casework and just generally getting out and about. So Paul Smith and I have gone to some lengths to explain to people that he'll be their candidate, not me. Unfortunately it hasn't quite sunk in at Bristol City Council, who have somehow managed to send out ballot papers to 2,800 postal voters in those wards with the names of the Bristol East candidates on them. (The 2,800 is their figure, although it may be that they've assumed they've got all the Easton/ Lawrence Hill postal votes wrong, and they haven't, which makes it even more muddled.)
Stephen McNamara, the Returning Officer, is going on Radio Bristol tomorrow to explain how it happened ("software error" I'm told), and what he's going to do about it. Apparently they're writing out to everyone, telling them the ballot papers are invalid, and will re-issue the ballot papers by May 4th at the latest. Is that going to be good enough? I suspect not. Look at these possible scenarios.
1) Mr and Mrs A have applied for a postal vote because they're going off on holiday on May 1st. Their replacement ballot paper arrives May 4th. They don't get the chance to vote.
2) Ms B doesn't get her postal vote until she arrives home from work on the evening of May 4th. She puts it in the post on May 5th. It's touch and go whether the post gets there in time for polling day on May 6th.
3) Mr C gets his ballot paper with Bristol East candidates on it, sends it off straightaway, and is confused by the second ballot paper arriving, so he doesn't send it off.
4) Mrs D is elderly and housebound, and can't get to the post office. She can't send off her ballot paper until her daughter comes round to visit on Thursday, which is too late.* NB In this scenario her daughter could drop the postal vote into the polling station on polling day, as that's always permitted; postal votes don't have to be sent by post.
Bristol West is likely to be a very close fight anyway, between Labour and Lib Dems. So what happens if, say, Paul Smith loses to the Lib candidate by 500 votes, but 600 postal votes are either invalid or aren't returned? (It's actually quite normal for many postal votes not to be used, though turnout is higher than it is for normal voting, but you wouldn't be able to assume that it was a deliberate abstention). Or even if the outcome is clear, but one of the minor parties narrowly misses holding onto their deposit? In the latter case I'm not sure whether they'd succeed in a legal challenge, or whether they could just be fobbed off by being given their deposit back, but in the first scenario it's pretty obvious that a legal challenge could be mounted, to try to declare the election result invalid. And if that happens, it means a by-election....
NB We had a couple of frantic hours in the office this afternoon, trying to find out whether it would affect all four Bristol seats, but it looks like it's just Bristol West. There is also a problem with ballot papers in the three south of the river wards, Brislington East + West, and Stockwood, with 800 or so ballot papers issued with duplicate numbers - i.e. there are two number ones, etc - but that can be sorted by checking against addresses, we hope.
The only proper, open to all hustings of the campaign is taking place this coming Friday, at St John's Church on Lodge Causeway. It starts at 7.30pm. Would be good to see plenty of people there, asking lots of awkward questions. Not sure how many candidates have been invited.
I'm doing a couple of other debates this week, one in front of PCS members and a 'speed-dating' event somewhere in Clifton, which is being organised by Oxfam. [JUST RECEIVED EMAIL - THIS HAS BEEN CANCELLED BECAUSE IT CLASHES WITH A BRISTOL WEST HUSTINGS]
I bumped into Wilf from Greenpeace in the Post Office today (the first of three visits to three separate post offices, due to gross under-estimation of just how many postal vote letters we were sending out) and he wants to organise an event for Bristol East, so will keep you posted if that can be pulled together at short notice.
Sunday 25 April 2010
Here's an extract from the Better Banking website, setting out their objectives:
In order to understand how big and widespread the problem of financial exclusion is, we first need to know exactly which groups of people and parts of the country banks are lending money to and which they aren’t. The Better Banking Campaign therefore believes that banks should provide information on where their money comes from and where this is invested, and that this data should be broken down by demographic group and geographic area.
2) An Incentive Structure
Once we know who banks lend to and who they don’t, an incentive structure needs to be created to encourage banks to start lending to people, businesses and third sector organisations in underserved communities. Banks which take their responsibilities seriously should be rewarded, while those performing poorly should face penalties. In America, this incentive structure is provided by a piece of legislation called the Community Reinvestment Act. The Better Banking Campaign believes that an equivalent piece of legislation should also be introduced here in the UK.
3) A Cap on Extortionate Lending Rates
When people are unable to access finance from a mainstream bank, they are often forced to turn to a high-cost lender (such as a pay-day loan company) or, even worse, a loan shark. As the UK is one of the few EU countries without a legal cap on lending rates, these alternative lenders are able to charge whatever rate they like. Sometimes this can be as high as 3000%, meaning people end up paying back vastly more than they originally borrowed. The Better Banking Campaign believes that it is unacceptable that any form of lender should be allowed to profiteer in this way at the expense of people in need. We are therefore calling for the introduction of a cap on extortionate lending rates.
4) A Commitment to Re-invest 1% of Profits
In recognition for the assistance taxpayers have given banks since the financial crisis, we believe banks should be required to re-invest 1% of their pre-tax profits for social benefit. Some banks do in fact already do this through their CSR policies, but the Better Banking Campaign believes that making this a requirement for all banks will help ensure they take seriously their contribution to wider society.