Monday, 23 March 2009

When not doing wrong is not necessarily right

So the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform , the Right Honourable Tony McNulty says he has done nothing wrong by claiming some £14,000 a year Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) on a second home in his Harrow East constituency, some 9 miles from his main residence in Hammersmith.

He might believe that he has complied with the letter of the law and done nothing illegal - but he is morally in the wrong by accepting these additional allowances.

He must have known something was amiss as he stopped claiming the ACA earlier this year "because interest rates had fallen so far that he was able to meet his mortgage commitments from his MP's salary" - an MP currently receives £63.291 per year (Members Series: Fact Sheet M5 - Members’ pay, pensions and allowances) which in McNulty's case is topped up with a Ministerial entitlement of £40, 759 (Members Series: Fact Sheet M6 - Ministerial Salaries), giving an annual salary of £104,050.

When confronted by the Mail on Sunday for the article published yesterday , in a bizarre bid to deflect criticism, McNulty called for any MP within 60 miles of Westminster to be banned from getting the handout.

The history of the case appears to be that Mr McNulty lived with his parents in the house in Harrow East until his marriage to Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools, in 2002.

He then moved into the home Ms Gilbert owned in Hammersmith, itself only three miles from the House of Commons, and this is considered his main residence.

So why is he claiming ACA for the house in his constituency? When asked on Sky News' Sunday Live why he was claiming expenses on a property where his parents live, Mr McNulty said: "I use it considerably. I work there at weekends when I am in the constituency." Yet he has (and in 2006/7 claimed £20,000 for) an office that is just round the corner.

ACA is meant to help MPs whose constituencies are a long way from Parliament to fund a London base, a perfectly reasonable aim. But should this also help London-based MPs? Those of 25 proscribed inner London constituencies (including the MP for Hammersmith and Fulham) are not entitled to the ACA but receive a London Supplement of £2,916. MPs in the outer London constituencies can elect either for the London Supplement or the Additional Costs Allowance.

The Green Book 2006:Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions (follow link from here) is the bible on such matters, and some relevant passage are posted below.

3.1.1. Scope of allowance
The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) reimburses Members of Parliament for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence (referred to below as their main home) for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties. This excludes expenses that have been incurred for purely personal or political purposes.

3.3.1. Principles
You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money. Members should bear in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation, goods or services funded from the allowances.

You must avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political organisation.

So how can McNulty claim he was doing nothing wrong? The expenses and allowances are meant to be above reproach and there should be no suggestion of a misuse of public money. Neither of these case appear to met in the claiming of ACA.

[More information on Tony McNulty can be found on the "They Work For You" website.]

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The REAL Financial Crisis

Today is the 10th anniversary of Tony Blair's visionary Beveridge Memorial speech where he committed the Labour Government to eradicating child poverty within 20 years. But at present 1 in 3 children are currently living below the breadline

In an article in the Guardian G2, Amelia Gentlemen gives a portrait of 21st-century child poverty.

The chilling indictment is that some of Louise's problems arise from the £7 a week repayment of overdraft charges to LloydsTSB.

When she was still battling with bank charges imposed every time she went overdrawn (which was every week), she would she has to make do without meals herself because there wasn't enough food for herself and her 2 children.

She is now slowly paying of a debt of £600 of fines and charges. In addition, she no longer has a bank account and now only deals in cash.

At £7 per week, Louise will be paying off this debt for the next year and a half. Something chief executives of banks SHOULD be mulling over as they accept unacceptable bonuses and pension pay-outs.

And what can we do? Perhaps we should start by re-reading the July 2006 report and findings by Donald Hirsch to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, "What will it take to end child poverty?",
which concluded:
"that, to make further inroads into child poverty, the Government will need to extend its policy of increasing redistribution to low-income families, but that this will not be enough on its own to meet the targets. In addition, this will require parents to fare better in the workplace, with improved pay and opportunities. Long-term policies working in this direction include better education and training for disadvantaged groups, improved childcare and the promotion of equal pay for women."

The same author in his recent study for the JRF, "Child poverty in a changing economy" (February 2009) , updates and revises projections of child poverty in 2010 and 2020.

He states:
"Despite tough times ahead, there is still political consensus around the goal to end child poverty. Based on new projections taking account of the recession, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has updated its assessment of what it will take to meet the government targets to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020."

One of the key points is that projections based on current policies suggest that child poverty will fall from 2.9 million to 2.3 million by 2010 – 600,000 short of the target.

To meet its target for 2010, the Government will have to invest an estimated £4.2 billion a year in benefits and tax credits above its present plans. The allocation of an additional £2 billion since 2006 has been offset by an unexpected rise in child poverty between 2004 and 2007 and the increased costs of the recession.

By 2020, without new policies to help low-income families, child poverty is projected to rise to 3.1 million.

We've found money to help the banks - indeed last October £17 billion was injected into the very same LloydsTSB Bank that causes Louise such financial hardship. Why can't we do the same to assist those like Louise who face REAL financial difficulties

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Nyman's Double Standards

In today's Arts Diary in the Guardian G2, it's noted that composer Michael Nyman has objected to the installation of CCTV in his local pub, The Draper's Arms.

According to the article he has launched a stinging attack on the the government's growing surveillance culture in the Islington Tribune with the splash headline "COMPOSER IN ATTACK ON PUB CAMERAS."

So is this the same Michael Nyman that only a month earlier was featured in the same Guardian G2 in an article entitled "My Best Shot", talking about his best photographs?
He says:
"I took these pictures during the literature festival in Mantua, Italy, three or four years ago... I leaned out of my window and saw an unexpected photo opportunity: a busy Saturday afternoon, with my subjects below, oblivious to me... In the end, I stood there for half an hour, taking between 60 and 100 pictures."
Or perhaps he might be related to the video maker Michael Nyman who was interviewed about his exhibition, Videofile, at De La Warr Pavilion in The Financial Times in January.
He reveals that he "shot part of the video from inside a dark and narrow passage, looking towards a sunlit street where Venetians walk by." And then goes on to insist that “people are never aware of me filming them”.
So who's watching who watching whom?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Unitary campaigning

After my 6 week sojourn in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, I arrived back on Thursday with a request to join the branch collecting signaturesfor the Unite to Save Exeter petition. Hence I've just spent the last 2 hours outside the Old Debenhams Building on Sidwell Street with several colleagues from St James and St Davids branches.

And there are copies of the newsletter to deliver. One side is specific to St James whilst the other is an Exeter Labour News page outlining the case of a Unitary Exeter. Arrange to collect my 3 delivery rounds tomorrow and get them out early next week.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The People's Rail Charter

Fed up with the performance of the Rail Network. I certainly am. Living in Devon, but working the length and breadth of the UK I see first-hand the problems it faces. So I particularly welcome the new initiative of the Co-operative Party, the People's Rail.

Launched earlier today, they propose a simple solution, which would be welcomed by the train operating companies, the staff, and more importantly, the long-suffering passengers.

Network Rail was created as a public interest company, and provides a vital public service. Who would be a better boss of the rail network than its passengers and the British public themselves?

For Network Rail to become truly accountable, we must all be given the right to become individual members. As a genuine mutual venture, it would be structured so that we all have a voice. It would allow us to democratically elect a Members’ Council, which would have powers over the appointment and pay of Network Rail’s board.

Co-operative and mutual structures deliver organisations that act in our interests. If we are to get the rail network the British public want and need, Network Rail needs to be run in a way that guarantees us real power – not just a pretence.

Network Rail has to change.

That is why the Co-operative Party are launching the People’s Rail campaign, to give real control to passengers and the public.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

An answer to the minimum wage.

Rachel and I are invited to a BBQ over the river - we arrive early evening after a trip to Plymouth to catch up with parents.

Miles and I have a long conversation about many things. He says he hates to be termed a "socialist" but he proposes a very radical socialist solution to the minimum wage.

I say that it is a disgrace that someone working fulltime (40 hours per week) on the minimum wage still needs to supplement their wages with Working Tax Credit. His proposal is that the mimimum wage increases at the rate of 50p per 6 month period. Perhaps employers will need a little incentive, such a slight reduction in national insurance contributions. I think he may be onto a winning idea here.

In this light, I will need to talk in greater detail about his ideas for social housing...

Thursday, 8 May 2008

How does Labour win again?

Last night Compass debated the election aftermath at a packed meeting.

How does Labour win again? A poignant question after the election disaster on Thursday. It was this question that an esteemed panel - Jon Cruddas MP; David Lammy MP; Jennette Arnold AM; Steve Richards, The Independent; John Harris, The Guardian and chaired by Jackie Ashley, The Guardian - came together to discuss in front of a filled Committee Room 14 in Westminster yesterday.

The discussion was started by David Lammy MP, who stated his fear that, 11 years into power, Labour may not be hungry enough to win. He called for a wider vision, wider story and passion.

Lammy was followed by John Harris, who argued that these are new times and we need a new language. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in.

Jackie Ashley then asked Jennette to respond to David Lammy and asked if Labour still had the appetite to win. Jennette answered confidently that of course we had the appetite and that in her constituency the Labour vote came out, because of her local constituencies dedicated campaigning. Reminding us all on the necessity of local ground level campaigning and activity.

Steve Richards went on to astutely describe what he saw as the anti-Tory coalition splintering to be replaced by a strong and growing anti-Labour feeling. Yet the electoral dynamic is dangerous and the policy opportunity interesting. It is now down to Gordon to find the language to bring this together - Bravery is needed.

Jon Cruddas MP identified the rupture between the current terms of the debate and the demands for regulation and radicalism. What happened last week didn't drop out of the sky, and we all know it. We need to ask how do we put it together again. To do this we must develop a more sophisticated understanding of the Tories - we need to understand how Boris - an Eton educated fop - beat Ken, a passionate and outstanding politician with a proven record of success. The response can't be more of the same, and like David Lammy, he said fundamentally we must define what sort of society we want to create, and if we don't, we are free fall.

Neal concluded the debate, stating we are no longer willing to wait for this vision and these policies that Brown has been promising. We need the progressive consensus he called for in 2004 now.

To achieve this Compass is simultaneously launching the a narrative, a vision, on The Challenge of Living in the 21st Century, and what will be the biggest policy and ideas creation process the country has ever seen. This will engage every section of the Labour movement and those beyond, it will work with progressives outside of Labour and political system in NGOs, pressure groups, academics, unions, communities, and other think-tanks. These policy ideas will then be put to a vote, and we will go out and campaign on those selected. This is not about the Labour party, or even the left, this is about deciding what society we want to live in, and then going out and campaigning on it.

Zoe Gannon, Compass

May Manifesto Petition

In the light of Labour's election defeat last week, John McDonnell MP is circulating a manifesto petition to Labour Party members, trade unons and MPs to gain large scale rank and file support for a new policy programme for Labour to bring about a radical change in political direction for the Laboour Government.

John McDonnell MP said:"After the serious rejection of New Labour at the polls last week assurances that the Government is listening are simply not going to be enough to restore any sense of belief in the Labour Party. What is needed is a radical change of political direction."We have to demonstrate that change by introducing a new policy programme that specifically and very concretely addresses peoples' concerns raised on the doorstep. This May manifesto petition is launched so that all our supporters can have a say in pressing for the changes we need."We believe that Labour can win back the support of our people by adopting a new 2008 May Manifesto, which should include:

  • Nailing the 10p tax mistake by the introduction of a fair tax system removing the low paid from taxation and ensuring the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share

  • An increase in the basic state pension, immediately restoring the link with earnings, lifting people off means tested benefits and providing free care for the elderly

  • An immediate start on a large scale council house building programme and assistance for those facing repossession

  • Immediate end to programme of local Post Office closures and liberalisation of postal services

  • An end to the privatisation of our public services

  • A new pay deal for public sector workers to protect their living standards and tackle low pay

  • Abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for all students

  • Scrapping ID cards and abandoning 42 days detention

  • Introduction of a trade union freedom bill and measures to protect temporary and agency workers

  • Rejecting the proposals to renew Trident

To sign up, with the word 'petition' as the subject heading and add your name and CLP or trade union.

Grassroots survey

Labourhome is:
"A pro-Labour, group-blogging effort, that gives the like-minded the chance to have their say (under a mask of anonymity if they choose to wear it), and which promotes the most highly rated articles to its front page." --Bloggers4Labour's description of Labourhome.

Labourhome is a popular political collaborative multiblog specialising in British politics started by Alex Hilton and Jag Singh. Launched in June 2006 with the tagline, "Back to the roots," the site targets supporters of the Labour Party, attempting to reinvigorate the party's base and grassroots. Labourhome is not in any way financed or controlled by the Labour Party. The way we (Labour supporters) communicate to the outside (non-Labour) world is via the Prime Minister and the government. No blog or site can take that away, period.

Now Labourhome in itself is an experiment to reach out to the millions of Labour supporters and voters who want their voices heard. Every now and then, leaders ought to know what exactly their supporters are thinking and feeling, and that’s where web-based social network-enhancing sites like Labourhome and Bloggers4Labour come in.If you wish to get involved with Labourhome, send an email to us via support [at]

In response to Gordon Brown's promise to listen more, they are runnning a survey and will make sure the party's leadership is presented with the results. I invite you to pass the link on to all Labour supporters you know...

Below are my answers to Q6
What message would you send to the Labour hierarchy, given the party's performance on May 1st?

We need to re-engage with our core support. Too many activists left the party over issues like the Iraq War. I could not - the ideals of the Labour Party are too strong.

How did we get the 10p tax thing so wrong? We've admitted a mistake - but our natural voters are showing us their past and current payslips, showing us how this policy is affecting them NOW. The solutions need to be NOW.

Listen...on the doorstep...not advisors in Westminster.

Consult…with activists who know what is happening in the real world...not policy advisors. help the less well-off...not the affluent middle-classes.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Two Jobs BoJo

Why are all the papers full of anger that the writ for the by-election for Crewe and Nantwich has been published?

As I understand it the family of Gwyneth Dunwoody are happy -indeed her daughter Tamsin is the Labour Party Candidate.

What, to me, is more worrying is that BoJo will continue to represent the constituency of Henley after his recent election as Mayor of London. Many commentators estimate that it might be up to a year before he is appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead - a procedural device to effect resignation from the House of Commons.

Purnell: "Let's fight on child poverty"

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell outlined the Government's fightback strategy following the local elections in a speech to the Fabian Society, declaring "ideological confidence is the way out of this week's political setback."

In his Progressive Manifesto Lecture, "Creating an Open Society", Purnell Purnell took on the harbingers of electoral doom, who have likened the political situation to the Conservatives disastrous showing in 1995, saying that although "voters are spooked by the economy, they do not blame the government - they realise it has global routes."

But Labour cannot afford to coast on a promise of stability and a reliance on its record. In order to guide people through difficult economic times, the government needs to build an "Open Society" built on the idea of a "fair chance" he said.

"My argument today is that the goal is simple. To create an Open Society, the kind of society that is best placed to take the opportunities of globalisation."

"An Open Society, most of all, for everyone in Britain - giving them the chance to climb as far as their ambition takes them. But with that ladder rooted on the solid ground of a fair chance for all."

"That is why child poverty matters, and that is how we can make the best case for it."

The lecture was reported on-line by the Guardian - "End of child poverty is still aim", says Purnell.

The article states that Labour is making the fight against child poverty a central aim because the party feels "outrage" at the waste of lives, unlike the Tories who pay "lip service" to the government's commitments.

Seen as a rallying cry to the Labour party to unite behind Gordon Brown after "grim" local election results, the work and pensions secretary, James Purnell, claimed that the fight against poverty binds old and New Labour, and allows the party to expose the Tories.

Speaking to the Fabian Society, he said: "When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown committed us to the goal of eradicating child poverty they spoke for everyone in this party. They also hit its nerve centre. The child poverty target links old and New Labour. The outrage we feel at the waste of lives lived in poverty is what links the Labour party of 2008 with the Labour party of 1908."

He added that the Tories had accepted the need to tackle poverty - but he questioned their commitment. They had spoken of the need to look at the poorest people who earn 40% of median income - the official definition of poverty is people on 60% of median income.
"The Tories don't want to eradicate poverty," Purnell said. "They want to redefine it. All of a sudden, 2.5 million children are no longer poor, as if by magic."

The government has faced criticism in the labour movement because it is unlikely to meet its 2010 target for halving child poverty. Blair and Brown, as Purnell said, promised nearly 10 years ago to abolish child poverty by 2020. It is now accepted that it will be almost impossible for the government to hit even the interim 2010 milestone of halving child poverty.

Purnell said the government had taken 600,000 children out of poverty and he outlined further steps. A lone parents programme, which has ensured that participants earn 24% more than parents who do not sign up, will be intensified, with a £40 weekly bonus for single parents who return to work, advice on how to stay in work, and a £300 payment for people who run into trouble in the first six months after their return to work. "That is the mark of a government that has a real energy," he said.

Election thanks

The "Express and Echo" have published my letter thanking the voters.

I would like to thank, through Points of view, all the 384 people who turned out to vote for me last Thursday.All these people believed in my views and Exeter Labour group's 63 manifesto pledges, which resulted in a swing of nearly three per cent to Labour in the St James ward - in the face of the national trend of swings away from Labour.

I am certainly not downhearted and hope to be standing for Labour in the eventual elections for the unitary council.Until then, to all electors in the St James ward, I will remain your Labour contact and please feel free to contact me with any concerns or issues that you feel should be brought to my attention. I am around for the long-haul, not just election time.

I would like to pass on my commiseration to the former councillors of Exwick, Pinhoe and Polsloe. All three were excellent ward councillors, doing vital work on behalf of their residents. I am sure their presence will be missed over the coming term of office.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Is listening best?

Have spent the past weeks of my election campaign with the pledge "to act...and to report back", I was annoyed to read the article "Listening' politicians are a menace" by David Aaronovitch.

He heard the Prime Minister on Sunday telling Andrew Marr: “I am listening to what people have said; I have heard what people have said,” and Aaronovitch thought “Oh bugger.” And this is why. He feels that "If a politician does what I want and not what is best, that is not what I pay my taxes for"

But who says that listening equates to submission to the electors point-of -view? David Aaronovitch seems to think so. He thinks that "a 'listening' politician is one who decides that discretion is the better part of valour" but that isn't the case. By listening I am hearing the views of the electorate (they are the ones who do, or do not, put me into power). And then I can act in their best interest on those concerns.

National Fabian Society lecture

National Fabians Event
Invitation to Fabian lecture with James Purnell MP12.30pm, Tuesday 6th May 2008A rundel House, 13-15 Arundel Street, Temple Place, London WC2(close to Temple tube station)

James Purnell MP will give a major lecture for the Fabian Society. The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will outline how the Government can sustain progress towards meeting their child poverty targets. The lecture is part of the Fabian Society’s ongoing “Progressive Manifesto” series which was launched by Ed Balls MP last autumn.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Low pay or fair pay?

Madeline Bunting talks about the recently released report from of the TUC's Commission on Vulverable Employment in today's Guardian.

Having promised it would "make work pay", Labour still hasn't delivered.

Brown makes much of his commitment to poverty. Even his most grudging critics concede that some headway has been made on child poverty even if it has not been enough. Many poor families may now have an earner, but it has not got them out of poverty: the number of poor children living in working households is 1.4 million - exactly the same figure as it was in 1997.

Half of all children living in poverty have a parent in work. The advances in child poverty have been among those on benefits, while the number of poor working households with children has actually increased by 200,000.

One in seven of all working households are poor; one fifth of all workers, 5.3 million people, are paid less than £6.67 an hour (two thirds of the median), the worst low-pay rate of any in Europe. It works out at less than a £12,000 salary.

In some regions, the proportion of low-paid is well over 25%, while in some constituencies (in Wales, Birmingham, the West Midlands, even the rural West Country) it is comfortably over 40%.

Labour has made much of bringing in the minimum wage and the working time directive (which gave many workers their first rights to paid holiday) but after these advances, the reality is that progress in tackling Britain's chronic problem with low-paid, insecure work stalled. Increases in the minimum wage are not keeping pace with average earnings, and it is set at a considerably lower rate than in other countries.

This is an issue that any Labour government worthy of its name should have sorted out by now and yet it has devoted a fraction of the effort and energy required. If Labour cannot ensure that at the end of a hard week's work, someone has earned enough to keep themselves and their children out of poverty, then it doesn't deserve power.

The Government announced in March that the adult minimum wage rate will rise from £5.52 to £5.73 an hour in October. The youth rate for those aged 18 to 21 will be increased from £4.60 to £4.77. The Government has also said that the rate for workers aged 16-17 years should increase from £3.40 to £3.53.

So for someone currently working 40 hours a week this means they earn £220 per week or nearly £11,500 a year. A single person, with no dependants, earning this amount and receiving no other benefits is entitled to an annual Working Tax Credit of £504.05 (calculated using the HM Revenue and Customs Tax Credits caluclator). Surely the whole point of the Minimum Wage is that it should be enough to remove single people from the need for benefits?

Eliminate short-term errors and adopt a new long-term strategy.

Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, the former Home Secretary, writes for Progress on how Labour recovers from its election defeat.

In his article he says:
Throughout the dreadful Thatcher years we had a poster in our house called ‘What Does Labor Want?' The answer was a quote from Samuel Gompers of the American AFL/CIO trade union confederation written in 1893: ‘We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact more opportunities to cultivate our better natures.' Prehistoric Labour, perhaps, but no less powerful for its values and sense of purpose. They should still be central to Labour today.

The aim of Labour's progressive politics is to build a fairer, more equal society which improves the lives of millions of people in this country and elsewhere. And it's this group who were the greatest losers from Labour's disastrous defeat last Thursday. They are now vulnerable to Conservative values, Conservative practices and Conservative people, including those who have disguised their reactionary ideology under flaxen hair and unthreatening buffoonery.

Ahead of every other consideration, Labour's all-consuming priority must be to ensure that we do not repeat this defeat at the 2010 general election.

So, first, he believes we have to change the conduct of our politics. We should discard the techniques of ‘triangulation', and ‘dividing lines' with the Conservatives, which lead to the not entirely unjustified charge that we simply follow proposals from the Conservatives or the right-wing media, to minimise differences and remove lines of attack against us.

Instead we need to be authentic, frank and direct as we answer questions and explain what we are doing; we should respect politics and elected politicians with proper transparent funding arrangements and accountability for what we do; and we should govern openly and confidently on the basis of a programme which properly expresses Labour's values and beliefs.

Second we should focus upon the long-term issues which will enable our country to succeed in an increasingly challenging modern world. Immediately before the 2005 general election he proposed to Tony Blair a long-term strategy which he thought Labour needed to follow after the successes of our first two terms. Those goals should be to:-
• Establish a radical, holistic commitment to sustainable transport and energy.
• increase both public and private investment in effective, fair and locally accountable public services;
• relate taxation and charging more closely to expenditure, and reduce our profligate and bureacracy-promoting public administration;
• secure a stable constitutional settlement across the UK, by completing our reforms;
• strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system;
• reinforce the UK's relationship with the European Union to improve the EU's capacity to act on the environment and security.
He believes that the British people would support a framework for forward-looking and progressive government.

Third, we have to address the short-term errors which week-by-week erode confidence in Labour's competence and capacity:-
• The prime minister's pledge to solve the problems arising from abolition of the 10p tax rate must be fulfilled in detail and soon. The subject will resonate until there is clarity. There may now be a case for an early mini-Budget to establish a clear sense of economic direction and strengthen economic confidence.
• We should abandon proposals to increase the period of pre-charge detention to 42 days. This Parliament settled the matter in March 2006 at 28 days and, though I will support the government's proposals, I believe that it would be best not to consider them again during this Parliament.
• Patricia Hollis has put forward progressive proposals on women's pensions which are supported by the House of Lords. The government should accept them. Its current opposition will lead to defeat later this summer.
• The government should suspend the current over-bureaucratic review of post offices in order to consider properly the Postal Services Commission's proposals to give the Post Office PLC greater commercial freedom and allow subpostmasters to expand and develop their services.
• The Labour party has to end the historically unprecedented situation where we have not had a general secretary for over six months.

We do not have much time to reverse the damaging shifts in opinion against Labour which we have seen both in opinion polls and in last Thursday's elections.

We must robustly reject those who say that defeat in 2010 is inevitable. Such people - often relatively comfortable themselves - have no right to condemn whole communities to a decade or more of Conservatism. However their predictions could come true if Labour does not clearly resolve its direction and approach well before this year's party conferences. Everyone in the Labour party and outside will be constantly alert to progress we are making in this respect.
We should start immediately by winning the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Some seem to have accepted defeat already but I think that we can most certainly hold the seat if we
communicate a clear and attractive sense of political purpose.

Friday, 2 May 2008

The results

Arrive home to check the websites. Exeter City Council’s is already showing the results. Congratulations to Philip Bostock and his team for their efficiency in this matter.

The counting game

The count. Not much joy abounds as it become obvious that Labour could well have lost 3 seats.

Watching as the ballot papers in St James are first verified and then counted is a rollercoaster ride. Some basic sampling reveals that the result could be quite close – various bundles of 25 give conflicting pictures. Sometimes the majority seem to favour me, other bundles show the Lib Dems ahead, one or 2 even show a majority for the Green. Even the Tories have a look in from student areas. Not many UKIP though. At one stage I estimate it could be down to 50 votes, but Eddie isn’t convinced.

One of my candidates arrives in the hall with a drink (can't really say anything, as Philip Bostock - the Returning Officer - has just walked by and said nothing) and can't quite work out with table she's looking at St James or St Davids. She exclaims to her friens, "I'm not sure what's happening..I'm terribly confused"

However as the bundle stack up a quick estimate gives me around 380 (close the same number as polled by Catherine Dawson last year) whilst the Lib Dem number is significantly down. The majority is around 150, giving something like a 3.8% swing to Labour. When viewing the nationwide results later, this appears impressive.

Best moment of the day is when Philip Bostock takes to the stage to announce the result. I'm standing by the St James table with Peter Edwards. When Philip reads out "Bull, Paul David 384 votes", Pete lets out an almighty cheer - so much so to confuse the press pack who are spinning around trying to work out what's happened, is it a major upset in St James? They look like startled rabbits caught in the headlights.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Come on your Grecians

Can’t believe how quiet the streets of St James are – no not quiet, as there is a lot of noise coming from St James Park. The correct term must be empty – the streets are deserted as football fever takes over. Very few people are now interested in making the journey to the polling station, although I am gladden by a couple in Velwell Road are about to go off to vote now their babysitter has arrived.

Where do you live?

More glad-handing at the school. Meet 2 students who exit the polling station without voting. The first – afirst time voter - was hoping to see some election material at the polling station. She lives in a multi-occupancy house (common hallway and lots of bells) and tells me that she hasn’t seen any material from any candidate. I am surprised at this – I certainly delivered a 20mph sign letter through the common letterbox just last night. Someone must have acted like the young student in Prospect Park, Any future campaign work in areas of multi-occupancy must take this factor into account – some of our literature (the glossy election manifesto leaflet, along with contact details of candidate and links to websites and blogs) must be addressed to the relevant occupant. Her friend was also unable to vote at the school – she didn’t appear on the electoral register for St James. She actually lives in, and is able to vote for candidates in, Pennsylvania. My guess is the she lives on the opposite side of one boundary roads to her pal. Again, we must ensure voter information in this respect. Could various leaflets and campaign information, along with details of polling stations and even how to vote, is deposited in the University Library?

Students matters...again

Another stint at the School – meeting and greeting electors on their way to the ballot box…and discussing things about the election AFTER they have cast their vote. One couple are concerned about the fact that at least 2 candidates appear to be students. I am asked “How can they represent us when they could be away from Exeter during vacations?” and “How can someone who isn’t a Council Tax payer get elected”. Well, they don’t need to be a Council Tax payer. As long as they fulfil any of the set criteria, they can stand for election if they have been duly nominated by the requisite 10 electors and that nomination has been accepted by the Returning Officer. A valid nomination can come from:1) Someone on the electoral register from anywhere in Exeter.2) Someone who has lived at an address during the previous 12 months3) Someone who works within the city of Exeter4) Someone who owns a property within the city of Exeter. <<<<<<>>>>

Postal St Davids

A student from St David’s turns up with a postal ballot paper…the accompanying letter has informed her that she can deposit the ballot paper at any polling station. The trouble is that the St David’s in question is in Pembrokeshire, and the relevant paperwork only arrived 2 days ago. I am sure that the instruction only refers to any polling station within the relevant district but send her in to talk to the staff looking after the polling station. They confirm my analysis…but inform her that she can vote in this ward as she is on the electoral register for St James. A future plan of campaigning must be to inform students of this right to vote in different districts.


As I walk around the ward, I’m seeming to get many smiles of recognition. This cheers me up and gives me confidence for the day ahead. Must say that I am pleased with the laminated “Vote LABOUR – PAUL BULL” I have hanging from a lanyard around my neck. It is visible at a distance, features my name, and can easily be tucked away under my t-shirt (Red, featuring one of Picasso’s drawings of a bull – thank you, Derren Brown) when I visit the polling stations, either to meet voters, collect numbers from tellers, or receive official figures from the polling station staff.

Dog flap?

Off to Prospect Park to deliver the letter about the 20 mph signs. As I continue on from a student house to the next letterbox, a young lady comes out and puts the letter directly into the (recycling) bin. No chance for anyone else in the household to see it. Nice to see that she believes in true democracy. Working my way back up the other side, I post a letter through a letterbox. My fingers are free as I hear a dog galloping up the hallway. My fingers are free (and thereby safe) as the dog’s head pokes out the catflap.

The camera always lies

We’re lucky in St James – the 2 polling stations are within sight of each other and only a short walk (uphill, though) back the Committee Room. There has been some confusion over one of the tellers – I was unable to get hold of Penny last night to hand over sheets and instructions. So, to make sure the polling station at the school is covered I arrive at 06:45. Meet up with John at York House to inform him.

A teller from the Lib Dems is surprised when I introduce myself as the Labour candidate. I am informed that they didn’t recognise me from my photos – they thought I was taller….

And the good news is that Penny arrives in plenty of time to cover the early shift.

0700. The polls open and the election is underway…walk up to Thornton Hill to help Rachel; set up the Committee Rooms as several voters come down Pennsylvania Road, clutching polling card in hand and ready to cast their vote. Whatever figures and statistics we’re been working on in the past months will be of no consequence. The only figure we’re now interested in will be the one announced by Returning Officer, Philip Bostock, in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Back home for some breakfast to stand me in good stead for the LONG LONG day ahead.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Big Delivery

Spent most of the day on a major delivery drive – get over a 1000 of the letters out into key areas. And the rest can be distributed tomorrow as we make our presence felt in the ward.

Crewe and Nantwich By-Election

In Parliament today, Labour Chief Whip Geoff Hoon moved the writ for the holding of the by-election in Crewe and Nantwich.

There was great debate as to whether this was showing undue haste, Gwyneth's funeral not yet having taken place.

In response, The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman) is quoted in Hansard:
"I wish to raise two points in response to those that have been made. The first is about the wishes of the family and the second is about the conventions of the House.

"I shall read to the House a statement from the family in respect of the late Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody. They said:
“We fully support the decision to begin the process of electing a new MP for Crewe and Nantwich. Our mother proudly represented this constituency for 34 years, and would not want to see local people go without an MP. She worked tirelessly for local people and recognised there was always more to do. She would want that job of work to continue, as quickly as possible.”

"It is a long-standing convention of the House that, when a party loses a member, it decides when to move the writ, which triggers the process that leads to the ensuing by-election.
Crewe and Nantwich has had a doughty advocate for 34 years and it needs a new Member of Parliament. I therefore invite the House to support the motion."

Again to quote Hansard:
Question put and agreed to.

If it's good enough for the Dunwoody family, then it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Speeding up into 20 mph zone

Have just received confirmation from officers at County Hall that the 20 mph signs won’t be ready until the end of May at the very earliest. Decide to run with the letter. Redraft it to take account of new developments and send off to Eddie.

Will go Into Clifton Hill to supervise the printing and folding of these. Now just need to get them out – but that can wait until the morning as we need to make all the arrangements for eve of poll deliveries, and for the setting-up and running of each Ward’s campaign HQ – the Committee Room.

Monday, 28 April 2008

More on 20 mph

I am handed a copy of the Lib Dem’s latest newsletter. It appears hasty and ill-conceived. Lots of typographical errors (although I know that I’m also prone in that area). Perhaps we’ve got them worried – I hope so.

In the leaflet, their candidate say that the 20 mph signs are due at the beginning of May. Can this be true? Or is it just wishful thinking? Urgently need to make enquiries at County Hall to try and confirm this.

Solar Power Play-off

Have you seen the ads? You know the ones from Friends of the Earth (FoE)

Germany has 200 times more solar power than England.

Why? Because German households and businesses get paid a renewable energy reward for the solar power they generate.

It's known as the 'feed-in tariff' and has helped make Germany a world leader in renewable energy. These are the kinds of solutions we need to tackle climate change.
Meanwhile Britain is near the bottom of the European renewable energy league table.
If Britain is serious about promoting renewable energy, it needs a 'feed-in tariff' or we'll be left on the bench watching the climate crisis worsen.

The Energy Bill is going through Parliament now - but it needs to be amended to include a renewable energy reward (New Clause 4).

Call on your MP to sign New Clause 4 to the Energy Bill

I've just been to the FoE website to press for change on climate and used the the on-line forms to send Ben Bradshaw the following message:
"The UK's record on renewable energy is a national disgrace. Germany has more than 200 times more solar power and ten times more wind power installed than the UK. Germany has a quarter of a million people employed in their renewables industry. We have only 7,000 in the UK. One of the reasons Germany is so far ahead is their adoption of a feed in tariff policy which pays consumers and businesses a long term, guaranteed, premium price for the renewable energy they generate. It is a renewable energy reward (sometimes also known as a feed-in tariff).

Please support New Clause 4 to the Energy Bill, to be debated in Parliament on 30th April. This would introduce a renewable energy reward into the UK. Failure to do so could delay the adoption of this transformative energy policy by three years. We are near the bottom of the EU renewable energy league table. No further delays are acceptable in adopting the policies which will deliver a dynamic low carbon economy."
Why not do the same. E-mail your MP and ask them to support the New Clause 4. Visit the FoE site here.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Well done, Exeter City FC?

Much as it pains me (I'm a Plymouth Argyle fan through and through), Exeter City FC are through to the play-offs.

With Torquay's defeat, Cambridge's win and City's late equaliser, its a local derby with Torquay at home on THURSDAY! Yes, election day!

So I've spent the afternoon dusting off the PA systems, and getting them up and running. Then, with 5 systems in use throughout the city, we can remind people to vote before joining the throngs heading for St James Park.

I guess queues will be seen in the St James ward - but I feel that they won't be outside the polling stations at St Sidwell's School and York House.

Thanks to the responsible students.

I return to the car via Howell Road and I am amazed by the difference. All bar one of the wheelie bins are where they should be - inside the properties' boundaries. Hurrah. My direct action has worked. Can I take this opportunity to say thank you to all the students responsible.

The same goes to the students in Culverland Road - most have followed the rules.

Perhaps they will be motivated to help the remaining offenders to free up the pavements.

Signs in Bury Meadow Park

Cut through Bury Meadow Park on my way to Boston Tea Party for large mocha and West Country Breakfast for brunch.

First visit to the park for a few days and delighted to see that the promised signs have been erected.

I must say they're bigger than I thought - from the .pdfs I had been sent in late March, I was expecting A4-ish signs to be attached to posts rather than the 2m high self-contained signs we have.

Delivering in Exwick

Cross the water this morning and I pay back some of the work West Exe members have done for me by delivering some targeted letters. Even though I'm working the apparently flat area of Exwick Road, there are numerous steps to climb. However, there are some stunning views across to the cathedral.

Still I makes me grateful for the gentle slopes of St James.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

PCS Questionnaire

Have received a questionnaire from PCS - the Public and Commercial Services Union.
Worried about cuts for public services and campaigning for fair pay for its members, the PCS is asking candidates for their views on public services. These views will then be distributed locally to members proir to the election to help them make up their mionds when they cast their votes.
I publish my responses here as well.
Do you support PCS's campaign for fair pay for public services?
An unequivocal YES. The vast majority of public service worker are extremely dedicated to providing good public services to people who need them. In return for this dedication, they deserve a decent level of pay and conditions

I believe that public sector pay barely affects inflation as the inflation indices are compiled from goods and services that are almost entirely provided by the state sector, yet the effects of inflation are directly felt by public sector workers. So a below inflation wage settlements are actually a pay cut.

A National Agreement is essential for a fair and equitable way of dealing with salary scales. It is extremely inefficient to manage 200+ separate sets of negotiations. The outcome often brings resentment and dissatisfaction. Time and energies would be better spent on delivery successful public services.

In addition, a single National Agreement gives all Trade Union members a minimum standard of pay and conditions, irrespective of how well individual branches are organised. That is what the Trade union movement is about - Strength in Unity.…

As a member of BECTU (the theatre and broadcasting union), I was proud to stand with you and NUT/UCU colleagues at the recent rally at St James Park in support of your aims

Where do you stand on cutting civil and public service jobs?
Civil and public service staff are the front-line in delivering our policies to the public. Cuts over recent years has placed an undue burden on front-line staff and services have been stretched. Further cuts could have an adverse effect on the services delivered to the public.

Many job cuts are proposed on the recommendation of unelected and unaccountable consultants. The money paid to these consultants could be better used by investing in people.

I believe that job cuts will impact on the delivery of services to the public, leading to a poorer service to the public. However, I must qualify this statement - sometimes the need for particular jobs reduces, and then redeployment or "natural wastage" (with no compulsory redundancies) should be used.

We must invest in our staff in the same way as we invest in infrastructure and equipment.

Where do you stand on privatising public services?
I am totally opposed to the general principle of privatising public services. I believe in people not profits. That is the reason why I am standing as the Labour and Co-operative candidate in the coming election.

Privatisation should be mutually exclusive with the delivery of public services. Public services need to benefit the end users of those services, not big business nor shareholders.

Replacement by the private sector almost invariably means inferior terms and conditions for staff, and the desire of the private company to make profits means a poorer service for the public.

I am proud of the fact that when I was last a councillor (on Blaby District Council in 1995-99) the Labour Group on the Council (NOC, but Labour-led) successfully fought off a plan to privatise the refuse collection service.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Costly accommodation

A report by lists Exeter as one of the top 10 most expensive places to live for students. ys a report. Research by Accomodation for Students shows that the average weekly rent for students in the city has risen to 26 per cent above the UK average and is now more expensive than Oxford. The organisation studied the student rental market for the last five years, and the results show that although the average rent is just over £57 per week, the city's is nearly £78, almost £40 more expensive than Crewe, which was listed as the cheapest. Alongside Exeter in the top 10 are London, Dublin, St Andrews and Surrey.

No harm in being wrong, sometimes

The following article is by Michael White from today's Guardian:

A voracious reader like Gordon Brown must be familiar with Keynes' wit as well as his wisdom. "When the facts change, I change my mind," the great economist once remarked. He also said: "There is no harm in being sometimes wrong - especially if one is promptly found out."

But which is it in the current mystery of the 10p tax rate? As everyone now knows, in last years's budget, Brown's 11th, the then-chancellor abolished a rate he had himself introduced. The Institute of Fiscal Studies predicted the move might hurt 3.5 million low-paid workers (it was actually 5.3 million), but were told they were wrong. So was Tony Blair, then prime minister.

Did Brown deceive MPs in 2007, or himself? David Cameron and George Osborne are sure they know. No 10 only listens when it faces defeat, says the Conservative leader. Last night his precocious sidekick said: "Gordon Brown has been found out. I have always believed he is a man who puts calculation before conviction." Lethal words if the Tories can make them stick.

Labour MPs whose anxieties were rebuffed by the Treasury in 2007 have since met constituents with pay slips proving the Treasury wrong, by £50 a year here, £200 there: a lot to people on the edge. "I don't think Gordon was telling lies, he might have believed it," says one.

"Gordon thought he'd done poverty and wouldn't listen to anyone telling him he hadn't," argues a more waspish colleague. Both have received "I'll never vote Labour again" letters from pensioners who cannot recoup lost cash.

Frank Field raised the standard of revolt. Brown was adamant against retreat until he heeded rebel threats and embraced Alistair Darling's more flexible position on Monday.

One politician's U-turn is another's sensible adjustment. Margaret Thatcher was brilliant at U-turns. When the miners called her bluff on pit closures in 1981, she overruled her energy secretary, capitulated and bided her time for a rematch. Most voters are less interested in the finer points of U-turns than politicians and pundits. If ministers get it right in the end, voters are not bothered how they got there. When backbench MPs bring governments to heel, voters should rejoice. So No 10 must endure media jeers and insist it is doing "the right thing in the long term". Admirable or rigid, its next big test is the vote on the 42-day pre-charge detention. It has been postponed.

I'm putting strong store on the thought "If ministers get it right in the end, voters are not bothered how they got there." We shall see on Thursday if voters think we got it right!

NUT Rally

Make my way to St James Park for the rally organised by Devon NUT. As well as reps from the Teachers union, there are speakers for UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) and PCS (Public and Civil Services). All are facing below inflation increases this year, despite that the fact that it is acknowledged that public service salaries do not fuel inflation. So what the teachers and others are being offered is in effect a pay cut.

A packed (standing room only) FlyBe lounge welcomes the speeches enthusiastically.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

How to vote

Hugh tells me that he met a student that didn't know how to vote - a reoccurring issue with first-time voters. Have come across the publication "Step by Step Voting in England" issued by the Electoral Commission. It contains a step-by-step guide to the process accompanied by straight-forward diagrams. The Electoral Commission publish a range of very interesting and useful documents, including a 2-page handout entitled "It's easy to vote (England, Scotland and Wales)"

Student accommodation

Use our walk back from canvassing to talk to Hugh about student accommodation.

I've heard conflicting reports about whether private student flats are cheaper or dearer than halls on campus.

Hugh tells me that it all depends on which halls. They rage in price from around £60 to £130 per week. Some are self-catering single bed with washing facilities and shared bathrooms. But the University is favouring rooms with double beds, en-suite facilities and provision for self-catering. These of course have another life as conference rooms and bring in additional income out of term time. He also told me that the University has converted many of the former type of halls into the conference type.

Voter ID in student areas

This evening went into the student village that is Springfield, Culverland and Victoria Roads.

My colleague Hugh (himself a student) told me he knocked on one door and was answered by a young lady wearing nothing at all.

I wonder if this was perhaps the person spotted by George Hexter in New North Road as reported in the "E&E" letter, "Can you reveal the naked truth?"

Perhaps this incident will help me convince others that students really are worth talking too. Also it might also increase the numbers of people willing to help.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Taxing times.

Despite the media coverage, there has been a distinct lack of comment about the loss of the 10p starting rate of tax from the beginning of the fiscal year during my canvassing.

One or 2 of my team have had the odd comment, but my only encounter on the doorstep was more of an analysis of the likely effects of the cut. I am more likely to be faced with the anti-Iraq War comments and the continued dissatisfaction of Blair's term as PM.

Since the cut was announced by Gordon Brown in the 2007 Budget, I been following the views of Frank Field, the outspoken MP for Birkenhead, with interest.

His website carries an article that was published in Sunday's "News of the World".

He states that "No Labour MP wants to wreck the Budget. Most of us were overjoyed that Gordon Brown’s last Budget cut the middle rate of tax from 22p to 20p in the pound. What none of us agreed with was that the tax cuts should be paid for by the poorest workers. 5.3 million households are made worse off by the abolition of the 10p rate of tax."

He understands that it is not realistic to campaign to re-instate the 10p rate, such a move would wreck the Budget and the higher paid would be the biggest beneficiaries. They would gain both advantages of the 10p rate and the cut in the 22p rate. This would cost £7 billion and that kind of money simply isn’t available.

His plan is to press the Government to introduce a compensation package for those millions of workers who have begun to loose out. Such a package would not help the highest paid, but would direct every penny available for cash payments to lower paid workers.

Mr Field has tabled an amendment to the clause in the Budget Bill that gives the Government the retrospective authority to abolish the 10p rate. The amendment is nothing but simple. It denies the Government the power to abolish the 10p rate until it has published a compensatory package. The package has then to be approved by the Commons before the Budget’s 10p abolition. Here is a double lock to protect the low paid.

He feels that "lower paid workers not only object to paying for tax cuts, they rightly feel it is unfair. But they also feel devalued and hurt by the Government...The 10p cut strikes the heart of why many of us are in politics which is about helping those worse off."

Next week's vote on the Budget, and hopefully Frank Field's amendment will be an interesting time, coming as it does 4 days ahead of the elections.

The Telegraph notes that it is highly unusual for the backbench MPs of the governing party to defeat the Treasury over a key aspect of the Budget, especially something as important as income tax policy. it states "Frank Field’s proposed amendment to the Finance Bill either to reverse the 10p tax abolition or compensate the five million low-paid workers who will lose out promises to be one of those rare moments."

But while it is rare, there is a precedent for backbenchers forcing a major Budget change.
In 1977, Denis Healey’s Budget failed to uprate tax allowances in line with what was then rampant inflation. Supported by Nigel Lawson, the Tory finance spokesman, two Labour backbenchers, Jeff Rooker and Audrey Wise, forced through an amendment to the Finance Bill at 3am.

On the Today Programme on Radio 4 yesterday, Shadow Chancellor, George Osbourne, would neither confirm of deny whether the Tories would support the amendment.

So there is the real possibility of a Government defeat days before the local elections...will this help or hinder my chances?

Monday, 21 April 2008


Before going out canvassing, I attend the planning committee meeting as an observer.

They are discussing the outline planning application for the William Hurst Almshouses on Culverland Road.

This is a very difficult one to call.

The plans allow for the replacing the existing 12 units (which are in serious need of renovation) with 24 new purpose-built flats which would be much more suitable as homes.

Weighed against this are the existing art-deco style semi-detached buildings. They are not listed and are not in a conservation area, but are thought to have both architectural and historical merit.

The trustees inform the committee that they have found out that 2 of the 3 blocks are in fact copies - the originals being destroyed by German bombers during World War 2. This didn't come as any great surprise to me - there is a sign to that effect on the middle clock.

The councillors seem to set a great deal of store on the fact that 2 of the 3 blocks are facsimiles and the officers recommendation of refusal is rejected. A new proposal of accepting the application is passed 6 votes to nil, with 3 abstentions.

I hope that the architects working for the Exeter Municipal Charities take stock of some of the comments made at the meeting and when they submit their plans for the full planning application, their layout will be one that in the future will become as architecturally and historically significant as the buildings they are replacing.

DCC visit Hoopern Street

I understand that Hoopern street has had a visit by a man from Devon County Council to look at the state of the road surface - prompted largely, I'm led to believe, by the noises I've made.

It was pointed out to him that the road maintenance carried out followed his instructions (via the white paint markings placed around SOME of the potholes). He conceded that more needed to be done and made some assurances that he had instructed the workers to do any more patches needed that were exposed by car removal. He also confirmed that he thought the whole street needed surfacing.

He had no answer to the situation with the double yellow lines.

So things are moving, and I will update via the blog on any progress.

Oh and this is a damn fine photo I took of myself in Hoopern Street.

Bury Meadow Park gates

Passing the entrance to Bury Meadow Park on the corner of Elm Grove Road and Linden Vale after the Bellowhead gig last night, I noticed that the gates were unlocked. In fact, one of them was open and seemed at a very jaunty angle. On checking, it seemed to swing closed properly.

Informed Parks Department about this - they tell me that the gates have offset hinges, which is why they look odd.

Exeter City Council have a policy of open access to the parks, not least to prevent entrapment. So that's why the smaller gates were open. The larger ones are locked to prevent access by vehicles.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


End the layoff from campaign work with a visit to the Exeter Phoenix as a paying punter.

However, at least 2 of my electorate are working the Bellowhead gig and try my best to avoid talking about the forthcoming election. Succeed with them - but one of Rachel's colleagues tells me that she has just received the glossy Exeter Labour Party newsletter that we are having distributed by the "Exeter Times".

Bellowhead kick up a storm and have a wonderful time dancing around to the tunes. Superb musicians (all 11 of them) and fantastic arrangements (must look for that "Oxford Book of Disco Sea Shanties that Jon Boden mentioned). Most sublime moment of all - Benji Kirkpatrick's use of a wah-wah pedal on his bouzouki during "Unclothed Nocturnal Manuscript Crisis".

Flytipping in St James

There has been a huge furore as a response to the mess created prior to the weekend's bulky waste collection in Exwick.

As well as being mentioned in the local press, it appears to have made national headlines in places such as The Daily Mail.

If such incidents continue, the City Council have threaten to withdraw the service.

This prompted a letter to the "Express and Echo" by Sarah Harvey who states:
"Regarding the story Householders turn city estate into rubbish tip, Echo, April 15, I think there should be bulky waste collections more often and if it was easier to take our own rubbish to the tip or recycling centre, it would stop all the fly- tipping, etc. As it is, the problem of dumping is only going to get worse."

I responded with the following (unpublished) comments:
"I couldn't agree more with Ruth Brooks' call for more collections of bulky waste ("BULKY WASTE SHOULD BE COLLECTED OFTEN" E&E 18 April 2008).

As the Labour candidate for the St James Ward, I am proud of the Exeter Labour Party manifesto promise to "review the bulk-waste collection scheme, with the aim of a possible increase in the annual number of collections and their locations."

With this commitment in place, I hope that the experience of recent weeks in Exwick, and the fly-tipping along the railway banks adjoining Blackall Road in the St James area (as depicted in the accompanying photographs), will be things of the past."

Fortunately the rubbish on the tracks in the picture right is only on a siding rather than the through line to Exmouth. But it could only be a matter time...

Kinder Scout

As a walker of the wilds of Dartmoor, I am deeply indebted to the actions of Benny Rothman of the Lancashire branch of the socialist British Workers Sports Federation and around 500 others who turned up on Kinder Scout (then owned by the Duke of Devonshire and used to hold grouse) for the famous Mass Trespass on 24 April 1932.

Five unfortunates were jailed for between 2 and 6 months for their actions. Anger galvanised ramblers into further protests that would eventually change the law and lead to the creation of the Peak District National Park in 1951. (The Dartmoor National Park was also established in the same year.)

Present on that day was Ewan MacColl and it lead him to compose The Manchester Rambler whose chorus goes:
I'm a rambler, I'm a rambler from Manchester way,
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way,
I may be a wage slave on Monday,
But I am a free man on Sunday.
I remember fondly singing tramping across Dartmoor on scouting expeditions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Indeed it was one of the first folk songs I re-discovered (along with The Spinners singing MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" on late night - approx 10.30 - TV!) after being putting off all things "folk" by "country dancing" at primary school.

It was around the time of the Mass Trespass that MI5 began keeping a watch on Ewan's activities. According to files released to the National Archives, MI5 began inquiring closely into his activities, gathering reports of his stage shows and asking police in Manchester to regularly report back.

One report returned to the spymasters in London remarked that while MacColl had "exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser", he was very clearly "a communist with very extreme views" who needed "special attention".

Anyway, all this is deviation away from the main thrust of the blog. Today's "Observer" carries the article "Ramblers ruin right-to-roam's landmark site".

The article suggests that it is ironic that the iconic birthplace of the rambling revolution in the battle for the 'right to roam' is falling victim to the ramblers themselves. There is such horrific erosion on Kinder Scout that conservationists are now fighting a desperate battle to save the paths on the peak.

The National Trust, which now owns the land, is launching an nationwide appeal to raise £1M to stop Kinder from simpling crumbling away. The government's environment advisory body, Natural England, has pledged £500,000 and the balance must be found by the Trust.

To halt the erosion, the area will be:
  • resprayed with lime and fertiliser to reduce the acidity and give heather a chance to grow
  • artificial water channels built by sheep farmers will be blocked up to prevent water washing away further peat
  • cotton grass will be plug-planted to root the peat and keep it in place
  • heather and grass seed will be sprayed over the area from a helicopter

The new Rose

The latest edition of the Rose

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Wind farms

On the journey between Carmarthen and Cardigan today, my student chauffer Matt takes the scenic route "over the top".

As we reach the brow of one hill, we are greeted by the sight of 3 wind turbines.

I know there are concerns with their siting in rural areas but I am constantly moved when I discover them unexpectly like this. A much better view than pylons...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

I have just received the minutes of the last PACT from PC Paul Willis. As he has told us to feel free to forward this e-mail to any person who would be interesyed in this process who you think is not on his mailing list, I have no hesitation in publishing the details here.

Paul Willis introduced members of the panel and himself and PCSO Giles. He also thanked those attending and thanked Sarah Giles for dealing with ward business in his absence.

Drug dealing and related anti social behaviour centred around the phone kiosk in Powderham Crescent.

Removal of the phone box - The volume of drug related activity centred around the phone box warranted the use of Crack House Closure legislation. This plus the obvious strength of feeling from the residents was enough to convince BT to arrange for removal of the phone box. Exeter City Council shared the cost with BT and the phone box has now been removed. The area has seen an 86% reduction in reported incidents, none since the beginning of January.
Increase of Hi Visibility patrols – the area has been the focus of increased foot patrols by St James’ Neighbourhood Policing Team as well as PCSOs and officers from the city centre area. In addition to this police response units had been tasked with doing drive-throughs wherever possible.

Gating off alleyways – Plans are in place to gate off service alleyways behind houses fronting onto Powderham Crescent. These are regularly used by drug dealers and their customers to deal and take drugs. Exeter City Council have made a financial contribution.

Plain clothes officers – Uniformed police have been working alongside specialist officers to target addresses associated with drug dealing.

Ongoing monitoring of the situation – emphasis was put on the importance of remaining vigilant and reporting incidents. It was stressed that patrols would continue and that a reduction in incidents didn’t mean that Powderham Crescent would be left to fend for themselves.

Section 30 Dispersal Zone has been applied for. This will be a valuable tool in dispersing groups causing or contributing to anti social behaviour.

Comments from the floor
- Drug dealing had been going on for a long time in Powderham Crescent.
- The last meeting had raised awareness of the behaviour and appearance of drug dealers enabling a resident from another area to react appropriately and ring 999 when seeing similar activity in the Prison Lane area.
- The situation was considerably improved, thanks to police intervention.
- Were the Police able to anticipate where the drugs activity from Powderham would be displaced to?
- The issue of police response times to similar incidents elsewhere was brought up. Frustration with response times to calls was evident from some in the Longbrook Street area in particular.

Late Night Student Noise, Anti Social Behaviour and Criminal Damage
Consultation with University and Others – emphasis was made on a joint partnership approach involving University security, Community Patrollers, Police, Residents associations, Councillors and the students themselves. It was stressed that the university are taking the problems very seriously and will be appointing a Community Relations Officer as a single point of contact for residents.

Public Interest Weighting – status has been applied for and granted. This means that a simple fixed penalty will no longer have to be the way of dealing with some offences in the area, and a more serious court appearance can be used instead.

Targeted patrols – the police are aware that many of the problems with student behaviour (whether transient or static) occur mainly between midnight and 4am. Patrols are planned focusing on areas experiencing problems at the times of year and night when they are at there worst.

Comments from the floor
- Damage to cars is ongoing.
- The university’s less tolerant attitude had been noticed and a restorative justice approach seen in Powderham Crescent was very much appreciated by residents.
- Problems with reporting incidents and response times.
- PC Dalziel introduced the SHUSH campaign and a street based Meet and Greet for new students which would involve the residents as well as the university.
- Will the university take responsibility for the behaviour of students living in the new purpose-built accommodation blocks going up in the area?
- The issue of a list of accredited landlords and letting agencies and agreed standards of accommodation was raised.
- Can the reporting process be simplified?
- Parking problems in student areas.

Anti Social Behaviour (Including Racist) in Well Street, York Road and Longbrook Street
Targeted patrols – making use of city centre colleagues to provide additional patrols in the area.

Working alongside Licensing and Community Safety Team to tackle the problem of on-street drinkers and their behaviour. Where possible using older legislation enabling the police to identify heavy drinkers making it an offence for them to buy alcohol or to sell alcohol to them.

Joint approach – with the school, and businesses such as the Launderette and Seasons as well as residents in the area. Encouraging them to contact the police and reiterating the importance of doing so. This has meant a 29% reduction in incidents since the last meeting.

Section 30 Dispersal Zone – a new dispersal zone has been applied for that will cover an area bordered by York Road, Pennsylvania Road, Old Tiverton Road (as far as the junction with Prospect Park) and Powderham Crescent.

Comments from the floor
- Several comments were received that made it clear that some of the issues from drunken behaviour in the street were caused by the same predominantly student group as they made their way back home after a night out.
- Parking issues around the school at drop-off and pick-up times were commented on.
- Use of the small park on York Road for drug dealing was brought up.

It was decided that because of the progress that had been made with the drug dealing issues around the Powderham Crescent phone kiosk it could now come off the list of priorities as established at the previous PACT meeting. Residents were invited to put forward suggestions for a new third priority. Suggestions were as follows:

- Drug dealing and drink related ASB in Bury Meadow. Residents in the area commented on a noticeable increase in the frequency of incidents and the numbers of those involved. Signs making it clear that it was a designated No Alcohol zone were suggested. It was also felt that the many entrance points to the park contributed to the feeling of safety apparently felt by the dealers. The park’s role in a drugs circuit was also raised.

- Late night noise in Velwell Road, Bury Meadow, New North Road and Howell Road. Many of the residents in the area felt strongly that the Imperial generated many of the problems due to the sheer numbers of customers. Examples of parking problems caused by an overflow from the Imperial’s own car parks as well as drunken behaviour, using the street and gardens as a public toilet etc.

- Dangerous cycling along the Hoopern Valley cycle path. It was felt that the lane demarcation contributed to problems with cyclists often going too fast for a shared path. The need for clearer signage was raised.

- Litter and rubbish from student houses in Hoopern Street and its junction with Howell Road. It was pointed out that this issue can be added to the existing priority of student related issues.

- Pollarded trees in Blackall Road facilitating fly tipping. What could the police do about one of the more prolific offenders?

- Dangerous driving around St Sidwell’s school. The 20 mph zone will come into effect in the next few weeks and its effectiveness will be monitored.

- Parking issues around the school.

- Parking issues in Hoopern Street. Residents were concerned that there might be problems with access for emergency vehicles.

Residents were asked to vote on the above with Bury Meadow gaining almost unanimous support. Therefore the new list of priorities are as follows:

- Student related ASB, noise and criminal damage.

- Anti social behaviour in Well St, York Rd, Longbrook St. It was decided that Powderham Crescent would be included in this route.

- Bury meadow drugs dealing, drinking and associated anti social behaviour.

Next Meeting –
St Sidwell’s School, Wednesday 16th July 2008, 5.30pm for 6pm start

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Stop the Drop

Travelling by train to South West Wales, the paper's are full of articles about the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)'s "Stop the Drop" campaign to stamp out litter and fly-tipping. An example can be found in today's "Western Monrning News" but most of the national broadsheets carried similar articles.

Spearheaded by new CPRE President, Bill Bryson, Stop the Drop aims to solve litter and fly-tipping problems blighting our countryside, cities, towns and villages. Bryson is urging "good citizens", local authorities and landowners to join his personal crusade as the amount of litter dropped in the UK is now five times greater than it was in the 1960s.

Among the many interesting ideas is one that really stands out. The CPRE is to lobby the Government to introduce a nationwide deposit system for drinks containers, whereby households would be given money back for recycling their plastic and glass bottles. To this, I would add drinks cans.

At home, I recycle all these items anyway. However, there is a problem when I'm away from the house - I general throw them away (into a bin, that is). If there were recycling receptacles among the street furniture of towns, I would use them. The problem is that they are often "contaminated" with the wrong type of recyclable material. The deposit scheme would ensure that they ended up in the right place - and you would be "paid" to recycle!

The next problem is who would co-ordinate this scheme...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Success in the Antarctic

Just about the only telly we currently watch in this household is the BBC News at 10.

So I was pleased to see the report that approx 500 whales have been saved by the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Greenpeace.

Many thanks to the many activists aboard the Steve Irvin and Esperanza.