Friday, May 26, 2006

LibDem in big trouble - did you catch this story?

Chris Davies MEP has always been a controversial figure in LibDem politics - but he has over-reached himself this time!

The leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament has had to quit after remarks made to a Jewish constituent. The North West MEP Chris Davies emailed a Jewish constituent referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saying: "I hope you enjoying wallowing in your own filth.''

More info in the attached link to the BBC - tell your friends!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My first full council

Tonight was my first full council, it was mainly about the election of a new Lord Mayor, with lots of kind words being said about the outgoing Labour mayor (who was particularly exercised with having to say nice things about Liverpool FC twice during his mayoralty as he is an Evertonian) and nice things being said about the incoming LibDem mayor. She pointed out that last year's mayor was supported by his daughter whereas she is being supported by her son. I thought that was rather nice really.

Nick Small, the Labour Councillor for Central ward who I will be sitting next to this year, rather alarmed me when he whispered to me that this could be me in twenty years time...

Then the rest of the meeting was mainly about who was going on which committees.

I was disappointed when the LibDems refused to change the political balance on Kensington Regeneration Board who distribute the Labour Government's New Deal for Kensington monies - some sixty million pounds or so. The New Deal area covers three wards (none in full, all in part) and there are nine councillors involved, five LibDems and four Labour. We suggested that the split on the board should be 1 of them and 1 of us (me) but they voted it down. So I shall be preparing a press release and a leaflet very soon.

They also voted to keep me off the Eastern Link board, a body which I am still getting to grips with so cannot say more about that at the moment.

But the top and bottom of it is that they have decided that it does not matter that local people voted Labour on May 4th, they just want to carry on as though nothing happened.

Either that or they are too frightened to have me there in case I say something they dont like.

You decide

There was lots of barracking going on once we had finished with the mayor stuff, which is okay if you can hear ten different people at once and tell the difference between all of their comments and shouts, otherwise it is just a blokey thing that I dont quite get. Some serious points were missed in the noise too.

Answers on a postcard please......

It was great though to sit in a group with so many women, I am so pleased that the three new Labour councillors are all women, as were the next two that were less than 25 votes from being elected (that in itself is horrible but to do so well is great)

I am really looking forward to getting my maiden speech out of the way so I can start jumping up and making a contribution on a regular basis, nobody who knows me would ever think I was capable of sitting quiet through what I understand tend to be four hour meetings

Watch this space


I have had a good week so far, and it is only Wednesday

(Warning, lots of name dropping follows)

On Monday I went to London for work and took advantage of the visit to go to a political reception in number 10

It was for Labour Party NEC members, NPF members, a few party staff, a few number 10 staff and a few cabinet members.

I had a bit of a chat with Cherie about Liverpool, my election and the high esteem in which we both hold Jane Kennedy, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree. She was quick to point out that Jane had resigned rather than being sacked, because they think so much of her but I was equally quick to point out that she only resigned because of the appalling appointment of David Henshaw to the Chairmanship of the North West Regional Health body (I cannot remember its precise title.)

I had a nice chat too with Margaret Beckett where I told her in person what I have already said in here, that I thought her appointment to Foreign Secretary was great. We talked a bit about how she reacted to TBs suggestion (with an expletive apparently) and how exciting it is to be the first woman in one of the three top jobs (aside from PM itself Thatcher never held any of the three big jobs). She is hoping to continue her work on climate change from her new office, good luck to her!

I also enjoyed seeing Ruth Turner again and we had a good old gossip, she is now working in number 10 having previously been a founder of Big Issue in the North and a (northern) member of the NEC.

I went for a lovely meal afterwards with Mick Halloran who is now a special adviser (or SPAD as they like to be known apparently) in Prescott's office but was previously the Labour Party political assistant to the Sheffield Labour Group when I was the campaign manager there.

I stayed over night in a cheap and cheerful hotel/B&B in Victoria, the Dover on Bellgrave Road (I think that is the right name of the street.) Anyway it was only sixty five pounds and a five minute walk from Victoria station, I can definitely recommend it.

The next day was our full NEC meeting and we covered some interesting stuff

I took the opportunity of the presence of a new Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, to tell Tony Blair how strongly local members in Liverpool feel, and no doubt all over the rest of the country too about the appalling discipline problems in the PLP.

I talked about our failure to act in the first term of Government against MPs continually voting against us, how when we did not deselect them, or even subject them to an open reselection it gave the green card for them to do what they like. And now here in Merseyside we have one particular MP for instance who writes in national newspapers to criticise us, on a very regular basis, not Tribune or the Guardian as you might expect but the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. I spoke about how angry it makes local campaigners to fight campaigns on the streets and then go home to find that their local MP is all over the papers criticising our party. I also mentioned the fact that they dont go to the PLP meetings any more but meet instead with the Tories and the LibDems to plot our downfall, how one Merseyside MP voted against the Government on a matter of conscience that was so important to him - the ward boundaries in London. I asked that we tackle this now because it is causing so much unrest and dissatisfaction.

It will be difficult and I dont know the best way to tackle it, perhaps the NEC itself can do something, I will certainly go on pushing and I know I have your support on this.

In the meantime I suggest you do as I have done and write directly to any Labour MP that you feel is betraying us, and tell them how you feel.

This is not about them standing up to be counted as good socialists, it is self-aggrandisement, sour grapes and loving the sound of their own voices.

I know that the best thing for the people of this country is a Labour government not a Tory one, sadly some of our parliamentarians dont quite seem to see this!

In other news, if you are a techie for Labour like me, you will be interested to know that we are redeveloping our software so that it all talks to each other (Labour contact etc) and helps us do so much more. I wont say more in here about this, no point in alerting the opposition, but contact me if you want me to put you forward as a trial user - I am going to be one I hope.

A draft paper is going out to party members for consultation on the way forward for political party funding, I did suggest as a by product that we do more to encourage people to leave a few bob to the Party in their wills. I said I was leaving ten grand to the party (Ann Black suggested I should watch my back on those days when the overdraft is threatening) and that dead people cannot be accused of leaving money to the party for political advantage. JP laughed and said he didnt know so much - and perhaps he has a point.

I do hope you will join in with this important discussion when it reaches your CLP.

We had a great discussion on the local elections and the NEC was kind enough to congratulate Liverpool Labour Party on its grand results.

I want to say something about my first full council which took place tonight but this post is already too long so I will close here and start a new one

Friday, May 19, 2006

Frustration setting in....

Warning, severe rant follows!!

It is two weeks since I was elected and I am getting increasingly more frustrated with the failure of the bureaucracy to get its act together for me.

Two weeks and no official computer connecting me to the internal council intranet.

That would not have been a problem if they had sent me a disc so that I could have at least set up a dialler on my laptop here at home.

It would not have been a problem either if they had not insisted on putting my new Liverpool council email on to their website, despite my insisting that they did not, without ensuring I could actually access it, which I still cannot.

So I cannot read my emails which are bouncing back to residents who consequently think I am rubbish without realising that it is the system at fault.

Equally importantly I cannot email officers with casework, even though there is loads of it, because although I asked for it ten days ago, I still do not have a list of council officers who look after my area, neither phone numbers or email addresses.

I can call the central switchboard to report things and they are very helpful, thank the Lord someone is, but they cannot bring people to the phone outside of normal working hours any more than I can. And when you are contacted by Mrs Hargreaves at 6pm on a Friday you dont want to have to wait until Monday, when you are in work to be able to call in her problem.

We had a short meeting with the support services manager over a week ago and I know he wants to help, but he has not sent me any contact lists either and he did say that he knew everything to know about Councillors work within the town hall (which is great) but nothing about their work at an individual constituent level.

I think my job once this is resolved will be to spend several hours with him, helping him to understand the demands of residents, the times of day they mostly call (and on which days) and our needs as new councillors to have immediate access to casework support, long before we have to worry about how select committees work etc. It is nearly a month before most new Councillors have to go to a select committee, most of us have been gainfully tackling case work for at least six months before election day and want a special "in" to make it easier once elected.

Is that too much to ask?

Friday, May 12, 2006

My first week as a Councillor

I have not been idle, honest, since you last heard from me.

I have been quite busy although in a rather unsatisfactory way really, lots of questions, insufficient answers!

On the first day after the election, having gone to bed at 4am, I got up again at 9am to a constantly ringing phone. That was great, lots of hugs and congratulations, some from me and some to me. I was thrilled with the results in Manchester where my mates Suzanne Richards, Sue and Paul Murphy were all hard at work and did great things to deliver some more Labour victories against a backdrop of national publicity about how well the Tories might do (they didn't).

I went for lunch with my mate and her husband to celebrate and then got in the car about 2pm to go off to the municipal buildings to get sworn in.

Only when I got in the car and tried to set off, I remembered (and heard) the flat tyre I had limped home with the night before.

So I got the bus to town instead.

I went to the Chief Executive's office to get sworn in, expecting a bit of a ceremony, a bit of a fuss, maybe a photo, but there was nothing. Just "Hello, come in, sign this book, go away".

I was very disappointed and have since suggested that brand new councillors should have something a bit more ceremonious in future.

I then went to the Labour Group office - that is the rooms dedicated to Labour councillors in the council and met the support staff. Laura took me off to get my photo taken for my pass. I was delighted when the man who took the photo answered my question "Should I smile or look serious?" by saying "You are Labour aren't you, so smile!".

I then went off to the Labour Party office to talk about a thank you leaflet and a direct mail to those who had voted. For those who think it is all over after the election, think again!

On Saturday I went to visit all the local residents who supported me on their leaflets, lots more hugs all round.
By Monday I was doing loads of casework. On Tuesday I did a home visit regarding an order to stop up an old right of way and on Thursday was in the Magistrates' Court objecting.

I also went to see a couple of possible locations for advice surgeries. I have decided to hold my surgery once a week on a Friday tea-time, in two alternating locations, and hold extra ones now and then elsewhere in the ward too, as well as doing mobile surgeries covering much smaller areas.

All heady stuff

And I still dont have an email address or any stationery, nor any IT system to connect to. Nor a list of people to contact. I will have to find my own way.

We had a training event in the Chief Executive's office yesterday and I did feel compelled to say that training was a great idea but sessions at the end of June were way too late for my residents who want me on their cases now in the middle of May!!

It is already apparent that officers have no idea of the aspirations of residents who have been waiting weeks, months and even years for a Labour councillor to get elected so they can start pressing for things. (Presumably the same would be true of a new councillor of a different flavour, except that we did not have any this year, hurrah)

Even our Group is not without blame, I have been in the job a week now and the mentor they promised has not materialised, I reckon I need a mentor for about the first six weeks and not much after that. Nobody seems to get this, Doreen, Anna and I, the new councillors, are agreed on these frustrations.

But generally it has been great

The local Inspector has already been on wanting to meet me, local community groups want to show me round, everyone is very upbeat, and none more than me

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The reshuffle

I suppose I should say something about the reshuffle but want to focus on the positives, particularly as a woman.

We have a new female Foreign Secretary for the first ever time, I think Margaret Beckett will bring back the ethical dimension we might have felt we were missing. I am pleased that the new Chair of the Party is a woman too. Hazel Blears has always worked very closely with the Labour Party, she piloted policy forums in Salford and has always had a strong voice in the party reform debate. She is a great choice, although I thought Ian McCartney was doing a good job, so will be sorry to lose him. Jacqui Smith's elevation to Chief Whip brings another woman into the cabinet too.

I was also pleased that some of the cleverest MPs from more recent intakes have now been made Ministers. Ed, David and Douglas are going to be great, bringing in fresh ideas for our third term.

On the downside, I was extremely disappointed that my own MP, Jane Kennedy is no longer a Minister, I have tremendous respect for her and I think Blair has made a very grave mistake in not offering her a position she could accept. More fool him!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Those bloody boxes

You wont know a thing about boxes

They are some kind of a throwback to an earlier age

They probably nearly pre-date elections and they are a menace

If it is up to me they will be abolished before the next elections next year

I am making my stand!

In Liverpool it is the norm for any candidates with a chance of winning to commandeer empty photocopying paper boxes from around the committee rooms (or campaign centres if you are a newer member) and decorate them with Labour logos and a picture or two of the local candidate.

They then put them outside polling stations, with a slot in the top, viz a viz the ballot box, in the hope that voters will put their polling cards in the appropriate box as they leave the station.

Doesn't that seem sweet and quaint.

When I was told that as a candidate I had to waste time making these things up so that we were not letting the side down on polling day I was horrified. I said I was not spending valuable campaign time on such a silly project but was eventually strong-armed to follow the norm.

So we made them up and incidentally nearly came to blows about who could have "that" empty box and what was a fair share of boxes and whose election was more important....a distraction in itself

We all got up unnecessarily early to put them out on the steps of the polling stations for 7am (in Liverpool this year as part of a project we were open from 7am until 10pm, which is ridiculous but another topic altogether).

During the day as we popped back to the 9 polling stations in the ward I was fighting, we had to look into the box and collect the cards. As a rule the boxes were empty, I was told to expect that the opposition would steal the polling cards from our box (and indeed we may have stolen theirs I am informed) or perhaps they decided to put a few of theirs in ours..

What a farce

I lacklustrely (is that a real word?) went round a couple of times during the day but given that it took an hour a time I didnt think it was an hour well spent, even in a tightly built up area.

I got nothing much from the boxes and by the end of the day, 2 had been knicked.

I sense that the Liverpool "Boxes" were designed as a way of taking numbers to aid the Reading system, but doing this without committing activists.

Unfortunately it does not work (and in any case we don't run the Reading system any more in the city).

Voters have been known to leave a polling station without voting because their candidate did not have a box and so they were not sure how to progress. Apparently on the odd occasion real ballot papers have been found in candidates' boxes too.

If I had lost by one vote and had subsequently found a couple of ballot papers in my "box" I would have been furious.

The other big problem is that in our city, the LibDems now recreate voting cards, in an identical size and weight, which explains that in order to vote you have to put your card in their "orange box."

I met at least three voters yesterday who had somehow taken this to mean that round here you had to vote LibDem, there was no choice, this was democracy. "We dont like Councillor X but we have to vote for him anyway because we have to put our cards in his box".

I know you have lost the plot long since, as indeed have I.

But the long and the short of it is that I will be visiting our elections office very soon to explain why boxes have already had their time

That's Councillor Baldock to you !

Here are the results of the Kensington and Fairfield ward elections on Liverpool City Council on May 4th 2006

Candidate Party Votes %
Councillor Louise Baldock Labour Party 1127 45%
James Kendrick Liberal Democrat Party 955 38%
Elizabeth Susan Pascoe Liberal Party 180 7%
Paula Ann Rice Green Party 152 6%
Francis Dunne Conservative Party 88 4%

Number Total votes 2502
Ballot Papers Issued 2510
Number of ballot papers rejected 8
Number of postal votes sent 622, returns 352
Electorate 10355
Turnout 24%

I took all that from the Liverpool City Council website

You will see that they have changed my description to incorporate the word "Councillor".

How proud am I? How thrilled am I? How humbled am I to have been trusted enough to be elected in the place of a LibDem with 19 years service, what an amazing result.

I know it will be very hard to truly bring the pride back into Kensington and Fairfield but I am ready.

My agent was amazed by the sheer numbers of ordinary voters who were willing to feature on our leaflets as supporters, there must have been well over a dozen who were not party members, not known to the party before, not political, but real local people who wanted a councillor who wanted what they wanted.

I think they deserve at least half the credit for the result.

It felt like a carnival day yesterday, people were going to vote with a smile on their face, keen to shake my hand and hug me when I knocked on their doors to make sure they were going (generally they had already been)

The support from local Labour Party members in the constituency was wonderful, we were small in number but incredibly dedicated. Frank, Dave and Dave alone have probably delivered 50,000 leaflets and direct mail in the last five months, Wendy, Claire, Janet, Bora, Sharif, Sara and Tim stood shoulder to shoulder with me on the doorsteps, while Peter showed flashes of genius as my leaflet designer. In the last week our Labour leader Joe brought his whole family to work on my campaign and our MP Jane has put in hours and hours, in her free time, she is a wonderful representative for the Labour Party, never too proud to deliver leaflets or knock on doors, make the tea, be part of the team.

They are the rocks on which our Labour Party has been built and with a team like that, who could lose?

(I know it all sounds a bit cheesy, but I really do mean every word)

The photo is of Councillor Doreen Knight and me on the steps of the Municipal Buildings as we went to be sworn in. She and I along with Councillor Anna Rothery gained our seats from the LibDems, three more women on the Labour group!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Funny campaign stories for my book

As some of you will know, I am currently compiling funny campaign stories for a book I am putting together in support of the homeless charity, Shelter.

Please do email me with any of your funny stories, do it quickly now while you remember them.

As a starter, here is one I received today from Sheffield

"We had a classic story today. It was in response to a letter sent by Steve Wilson to Labour promises. We got back to a message on the answer machine. It went something like this. "Hello my name is Jane Smith. I live on XXXX road and I received a letter from you today. Obviously it was the one asking me to vote Labour. I'm a mother with three young children and live on the top floor of a maisonette. It can be a real struggle with the prams and everything. Well on the bottom of your letter it said if you need a lift ring me and I'll arrange one. So I'm ringing. We could really do lifts in these flats and it would be great if you could get me one. My number is....... "

I reckon she has a great sense of humour, calling in with that message, because the alternative, frankly, is too much to contemplate!

Monday, May 01, 2006

A prize for hard work

I reckon if they gave prizes (or seats) to those who worked the hardest, the Labour Party would win every election by a mile.

I have met party members from all over the region this week and every single one is practically on their knees. It is only adrenalin and an urgent desire to make things better for their communities that is keeping us all going.

We are all waking up at 5 o'clock in the morning thinking "I must remember to ring up about Mrs Jones' boiler and there are letters to write about the library hours and I need to have my photo taken with the Friends of the Park and did that leaflet go out in Park Road yesterday and I must ask Janet to help John with his youth club issue and did I feed the kids and who is walking the dog on polling day and has that dumped rubbish finally been removed and is Mrs White happy with her new gate and have I done enough? Did I lick enough envelopes?"

The litany just goes on and on

Thank heavens for lists and plans

Thankfully we all keep each other going, little bits of stories are carried back into the committee rooms. Little anecdotes that make us laugh or raise our eyebrows, every small success is celebrated, every rumour examined for truth even while we are telling ourselves not to be moved from our agenda and our plans.

People I have met only lately, who I have helped in some way are now telling me that they have told all their friends to vote for me. I rush back to the office full of positive feelings only to be told not to get my hopes up too high, we are all too nervous of being complacent. Nobody dares hope for success despite all the pointers, in case we dont quite pull it off in our ward.

Frank came back today and told me that someone told him that I looked like Bessie Braddock. She was so huge in Liverpool (in every way) that I intially took it as a very positive sign, until Jane said she looked like Grandma in the Giles cartoons so I was back in the doldrums again - I might be big but I am not that old

We had a dozen out delivering leaflets today when they ran into the opposition candidate on the Beatles estate. They were kind to him as they passed him but I expect his spirits sunk low when he saw them.

I have been on his side of the fence and know how it feels, to see hordes of "them" out doing something while "you" are on your own.

But then later the tables turn and I expect someone to come in tomorrow to say they were the only Labour activist in a sea of yellow somewhere else.

We feed each other with cake and tea and rumours and stories all day and somehow the adrenalin keeps pumping and we keep at it and we truly believe that win or lose, we really could not have licked any more envelopes, we have done as much as anyone could and now only the voters can decide.

If you see a Labour candidate out there, give them a cheery wave, it will be the source of endless speculation in the committee rooms for at least the afternoon and we will all believe for half an hour that we really could win after all!