Friday, October 27, 2006

Carbon Monoxide threat - reminder

It is that time of the year again when the clocks go back and once again I feel obliged to warn people about taking preventative measures to make sure you dont get poisoned by carbon monoxide poisoning when you start heating your home again.

Most people believe that carbon monoxide poisoning is only caused by faulty gas fires or boilers, and indeed they are often at fault. But any kind of fossil fuel that burns can cause this terrible poison if it does not have a clear and open passage to the open air. Now that people are firing up their boilers, turning on their gas fires and lighting the first open fire of winter, they need to be absolutely sure that they have followed all the safety guidelines.

You must have your chimney swept at least once a year before you light up that fire. If you live in a smokeless zone and the fuel you are burning does not give off smoke, you will have no idea what danger you might be in.Unfortunately carbon monoxide cannot be seen, tasted or smelt, it is a totally invisible deadly gas. The symptoms are not dissimilar to flu; however vital clues may lie in a sense of disorientation and dizziness as well as sickness. If you or someone close to you is becoming sick and confused then it is probably a very good idea to turn off the fire, open the windows, leave the house and have a GP check you out.

Sadly of course many people cuddle up on the sofa with a blanket when they feel ill. You couldn't do a worse thing with carbon monoxide. Be safe this winter, dont light the fire or turn on the boiler until you have had an annual check.

I have a monitor at home, it is plugged into the mains and does a check of the air quality every so many seconds. Having lost my fiance to this poisonous gas in 1999 I could not rest without this reassurance, get one, they are not expensive and they might just save your life.

A week in the life of a councillor....

It's been a really busy week and I thought it would be useful for local residents as well as for people interested in being a councillor, to see what sorts of things I have been getting up to.

On Monday, after work, I went to my Heritage Scrutiny Panel meeting, where I am the only Labour member. We are currently looking at the programme of events for next year when Liverpool will celebrate its 800th birthday. In particular this week we looked at the creation of a new musuem dedicated to slavery (past and present) and how we would celebrate the 200th anniversary next year of the abolition of slavery. We also looked at plans for another new musuem, which is about Liverpool's 800 years of history.

I had to get my skates on to be at the GEARS residents association meeting for 6pm. Wendy Simon came with me, she is going to be the Labour candidate in next May's election in the ward and has already started campaigning and picking up casework for local people. Residents talked about a special event to unveil the new mosaic heritage bench in Birchfield Park in early December. There was also good news from the youth branch of the residents association - EAGERS, who have secured funding for a whole host of days out for young people in the area.

At 7.45pm Wendy and I went to meet the local Sergeant and talk to him about some particular hotspots for Anti Social Behaviour and he promised to put some special efforts into those areas. I dont want to say too much about that at the moment in case it scuppers the plans.

On Tuesday I spent the morning at the Planning Committee, it was my first time attending as an objector and I got up on behalf of local residents and made a short speech objecting to plans to turn 1-3 Beech Street into a B&B. It is an attractive grade II listed building that used to be a care home. It has now closed and the owners want to attract what they call "tradespeople" to work there. I pointed out that in my experience workmen travel about in vans, and there were 30 bedrooms envisaged for this place, but only 8 car parking spaces. We cannot have large amounts of vans parking up and down Beech Street, right next to our new flagship neighbourhood centre.

I spent the afternoon at a special Health and Adult Care select committee where we were fighting to save an old people's home from closure. Venmore care home has had £2.8million spent on it in the last 8 years, it is a lovely facility where the residents are very happy and the staff care well for them. The council want to close it down because essentially there are better things they would like to do with the site and because the money they would save would plug a gap in their domicillary care budget (looking after people staying in their own homes). Several people spoke who will be affected by any closure, including one old chap who was crying as he explained how happy he was living there and how devastated he would be to leave. I seconded an amendment to reconsider the closure consultation plans, but the LibDems voted en masse to press on.

On Wednesday I went to the Neighbourhood Services Task Group which is part of the accountable process for the management of the Kensington New Deal for Communities. It is multi-agency with lots of residents representatives and we talked about various issues around the area. I find it a very good forum for examining local priorities - cleaning up certain streets for instance. We are going to have a Christmas Party on 20th December where we dont have to talk about rat baiting for once, I am really looking forward to it already.

This was followed by a Labour Party branch meeting where we selected our local government candidates for the last three remaining wards in Liverpool Wavertree. I think we have done well, all our candidates are strong and credible and will give the LibDems a run for their money even if some fights will be more challenging than others.

Yesterday I had the night off from my council work (although I had spent a couple of hours in the morning doing casework at home while I was waiting for the man to come from Telewest and install my new phone, cable TV and broadband....)

Today I will use my special leave to visit the National Children's Home Regional Director for the North West to talk about what they do for children in Liverpool. Then I have my weekly surgery at 5.30pm, followed by our Constituency Labour Party meeting at 7.30 where we are going to talk about building strong communities as our contribution to the national policy debate and then at about 9.30pm Wendy and I are popping along to an Irish Night to help raise funds for Fairfield Area Residents Association and their bid to create a community garden at St Sebastians.

I am hoping to spend the weekend doing things for myself...!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Top Tory blogger Iain Dale's top 100 Labour bloggers

A bit of a strange concept really - a Tory having a list of top 100 Labour bloggers, but there you go, he has got one.

If you click on the title of this piece it will take you to his site where you can download the PDF with the full list and have a look at lots of other Labour blogs, do come back though!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Needham Triangle anti-social behaviour problems

I am really worried about the kids up to mischief in Needham Triangle in Kensington

On Saturday several climbed on to the very top of the roof ridge of a house on Needham Road, hugging the chimney stack and waving to their pals down below. One little boy slipped and fell right down the roof, only being saved from going over the edge by one of his pals who managed to grab him.

They have been throwing stones to break windows of empty houses for sale on Chiswell Street, clambering into backyards of boarded up houses on nearby Adderley and setting fires and running along the tops of alley walls.

Obviously it is making local people angry but it is also frightening to think about how close they are to hurting themselves in these dangerous games.

One practical solution that has been suggested to me is that we could consider installing some special rollers which fit onto the tops of the alley walls and so prevent you climbing on to them. I suppose they were designed as a further step to combat burglaries, always assuming they had already managed to get over the alleygate. But there is no reason why they could not be used to stop children from going where they shouldn't.

I put it to Council officers at a meeting yesterday, they seemed interested in the idea, it is a question of money as with everything else but they promised to look into it.

Watch this space.

Cracking down on prostitution in Kensington and Fairfield

I have just found this entry on the Mersey Police website showing some of the hard work we are doing together, as part of Operation Rose, to stop prostitution in Kensington and in Fairfield.
I am quoted at the end of the article praising the police for tackling the priorities of local people.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Amazing Mrs Pritchard

This is a wonderful programme that I can definitely recommend.

There are some miserable sods out there who have criticised it for being too far-fetched, that is something we can debate because I can see how it might happen, given the public's penchant for falling in and out of love with celebrities.

However, far-fetched or not, it is funny, interesting, clever, full of women politicians which is a very refreshing change and I love it.

I particularly love the presence of "real" newsreaders, journalists and presenters so that Mrs Pritchard appears on Newsnight or the Today programme for instance, being interviewed by Kirsty and John.

It is great fun.

If you have not seen it, can I please recommend it to you, if you dont know what it is about, let me quickly summarise.

Roz Pritchard, a supermarket manager decides, at the last minute, to stand as an Independent candidate in her local constituency in the General Election, following her witnessing fisticuffs between the white middle-aged male candidates from Labour and Conservative parties. She wants to stand as a candidate who will always tell the truth and be trustworthy and offer something new and fresh to people who have stopped engaging with politics.

Within 24 hours other like-minded women have asked to stand with her, in their own constituencies, and the supermarket owner offers her £10million for a national campaign because she is so impressed with Roz.

By the time of the election itself, the huge media interest in Roz has helped create a situation where a female candidate is standing in more or less every constituency in the country, under the banner of the Purple Alliance (purple being a blend of red and blue). Several key Labour and Tory MPs and candidates have also defected to her.

And on polling day there is a huge turnout amongst the disaffected and Roz is elected as the Prime Minister.

Subsequent episodes have described her progress and some of the challenges she has had to face.

And now she wants to move Parliament to Bradford, to be closer to the people.

Imagine, a common sense party full of good strong women who want to put people first, to tell the truth and do their best.....I would vote for that myself, I might even join them!

Do have a look at their website - click on the title of the link, you can vote on the Bradford question this week.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Labour Party conference in Manchester

Conference in Manchester was really great.

Definitely the best venue of the four I have been to - the others being Blackpool, Brighton and Bournemouth. There are several reasons for that; It is all on the flat, aside from a few steps up to the GMEX building, this makes a considerable difference when you are on your feet all day every day for a week! It is architecturally very pleasing within the secure area, attractive hotels (the Radisson and the Midland), the GMEX building itself, the skyline - I had a view from my hotel bedroom of the town hall clock. There is lots of space within the GMEX so that we could have the exhibition space within the conference venue itself, which is particularly helpful and should make it much easier to persuade potential exhibitors to rent some space.

I wont go into lots of detail about the NEC meetings and what went on, Ann Black gives a pretty good account to anyone who wants to know chapter and verse so it is silly for me to repeat it all here.

So I will give you the gossip and the low-down instead.

I spent quite a bit of time having to organise a prayer room for our Muslim delegates, it being Ramadan and there being a tight timetable of prayers. We had agreed to provide one but the Ts had not been crossed, nor the Is dotted, so it was not ready. The GMEX staff were incredibly helpful in finding somewhere and the delegates who had approached me for help were pleased with the facility. The only slight problem was that the room contained paintings of the Queen and Prince Phillip which had to come down off the wall because you cannot have images of people in a prayer room, but I thought they would have put anybody off their stroke in any case. I thought all that kind of thing, Windsor worship, went out with the ark but obviously not.

I spent quite a lot of time on International issues this conference, I was personally invited to meet the High Commissioner of Pakistan who was a fabulously dressed woman who spoke very well when she addressed the meeting. Someone said later that in Europe she is considered to be the best High Commissioner there is, from any country. I was extremely impressed. She talked about the relief efforts following the earthquake and also about the close relationship between our two countries, it was fascinating. Someone took a photo of us together, but I have not seen it yet.

Along with a few other NEC members I also met outside of the conference with a group of men from Kashmir, from different political backgrounds, who are trying to secure independence for their country. Labour has long since promised to help but they felt that it was all taking too long. I suggested that they consider setting up a Labour Friends of Kashmir group, which I would join, where we could push for this. I know that the Bradford MPs have been particularly supportive of this issue for a long time and there is a large APPG in Westminster too. There were dozens of photos taken on this occasion too but I dont have copies of them either!

I also went to the Labour Friends of Israel reception where my MP, Jane Kennedy is the chair. Tony Blair addressed the meeting and pledged to spend the remainder of his term in office striving towards a two state solution, for Palestine and Israel. It was rather moving and somewhat emotional really, I think it was the same day as the Leader's speech and we knew it would be the last time he would be there, at conference and at the reception. I think lots of people came into to hear him speak one last time who were not themselves interested particularly in Israel. Love him or hate him, there is always something stirring about endings.

I spent quite a lot of time with my Liverpool comrades, in particular one of our young agents, Daniel Hughes who I tried to introduce to lots of campaigners so that they could share ideas. I got Judy Richard's name wrong (from the SouthWest) when I introduced her, I dredged up Susan from somewhere, but I dont know if she noticed, apologies if you did and you are reading this! I was also thrilled to see Sheffield Councillors, Gill and Harry again and we spent some happy hours together in various events. I always love seeing Suzanne and we managed to get a few hours together here and there as I did with my old friend Gina and her team on the CFL stand.

Conference is as much about the Labour family meeting together en masse as it is about policy making, it is the place where you feel warm and inspired and where you just know you are in the right party.

I chaired two sessions which was wonderful.

The first session was Trade and Industry (it was probably called something else but that was the general idea), where I started off a bit nervous but soon settled in to my comfy leather swivel chair and got used to the idea that my face was being displayed behind me on a screen fifteen feet wide! There is something rather fun about sitting up there on the platform and being in charge, choosing speakers, taking votes. I dont think there is much power involved but you do quite fancy yourself while you are sitting there. I tried to call up to speak a balanced section of people, concentrating on making sure I had the gender balance right, that black contributors were chosen, that young people were chosen. Ironically it was the white middle aged men who missed out a bit, for a change.

The second session on the Thursday morning was Crime and Justice and I introduced John Reid, the Home Secretary to conference. I also took 9 votes, including a card vote and was cheered for announcing that a controversial vote on corporate liability was carried.

The best part about chairing though came afterwards when people stopped me in the bar to thank me for calling them to speak or commented on my dry manner or calmness in adversity.

I shall miss all that high profile stuff now that I am not on the NEC any more, but it was great fun while it lasted. (I know you are not supposed to admit to that sort of thing, but who cares.) I was delighted that my colleagues gave me the honour of chairing conference as their parting gift (they also gave me a nice certificate which Tony presented to me, there were photos taken of that too, but as with all the others, I dont have any!)

I closed my final session by thanking conference for their support, and saying that I was going back to Liverpool to help the fight to take the city back for Labour. There were big cheers for that as you can imagine.

And I meant it, look out LibDems, we are coming after you, our people deserve better.


This is probably one for my mate Tim Swift

How do I sort my blog out so that only the first paragraph/number of words is shown and people have to click on the thread to read more?

Otherwise, I go off on a long tangent about a subject and it uses up loads of my front page.

How do I get round that?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A belated postcard from Jersey

Colin and I had a wonderful holiday in Jersey at the end of August.

I was telling my friend Claire all about it last night and she asked me whether I had mentioned it in my blog, and of course I hadn't so I shall do so now.

What you need to know is that Jersey's tourist figures are in free-fall. A few years ago a million and a half visitors were recorded, last year only half a million and this year, as late as the end of August, the Parliament was refusing to say how few people had visited in 2006.

The newspapers were full of woe and wailing and questions about why people have stopped going.

If they only paid me a modest commission I could sort it all out for them in a flash.

Jersey is a wonderful place and if no-one goes it is because no-one knows anything about it

Have you been to Cornwall? Well Jersey is similar, only smaller and much less busy of course now that no-one goes any more.

It has beautiful coast lines, possibly the best beaches I have ever stepped foot on, lovely little fishing villages, lots of interesting tourist attractions, friendly people, the same currency as us(albeit with different pictures on the notes), the same shops (although with some extra designer stores thrown in), they drive on the same side of the road, everyone speaks English and you can be there in less than an hour from most English airports (which makes it a lot nearer than Cornwall too in travelling time.)

It is abroad without being disconcerting, the street names are in both English and French so there is a sense of being overseas, as of course you will be, but also England abroad for those occasions when that is exactly what you want.

It is fabulous for those who like walking or cycling, it is family friendly and most places are easily accessible to those with physical disabilities.

What else is in Jersey's favour?

There are great buses if you want a day pass or a week's pass - we spent our first full day on the Island having a full tour so that we could identify where we might want to spend longer in the week to follow. It gave us a great itinerary.

For example we spent time in a wonderful church where the widow of Jesse Boot (founder of Boots the Chemist) had paid Lalique (the world famous French glass designer) to recreate the altar, font and side chapels in glass as a memorial to her husband.

For a short while Colin sat on a bench outside the police station in St Aubyn where apparently Bergerac, that famous Jersey policeman, operated from. (He has since bought me a video of the series where I can become very excited while recognising the background....)

Our most moving and emotional day came at the caves of the German Invasion. Thousands of prisoners of war from across Europe spent years building tunnels under the island to house various facilities the Nazis thought they might want if the islands were to be recaptured by the British. The occupation had terrible effects on the local population, to begin with the Germans thought they had the best billet in Europe, by the end they were eating seagulls to stay alive. It is very important story we all need to hear.

For at least 25 years I have ensured that my birthday is celebrated by a boat trip and this year was no exception. I have long wanted to visit Sark because I knew that there were no cars allowed and no planes could fly overhead or land. What manner of island was this?

I can tell you that on the day we visited it was first and foremost a feudal state, I doubt if there are any others now left. There was a Lord of the Manor and about 40 tenants, everyone else was a serf or a villein, in the pay of and the living of the Lord. There are three main modes of transport on Sark, bicycle, horse and trap or tractor, and that is it.

I read today in the newspaper that the island inhabitats have, by a small margin, now voted to become a democracy.

I have spent time wondering about why people dont go to Jersey, I have also surveyed my friends and neighbours about why that is, and the conclusion I have come to is this; too many people do not know what Jersey is, why you should go there or why you would want to. According to my mother it became, in the 1960s, a destination for honeymooners. And then they stopped advertising. So the only people who go there now are people who are on their 40th wedding anniversaries.

When I told people where we were going on holiday, they did not know it, or know anyone who went there, "Why are you going there?" they asked.

So I have to say that poor advertising, particularly on British TV, would appear to be the main problem.

So if I can end where I left off, Jersey is a fabulous holiday destination. It is true that most visitors seemed to be pensioners and occasionally with their grandchildren but the people in the service industries were young. There is no reason why anyone should not consider Jersey for their holidays, I am certainly convinced and at 41 I am not yet past it!