Thursday, 30 October 2008

It's Thursday so it must be Popbitch

I am deliberately not saying anything about the Russ and Ross debacle, as I think there's nothing worse than MPs jumping on any passing bandwagon for the sake of garnering some cheap publicity. Speaking of which....

"Replace Jonathan Ross's show with Fawlty Towers as a mark of respect for the actor Andrew Sachs" - Tory MP Philip Davies.

Also from this week: Why White Supremacists Support Obama.

Terrorist attacks in Somaliland and Puntland

I have sent a message of condolence to local Somalis regarding the dreadful terrorist attacks in Hargeisa and Puntland yesterday, and spoken to a number of colleagues, with influence, about what the UK can do to help. Somaliland Overseas UK has issued this appeal:

"It is clear that the devastation caused by the terrorist in Somaliland yesterday is unimaginable. Hargeisa Central Hospital is the only main Hospital dealing with this major incident. As the Government did not make any emergency contingency to deal with the major terrorist attack our country, this incident overwhelmed the medical resources available in the health system. This morning the chief executive of Hargeisa hospital made an appeal for emergency medicines. He told the BBC this morning that they are running out of medicines, as the number of injured have increased since yesterday. The International Red Cross may deliver some medical equipment today, but nothing has reached Hargeisa yet. Therefore we are appealing to Somaliland diaspora organisations, Friends of Somaliland and Somaliland organisations for urgent medical help to help those who survived this terrorist attack on our country."

Although on the scale of some other terrorist atrocities this may seem small, Somaliland is a very poor, under-resourced country, and far more peaceful than Somalia to the south. I visited Hargeisa a year ago - you can see some pictures on my main website which I think would help you visualise what an impact these attacks will have had.

More on X factor

Tenuous link between previous blogs coming up. At topical Treasury questions today we had a classic example of 'here's one I prepared earlier'.

Karen Buck, taking a break from wanting to be mean to George Osborne (see previous post) asked the Chancellor if he would be prepared to consider waiving the VAT on the 'Heroes' record being released by the X Factor finalists.

The Chancellor had, by pure chance, just been pondering that very point and announced to cheers that yes, he would. (Or rather, still collecting the VAT but paying an equivalent amount into the same charitable fund as that's how these things work).

I seem to remember there was rather a big row about VAT when Band Aid released their single, but can't remember how it was resolved.

So who do you think Alistair would vote for? (I seem to remember Gordon saying something nice about those two Scottish brothers last year, or was it the year before? The ones who couldn't sing anything, except that Proclaimers song.) In the spirit of investigative journalism I will endeavour to find out.

Treasury questions

Went into the Chamber for Treasury Qs this morning. The Speaker was doing his best to protect George Osborne from being given a complete mauling, which resulted in three Labour MPs being ticked off. There is now a new addition to the lexicon of 'unparliamentary' language. No more mention of the words 'Bullingdon Club'!

The first of the MPs to be reprimanded, who brought up the subject of George's revelations on the Andrew Marr show, was asked whether she had warned him in advance that she would be raising this. The distinction is between playing the ball or the man. We can criticise policies or pronouncements, but if we intend to get personal, we're meant to tell the subject of the criticism that we're going to be naming him or her. Another Labour MP, Karen Buck, then asked the Speaker if he would be prepared to accept a note signed by everyone on the Labour benches, as it was likely we'd all be having a go at the Shadow Chancellor! (Not quite sure how this plays at PMQs - does Cameron tell Gordon every week in advance that he might just be having a pop at him?)

I hate to admit this, but I'm actually starting to feel rather sorry for poor George, now that the cockiness and swagger has gone. (Cameron, on the other hand, has that Etonian sense of entitlement which I can't see ever evaporating.) Judging from newspaper accounts George seems to have been mercilessly bullied by his (aptly named) Bullingdon mates, and he looked rather like a wounded little schoolboy as he sat there on the front bench wishing it was all over. And it was noticeable that the Tory whips hadn't done much to line up their troops behind him.

Or am I just being a bit soft? Maybe Pretty Little Head were right after all!

BEP goes big on buses

Further proof, if it was needed, that nothing gets Bristolians talking quite as much as buses...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Climate Change Bill goes through - but it was close!

We were kept late last night for two very important votes on the Climate Change Bill.

The result of the first: 476 - 5.

The result of the second: 463 - 3.

Next week Philip Davies, Ann Widdecombe and pals will be moving another amendment: "That this House believes that the earth is flat and requires the Government to take urgent action to stop people falling off the edge."

Caption competition

Come in number seven, your time is up?

Meanwhile, today's Express diary column reports that Paul Weller is to starting playing Eton Rifles live again, saying: ‘I’m playing Eton Rifles again to make a point. How could [Cameron] not understand what it was about? We could have had a great socialist leader for our country who has been inspired by that song but instead we get David Cameron’.

The road humps are growing!

Entertaining conversation with my colleague from Islington, Emily Thornberry, while we were waiting for PMQs to start. (Incidentally if you want to spot the MP who are absolutely obsessed with 'getting their numbers up' on theyworkforyou, look for the English MPs who put down Qs at Scottish and Welsh Qs. And while we're on the subject, I think we have a winner as to who has the most people tracking him with 489 - more than Gordon and Cameron combined. But they won't be getting many email alerts).

Anyway, back to Emily, who has made the 'shocking' discovery that some of the road humps in her constituency are above the legal height limit. They should be no more than 10cm high, and some are 15-17cm high. I have visions of her lying prostrate in the streets of Barnsbury, ruler in hand.

The (Lib Dem) council has responded by saying that the humps were originally the correct height but 'they've grown'. And that they're on the side of pedestrians and cyclists, who want safer streets, and not the side of the "Jeremy Clarksons and Emily Thornberrys" of this world who presumably want everyone to race round the streets of Islington at 140mph in Ferraris. Without their seatbelts on.

So... that would be the Emily Thornberry who chairs the All-Party Cycling Group and cycles to Westminster every day, would it? Still, never let the facts, etc, etc.

Monday, 27 October 2008

I've been blogging elsewhere...

I've been blogging for, on global food security.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Clocks are big

I have just realised the clocks have gone back.

Casualty - Facebook group

Keep Casualty in Bristol now has 1,071 members. Keep on signing up!

Furby factor

I've sort of got X Factor on in the background while I'm looking at emails and blogging. What is going on with that young lad's hair?

Red and blue (and orange)

I'm finally approaching the point where, when I see US election coverage on TV, I don't get alarmed when I see more blue than red on the map showing who's in line to win which state. (Donkeys and elephants still get me confused though.) I assumed there was some historical reason for the lefter of the two parties being blue, perhaps dating back to the Civil War, but no, it looks as if it was all down to the television companies, and quite a recent thing too.

On a tenuously related point, who was it who convinced the Liberal Party to choose orange (and then yellow)? It's not a good look, especially not those yellow jackets the women seem to favour at Lib Dem conferences.

My aversion to orange might stem from the fact that when I was growing up my mother decided that the best way to deal with having six daughters was to colour code them. Pink for number one (the cute blonde one); blue for number three; green for number four; purple for number five; and red for number six. Being the ginger one - or 'light auburn' as she used to diplomatically put it - I ended up being orange: orange toothbrush, orange clothes, orange wallpaper in my bedroom. (Very helpful as obviously without the colour-coding I would have had no idea at all where to sleep each night). She refuses to acknowledge even now that this was tantamount to child abuse.

Open letter to Tom Harris

Dear Tom,

It's World Vegan Day on 1st November. And we know where you live.*


*Actually, I don't.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tory (T)roubles

Meanwhile, Recess Monkey throws some light on why Cameron really wanted to stop the Russians shopping in Selfridges...

This week's Popbitch

From Popbitch. Obama, ribs, fried chicken and watermelon.

They also have a feature where readers vote on the best named people of the month. Number 1 this month is a policeman in Weymouth, Dorset... Rick O'Shea.

One of my best mates is also called Rick O'Shea. Used to be in the army. Corporal Rick O'Shea... (I am not making this up). He once accidentally set fire to his shirt with lighter fuel at Labour conference, lost his security pass when he took off his shirt to douse the flames, and got evicted from the secure zone. This was at 3am, and when we finally tracked him down we found bemused security guards radio-ing each other saying, 'he claims his name is Rick O'Shea...'

A student writes...

Someone's just sent me this. And no, it wasn't Mr Smith, but I'm waiting for an update from him as to how his debate with Mr Williams at the uni went tonight. I gather the climate change debate last night was very well attended, with several hundred people there.

The Bus

Some time ago I did a debate on civil liberties, which I blogged about on here. I was up against Dominic Grieve, who called me Stalinist, and a young Tory who claimed the fact he had to pay the congestion charge when he drove his own Routemaster through London (without picking up passengers) was a gross infringement of his civil liberties. Didn't know anything else about him at the time, but have now come across this. Almost enough to make you want him to win the seat, just to show them, isn't it?

Speaking in Parliament

Was quite a quiet week this week, although I still didn't get away from London till nearly 9pm tonight - emails, emails and more emails.

Last week I spoke loads - one oral Qs, one speech, several interventions in Westminster Hall and one in Bill committee, and a question in the climate change statement. This week I didn't speak at all - just the way things work out sometimes.

On Monday I missed DWP questions because we have a DFID ministerial team meeting at 3pm, so I have to leave at 2.30pm, when questions start, to walk to the DFID offices. Had a question on the order paper on Tuesday, Women's and Equalities questions, but was number 8 and they didn't get to me. Stayed in the Chamber for the Immigration debate, but there were loads of interventions and no real hook for me to say my piece. Older members don't bother about that; they just stand up and say what they want to say when they want to say it, regardless of whether it's got any relevance to what has just been said. But I always feel that I have to have some tenuous connection with whatever I'm interrupting.

On Wednesday it was Welsh Qs, and PMQs, so no opportunity there. You can bob up and down during PMQs, but depends on the draw and there were already quite a few Labour MPs on the order paper; the Speaker only calls extra Labour members if there are two Tories/ Lib Dems in a row. And today I was out on the Rainbow Warrior and then in the office. Did table quite a few written questions though.

Next week I'm supporting amendments to the Local Transport Bill (Monday) and the Climate Change Bill (Tuesday) but that won't necessarily mean speaking, and I'm Question 16 at Home Office questions on Monday (virtually no chance they'll get that far). So might speak, might not.

Some MPs of course have become expert at turning up at debates, making an intervention as soon as possible, then clearing off. Or they appear at the tail end of a debate when the Chamber is virtually empty and do an intervention then, without worrying whether they're making a point that has already been made twenty times in the last three or four hours. That way they 'get their numbers up' - has a lot to answer for! - but don't have to stay around for the whole thing.

I've been keeping a close eye on a particular Tory MP who seems to pop up at a completely random selection of Westminster Hall debates as well as every ministerial statement; he's either got an extraordinarily broad range of political interests, or he's aiming for 'well above average' by the shortest route possible.

Speaking of, I have 144 people tracking when I speak at the moment. I came across someone the other day who had 4. To be fair, he was in the House of Lords. In idle moments I wonder who has the most people tracking them, and whether anyone has none at all. I'm not quite sad enough to trawl through the whole lot to find out... (almost, but not quite). Surely there's an anorak out there who's done it already? Or is now sufficiently intrigued by the idea to start?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The reshuffle isn't over yet

One of the consequences of Labour having been in Government for rather a long time is that the backbenches become ever more populated with former Ministers. Some of them adapt to life on the backbenches pretty well, like John McFall as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, or Tony Lloyd as Chair of the PLP, or John Battle and his work with the APPG on Poverty. And some don't.

What this also means, as new blood is promoted to the Whips Office or, as in the latest reshuffle, appointed Regional Ministers' Deputies, is that the pool of backbenchers who are willing to serve as a PPS or on a Select Committee or on a Standing (Bill) Committee dwindles. Frank Dobson or David Blunkett or Alan Milburn (or name your former Cabinet Minister of choice) are never going to be unpaid bag-carriers, although junior Ministers sometimes carve out a decent niche for themselves on Select Committees once they lose their red boxes.

Other MPs can make far better use of their particular expertise on a Select Committee or Bill Committees rather than running round after a Minister. My Bristol colleagues, Doug Naysmith and Roger Berry, for example, devote a huge amount of time to, respectively, the Health Select Committee and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, (fitting for a former research scientist) and as Chair of the Quadrapartite Committee on Arms Export Controls and a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, (or whatever it's called now).

They've changed the rules so that a PPS can also serve on a Select Committee, but most people are too busy to combine the two and so the Whips are struggling to fill the places. I've had offers, trying to lure me away from DFID... but I'm staying put!

And there's now an added peril to being seen in the Chamber or the tea room. Whips are constantly lurking, looking for innocent newbies to fill spaces on Standing or Delegated Legislation committees. (I was accidentally quite clever the other day in agreeing to go on the Bank and Building Societies Dormant Accounts Bill Committee, which lasted three sessions; that meant I wasn't available to be roped in to serve on the Banking Bill Committee, which will probably still be going this time next year.)

Question Time (2)

Another great quote, this time from Alex Salmond: "If you don't want to be accused of soliciting donations, don't take your chief fundraiser with you!" Very true.

And the second lesson for George Osborne? Don't mess with Peter Mandelson. Very true also.

I've only met Peter Mandelson once, in the late 1990s. He was quite charming actually.

Question Time

Nice moment on Question Time just now.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi:
"I think Lord Hattersley must be living in a parallel universe to me"

Roy Hattersley:
"I hope so!"

Rainbow Warrior

I was on quite a different kind of boat this morning, courtesy of Greenpeace, and not a Russian billionaire in sight. Very interesting seminar on clean energy and trip in a speedboat down the Thames (which was completely gratuitous - but great fun.) Was given a tour of the boat by a Canadian guy who has been working on their boats for 20 years but has only just come back onto the Rainbow Warrior; he said last time he'd been on it was in 1995, when he was hauled off and arrested by the French authorities. Also had a very interesting chat with Greenpeace people about taking their campaign forward; how it shouldn't just be about what they're against (they're off to Kingsnorth next) but about "the Ask" as we politicos say. If they had ten minutes in a room with Ed Miliband, no point in wasting it identifying the problem, or in arguing the toss on things like Kingsnorth, nuclear, airport expansion (which doesn't mean to say there's no point in debating those - just that Ed has already heard it). What key, incremental steps do they want him to take? We've got the targets, we've got the pledges - so what next? Some interesting ideas were tossed around, which I might return to... but I have two hours before I have to set sail for Bristol and have promised to clear the desk and deal with all my emails before I go. (Which is going to take a lot longer than that!)

Stranger on the shore

Not sure this is quite as damaging as the Russian billionaire story, but doesn't surprise me at all!

Casualty campaign grows

There's now a Keep Casulty (sic) in Bristol Facebook group, which has 590 members so far. And a petition (which I have accidentally just signed twice. Technology always defeats me....)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Casualty update

Just got an email from Tony Robinson, drawing my attention to this piece in the Guardian. In fact, of the three stories on the Guardian site about the meeting in parliament, two out of three were triggered by questions from me. This is the other one.

I should be on commission. (But I'll expect a name check next time!)

Be my head

Gordon also got asked today for assurances that he would not be engaging the services of Pretty Little Head to find out what makes women tick. (Of course he's got rather more women in his parliamentary party to ask than Cameron has).

My researcher and I are thinking of setting up a rival firm, 'Talking to Totty'. Our first target client would be Nicholas Soames, who walked past one of my Labour colleagues a while ago and remarked to his male companion, "Fine filly, that!"

"Talking to Totty: Find Out What Fillies Really Think!" What do you reckon?

Dosvidanya Yuri?

Good turnout at PMQs today, and most of us made a special point of being there just to watch George squirm. Definitely another win for Gordon, and very kind of Cameron to hand him an open goal by talking about 'dodgy accounting'.

Nick Robinson this morning said that 'although the donation [from the Russian billionaire] wld not have been illegal it wld have been politically unwise'... Well, it depends how you interpret the law, which is yet to be tested in the courts.

Yes, if donations come from UK companies and are approved by shareholders in accordance with the requirements of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000, then they're legal. But there are also provisions in the Act which make it an offence to act with the specific aim of getting round the Act. This would cover a situation, say, where an overseas donor gave money to someone in the UK so that they could pass it on to a political party, which would be solely to get round the ban on foreign donations. (A ban which, you may recall, was introduced because Greek shipping magnates - like John Latsis - and others were funding the Tories to the tune of many millions). So if passing it on through an individual is wrong, I don't see that passing it through a UK company is any different. I suppose you could argue that it would be the company's money, rather than his own money, but if the conversation about a donation started with him, then it's a bit of a grey area to say the least.

Obviously there wasn't a donation anyway, so it's something of a moot point. But if he did have a conversation about a donation, as alleged, it certainly betrays a lack of judgment. And running round behind your best mate's back to plant a story about Mandelson also meeting the same guy, is the act of a schoolboy sneak, not that of a statesman. Not to mention totally hypocritical!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The view from the afternoon

Off to do a radio interview now about prostitution (I think it's for a podcast thing that gets syndicated out to commercial radio stations - not sure), and then into the Chamber to ask the question about prostitution which inspired the journo's interest. It's Q8 though, and it's only a 15 minute slot, so doubt if they'll get to me. Then staying in the Chamber for some of the Opposition day debate on Immigration, then meeting Ed Miliband to talk about climate change, then the launch of the All-Party Group on Food and Agriculture for Development. And after that I get a chance to do some real work, ploughing through emails in the office.

It takes two

Tony Robinson used a great analogy when he spoke at the PSB meeting, about the BBC's relationship with the other public sector broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5).
He said there are two kinds of partnership. The first is like Ant and Dec, where you get on great with each other and support each other, but one just happens to be bigger than the other. The other is more like the partnership between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai... His suggestion was that the BBC often preferred the latter model of working.

Casualty (2)

Went along to a joint meeting of the Performers Alliance and NUJ parliamentary groups this morning, where the speakers included Stewart Purvis from Ofcom, Tony Robinson, and Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC. Was actually very interesting and I know rather a lot more about public service broadcasting then I did yesterday.

Jumped in first when questions began and raised with the DG some of the things I brought up in the Chamber on Friday, including moving Casualty from Bristol to Cardiff (with vigorous support from my good mate, Tony Robinson, who was also a speaker and thinks it's a ridiculous idea too).

Although the DG said a decision hasn't been made yet, he seems set on the idea of having a 'drama village' in Cardiff, where Casualty would be filmed along with Dr Who, Torchwood, etc. He says it doesn't mean there will be less BBC production in Bristol, which will become a hub of 'factual programmes'. Some reps from Equity came up to me afterwards, and said they're backing the campaign too, not because of the impact on the show's stars, who will go with the show, but on its extras/ bit part actors who tend to be local and rely on Casualty for a steady supply of work. Although programmes like Teachers, Skins and Mistresses have also been filmed in Bristol, by independent companies who have then on-sold them to the BBC, they usually only film six or so weeks worth at a time - not enough to keep actors in work.

They also agree that losing Casualty could be the thin end of the wedge, as people with media skills or the ambition to work in media drift away to Cardiff instead. OK, we'd still have the Natural History Unit, but jobs there were cut by a third in 2007, even though it's seen as the jewel in the BBC's crown.

Final bit of lobbying for the day was done by accident, at the AGM of the All-Party Group on Somaliland, when the Chair, Alun Michael MP, happened to mention Dr Who was filmed in his constituency. Hands off 'Casualty', I told him. How can you go from scenes of Clifton Suspension Bridge to scenes of Cardiff docks without expecting anyone to notice the difference? Actually we could do with a suspension bridge, he said.

New poll on website - should Casualty be kept in Bristol?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Chestnut mare

I have been too busy this past week to pay much attention to the more frivolous daily newspapers, but thankfully someone has brought this story to my attention.

I see the owner made sure he got a picture first before trying to rescue the poor thing...

Our bulldog got his head stuck in the catflap once. Sadly no picture exists.

Late night shopping

Having previously used this blog to praise my good comrade Andrew Gwynne's skiing prowess, I'd been threatening all last week to reveal his recent financial embarrassment at the late-night Tesco's, when I came to his aid and lent him 97p for his milk and crumpets. The threat was obviously enough to convince Andrew it was better he broke the story himself, and he's now put it on his new blog.

He also quotes what he insists is an ancient Chinese proverb, but sounds more like the sort of thing his mum would have said to him when he was a lad: 'Speak only well of people and you need never whisper’. (I was about to attempt to render that in a Northern dialect, so it sounded more like his mum - or his mam as he probably calls her - but didn't think I could quite pull it off).

The modern version of this of course is 'Speak only well of people and you need never blog under a pseudonym'.

Certain people I know

Just got back from an informal meeting with John Denham to talk about the work of his Department (Innovation, Universities and Skills) and then dinner with David Miliband and a few others. Must have covered virtually the entire Foreign Office remit - and that of his previous department - while we were there. Talked to him about Somalia/ Somaliland, the need for a proper entry clearance post to deal with visa applications in the Punjab, Zimbabwe, the persecution of Christians in India, the US elections, climate change, whaling, fox-hunting... On which, he told us he'd been greeted by a crowd of protestors when he recently opened something in Durham. He'd braced himself for the onslaught and then realised they were actually pro-Government protestors, saying 'Don't let Cameron bring back hunting!' (Cameron has said it will be one of the first acts of a Tory government, to have a free vote on the issue, which says a lot about his priorities).

Stop climate chaos event - this Thursday

Have been asked to publicise this event by Oxfam.

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sunday morning

A front page story in the Observer say that "anti-abortion MPs last night abandoned their parliamentary fight for new restrictions". They now want an inquiry, rather than pushing things to the vote this week. As Nadine Dorries is quoted as saying, the issue is too important to become a 'political football' and deserves more lengthy reflection.

Strange then that she spent this morning at a church in her constituency, telling the congregation in rather lengthy detail about her fight to restrict abortion, including just what amendments (16 week time limit, and lots more) she would be voting for and against on Wednesday.

Happy Birthday

Big sister's birthday today, so had a bit of a family get-together. She's the cute blonde one, not the funny little ginger thing. And, yeah, yeah, I know - haven't changed a bit.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Team Gordon

Thanks to Popbitch for this reminder of Michael White's suggestion last year as to who Gordon should appoint to the business brief. Now we just have to hope he was right about Education too. (Sorry Ed!).

Ever get the feeling....

You're blogging and no-one's there? Is everyone else out enjoying themselves?

Time for some campaigning

An entertaining little clip sent to me by Kelvin Blake. I'll off to Miami for the last week of the campaign, with about ten others. Procrastinated for a long time before booking the flight, but then thought what the hell, this could be history in the making and I want to be there for it.

Some adverts

Have just received an email telling me about Bristol Green Store, a new shop opening in Bedminster, which seems worthy of a plug.

And tomorrow is the latest Love Food Festival at Paintworks. I met the event's founder at a recent Prince's Trust do, and she is so evangelical and enthusiastic about what she does; it's great.

My week - Friday

Friday: usually I'd be back in Bristol by Thursday night, but I stayed on in London for a couple of Private Members' Bills. I've only done this two or three times, and still haven't quite got my head round all the shenanigans that accompany it. The session started off with a late addition to the order paper, an amendment to the Planning and Energy Bill, which was interrupted almost immediately by Christopher Chope - whose PM's Bill on abolition of the TV licence fee was next on the agenda - calling 'that the House should sit in private'. So we had to traipse through the division lobby, and after a whole bunch of duty Ministers appeared out of nowhere, the result was 0-36.

As I understand it, this was an attempt by Mr Chope to ruin the first item of business by showing that the House wasn't quorate. But the quorum is 35, so he failed. If he'd succeeded, the Government's amendment would have fallen. And as you can only move one such vote on a Friday, they could move on to Mr Chope's Bill without anyone being able to call for a vote to see if that business was quorate.

So after that rigamorole we got back to the Planning and Energy Bill. It allows councils to set local targets for on-site renewable energy, on-site low carbon electricity and energy efficiency standards, and requires developers to source at least 10 per cent of any new building’s energy from renewable sources. So good stuff and this amendment was just a technical point, agreed by all sides. So why did it take an hour to get through it? And why did the Minister keep referring to his 'short speech' when he was going on and on (and to be frank, not saying a great deal)? Then I realised - it was typical Friday stuff, designed to 'talk out' later business.

Eventually we got on to talking about abolishing the television licence fee, which no-one except Mr Chope supported, and I eventually got to stand up and do my bit about Casualty and the BBC wasting money on moving into local news websites rather than doing things they do well, like natural history programmes. Unfortunately I had to follow Ed Vaizey, the Tory frontbencher, who made some reference to the fact that in every single debate about the BBC, someone ends up mentioning the Blue Planet.... that would be me. But seeing as the Natural History Unit is based in Bristol, I couldn't not do it.

Madame Deputy Speaker had been quite strict about previous speakers keeping to the subject - the licence fee - rather than allowing them to talk about public service broadcasting in general, so basically I got away with murder in talking about Casualty and spent most of my speech expecting to be told off at any moment, which somewhat cramps the style. Will have to write her a little thank you note. Never does any harm being nice to the Speakers.

The late start meant I had to disappear before they got on to the second PM Bill of the day, which was about umbilical cord blood donation, something which had been brought to my attention by a particular case in my constituency a year or so ago. Although not sure if they ever did, as by all accounts the DCMS Minister had come equipped with a long, long speech.

Rest of the day: having my hair cut (mostly spent taking phone calls from the media about what I'd said in the debate), train back to Bristol, picked up car without going into flat, drove to constituency office, radio interview on drivetime BCFM, signed some post, downstairs to the Labour club for our monthly General Committee meeting, back upstairs to the office to look at the rest of the post, emails, etc. Home at 11pm, finally got something to eat, and then for some stupid reason, given that I had to be up at 7am, stayed up till 2am reading other people's blogs and the newspapers...

So that was it. Next week is looking a little bit quieter - at the moment.

My week - Thursday

Thursday: 9am start for the Bill Committee, where we managed to polish off remaining clauses in about 40 minutes. Then DIUS questions, where as a supplementary to a question about the credibility of scientific research I asked about animal testing, i.e. OK, it's great that the UK is a pioneer in scientific research but let's not take our eye off the ball in terms of trying to find alternatives for animal tests wherever possible.

Then it was Ed M's statement on climate change, and another opportunity to bob up, this time to ask what the new Department would be doing to encourage people to lead more sustainable lifestyles. Have to say, was very impressed by Miliband/ Ed Junior. He's obviously got to grips with his new brief really quickly, but wasn't afraid to admit there were some things he hadn't got his head round yet.

As for the statement: the UK will be adopting an 80% target on emissions (and amending the Climate Change Bill to this effect); will come down hard on the energy companies if they don't sort out their pricing (and in particularly their over-charging of poorer people on pre-payment meters); and will support feed-in tariffs for small electricity generation. All good stuff. Obviously adopting an 80% target and meeting it aren't the same thing, but it will be binding.

In the afternoon I recorded a piece for the ITV's The West This Week politics programme, on prostitution. (Although they don't seem to have put it on their website yet, and this link is for last week's programme). Bit frustrating in that the panel included a sex worker, Angelina, who wasn't on the streets, wasn't on drugs and claimed to be very happy in her job, which she had been doing for eight years. So she was there to defend prostitution, but what she was talking about - though not quite Belle de Jour - was a million miles removed from the drug-addicted women who work the streets of east Bristol, or the victims of sex-trafficking (on which subject, excellent article in last week's Guardian magazine).

Briefly popped into a Score4Africa reception in the Lords, organised by the Foreign Policy Centre, and collared Kwame Kwei-Armah, former Casualty actor. Eventually got home at about 10pm, and stayed up till 1am doing research for the next day's speeches...

My week - Wednesday

Wednesday: Early start, with a 7am radio interview about Community at Heart, east Bristol's New Deal for Communities scheme. Interviewer threw me a bit of a googly in asking me what was my favourite fish and chip shop in Bristol. I don't do fish!

Even in pre-veggie days, apart from tinned salmon at my Aunt Shirley's after Sunday school and cod balls. I was the one who always had to have sausage when we had fish and chips by the seaside or when it was fish fingers for tea. My poor Mum ended up with two vegans, one occasionally veggie/ Rastafarian who wouldn't eat dried fruit (something to do with the Bible and not letting grapes wither on the vine) or mushrooms (because they're weird), another who would leave the room if she could smell curry, and another who have a tantrum if she was served 'vegetarian muck'. And the other one, who as far as I can recall, liked fry-ups. The other vegan also went through a phase of keeping a huge fungus thing in a bucket under the sink and drinking the vile-smelling juice. For 'health reasons'.

I digress, as ever, and it's still only 7am. Next stop was a breakfast meeting of the all-party group on Wholesale Financial Markets. I'm vice chair and always feel honour bound to attend as I'm the only Labour MP who does. Today's discussion was on Sovereign Wealth Funds (e.g. by China in Africa) and was actually very interesting.

9.30am, met with a representative of the Archbishop of Liverpool to discuss his six year campaign to raise attention to the problems of children whose parents end up in prison. I've been skirting round the edges of this issue for years, as a councillor and then as an MP, collecting material for a debate, and it's great to find that someone else has done so much groundwork. I was unsuccessful in getting a debate on this last time I tried, but will have another go.

Then brief spell in office, then PMQs with Harriet and Hague, then popped into an Usdaw launch of their 'Respect for Shopworkers' campaign, then an interview for Original FM about the Bill committee, then Bill Committee again for a few hours - I intervened on the Tories, I think, but can't remember for the life of me what it was about - then made the last hour of a Keep the Promise child poverty event, with Bev Hughes speaking. Always good to catch up with folks from CPAG, Save the Children, the Children's Society, and End Child Poverty, and came away with another list of things to do.

No votes today, but stayed in office till about 9pm, finally getting a chance to look at emails and post.

My week - Tuesday

Tuesday: Started with another session of the Banks and Building Societies Dormant Accounts Bill, which I'd agreed to do on condition I was allowed out at 12 to meet 45 pupils from a Polish school in Bristol. Then it turned out I wasn't. Then I was. Then I wasn't. Got to meet them eventually. They're all fairly recent arrivals in the UK, and attend regular local schools as well as their weekend Polish lessons.

Rushed off from that for another spell of PPS-ing in Westminster Hall, in a very well-attended debate on Sri Lanka. 15 MPs turned up, which for a 30 minute debate is pretty impressive (actually, pretty good going for any debate!), and so many Tamils that they had to create an overspill area for those who couldn't get into the Grand Committee Room.

Stayed on after that to make a few interventions in a slightly bizarre debate on Cosmetics Testing on Animals, called by Oliver Letwin. He basically said he'd chosen the title of the debate because a ban has already been agreed, so wasn't going to talk about that, and then launched into something of a philosophical treatise on where the ethical boundaries lie. When is human life or happiness important enough to warrant the suffering of animals? Are some animals more deserving of protection than others? To give a flavour... "Philosophers call it the sorites paradox. For example, when is a pile a pile? One stone probably does not amount to a pile, but 50 certainly do. However, where does one hit the pile? Is it at two, three or four? That is a feature of one of the most difficult issues that we face as human beings." Indeed.

All of this somewhat bewildered the DBERR Whip who'd been designated to reply on behalf of the Government. Cosmetics is DBERR's business, I assume because it's a commercial thing, bringing in a ban on the production and marketing of products tested on animals. But animal testing in general is a Home Office responsibility, as they issue the licences, and animal welfare is Defra's call. Sensibly she chose to stick to her script, and gave a good account of what the Government has done to ensure a ban on cosmetics testing. I hope household products are next.

Rest of the day taken up with a meeting of the APPG on Credit Unions to talk about our response to new legislation, then into the Chamber for the start of the Banking Bill Second Reading debate. I really wanted to stay to make some interventions on John Redwood, but he wasn't called till gone 8pm, which would have meant sitting through nearly 4 hours of it, including Vince Cable. Decided after an hour or so that I was better off in the office instead.

Interesting to watch the change in George Osbourne's demeanour. It would be wrong to say the cockiness has entirely gone - it's in his DNA I fear - but he's definitely rattled and not quite sure what he should be doing or saying. How can the Tories call for tougher regulation when they've spent the past decade criticising us for being over-fond of regulation and putting burdens on business? How can they argue for a greater role for the Government and regulators in telling banks and customers what they can/ can't lend and borrow, when they're so vocal in their opposition to the 'nanny state'? Which is why I could have had some fun with John Redwood. Banking Bill surprisingly finished early, so home before 10pm.

My week - Monday

Mad, just mad. Spoke seven times in Parliament, a deluge of emails and correspondence, lots of media, early starts every day and sleepless nights through simply not being able to switch off.

: Was lucky to get in twice at DCSF Qs, raising Ed's visit to Brunel Academy (does he think they're great, yes he does) and the Keep the Promise campaign rally. This meant gambling on being just a little bit late for the DFID team meeting with Douglas and our new Ministers, Ivan Lewis and Michael Foster. Then raced back from DFID (which is miles away) to PPS for an hour and a half in an FCO debate on human rights and democracy...

Things calmed down a little bit later and actually managed to take advantage of the one-line whip to head to Covent Garden for a curry, only to be interrupted as the food arrived by a text saying that the Home Sec would be making a statement at 8.30pm. Didn't have to go back, but obviously something exciting was going on, so jumped in a cab and got there in time for her to announce that 42 days was basically being shelved. (Literally, in that a separate draft bill will be placed in the library, for resurrection should circumstances require).

Judd Trump

I suppose I have to congratulate local boy Judd Trump on making it through to the snooker Grand Prix semi-finals. Well done. Just wish he hadn't beaten Ronnie in the process.


Going to be lots of blogs today, as having got up at 7am to do BBC Radio Bristol, I am not fit to do much other than crash on the sofa with my laptop. While I was waiting for the call from the radio station (wasn't quite mad enough to volunteer to go into the studio at that time of day) I ended up channel-hopping between qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix (Lewis, try not to blow it tomorrow, please...) and a fantastic BBC kids programme about a zoo, called Roar. Great as it was, I doubt if I'll be getting up at 7am next week to watch it, so if anyone can tell me whether Duds the tiger recovers from her peritonitis, please let me know!

The pic above is completely unrelated, but I had to get it in somewhere... cute and sad at the same time, in that you know it just can't last. For more pics, see here.


I sung the praises of the BBC's Natural History Unit in a Commons debate yesterday, and this confirms how justified such praise is. Fantastic pictures. The basic thrust of what I was saying is that the BBC should stick to what it's good at - and wildlife programmes are top of the list. Not quite sure how anyone confused a dugong with a mermaid though. I suppose it's dark down there. (See left - a dugong. Not a mermaid).
The 'Keep Casualty in Bristol' campaign has also picked up speed. I've always been wary of taking up populist (as opposed to popular) causes) but with Casualty I think there are two arguments. One is a tad sentimental I suppose: Casualty has been filmed in Bristol since 1986, and unlike say Eastenders where they never seem to venture out of Albert Square, a lot of it is filmed on location. Holby is Bristol. Moving it to Cardiff and expecting to people not to notice the difference is just plain silly.

Have just been talking to MP-in-waiting Paul Smith, who was Chair of the Council's Leisure committee when the spin-off, Holby City, started. (Stephen Williams was his Lib opposite number!) He was called by a journalist who wanted to know whether he was worried that Bristol would become associated in the public mind with death and disease and horrible accidents, and that people wouldn't want to come here as a result. Can't remember what he said his on-the-record response was, but his off-the-record verdict was something along the lines of don't be so bloody ridiculous. Quite.

Anymore, on a more serious note, Casualty is estimated to bring £10m a year into the local economy. Its success is one of the reasons why Bristol has become a hub for creative industries. Many local people got their first experience of working in TV from Casualty, whether as actors or extras, set designers, camera operators, technicians, writers, or on-set gophers. Students come to Bristol to study media and broadcasting, knowing there's a good chance they'll get work experience on such programmes, or be able to draw upon the skills and experience of people who have worked in the industry. OK, Casualty (and presumably Holby City, Holby Blue, etc) isn't the be all and end all, we've still got Skins, Teachers (is that coming back?), and more. But it's the thin end of the wedge and I think we should be fighting to keep it here.

The Director General of the BBC happens to be addressing an all-party group in Westminster on Tuesday on Ofcom's public broadcasting review, so will try to collar him there.

Levi Stubbs dies

Something of a hero of mine, for the way he shouted 'Bernadette!' if nothing else. My last cat was named Levi after him. Then we found out she was a girl, but the name stuck.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Mad day ahead of me today. Arrived at work at same time as Feargal Sharkey, who presumably is here to do his BPI lobbying stuff. Just about to go off to the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill committee, then leaving that at 12 to meet some students from a Polish school in Bristol, then PPS-ing in a Westminster Hall debate on Sri Lanka, then staying to - I hope - do one or two interventions in another WH debate on cosmetic testing on animals. Then the All-Party Credit Unions group is meeting at 3pm, which I'm chairing, and then it's the Banking Bill Second Reading all the way through till ten... And I'm going to be late for committee if I don't disappear now!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Catch up - child poverty campaign

Went on the end child poverty campaign's Keep the Promise march last Saturday. Marched along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. The sun shone, whistles were blown, drums were drummed, speeches were made, and then Sophie Ellis-Bextor came on.

Both Eds were there, as well as James Purnell and Yvette Cooper, and my old friend, the Dad from Shameless, who needless to say showed no sign of recollecting he had ever set eyes on me before. Caught up with Ed M outside his new home, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (basically Defra with a sheet of A3 stuck over the gold plaque) and chatted about the Severn Barrage, about which he will no doubt very soon become an expert. I was a bit confused about the remit of his new department; turns out he will be doing the big picture climate change stuff, but Defra will still be handling issues like waste management, bins and recycling. Got to be a good move, setting up DECC, hasn't it? Speaking of energy issues, I've been invited to go onto the Rainbow Warrior soon, but only when it's docked. There's also some talk of being taken in a Greenpeace speedboat along the Thames, which would give me an opportunity to re-enact my 'solo dismount' star turn, last seen on my white-water rafting trip.

Catch up - banking crisis*

And yes, we're allowed to call it that now. Gordon says so. I've been in the Chamber for a couple of statements from the Chancellor this past week, plus an economics lesson for Cameron at PMQs (the lesson being, don't ask Gordon about the economy - he knows more than you). This coming Tuesday we have the Second Reading of the Banking Bill. Must admit, I was slightly taken aback at the number of British investors who were caught out by the Icelandic problems, and now it appears that even the Cats Protection League has been stung to the tune of £11m. New poll on my website asks: should the Government bail out local authorities in respect of their Icelandic losses?

Catch up - reshuffle

Quick whizz through past week or so... Reshuffle - glad Douglas is still at DFID which means I am too. Pleased that some of my favourite Ministers have been promoted. Big Vern has moved up a notch at the Home Office, which means I can now lobby him about more Vice Squad officers for Bristol, although it's a local decision about deployment of resources really. Bill Rammell has gone to the Foreign Office, which is what he wanted. Both good blokes.

Shame about Tom Harris, and not just because he was due to visit Bristol on October 28th. (And no, I don't think it was because of the blog). Not sure if Lord Adonis, the new Rail Minister, will be coming instead. I like Andrew too, actually - was a bit wary of his credentials when I first met him, but he's been very good on Bristol schools and is nice and unassuming.

Liam Byrne deserves his promotion as he's very capable, but it means I have to start again on some of my immigration issues. On which topic - met Ben from the Still Human Still Here campaign during the week, who has been camping out in Parliament Square. Don't agree entirely with their objectives - if people have exhausted all their legal rights (which includes appeals, further representations, often new applications, more reps, judicial review) and had decent representation, and have been offered assistance in returning home, but haven't taken it up, then we do have to draw the line somewhere. But I'm happy to work with them regarding failed asylum seekers who are unlikely to be deported in the foreseeable future, such as Somalis. Had been talking to Liam a lot about this, and he'd offered to visit east Bristol too. Now have to start working on Phil Woolas, the new Immigration Minister.

Catch up

I suppose I better start blogging again. No excuse for my absence, just been busy. Back to school and all that.

The big question is, of course, has Hamilton blown it for a second year running? (I'm watching the replay, so I don't know yet). Suppose it doesn't matter too much if Massa has blown it too.

Trying to remember what I've been up to over the past week or so, apart from losing by-elections (we was robbed). Meanwhile, here's news of Blog Action Day, coming soon - October 15th to be precise. I've signed up to take part, but not quite sure what that entails at the moment. Blogging, perhaps?

Friday, 3 October 2008

Soul man

I promised the Blogger I'd come back with inside info on what's on the listening list of our candidate in St George West (that would be Kevin the friendly firefighter, folks).

I said if I didn't come back, it would mean the answer was Celine Dion. The Lib Dems have probably printed up the leaflets already.

Anyway, finally got round to carrying out a spotcheck and today's CD collection was Tears for Fears, Travis, and Motown. And yes, I was right, he is a Northern Soul man too. So I'd say a 6 out of 10 for Kevin.


A blast from the past, from the Tory leadership contest:

David Cameron: If David wins, I will serve in any capacity he wants. I have been loyal to every leader of this party since …
Adam Boulton: Overseas Development or anything like that?
David Cameron: Very happy, very happy, absolutely, paper clips, I’d be happy to do it.
David Davis: I promise you not Overseas Development, you wouldn't do Overseas Development. (Sky News, 24/11/05)

A promise

In another bid to change the subject, tomorrow is the End Child Poverty "Keep the Promise" rally/ march in London and I will be there. Not quite sure if the reshuffle means that Tony McNulty is now the minister in charge, if he is, I hope he doesn't scare the children too much. (Most bizarre parliamentary sketch I ever read was one which said Tony spoke like Barbara Windsor; he said he didn't get it either).

I have done an online interview with on the subject, which you can read if you like.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Hey! Student*

In a no doubt futile attempt to shift the discussion onto something new, Stephen Williams gave a rather bizarre response to the BEP when asked about his party's plans to do a U-turn on tuition fees. And he finished by saying that it doesn't matter much anyway, "as a lot of students in Bristol West either did not vote locally or not at all." I wonder if he's going to put in an appearance at the Freshers' Fair tomorrow?

* Yes, the song titles are back!