Sunday, 29 June 2008

Can we have seconds?

I'm really looking forward to Warwick 2 if today's Guardian report is anything to go by.

Unite want workers to have better access to workplace leave, USDAW want to extend lifelong leaerning opportunities at work and the GMB want to introduce 'green' shop stewards to encourage greener offices and factories.

But I'm really delighted to see that Unison is backing free school meals for ALL primary children.

Regular readers will probably know I bore for Britain on this subject.

The previous Labour administration in Hull pioneered this with its
'Eat Well, Do Well scheme' with impressive results - average school meal uptake went up from 35% to more than 73% and teachers reported calmer classes.

It's also key to getting kids into healthy eating habits that could last a life time.

At a time of rising bills, food prices and childcare costs, anything that helps towards easing the financial pressure on hard-working families and diffusing the growing obesity timebomb is going to be both morally right and popular with the voters.

How refreshing too, to get back to policies that will help improve the quality of life of the individual, not restrict it.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Don't leave it until the last minute, Fergie!

Man U clinched the title on the last day last season.

Next season, it look's like Fergie will have to wrap it up at least one match earlier!

Who know's - maybe it'll be winner takes all.

After all, we're only 10,000 to 1!

Friday, 13 June 2008

"How much?"

According to today's Hull Daily Mail, it looks like the good people of Haltemprice and Howden have woken up to the fact the by-election will now cost them upto 80,000 pounds for Davis to run against no significant opposition.

Seems they're now not quite seeing it as a 'noble endeavour.'

Here's a selection:

"What a waste of money for him just to get re-elected. I know he is doing it out of principle, but I think he should be more considerate of how much it is going to cost."

“What Mr Davis is doing is a total waste of taxpayers' money. I'm shocked by his resignation because it doesn't make sense. All he is doing is massaging his ego.”

"David Davies has an inflated idea of his importance. With this ego trip he is on he has shown that he lacks political judgment. His by-election is an additional cost on local councils in this area which is not necessary. Mr Davies likes to draw attention to himself on the big issues. This charade will do him or his party any good at all. I hope an Independent with some credibility stands supporting the 42 day issue and wins. Mr Davies would be no loss to Haltemprice."

Thursday, 12 June 2008

I hope Dan's the Man

So is it a courageous decision or a reckless political gamble? A noble cause or a cynical stunt?

Ex-SAS reserve David Davis has used the benefit of surprise to lob a grenade right into the very heart of the 42 days detention debate. (Though it's interesting that he also came out against CCTV and a DNA database - no wonder Cameron said it was a 'brave and courageous decision' i.e. you're on your own mate!)

But the news that the Lib Dems have decided to stand aside from contesting the by-election shows exposes the fact that Davis is not taking any risk at all.

It's a stitch-up and by narrowly defining the terms of engagement to 42 days, other candidates are going to find it hard to break out of that debate.

So it's going to be difficult wicket for us to play on. My friend Danny Marten - a really talented local young man - was selected as the Labour candidate for Haltemprice and Howden last year. He's chair of East Yorkshire Young Labour and a thoroughly likeable and committed activist.

I really hope Danny gets the chance to stand in the by-election. Quite frankly, I think the leadership would be mad to parachute someone else in. Even the most optimistic supporter would concede that we're not going to win it so let's have a decent guy.

But we MUST put up a candidate. Denis McShane has just floated the idea that we should stand aside. If we do, we would be complicit in turning this stunt into a greater farce and show that we're too scared or embarrassed to stand. That'll allow parties like the BNP to have the oxygen of publicity. Would we really want that?

I don't know what Danny's stance is on 42 days but if he is not in favour of it, this shouldn't preclude him from standing, In fact having a sceptical 42 days candidate would show that we're a broad church, willing to encompass the wider Labour movement and, of course, it would help shoot the Davis fox.

The challenge would be then to expose this by-election for what it really is - a cool and calculated decision, guided more by risk assessment than passionate principle.

It's a vainglorious folly - nothing more, nothing less.

Add deliberation and debate and give a good stir

I'm really glad to hear that our local MP Nick Raynsford chose to abstain in yesterday's vote on 42 Days.

No-one could ever describe Nick of being a card-carrying member of the awkward squad. But in the end he said he was failed to be convinced there was an immediate case for this authoritarian and possibly unworkable piece of legislation.

I know many party members who feel really uncomfortable about the general direction we're going in, especially after the 10p debacle and the dog-whistle tactics we used in Crewe.

The general feeling seems to be an uncertainty, post Blair, of what we actually stand for and what our message is.

So I hope the party leadership gets a chance to read Compass Chair's Neal Lawson's think piece in this week's New Statesman making a pretty convincing case for social liberalism. I think democratising our public services and making them more locally accountable is a really exciting concept. Providing Voice and Choice!

Compass are also holding a one-day conference in London on Saturday entitled Born Free and Equal with a raft of speakers from the cabinet to NGOs, think tanks and unions. There are still a few places left for what should be a thought provoking day.

Jeese Jackson once said ''Deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of democracy."

I think in the current climate what we need now are a few more people prepared to stir it up!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Montague - you're fired!

I can't believe what I've just heard on the Today show!

I, like millions of others, have been looking forward to tonight's Apprentice final. It's been a pretty good series this year and now we're down to the final four - personally I hope Lee gets it.

So Sir Alan was duly lined up for a live two-way with Sarah Montague.

A lively chat ensued but right at the end she asked him: "Since it's recorded can you tell us that you've picked XXXX?"

Well done!

I've spent the last 10 weeks gleefully watching Sir Alan ruthlessly dispatch hopeless wannabes one-by-one ("When it comes to sale, I think I'm probably the best in Europe" - classic), all leading up to tonight's eagerly anticipated final and Montague has just blown if for hundreds of thousands of Today listeners.

Even if XXXX hasn't won, my enjoyment has been ruined because I'm going to have it in the back of the mind throughout the whole show.

I don't want to spoil it for you but if you really want to know, then you can listen to the interview on the Today website.

What are you going to do for an encore, Sarah? Hang around Hamleys at Christmas and sidle up to wide-eyed children to tell them Santa doesn't exist?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Will Ireland say Yes to Mr No?

I've been spending a lot of time in Ireland of late. Roz is still in hospital over there. Cross fingers, she'll be out this week.

I must admit I've found the current referendum campaign on the Lisbon Treaty absolutely fascinating. To a man, no-one I've spoken to really understands it. But it's not as if you can escape it - posters and boards festoon the roadsides in every town and village.

What I find really remarkable is that ALL the major parties - that would normally represent more than 80% of the electorate - are all campaigning for a Yes vote but facing defeat.

Unless there's a high turnout on Thursday, there's a very real possibility that the No lobby, led by "Irish" businessman Declan Ganley could win.

From nowhere, "Mr No" and his Libertas group have managed to boost the anti Lisbon Treaty campaign by more than 17 percentage points putting them within three points of the Yes camp with a further 30% still undecided.

While Ganley, who has a very strong English accent after spending his first 13 years in the UK, might not be as convincingly Irish as Biffo Brian Cowen, his campaign has been faultless. Cowen had admitted he hasn't read the whole treaty and Ireland's EU Commissioner Charlie McCreavy claimed ''only a lunatic would."

But Ganley has made a virtue of the fact he has. Even handing out copies to sports fans at Croke Park. In fact he's become known as "The Man Who's Read the Lisbon Treaty."

He hammers away that the Treaty would affect Ireland on abortion, tax, neutrality and their entitlement to a European Commissioner. All are strenuously denied by Pro-Treaty parties but time and again I hear Irish my friends - all pro-European - say they're going to vote No for one or more of his claims.

The stunts have been amusing too - he's booked three one way tickets to Brussels on Friday morning for the three main party leaders so they can renegotiate the Treaty as soon as possible!

It's clear the Yes camp has struggled to give people a real reason to vote for the Lisbon Treaty. Five simple benefits would have sufficed. Just saying Ireland's done well out of being at the heart of Europe has only re-enforced the waverers' view that it's all the more reason not to lose their Commissioner in Brussels.

This lack of a narriative was typified when I heard a Yes campaigner on a radio talk show claim "not understanding how the internal combustion engine works doesn't stop you from driving your car, does it?"

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Ganley, you've got to applaud his campaign. He's taken on the Irish establishment and is close to beating it, by praying on the fears and doubts of the Irish public. I hate the tactics but admire his clinical effectiveness.

On the strength of what I've seen in Ireland, if the UK does hold a referendum, I now have absolutely no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty would be soundly defeated.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Turn the cameras off

Another quiet news day, another stunt and the fourth estate willingly oblige by giving them a national platform.

Today's protest on Harriet Harman's roof shows yet again that the media is complicit in breaking the law by giving groups like Fathers 4 Justice the oxygen of publicity. (I know I'm doing exactly the same, but bare with me on this one.)

If you remember, this was the group that temporarily split-up in 2006 after claims some of its members were considering kidnapping Tony's Blair's son.

As a journalist for more than 16 years, I passionately believe in a free media and the right for people to protest.

But there's something wrong when groups like Fathers 4 Justice can walk onto Sky News and conduct live interviews by breaking and entering into people's homes.

The lead protester on Harriet's roof is Jonathan Stanesby who last climbed onto the roof of family court Judge David Tyzack's home, dressed as Santa Claus. I'm sure he's passionate about his case and those of other fathers in similar positions. But he's breaking the law by scaring innocent people and the media's encouraging him. They might as well have been holding the ladder.

We don't do live interviews with hostage takers so why the hell should we do it with Fathers 4 Justice?

I speak from experience. When Greenpeace, in their infinite wisdom, stormed the house of one of the Kyoto Treaty signatories (smart move guys!) Pauline was terrified. Post 9-11, she feared for her life. The protesters even forced her to give evidence in court so they could maximise the publicity.

As a former BBC Home News Editor myself, I feel very uncomortable about how the media is unwittingly becoming an acomplice in these stunt protests. Will this stunt really lead to a proper and mature discussion about a father's rights? Somehow I doubt it.

It's up to editors of rolling news channels, radio stations and newspapers to seriously consider the moral implications of their actions.

For broadcasters, there should be the briefest of mentions and certainly no live two ways.

By all means report the news. But let's not help them make it.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

From West Belfast to Westlife

I'm sad to hear that the legendary Northern Ireland correspondent Denis Murray has decided to retire from the BBC after 26 years.

For many, his authority and insight were invaluable in explaining the Troubles and the Peace Process to a wider audience.

But I hold the dubious honour of testing his reporting skills to the very limit - by getting him to cover the departure of Bryan Mcfadden from Westlife.

When I worked on the BBC Network Newsdesk as a Home Duty Editor, I was looking for a correspondent to go to Dublin to cover the boy band's press conference. Our Dublin correspondent was on leave.

The only person free was Denis. I thought long and hard but had no choice. Expecting a blast of righteous indignation, I asked whether he prepared go to a Westlife press conference?

He jumped at the chance - in fact he was very excited! I knew the TV and radio bulletins would cover the story but one of the editors was furious I'd sent Denis - of course, she ran his piece.

Denis later told me it was the greatest bit of fun he'd had in years and still tells people how Kerry Katona cried on his shoulder as she watched her husband leave one of the biggest boy bands in the world.

He said at the time on Radio 4's PM programme: "Kerry was crying so I gave her me hanky. And it was clean!"

So good luck in your retirement, Denis. From now on, you're flying without wings!

And I hope you claimed that hanky back on expenses!