Thursday, 20 March 2008

Nick in the North East

Nick Clegg visited Newcastle and Northumberland today meeting people at a project helping people who have had drug and alcohol dependency to learn new skills, visiting a cottage hospital whose services have been saved by people power and then holding another of his public access meetings.

First stop was a project run by Cyrenians, a charitable organisation which helps people who have had drug and alcohol problems by training them in skills such as carpentry, bricklaying and plastering. Nick met management and tutors and service users and had a go at plastering for himself. Ok, I'm hardly an expert, but he looked like he could wield a plasterer's trowel - at least, he avoided spraying all of the rest of us in plaster! We met some great people there including Malcolm, the tutor and Sean, one of the service users. I'm really not sure about the overalls though (pic).

Then it was on to Morpeth Cottage Hospital. This is one of the many cottage hospitals that is being closed as the health authority deems it too expensive to continue to deliver its services in such a small unit. But politicians from all parties and local people have baded together and come up with a solution that will save almost all of the services and see them continue to be delivered locally. While he was there, Nick met a number of patients including Lillian (pic).

Finally, we went to another of Nick's public meetings held at Morpeth Town Hall. It really was standing room only as more than 150 people packed the venue. These meetings are a return to what Nick calls old fashioned politics. Everyone is welcome and he'll answer any question that is put. Quite naturally there are quite a few Lib Dems who want to come and hear the Leader speak. But well over half the audience is always simply local people - often even members of other parties - who want to come and hear him. He doesn't give a big long speech, usually only a minute or two, and then it is into questions. Not everybody will agree with everything he says (of course) but it is a return to unspun face to face meetings where people have a real chance to interact with a senior political figure.

It was this sort of meeting that Nick was referring to when he said at conference that he wanted Gordon Brown to come and discuss the NHS with him.

Outside after the event, I heard one teenager saying that this was the first political event he had ever been to but he really enjoyed it and wants to go to more. Quite clearly 'old fashioned politics' is not simply for the old!

Pics: Nick tries his hand at plastering under the watchful eye of tutor Malcolm (left) and service user Sean (middle); Sean then points out where he could do better!; Nick meets Lillian, a patient at Morpeth Cottage Hospital; Nick speaks to the packed meeting at Morpeth Town Hall

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