Sunday, 29 June 2008

Here's to you Gordon!

If I were a Labour candidate who had just been told I had lost my deposit at a by-election and was likely to come behind the Greens (they didn't know they would also be behind the BNP at that stage), I wouldn't be photographed sitting in the corner of the count laughing and drinking toasts. But then, I'm not the 'almost heroically useless' Richard McKenzie.

Pics: A laugh; a toast; a naughty finger from the agent; a smug grin when you hear you've come fifth.

The 'useless' quote comes from Anne Treneman's sketch in the Times.

Some pictures from the Count

Sorry for the delay, but here are some pics from the Henley count:

Friday, 27 June 2008

Yet another Henley analysis - this one has vitriol

Well everyone else seems to have commented and I had few plans to do so, but I have been annoyed massively by a few of the comments I have seen from fellow Lib Dems. I have no problems with those comments which are matters of opinion, even if I don't agree, but some of the stuff posted today is just ignorant tosh.

I'm afraid that I'm going to single out 'a radical writes' for the main batch of opprobrium. John writes of three perceived problems:

1. We we're too negative. 9/10 times the most optimistic candidate wins, we spent too much time bashing the Tory candidate and not enough bigging up Stephen Kearney. The Tory literature on the other hand for the most part was significantly more positive.

Well not actually true. The Lib Dem campaign started with a blizzard of positive paper designed to establish ourselves as the only challenger to the Tories. We then moved into a negative phase as we needed to give electors a reason to think differently from their previous voting habits. Finally, we moved back to relentlessly positive (even titling one leaflet 'a positive vision for South Oxfordshire'.

The Tory literature was actually more negative than ours in the main. They were slow to start and then spent much of their time on the back foot, issuing writs and trying to defend themselves from our attacks. Then they had a change of campaign strategy and talked of nothing but what a good MP Boris was and how awful Labour is.

By all means express you opinion about our literature, but please start from a basis of fact, not fiction.

2. We failed to align ourselves with the anti-Labour vote. How we missed this one I have no idea, Tory literature was consistently anti-Labour, we were more concerned with being anti Tory. as a result people didn't think they could give Labour a bloody nose by voting for us.

As explained above - the Tory campaign only went anti Labour in the final week (apart from a single George Osborne letter that got lost in the rush).

3. Too much election literature, everyone in the party put all the complaints down to constituent moaning. The constituents weren't used to it, weren't happy with it, and a lot of people seemed death to their voices. Tory stuff was lower in quantity but higher in quality.

Bollocks. The Tories produced as much as us (to within a leaflet or two) and it was (in my opinion) far worse in overall quality. Some of our stuff - and I will single out the magazine - was the best I have ever seen. Yes, I'm biased because I was involved in a small way in the literature, but I defy anyone to look at the sets of literature side by side and come to the conclusion John has.

Was there too much? Fair question, but, as Chris Rennard has pointed out on LDV, more than 85% of voters voted for one of the two parties that produced lots and lots of literature. We started from a base of little activity and needed to establish ourselves early and be absolutely clear we were working hard. For every moan about too much literature that I heard, I also heard five that complimented us on working so hard.

The only point I would make is that we take the recycled paper thing for granted. We need to make sure that all our recycled material is labled as such. I think we lost a few voters to the Greens by producing so much and not explaining to them that it was recycled.

I think that Paul Walter is right that perhaps we don't get the same number of helpers as we used to. I think we do use them in a smarter manner when they arrive, but we need to think a bit more about this issue.

I'm not going to pretend that the Henley result was as good as we had hoped. But the campaign itself had a massive success. I am convinced that, had we not done all that we did, we would have got about 12%, not 28%. In a safe Tory seat with the current Cameron factor and the Crewe result leading straight into Henley, they should really have won by more. It was down to the good campaign that we actually pulled off a passable result.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Happy Birthday Chris Leaman (and, it's polling day)

Well, the Henley polling day has arrived. I'm out and about all day but thought I would also blog to wish happy birthday to the Head of Press here (and London Campaigns Officer) Chris Leaman.

The team got Chris a cake which was given to him at the Eve of Poll meeting last night.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Clegg lambasts Brown over Gurkha disgrace

Nick Clegg used his slot at Prime Minister's Questions today to return to the subject of the shameful treatment of former gurkha soldiers by this Government.

Gurkhas, let's remember, are soldiers from another country who are prepared to fight our wars and to die for our country. And yet the Government continues to deny the right of many former gurkhas to remain in this country if they want after they retire.

Brown replied that the Government had introduced the right of residence for gurkhas who were serving or have served since 1997. That's all very well, but there are still a few thousand other brave former soldiers who they condemn to poverty by denying them the right to residence.

After PMQs had finished, Nick joined representatives of the former gurkhas, including Victoria Cross winner Tul Bahadur Pun for a march to Downing Street where they handed in medals in protest at the treatment they receive from this Government.

Pics: Nick meets VC Pun; The march on Downing Street; Nick and representatives from the gurkha campaign hand in the medals at 10 Downing Street.

It's eve of poll

Polling Day in Henley is tomorrow and the Lib Dem HQ in Thame has been busier than ever. There have been numerous parliamentarians and hundreds of helpers. Our eve of poll newspaper was out by lunchtime and this afternoon everybody has been doing some last minute canvassing.

Back at the start of the day, we had a visit from former Party Leader Paddy Ashdown. Paddy and Stephen Kearney went to the livestock market in the centre of Thame to speak to farmers about the issues concerning them at the moment. Wednesday is sheep day at the market and, despite the recent rise in prices, there are still many worries for farmers including proposals from Brussels to increase paperwork for sheep farmers and livestock markets.

While he was in the HQ, Paddy also helped Stephen to cut a cake baked by a local party member.

This afternoon, Nick Clegg came for his eighth visit of the campaign and went canvassing on Chinnor Road before giving a rallying speech to workers.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

John Howell: Not In Touch

There are three ways to approach real life if you are a politician. You can be genuinely in touch with local people and real life issues. Alternatively you can make a virtue of your other-worldliness and be seen as a bit of a character (a bit like Boris, in fact). But the one that never seems to work is to be out of touch and yet still pretend to know about real life.

Step forward 'Gaffe-er in Chief' John Howell (the Henley by-election candidate) who needed a written memo to tell him how much a pint of milk and a loaf of bread costs nowadays when he was taking part in a radio hustings today. See the photo and, inset, a blow up of the prices section. Click on the photo for a larger version.

Amongst all the spin and attack lines on his crib sheets were the words:
pint of milk - 52p
loaf of sliced bread - £1.19

For all that Mr Howell tries to make a virtue of having lived in the area for 20 years, he doesn't seem to have made it as far as a supermarket recently.

Are Tories facing 'passing off' probe in Henley?

Oops - the accident prone Tory campaign in Henley is in trouble with Archant, publishers of the longstanding glossy mag Oxfordshire Life. You see, the latest Conservative campaign publication here is, er, a glossy mag called 'South Oxfordshire Life'.

Publishers are, not surprisingly, keen to retain the good name of their magazines and get very angry about any instances of someone trying to borrow their magazine's title for their own ends.

I understand that Archant are currently 'in discussion' with the Conservative campaign about the matter. A grovelling apology may well be demanded.

Pics: The real Oxfordshire Life and Henley Conservative's magazine

Monday, 23 June 2008

We've got 'em by the black and curlies

Stephen Kearney has just had a stonking interview on BBC News 24 (oops, The BBC News Channel). He was on with the Tory and Labour candidates and made mincemeat of them both.

The Labour candidate tried to convince viewers that the economy is actually in robust health. Yeah, right.

The Tory, when pressed on his developer links blustered that he simply sought to ensure that both sides of the argument are heard in a contentious planning application. Isn't the Government trying to argue along the same lines in their new Bill which will hand all planning consultation responsibilities over to the developers themselves?

Friday, 20 June 2008

A wooden Tory and impressive Kearney - Maguire's verdict on Henley

The Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire was in Henley yesterday to run the rule over the main candidates.

He seems to have been unimpressed by Tory candidate John Howell who he describes as 'wooden' and goes on:
"He must empty every fete he opens and I'd hate to be in a room where he wasn't the most boring man. Howell's as far from BoJo and Hezza as it's humanly possible to get and retain a pulse. A lifetime of backbench obscurity beckons..."
After listening to Howell at the hustings, he is slightly more complimentary but says he still does not know:
"how he will square the circle of backing more affordable housing while not wanting to build new homes if villagers object."
On our own Stephen Kearney:
"Lib Dem Stephen Kearney a very impressive candidate, fluent with a grasp of detail"
Confirming what we all knew, Maguire says:
"I suspect the people's party will lose its deposit in a two-horse race."
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Cripes - a letter from Boris

Boris Johnson is complaining about the latest Lib Dem literature in the Henley by-election campaign and (according to ConHome) has written to Chris Rennard to complain.

Naturally, his complaint is an inverted pyramid of piffle.

Perhaps if Boris had read the magazine properly he would have seen that the magazine clearly bylines the article as being from the magazine itself, not Boris.

Of course, the Henley team only put together the magazine in homage to the superb example of campaign literature distributed earlier in the campaign by the Tory team.

Kearney a hit with Watlington Firefighters

Henley Lib Dem candidate Stephen Kearney received a very enthusiastic reception last night from firefighters based in Watlington. Stephen had been invited having bumped into one of the station chiefs at the recent Thame festival.

The firefighters at Watlington (as across much of Oxfordshire) are retained - ie part-time. They have day jobs and agreements with their employers that if they are paged to go to a fire they can drop everything to respond. The biggest problem is that they have to live very close to the fire station in order to respond quickly. Firefighters are not paid huge salaries and house prices in Watlington are at least seven times the average salary. Many therefore find it hugely difficult to afford a property.

At least until recently, retained firefighters were not eligible to participate in housing schemes for key workers.

Stephen was happy to pledge his support for the campaign for a better deal for firefighters to help them to stay in the job. At least one of those he spoke to last night told him that they would be having to leave the area within the next year as they are unable to afford to live and work here.

Clegg 'more coherent' than Hague

Nick Clegg, David Laws and Stephen Kearney visited the Lord Williams School in Thame yesterday afternoon to speak to sixth form pupils studying politics. This was the school that ex Tory Leader William Hague went to a week ago to speak to the same group of students.

As ever with these events, the questions were massively varied covering local, national and international issues.

Afterwards, one of the students said that Nick was 'a lot more coherent and convincing than Mr Hague'.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Lib Dem MPs in Daisy Chain shocker!

Four Lib Dem MPs were on hand to assist with the unloading of a special delivery this afternoon in the Thame HQ. Alan Reid, Malcolm Bruce, John Hemming and Jeremy Browne had all just returned from leading canvass teams when the van pulled up containing the new campaign magazine backing Stephen Kearney's campaign.

All hands were needed to unload the magazine so that it could be bundled and out on the streets as soon as possible and the MPs were first in line to help.

So it was Malcolm...

to Jeremy...

to Alan...

to John (with a little help from Dan, Adam and others)

Finally, Jeremy got a chance to read the finished product.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Kindness of Liberal Democrat strangers

Among the unsung heroes of any by-election are the members in and around the contested constituency. As well as helping with local knowledge, delivering, knocking on doors and all the usual stuff, they also provide accommodation to the countless hordes of by-election helpers who descend on the campaign.

As our opponents have noted, the Liberal Democrats are very lucky to have a large number of members who are willing to give up their time for free to help our campaign. Many of these people are with us for more than just a single day and we try to help them out by finding them somewhere to stay. Whilst the Tories are block booking the local hotels, our members are billeted around the local area with an array of members in their homes.

I remember my first taste of a by-election - in my home seat of Truro - where we had someone from, then Leader, David Steel's office staying in our house for the duration.

In Henley I have been lucky enough to stay with three members to date who have all been incredibly generous in giving up their spare beds (and cups of coffee) to a total stranger. I never even got to meet one of these people as I arrived late and left too early to bump into her.

Last night I was staying with a rather special couple. Mr and Mrs Clegg are the parents of Nick and live just on the borders of Henley constituency. It was a bit strange to see pictures on the wall of nine year Nick...

Monday, 16 June 2008

Lots of Lib Dem Leaders in Thame!

It was Leaders day in Thame today as Nick Clegg, Ming Campbell and Paddy Ashdown all came to support Stephen Kearney on the campaign trail.

They all received a hugely supportive reception from the shoppers in the town on another beautiful sunny day.

As well as chatting to shoppers, they popped into lots of the local shops which are feeling the strain of changes in local shopping habits. One of the key issues in Thame is the proposal to move the cattle market from the centre of town. Whilst all seem agreed that this is a good idea, there is much worry that the site will simply be occupied by one of the major supermarkets which will threaten local specialist shops.

Then it was back to the HQ to do media interviews and to chat to campaigners. Paddy joined in with the clerical work, stuffing letters going to undecided voters.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Panic on Victoria Street

Seems like the Tories have managed to blow the huge moral authority of the Davis resignation pretty quickly.

Cameron says that he wants a 'permanent' from bench team (according to Sam Coates on the Times) and, with Dominic Grieve appointed to the Shadow Home Sec post, it looks as though DD will have to moulder on the backbenches when he is re-elected.

DD appears to have chosen this tack to try to head off moves by Michael Gove and George Osborne to lessen the Tories opposition to 42 days. He will now try to force Cameron to pledge to repeal the time frame under a Tory Government.

I think the Lib Dems are right not to stand a candidate. From a moral highground point of view, we oppose 42 days and an independent candidate standing purely on that footing is different from a Tory candidate standing on the basis of the party's entire manifesto (although at present only tax cuts for dead millionaires and the 42 days thing are actual Tory policies).

From a base campaigning level, the splits in the Tory party should be allowed to fester and us standing might do a tiny amount to reunite them.

Labour seem to be claiming that they knew about this all along - perhaps even engineered it. Certainly they are happy to have another Tory row to take the deals over last night's vote off the top of the headlines.

And there are strong hints from Denis McShane that Labour may well not stand either. With even UKIP split on 42 days (their only MP backed the Government despite party policy being opposed) then there won't be any candidate standing with any clear position against DD.

David Davis resigns - but Lib Dems won't fight the by-election

David Davis has resigned as an MP to fight a by-election on the principle of 42 days detention. In his statement outside Parliament he invoked the Magna Carta saying that the Government was gradually withdrawing our freedoms.

Nick Clegg has announced that the Lib Dems won't be contesting the seat and the Guardian says that Davis will be fighting as an independent in the contest.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Tories in trouble in Henley

Slightly more intelligible than Pink Dog's take on things...

The Tory candidate in Henley is in hot water after the Guardian revealed his links to a firm of planning consultants who lobby on behalf of housebuilders in contentious planning and property deals.

The Tories have just issued a leaflet promising to campaign to preserve the green belt but it would appear that John Howell's work contradicts this claim. Many of the firms that Mr Howell's company works for are involved in controversial planning applications around the country. They include Amec Developments, Barratt Homes, Bellway Homes, Countryside Properties, Linden Homes, and London and Regional Properties.

Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Cornish All Blacks Awards Evening

Last night was the annual awards evening for the Cornish All Blacks. Instead of the usual black tie do, they decided to have a far more informal buffet. It got the same turnout and more of a profit so was probably the better option.

Star winger Matt Jess dominated the awards but paid the penalty as he had to down a pint before he was allowed to collect each of them (not sure if he wasn't wishing it was black tie by the end of the evening as that sort of penalty wouldn't have been imposed).

The Exeter bound speedster was no doubt the star of the season but other players also picked up trophies including the retiring Wayne Reed (who has shaved off his beard and looks far less frightening as a result).

Also honoured were Sam Hocking as comeback player of the year and Sam Alford as young back of the year.

The better side of the Royal Cornwall

Despite the nazi selling stall, there was much to enjoy at the Royal Cornwall Show:

From the top: The donkey sanctuary; an old tractor; Lupins; Stunt motorcycle riders; old motorbikes.

Nazi regalia on sale at Royal Cornwall Show

We went to the Royal Cornwall Show yesterday - my first chance to do so in about 8 years. It's one of the biggest agricultural shows in the country with about 140,000 people visiting over the course of the three days.

As well as the animals, both large and small, there are lots of commercial stands connected with the farming industry and lots to attract the casual visitor.

Unfortunately, whilst we were browsing the stands, we came across a jewellery stall selling earrings, some of which were decorated with nazi regalia. (See the picture, right, to see what I mean.) Not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the show.

When challenged, the owner of the stall simply shrugged.

So I'm now challenging the organisers of the Show to tell me whether they think it is acceptable to sell such items on stalls. If they don't think so, what action will they be taking to make sure that it doesn't happen again next year.

Edit: I am not suggesting that people should not be able to buy and sell Nazi regalia. I would find it far more acceptable for a stall holder to openly advertise their purpose as such, whether they were a Nazi supporter or a war collector. These earrings were £1 or 6 pairs for £5. The other designs featured smiley faces and band and brand logos which were clearly aimed at children.

On the other point that people have mentioned in the comments, no group other than the Nazis has ever used the swastika in conjunction with the iron cross. Jock is correct to point out that the swastika faced right in Nazi Germany. It has been banned in many European countries and to attempt to subvert that and allow deniability, a left facing swastika is commonly used by neo-nazi groups today because it is a Hindu peace symbol and officials will not prosecute. More common still is the sun wheel, another celtic symbol which has a small resemblance to the swastika.

Clegg-tastic Henley

Went straight from landing at Heathrow to Henley to take pics of the Nick Clegg visit.

As ever, the sun was shining as Nick and Stephen Kearney visited the Henley Standard for an interview before a walkabout in the market. They met lots of punters - many of whom will be voting Lib Dem. It's early days, but it was very good to find so many supporters in the southern (more Tory) end of the constituency.

Apparently Boris and Biggins, sorry John Howell, also had a walkabout in the town that day but found that everybody had packed up and gone home by the time they got there. Bit of local knowledge helps chaps.

Sierra Leone (again)

Been off for a week in Sierra Leone training their political parties ahead of their local election campaign which starts on Monday and ends on July 5th.

This was another cross party effort (as none of the UK parties really have sister parties over there)/ I was training in the second city of Bo with Sheila Gunn, John Major's former press secretary and a former Camden Councillor (until beaten by the Lib Dems, natch). Also over there were Lib Dem Winchester PPC Martin Tod and Chris Page of Labour, a councillor in Southwark where I used to work.

How was it? In a word, hot. In two words (to misquote Robin Williams being unfunny) Damn Hot.

We were meant to be training women on the first day and young activists and candidates on the second. Unfortunately, one of the parties got things mixed up and we had their male candidates (of all ages) on the first day. Still, things worked out ok with about 25 trainees on day one and 37 on day two.

We talked to them about building a campaign team, about the message that they wanted to get out to the electors and about how to get that message across. As ever, there were many lessons that we learned from them as well as them from us.

The trickiest thing about the trip was what to do when you get to Lungi Airport. For the uninitiated, it is on a spit of land separate from the city. Flights tend to arrive late afternoon and the options are:

- driving on unmade roads for three hours with the constant danger of a speeding airport fuel tanker coming the other way;
- taking the ferry which is usually over crowded and has a very poor safety record;
- staying at the airport hotel and travelling next day (fully booked usually);
- taking the hovercraft (recently suffered loss of engines and drifted out to sea for two hours before passengers evacuated to fishing boats;

The helicopter option (1960s Soviet machines with 1960s soviet pilots) is no longer there as one of them had a little 'incident' recently which resulted in the deaths of a Togolese football team and the other cannot get a safety certificate.

Took the hovercraft. At least in would be over quickest.

Freetown is still very busy and the petrol supply seems to have been restored. Bo is another kettle of fish. The second city is tiny in comparison and has virtually nothing going on. We stayed at a passable hotel but there was no other possible option. The road from Freetown was patchy - fully paved in many areas but packed earth in others - and there was nothing on it. Apart from NGOs, almost nobody travels between cities and, more importantly, nothing else does either. As with the UK in the 1770s, the food for the city is grown in the fields around. There is no 'bread basket' of the country and if food runs out in an area then people starve.

We did venture out to see the sights and found a town with lovely old architecture in a colonial style - houses with full length verandas facing each other across the main street. Sheila felt it was like the wild west and expected gunslingers to come out of the doors. I felt that if that happened they were unlikely to be quaint and more likely to carry uzis.

The 'best restaurant in Bo' according to Lonely Planet serves a full menu of seafood choices as well as pasta and an interesting assortment of other dishes. When we got there we had the choice of chicken or fish. Hmmm.

Back home now. Must right up proper report.