Busy, busy day

Earlier today got the figures on the funding proposal Haringey Council is getting from the Labour Government. I’ve been campaigning on fair funding for Haringey’s schools since I discovered that our schools get £736 per child less than those in neighbouring boroughs. Well the new funding proposals adds insult to injury. The gap will widen further to a £1,000 differential. I am seeking an urgent meeting with Ed Balls.

It was also the launch of Stroud Green School Children’s Centre today. This is after a series of delays, changes in staff, etc etc – and even today the Service Level Agreements weren’t signed. However – putting all that process mess out of the way – today was a lovely occasion with children helping with ‘planting’ a tree and a whole class singing to entertain us. This is part of a program to create 18 children’s centres in Haringey. Ten down – eight to do.

This is the first one to be constructed in a primary school and cost half a million. It’s much needed in the community but because of Haringey’s delays they missed the September term time start. But they open in a week or so – and there are some very lucky children who will be going there.

Iain Dale and I were then the speakers on ‘new media’ for the NCVO. Always enjoyable to share a platform with the uber-blogger! Then to Parliament for a series of votes before heading over to the Haringey Civic Centre for a Police consultative meeting.

Packed chamber as the IPPC had come back, as they had promised, to talk to local people, campaigners and the Sylvesters (Roger Sylvester‘s parents) about their report which basically resulted in no recommendations for discipline from the police – or indeed anything much.

Well – you can understand in Haringey where we have had a number of black deaths in custody – and no action on any of them – that the people in attendance were not best pleased. Actually it is really traumatic to see and hear the pain still in the room – eight years on – because they feel that justice has not been done. It is too hard to understand how a man could be dragged naked into the freezing night and die.

At least the Haringey Community and Police Consultative Group gives a forum where the anguish can be voiced – but it’s pretty cold comfort for a family who don’t believe justice has or will ever be done for their son’s death.

Should an MP blog?

Earlier this year I wrote a piece for Iain Dale’s Guide to Political Blogging in the UK about why I think MPs should blog. I’d not got round to uploading it to my website previously but with the question knocking round on various blogs as to whether or not the Liberal Democrat leadership candidates should be engaging online (e.g. by commenting on blog pieces) now seems a good time to get round to that:

I started blogging back in 2003 because I could not bear the ‘you politicians you’re all the same’ type of comment. I wasn’t an MP at the time I started blogging – but I was a local councillor (Haringey) and also on the London Assembly, and I wanted to tell the people who elected me what I was doing and what I was thinking about what was going on in my working world – the world they had elected me to. I wanted to create a relationship with readers of my blog, that would give them an insight not just into how I spent my day on their behalf – but also some sense of me as a human being.

You can read the piece in full on my website.

My first political memory

Given Iain Dale has tagged me to blog about my first political memory – I cannot resist. The only hesitation I have – is that it somewhat reveals my advanced years!

The first time politics impinged on my secure little childhood was when I was watching television in our lounge in the flat in Highgate that I grew up in – Highpoint. I can’t remember whether they interrupted the TV or whether it was just on the news – but the newscaster in super-serious tones was talking about something to do with Cuba and nuclear war.

I can’t say I truly understood the the whole scenario as I was aged 10 when the crisis began on October 15, 1962. The USA had reconnaissance photos showing Soviet missiles being built in Cuba – hence it became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ante was upped, tensions rose and on the point of nuclear war – letters exchanged etc and Krushchev agreed to dismantle the installations on the basis that the US would not invade Cuba.

As I said, most of this passed me by – but I remember being scared by the news. I understood the danger – and I guess it was the tones of the newscaster and the muted exchanges by my parents. It was this singular event that opened my understanding that the world was not stable and that my world somehow depended on men in foreign countries not taking leave of their senses. Clearly – not a lot has changed!

So – not a British political awakening – but certainly an early understanding of international politics!

In turn – I will tag Will Howells (thanks for filming my conference diaries!), Stephen Tall (man in charge at this year’s Lib Dem Blog of the Years awards – and winner last year), Matt Davies (Haringey colleague – councillor for Fortis Green), Martin Bright (of the New Statesman and a constituent of mine) and Paul Walter (the ultra-prolific Lib Dem blogger).

A Hoot

My mate Mark Pack has got the Tories going some! Now – as a non-geek – I did have to phone him to ask what astro-turfing was. To elucidate. One Tory – Grant Shapps – stands accused of trying to fake a comment on YouTube which claimed to be from a Liberal Democrat, only was really from him. Tsk tsk!

Now, Iain Dale (who – even though he is a Tory! – I actually quite like and is usually worth reading) seems to have lost his reason and is defending the indefensible. Iain would have us believe that some evil people were using Grant’s easily guessable password. Grant’s meant to be an IT expert, but even I know you shouldn’t set your password to 1234, I mean really! – yet that’s what Iain claims he did – and then that someone guessed it – and then that someone set him up. And then – even better – the story also involves Grant (or his staff) having supposedly spotted a problem a few days ago – but then not changing the password when they did!

So no surprise – reading the comments on Iain’s blog – pretty much no one believes his story. Stop digging seems to be the advice to Grant.

Oh the joy of by-elections!

Appearing on 18 Doughty Street

It was off to 18 Doughty Street on Thursday night to do the two hour stint from 10 – midnight. Haven’t done this particular slot before. My co-panel comprise Steve Richards (The Independent), Julian Glover (Guardian leader writer) and Phil Hendren (Dizzy Thinks blog) and of course Iain Dale.

Really enjoyable session. Great to hear Steve graciously concede that this new media era is the way forward – him having previously been a doubter. What Steve said was right – the old, format-weary, predictable diet of mainstream politics programs is looking very tired by comparison.

We roamed over bullying Catholics to not vote for politicians who support abortion; the ethics of the media campaign around Madeleine McCann; the Tory grammar school debacle, and the size of men’s private parts – yes – blame Iain! Anyway – hugely enjoyable!

Iain Dale's made me cross

Very cross with Iain Dale for not defending my virtue (again). When Andrew Marr opined this morning that there were virtually no Lib Dem or Labour blogs compared with numerous Tory ones – Iain failed to leap to my defence! (And once before he forgot about me too – when talking about how no Lib Dem female MPs blog. Tsk tsk Iain!).

However, he can be forgiven – just about! – as he was, at the time, dealing with Yasmin Alibi Brown who was making a pig’s ear of objecting to blogs. She was trying to make the case that we bloggers are not gifts to the communications industry (possibly true in my case – but never in Iain’s). Green-eyed monster I think! Iain – she’s just jealous of you!

TV appearances

I’m co-presenting with Iain Dale on 18 Doughty Street TV again on Monday for a review of the year – so that should be fun!

I’ve been bumped off the Sunday Edition today. They phoned on Friday to book me saying they would phone back on Saturday. With no call back, I called them to discover that I had been bumped. This happens from time to time – and I am reasonably amenable and philosophic about being at the end of the food chain – but no call back is bad manners. Other programs do manage good manners!

Presenting on 18 Doughty Street

On Wednesday evening I went to co-present with Iain Dale his Queen’s Speech special on 18 Doughty Street TV.

Having never presented anything and being far more used to being asked my opinion it seemed gamekeeper turned poacher. Keeping quiet and listening to the guests speak without interrupting all the time was a challenge – and I probably was more restrained than necessary. But it was hugely enjoyable and although two hours long (unheard of normally for political TV!), the time flew by. The guests were Labour MP Graham Allen, Lib Dem Jeremy Browne and two Conservatives, Greg Clark and James Duddridge – the two conservatives doing an hour each.

This was my first return to Doughty Street since its inaugural evening – when despite the chaos around Iain calmly (or at least seemingly calmly) delivered a good show. Now he is a master of the art.

There was a great deal of consensus (shock horror) around the near-impossibility in the current climate around Home Affairs and terror to have serious and proper debate. The political knock about has developed to the absurd point when the Home Affairs legislation is virtually trailed as a “get David Cameron for being soft on crime” measure. It was very refreshing to have a discussion where reason and debate held sway instead of political slanging match. If only Parliament was like 18 Doughty Street!

As to being a presenter – it was fun!

Whittington Hospital – and chance to watch me on TV!

Local Haringey Police Chief, Simon O’Brien, came up to Parliament for one of our regular meetings. I usually go to him at Tottenham Police Station – so it was a nice change. Issues of discussion included the changing police estate (i.e. police stations and other land and buildings) in Haringey, the re-offending rate, youth courts, knife crime and anti-social behaviour.

Zoom back to Haringey to go to the new wing (long time coming) of the Whittington Hospital. Some real design thought and talent has gone into creating state of the art facilities at this much loved, but somewhat run down, hospital.

A wow factor entrance – with double height spaces, huge and voluminous, where outpatients will wait for imaging (x-ray) or other. High tech – the patients will be given a pager which allows them to go to the new restaurants or shops whilst waiting – and they will be paged just when they are next but one to be called.

The critical care area (intensive care in old jargon) is large and spacious – which will cut down on infection. The equipment should always be right up to date as the contract contracts the supplier to keep it up to date – no more purchasing and having to keep beyond sell by date stuff. And perhaps most of all – it has all been thought through so that form follows function – and the needs of the patient are at the forefront.

There have been huge problems getting to this stage – and all sorts of things wrong and should have been done differently with the Jarvis contract, the timings and costs etc – but finally we’re there.

Excuse the not fantastic picture – the girl who kindly agreed to take the photo sadly seems to have missed the splendid surroundings and just got me and the escalators!

Back to Westminster for briefing on tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech and a phone call to say that Iain Dale has invited me to co-present tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) show on 18 Doughty Street. I phone Iain to say willing to give it a go!

Political bloggers

Speech to the Government Smart Forum. It was a bit like walking into the lion’s den to give the Liberal Democrat position on ID cards (against) because – as the Chair pointed out – most of those in the room stood to gain financially from the relentless march of the ID and smart cards.

In the event it was good fun – and seemed to go down well. And given what the Chair said, I though it was a moral victory that in the straw poll vote at the end the room was pretty evenly split – only marginally in favour of database and ID card! But as the Chair also pointed out – those who voted against may not have been against the card or database – just the idea of this Government implementing and administering it!

Straight on to interview with Channel 4 for a package on blogging. There is a small, but definitive band of us who the media come to for stories about political blogging. Guido Fawkes, Recess Monkey, Iain Dale, me and David Miliband – on the whole. The blogs are all quite different and we all have a different approach and purpose with our blogs.

Ben Cohen, the interviewer, asked me which blogs I read – and I had to confess very few. To be frank as an MP I don’t get any time (although I would love to spend my time doing so) to enter the blogging community in that way. He asked me what I thought of David Miliband’s blog, and I had to confess I had never been onto that site – although I have heard it is pretty bland. Hey – he’s a Labour Minister – what did you expect?

The interesting point Ben brought up was that both Tories and Lib Dems are encouraging their troops to get involved in blogging but Labour isn’t – and therefore is missing out on this movement which is at times breaking news itself. But an army of bloggers saying whatever they wish – Labour nightmare! Especially at a time like now … (Though they shouldn’t be scared. At the time of my party’s leadership travails earlier this year, it was tricky to blog at times – but being able to communicate via blog helped me explain to people what I was thinking and why and things were better for that).

The Lib Dems are taking blogging more and more seriously – indeed I’ll be handing out a “blog of the year” award at this year’s party conference. (If you are a Lib Dem blogger going to conference, see the blogging tips on the party’s website).

And lastly – Blair’s ‘announcement’. I thought it was masked incandescent anger. As for Gordon – he did what Blair forced him to do: give him support. If Labour have any sense (and judging from early rumblings after the announcement sense isn’t their strong card at this moment in time) they will now shut up and concentrate their fire on the Tories. But that would mean breaking some very ingrained habits. We will see!