Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The On-Line Campaign

If you don't often do so, please take a moment to browse my campaign website which includes all of my formal press releases and details of the local party. Latest stories include the future of the railways, NHS dentistry, welfare reform, expenses and Iraq.

Political Problem Page

I was speaking to a high profile political activist recently who told me of a problem and asked my advice. I found it quite difficult, so with their permisison I am sharing it with you for your thoughts.

This person - and I won't tell you the party because it doesn't matter - is a well known political activist and has been for many years. They have rotated through all of the jobs within the constituency organisation including standing for hopeless seats and trying their hardest to fight them well. Then at the Norwich North by-election the activist found themself in such opposition to the candidate that their party had chosen it sparked the question; does an activist have to be active for all candidates - knowing that they would let down their party if they didn't?

At first this person did some delivery rounds but without motivation. As time went on they ground to a halt doing nothing by half way through. They found themself being critical of the candidate, not just in private but also in public (though nothing in the press).

By the end, the activist was getting a really hard time from other party members for a failure to pull their weight in the campaign.

Is it right or fair to do that to an activist who won't campaign? Should this person have done more? When does a candidate put you off so much that it changes the way you see the party and your motivation?

So over to you ... does the candidate matter, was the activist right and what should their colleagues response have been to this?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Citizens taking action

Back into the swing of things, today I had 2 events to attend; the first was the launch of Homelessness Awareness at the Forum at lunchtime. It was good to see the Civic Arm - Lord Mayorand Sheriff - and the Political Arm together for this event. Amusing to see local MP Charles Clarke sitting inside a giant snow-globe in some bizarre way. What was interesting was the large number of different groups who make a difference in the City and events like this is important to pull all of them together. I am not in favour of endless government strategies; more than often they cost money and don't work; so I was interested to hear how these groups work together without the use of a 300 page glossy document to help them - it's called people taking common sense decisions and acting in the best interested of those whom they seek to serve. Other arms of government take note!

On a similar theme this evening I went, along with newly-elected Norwich South Conservative Councillor Andrew Wiltshire, to meet a residents association which has been formed by 2 adjacent blocks of flats who are fed up with anti-social behaviour ruining their lives. Like-minded folks got together and decided to work alongside the police and the local council to do some pro-active. Fed up with not being able to use stairwells or having to walk over litter in the corridors, these people have set about creating a sense of community. They are totally inclusive of all residents and are working hard to put on events and get people talking. Now they want help to persuade the powers-that-be to help them install some outside seating and a BBQ areas in their communal gardens. It sounds like a fantastic project and I will be doing all I can to help, with either attracting funding or lobbying for them. I hope that the usual red-tape and bureaucracy doesn't get in the way - this new exciting group is takling the issue of ASB on the ground by themselves and in a way that suits them.

What is government for if not to facilitate and help people help themselves?

Chloe Smith MP

So, what's happened whilst I've been on holiday then?

Oh yes, the Labour Party in Norwich completely imploded, the LibDems fell flat on their faces and the Green bandwagon halted at the steps of Norwich North. And we have a new, excellent Conservative MP in the City.

Chloe took a lot of slings and arrows in the campaign for her age and lack of experience; I think that she will now turn these into virtues as she does a clean sweep of Westminster. Chloe will be a great advocate for the constituency and a superb MP. She is the only MP not tainted with the expenses row and has an outlook on life that I wish more MPs - let alone Conservatives MPs - had.

But for a moment let's think of the campaign. Chloe deserves a great deal of credit for the result (shock horror!) because it was her who set the whole tone for the campaign. The themes of honesty and a fresh approach to politics may have seemed like a slogan bought in for the campaign - but far from it. Chloe has been making these an issue for years and, together with myself in Norwich North, has been campaigning on the issues of honesty and expenses well before the media train arrived at Norwich station. Chloe set the tone, particularly on positive campaigning, and each of her votes is a tribute to this.

Luckily, I suppose, Labour chose this moment to implode and both they and the LibDems ran an ultra-negative campaign. I may come back to this in future but especially the LibDems ought to consider that the party who delivered most literature didn't win, the party with the dodgiest statistics didn't win and the party who played the man rather than the ball didn't win. This result is bad for Labour - but at least they can blame the government - but the real losers here are the LibDems and Clegg personally. I do feel for April Pond - what now for her? It would be churlish not to say well done to both the UKIP and Greens who, in real votes, were big winners in the campaign.

Chloe Smith has a big challenge in front of her - not least holding the newly redrawn seat at the next election. But I tell you, after this election there won't be a Labour candidate in the country who would want to face her on the ballot paper.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Now we're here

They say a week is a long time in politics, and so too in education. Last week I had campaigning and constituency work backed up. Now my day job - I teach at Notre Dame in the City Centre - takes centre stage. On Tuesday I attended a full meeting of school governors, Wednesday a trip to London for an exam board training event and tomorrow is Sports Day at the UEA! Still, there has been time to pop over to Norwich North for some leafleting and a campaign meeting tonight. Last time I checked it was Monday - now we're here in Thursday. Fast huh?

Comments yes, abuse no

(Teachers voice):
I find myself once again having to point out that if you have a genuine comment, pro or anti anything I say then it will be published. However the small minority of you who are trying to leave abuse will find it not published because I won't let you ruin the fun for everybody.

Remember; it takes you longer to type the stuff than it does for me to click "reject"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Good Customer Service Patrol: Homebase, Hall Road

As I am quick to moan on here about shops or services that let us down I thought I would praise the staff and managers at Hall Road's Homebase who tonight, at ten minutes before closing, handled the sale of a new fireplace with great courtesy and did something amazing. We have a discount voucher which is valid for one day a few weeks hence; the day not only fails to fit in with my exhausting DIY schedule but also is when we are on holiday. So I either buy full price now for convenience or wait for the discount and ruin my schedule and my holiday. Yet, for either the sake of the sale of good customer service, they accepted the discount early and did us a great service. Well Done, Homebase!

My Saturday in Norwich

It was a glorious day in Norwich today and almost perfect campaigning weather; warm enough to be very pleasant but not so hot you collapse of heat exhausion.

The round-the-clock leafleting and door-knocking meant that our campaign team meetings have now been shifted to breakfast time. Somehow election planning was more pleasant when accompanied by coffee and eggs; a change we may have to keep even after the by-election!

And so the day began delivering Chloe's latest election offering to the good people in Hellesdon. Walking around and talking to local people you get the real sense that Hellesdon is ready to vote for change. Most people were Conservative supporters, but those who were not were quick to tell me that they wouldn't vote Labour. The overwhelming majority said they are yet to hear from any party other the Conservatives so far. Again the office was packed and there was a buzz about the campaign. It's a fun place to be at the moment and because of the weather (both politically and literally) there is a great sense of purpose and unity.

A sausage based lunch - and time for the Norwich South team to re-group - was the perfect time to swop canvass stories and discuss the issues that people were raising.

In the afternoon it was back to my own constituency - though my endeavours took me less than a couple of miles from where we had been in Norwich North. I wanted to speak to some residents who were having problems with permit parking (the abuse of, should I add) in their City Centre road. Despite cmplaints to both the council and to other parties nothing has been done. They were very appreciative of the time taken to visit them and some suggestions for moving forward.

I also stopped in to see a new party member who wanted to talk about how she could contribute to a Conservative victory at the next election! There's plenty to do on both sides of the City and lots to get involved in!

Finally a stop off to see some people about a planning application that has been made which could make life very difficult for them. This is a tough case - the current structure is unsightly and covered in grafitti (not great to live with) but the proposed new use could generate more use for the area and thus more cars and movement which they don't want either. The residents want a third solution, which would be good but isn't even on the table. They recognise the problem and realise the difficulty both they and the planners are in. This was one of those cases where I offered impartial advice on the pro's and con's and was clear and realistic about what would happen. I think people really appreciate honesty in such cases.

It was a fine day in a fine City!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Norwich Station, Bus Station, Council Meeting, Teaching, Liam Fox MP, Leaflets, Blogging & Home

I have tried to describe the entire day in a single blog title; and thought I did rather well.

It was an early start because a team of us, including myself and newly-election Bowthorpe County Councillor Paul Wells, were helping with the Conservative transport survey. With the threat of nationalisation on the Norwich line and continued concerns over the buses it was aptly timed. We were with Chloe Smith, our by-election candidate, and also Angela Browning MP. Commuters were certainly keen to give their views on what should be done with a fair mix of opinions. From the train station it was off to the bus station; where things were much busier indeed!

By 8.30am I was at the Council Group Leader's meeting - the contents are confidential. However I do wish people who think that all politicans do is argue and bicker could see these meetings where we get a great deal of consenus about moving the City forward.

Some A Level teaching and a massive pile of references to write for my Year 11 leavers next, and then onto the City Centre again to meet with Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox MP to see the War Memorial. The War Memorial is not only the biggest disgrace in Norwich politics but lucily it stands as amassive eyesore to remind everyone of why we ought to get a move on and deliver a tribute to our veterans that is truly fitting. Dr Fox was pretty shocked at it, as are all visiting politicans when they see it. There was also an amusing aside when a couple recognised Liam and stopped for a chat - they were from Gordon Brown's Scottish constituency!

Back to school (avoiding the rain) and more work - then home to find box upon box of our new leaflets which focuses on thanking residents for their support in the local elections and reporting on the recent Cameron Direct event. Bundling leaflets whilst watching Andy Murray - well, more watching Murray than bundling to be honest! A team sort them out for deliverers and then we start shuttling them around. This is a job I like doing because it gives me a chance to meet and thank our hard working delivery team. We have dozens of people in each ward who do this job; not glamerous but vital and I like to make sure they know how appreciated they are. Friends and members keen to help always makes me feel better.

Finally home to do a mass blog (see below) about my week; I'd aimed to do them each night but that hasn't worked out so far! A big sleep needed tonight because we're off to help in the Norwich North by-election tomorrow!

Clover Hill Community Association: Proving communities can work together and succeed

Thursday night I was invited to attend the AGM of the Clover Hill Community Association; as a group they help to develop communitiy facilities within the area and administer the village hall too. I go around a lot of voluntary and community groups in the constituency and beyond and many (but not all) are suffering from lack of membership and/or interest. Some meetings are downright depressing with campaigners, weighed down by events, declaring that it is all falling apart! Well, this was nothing like that ...

... For a start it was combined with a great BBQ which lifted spirits and the short AGM meeting became more of a social event. We were pleased to hear from Bowthorpe's Canon Simon Stokes on his recent visit to India and what Indian communities, especially some of the poorer ones, can teach us in the West. He was extremely amusing to listen to and had a great message about what we can achieve together.

So from that we were told that the Community Hall made a finanical loss and that groups who used it were shutting down. The boiler was broken and more money was needed ... but this was not a miserable whinge - far from it! People there elected a large and keen new committee. Their costs are under control and they are actively seeking new users for the hall. They are pro-actively applying for grants and funding. The deficit is being reduced. The hall is being used almost to capacity. There is a genuine sense of optimism and enthusiasm about what can be achieved. The CHCA is a model for other such groups and I would suggest that Chair Mrs Wright and Secretary Mrs Sexton are well worth contacting for advice if your group needs it.

Norwich is full of really good community and voluntary groups and we should never forget that!

NR5 project visit

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the NR5 project, which runs out of the North Earlham area and is a supportive inclusion unit for many of the marginalised and excluded pupils from the community. It also doubles up with Future Radio on site, as well as hosting many community events. I was surprised to hear it has to register as an Independent School in order to work alongside Norfolk County Council; given the amazing work it did I am surprised that we cannot make these agreements easier to reach. I was shown around by trustee Gerry Aldous and project manager Dawn Jackson and got to meet the staff and many of the youngsters who use the extended provision; including the "In Harmony" group. Both Gerry & Dawn have a real understanding of what community engagement means and the project is a very impressive piece of both organisation and real grassroots delivery. Typically funding is always an issue - it seems to be with all of these excellent local initiatives - and I hope I was able to help with some advice and thoughts about funding streams in the future.

Inclusive education; and the fate of our youngsters who are, for whatever reason, excluded from our educational system; is of real interest to me. The kids who come here get an education and curriculum that is suited to their needs, almost constant 1:1 support and a chance to engage in positive activites. This support goes on from before school to long after it. I wonder how much we've saved in reduced anti-social behaviour (for example) because of the work that this project does. I'd call it a real spend-to-save initiative!

Our new county team - of Cllrs Hutson & Mackie - ought to visit as soon as they can to see this project in full swing. The NR5 project can be assured of our continued support, especially if I am lucky enough to be the MP for NR5.

The first decoy of the by-election

The sudden stuff-and-nonsens about where Chloe Smith, the Tory candidate in the Norwich North by-election, was born is amusing to say the least. Egged on by blogs - not least fellow candidate Craig Murray and LibDem Nich Starling (who is, to be fair, providing good coverage of the by-election) - it cannot be long before this hits the print media. It would be ridiculous if it does. If a Staffer is going wobbly they shouldn't be; because Chloe is utterly relaxed and honest about this.

When the Norwich South office took a call about this, I text Chloe to ask her where she was born. In a breath, she replied that she was born in Kent, moved to Norfolk aged 3 and now lives in the City. Sorted then.

In some ways, a story about who-is-most-local won't do the Tory campaign any harm. Chris Ostrowski is (or was) London based, Mr Murray himself hails I think from Scotland and the BNP chap is from outside Norfolk too. The LibDem and UKIP candidates are more local. Either way, I'd be surprised if it became an issue and equally shocked if this story made any headway.

I've been very supportive of blogs making the running with the rest of the media; I hope these non-stories don't do it any harm.