Blogging to order

As I’ve just said in the comments on the first ‘new’ post, I don’t like feeling under an obligation to blog about certain things, and it was one of the frustrating things about blogging before that some people accuse you of ‘never’ blogging about things you’ve actually talked about a hell of a lot in the past. Buses being one such thing. I could rehash old blog posts every now and again just to tick that ‘I’m interested in sorting out the buses’ box, but that would turn the blog into a PR exercise and that’s not what it’s about.

Of course, I’m still lobbying about buses and the wider transport issues in Bristol, talking/ writing to the council, to First Bus, to councillors, to anyone who has influence. I met the transport minister recently with other MPs to talk about rail issues. But I’ve already said what has to be said about Quality Contracts and an ITA and the Severn Beach Line and all those things. I’ve blogged about meeting with First Bus, and even posted at some length their responses to constituent’s complaints. If there’s anything to report it will appear on the website, or in the local paper, or on Facebook, or in the email newsletter to constituents I send out each month, but I’m not going to blog about things just because someone else thinks I should. Blogging shouldn’t be a chore.

On a more positive note though, here’s a petition about Bristol buses that’s doing the rounds http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43134

Fit and Working Again

The other reason for not blogging much last year was that it was an incredibly busy year. In one sense there wasn’t as much going on in Parliament as in previous years. It’s a very thin legislative programme this year, and there have been weeks when virtually all we’ve had to occupy us is Opposition Day debates and backbench business committee debates. Some of these debates have been very interesting, and a few have been very important – but they’re not binding, and policies/ laws don’t automatically change as a result because we’re not actually voting on Bills.

Despite this, it’s still been busy, which just shows that legislation isn’t the be all and end all of an MP’s work in Westminster. I think the work has partly come about because there is just so much to rail against – so many issues that the Government needs to be held to account on, or challenged over – and also me having a few topics that I’ve wanted to ‘get out there’ this year. There have also been quite a few Foreign Office debates when I’ve had to reply as shadow minister, though – thankfully – none of the committees I had to do when I was in the shadow Treasury team. I don’t miss Finance Bill Committees!

You can see here what topics I’ve been speaking on in Parliament, what questions I’ve been asking, and what committees I’ve taken part in. Modesty prevents me from suggesting you compare this with the work record of other local MPs… And to be fair, some MPs are occupied with Select Committee work, which wouldn’t show up in these stats. As a shadow frontbencher I don’t sit on a Select Committee, although I am very involved in a number of All-Party Groups, which is another thing that can take up a lot of MPs’ time and doesn’t get any acknowledgement on sites such as They Work For You.

By the way, the voting record – number of votes taken part in – will always be lower for an Opposition MP, particularly a frontbencher, as we’re more likely to abstain on some votes – for example when it’s a motion from Tory EU rebels; that’s the Government’s problem, not ours! The Government always has to wheel its troops out, because it’s their legislation they’re trying to protect so if you’re a Tory or Lib Dem MP you’ll always have to be ready to go through the division lobbies. Labour, by contrast, might abstain on Second Reading if we’re not opposed to all elements of a Bill, and then vote against specific sections in committee and at Report Stage. If we do abstain that might mean there’s not a vote at all, but sometimes a small group of rebels, from either side, or the nationalist parties perhaps, might push it to a vote.

I did also do a bit of work-related travelling during the first half of the year, to Colombia, Burma, and the Falklands, and the UN in New York for a couple of days for the Arms Trade Treaty talks, although since my 48 hours in Moscow for the Pussy Riot trial at the start of summer recess the furthest I’ve been is to the Isle of Wight for the weekend for a friend’s 50th birthday! One of the things I keep being offered is a visit to Gaza/ the West Bank. I haven’t been since 2006 when I was an observer at the Palestinian Authority elections. It might be time to return in 2013.

For now, it’s still recess. Parliament returns on Monday 7th. I missed Christmas totally as I was ill (I’m never ill!) but will be getting back to work, doing constituency stuff and emails (lots of emails) between now and then.

Today I started blogging again…

Yes, I’ve used that one before….

But I am going to try blogging again this year… See how it goes… I didn’t stop last year, I just got out of the habit, and once you’ve ground to a halt there never seems to be a compelling enough reason to start again. And it’s less of an effort to blog for other sites with established readerships, which I did a fair bit in 2012; I did pieces about my trip to Moscow to observe the closing stages of the Pussy Riot trial for Labour List, the New Statesman, Huffington Post, Louder than War, Punk News, the F-Word and others I forget, reaching a far wider audience than my obscure little blog ever would. And a piece for Labour List about why MPs should be interested in local, national and international matters. And some articles on food waste, and a few other things.

I also still have my website, and two Facebook pages – I don’t ‘do’ Facebook but they somehow look after themselves. (The staff do it). One is general stuff; the other is specifically on food waste, following my introduction of a private members’ bill on the issue in spring 2012. They all get way more hits than my blog ever does.

Basically to get a blog’s traffic up you have to post regularly and frequently, as the likes of Tom Harris used to. At least several times a day, every day. Twitter has undoubtedly provided a distraction for a lot of the people who a few years ago would have been writing or browsing political blogs, and has also more or less killed off blog comments, as Hopi Sen recently noted. You tweet a link to a blog post and people reply to the tweet, not the post. Which can be a bit annoying when you want to get a proper discussion started. It has to be said, I’m finding Twitter increasingly irritating. It creates too much ‘brain fizz’ and not enough space for considered thought.

It’s obvious from end of year tweets that many journalists/ bloggers are disillusioned with the notion of trying to engage with people online. It’s become received wisdom. Don’t read the comments. Block the trolls. And that’s not because they only want to broadcast, rather than engage. It’s because they’re fed up with the over-argumentative, the eager to be offended, the abusive, the rude – and, most annoying of all, the self-righteous ‘what about’ brigade. How dare you write about X, Y or Z – what about people dying in Syria? No matter whether the topic you choose to write about is trivial or important, highly topical or off-the-wall, someone will always pop up with ‘what about’…

In some cases it’s valid – I sort of tackled the “why are you talking about Pussy Riot, what about….” in a piece I wrote for Louder than War, but it’s still annoying. Writing about one topic doesn’t mean you don’t give a damn about the things you don’t write about. Sometimes it’s better to let other MPs make the running on particular topics, if it’s their shadow portfolio, or they have expertise, or a local connection. Steve Rotheram on Hillsborough for example. I sat in on the debates on that, and heard great speeches from Steve, Andy Burnham, Alison McGovern, Clive Betts, Maria Eagle and others – but there was no need for me to speak.

And sometimes, it’s the very opposite. There are issues that I think no-one will talk about if I don’t. I did a Westminster Hall debate on the damage being wrought to our Marine Eco-systems last year, and no, it’s not the burning number one issue for constituents in Bristol East, but someone has to care about it. And if not me, then who?

Anyway, I am going to try to blog a bit more this year. We’ll see how it goes.

#lab12tweetup

Labour conference

Here are just a few things I’ll be doing at Labour conference.

I’ll be speaking at/ attending quite a few foreign affairs events, which all seem to be invite only – e.g. we have a lunch with sister parties, and I’m speaking at a private dinner organised by a think tank –  and meeting international visitors, but that’s probably not of much interest to you. Here are some things which might be.

On the Saturday night I’ve helped organise a PUSSY RIOT event, at Teacup, Thomas Street, in the Northern Quarter. It’s an Un-Conventional Women event, run by www.unconventionhub.org, of which I’m a board member. They’re running three more events in Manchester in November by the way – UnConvention Football, UnConvention Punk and Politics (where I’m on a panel) and UnConvention Curry Mile. Check out their website for details.

There will be DJ-ing at the Pussy Riot event, some live performances, plus a panel/ audience debate on issues arising from the Pussy Riot trial e.g. music as political protest, feminism, human rights in Russia, freedom of speech. The panel includes the feminist writer Joan Smith, Tom Watson MP, Chris Bryant MP (who chairs the All-Party Russia Group), Emmy the Great and some of the female musicians who will be performing on the night. Free entry but donations to the Pussy Riot defence fund (and to pay for the PA!) are welcome. Bring your balaclava!

It’s from 7pm till late, and there will be a bar and food, and tea and cakes. None of which are free.

Also on the Saturday there’s a POP-UP FOOD BANK in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, by Queen Victoria’s statue, from 1pm-6pm, collecting for Salford foodbank. There’s a list of preferred items (e.g. soup, cereals, rice, pasta, pasta sauces, tea bags, coffee, sugar, biscuits) so you can just pop into one of the nearby stores and come armed with a donation. It’s organised by the Christian Socialist Movement and the Trussell Trust/ Foodbank Network.

I’m also putting together a Sunday lunch with special guests at Manchester Foodcycle and then on Sunday afternoon I’ll be taking part in a Fabians roundtable on food waste. Both are invites only I’m afraid.

Sunday also includes the Labour South West reception, where I’ll be catching up with fellow activists from the region, Labour Friends of India (at which I’ll be briefly speaking), and I’m hoping to get to my friend Lucy Powell’s “Manc Night” at Sam’s Chophouse to support her campaign to become the next MP for Manchester Central.

On Monday night the Christian Socialist Movement has a FOOD POVERTY RALLY at the Friends Meeting House, 7.45pm – outside the zone so all are welcome. I’ve got to be in five different places at once, but hoping to be there.

Also on the Monday I’ll be speaking at the LAWS (Labour Animal Welfare Society) event, from 6.30pm at Bar 38. I think there’ll be having their usual LAWS karaoke night afterwards but I’ll be off to see the (aspiring) professionals perform at UK Music’s Battle of the Bands night, to celebrate the Live Music Bill.

Monday is also one of the days when I’ll be in the Conference Hall a lot. We have the foreign affairs debate in the morning, with Douglas Alexander speaking around 11-ish, and then it’s the Economy debate, with a speech from Ed Balls. In the afternoon there’s a ‘breadline Britain’ session, where, inter alia, Mary Creagh will be talking about food poverty. I have had to record some video footage for the foreign affairs slot, which will no doubt be cringeworthy to watch.

And on Wednesday night I’ll be at the LABOUR TWEET-UP, which is hosted by Political Scrapbook. See below for more info.

#lab12tweetup – all you need to know and more

LABOUR CALLING!

We were going to hold this year’s tweet-up – co-hosted by Political Scrapbook – in Manchester Town Hall, but we’ve decided on a change of venue. Ignore the ad in the conference fringe guide for the Political Scrapbook party. Well, ignore the venue. Same time, different place!

Get on down to Manchester’s Sandinista bar, on Wednesday 3rd October from 7.30pm till late.

It’s at 2 Old Bank Street Manchester, M2 7PF, just off St Ann’s Square (basically just head towards Town Hall from the conference centre and carry on a little bit). If you go along St Ann Street it’s a little side road by Starbucks.

Venue: http://www.manchesterbars.com/sandinista.htm
Location: http://tinyurl.com/MP27PF

You don’t need a ticket or a conference pass, but those who can’t prove their Twitter credentials may be forced to sign up and tweet on the spot.

We’ll have Tom Watson MP on DJ-ing duties – he’s dusting down those Clash singles right now – and Manchester music legend John Robb on the late shift, as well as a set by David Prescott based on the 1986 GMEX Ten Years of Punk show (I was there!)

There is disabled access on the ground floor. We have half of it reserved all night, as well as all the basement (which unfortunately doesn’t have access as it’s downstairs). In theory we can stay there till 3am… There will be a free drink for early arrivals and then the usual pay bar.

The bar has wifi. Which I am hoping will work!

Spread the word comrades!

“Booze shame” in Bristol!

Late blogging about this story, but still worth a mention. The Bristol Evening Post ran a feature a few days ago about the “Booze Shame List”. Bristol, you will no doubt be relieved to know, doesn’t have as many shameful boozing hussies as other cities. We only have four.

“Booze shame girls list revealed – JUST four girls in the Avon and Somerset area were fined for being drunk in a public place last year, new figures reveal. A league table, published yesterday in the Sun newspaper, found only the City of London force area to have had fewer women aged under 21 fined. http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Booze-shame-girls-list-revealed/story-16021025-detail/story.html

I am awaiting with great anticipation the booze shame boys list, which I assume is on its way?

Politics Home awards

Some interesting nominations in this year’s Politics Home awards. Steve Rotheram certainly deserves his speech of the year nomination for the Hillsborough debate, and so does Tom Watson for his speech on hacking – although I think I’d go with Steve for the speech, and Tom has got to win MP of the year, surely? Even if he is up against the mighty Mogg?

As amusing as Nadine Dorries’ two arrogant posh boys’ remark was, it’s extremely trivial in comparison with the phone hacking debate, which I would think is a dead cert for political moment of the year. Willy Bach would get my vote in the Lords category, for securing a series of Government defeats on the Legal Aid Bill. If not Willy then Anyone But Shirley. Campaign of the year is a tough one. Stella Creasy has shown immense persistence in pursuing her loan sharks campaign, but John Healey’s quieter fortitude in pushing for the release of the NHS Risk Register shouldn’t be overlooked.

Not surprised to see Jamie Reed (@jreedmp) in there for best political tweeter – Paul Waugh of Politics Home is his number one fan – and no, I’m not bothered about not being shortlisted for that! Having won the Dods social media award last year and being totally fed up with the constant association with tweeting, I am more than happy to pass on the crown. Besides, it was me who persuaded a reluctant Jamie onto Twitter, so he’s my protegee!

If I’m backing Jamie for Tweeter of the Year then I’d better give John Prescott my vote for hashtag of the year, for #godisgove – although if #popleveson had made it in there, I’d have plumped for that. Maybe it was just too late for the deadline? And Political Scrapbook for best blog. (Yes, I am biased in favour of the sole left-wing contender, and no, I’m not voting for Tories).

And then there’s “MP contribution to Central Lobby” for which my World Vegan Day debate has somewhat bizarrely made the cut. I wouldn’t have thought you could find a more obscure topic… maybe that’s why it got noticed. Or the fact I got booed in the Chamber. I will probably get two votes, from the two other vegans.

Here are the other contenders.

Steve Baker MPWe need a responsible, self-regulating financial system

Kerry McCarthy MPLeads debate on World Vegan Day

Grant Shapps MP10 tips for Twitter

Dominic Rabb MPWe must end feminist bigotry

Julian Huppert MPRiots are no excuse for this authoritarian knee-jerkery

 

Private Members’ Bills ballot update

Further to my post earlier this week about the Private Members’ Bills ballot, here is the result:

  1. John McDonnell
  2. Richard Ottaway
  3. Barbara Keeley
  4. Gavin Barwell
  5. Peter Aldous
  6. John Hemming
  7. Neil Carmichael
  8. Sir Paul Beresford
  9. Richard Harrington
  10. Mike Weir
  11. Stuart Andrew
  12. Sheryll Murray
  13. Lindsay Roy
  14. John Glen
  15. Jo Swinson
  16. Mark Hendrick
  17. Simon Kirby
  18. Michael Meacher
  19. Michael Connarty
  20. Douglas Carswell

So, not a great result for Labour and, with a few honourable exceptions, not much opportunity for progressive measures to be advanced… John McDonnell, who topped the ballot a few years ago too and introduced his Trade Union Freedom Bill, has already indicated he will be bringing in a bill about the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. Barbara Keeley is very interested in – and very good on – social care/ carers issues, so I’m sure that will be one of the topics she’ll be considering. Sir Paul Beresford is another one who has done well in a previous ballot, introducing a rather good child protection bill in the last session, which actually became law in March - the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012. John Hemming has had problems with cat burglars. Jo Swinson has long campaigned on body image and airbrushing in adverts, so perhaps she’ll be doing something on that? Michael Meacher has a letter going viral on Facebook right now, about tax avoidance and the Sunday Times rich list – his blog is here. And as for Douglas Carswell… abolishing Europe or something along those lines.

The dairy debate

Interesting… Have had a couple of emails this week from Bidwells Agribusiness (who I’ve never heard of) urging me and presumably all other MPs to complete a survey about the UK dairy industry. £5 goes to FARM-Africa (or a couple of other charities) if you do.

After a few opening questions like do you think you’re well informed, where do you get your information from, do you have contact with dairy farmers in your constituency, etc, they ask about whether we have contact with Compassion in World Farming, WSPA (which campaigned against the Nocton dairy farm), 38 Degrees and the Badger Trust. To which I answered yes. They then asked if I’d heard of DairyCo, to which my answer was no. I suspect that the industry is worried about the influence organisations campaigning for better welfare standards in the dairy industry, and against the badger cull, are having, and this survey is something to do with setting up a rival lobbying operation.

As it happens I already get the NFU South West weekly email updates and I do read them, not to mention getting the highly partisan line from the Farming Minister at every Defra Qs. (Pro-cull, pro-Nocton, wants ‘sustainable intensification’, will pay lip service to animal welfare concerns provided nothing gets in the way of farmers getting more money for their milk… which they should do, but not by forcing cows to produce far more than they are designed by nature to do.*) So I’m not sure I need extra lobbying for DairyCo, whoever they may be, but I will watch out for it with interest.

*Subject to vegan caveat, that I’d rather cows milk was consumed by baby cows, not people. 

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