Month: April 2007

London Road Gallery

brightside-1988.jpgAfter a spell of delivering I called in to the London Road Gallery. It is the first time I have been in, and the thing that drew me to the place was the photos by Berris Connolly, which were mentioned in the Sheffield Telegraph and I wanted to see properly.

I have always been interested in photography, particularly where the scenes depict real places. The ones from Berris Connolly are even more fascinating as they are places I know, and have been taken at various times over the last few decades.

I love them because they are so atmospheric, but in many different ways. Either because they show a city in decline and with its industry decimated, or because they show a Sheffield being rebuilt, or because they depict some of the 70’s architecture which whilst often hideous reminds you of a different time full of post-war optimism when the modern architecture signalled better times ahead.

My favourite is the one shown above of Savile’s old works in Brightside from 1988. I hope Berris Connolly will forgive me for stealing the image so I can use it to promote his excellent and fascinating photography.


BERRIS CONNOLLY PHOTOGRAPHY: Gallery of Sheffield photos

Anders hits the streets

One of the disadvantages of being a constituency organiser is that you spend most of your election sat in an office writing and printing leaflets. I enjoy being out there delivering leaflets or knocking on doors, particularly when the weather has been as good as it has been lately. Fortunately, with most of my leaflet writing now done, today I had a bit of time to do some real electioneering and went to deliver some leaflets.

My experience was a prime example of how not to judge an election by just one road. By the end of the first road I was getting pretty depressed, as it seemed as though every single house had a Green poster. Things perked up considerably though when I went round the corner to an almost identical road to find no Green posters but Lib Dem ones instead.

By this point I was beginning to feel considerably happier, but then I got to my final road. I had just delivered a leaflet to one house when I heard a voice shout, “Who do I make a complaint to?” and a lady came out of a house waving a leaflet. At this point you suspect a complaint about something contained within the leaflet. I went over to the lady slightly fearful but intending to be polite and helpful. I was then pleasantly surprised to hear her say, “I want to talk to someone about a dangerous paving slab. I’ve seen him doing things around here, (pointing at the picture of the Lib Dem candidate on the leaflet), could you tell him about it? We had the Greens down here, but they’re doing my head in”. My serenity and positive feelings were quickly restored!

Currently reading…

During the election campaign it has been particularly enjoyable to get home and read for a bit before going to bed.

t382.jpgThe book I have just finished “Four Stories” by Alan Bennett. I have enjoyed everything that Alan Bennett has written and these four stories were no exception. I had read The Clothes They Stood Up In before, but it was worth re-reading and the other three stories were also excellent.

There is something particularly northern about Alan Bennett’s style of writing. It fits with the humour shown by people such as Victoria Wood. But it is also the details that he picks up on and the human traits that he writes about whilst keeping a lot of humour. Although I think my first contact with Alan Bennett’s writing was seeing some of his monologues performed at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, I saw a lot more of it when I was loaned some videos of his plays by my English teacher Mrs Everitt.  She was also a big fan, and it was these videos that led me to enjoy plays such as A Question of Attribution and An Englishman Abroad.  There is still a lot of his work though that I have never watched or read.  The piece though that particularly sticks in my mind is something he did for television called Dinner at Noon, where he basically gave a commentary on people he saw whilst staying at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate.

I am now starting on another Peter Robinson book, “A Dedicated Man”, whilst still dipping in and out of John Major’s autobiography. Although John Major’s book is interesting, it became too lengthy and detailed for me to use as a relaxing read late at night.  But I am still reading parts of it regularly and it is still proving interesting.

AMAZON UK: Four Stories by Alan Bennett

WIKIPEDIA: Alan Bennett

Famous or good looking? No sorry, you can’t join

I found out today that Jo Cameron – a contestant in the last series of The Apprentice – is standing for the Lib Dems in the local elections in Walsall.

She may not exactly be an A-list celebrity and most people won’t have heard of her, but I was quite excited by the news. That’s partly because I am a big fan of The Apprentice and so feel quite starstruck by the idea that she is a Lib Dem, but also because it is rare for the Lib Dems to get someone who is well known and current being prepared to stand up and being counted as a Lib Dem supporter. It is even rarer for them to be standing for the party in an election.

Although Jo Cameron’s appearance on The Apprentice may not exactly have shown her in the best light, I do think it is an asset to the party to have people with a national profile nailing their colours to the mast. Particularly someone like Jo Cameron who, whilst not successful on The Apprentice, is clearly a successful businesswoman otherwise. Most people in her situation would probably rather not be open about their politics for fear of it damaging their non-political career.

When Simon Hughes stood for party president he made some play about how he believed he could attract well-known people to support the party. This doesn’t seem to have happened, but if we have people who are well-known who are party supporters we really should be grasping these people with both hands. These are people who have a broader appeal and who bring skills to the party that other people don’t have. Plus, if you are attracting the right people it does say something about where your party is going and the sorts of people who will be associated with it.

Politicians always like to be associated with well-known people as it adds a bit of glamour and cool to politics. But parties all too often end up turning against these people if they are then seen to be trying to get involved in the real politics such as standing for election. Political parties only want them to be glamorous assistants rather than trying to be involved in the substance of politics.

The best recent example is the backlash in the Conservatives when Adam Rickitt went on to the party’s A-List. The criticisms seemed to be that he hadn’t ever done a proper job, (being a soap actor clearly disqualifies you, whereas if you have an Oscar like Glenda Jackson then that is OK), he hadn’t spent 50 years delivering leaflets for the party, (despite the fact that years of commitment to a party doesn’t necessarily make your sensible or sane) and that he was good looking (perhaps because it disproved the quote that “politics is showbusiness for ugly people).

Following on from the latter point, there does however appear to be a natural assumption in politics that if you are good looking then you are clearly up to no good, aren’t really that committed and you couldn’t possibly be bright, articulate or have any substance. Although this is nowhere near exclusive to politics – you only need to look at the dumb blonde stereotype to see that – it is odd that in an occupation where creating the right image is as important as having some substance, it is still an issue.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as we have seen it in the Lib Dems with the criticism that was meted out to ‘The Darbyshires’. Robin & Leah Darbyshire both worked for the Liberal Democrats in Winchester and Newbury respectively, but they also had a much criticised and parodied blog. Part of the problem was of their own making as their arrogant confidence in their own abilities and good looks was very clear on their blog. But the truth is that they ARE better looking than most Lib Dems, and they were also pretty competent campaigners and were an asset to the party. Their belief that they were treated badly because of their looks was probably true to a large extent.

To me, having celebrities wanting to be associated with a party is a great plus. But what we need to do is make sure we then encourage them to be used for all their abilities and not just as a pretty face devoid of political opinions.


COLIN ROSS: Former Conservative Councillor joins the Liberal Democrats (includes the news about Jo Cameron)

Maybe our MPs are more open after all

Following on from my last post about how transparent MPs are about their earnings and those of their staff. I spotted an article about how Swedish MPs are being forced to reveal their outside interests:

All of Sweden’s members of parliament are to be forced to disclose their financial assets and any paid work that they perform outside of their parliamentary duties. Shares held in foreign companies must also be declared.

It is interesting that this is seen as a major thing, given that we take this sort of information for granted in this country. Sweden is often held up as a beacon of transparency, freedom of information and progress, and yet the Swedish public do not yet have a right to know the financial background of their politicians. Something which I would have thought was essential.

Although politicians in the UK and Sweden are generally honest and uncorrupt, this perhaps highlights a not unusual trait in Swedes – an old-fashioned and slightly naive trust in what authority figures tell you. In this country I feel we are all too ready to assume the worst of people in power, whereas Sweden tends to do the opposite.

THE LOCAL: Swedish MPs forced to reveal shareholdings

MPs staff won’t be named

The Speaker has ruled that the names and salaries of MPs staff should not be made public and quite right too.

Firstly, I should probably clarify that this wouldn’t effect me anyway as my salary is paid for by supporters of Sheffield Hallam Liberal Democrats and not by taxpayers. But what I do believe is that everyone has a right to a certain amount of privacy.

MPs are there to represent the public and so their salaries are rightly in the public domain, as is information on any other income that they earn and shares, property etc that they earn an income from. This is largely so that the public know where an MP’s background when they make statements and to avoid any conflicts of interest.

But MPs’ staff are in a different situation. There are few good reasons why the public should need the information, but there is one compelling reason why they shouldn’t – privacy. How many people want their friends, neighbours and colleagues knowing how much they earn? MPs staff are basically there to do an administration and PA type job, which whilst it may be more interesting than most, is not a hugely influential position unless they are big political animals in their own right. There could be an argument for releasing the names as this would show how many people give jobs to their relatives. But even there, many of these relatives are actually very good at their job.

If the purpose is to reveal who has influence and power over MPs and so over our lives too, then perhaps we should instead be revealing the salaries of senior managers and PAs in all medium to large companies.  They have far more power than a handful of poorly paid graduates, diary secretaries and PAs.

In fact, perhaps the one advantage of making MPs’ staff salaries public is that it would make people realise quite how badly most people who work in politics are paid.  It certainly isn’t a job that you go in to for the money.

BBC NEWS: Speaker bans naming of MPs’ staff

I win a prize, I hope they win their’s too

I’ve just received in the post my winnings from the Ceredigion Liberal Democrat Supporters Club draw.  It was just £17.50, (but then I don’t enter for the amount I can win), but as I worked in Ceredigion at the time of the last Welsh Assembly elections, it seems very appropriate that I have won this draw for the first time in the run-up to the current ones.

Winning Ceredigion was one of the highlights of the last General Election for me.  I hope that one of the highlights of this year’s elections will be us winning the assembly seat too.

Ceredigion has come along way in the four years since I worked on the campaign there.  Our primary aim then was to win a seat on the Mid & West Wales regional list rather than the constituency.  Unfortunately we were around 1,500 votes from winning the final list seat – just 190 votes per constituency.  But in politics, very near is not good enough – we still lost.  Still the work we did then helped prepare the ground for winning the Westminster seat, and even the BBC acknowledges that the result in the last assembly elections was a big achievement:

In the 2003 assembly elections, he [John Davies, the Lib Dem candidate] managed to gain ground, securing the largest swing to a Lib Dem in any of Wales’ 40 constituencies.

This time, with an MP at Westminster, things are very different.  We are now in a really good position to win the seat and elect John Davies as the Assembly Member for Ceredigion.  I don’t mind admitting, and even he knows this, that I was unsure of John when I first met him, but he grew on me a lot as the campaign went on.  He was new to political campaigning but was prepared to learn and really worked hard.  His gut instincts on what was the right thing to do were also pretty sound.  His big advantage though will be what he will bring to the Lib Dem group in the assembly if he is elected.  He is from a farming background, he is an articulate, effective and passionate debator in Welsh and English, he knows the constituency and many of its key figures incredibly well but has also seen more of the world than just West Wales.  He is not the sort of candidate who usually appeals to me, but during the last campaign he proved to me how good he was.

I am a little sad that I couldn’t go and help them in the run-up to this campaign, but obviously being here in Sheffield is more important when we have elections too.

BBC NEWS WALES: Ceredigion warning to complacent