Election Day -10 to -8 Hustings and Japanese Journalists

Getting too busy to blog now, its more and more manic, with absolutely no let up in the support for and interest in the Liberal Democrats, which I predict will surge higher after tonight’s final leaders’ debate.

I am spending all my time answering constituents and journalists, delivering and canvassing. The hustings was my first ever, and I was pleased overall; strong start on the economy and strong finish on crime, with a bit of a wobble in the middle caused by random heckle. Onwards and upwards.

Last night a journalist following the elections one of the main Japanese news agencies shadowed me – he saw canvassing “warts and all”! Mostly very positive feedback but one fairly extreme “a plague on all your houses” reaction.

Tomorrow you can hear all the main three candidates on BBC London 94.9 Drivetime, and I believe that’s the last joint public engagement before the election…

Election Day -11: Marathon campaign

Yesterday morning on my way to our campaign HQ I saw a boy of about 13 walking along my street wearing a Lib Dem sticker – he certainly wasn’t old enough to vote but just seeing him seemed to summon up what’s going on at the moment – 500,000 newly registered voters, most of them young, with a belief that at last real change could be on the way.

This close to the election you might be surprised to hear that I gave myself the afternoon off, but I went to watch my brother and others running the London Marathon for the British Red Cross. We’re all very proud of him – just turned 50, stranded in the US by the ash until Friday evening, and still got round in a very respectable 4 hr 38.

Hope it also went well for my mate Andy who was running in the Virgin caterpillar and Marcus – the small but perfectly formed cartoon museum. The Marathon was a real festival of spirit and achievement and shows just what London can do, fantastic performance by all. One day I’ll relive my glory days of 82 and 83…

The Red Cross reception afterwards coincidentally took place in the National Liberal Club – first time I’ve been in there for non-political reasons since we got married in 1993!

Election Day -12: Sex and Gambling

Well, that headline should get a few more readers, but don’t get excited – the revelations won’t come until after I’m elected as MP for Westminster North…

First of all, another great day’s canvassing, delivering and everything else involved in running a campaign, with yet another record turnout of helpers. While visiting a newsagents in Westbourne Grove, I got a hello and a smile from someone I’m 99% sure was the sex writer and TV personality Tracey Cox – I hasten to add there were lots of other people out there in Bayswater introducing themselves and saying encouraging things.

When I got home after a very long day’s traipsing the streets, I found my own election address in the letterbox, at last. There’s something surreal about finding a letter addressed to you from yourself. Once I’d got over the “do I really look like that?” moment I was pretty pleased with it. Well done Ben the agent.

And as for the gambling, a few weeks ago Ladbrokes had me at 100-1, and now they’ve slashed the odds to 12-1. In another 12 days, who can tell what the odds might be?!

Election Days -15 to -13: Nick Clegg’s fault!

It just gets crazier and crazier! In a good way. Email inbox bulging with offers of help, phone incessantly ringing with same and enquiries from every sort of journalist – local school magazines to national TV stations. And then there’s thousands of leaflets to deliver and doors to knock on.

Been out on the streets every day – saw the Tories again last night but no TV crews around this time!

This afternoon we were out and about in Westbourne Grove, where we’ve been highlighting the plight of local retailers who feel they get a very raw deal from the Council, and they gave us a great reception. This was particularly gratifying as we had a reporter and photographer from the Wood & Vale local paper in tow! Voters approaching unsolicited and wishing us well, and Tory scare tactics not working – the local business community wants the best heads working together.

Right now I’m writing as I’m waiting to be summoned to Acton to pick up our leaflet to deliver this weekend – latest ETA 9.30pm. We had a record turnout of helpers last weekend and I’m really excited about this one – I hope we’ll have even more coming out to help. And I need to have something for them to deliver!

Election Day -16: Meeting the BBC and my Conservative opponent.

Yesterday evening was entertaining – you couldn’t make it up. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems often see each other while out campaigning, and I’ve bumped into Karen Buck a couple of times, but up to now Joanne Cash and I have missed each other on the streets of Westminster.

Until last night. Our Lib Dem team started at one end of the street, and soon we saw the Tories coming from the other, with none of other than Joanne Cash among them. As the BBC were filming us Lib Dems doing our work, the inevitable happened, and when the two parties met halfway up the street, the cameras were there to film it. I don’t know what the BBC will end up showing, but all I can say is we didn’t stand around chatting!

This blog is now being read by a record number of people. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of light relief after the factual content of the last few days!

Election Day -17: Education (Last in a series of four policy statements)

Too many children are still leaving school without the knowledge and skills to be successful. Finding a good school is a struggle, lessons don’t always stretch the brightest or support those who need more help, and classes are often too big for teachers to control.
Every child is different, so schools need to be free to teach children in different ways and get the very best from them. Liberal Democrats want every child to get an excellent education because it is the best way to get on in life, get a good job, and learn about the world.
We will cut class sizes, set teachers free to spend more time in the classroom and raise standards in every school with more money for things like one to one tuition and classes in the evenings.
For those youngsters leaving school, university is getting more and more expensive. To get a degree, young people are saddled with thousands of pounds of debt when it is tough enough to get a job, get on the housing ladder and make ends meet.
Liberal Democrats are the only party which believes university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost. We have a sensible and affordable six year timetable to achieve this goal.
Westminster has one of the greatest disparities between the privileged and the disadvantaged of all the London Boroughs. By pursuing the above education policies, Liberal Democrats would seek to redress this imbalance by helping to give all Westminster children a fair start in life. All our policies are costed and realistic; they will make a difference.

Election Day -18: Housing (Third in a series of four policy statements)

In a fair society everyone should have the opportunity to have a decent home at a price they can afford. This is the Westminster Liberal Democrat vision for housing. To make this a reality, Liberal Democrats would bring 250,000 empty homes in England back into use through a grant and cheap loan scheme. This is an inexpensive, green alternative to building new homes that will lead to regenerated neighbourhoods.
The recession provided an opportunity to invest in more affordable homes so as to build a fairer society and a more sustainable economy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised 3 million new homes by 2020 to ease the housing crisis. Very little action has been taken to achieve this. Tory Mayor Boris Johnson promised to build Londoners 50,000 new affordable homes by 2011. He at least admits that this promise will not be kept!
In Westminster the average house price is a staggering £744,586, making it impossible for anyone to get on the housing ladder. Families on modest incomes are forced to pay exorbitant rents in often overcrowded conditions. The Council has promised to build a further 500 affordable homes over 4 years, but some 5,600 more homes are needed. Some regeneration programmes have been promised in the areas such as the Church Street neighbourhood and the Brunel estate, but the Council’s intentions remain unclear.
Westminster Liberal Democrats would look to bring some several thousand empty homes back into use, including over 400 council properties lying empty in the borough. We would undertake a major investment programme to insulate homes, making them warmer and more energy efficient, saving both the planet and the money in people’s pockets. Finally we would ensure that local residents have a key role in determining the housing needs for their area.

Election Day – 19: Transport (Second in a series of 4 policy statements)

Liberal Democrats believe our transport system is too slow and expensive in getting us from ‘A’ to ‘B’. There is too much traffic on the roads, trains and tubes are expensive and overcrowded, and buses are too few and far between. Transport should be affordable and reliable so people can have a real choice about how to travel. That’s how we can cut pollution and make it easy for people to leave their car at home.

 

Our Tube system is a shambles, especially at weekends, with many lines and stations within the borough closed, and works over-running by unacceptable margins. We would hold London Underground and TfL to account, and ensure they give contractors the opportunity to do the work at the least inconvenience to the passenger.
Only the Liberal Democrats have costed plans to put the passenger first, with plans for a rail renaissance, reopening closed railway lines and new stations. We also want local people to have a say on bus fares and routes. We want to cut the number of lorries on our roads to reduce congestion and cut exhaust fumes.
Only the Liberal Democrats have been honest with the public about exactly how we will pay for our public transport improvements. Our Future Transport Fund will provide ring-fenced funding for the improvements that future generations need if we are to cut our carbon emissions. These plans will shift freight from road to rail, cut carbon, and improve mobility.
We will reverse Labour plans to expand Heathrow Airport and oppose Boris Johnson’s proposals for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Unlike the Conservatives we oppose all airport expansion serving London and the South East and so would block expansion at Stansted and Gatwick as well.

The full party manifesto can be found here.

Election Day -20: The Health of the Nation (first in a series of 4 policy statements)

Liberal Democrats believe passionately in the NHS. It represents values which unite us as a nation – a comprehensive health service, which treats all people equally, and is free when we need it.
We’ve all experienced moments in hospitals that change the course of our lives. Liberal Democrats know how important the NHS is and that’s why we will ensure that the NHS provides high quality care and the best possible service long into the future.

A lot of money has been invested in health in recent years but too much of that has been wasted on bureaucracy rather than investing in frontline services. Doctors and nurses are forced to spend too much time trying to meet government targets rather than caring for patients. And government ministers make decisions about closing local services from the comfort of their offices rather than facing the people it affects.
Locally, we will be keeping a close eye on the Imperial Healthcare NHS, which runs St Mary’s in Paddington as well four other hospitals, which has been criticised for blunders costing it £6 million.

Liberal Democrats believe that patients must come first and that services would improve if local people had a say in how the NHS is run.
We believe in fairness with entitlements to healthcare guaranteed. We believe access to personal care should be based on need not the ability to pay. We will scrap central targets and guarantee that you get your treatment on time. We will give people the power to stop hospital closures in their area through elected local health boards. And we will put doctors and nurses back in charge of their hospitals and wards.

The ‘Your Life’ section of the manifesto contains more detail of Liberal Democrat health policy.

Mark Blackburn
Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate, Westminster North

Election Day -21: The Leaders’ Debate

What a display by Nick Clegg! I can barely cope with the new supporters and volunteers coming forward – but I will! In the meantime, I will be posting over the next four days key areas of Lib Dem policy and how this applies to Westminster, as is appearing in weekly editions of the Westminster Chronicle.