Brandy's Blog - A Northern View of Westminster

There are twenty nine MPs in the North East. And how many cabinet members? None.

What about shadow cabinet members? There are 26 Labour MPs, there must be a high-flier? Well we've got a few rising stars, but not a single one is part of Ed Miliband's top team.

The region used to have a regional minister under Gordon Brown's government, who'd 'champion' the North East. That was Nick Brown, the Newcastle MP. But the coalition scrapped that post. Go even further back, and you might remember the days when the North East even laid claim to the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and many more (Tony Blair, Alan Milburn, Peter Mandelson, David Miliband...)

So how does the North East bend the ear of government these days? Well, it's tricky. There's the option of a question in the house - to the Prime Minister, or another member of government. As an MP you can write letters, request meetings, maybe even organise a demo. But these are all confrontational approaches - none of them really get the government 'on side'.

But in a first today, a dozen or so Labour MPs managed to persuade the Cities Minister Greg Clark to meet with them every 6-8 weeks to listen to concerns about the North East. The idea is that he will then take their issues to the heart of government. The 'delegation' will be open to all North East MPs, including the two Tories and two Lib Dems. But even so, the question is whether twenty six Labour MPs versus one Tory minister is really going to be any less confrontation than the methods of lobbying already on offer.

Twelve minutes with the PM

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Today at the Conservative Party conference I've been interviewing the PM. Not an easy feat when you cover three separate ITV regions. Downside is having to quickly switch brains between interviews, upside is getting 12 mins with the PM instead of just 4 (the time slot allocated per region).

Off screen banter included some chat about where to run in Manchester, and the PM reckons my 'catch phrase' is 'we'll have to leave it there'.

Here's the interview I did for ITV Tyne Tees:
ITV News

Today Nigel Farage has kindly credited me with ending Godfrey Bloom's career with UKIP. So how exactly did ITV Calendar end up at the centre of the political storm?

You have to credit Mr Bloom with one thing: he is not afraid of cameras or reporters. In fact, he had just slapped one Channel 4 journalist with a brochure when I decided to track him down and ask him if he thought that kind of behaviour was acceptable. True to form, he agreed an interview. And true to form, he did not hold back, telling me in no uncertain terms that he would do far worse to me or any other journalist if we keep asking him questions he did not like.

Immediately after the interview I phoned a contact at UKIP to explain what had happened. She was horrified. Not only had Bloom overshadowed the UKIP conference with the brochure incident, he had made things worse by being completely unrepentant. With Nigel Farage holding a meeting about Godfrey Bloom's behaviour right that minute, she ran up to tell the leader the contents of my interview.

And now we are told that Mr Bloom's remarks to ITV Calendar were the final straw. Not the 'slutgate' comments about women who clean behind the fridge. Not the physical attack on a Channel 4 journalist. But his inability to recognise that violent behaviour (even if it was only a light slap) is unacceptable, especially for a public official.

You can see my interview with Godfrey Bloom here:
ITV News

And Nigel Farage's reaction to my interview here:
ITV News

Apparently there's a new 'economic dawn' breaking. The Deputy PM Nick Clegg insisted to me last week he isn't joking - he's adamant that Britain's economy is on the turn. And there are lots of figures to back him up - house prices rising, unemployment falling, GDP growing. Well, that's if you live in the south.

In our region and further north, things aren't moving along quite so nicely. In fact the latest unemployment figures for Yorkshire and the Humber show a rise in those out of work. But more importantly, wages here are rising nowhere near as fast as prices, and they haven't done for the best part of three years.

That is all fertile ground for the Labour leader from Doncaster. That is why you will hear Ed Miliband say 'cost of living' over and over again this week. Whether it's axing the bedroom tax, providing 8am to 6pm childcare for parents, or increasing traineeships, all of the policies he's (finally) announcing this week tap into the issue of living standards.

But if we can't afford certain things anymore, then how can the government? The coalition are already arguing that Miliband will have to spend an extra £28bn on his latest promises, though Labour insist they'll claw the money from elsewhere in the existing budget. This is the Tories taking the debate back to their strongest ground - austerity and the accusations that Labour over-spent.

And so, an interesting battle will emerge this week. Labour will present themselves as the party that can take hold of this supposed 'economic dawn', spread it across the country and do it fairly, making sure everyone benefits.

But the Tories (and to a similar extent the Lib Dems) want to rein Labour back in, saying Miliband will throw away the recovery before he's even had chance to think about how to make it a fair one. This is the new battleground of British politics, though fundamentally it is the same old row: who can we trust with our economy?

South Shields by-election results

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The full break-down of tonight's results in the South Sheilds by-election. UKIP swing suggests some Labour voters have gone over to them. Who said they only ate into the southern Tory vote?

The Lib Dems have told me things are pretty horrific for them in South Shields, with it looking like the 'third party' vote has all gone to UKIP.

The turnout in the by-election, sparked by former foreign secretary David Miliband's resignation, is 39.3%.

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