Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Confessions of a canvasser...

We've been doing quite a lot of doorstep canvassing over the last few weeks, and on the whole we've received a very good response. There's almost 6,000 households in Victoria Ward though, so we can't get around to everyone. We have been pleasantly surprised by how many residents do actually read our Focus newsletter - and find it informative too. They also appreciate the hard work we've put in.

However, one thing you learn with canvassing, is that not everyone loves you!

I knocked on one door, and introduced myself to the gentleman standing there, then held out my hand. He looked at it and curled his lip.

"I don't shake hands with politicians," he said, looking me up and down as if I was a piece of dirt.

You don't argue with someone like that, you just turn and walk away. Which is what I did. What I felt like saying was:

"It's okay, I've washed my hands, and I don't have any contagious diseases. If you want to stick labels on me I'm also a husband, father, son, professional writer, walker, cyclist and a caravanner. Perhaps you wouldn't shake hands with any of them either?"

What a nice man - I bet he goes down a hoot at dinner parties.

One way to persuade men to vote
 - we use Focus
I don't mind the people who say they're voting for another candidate, or party. What does wind me up are people who proudly boast: "I don't vote." Or, "I don't bother voting in the local elections - they're not important."

Imagine writing out a cheque, for say, £1,500, without exercising any say or influence on how that money will be spent? That's what the 'no voters' do every year when they pay their council tax. Weird!

The subject of not voting came up on the doorstep with a lady who made the valid point that "women have died to give me the vote." I also reminded her of the people in Third World countries who walk for miles, and queue for days to elect their leaders. Then, I have to admit I got a bit carried away (which I sometimes do), and added:

"It would serve the 'no voters' right if a fascist government were elected, and they were the first to be put up against a wall and shot!"

A bit extreme, but you get my drift?

Friday, 15 April 2011

The day we met Norman Lamb, over a hog-roast...

I must admit that the day we met Norman Lamb, we didn't know who he was. What a difference a few years make.

Iain Brodie Browne in his blog was asking why the LibDem North Norfolk MP wasn't given the Health Minister's job - after Andrew Lansley was ordered by Cameron to 'pause' the Health & Social Care Bill for two months consultation and reflection.

Lamb, an acknowledged expert on the NHS, has publicly opposed the handing over of the NHS budget to GPs. The wounded Tory minister now looks inept and doesn't have the backing of nurses, after their vote of  'no confidence'. That's why the web is alive with twitterings saying that Lamb would make a far better job. Ironic then, that it was Lansley who blocked Lamb from having a ministerial job in his department during the coalition negotiations.

It was the summer of 2005, just a couple of months after the General Election, and we were caravanning in Norfolk. When we're away, we like to attend local community events. We'd spotted a poster outside a care home saying that they were having a fund-raising garden fete on Saturday, and that 'Norman Lamb MP' was opening it.

We thought that was our kind of thing, and indeed it proved to be the case. There were stalls selling all sorts of things from local beer to paintings by Norfolk artists, knitted animals, food and cheeses. Traditional games were evident too; smack the rat, hook a duck, hoopla and there was a coconut shy.

What was different about this traditional English garden fete, which at the same time enhanced it, was that the Asian staff were turned out in their 'Sunday best'. The women wore very colourful saris, and the men were resplendent in sarongs and kurtas. These young people were very caring towards their patients who obviously had psychological and physiological problems.

As soon as we were there, Linda spotted the home made cake stall and headed straight for it. After buying a large chocolate cake, I decided to take it to the car for safe keeping (from Linda). I arrived back just as the manager of the home was introducing Norman Lamb.

Norman was dressed smart but casual, in a jacket and open neck shirt. As he spoke in an easy and entertaining style, we speculated which party he represented. We knew it was historically a Conservative part of the country, but that we had made an impact over recent years. Certainly the MP didn't look like a Tory, and he didn't sound like one either... so if it didn't look like a duck, and didn't quack like one - then perhaps it wasn't one?

After the opening speech, I approached one of the senior staff, and asked her who he was. A smile beamed across her face, and she explained he was their Liberal Democrat MP. She said they were genuinely delighted when he accepted the invitation to open the fete, because, she explained: "This is only a modest event, and we didn't think he would be interested in coming along!"

Vegetarians turn away - Linda checking the hog-roast
Norman spent over one and a half hours talking to people, and having a go at some of the games. We were hovering by the pig roast when he came over and ordered some pork in a bun together with the delicious stuffing and apple sauce. He turned to us, and we introduced ourselves as Liberal Democrats from Crosby near Southport. His eyes lit up.

"What are you doing here?" He asked.

"Well, I said, "we heard you were opening the fete and hopped on the train."

It was at that point I discovered that people standing nearby had been listening in, because they all laughed. After a long chat, he said:

"Give my regards to John Pugh, we were both elected for the first time in 2001, and have become friends."

He was still shaking his head in amazement, that out of all the garden fetes in all the world, we should have turned up there...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

There I was, just minding my own business...

It's not every day I get a public dressing down, but at last Wednesday's planning meeting in Bootle Town Hall, that's what happened.

There was a heavy agenda, with several petitions, so the public area was packed. We were dealing with an application for War Games activities at the back of Shorrocks Hill Country Club. The lady who had presented a petition against the application was being questioned by Formby Tory councillor, Barry Griffiths. In true Barry style, his questions seemed more like prompts, designed to encourage the petitioner to make the most of her case.

Cllr Paul Tweed gave me
a public dressing down
My colleague, Cllr Jim Byrne, made loud comments to this effect to Cllr John Dodd on his left. Unfortunately, I was sitting on Jim's right. My nose was in the agenda when the Labour Chair, Cllr Paul Tweed,  reacted to what Jim had said:

"You are wrong, these are questions, and we need to hear the answers. And councillor Hough, don't interrupt the proceedings again - you should know better than that!"

At that point I looked up and said indignantly: "Excuse me Cllr Tweed, I haven't said a word!"

Jim put up his hand like a naughty school boy and said. "It was me!"

The officers, particularly Andy Wallis, the out-going Planning Director, were doing their best not to break out into laughter.

Paul quickly apologised and we moved on.  A few minutes later Peter Cowley, Sefton's Principal Solicitor, appeared at my side with a hastily written apology from Paul. I can only assume that Peter had warned him I might sue for defamation of character if he didn't put it in writing. I looked across at Paul and smiled.

After the meeting, somewhat embarrassed, he repeated the apology. I told him not to worry, we all make mistakes, and was it okay if I printed his apology in Focus?

This time there was loud laughter from several officers.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Do you fancy a Scafell blond?

'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy', wrote hotel caretaker Jack Torrance, before trying to sort out his wife and son with an axe, in Kubrick's film of the Stephen King novel; The Shining.
Not wishing to end up like Torrance (Honey, I'm home!), I thought a few days break from all the electioneering would be spiritually uplifting. And so it was.

Us on a sunny Bowscale Fell
Linda and I (and the cat) dragged the caravan up the M6 to a lovely little site by the River Caldew near Hesket Newmarket in the northern Lakes. There we were joined by Cllr Mike Booth, his wife Clare and their pooch.

Hesket Newmarket was featured on Country File last year when John Craven visited The Old Crown which was Britain's first pub to become a cooperative. Prince Charles called in too a couple of years ago. To save it from closure, over a 100 locals bought shares in the pub - which has it's own micro-brewery. It produces such beers as Doris' 90th Birthday Ale and Scafell Blond. I know which one I prefer!

Mountaineer Chris Bonnington also lives nearby - and we bumped into him last time we visited, up on the fells. I remember it well. We were wearing all our outdoor gear, with heavy rucksacks stuffed with waterproofs, drinks and butties - and he walked past bidding us good day, wearing just a jacket and slacks!

This time the weather was glorious, and we did two cracking walks. On Friday we climbed up Carrock Fell, and refreshed ourselves in the pub on the way back. That evening (knowing a good thing when we see it) we returned for a very reasonably priced meal and more of that ale. Saturday saw us climbing about 2000 feet onto Bowscale Fell. It was a hard slog, but the views were terrific! We finished the day with a barbecue and a glass or two of wine.

The simple pleasures are the best.