Monday, 22 June 2009

Quick thoughts on recycling.

Isn't it time that people who cannot be bothered to recycle get a fine?

Today was the start of National Recycling Week and began with an event in Town Hall Square showing people what they can recycle, where to put it, and how it is disposed of.

This is not anti-city council, it is only right that people should be given the chance to get it right, but surely those who simply do not make the effort should be punished eventually? It is them who cost us taxpayers more to dispose of their waste after all because there is much more of it in their bins.

Now, is recycling really that difficult or new? Is the thought of putting glass or plastic boxes in a different place that alien to people? It makes me angry.

In the city around 40 per cent of waste is recycled and composted, and about 50 per cent out in the county. Not the figures of an area where many people do not understand recycling or are new to it.

Yes, people looking at the stalls outside the town hall today may have found out a few more things to dispose of or recycle. The councillor I spoke to today, Sarah Russell, said that the people who recycle are those who make an effort to (or something similar to this.) and she wanted to change the mindsets of those who don't. She is right, but it is how those mindsets are changed.

People quickly change their minds if they get hit in the pocket, so why not do that? The council has a team of city wardens to hand out fines in other circumstances, if you leave your bin out for example. I for one hope they start to use it when people are failing to recycle. They would probably have to check what people are throwing away, but that doesn't worry me at all.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Still at work after a very long day poring over the expenses of Leicestershire's MPs.

Although a great deal of information has been blacked out, the team of four reporters, including me, have produced something very special indeed for tomorrow.

We have secured a stonker of a front page, and have some excellent special reports running through the paper.

Will add the link then.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Gandhi statue and Leicester's lack of them?

"I don't think there should be a statue of Gandhi in Leicester at all I bet he's never even been here." - one man said on our website today,

Blimey, what is it with people and the Gandhi statue, and being so angry about it?

Everytime we do a story on it we get many people upset about the fact that it is going to be in Leicester. Well tomorrow there will be more angry comments and debate because the statue was dropped into place this afternoon.

There seems to be an argument that instead of being Gandhi it should be someone else, like Gary Lineker or the Attenboroughs for example. Surely people are missing the point. This statue has been completely paid for by a charity. It is a private arrangement and it has planning permission. There are similar statues in more than 70 cities across the world, it seems reasonable that a city with links to India like ours should do the same.

The second point is that with all these people so angry with the statue, why not then start to consider whether Leicester should have more statues - more public art that other people can get excited about. Turn this negative energy into celebrating Leicester's heritage and successes. This charity has done it, others can too.

When Gandhi was going in, one bystander said to me that other cities and towns have more sculpture and statues. Why doesn't Leicester?

My home town of Ipswich has recently had two new statues. Football legends Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsay. People love them, I do. Nottingham has the Brian Clough statue. This has been popular as I understand it, and enjoyed because people living there because they can relate and know what these people were/are like and what they did for their area.

I'm not saying it should necessarily be a footballer, sportsman or manager, but something modern like this could only be good for Leicester. You have areas of the city that could be used. The city's cultural quarter near Curve, an area on New Walk, or somewhere near the Walkers Stadium or the new evolving Welford Road Tigers' ground.

I think that we should go for it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Adam Wakelin and the BNP.

If you haven't already, you should read Adam Wakelin's brilliant interviews with two new county councillors elected on June 4.

As County Hall is my main patch I'll meet these two at the first meeting of the full council on Wednesday. Jewel Miah is the first asian county councillor since the county council took its current form in 1997 and Graham Partner the first BNP councillor.

Particularly fascinating is where Graham Partner says that Nick Griffin is a "prat".

And: "It won't be the first time I've called him one. Saying that about the Holocaust is rubbish.
"Did he watch World At War, see those skeletons and think they were actors?
"He shouldn't say stupid things that he regrets, or should come out and say that's what he really believes and not deny it later. I've no empathy for him at all if he did say that."

Imagine if any other politician openly said that about their party leader?

I have not seen him in action at NWLDC so it will be so fascinating to see how he conducts himself, will he speak a lot, say nothing, and how he will he be treated by the other councillors. Will they be respectful or rude?

All will become clear this week.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Hopping mad.

I am absolutely furious - maybe I should drink some more water or something, that's supposed to help.

People tell you to wait by the phone, they will call, and they don't, you get hold of them, they say they'll call in ten. Nothing. Then you realise that 36 hours have passed. Charming man.

Anyway, the weekend is upon us, so I'll keep it short. I have today received some exciting documents from the city council relating to expenses and trips. Looking at what to do with them and hoping to run a few days of stories on them next week.

Posted the video on here of Keith Vaz being slurped at by Diane Abbott yesterday, which got a good reaction so made it on our website. Got a quote from Mr Vaz - glad he saw the funny side.

"Diane is an old friend. I reckon she could try her hand as an impressionist should she ever want to give up politics!” - he said. (She was taking the mickey out of me, I didn't really look that pleased on screen, now I'll start using words like "Reckon" to get down with the kids and look light-hearted afterwards in this quote. Job done.)

Off to London tonight for more birthdays and wedding-related organising. Shame I'm not around for Alan Duncan's public meeting in Oakham tomorrow at Victoria Hall from 10am. We are of course covering it and will have a story in on Monday. Very interested to know what happens there and whether it is painful. I suspect that the hall will be very busy, but Alan is not stupid, so a large proportion may be his supporters to ensure it doesn't get too ugly. We'll see.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Slurping at Keith Vaz.

To lighten the mood somewhat, watch this video of Keith Vaz in Parliament and fellow MP Diane Abbot taking the mickey out of him. So funny.

Nick Rushton.

So Nick has decided to stand down from the cabinet and will not seek to be the new deputy leader.

The rumour mill at County Hall has been in overdrive on this exact issue for the last month - ever since we broke the story. In the end this result was inevitable really. I must have had the same will he/won't he conversation with dozens of people.

If he had stayed, or even tried to, serious questions would have been asked and the pressure would have been cranked up another notch on him, the Tories and the council. This, for the moment, will relieve some of that pressure.

What has happened in Breedon has been damaging to the council and its administration. I have no idea whether anything that happened was illegal - that is for the police - I don't know whether it breaks council rules - that is for the standards board. What I do know is that the public and other politicians, including Conservatives, are uncomfortable with what has happened. The council itself believed it serious enough to report it the police after all and it is not the "non-story" Andrew Bridgen seems to think it is.

The priority for the powers that be at County Hall, both politically and at officer level, has been that they do not want the council to be tarnished permanently by what happened. It is a kind of Gordon Brown situation, the longer Nick stayed the keener the spotlight on him and therefore the council.

It was also inevitable that in the end someone had to go for this and it was Nick. I am not saying it was anyone else's decision other than Nick, I honestly don't know. I know it will have been difficult for him for him to do this, I suspect he may not have wanted to, but he will also be aware that in politics that he must be seen to do the 'right thing'.

As political reporter I have got to know Nick personally over the last two and a half years and he has been at the heart of many stories I have written, has always been helpful and was a good cabinet member for transport. I have no qualms about saying that I like the man.

I have tried to use this blog to give people an idea of what being a journalist is like. This story is another good example. In politics you rely a great deal on contacts, you get to know them, you speak most days, you see each other a lot, you gain eachothers' trust. He or she helps you with stories, tip-offs, quotes, and in turn they get their message across and improve their profile. It is part of the game and sums up my relationship with Nick.

But then something like this happens, they are on the front page for the wrong reasons, you have to ask difficult questions and sometimes this is the result. This too is what happened with Nick, and is the other part of the game.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Roman bones alert.

As promised, story of the day in the Leicester Mercury, even though it was not on the front (flounces off in artistic fashion).

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Ancient skeletons.

Back to work today, this morning I discovered some ancient skeletons in a field in North Leicester - well someone else did and told me about it. It is in tomorrow's paper and i'll put a link up in the morning. Great story to write.

Back on the blog after recovering from the Euro count on Sunday.

Although election nights are always exciting, I thought this one was pretty subdued in the end, not sure if it was because the Tory train was pretty relentless from result one, especially in the county. The only exception was in Leicester, where Labour cleaned up completely. They are formidable in the city despite the national climate.

Anyway, results were coming in pretty fast but then we ended up waiting for hours for just three districts - either way our photographer had to set up a picture with the winners after the results were confirmed because the actual moment on the stage was so underwhelming.

Then rushed back to Merc HQ for 2ish, and had to file 700 words by 2.40am. That was exciting, proper back against the wall journalism to ensure we got the paper out. Our night editor Mark was magnificent that night, and we produced a front and inside lead to be proud of in time for the print run to start at 3.30am. Was in bed at around 4.30am - job done and had the next day off, even better.

Today was busy, things are really happening at County Hall, lots of stories floating around, can't report it all on here yet (well, in truth, not sure of all facts yet) one emerging issue is that leader David Parsons is choosing his new cabinet this week, but the deputy leader job (Nick Rushton's) is now up for election, not just chosen by the leader as it has been before. Strange business. I wonder if it is because Coun Rushton will go and it won't be Coun Parsons' decision or he will stay and again it won't be the leader's decision. Maybe me being cynical.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Count later.

Just woken up....I have a feeling that tonight's Euro count is going to be really exciting. Can't wait. We have a wager at work about what the spread of the elected parties will be in the East Midlands. I'm not willing to say, actually maybe I am - I have a pound on two Tories, Two UKIP and a Lib Dem. My colleague Mark Clayton is the same, but replaces the Lib Dem with Labour.

Whatever happens, I just hope that it is done and dusted by 2am, otherwise I think we'll struggle to get it in the paper!!! Speak later then.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Elections over.

So it is the day after a fascinating election at County Hall, where the Tories did as well as expected and the Labour party's support simply upped and left. They will have four councillors now, compared to 13 before and I wonder if they can ever recover from this in Leicestershire.
My guess is that yes, they will to an extent, it can't really get any worse after all and these things are always in cycles. But for the next four years their influence will be minimal.

Their biggest humiliation was the loss to the BNP in Coalville, and when the result came in there was a sharp intake of breath in the room at County Hall where I was and I'm told boos rang out at the count. Tory leader David Parsons said to me at the time that now that they have a councillor he would work to involve them in the democratic process, which will show them up for what they are.

Nationally the BNP have amongst the worst attendance record at meetings and have been thrown off several councils because of it. It will be interesting to see what happens here and whether we will have a by-election in Coalville before too long.

So the new council will have a new opposition in the Lib Dems, and Simon Galton will be their leader again. Simon is a man who quietly gets on with his business and I am glad he has had some success. He and Kevin Feltham have spearheaded the anti-Pennbury campaign but despite agreements the Tories started to cut him out of photo opportunities and even removed him from existing photos for their campaign literature on his patch, so I am glad he retained his seat. And as for Kevin Feltham, the man sacked from the cabinet two years ago, he romped in with 71 % of the vote, and a massive majority, so his hard work has paid off too.

I've seen the paper this morning online and I have to say I am proud of all the hard work. We had seven reporters at the counts with photographers and me at County Hall. I really wanted to go all out on it and we all did. I'm thrilled.

Anyway, I'm in London with the future wife and off to a birthday party later. So a few drinks, some sleep and then back to Leicester for the Euro count on Sunday.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Funny how people vote.

Only an hour or so until the polls close and it's got to be one of the lowest turnouts on record.

Went to Melton today to speak to some voters, and although there were around 15 in the hour or so I was there, I was told that by 3pm only around 10 per cent had been through the doors. I don't know about the postal votes but if that is anything to go by then it will be low everywhere. What is interesting is that it could mean the extreme parties get in or those motivated to vote, ie party members or those with connections with candidates will be the only ones bothered and things won't change that much at all.

Of the people I spoke to only one had voted BNP, one UKIP, and the rest the traditional parties, but in Belgrave it was most interesting because nearly all voted Labour but at least half said they did not know why. I think that Keith Vaz is going to be pretty safe come election time next year!

So tomorrow we'll see the full picture in the county.

It's been my patch for the last two years. I'm proud to cover it. Some of the 55 councillors have become friends, lots of cups of tea or stronger, laughs, exhilarating/exciting stories, and also some very difficult questions, uncomfortable phone calls and some stories they didn't like, but still pals in the end, mostly.

I know that some good people (and bad) will go tomorrow but also it will mean new opportunities for others to prove themselves, improve lives in their area, and maybe go for some tea, with me.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Election time!

It is the big day tomorrow! After I vote I'll be in work and who knows what will happen. Well, apart from the results I do actually. This election will be decided on national issues not local ones, so that's what we'll look at.

We'll be doing some exit polls in at least two spots. First we'll probably be in Keith Vaz's patch in Leicester East to get an idea about how city voters have reacted to his attitude, and ask them how they voted and why. There is a loyal Labour following there but it could be creaking because of the last month's events.

The other poll will be done in Alan Duncan's Melton patch. I think this will give us a really good gauge of the mood in the county. I suspect the Tories will do well, and if they do well here, they'll do really well in the rest of Leicestershire.

Better get an early night, and do keep an eye on the Mercury website and on here for up to date news tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Being a journalist.

Wondering if people wanted to know what it is like to be a journalist? Thought I'd tell you about a visit to the police HQ in Enderby today which sums up what it is like.

To put this into context, every day for the last three weeks I have done a page lead on the key issues in the county and European elections. I was invited to meet the police officer in charge of dealing with electoral fraud on June 4.

Now, of course a week or so ago some of the most senior councillors at County Hall were referred to him for alleged dirty tricks relating to a pre-election deal to get a rival candidate to stand down.

So I meet this officer, we talk through the most common forms of fraud, what police will be looking for, what the public should be looking for. Good story.

Interview ends, so I ask about the case at County Hall. It's my job after all and he was not surprised that I asked.

Here's what happened:

Me: I know one case has been referred to you from County Hall. Can you tell me anything?
Officer: I thought you would ask, I can't say anything at all.
Me: Ok, well I got an update last week saying no arrests, is there any update now?
Officer: You have to go through the press office Martin.
Me: Have you been involved.
Officer: Yes i'm involved.
Me: Well, won't the press office just come back to you anyway?
Officer: Yes.
Me: So you could just tell me if there any update now.
Officer: You have to speak to the press office (looks into distance)

So I head back to work, a bit grumpy, and call the press office. Five minutes later I get a call back after they spoke to him. And I'm told there's no update.

This is what it is like to be a journalist.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Abusive people.

For tomorrow's paper I've written a story about politicians getting abused on the doorstep as they canvas for the upcoming elections. I spoke to John Legrys, a man I trust to give me an honest answer about what is going on in the county. He told me he has been shouted at, sworn at etc, and he openly admitted that people see him and other candidates outside and they shut the curtains. We also went out with John to speak to people and ask them what they thought. Really interesting.

But let's take a positive view on this anger towards politicians. I deal with them every day and the majority are decent, hard-working people, a strange breed yes, but honest. And I think this is an opportunity for Local Government and its councillors to show the rest how it should be done. For example, MPs are considering having expenses, salaries, etc being managed and agreed by an independent board. Local councils have done this for years.

I went out for dinner with friends on Saturday and people who would never vote said they will on Thursday. People are engaged with politics again, even if that is because they are angry about politicians and their expenses. This means that Westminster as we know it is being torn down and will be started again, with greater transparency. This is a revolution! There will be greater opportunity for more 'normal' people to stand as candidates, ones people can relate to - this is what people are demanding and any political party wanting power would be crazy not to deliver it. This is actually rather exciting.

Speaking of change, see tomorrow's Mercury for another big politics exclusive...will be in the shops or online tomorrow morning.

Abusive people.