Thursday, 29 April 2010

The final push begins

Apologies for radio silence. My fingers are too big and clunky for iPhone blogging so have waited till now, in the aftermath of the TV debate to catch up.

One week to go. Jack was on the soapbox twice today, first in the drizzle in Accrington with the very impressive Hyndburn candidate Graham Jones. Thanks once again to the ace north west Labour team for a good visit. Crowd of about 200 stopped by to listen and take part. Some lively encounters, no question, but a good reaction.

Then on to Blackburn College for second soapbox of the day and much chatting to students. Then school gates and on to
more canvassing (still in the drizzle).

Genuinely little reaction to yesterday's events. Just one guffaw directed at my Labour rossette.

It was much the same last night on the knocker.

We'd gone out again after a muted college debate between the candidates, notable mainly for the Conservative saying the Tories would immediately bring troops home from Afghanistan. Not his party's actual policy. They are clearly rattled here, struggling to match the Central Office briefing that Blackburn is theirs. Tonight comes a leaflet saying Jack is anti-Muslim. Desperate stuff.

Yesterday had started with a visit to Oldham with the PM, which went really well. We then peeled off to return to Blackburn while PM went to Rochdale...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Turning up the heat

No pics today as left the necessary lead thing at home (while managing to transport three bags of cat litter all the way from south east London to Blackburn when they were bought for use of cat in - yes, south east London).

But with Jack on the hustings tomorrow, will post some pics from the iphone. We are a fully multi media campaign, obviously.

BBC North West debate today with Ben Wallace for the Tories and Andrew Stunell from the Liberal Democrats. Held in Blackburn Library in a room heated to South Pacific standards so that members of the audience were being handed cups of water to keep them going.

Gordon Burns, genial host, told amusing story of NW Tonight presenters whose trousers occasionally ride up on the sofa to reveal above-sock calves, prompting the plaintive cry in their earpiece: "Flesh".

George Osborne had supposed to have been taking the stand for the Tories but pulled out, clearly so confident of taking Blackburn that actually visiting the place would be seen as excessive.

Debate was fine, a fairly uneventful canter through the main issues. Then canvassing around town till about 8pm before stopping off for a bottle of red and back to HQ. Canvassing very positive, again little sign of a Lib Dem surge or a Tory decapitation strategy.

Strange seeing a Lib Dem poster on one street casting Clegg as Obama. Seemed like the only Lib Dem poster in town as well.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Jack and Jeremy

Chap from the Tory party blogged something about a pic of Jack speaking to an empty street in Wolverhampton last week. It was a terrific picture - indeed you'll find it on this blog - from the Express and Star. Thing was, behind the camera there were about 200 people listening.

The point of Jack's soapbox is that it doesn't matter how many people are there when we set up. In Coalville the other day there was almost no-one around. But once Jack gets going, a crowd gathers. Fifty or so in Coalville, around 400 in Leicester and many more in between. During the course of an hour, probably around 600 people stopped to listen during that brilliant Leicester event.

Thing is, it's not staged in any way at all. It's authentic street politics. We don't put Labour stooges in the audience (apart from me, obviously). The box is a box, the PA is an ancient battery operated relic of the 1980s and the stand to prop it up on is sometimes my suitcase.

Here are some new pics from the tour, from Watford last week where Jeremy Clarkson turned up to listen (see pic above right) with AA Gill, though I failed to get a picture of Mr Gill and his tremendous hat. Not sure what they were doing there, though the shopping in Watford is obviously superb.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

There will now be a brief interlude

Jack in Blackburn, I'm in London. Ice creams and sweets available at the back.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Citizen Straw

I missed Jack's soapbox outing in the sun in Tooting this morning, but it went really well by all accounts. Sadiq Khan was his PPS and whip for a while and a great man, one of the best.

I had personal stuff to do, so I met Jack, bananas at the ready, at his next stop, a speech and Q&A with human rights lawyers in the City. Lively debate followed by pea soup and a quick interview with Reuters.

Right now we are preparing for his appearance on the Any Questions programme tonight.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Roll up for the celebrity soapbox

Jack had a celebrity guest for his soapbox in Watford with the excellent Claire Ward.

The seat has become something of a focus for the media given that it's a three way fight and only 20 minutes on the train from Euston. And today's media visitors were Jeremy Clarkson and his mirrored sunglasses and AA Gill and his elegant hat.

Both were clearly transfixed by Jack's soapbox show in the blazing sun (pics later).

Watford Observer report here.

The questions came thick and fast and covered the full spectrum if issues. Probably Jack's toughest audience to date but good humoured throughout.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Cracking flags, Post It notes and the Jenkins Commission

Soooooooooooo.....a conference in sunny Southport, a walkabout in Maghull, a sixth form Q&A in Ormskirk, canvassing at the school gates in Blackburn and in Bastwell ward (where it really was, as the detectives put it, "cracking flags") and now we are back at Straw HQ blogging and writing leaflets.

Jack started the day speaking at the conference of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents at the Floral Hall, Southport, see above for stunning action shot (last time we were there was a POA conference). Lots of good questions and points, particularly about anti-social behaviour and CCTV (which is much valued yet opposed by Tories and Lib Dems).

Then to Sefton Central with candidate Bill Esterson and the great George Howarth. Jack ran George's by-election campaign in Knowsley South in the 90s and it is from there that the great mushy pea-guacamole story - usually attributed to Peter Mandelson - came about. It was an American intern who, in fact, believed that the mushed up pea was in fact mushed up avocado, not then plain Peter Mandelson.
Lively conversation over a bakewell tart with a very friendly non-Labour voter in the cafe near Morrisons in Maghull (near where I used to play cricket for the Echo - Liverpool Business Leagues champtions, 1996), but solid Labour elsewhere.

There will be a new prison here soon, 600 places and massively welcomed locally for jobs.

Then on to Ormskirk School and a great Q&A with the upper and lower sixths - voting reform, the Jenkins Commission (yes, really) expenses, hung parliaments, Lib Dems, the NHS and more in a brilliant new school.

Back to Blackburn for the rest of the day and after an impromptu school gates public meeting, one of those streets you dream of as a canvasser. Everyone was in, and everyone was voting Labour. And this is supposedly a Lib Dem stronghold. Just one let down - and you had to hand it to them - the household with a post-it note stuck to the door declaring: "Tory till I die".

The sun was beating down as well, cracking flags it were (in case you don't know, it means it was so hot the flagstones were cracking).

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Jack Straw is my new best friend

Great blogpost by a Blackburn voter here. Manages to combine an experience of Jack's style of politics with the way Twitter has changed politics. You just need to read it. PS I'm the "blah, blah, blah" guy.

End of a long day

We started the day in Manchester at the Irish Centre doing interviews for the Asian media opposite a block of flats dotted with Labour posters (see pic right) and ended it at Blackburn Cathedral for a Q&A with the Tory and Lib Dem candidates.
In between Jack did a lunchtime Q&A, also at the cathedral, and some canvassing. Good reception on the doorsteps. Really no sign of Clegg-fever and even the certain-not-on-your-nelly non-Labour voters (few and far between) were pleasant with it. Plenty of solid support for Jack and a few undecideds planning to watch the debate on Thursday. And plenty of others who turned off after five minutes.
At the cathedral it was even stevens. Lib Dem candidate Paul English pledged on behalf of his leader that if there is a hung parliament there would be ballot of Lib Dem members to decide who to support. He also seemed to support regional development agencies - quite right too, but pretty sure they are up for the axe in the Lib Dem manifesto.
Off out of town again tomorrow.

Verdict on the soapbox

This the verdict from Wolverhampton Express and Star government editor Daniel Wainwright on Jack's visit to the town (above).

Jack on the Lib Dems

"Raising the tax threshold to £10,000 is a bit like going into McDonald's and ordering Lobster Thermidor – very nice to have but not on the menu. We can all go around doing that but it doesn't work."

- Jack Straw, Leeds, April 19

Monday, 19 April 2010

Building a better Blackburn

Jack's team in Blackburn have put together this brilliant video to highlight Labour's incredible record on delivery for Blackburn. Jack's journey through the town highlights the new hospital, the Wainwright Bridge, new schools and housing.

Destination Blackburn

We're heading for Blackburn after a great visit to Leeds for the launch of the regional manifesto. Here's the Yorkshire Post report of the event and picture, right.
Jack is spending most of his time in the north west and was on the soapbox in more familiar surroundings of Blackburn town centre on Saturday.
Leeds was drizzly so the box stayed in car. The launch at the Metropolitan University looked good, a great line up of candidates in a fantastic business school. TV interviews, then on to Headingly, where Jack used to live as a student in the 60s (and I used to eat my mum's amazing picnics at the cricket), for a walkabout with the great team campaigning for Judith Blake in Leeds North West. Very positive feeling about the three way battle. Quick Costa Coffee panini and now stuck in horrendous traffic jam on the M62.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Back on the road

This was Leicester the other day and, eventually, the best crowd Jack has had. Probably around 600 over the course of the hour or so during which he spoke and took questions. Also the best range of questions, from the expected - MPs expenses, the financial situation and school standards, to the, well, surprising, such as the long debate he had (and relished) over electoral reform and the merits of the Alternative Vote system. Who said such things were the preserve of the Westminster village?
Good luck to another former spad, Liz Kendall, who joined Jack for the day.
Jack will be back on the road on Monday. Watch this space.

An icy cold wind in Coalville

Coalville was cold. But he got a crowd going. And some bananas.

For Mr Sam Coates of the Times of London

Quick stop in Coventry

Coventry was mainly notable for the heckler who spent the entire session regaling us with his view that we - everyone from Dave Cameron to Gordon and that chap Mr Clegg - were part of a global conspiracy. So no prizes for guessing the nature of his bedtime reading. The idea of asking a question, like everyone else was doing, and some tough ones, too, was just a little too tiresome. He took his sunglasses off and moved to a new spot to continue his diatribe at one point. Cunning these guys. Smart. Fooled us all.

A diary. Nothing else to say

No particular reason. Just a picture of the diary from the other day. It was busier than it looks. And we had a great curry in the evening. Blue Mango, Birmingham, we salute you.

Wooing Wolverhampton

The sun was beating down when we arrived in Wolverhampton and headed for the perfect soapbox spot in the centre of town. You have to hand it to the Labour Party's regional teams - they are in the decidedly unglamorous (if anything about this is glamorous) engine room end of the operation dealing daily with incoming ministers and their bag carriers. So you can forgive them for their hearts sinking when they are told by glib spad: "He'll have his soapbox. It's all he needs. You don't have to worry about the visit." But the West Mids team were just brilliant.

It was fairly quiet when we arrived, but by the end - see below - a good sized crowd had gathered, enlivened greatly by the lady who bowled up, announced that she was 84 and that there was - to paraphrase - nothing very good about the Conservatives. Not stage-managed, I promise.

All best wishes in particular to my mate Emma Reynolds, a former spad swapping bag carrying, for, she hopes, Parliament.

Kicking off the soapbox tour

These are a few pictures from the first soapbox of the campaign in Reading. The campaign got off to a good start with around 300 to 400 people stopping to hear Jack outside Marks and Spencers. He did interviews for the regional media (you can see his soapbox equipment in the final picture - err, a box and the ancient PA, which ran out of battery power in Coalville, as you do) and then headed off to BBC Berkshire to do a down the line interview for the News Channel on the three MPs receiving legal aid for their forthcoming court case.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Taking the air at the Ivy

This is Jack being interviewed outside the Ivy pub (best pint of mild I've had for a while) after the Blackburn Rovers game v Man Utd last Sunday by Alyson Rudd of the Times. Her piece is in the paper today (with a fantastic photograph) and a great read. Check it out here.

Jack has been going to the Ivy before the match for years. It's a proper pub. It serves beer.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Wolverhampton, Reading, Leicester...Soapbox Tour 2010

Prepare to see more sights like this during the campaign. This is in Wolverhampton on Tuesday April 13. Great event, and we got a tan as well (you can see footage on YouTube courtesy of the Express and Star)

The Straw soapbox works like this: no advance publicity (we tell journalists we are coming, but just a venue and with very little notice). Jack arrives with his soapbox - he's had it 20 years or so - and an ancient battery-operated PA system (more like a giant tape recorder). You see us setting up on another YouTube clip here (including earnest discussions about what to use as a stand for the PA - we opted for my suitcase).

No fancy backdrops, no sidekicks carefully placed in the crowd.

He gets on the box, and starts talking. Doesn't matter if there are five people there, or five hundred. He'll speak for a bit, and then take questions. And nothing is off limits.

So far we've been in Reading (good video here), Wolverhampton, Coventry, Coalville and Leicester. The tour continues next week. But obviously we're not going to say where.

Jack has been doing this for decades in Blackburn. It's raw, authentic politics. And with a blog and a twitter feed too (@markdavies67).

How long to go?

The Blackburn Rovers' mascot takes a break after the great 0-0 draw v Man Utd in the sunshine at Ewood Park, while Jack chats to a journalist and others.

Mirror image

Welcome to the bag carrier's blog, my record of the general election campaign 2010. I'm taking pictures as I tour the country with Jack Straw, my boss of the last five years, as he reapplies for his job as MP for Blackburn. This is Sunday, April 11 as Jack rallies the troops at a campaign meeting in the Ivy Street community centre.