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Archives for April 2010

Live election specials

Len Tingle | 18:47 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010

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Election count and ballot boxLive political debates on regional TV and Local Radio have rarely been a feature of the past few general elections.

We are making up for that this time around in a big way.

I am writing this on the eve of "Election 2010:The Look North Debate" .

An audience of 100 will be at the restored Victorian Engineer's Institute in the centre of Leeds for a debate hosted by programme presenter Harry Gration.

The Yorkshire and Lincolnshire edition of the Politics Show has already had two smaller debates on the past two Sundays and will have another next weekend.

BBC Radio stations at Leeds, Sheffield and York are also holding debates this week.

This was forecast to be the "Internet election" but in fact it has been dominated by television and radio. The history-making live televised "leaders debates" have led the way but politicians have been queuing up to take part in events produced by regional and local broadcasters.

Look North has already broadcast viewers putting their questions direct to Nick Clegg and David Cameron. Gordon Brown is expected to do the same soon.

In fact the Cameron "meet the viewers" televised panel on Look North on Monday (April 26, 2010) produced the confrontation of the campaign so far.

Bradford Mum Emma Heal took exception to the Conservative leader's view that cities where Conservatives are in charge are so well governed that it shows they should now have the chance to run the country.

In a finger-wagging angry tirade Emma eloquently pointed out the failed attempts to regenerate the city centre leaving huge holes in the ground where shopping and commercial centres should have been built five years ago.

The Conservative leader stoutly defended the Conservative-run city's record blaming the recession and Labour's national and regional policies.

Emma was not convinced.

Tonight's Look North debate is following the BBC Question Time format with three heavyweight politicians from the main parties and a well known member of Yorkshire's business community on the panel.

The audience will include members of the smaller parties as well as a political cross section of the programme's viewers who have sent in questions. .

The Look North Debate panel:

JOHN HEALEY, the Housing Minister, will be speaking for the Labour Party. He was first elected as an MP for Wentworth in South Yorkshire in 1997. He was also the "floods minister".

BARONESS WARSI, the former Sayeeda Warsi, is a Conservative Peer who is Shadow minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action.

PHIL WILLIS, the former North Yorkshire head teacher who was elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough in 1997. He was Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last parliament. He is retiring at the next election.

EMMA HARRISON is the Sheffield entrepreneur who runs A4E (action for employment). She set it up in 1991 and it now employs 4,000 staff in 250 centres across the world carrying out a variety of work from training to advice centres.

A lesson in attention grabbing

Len Tingle | 17:43 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010

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It is not so often that I open up an interview with the leader of the Conservative party with the words "nice day for a walk, Mr Cameron".

But it seemed the right thing to say as the rain clouds parted and David Cameron joined around 300 parents and children on a Sunday lunchtime stroll down a street at Birkenshaw in West Yorkshire.

My cameraman Ben Cryer and I had also joined them.

We had picked the right spot because a couple of hundred yards down the road he was engulfed by umpteen camera crews and journalists who had just climbed out of the Conservative campaign battle bus.

The Birkenshaw, Birstall and Gomersal Parents' Alliance had set up the event weeks before David Cameron had even heard of it.

They've been campaigning for a couple of years to be given public money to set up and run their own senior school to serve the communities on the northern edge of the area covered by Huddersfield-based Kirklees Council's

This was their latest campaign event and had been planned for some time with the expectation of few seconds on Look North and a couple of pictures in the local papers.

But it all dovetailed neatly into David Cameron and Shadow Education spokesman Michael Gove's manifesto pledge to allow parents to set up publically-funded "free schools".

Both of them turned up for the march and rally and they brought with them the media army recording every step of the Tory leader's campaign.

As with all of the appearances by Cameron, Clegg and Brown they were under wraps until shortly before taking place.

There was more than one surprised parent as they turned up in their bright yellow sweatshirts for the rally.

David Cameron promised them his full support.

The campaign leaders said they would be putting in their application for funding for their new school if he was elected.

The plan had been turned down by Kirklees council. Their decision had been backed by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, after a report into the issue.

As the Conservative leader address the rally Ede Balls issued a statement:

"David Cameron is telling some parents around the country they can have a new school -but he is hiding the truth from the majority of other parents that this means cutting the budgets of their children's schools, laying off teachers and cancelling new buildings.

"And even worse, today in Kirklees when he promises a new school to a local parents' group and the money to set it up, he's not telling people that the local community has already rejected this proposal in favour of different plans including a new academy.

"And he is concealing from local parents that the expert adviser Professor David Woods looked at these proposals and found that this new extra school could only be paid for by cutting the budgets of all the other schools in the area and undermining their education."

The Liberal Democrat Denis Healy, a candidate in one of the Hull seats, was equally dismissive:

"It sounds like another Tory gimmick to me.

"People on the doorstep are not talking about running their own schools.

"What they are saying about education is that they want smaller class sizes. They want more one-to-one tuition, they want to see less bureaucracy.

"They really want to hear about investment which is why we have earmarked over £2bn for this."

Election cancelled in Thirsk and Malton

Len Tingle | 15:00 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

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Len Tingle in Malton

A couple of days after nominations for the general election had closed I found myself standing in front of a live outside broadcast camera alongside the war memorial in the market square at Malton in North Yorkshire.

A fitting place for an event that has happened just eight times since the Great War.

A short time before my arrival the returning officer in the constituency had announced that the election in the Thirsk and Malton constituency had been scrapped.

Tragically, just a couple of hours after turning in his nomination papers, the UK Independence Party candidate John Boakes was found dead at home.

John, who was just 63, was describes as "a true gentleman" by shocked friends and colleagues in the party.

On his official UKIP blog John himself wrote of how he had overcome heart problems in the past.

John Boakes

These circumstances are relatively rare but the law is clear.

If any candidate is unable to take part after nominations have closed then a new election has to be called.

That means time has to be given for fresh writs to be issued; nominations declared and a period of campaigning.

In the case of Thirsk and Malton that means voters will go to the polls three weeks after everybody else on Thursday 27 May.

If the general election is as close as most forecasters expect then it might give an bit more importance to a contest which the Conservatives are expected to win with a thumping majority.

Thirsk and Malton is a new constituency after the redrawing of boundaries in North Yorkshire but this is seen as true blue country.

If the 2005 election had been fought on these new boundaries a computer model predicts that the Conservative majority would have been in excess of 14,000.

Despite the rarity of these circumstances, this is the second general election in succession that the death of a candidate has caused the election to be scrapped. In 2005 a similar situation arose in South Staffordshire.

The previous one before that had been in 1951 in Barnsley.

Earthy election debate

Len Tingle | 17:16 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010

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Earth Centre

The first of the BBC Politics Show's live debates in the run up to the general election is held in the surreal surroundings of the Earth Centre.

It is like being in a ghost town.

The date of its opening was, rather aptly, April Fools' day 1999.

The idea was simple. Use millions provided by the Millennium Commission to flatten the derelict remains and spoil heaps of the old Denaby Main Colliery at Conisbrough near Doncaster and turn it into a visitor centre based on sustainable living.

It proved to be financially unsustainable. It tottered along until 2004 but then shut the gates for good. But the buildings, cafes, children's playgrounds and displays were left behind.

Is it any wonder that the BBC chose it as the location for the post-plague centre of government in the TV series Survivors?

What better place than to stage a general election debate?

The theme? Well, what else could it be but the future of energy generation and climate change?

Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and up for re-election down the road in Doncaster was on the panel.

Pugnacious Conservative Graham Stuart, also campaigning to be re-elected in the Holderness and Beverley seat, added to the lively debate.

In fact the only thing Ed and Graham agreed on was the need to build nuclear power stations to ensure the lights stay on.

Needless to say there was a different view from the Liberal Democrat's Paul Scriven who is trying to take Sheffield Central from Labour.

Andrew Cooper also had a greener solution to out energy needs. That is not surprising as he is the Green Party candidate for Huddersfield.

Even the BNP chipped in. Pamela Chambers, standing in Doncaster North, came up with an argument I certainly had never heard before. Why are we facing a potential energy gap by the middle of the next decade? Apparently it is all those immigrants we have been letting in switching on their lights.

This was by far the most complex outside broadcast ever attempted by the BBC Politics Show for Yorkshire Lincolnshire and the North Midlands.

Have a look at this film showing how we did it with a few words of wisdom from programme presenter Tim Iredale and me.

I'd be delighted to hear any comments. After all, we still have two more live debates to go.

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Catching Clegg, Cameron and Brown

Len Tingle | 16:26 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010

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This week spotting party leaders in West Yorkshire has been bit like trying to catch a bus. You don't see one for ages and then three come along one after the other.

Clegg toured Bradford on Tuesday; Brown was in Leeds all day on Wednesday and Thursday saw Cameron hit Halifax.

The lure of "Marginal County" has proved irresistible as the parties pour resources into the seats where this election will be won or lost.

South Yorkshire has seen hardly seen anything of them and North Yorkshire nothing at all.

Len Tingle and Gordon Brown

That's not surprising as it is West Yorkshire that is stuffed full of Labour-held key marginals.

The visits are becoming highly complex and involve a cast of thousands.

Before the campaign started all three main parties said they wanted members of the media to register with them and receive a glossy official photo identity card to attend election events.

My LibDem card arrived a couple of days after the campaign started.

Conservatives sent all the cards to the BBC in London - after all, isn't that where we all work?

I am sure the Labour card will arrive soon.

So far I haven't been asked to show any of them and I'm attending an average of three events a day.

In the Nick of time

Len Tingle | 21:54 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010

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Nick Clegg in YorkshireIt is the first of the Look North specials where viewers will meet and question the party leaders.

Nick Clegg is first up at a church hall at Thornbury on the edge of Bradford.

Christa Ackroyd, one of Look North's senior presenters, takes the chair with five viewers selected from amongst the dozens who have contacted the programme with questions.

I'm there to report live into the lunchtime regional TV news on how the event goes together with an update on the activity of other parties so far on the day.

Nick Clegg is running a bit late and my deadline is close. In fact, it is getting VERY close.

The Liberal Democrat leader breezes in looking immaculate and exuding his trademark laid-back charm.

That is quite a feat.

Nick Clegg arrives for TV debate

I know he started out at 7am that morning with the party's daily press briefing in London. On the way to the Look North event he "popped in" to an election visit in Luton, then on meet the Yorkshire press at a factory in Bradford. That is an action-packed morning by anyone's standards.

Me? I am the one looking frazzled in the corner calculating how much time I have from the scheduled end of the recording to my live broadcast. It is down to 10 minutes.

The director is worried that our questioners have got a bit hot under our lights and makeup does a little "light dusting".

My window is now down to eight minutes (and counting).

Finally the session gets under way.

Nick Clegg deals with questions on:

• Education (a pledge of an extra £2.5bn investment)
• Afghanistan (allies' new strategy needs time to settle down)
• Disillusioned teenagers (more resources promised for the disadvantaged)
• Petrol prices (opposes recent "unfair" increase in fuel duty)
• Scottish and Welsh MPs (not a problem voting on English matters)

Feedback from our five panellists is mixed on Nick Clegg's performance.

That is only to be expected from a panel that was picked for the variety and quality of the submitted questions rather than any political neutrality.

It over-runs a bit so my time to the live broadcast is now down to five minutes.

A couple of technical problems soak up another four minutes and 55 seconds.

My earpiece comes alive in the nick of time with Harry Gration's voice: "and from Bradford here's our Political Editor Len Tingle" and the PA calling "cue Len".

Exactly two minutes and 10 seconds later I am off air and heading for a coffee and a breather.

Nick Clegg's bandwagon is still rolling.

He's now heading for his next appearance in Coventry.

Wakefield - the tipping point

Len Tingle | 17:21 UK time, Sunday, 11 April 2010

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Len Tingle interviews Mary CreaghWhen the dust had cleared after the 2005 general election what would have been the odds of the Politics Show cameras choosing Wakefield for its first live "election special" five years later?

After all, the last Conservative MP for the city was George Brown Hillman and that was in 1932.

But voting trends since Labour came to power in 1997 have put Wakefield firmly on the Conservative's list of target seats.

Statistically, Wakefield has become Yorkshire's "tipping seat".

A Conservative win here would see David Cameron home and dry as the next Prime Minister with a small working majority.

If former Olympic rower Alex Story doesn't take the seat for the Torys then the chances are that we are heading for a hung parliament with no party in overall control.

That is because a win for the Conservatives in Wakefield could only be achieved with a swing to the party of slightly more than 6.9%.

If that level of extra support is achieved across the UK then the Conservatives are more than likely to take the 116 seats they require for a majority of just one in the new Commons.

It is going to be a tough task despite Labour's lead falling over the past three general elections in Wakefield.

In 1997 sitting Labour MP David Hinchliffe was re-elected with a majority of 14,604. In 2001 it was down to 7,954.

Mary Creagh took over as candidate in 2005 and won but the Conservatives knocked another two and a half thousand votes off Labour's majority.

Boundary changes since then appear to be helping the Labour cause.

A computer programme estimates the majority would have been 7,349 had the 2005 election been fought in today's re-drawn constituency.

Normally that would be seen as a reasonably safe cushion. But these are not normal times.

David Smith

So that's why I was there, microphone in hand, for a three-way live interview with Mary Creagh, Alex Story and the Liberal Democrat candidate David Smith on the first Sunday of the campaign.

Not surprisingly Labour and Conservatives claim to be winning the battle on the doorstep.

The Liberal Democrats say they will have a big influence on the result.

Have a look at the Politics Show for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on the BBC's iPlayer to see how they got on.

Flying start

Len Tingle | 13:13 UK time, Thursday, 8 April 2010

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Len Tingle reportingThis week saw me perched on a remote motorway bridge talking to a helicopter.

Well, what else do you do to mark the start of the general election campaign?

It was a fairly simple idea as put to me by Politics Show producer Sean Stowell.

We would show a bird's-eye view of the clusters of marginal seats along the M62. This is where the election battle ought to be at its fiercest.

Presenter Tim Iredale would be up in the air swooping across Leeds and Bradford.

His camera operator would then zoom in on me for an air-to-ground chat about the chances of Labour hanging on to its small leads in seats like Halifax, Calder Valley and the neighbouring Colne Valley.

Tim Iredale in helicopter

Fine, until you realise that the further East you travel on the M62 the terrain gets far higher and the temperatures start to fall.

It didn't help that the helicopter was over an hour late.

By the time it got to me the sound of my teeth chattering was louder than the whirling rotor blades a couple of hundred feet above my head.

There was another problem confronting me and Mark Bywater the camera operator on the bridge with me.

Communications between us and the helicopter totally failed.

The fall back plan was for me to start speaking as soon as I spotted it and then keep repeating myself until it disappeared over the horizon.

I did 22 "takes".

By the time the helicopter had stopped circling over the top of us we had both lost the will the live.

It was at that point that Mark made a fairly obvious point.

How did we know that this was "our" helicopter and not a police traffic patrol swooping down to see what was happening on the bridge?

After all, one helicopter looks very much like another one.

The finished result will probably be on the Politics Show for Yorkshire Lincolnshire and the North Midlands on Sunday 11 April from 12.15 BST on BBC One.

Or I might be making a guest appearance on Police, Camera, Action.

David Cameron's red carpet walk

Len Tingle | 11:54 UK time, Thursday, 8 April 2010

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David CameronIt was the kind of production that Cecil B. DeMille would have been proud of.

Picture the opening scene.

The location is stunning, the crowd scenes managed to perfection and the star's entrance captured on camera in what is set to become a classic.

This was how David Cameron opened his 2010 general election campaign within hours of Gordon Brown coming back from his date with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

The venue was the stunning 19th Century Leeds Institute building.

The 200-strong audience of Yorkshire candidates and party faithful were carefully choreographed to wait outside on the floodlit steps to give their leader a warm Yorkshire welcome.

Apart from rolling out a red carpet over the flags of the pedestrian precinct this could have been a film premiere.

Leeds was not a random choice of location.

The city is at the heart of a cluster of Labour held marginals in West Yorkshire.

The Tories admit they must win most of them if they are to have any chance of forming a government.

If the party succeeds it would mean the constituency map changing from red to blue in at least a dozen seats.

In Leeds alone four of the city's seven sitting Labour MPs are on the Tory hit-list.

Virtually all of these seats were Conservative until the 1997 Blair landslide.

The Tories have been trying to claw them back ever since. The Liberal Democrats are also in Conservative sights.

Greg Mulholland unexpectedly snatched Leeds North West in 2005 but it was a close three-way contest in yet another seat that had been Tory before the Blair blitz.

Back inside the Leeds Institute David Cameron's formal speech was not much longer than the time it took for the photogenic hand shakes and back-slapping outside on the steps.

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