Party lines

Within hours of hitting the headlines, the MPs behind the David Cameron spoof webcast were forced to pull their digital experiment amid cries of disgust.

Within hours of hitting the headlines, the MPs behind the David Cameron spoof webcast were forced to pull their digital experiment amid cries of disgust.

Just like those ideas that spring to mind after several hours in the bar, it had probably seemed pretty funny at the time. However, in the cold light of day and with a dash of hindsight, it's amazing how opinions can change.

That was certainly the case for MPs Sion Simon and Tom Watson last week when they unceremoniously withdrew their mock-up of David Cameron trying to win over the youth vote while eating breakfast with his family at home.

That webcast had been greeted with virtual indifference by the people it had been intended to reach, with most dismissing it as a well-intentioned gimmick.

Mr Simon's parody of the Tory leader - with Tom Watson reportedly behind the camera - plumbed new depths, though, not least when he invited voters to "sleep with his wife and take his children".

Perhaps it was the scrapped back hair, baseball cap and T-shirt that did it for Mr Simon. Or the fact that the backdrop looked exactly like that of colleague Tom Watson's during his own, but much more sober, webcast?

Or perhaps it was just his attempt at being funny - "Want to sleep with my wife? That's cool. Come down, check it out, we'll sort it out, safe" - that left people cringing from sheer embarrassment.

And that was the ultimate problem for the pair.

Coming just weeks after the two MPs, along with a handful of other Labour MPs, instigated the failed coup against Tony Blair, the spoof on Cameron just wasn't funny, despite what they may have thought.

IT would enable passengers to travel from Newcastle to London in under two hours travelling at speeds of up to 300mph. However, as the Government likes to remind voters - and their own MPs - the prospect of a magnetic "levitating" rail link ever being built to bridge the North-South divide is at best, slim, and at worst, completely impossible while Gordon Brown controls the Treasury's purse strings.

That didn't stop MPs though from raising the issue once more with ministers following the return of Parliament after the party conference season, when they demanded the Government take "urgent steps" to reinvent passenger railways instead of allowing them to disintegrate before our eyes.

Scottish MPs, joined by Tyne Bridge's David Clelland, called for concerted action on the issue, saying the cost of the project would be more than outweighed by the benefits to the national economy.

"The ball is in the Government's court. Britain invented the passenger railways 175 years ago, we urge the Government to take the urgent steps required to reinvent them," they told a Westminster Hall debate before urging the transport minister to visit other countries to see first-hand the Maglev system in operation.

And, of course, no minister needs a second-invitation, with Tom Harris gladly telling MPs: "I would be absolutely delighted to accept any invitation from almost any government in a foreign country to take a faraway flight to look at their transport systems."

POLITICALLY, the Lib Dems and Conservatives stand miles apart, but in Northumberland there is little that divides them - at least in the eyes of grassroot Tories.

Conservatives in Berwick were campaigning on the problem of NHS dentistry last Saturday when they attempted to build bridges with their rivals, not least with local MP Alan Beith.

Mr Beith is well-known for his work over access to NHS dentists in the area - and across the county - and so it was left to spokeswoman Anne-Marie Trevelyan to call for a political party truce and for the Berwick MP to sign their petition. Placing themselves in Alnwick market square on Saturday morning, the Tories were urging people to sign a petition calling for more cash to be spent helping existing NHS dentists to expand.

"We need dentists for our kids, we need them for ourselves. That's what this is about. And I'm inviting Alan Beith to sign it as well."

As one of the North-East's six Tory candidates to make it on to David Cameron's controversial A-list, Mrs Trevelyan is not a woman to be messed with. However, getting Mr Beith to sign a Tory petition? We can only wish her the best of luck.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer