Monday, October 05, 2015

Backing the levy

Jonathan Wallace plastic bags Sept 08

One of the points about modern society that I totally hate is the disposable nature of so many products. Buy it, use it once, throw it away. It is an obscene waste of resources and it piles up mountains of waste for which even more resources are needed to accommodate. Something my friends joke about is the way I reuse everything in my self-sufficient lifestyle in which waste is regarded as a heinous crime. We simply cannot go on as a society plundering resources for single use activities. Single use disposable carrier bags are chief among the wasteful products that we should stop producing.

Back in 2008 at party conference in Bournemouth, when I was working for the party, I organised an anti carrier bag photo op for members. Party policy was to introduce the levy and the photo op promoted this. So, it is great to see the policy coming into operation today. Another positive legacy of Lib Dems in government as England catches up with the rest of the UK.

I don't actually want people to pay the levy, for the simple reason that I don't want them to use disposable carrier bags. As someone who rarely uses a supermarket, I no doubt missed the mayhem and chaos that some in the press predicted. Quite how using a proper shopping bag, brought with you from home, is chaos is beyond me. I remember when I was a kid being sent to the local corner shop - Moores Store on Rothbury Gardens, Lobley Hill - by my parents to do the shopping. We took a string bag with us. It lasted for most of my childhood. I can't recall any mayhem and chaos when putting the groceries into it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

A successful visit to the Tanfield Railway

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (24)

As deputy chairman of the Sunniside History Society, I helped organise today's visit by 85 people to the Tanfield Railway. It started with a bus ride in a classic London Routemaster from Sunniside Club to Tanfield though I took my car so seats were available on the bus. I was also staying there after the bus was due to come back.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (3)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (5)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (9)

We also got to see inside the workshops.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (8)

The £5 price also included a BBQ.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (19)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (17)

So far, feedback from members has been positive.

Friday, October 02, 2015

A mayor for the North East

I was aware that Mick Henry, Labour Leader of Gateshead Council, had been in London earlier this week meeting government ministers, possibly even George Osborne, about devolution to the North East Combined Authority, a move which would require the establishment of an elected mayor. I had a meeting yesterday with Mick and he mentioned it in passing.

It was a hint that progress is being made on this issue. Whilst elected mayors may not necessarily be the Lib Dem solution to devolution, they are all that is on offer if we as a region are to have powers transferred from central government.

The headline in the Journal today said it all: "Mayor set to be a part of the region's devolution deal". Whilst there is a degree of annoyance that the package is the product of behind-closed-doors discussions between the 7 Labour council leaders and George Osborne, rather than involving the wider political family of the North East, there does appear to be some progress that previously looked in doubt. The 7 Labour council leaders are not renowned for speaking with one voice and there had been a growing concern that Labour squabbling was leaving the region in the slow lane to devolution. Over 10 years ago, the North East was at the forefront of the call for devolution to the regions, until the stunning defeat in the referendum in 2004. Since then, Greater Manchester has jumped ahead. They are the trailblazers, whilst Labour's warring North East leadership has meant the region is having to play catch up.

But catch up is now happening. There is still work to do. Police and fire services are not yet part of the deal. Within the Combined Authority area there are 2 police and crime commissioners and 3 fire authorities. This is nuts. There should be one regional emergency services authority and keeping it separate from an elected mayor makes no sense. Scrapping the Northumbria and Durham PCCs alone would more than pay for the office of a North East mayor.

There are those in the North East Labour party who seem to suggest that the devolution settlement and an elected mayor are a conspiracy to destroy the Labour party. Given that Labour would be favourite to win (or at least that was the case before they took complete leave of their senses and voted in Jeremy Corbyn) their argument doesn't stack up. Nick Brown, the uninspiring Labour MP for Newcastle East, slated the devolution plans in the Journal this morning as "rushed, ill-thought through proposals". Mr Brown represents a view that is quite strong in North East Labour. Current structures and systems have served well those Labour politicians in the region who are in positions of power. Many see change as a threat. Convincing Labour in the region that the likely devolution package should be supported could be one of the big political tasks of the year ahead in the North East.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Trip to the Tanfield Railway

Sunniside History Stand at Tanfield Sept 15 2

Earlier this month it was Heritage Weekend during which local heritage attractions were promoted. I helped run a stand at the Tanfield Railway for the Sunniside History Society, of which I am deputy chairman.

We have also been organising a trip for members and residents to visit the Tanfield Railway on Sunday 4th October. There will also be a BBQ in the main shed. A vintage bus has been booked to take some of the visitors (we had only 64 places on it so the remaining 23 guests are making their own way to Tanfield).

We have now had to stop taking further bookings. Sorry if you were wanting tickets but hadn't booked. With 87 guests, we will be quite busy in the day.

Sunniside History Stand at Tanfield Sept 15 1

(photo courtesy of Alan Guest, Sunniside History Society Secretary)

Monday, September 28, 2015

My video of the eclipse - in less than a minute

Last night we set the alarm for 2am so we could be up for the lunar eclipse. We watched it from our back garden in Sunniside and for an hour I took a series of photos of the shadow of the earth crossing the moon's surface. The resulting video, less than a minute long, is above.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Action Day in Whickham South and Sunniside

Whickham South and Sunniside Action Day Sept 15 (3)

Gateshead Lib Dems' first action day of the autumn was held today in my ward, Whickham South and Swalwell. We effectively split into 2 groups. One went to Whickham to deliver our latest Focus newsletter. The other, which included me (and Cllr John McClurey - see above), went onto the doorsteps of Byermoor, Marley Hill and a bit of Sunniside. We had a positive response and a good return rate for the survey we were conducting.

Whickham South and Sunniside Action Day Sept 15 (2)

Whickham South and Sunniside Action Day Sept 15 (1)

Back in HQ (Cllr John McClurey's house) for lunch. A chance to catch up with others about conference and to pass jokes about David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn