Monday, August 24, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn in lights on Broadway

I thought I had escaped the Labour leadership battle at the end of July when I headed off to the USA for a couple of weeks. News in American hotels reports American news. Nothing much about the latest from the UK. In the US, they are not free of leadership elections. Whilst in Washington DC, the key political story was which 6 of the 16 candidates for the Republican nomination would not make it on to the Fox New candidates' debate. The other key issue was how to stop the Donald Trump bandwagon. It seems extremists with simplistic messages can make headway in the USA, not just in the UK Labour party, even though they both come from opposite ends of the spectrum (though sometimes it's difficult to differentiate.)

By the time I had left DC, visited Baltimore and Philadelphia and arrived in New York, no matter how much I tried to avoid UK politics, news of the surge in Corbyn support kept reaching me. It really brought it home to me when I stood in Times Square and saw the "surge in support for extremist Jeremy Corbyn in UK Labour leadership election" on the tickertape news. It may be the only time Corbyn's name is in lights on Broadway!

I got home on Saturday 14th August and on Monday 16th, I watched the speech by Andy Burnham. It was his bid to place himself as the candidate to beat Corbyn. Burnham is not a person who makes the political weather. Instead, he is one who is buffeted by it. When the winds are blowing in a Blairite direction, he is a Blairite. When blowing in a Brownite direction ... and so on. With Labour rapidly tacking to the left, Burnham drifts to the left as well. His speech was a clear example of that. It was his attempt to jump on to the Corbyn bandwagon.

His speech was a shambles. His presentation was wooden, his appearance more like a bobbing Thunderbirds puppet. Away from speech-making, he continues to look like a startled bunny caught in the headlights of the oncoming (Corbyn) juggernaut. No wonder he has lost his status as favourite to the person who was only meant to be there to "broaden the debate."

Those backing Corbyn claim he is plain speaking. There is nothing plain speaking about telling people what they want to hear whilst avoiding the hard truths about debt and living within our means. Ask Syriza in Greece about that and the answer will come back that harsh reality always gets in the way of unsustainable spending promises. (Indeed, ask the Lib Dems about that on tuition fees.) Corbyn's message of anti-austerity goes down well with some. A Corbyn-led Labour party will find its support deepening with this group of voters. Yet at the same time, it will alienate those with a greater grasp on reality. Those who understand that money borrowed to pay the bills will at some point need to be repaid far outweigh those who believe you can continue spending other people's money. The realists in the electorate outnumber the fantasists. Blair understood that. Economic credibility is what wins elections. If Labour do elect Corbyn, the final vestiges of Labour economic credibility will be shredded.

Before going to the US, I refused to believe that Labour could elect Corbyn. Surely they could not be that mad. But now, it's looking more likely. And so does a long period of Conservative rule.

That said, I'm not at all convinced that Labour would do any better with Burnham as leader. At least with Corbyn you have someone who believes in something, no matter how unrealistic. Bumbling Burnham would make Ed Miliband's dithering look inspiring.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My interview on Radio 4's PM programme about Tim Farron

So Tim has made it to the top, Farron height I guess you could call it. So congratulations go to my ex-Newcastle University fellow student who had his first taste of Parliamentary campaigning in Hexham when I was candidate for the 1992 general election. And commiserations to Norman Lamb who came from nowhere to deny Tim the landslide victory that some predicted. Landslides are bad for politics. Leaders need to take the whole party with them. That means Tim will need to appeal to the substantial minority that did not vote for him.

I was phoned today by Radio 4's PM programme to ask me to do an interview with Ross Hawkins about Tim's university years. It had to be at 4pm from the studio in Newcastle, after full council in Gateshead this afternoon. You can hear the interview on this link. I'm about 34 minutes into the programme. The interview started with a brief discussion about my self-sufficiency lifestyle, none of which, hardly surprisingly, made it to the final cut. The interview was another return to the late 80s and early 90s and my memories of Tim's fashion-challenged appearance.

The BBC had offered to book me a taxi to get to the studio and back home but I turned down the offer. I was due in Gateshead anyway so would have the land rover with me. I wish now I'd taken up the offer. I was about 1km short of my home village of Sunniside after the interview when the radiator blew. I had to pull off the road and park next to the old orchard at Fugar Bar, then walk the rest of the journey home, calling at local garage near my house on the way. I left the keys with them and I noticed tonight, when out dealing with my livestock at 10pm, that the land rover had been moved to the garage. I will get the bad news in the morning. I have no religion but I know Tim has. I am left wondering if his god took revenge on me for mentioning his infamous pink dungarees and Lenin style cap on the radio!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Newcastle hustings meeting - leader interviews and speeches

This is the video I made for members of the Newcastle hustings meeting last week. It includes interviews with Norman Lamb and Tim Farron and their speeches.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Paying up front for energy should not cost more

At Gateshead Council Cabinet yesterday, there was a report about energy conservation and fuel poverty. I did point out that the report made very little reference to the environmental benefits of conservation but the main point of my contribution was the issue of prepayment of energy bills. I take the view that if someone is paying in advance for their energy rather than in arrears, it should not cost more for gas and electricity. Indeed, there is a good argument for saying it should cost less. Prepayment is part of living within one's means. It is about avoiding debt. It should be a standard part of the energy system. Sadly, energy companies charge customers on prepayment more.

In the near future, Gateshead Council, thanks to early legislation introduced by the Lib Dems in the Coalition, will become an energy provider when our district heat and energy system is up and running. A power plant will provide hot water and electricity to local consumers. My hope is that this will be rolled out to the whole of the borough, not just central Gateshead. I told the Cabinet that we need to allow for prepayment and have a pricing structure that does not charge higher bills for those paying upfront for their energy. This is an ideal opportunity to help people live within their means, a principle which is close to my heart. Expect me to continue pushing this point.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Visiting the Tanfield Railway

Tanfield Railway June 15 (24)

In my new role as deputy chairman of Sunniside History Society, I visited the Tanfield Railway on Sunday. It is the world's longest continuously running steam railway and is right on my doorstep. It terminates at Sunniside. The annual steam gala was taking place this weekend and a couple of steam locomotives were on loan to Tanfield which had previously had working lives in the Derwent Valley. Their permanent home is now in South Wales.

Tanfield Railway June 15 (16)

Tanfield Railway June 15 (5)

We were there to meet the director of the trust to discuss cooperation between the History Society and Tanfield. It looks like we will be arranging a visit by members in September and will be setting up a permanent presence at Tanfield.

You can see the photos I took on this link.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Newcastle Hustings Meeting

Filming at Newcastle hustings June 15

It was Newcastle's turn last night to host the leadership hustings debate. Over 200 members gathered at the Royal Station Hotel. I was there as well, complete with cameras. I'll edit the video I filmed shortly but the photos are now on flickr and can be viewed on this link.

Lib Dem leadership hustings Newcastle June 15 (21)

Lib Dem leadership hustings Newcastle June 15 (55)

Lib Dem leadership hustings Newcastle June 15 (57)

Lib Dem leadership hustings Newcastle June 15 (39)

Lib Dem leadership hustings Newcastle June 15 (43)

Both candidates spoke well but I am still torn between Tim and Norman. I know both. I know each is more than capable of doing the job. The ballot papers haven't arrived yet - they will be with us in a few days. So there is still time to decide.