Tuesday, March 03, 2015

New website

I have yet another bit of social media to operate. I've set up a website for the Blaydon constituency general election campaign. You can visit it on this link.

I was hoping by now that my opponents would have some interesting material out there on the internet about what they're doing in the election battle. Sadly, there ain't much there.

However, my spies in the Labour camp tell me that the Blaydon powers-that-be are looking for help to deliver a glossy leaflet that attacks the Lib Dems. We are keeping our ear to the ground to find out if it has started to appear.

Back home!

The on-going saga of Dad's gall stones has taken a turn for the better. He was released from the Queen El;izabeth Hospital today. I picked him up and took him home via the Co-op in Whickham where I did his food shopping (he's not quite as self-sufficient as me). He's back at his bungalow in Whickham now.

I'll be at the Sunniside History Society tonight where lots of his friends will, no doubt, be wanting to catch up on the latest news about how he's doing.

The photo above was taken in his bungalow this afternoon.

Delivering our tabloid

Our latest tabloid is now being delivered in the Whickham area. We've produced two editions - one for the three Whickham wards and one for Lobley Hill and Dunston and Teams. The large pile in the photo above belongs to Whickham South and Sunniside and a forthcoming job for me is to bundle them up into their delivery patches. I'll get the patch where I live in Sunniside delivered first. I also have two patches to deliver in Dunston Hill and Whickham East to do as well.

Most of the Lobley Hill patches have been delivered. My colleague Cllr Peter Craig was in Lobley Hill whilst delivery was underway and picked up very positive feedback.

Marley Hill's first community pub

On Saturday evening we held our first community pub at Marley Hill Community Centre. The aim was to get young families in from about 6pm to about 8.30pm, and then people without kids in the later hours. It was a tremendous success with the families. They were there 10 minutes before we officially opened until about 9pm. Dozens of kids running round the main hall where we had set up the play equipment. Parents loved it as they could go out locally without having to get baby sitters. They could meet up with friends and neighbours and relax with a drink.

The later part of the evening had only a small number of people coming along. We need to try to get this onto people’s radar screens to get the visitor numbers up. Nevertheless, as a first event, it seems to have worked reasonably well. The next is on 28th March – and then every final Saturday of the month until the end of the year.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Live streaming of council meetings

I had a meeting of Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee this morning. On the agenda we had an item about the council’s website. The officer giving the presentation said that a revamp was needed. He referred to the Newham Council site which had 70,000 residents signed up to it who receive an email newsletter. I pointed out that 10 years ago, I was “banging on” about needing to communicate directly with residents via an email newsletter in a similar way to the eFocus I produce. I also suggested council meetings could be streamed live via YouTube. We would not need to buy any new equipment and existing staff already attending the meeting could switch the ipad through which the recording takes place on and off. Whether or not Labour Councillors wish to have their words broadcast to the wider world is an interesting point. Whilst some of them clearly think they are incredible public speakers, people outside the council chamber may well have a different view after watching and listening to them speak.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rebuilding work starts on Front Street School

Work is now starting on the long awaited rebuilding of Whickham Front Street Primary School. The site, on North View, behind the Gibside Arms, has now been fenced off by the builders. Building equipment is about to arrive.

The school recently celebrated its centenary but has been in need of replacement for many years. The school site is split and buildings are getting old. The new building will create the 21st century environment needed for teaching kids in the modern world.

And now to Labour's Councillor Paul McNally, who launched an attack on the Lib Dems on Thursday in Gateshead Council, claiming that the last Labour government's school rebuilding plans were cancelled and replaced with nothing. Perhaps if Paul were to spend a bit less time in the Civic Centre wearing very large suits and were to get out a bit more, he would recognise the inaccuracy of his claim. But there again, Labour never let facts get in the way of their narrative.

The final action day of February

Yesterday we had our final Blaydon constituency action day of February, suitably on the last day of the month. 3500 letters were delivered, as were 1800 tabloids and 2000 Focuses. There were also clerical jobs in abundance to be done. It was Whickham North's turn to host the event so most of the deliveries took place there.

This was what I delivered in the morning. I was sent to do my old home patch in Swalwell (again!).

Some of the gang having a good read of our tabloid before heading off to deliver it.

In the afternoon we did some canvassing on what was meant to be the strongest area for Labour in the ward. Whickham North was Labour's top target for the whole of the Labour party in the North East in the local elections last year. Their campaign was a disaster, despite calling in help from across the whole of the North East. Our majority jumped from 100 to 300. Judging by yesterday's canvass, no recovery is in sight for Labour in the ward. This may explain why Labour's candidate from last year has abandoned the ward to attempt election in another ward (which has already rejected him once before when he turned a 600 Labour majority into a Lib Dem one of 200).

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Conservatives join the fray in Blaydon

It seems that the Conservatives have now selected a candidate for Blaydon. Her name is Ali Griffiths and I understand she lives in Battersea. It brings the total of candidates to 5 in the constituency: Dave Anderson (Labour's sitting MP), Paul McNally for the Greens, Ali, or Alison, Griffiths for the Conservatives, Mark Bell for UKIP and me for the Lib Dems.

Dave Anderson is the only one I know or have met. He is pleasant enough to me on the times our paths have crossed. His politics aren't my cup of tea. He claims to be on the left of the Labour party and has attacked his own party's support for austerity. He is however quite harmless: he started the last Parliament carrying lots of left win baggage but never once voted against the Blair/Brown government. Despite the strutting and posturing, he turned out to be a New Labour poodle.

If it is the same person, Mark Bell was the UKIP candidate in my ward last year. He did not then live in the ward or even in Gateshead but I don't know what his connection is with the area that entitled his contesting local elections. He put out no leaflet and did not turn up for the count.

I know nothing of Paul McNally other than that he lives in the Derwent Valley and stood in Winlaton and High Spen ward last year (and did not win).

It is difficult to find much on Ali Griffiths. Most sites listing candidates (including the Conservative's own website as of last night) were still listing Blaydon as having no Conservative candidate. I've found a recently created Facebook site for her. I get the impression she is into skiing and someone has posted a comment looking forward to her going to Davos in Switzerland for a dose of skiing. Whether or not she has any genuine links to Blaydon is still to be discovered. Sadly for skiers, whilst we have lots of hills, the area lacks snow.

So Ali, welcome to the fray. And now that 5 parties have candidates in place, let the battle commence (though for the Lib Dems we've been battling away already for some time).

Friday, February 27, 2015

On the mend

On Tuesday night, Dad was taken to hospital suffering severe abdominal pains. I visited him on Wednesday afternoon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead. He looked quite bad and I was a bit shocked by his condition. It turned out he had gall stones blocking his bile duct. I'm pleased to say that he underwent a procedure today and the gall stones have now gone. I couldn't visit him yesterday as I had meetings all day (including full council to set the council tax in Gateshead) but I was able to visit him today and he is looking better but still has some way to go to be fully recovered. I told him we'd let him off delivering the next Focus leaflet! He told me that the ambulance medic who was first to see him at his house in Whickham on Tuesday is a constituent of mine who quickly realised there was a family connection between his patient and his local councillor!

I took the above picture today. He will have a few more days in hospital before he can return home.

I'm the new Leader of the Pack

I'm pleased to announce on Monday, 2nd March, I will be the new Lib Dem Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council. Our current leader, Frank Hindle, told the group at the end of the Full Council meeting in December that he was stepping down and wanted a new leader elected before the start of the local election campaign. So on Monday 23rd February, we held the leadership election. I won and as I was the existing deputy leader, this post was vacated and the group elected Ron Beadle as the new deputy.

Judging by the above video I need to get a motorbike (I've already got the leather jacket) to be leader of the pack! Anyway, below is the news release now circulated to the local media.

Gateshead Council Leader of Opposition Stands Down

Frank Hindle, who has been Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Gateshead Council since 2011 is to stand down from the post on Monday 2nd March.

The Low Fell Councillor announced his decision to his group in December so that there would be time to elect a new Leader before the start of the local election campaign.

On Monday 23rd February, the Lib Dem group elected Jonathan Wallace, Councillor for Whickham South and Sunniside, as the new Leader. Jonathan was previously the Deputy Leader.

In Jonathan’s place as Deputy, the group has elected Cllr Ron Beadle from Low Fell.

“It has been a great privilege to serve as Leader of the group and leader of the Opposition in Gateshead over the past 4 years,” said Frank. “These have been challenging years for the Lib Dems but we have held our ground.

“Last year we held all our council seats in Gateshead and came within 78 votes of taking another from Labour.

“But the current Parliament is about to end and the next one will face big challenges which will affect local government. I decided now is a good time to get a new team in place to take the Lib Dem group forward over the next five years.

“I am however looking forward to continuing as an active member of the council – and to building up my general election campaign to be next MP for Gateshead.”

Cllr Jonathan Wallace said, “Frank has been a great Leader over the past four years. I am determined that the Lib Dems will continue to punch above our weight and increase our strength in Gateshead.”

Cllr Ron Beadle said, “We have denied Labour their hope of creating a one-party state in Gateshead. Over the coming years I will be working with Jonathan to ensure the Lib Dem group on Gateshead Council holds Labour to account whilst growing our support across the borough.”



Photo above: Deputy Leader of the Pack Ron Beadle, me – the new Leader of the Pack, Frank Hindle, standing down as Leader, after the group elections on Monday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The next Blaydon leaflet arrives

Our next leaflet for delivery in Blaydon arrived today. The printer dropped them off at my ward colleague Cllr John McClurey's shop in Newcastle and at 2pm I took the land rover over to pick them up. It was the only vehicle big enough to carry them all. They are now back at my house where they are being put into their patches.

Note the cardboard was not thrown out. It's going back to the allotment where, in wet weather, we will put it on the paths to try to keep the mud at bay. Note also the pallet on which theleaflets came is on the roof rack. For good lifers like me, pallets are sought-after resources. This one will be dismantled and used in making a goat house. Waste nothing!

2.5 million Flickr viewings

This is one of those moments when we feel the need to show off how big our statistics are! I've just been on my Flickr site and found that my photos have now been viewed 2.5 million times. If anyone feels the need to check out the 7900 pictures on the site, please feel free to click on this link.

Out greening the Green party

Sadly for the Green Party, the media spotlight looks set to burn off their green shoots of growth and turn their little green garden into a desert. Even more sadly for those who genuinely believe in putting environmentalism at the heart of our own lifestyles, there is little that is environmentally sustainable about Green Party policies. Their spend, spend, spend approach may be attractive to those on the left who are clueless when it comes to economically and fiscally sustainable policies, but borrowing lots of cash to spend now is simply a way of taking resources away from the future. And that seems to be completely at odds with a stance that says we should reduce our environmental damage now so that we don't dump big environmental costs on the future.

Anyway, given my self-sufficiency based way of life, just on that alone, I bet I could out green any Green candidate the Green Party cares to stand against me

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"The cost of living crisis is a cliche" claims top Labour councillor

At Gateshead Council cabinet this morning, the budget report was considered. Labour are going for a 1.95% council tax increase, after four years of freezing it. Opposition Leader Frank Hindle, Cllr Ron Beadle and I were there on behalf of the Lib Dem group. As usual, some Labour members blamed us for every problem. For many in the Labour Party, history began in May 2010. All problems have arisen since then, not before then, they try to claim.

So after we were accused of causing increased suicides and mass unemployment of young people (which rather ignores the fact there are over 200,000 fewer young people out of work compared to when Labour left office) Labour Deputy Leader Cllr Martin Gannon pitched in with his comments. Martin has an amazing ability to force opposites together. Back in the 80s he was militantly socialist and then in the 90s became more New Labour than Blair himself. Somehow he survives as a rainbow "socialist" warrior taking up contradictory positions as each decade goes by.

"The cost of living crisis is a cliche," he announced. In the recent past he has normally attacked the Coalition for the "cost of living crisis". Today however he was voting to add to it. Perhaps he was just trying to admit, without saying it, that things are not any where near as bad as Labour makes out. My guess is that Martin's words may come back to haunt him.

Whickham eFocus no. 93

Our latest edition (no. 93) of our email newsletter for the Whickham area was published last night. When I was turning my mind to what the contents should be earlier this month, I was struggling to come up with suitable stories that would, in a printed newsletter, be the page leads. And then suddenly, 3 big stories came along in quick succession: the end of plans for opencast mining at Marley Hill; rebuild for Whickham School and scaling back the cuts to Dunston Leisure Centre. 

Lib Dem training

Sunday saw some of our team (myself included) head to Newcastle for a training session for candidates and agents. I'm not sure why I went for the agents' bit but it was useful nevertheless. We also did training on using social media and motivating volunteers.

Afterwards I headed to Whickham. My ward colleague Marilynn Ord had delivered 200 survey forms in the morning and it was my job to collect the replies left in letter boxes in the evening (from 6pm onwards). I gathered in 31. I expect some will also be returned by post. Volunteers at our next action day (this Saturday) will put the results into our database (whilst the rest of us will be canvassing or delivering).