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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Our latest email newsletter to members

Our latest email newsletter to Lib Dem members in Gateshead was published tonight. You can read it on this link.

Boundary changes creating interesting prospects

I attended a meeting of the Gateshead East branch of the Lib Dems on Tuesday evening in Heworth in my role as Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council. One of the items on the agenda was a review of the local elections held on the same day as the general election. The report showed, as expected, that our local vote was significantly ahead of our national vote. But the most interesting section of the report was the section dealing with the total votes cast in the constituencies proposed in the last Parliamentary constituency boundary review.

These new constituencies were, of course, not brought into being by the Coalition as we pulled the plug because the Conservatives reneged on Lords reform. But a review will go ahead in this Parliament ready for 2020 and, assuming the the Conservatives stick with the aim of reducing the number of constituencies to 600, the chances are that the Boundary Commission will at least start their review with the one carried out in the last Parliament. After all, the work has already been done and it will be easier to revise existing proposals, taking in to account recent population changes, than to start from scratch. So looking at the proposed boundaries for the Gateshead constituencies was quite an interesting exercise.

It was the proposed Gateshead West constituency that grabbed most attention. It contains all 3 of the wards we held on 7th May - Whickham South and Sunniside (my ward), Whickham North and Low Fell. Also included is Dunston Hill and Whickham East which already has one Lib Dem councillor and which Labour held by a mere 23 votes in May. Other wards which help our cause are in the proposed constituency. In the hazy days of the Blair/Brown years, we were within 50 votes of winning Lobley Hill and Bensham ward. In those same years we also held Winlaton and High Spen.

Add the local election votes up across the proposed constituency and you get the following:

  • Labour 21,194
  • Lib Dem 10,155
  • Conservatives 5,456
  • UKIP 5,636
  • Green 2,649
  • Others 181
In a bad year for Labour, a strong Lib Dem candidate, lots of resources, constant activity, and a solid dose of imaginative thinking, the proposed Gateshead West constituency could be an interesting one to watch! What would also be interesting to watch would be the battle for the Labour nomination. My expectation is that David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, will retire in 2020. He will be 66 by then. I am told that a certain individual is keen to replace him. Meanwhile, Ian Mearns will be on the lookout for a new seat with the dismemberment of his Gateshead constituency. He could try to be selected for the new constituency that joins up eastern Gateshead with Jarrow but may find it difficult to dislodge the South Tyneside Labour establishment.

So, interesting times ahead.

On Radio Newcastle

I was a guest on the Anna Foster programme yesterday (17th June) talking abut self-sufficiency and how I am doing in my plans to produce all my own food. You can hear the interview on this link. My bit starts about 39 minutes into the programme.