Thursday, July 27, 2017
Figures out this week show a continuing sickly GDP growth. The economy grew by 0.2% in the first quarter. We learnt earlier this week that growth was 0.3% in the second quarter. It's better than a contraction but it is still poor. The UK has gone from having the highest growth rate in the G7 under the Coalition to having among the poorest under the Conservatives. The IMF have also downgraded UK growth estimates for the year from 2% to 1.7%. I would have thought that was a bit optimistic given the sickly figures for the first half of the year. An announcement that the UK will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union would help reassure the business and help restore confidence. Sadly, with both the Conservatives and the Corbynistas pressing an almost identical Hard Brexit, such an announcement is unlikely to be making an appearance soon.
I have been visiting a friend in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital every day this month and a couple of weeks ago, when I was arriving there, I bumped into Norman Callender and his daughter Jean. Norman retired as a Lib Dem councillor a few years ago. Jean is Gateshead Lib Dem treasurer. They were visiting Phyllis, Norman's wife, who had been taken seriously ill. Sadly, she passed away the next day.
I went to the funeral at St Agnes RC Church in Crawcrook on Tuesday. Phyllis was given a great send off. Everyone gathered in the Buffs Club in Crawcrook afterwards and it was good to meet up with old friends I hadn't seen for a few years.
Phyllis was always a great support for Norman when he was a councillor and she will be greatly missed. RIP Phyllis Callender.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
A bit of good news this week: the Highways Agency have announced the preferred route for the upgrade to the A1 between the Coalhouse junction at the south end of the Team Valley (junction 67) to Birtley (junction 65). The upgrade comes with a significant challenge: crossing the main East Coast railway. A new bridge is to be built to the south of the existing Allerdene Railway Bridge and the A1 will be realigned to accommodate this change. The road will be upgraded to 3 lanes in each direction. The Smithy Lane Bridge (I'm on it in the photo above) will be replaced.
This work is not going to be cheap. The improvements will cost £250-£350 million. Work is expected to start in 2020. We've got three years before the roadworks start!
This tweet by Sunderland Labour MP Sharon Hodgson crossed my desk this morning. Ignore the totally ignorant use of the apostrophe in "MP's" (she's turned a plural into a singular possessive). Concentrate on the message. This was a tweet from 2nd June, with days to go before the general election and Jeremy Corbyn claiming he would cancel student debt. Labour are now squealing that Comrade Leader Corbyn's proposal was never made and that any claims otherwise are capitalist conspiracies against the proletariat.
So how was it that Sharon Hodgson MP, during the election, was able to make the call in the tweet above? Answer: because Corbyn did make the call to clear student debt and Labour MPs campaigned on it. Once they had the votes of students and those with student loans, they abandoned them.
Monday, July 24, 2017
I was asked by Radio Newcastle to go into the studio last Wednesday to be interviewed about bus lane camera enforcement. I agreed - and was then told they needed me in the studio at 7am! Gateshead Council are introducing cameras on 6 lanes. I have no problem with the cameras being installed but I have concerns that two lanes will not be open for taxis to use (any using the two lanes will be caught on camera and fined). I also think the council needs to be more honest and open about the cameras. When we were looking at the budget last year, proposals for the cameras were included which also talked about how the fines would be accounted for. In other words, this is a revenue stream. So call it a charge, not a fine.
You can hear my interview on this link which starts 21 minutes into the programme.
Before Labour turned Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums into a one-party state, I was a member of the joint committee that ran the service. So I was made aware then that Stephenson's Rocket is to return for a temporary stay in Newcastle, where the locomotive was built. It will arrive in 2018 for the Great Exhibition of the North but will then be returned to the Science Museum in London, the guardians of the Rocket. News of the forthcoming arrival hit the front page of the Journal last week. I'm delighted the Rocket is coming home, even though it's just for a temporary period. It's a pity the government couldn't also agree to ensure HS2 is coming to the North East. That really would be a boost for the regional economy.
I saw the Rocket in January when I paid a visit to the Science Museum. I'll be joining the queues again next year to see it on Tyneside.
On Saturday I was meant to be running a stall at the Whickham Community Festival. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled at the last moment because of the weather. I needed to put Plan B into operation: I attended the Northern Pride parade through Newcastle. I joined other Lib Dems to help carry the Lib Dem banner. The parade started at Newcastle Civic Centre and ended at the Exhibition Park area of the Town Moor. If we happened to get lost along the route, all we had to do was follow the trail of glitter on the ground!
A good event attended by tens of thousands of people and the rain held off during the parade. Sadly, I couldn't stay once the parade was over. My friend Richard was still at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and visiting hours were 2-4pm.
Friday, July 21, 2017
During the general election, Labour Councillor Chris McHugh spat out some pretty nasty and venomous comments on residents' Facebook sites about me and my self-sufficiency activities. According to Cardboard Cutout Chris, I "can't be taken seriously" because I have an allotment, keep goats and grow my own food. Quite how his attack on me can be squared with his beloved Leader's own allotment activities is still an outstanding issue though Labour never let hypocrisy get in the way of a good story!
So I am pleased to announce that the Labour Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, ignored her colleague's comments to join us on the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside on Sunday where I keep my livestock. And among those she met was Pinkie, my milking goat. Pauline has already visited my livestock allotment. She was there a couple of months ago to tour the garden, which aims to give people with physical and mental health issues the opportunity to do some gardening and for residents generally to enjoy the great outdoors.
The invite is now opened to Cllr McHugh to visit my allotment and see my goats and chickens. I'm always ready to help out those who need to get a life!
I am a keen advocate of local food production. Shipping food over long distances is wasteful and causes pollution. Producing as much as we can as close as possible to where it is consumed helps to reduce our impact on the environment. As well as preaching the message, I also practice it - I am a food producer myself, growing most of my own food and trading the surplus at events such as the Transition Towns West Gateshead Food Festival at Blaydon Burn Farm on Saturday 15th July. It was quite a successful day and I was cleared out of a number of products. It was good to see one former (Labour) member of Gateshead Council there who was keen to buy my jam (I'll avoid jokes about jam today from the Lib Dems!)
We need more events like this and I would encourage everyone to have a go at growing some food, even if it's just in the corner of a garden or in pots on a windowsill. If we all did this, we will all benefit.
And now for some photos of the event. All food sold there was locally produced:
Thursday, July 20, 2017
As expected, Vince Cable has been elected as new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Actually, "elected" is a bit misleading. The party managed to avoid a contested election after possible candidates Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb decided not to throw their hats into the ring. So congratulations Vince. We look forward to working with you.
You can read Vince's ambitions for the country and the party on this link.
Monday, July 10, 2017
In between two visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Saturday to visit my friend who was on the emergency assessment ward, I managed to get up to Marley Hill Community Centre to call in on the funday. The centre has been transferred to the Vineyard Church. They will continue to run it as a community centre but they will also invest in the building and use it as a base for their own activities. They already appear to be making a good job of it.
The funday had been organised to bring people into the centre and introduce residents to the people now running the centre. There seemed to be a large number of bouncy castles at the event. I resisted the temptation to try one out!
I thought when Dad died in May, I wouldn't be visiting the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead for a while to come. How wrong I was. A friend who has been in poor health has been staying with us recently to help him recover. Last week he deteriorated significantly. On Friday, I called the 111 service and by the end of the call, an ambulance had been ordered. I went with the ambulance to the QE Hospital, blue lights flashing and siren sounding. I spent four hours supporting my friend on the emergency assessment ward but at 10.30pm I returned home. It now looks like I will be visiting the QE every day for some time to come.
Thursday, July 06, 2017
Whickham Library has been closed as a facility directly provided by Gateshead Council. It is to open instead as a volunteer library on Monday. I have joined the volunteers and have become a trustee as well. We had a meeting of the volunteers last week. Today, we met up to look at some of the practicalities of the building. We are all set for the launch on Monday morning (doors open at 10am).