Thursday, October 19, 2017

Give us what we want or we'll kill ourselves

There is a strange negotiating position being proposed by the extreme Brexiteers: if the EU does not give Britain what the government demands, Britain should slash its wrists. In other words, Britain should have all the advantages of a membership of the club without having to pay the membership fee and without having to abide by any of the rules that go with being in the club. And if the EU should not acquiesce to these demands, Britain should walk away without a deal in some kind of peacetime Dunkirk. It's interesting to listen to the extreme Brexiteers explain their thinking. Apparently, the EU needs us more than the UK needs the EU. This argument is based simply on the fact that the EU sells more to us than the UK sells to the EU. Somehow, in the eyes of these people, the UK is an economic superpower rather than the middle ranking power that we are. These people in effect suffer from a political inferiority complex.

The EU has a population more than 7 times that of the UK. The EU economy, even without the UK, is the biggest in the world. As part of the EU, we magnify our national power but outside, we face an economic superpower, the EU, that can largely dictate the agenda. The extreme Brexiteers cannot explain why it is that the UK in the negotiations is having to answer to the EU, not the other way round. If their make-believe world were real, the EU would have to accept our terms, not the other way round.

So a no-deal Brexit is being touted by the extremists. Their inferiority complex is pushing the government to threaten an economic suicide for our nation. The danger now is that these extremist notions will start to get traction within this shambolic government.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Say hello, wave goodbye - the boundary proposals for Gateshead

I attended the Gateshead East Lib Dem branch meeting to give a report as Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council last night. An interesting discussion took place on the boundary proposals for the Gateshead constituencies. I have to confess, I had not had time to see them before going to the meeting so members there gave me the details. Given the Parliamentary arithmetic of the current House of Commons, it is not clear yet whether or not the DUP, or indeed many Conservatives, will allow the proposals to go through. It may be a case of saying hello to them and then waving them goodbye, just like the Soft Cell song that takes me back to the 1980s. Nevertheless, we need to proceed on the basis that they will be implemented.

The previous proposals of the Boundary Commission, which were put forward last year effectively took a wrecking ball to Blaydon constituency. Two towns in the constituency would have been split up, one ward was to be joined up with a gigantic Durham county constituency the size of a small country and a chunk of Newcastle was to be added in. A large part of Gateshead constituency was due to be merged with Jarrow but individual wards would have been flung off elsewhere. There would not be a single constituency that would have been wholly in Gateshead. Dog's dinner is a description that springs to mind.

The revised proposals show some improvement. There is now to be a Gateshead West constituency based geographically on Whickham and the Team Valley. Blaydon will be less fragmented but loses Birtley and Whickham to Gateshead West while picking up 5 wards in western Newcastle and Burnopfield from County Durham. The 5 wards in the Felling area becomes part of Jarrow (not that unusual a move as two of the wards are already in that constituency.)

There will now follow 6 weeks of shouting, grumbling, unhappiness and so on during the consultation on the proposals. Assuming they go forward to be implemented, and at the moment that's quite a big assumption, watch out for the bloodbath as Labour use the opportunity to cull their more sensible social democrat MPs in favour of those who are lovingly signed up to the Corbynistas' socialist revolution (Venezuela style).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saltwell Park in top ten

Gateshead's main park, Saltwell, has been voted into the top ten parks in the UK. "The People's Choice" competition was run by Keep Britain Tidy and 73,000 people nominated their favourite. Well done to the staff and to the Friends of Saltwell Park group which was, it is fair to say, the model for Friends of Chase Park in Whickham which was set up more recently. The existence of friends groups is often crucial when applying for funding for improvements and new facilities.

Labour however are planning to sell off part of Chase Park for housing, including one of the entrances. We are still fighting them on this.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Volunteering with Planting Up Whickham

This morning I headed down to Whickham to help Planting Up Whickham carry out a maintenance day on Church Green. The flower beds were stripped and my job was to transfer all the dumpy bags of garden waste to the compost heap in Chase Park. This job always falls to the person with the biggest land rover! I could not stay for long however. I had a meeting of the Whinnies Allotment Society at 11am where I was re-elected to the committee. I'm clearly living the high life!

North East for Europe Rally

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 11

Yesterday afternoon I attended the North East for Europe rally in Newcastle. 2 hours of speeches. Lord John Shipley was the Lib Dem speaker. Good speeches also by Natalie Bennett, former Green Leader, and North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling. Former Gateshead East MP Joyce Quinn was also a speaker as well. Labour speakers at pro-Europe rallies must be in a difficult position. Labour are split on Europe and their current show of unity is a mirage which they can only get away with because the Conservatives are making such a mess of Brexit negotiations.

Two hecklers added their thoughts to the proceedings. The first claimed that everything said at the rally was "all lies". (Don't mention £350 million for the NHS. I did, but I think I got away with it!) The second heckler shouted about how we beat all those Europeans in the Second World War. (I wasn't aware that we had been at war with all Europeans, especially the French.)

The rally ended with calls for a referendum on the Brexit terms (not something I heard the Labour speakers demand) ringing in our ears. Alas, it's not just the Conservative government that needs to be persuaded of this. Brexit supporting Corbyn needs to be persuaded. And at the moment he's not budging from the bed he is sharing with the Conservatives on this.

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 5

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 1

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 2

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 3

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ryton Focus delivery

Ryton Focus Oct 17

It has been a few weeks since I last delivered a Focus newsletter and I was feeling the withdrawal symptoms. Yesterday I got some significant relief when I went to Ryton and delivered 500 copies of our latest ward Focus. I now feel so much better!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"I know nothing"

Tyne Bridge Apr 16

"I know nothing" was one of the famous lines from "Fawlty Towers". Manuel tells everyone he knew nothing of Basil's winnings on a horse-racing bet. In what appears to be a repeat of the classic series, Gateshead Council's Labour leader Martin Gannon announced over the weekend that he "knows nothing" of the discussions that have been taking place between the government and the three north of the Tyne authorities about devolution. I have a lot of time for Martin (I appreciate that in Labour's ranks, that could be the kiss of death) but on the devolution issue, we are poles apart.

Martin led the opposition within Labour to the devolution settlement offered to the North East Combined Authority in 2015. At one point we were in the situation that the rest of the region would press ahead with devolution leaving Gateshead behind. Then the other 3 south of the Tyne councils backed away from devolution to general acclimation from sections of the Labour party which take more pleasure in kicking the government than they do with achieving anything positive for the North East. Yet there were sections of the Labour Party not happy with the dinosaur approach of their southern cousins. The three north authorities therefore opened up discussions with the government for a separate devolution settlement which would smash the region into two pieces. The bridges across the Tyne join the region up. If a split devolution settlement goes through, these bridges will form the border instead.

A split devolution settlement will leave the North East significantly weakened. Devolution is meant to take on functions such as transport and planning. North and south of the Tyne are fully integrated in terms of transport. Planning issues in Gateshead directly affect Newcastle and visa versa. The point of devolution is to bring functions together and away from government departmental silos. A split devolution settlement will be like an engine with 6 cylinders but only 3 of them working, therefore unable to drive forward the region.

It is worrying that Martin was telling the media over the weekend that he knows nothing of the contents of the north of Tyne proposals. He should get a grip and find out what's happening because what will be decided north of the Tyne will directly affect us here, more so than any other of the south councils. Labour have torn themselves apart unnecessarily over the devolution plans. Don't let them tear apart the region, with the help of the Tories, as well.

This really makes my blood boil!

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (5)

I discovered this heap of rubbish on the Sandy Lonnen, near Whickham, yesterday morning. Those who engage in the vile, selfish, anti-social, irresponsible, thoughtless, nasty, reckless, disgusting activity of fly-tipping deserve everything they get when they are caught and prosecuted. They really make my blood boil. I checked through some of the dumped packaging but couldn't find anything that identifies the culprit. I've reported the incident to the council and hopefully it will be removed soon.

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (3)

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (1)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have lost our balls

Theresa May tells us that on Brexit, "The ball is in their [EU's] court." Meanwhile, the EU Commission's Margaritis Schinas tells us, "The ball is entirely in the UK's court." Both can't be right. The missing balls highlight the overriding problem the UK faces in the negotiations. Forget the fantasy world in which the extreme Brexiteers believe we are a massively powerful nation on the world stage only held back from our superpower status by our membership of the EU. The reality is that we are a middle ranking power whose membership of the EU made us part of the most influential and powerful international organisation on the planet. Compared to the EU, we are small. Therefore, the negotiations are between a modest ranking power and a giant. Far from the EU begging us for a free trade deal and their needing us more that we need them, as claimed by the Brexit extremists, the reality is that the UK will have to make the vast majority of the concessions. Far from taking control, the UK will be under the direct influence of the EU and, thanks to our withdrawal from EU institutions, we will have no direct influence on the decisions of the EU.

The reality of this situation is dawning on the Tories. So far they have backed down on everything: payments to the EU, parallel discussion of the divorce settlement and future trading relations, a transition period and so on. The Conservatives (and Brexit loving people in Labour such as Corbyn) can whack their balls into the EU's court but the advantage lies largely with the EU.