Monday, May 30, 2016
Yesterday I headed down to Whickham to help with the Planting Up Whickham maintenance day on Church Green. The aim was to strip out the flower beds and do some weeding in preparation for some planting next week. I did 2 hours of dead-heading bluebells! There was a good turnout and lots of work was done.
I had to miss our IN stall in Whickham on Saturday because I was at the Ryton Hirings fair promoting self-sufficiency again and selling my preserves and eggs. I took along some recently hatched chicks and a duckling to draw people to my stall, a tactic that always works.
Meanwhile, the IN stall went ahead without me but I understand there was a good response.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Frank Hindle was my predecessor as Leader of the Lib Dem group and opposition on Gateshead Council. He stood down from the leadership last year and this May he retired from the Council after 25 years representing Low Fell. We held a thank you party for him at the Valley Farm on the Team Valley last Saturday.
Though Frank retired as a councillor, he is remaining active in the Liberal Democrats. He is currently the chair of Gateshead Local Party and is also a leading figure in the party's In Campaign in the North East.
Thank you Frank for all your hard work. We've plenty more for you to do!
On Saturday 21st May, Friends of Chase Park hosted the Whickham May Fayre. As usual, my job was to collect tables from Marley Hill Community Centre on Friday to be used in the burger tent. On Saturday itself, I had my own stand to run, promoting self-sufficiency and selling my preserves and eggs. I brought along some of my week old quail chicks which proved quite an attraction.
Well done to the organisers. Another great event.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
This video was filmed at Gateshead Council last week. Mick Henry was Labour leader of the Council but Labour councillors rejected his advice for Gateshead to be part of the North East devolution settlement. The battle against the plans was led by Deputy Leader Cllr Martin Gannon. Mick resigned in the middle of the election campaign and Martin was elected as Leader in his place last Friday.
Though Martin led the vote of thanks to the out going Mayor, Alex Geddes, he gave no speech thanking Mick, his predecessor. And listen to Mick's speech. He talks about Gateshead's strength over the past 14 years of his leadership as being based on the partnership the council has with other authorities. Gateshead under Martin is now heading for isolation, setting itself up as the hole in the middle of the North East devolution doughnut.
And notice Mick's closing comments: he thanks the support he has had from councillors, and then clarified it, "most of them". I wonder who he had in mind. Over to you Martin.....
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Last Friday was the annual Gateshead Council meeting. It is customary for the Leader of the Opposition to second the vote of thanks to the out going mayor. I was happy to do so as Alex Geddes has been a first class mayor. I also used the opportunity to present the new Leader of Gateshead Council, Martin Gannon, with a homemade cake with a large hole in it. It represents the North East region which is moving ahead with devolution while Gateshead, in the middle of the region, has walked away from the deal.
I was interviewed last Thursday for the BBC Politics Show, North East edition, about Gateshead Labour Council's decision to opt out of devolution proposals for the North East. The programme was broadcast on Sunday. You can see it on this link. The devolution issue starts about 41 minutes into the programme.
Monday, May 23, 2016
On Friday, at our annual council meeting, Comrade Martin Gannon became Supreme Leader of Gateshead, the Hermite Council of the North East. Martin was the leading advocate of Gateshead's rejection of the devolution proposals for Gateshead. Following his successful campaign to disengage from the North East region, Leader of the Council Mick Henry resigned. Now Gateshead, in splendid isolation, faces being cut off from millions, possibly tens of millions of pounds of devolved funding on transport, training, economic development and other matters. All so that Gateshead Labour Party could make a stand against the Conservative government.
It fell to me as Leader of the Opposition to welcome Martin to his post. I did so by baking him a cake full of bananas which I presented to him at Friday's meeting. The cake had a large hole through the middle of it, representing the gap in the middle of the North East that is Gateshead, The borough will of course get no slice of the devolved cake if Gateshead Labour Party continue to stick by their decision to declare UDI. Or perhaps Martin should see sense, reverse the decision and stop using the people as a stick with which to beat up the government.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Cllr Mick Henry was Labour leader of Gateshead Council but following his group's decision to block Gateshead's involvement in the North East devolution proposals, he announced his resignation. This was the speech I gave to Gateshead Council's annual meeting on Friday 20th May in which I thanked him for his work and referred to some of the events with which we have both been involved over the past few years.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
This is the front page of The Journal from earlier this week. It puts into context the ludicrous decision by Labour in Gateshead to walk away from devolution and the North East Combined Authority (NECA). The implications of the decision are enormous. While the rest of the region goes ahead with devolution and an elected mayor, Gateshead is declaring UDI. The People's Republic of Gateshead, under the guidance of the Supreme Leader Comrade Martin Gannon, will stand alone against the Conservatives. Powers over transport, training, housing, planning and potentially health will pass from the Government ministers based in Whitehall to a devolved body in the North East. Except that Gateshead will not benefit at all.
We will have no influence over the devolved powers and budgets that directly affect Gateshead because Gateshead is no longer to be part of the governance system. Gateshead residents, thanks to Labour, will have no vote for who will lead the region. NECA is responsible for the Metro rail system which runs through Gateshead. Up to now, we have been one of the partner authorities running the Metro. Labour in Gateshead are walking away from the set up that has benefited the borough for 40 years.
The devolved settlement allows for control of billions of pounds of public spending currently controlled by the Government and to a lesser extent by Europe. That money will now be channeled through NECA and the elected mayor. Gateshead will not be entitled to a penny of it.
If Labour in Gateshead thought they could lead the rebellion and revolution against the Conservative Government, they have seriously miscalculated. Gateshead Labour may think they are the only ones in step and the rest of the region is out of step but the reality is that of the 7 councils in NECA, 6 have agreed to go forward with the devolution deal. That leaves Gateshead out on her own. This is a disaster of Labour's making in Gateshead, brought about by a group of people who think that kicking opponents is more important than using the opportunities that come your way to improve matters. It is a group that is prepared to make the people of Gateshead, as well as their own previous leader, the collateral damage in their war with the Conservatives.
I am determined to fight Labour's disastrous decision. That was my message when I did interviews today with the BBC Politics Programme, BBC Radio Newcastle and the Chronicle. And I won't rest until Gateshead is at the heart of the region, rather than the Labour created hole in the middle the Gateshead Labour Party has in mind for my home town.
Monday, May 16, 2016
I joined local Lib Dem members to support the IN campaign in Low Fell in Gateshead on Saturday morning. We had a stall on Durham Road with balloons, t-shirts, leaflets and a petition. I turned up expecting to get a bashing from loads of anti-European residents but it was much better than I expected. Yes there was one person who wasn't going to vote for “those b******d Germans”. And of the few we quizzed about why they were voting to leave, they were unable to give a picture of what life would be like outside the EU, other than some vague idea about “trading more with the Commonwealth”. What pleased me however was that there were plenty of people who enthusiastically said they were voting to stay in. There were many who were undecided but they tended to be leaning towards voting to remain. I even found one person who said that his heart was with the leave campaign but that he will vote to remain as he works for Nissan and was concerned about the impact of a leave vote on the company. I came away buoyed up by my experience.
Friday, May 13, 2016
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Gateshead Council is at the tipping point between being a pragmatic authority that takes advantage of the opportunities coming its way (that's how I would sum up Gateshead before recent events) and stumbling into being the basket case council of the North East. The crazy decision by Labour to reject the advice of their own Leader, Mick Henry, and the Chief Executive, Jane Robinson, to back the devolution proposals and instead to walk away from the combined authority was followed by Mick's announcement in the middle of the election campaign that he was quitting as Leader. This week, Jane has announced her decision to leave the authority and take up a senior position with Durham University.
I am informed that Martin Gannon, Deputy Labour Leader, is to be the new Leader. Labour's annual group meeting is tonight and there's only been one self-nomination. So in a North Korean style election, Comrade Martin will become Supreme Leader later today. He was the Labour member who led (from a rather late date) the Gateshead Labour battle against the devolution proposals. The decision could, if followed to its conclusion, isolate Gateshead in the North East and leave us with substantial costs whilst denying us access to government cash for training, transport and economic development.
Martin has something of a colourful past. In the 1980s he was militantly socialist. In the 1990s and the 2000s, he was more New Labour than Blair. In the Coalition years, he was shifting leftward and now he is Momentum Martin. It seems he has gone full circle but he has a habit of not practicing what he preaches. He calls for people to reduce smoking to improve health whilst smoking like a chimney. He complains about people driving their children to school while admitting to doing the same himself from his enormously posh house near Low Fell. So with a bit of luck, he will abandon the absurd decision to walk away from devolution and take away from me the big sticks I can use to beat him. Or he can lead Gateshead into disaster. Which is it Martin?
Photo:Martin Gannon, the one shrugging his shoulders, left on front row.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
In Gateshead, Dunston Hill and Whickham East has, in recent years, been the most closely fought ward in local elections. We used to hold all 3 seats in the ward but we lost in 2010 and 2011 to Labour by relatively significant majorities. In 2012, our remaining Councillor, Peter Maughan, retained his seat. In 2014 and 2015, Labour clung on. Last year, their majority was just 23, despite the general election turnout. Their candidate, Chris McHugh, replaced a Labour Councillor who no one really noticed had retired from the council.
Last week Peter retained his seat with a majority of 432 and 49% of the vote. It was something of a knockout blow for Labour despite their high hopes of victory and their first place last year. After the verification on Thursday evening, they knew they had lost. Their faces said it all. They also got sight of helpful information they gleaned from us as they quickly glanced over Lib Dem shoulders to look at our calculations.
So where now for Labour in the ward? Up next is Labour Councillor Allison Thompson who will face the voters in May 2018. Her profile in the recent election campaign in the ward was barely noticeable. In Labour's first election leaflet, she got only 3 passing mentions: in the contact details, the ward surgery details, and the imprint. There were no articles about her, unlike her ward colleague Chris who had a big right up about the speech he had given at council on workers rights, "collective action and solidarity" (whatever that is). And whilst Chris is the golden boy of the class war left, Allison did not even merit a photo in the leaflet.
Had Labour forgotten about her? Were they holding her at arms length? Had she forgotten about them? Was she deliberately avoiding the Labour campaign? Who knows? But don't bother trying to check her Twitter account for clues. She has changed the settings so that all her posts are private. Allison is, after all, something of a loose canon on social media. Her attack on our candidate on a local residents' Facebook page last year for not living in the ward was something of a spectacular own goal. Putting aside (as she clearly did) that she lived in my ward for some time while being a Dunston Hill councillor, she claimed that living a mile away from a ward (as Kevin our candidate in 2015 did) was “far enough away not to know what’s going on in the ward." She then went on to say “It’s been highlighted how councillors should live in their wards and I agree with that.”
So the fact Labour's candidate this May lived over a mile from the ward has left an awful lot of egg on her face. Nevertheless, in an attempt to keep up Allison's profile in the ward, we included her comments in one of our election Focuses. She is a useful asset for us!
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Groundhog day in Gateshead is now gone. In 2014 and 2015, no seats changed hands. The polling day repeats were at an end. In 2010-12, we suffered losses to Labour in the borough. The Lib Dem team on the Council was cut from 24 to 11. We have to go back to 2008 for the last Lib Dem gain in Gateshead. So the elections on Thursday saw us breaking the recent mould. We gained Pelaw and Heworth from Labour.
Historically, Pelaw and Heworth was a safe Labour ward. We then won it in the Blair years but lost it in the early Coalition years. Ian Patterson, who first won the seat for us about 16 years ago, continued to keep the ward warm though our expectation of winning it back this time were not high. Our campaign was aimed at putting us in a realistic jump-off position for a gain in 2018, when the next local elections are held.
Verification of votes took place on Thursday evening though the count itself was not due to start until 1.30pm on Friday. We knew by the time we left in the early hours of Friday morning that it was neck-and-neck in the ward. And we knew from the expressions on the faces of Labour members, and from the brief conversations they had with us, that they were not aware of a potential problem for them in the ward.
Frank Hindle, retiring as councillor for Low Fell, number crunched some figures and emailed me around 2am to say he could not call the result in PH. It was just too close.
Back at the count on Friday afternoon, it was some time before Labour were shaken out of their complacency. It began to dawn on them that they were facing a problem in PH. They tried to do random counts as the votes were being separated into the different piles for the candidates. As the piles of votes mounted, they knew they were facing their first loss in 8 years. The count went right up to the wire for a photo finish. Lib Dem Ian Patterson won by 20.
So after an absence of 4 years, Ian rejoins us in the Gateshead Lib Dem Council group and we can genuinely say that we have turned a corner.
I wasn't up for election in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside this year, but my colleague John McClurey was. Alas, my record majority (for recent years) of 1199 votes was smashed by John. He added a whopping 7 votes to our lead! But he did notch up 63% of the vote, 13% up on my share at the local elections last year (which coincided with the general election). There was no campaign or literature from the Conservatives and UKIP. Labour's campaign consisted of one leaflet which they paid to have delivered.
As recently as last year, Labour were stating publicly that they would win my ward, though as it was their deputy leader on Gateshead Council, Martin Gannon, who made the prediction, it could not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, just over a decade ago, my ward was a serious target for Labour and they poured everything they could into it. Their campaign then was a disaster and they are still suffering from the fallout in the ward.
So a very satisfactory result. Well done John McClurey!