Friday, November 24, 2017

Having your culture cake and eating it

There has been quite a fuss made of the EU's decision to stop UK cities applying to be European capital of culture in 2023. According to Downing Street, the government disagree with the decision and are seeking "urgent discussions" with the European Commission. Quite what these talks can achieve is debatable. The rules are simple. If you want to be considered for the EU's capital of culture, you have to be a member of the EU, the European Economic Area or an applicant to join. Nowhere in the rules does an applicant to leave have a right to be considered. Those bleating Brexiteers kicking up a fuss have no case.

Ian Stewart MP, Brexit-backing Tory MP for Milton Keynes, one of the applicant cities, argued in February 2016 that "I have concluded that the moment has come for us to part company with the EU." Yesterday he claimed the UK was not walking away from the EU, rather it was the other way round: “we are not turning our backs on Europe, yet this [culture city decision] looks like they are turning their backs on us”. This is a rather absurd attempt to rewrite history in the face of all the historical evidence. The position of Stewart, who is starting to find the Brexit-consequences chickens coming home to roost, is a bit like the UK pulling out of the Olympics and then complaining that we are not allowed to claim gold medals. Having your culture cake and eating it. What a pathetic state of affairs.



Thursday, November 23, 2017

A pathetic, miserable, divisive waste of time

The Chancellor announced yesterday that the North of Tyne devolution deal is to go ahead. Instead of a strong devolution deal for the North East, the three authorities north of the River Tyne - Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside - are to break away to form their own mini fiefdom which will split the region and leave us all weakened in the face of stronger devolution deals elsewhere. I have heard on the grapevine in Gateshead what the deal contains - and what it doesn't. One of the crucial reasons for devolution - transport - is not to be devolved. There will be a few powers over training and housing, a modest pot of money for some economic development, and that is pretty much it. This is a shadow of what was previously on offer to the whole of NECA. It is a pathetic and miserable attempt by Labour and Tories north of the Tyne to rescue devolution from the car crash in which they left it in 2015.

While the deal may be appealing to the likes of the saintly Nick Forbes, Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, and his Conservative soulmate Peter Jackson, Leader of Northumberland County Council, it is the region as a whole that will pay the price of a divisive and weak settlement. The main culprits of this mess are the North East Labour Party that tore itself apart recently over devolution. Instead of aiming to get the regional deal back on track, Labour have helped turn the mess into a disaster.

What a shambles.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The brave new world of a Brexit Britain ignored

The extreme Brexiteers' dream of a Britain freed from the EU to stride the world as a colossus, making people listen to us, our influence reaching the parts of the globe that of EU-member Britain cannot reach. The reality is a weakened Britain that is seen abroad as inward looking and is walking away from membership of one of the most important international organisations on the planet. Note the recent failure of the UK to secure the re-election of a judge to the world's most senior court, the International Court of Justice. Brexit was not the cause of this but it was there in the background as dozens of countries ignored UK pleas to vote for our guy. Where does that leave the government's plans for "global Britain" when we've been tripped at the first hurdle?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Door-knocking in Dunston

Marilynn Ord John McClurey Jonathan Wallace Nov 17

I was part of a team of local Lib Dem campaigners in Dunston on Thursday, knocking on doors of homes near the former Dunston Hill Primary School which has been left to go derelict by Labour. We were collecting signatures on our petition calling for the old school to be demolished and the site to be used for affordable houses. We featured this issue in our recent Focus newsletter and we discovered that Labour had rushed out a rather panicked responses which, according to the many people I spoke to, had not gone down well! And this was in Labour's strongest area in the ward.

We had another team out yesterday. We are still pulling together the results of the petition.

Photo above: Whickham South and Sunniside Councillors meet up in Dunston to help with the Dunston Hill School petition: Marilynn Ord, John McClurey and me (in the woolly hat!)

Politics and prosperity

Did I hear this correctly? Brexit secretary David Davis is saying that we should put prosperity before politics. I support this view but I find it rich for a leading Brexiteer to be saying it. Pulling out of the EU is a political decision, supported by a small majority of those who voted in last year's referendum. It was taken despite concerns about prosperity. It was a decision taken in spite of economics, not because of them. Ultimately, there is a price the UK has to pay for the Brexit decision in terms of less future prosperity (note how we how have the most sluggish growth of all the major economies). Those of us on the losing side are doing our best to mitigate the circumstances but that does nothing to hide the fact that Brexit was a political decision that was taken before the effects on prosperity (and I would argue the UK's influence in the world) were considered. In other words politics before prosperity.

Davis is also saying we need the "freest possible trade in goods and services". Again, I agree. But, we already have that. It's called being a member of the Single Market and European Customs Union - which he wants to leave.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Whickham Focus

Whickham Focus Autumn 17-page-0

Delivery of our Whickham Focus is now complete. This is what we have been putting through local doors.

Whickham Focus Autumn 17-page-1

Sunniside Christmas Tree

Sunniside Christmas tree Nov 17 (2)

Marilynn Ord, John McClurey and I, as the councillors for Sunniside, have used part of the ward's Local Community Fund to ensure Sunniside village has a Christmas tree. The fund has also paid to install the electricity supply. We are planning a switch on event so if you would like to be involved, please get in touch on jonathanwallace329@gmail.com.

Sunniside Christmas tree Nov 17 (1)

A glimpse of things to come

Brexit Secretary David Davis is calling on the EU to compromise in negotiations with the UK over the divorce settlement and on a future trade deal. He overlooks a couple of significant points when doing this. Firstly, the UK has taken the decision to leave. It was not the EU asking for this. It wasn't the UK and EU mutually coming to a decision that matters would be better if the UK leaves the organisation. It was a simple, straightforward decision by the UK that the UK was no longer to be a member of the club. Decisions have consequences and as we have voted to leave the club and no longer be subject to the club's rules, that has consequences for us. None of this was a decision of the EU so the onus on compromise falls on the UK if we want to enjoy some of the benefits of club membership without being a member ourselves.

Secondly, the world has moved to one in which smaller nations join together into political and economic associations to open up trade and regulate their economies while providing institutions which allow for solutions to outstanding issues to be addressed peacefully, rather than by war or threat of war, which tended to be the way of doing business before 1945. The EU is the most advanced of these international organisations and it gives the nations of Europe a stronger negotiating position in the world. Brexit removes us from the structure that has given us beneficial trade deals with over 40 other countries, deals which the individual nations of the EU, including the UK, would probably not have been able to negotiate in their own right.

The EU has built itself up to a position of major influence not just in Europe but throughout the world. It is the world's biggest market and the 3rd largest population. As a relatively small nation, the UK is not on the same level. The EU is a superpower compared to the middle-ranking UK. The EU has all the best cards and the UK has little to put into this game of international poker. We can bluff as much as we like but the EU doesn't have to compromise as it holds all the aces. The UK put itself in that position so we can't complain.

The uncompromising position of the EU is a glimpse of the future for Brexit Britain. We will no longer be able to magnify our power as a nation through the EU. We will be dealing with international organisations and nations such as the USA and China which are vastly more powerful than we are. They will hold all the best cards. And we will be bobbing along as an offshore island in the wake of the EU. For a country with a great history, this is a sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dunston Focus

Dunston Hill Focus Autumn 17-page-0

Delivery of our Dunston Focus is newsletter is just about completed so without more ado, here is what we have been putting through letterboxes.

Dunston Hill Focus Autumn 17-page-1

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lighting Up Whickham race night

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (3)

There was another race night to raise funds for Lighting Up Whickham's appeal for the village's Christmas tree on Saturday 11th November. The packed event took place at the Glebe Sports Club. As the holder of a food handling certificate, it was my job to help dish out the pie and pea suppers. Alas, I did not win a single bet! I did manage however to be the "owner" of a winning horse. The prize was a bottle of wine. And in the raffle, I won a £10 voucher to spend at R Martin and Son, the butchers in the village. We haven't bought meat for years as we produce our own or trade for it. We will have to buy something we don't normally have. A nice beef joint springs to mind.

At this point I don't know how much was raised on Saturday. I will let you know.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (2)

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (1)

Delivering in Pelaw and Heworth

Pelaw Heworth focus delivery Nov 17

On our current round of Focuses, Pelaw and Heworth ward was at the forefront of deliveries last week. Alas, Councillors Daniel Duggan and Ian Patterson were doing such a good job that I wasn't asked to deliver any patches! Keep up the good work guys!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dunston Action Day

Dunston Action Day Nov 17 1

We had a mini action day in Dunston yesterday to get the bulk of our latest Focuses delivered. I was given two patches to do, 350 houses in total, all but two streets on the flat. Given that most of the houses in the Dunston part of Dunston Hill ward are on a slope, I got the better deal!

Dunston Action Day Nov 17 2

Remembrance Parade in Whickham

Whickham remembrance parade and service Nov 17 (13)

I attended the Whickham Remembrance parade and service today. It is the biggest in Gateshead with over 500 people attending and over 40 organisations laying wreaths. Cllr John McClurey laid the wreath for our constituents in Whickham South and  Sunniside. You can see all the photos on this link.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Photos from North East Regional Conference

North East Lib Dem regional conference was held last Saturday so here are a few of the photos I took of proceedings.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (1)

Regional chair, Amanda Hopgood, introduces guest speaker Vince Cable.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (4)

Northern Durham were the winners of the Alastair Wardlaw trophy given to the party which shows greatest membership engagement and growth.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (6)

The President's Award, for greatest contribution to the regional party, went to Ian Jones of Middlesbrough.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (5)

Dave Fawcett of Gateshead was awarded the Frances Foote Wood award for the individual who showed greatest commitment to the party and fighting for liberal democracy. Dave wasn't able to attend the conference so his award was collected by Low Fell Councillor Daniel Duggan.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (8)

Craig Martin and Stephen O'Brien, two of our newest councillors, gave a presentation on choosing a ward and winning it. I think both were born after I was first elected in 1987. That makes me feel rather old.


Stubbing out UKIP

Voting UKIP is a bit like taking up smoking. You know you shouldn't do it, you know it's damaging to your health, you know it has long term negative consequences, and you know you shouldn't do it in public. For some, there is the soothing qualities of a rush of nicotine. The good people of Fareham yesterday seemed to have kicked the bad habit of voting UKIP. In Stubbington ward the voters went to the polls to vote for the replacement of a UKIP councillor who, to complicate matters, had defected to the Conservatives and then resigned. UKIP were well and truly stubbed out. Their share of the vote fell 37.9% to a mere 5.4%. The result came with the added bonus of being a Lib Dem gain:

Stubbington (Fareham) result:

LDEM: 55.2% (+32.4)
CON: 35.8% (+6.1)
UKIP: 5.4% (-37.9)
LAB: 3.5% (-0.5)

So well done Stubbington, living up to your name, by stubbing out UKIP. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Historical incompetence back in force

At the Sunniside History Society meeting on Tuesday, our guest speaker was Professor Richard Madeley who gave a presentation on the Crimean War, 1853-56. For those unfamiliar with this period in history, the Crimean War, fought by the British, French and Turks against the Russians, was one of the most incompetently run wars of the past 200 years, especially by the British. The UK was significantly under-prepared for the conflict and once the Turks, who had initially been attacked by the Russians, had cleared their territory of the invading Tsarist forces, few in the British side had a plan of what to do or even any significant war aims other than to justify sending the navy and lots of soldiers to the Black Sea. Squabbling military leaders and a failure to communicate with each other resulted in significant losses and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. Meanwhile, vast amounts of British taxpayers' money was wasted on the venture that gave little in return to the UK.

Over 160 years later and doesn't the incompetence, lack of vision, absence of a plan and squabbling leaders seem worryingly familiar?

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

What is is about Americans and guns?

Another month and another mass shooting in the US where a large part of the population is in denial about the serious problem of guns. The even more depressing point about the Sutherland Springs massacre in Texas is that many, including Trump, are arguing that more guns are needed to protect people against guns. If ever there was a cycle of destruction, this must be it. The US is awash with guns, many of them automatic or semi-automatic, manufactured primarily for military forces, not private citizens. The weak gun control laws in place now can easily be circumvented simply by the sheer abundance of weaponry.

Compare that to the UK where gun control is rightly very tight and heavily policed. We do have problems with gun crime in some areas but this is tiny compared to the situation in the US. In most circumstances, semi and fully automatic guns are not permitted for civilian use. All those with a firearms certificate have to be assessed regularly and weapons have to kept in appropriate metal cabinets under lock and key. I have first hand experience of this as we have a shot gun in our house. It is over 60 years old, has been disarmed, no one manufactures the cartridges for it any more and it hasn't been fired in over 60 years. Nevertheless, we have to have a firearms certificate, regular police checks and inspections and a steel cabinet bolted to the wall which has to be kept permanently locked.

If only the USA were as sensible when it came to guns.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Splitting the region

I was in London last week and I wasn't closely following the news back home. It meant there was a pile of Journals waiting for me to read but I only got to look at them tonight. I noticed the story about the North of Tyne bid for a devolution settlement separate from the south of Tyne authorities. Such a move would be a wrecking ball slamming into the North East. We already have to live with the region being split in two following the decision of the Tees Valley not to throw in its lot with the rest of the North East and to create its own combined authority and elected mayor. What we are now facing is a truncated North East about to be torn down the middle by the war that has been going on in the Labour party.

A separate devolution settlement for the North of Tyne will weaken the overall effectiveness of governance in the region as a whole. It will make matters such as planning and especially transport far more difficult to coordinate. We need to have a devolution settlement for the whole of the NECA area. I fear now however that Gateshead is in danger of being left behind (the same fears can be applied to South Tyneside, Sunderland and Co Durham.) Labour need to get their act together or they will end up being the co-authors with the Conservatives of the North East's fragmentation.

The Journals have been torn up by me so that I can use them for bedding for my goats. The irony is that the region is being torn up as well. Quite what the Conservatives and Labour will deposit on the North East is still awaited.

Labour camping it up in the 1980s

Labour banner old fashioned Nov 17

I was in Rowlands Gill yesterday and spotted something that was a blast from the past. Tucked away in a side street was a campervan with a Labour banner draped over the back, set up as a street stall. It was not just any Labour banner but something of great historic interest - a banner with the logo that predated the rose. Popular back in the 70s and early 80s, this was an icon of the Militant Tendency era, of leftwing Labour and and trade union barons. In the Blair years, possession of such paraphernalia was regarded as a crime against the party. All those old banners, undergraduate essays on Marx and "Coal not dole" stickers had to be hidden away in political priest holes. Now the resurgent left are dusting down their cherished banners and their outdated symbols. Whether or not any ordinary member of the public will notice such old-fashioned logos is debatable. After all it's been over 30 years since the rose became the core of Labour's corporate branding. And the two Labour members in Rowlands Gill were not attracting any interest from passers-by, certainly not in the time they were in my line of sight.

Hopefully for the two Labour members involved, they had a great time reliving their youth yesterday!

Back to Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee Nov 17

I am now the carer for my friend Richard, and have been since the start of the summer. Alas, he has had to go back into hospital. It means I am, yet again, doing daily visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. And that inevitably will lead to a daily visit to the Costa Coffee on level 2 of the hospital. We have dubbed the place Costa Fortune, for obvious reasons. I am hoping that this current hospital residency is going to be shorter than the previous ones. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Vince Cable's speech to the North East Lib Dem conference



The North East Lib Dem regional conference was held today at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. Vince Cable was the guest speaker and he covered Brexit, the Westminster sexual harassment scandal and the forthcoming budget. I recorded the whole speech on the video above.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Sausages at the Hop Garden

The Hop Garden in High Spen had a not-Bonfire-Night event tonight which I attended. Lots of people there I know from my self-sufficiency activities. A local farm was running a barbeque selling pork sausages from their own rare breed pigs. I guess after the evening that they were even rarer pigs! I discovered the farmer was, like me, a goat keeper. She also had hay for sale. A useful purchase was made. We need to go back for the hay on Sunday as we had turned up in our little Polo which would barely hold half a bale, never mind the 9 we bought! The land rover will therefore not be having Sunday off.

From Cuddly Corbyn to Shifty Socialist

To the Corbyn fan club, the Labour leader can do no wrong. Cuddly Corbyn can walk on water, and turn it into wine as well. His halo lights up the world, as does the other end of his body, each time he bends over. The super soft Jeremy however gave way to the Shifty Socialist this morning when he was pursued by journalists asking questions about the appointment of Kelvin Hopkins MP to a rather fleeting role on Labour's front bench after action had been taken against him following allegations of impropriety. He could easily have dealt with the questions by repeating the statement already made by the Labour party about Hopkins. He chose not to.

Instead, he behaved like a cornered puff adder spitting venom at a pursuing mongoose. Refusing to answer journalists' questions but happily responding to a Corbynista shouting praise, his behaviour made him look as if he had something to hide, shifty and unable to explain himself.

The real Corbyn was shining through.

11 minutes of peace

We are in an odd state of affairs when both Trump's machinations on Twitter and his temporary absence from it both make news headlines. The member of staff at Twitter on his/her last day kindly gave the world 11 minutes of peace from the Trump bile. Sadly, it was just for 11 minutes. The flow of venom has resumed.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Gateshead AGM interrupted by breaking news

I attended the AGM of Gateshead Lib Dems tonight. I gave my reports as group leader and as media officer. But part way through the meeting, the news of Michael Fallon's resignation as Defense Secretary broke. Back home I watched the coverage on Sky News. Jon Craig reported that most MPs believe there is more to come out. At some point we are going to move on from this badly written political soap opera. Sadly, at the moment we are all stuck in it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bypass plans delayed

A1 Mar 15 2

Highways England have not made friends recently following their announcement that improvements to the A1 between the Team Valley and Birtley are to be delayed by a year. Everyone was expecting a start date of 2019 but Highways England have decided that with work also taking place on the A19 in Sunderland, somehow the region cannot cope with two sets of major roadworks. Well, no one likes roadworks but they are a necessity if we are to have the improvements installed. The plan for the A1 is to increase the lanes to three in each direction on a road that is currently carrying well above its planned traffic load.

Highways England's proposal is to get the A19 work out of the way and then start on the A1 improvements. In other words, they are going to spread the pain over an additional year. My fear is that when an infrastructure project slips, there is more time for the government to reconsider and cancel it.

This is not good news for Gateshead.

No deal Brexit to cost Gateshead £1.09 billion

A report by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has predicted that Gateshead's economy would lose £1.09 billion over five years under a hard Brexit. The North East economy as a whole would lose £8 billion. Our region is the only part of the UK to export more manufactured goods than we import and our biggest market, by a long long way, is the EU. A no deal Brexit that means we are outside the Single Market will cost the North East dearly. Even a negotiated deal will not give us the quality, free trade arrangements we have now. We have to me a member of the club to get the full benefits.

Cutting down the Lords is not enough

The report by Lord Burns on the size of the House of Lords is due shortly. There are currently 800 jobs-for-life members of the upper chamber, bigger than the elected House of Commons. The chances are that there will be a substantial cut in numbers. How this is to be achieved is yet to be announced but expect a great deal of cooperation between Labour and Tories to protect their members at the cost of everyone else.

Axing numbers however is not enough genuinely to reform the Lords. A legislative body made up entirely of life appointments (or in the case of hereditary peers, 92 individuals elected by other hereditary peers already in the Lords) is an affront to democracy. How people get into the upper house is the electoral elephant in the gilded chamber and this is to be left untouched.

We can thank the Tory/Labour old pals act for failure to reform the Lords in the Coalition years. Labour worked with the Tory right to destroy the chances of introducing a reformed and elected upper house, something Labour are supposed to support.

Ultimately, no matter what is done to the numbers, without direct election, the House of Lords will remain an undemocratic body that represents the few rather than the many.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Video - Planting Up Whickham



I filmed this on Sunday 22nd October when I joined the volunteers at Church Green, Whickham, to plant up the flowerbeds. There should be a good display of flowers next year.

Derelict buildings and building on countryside

Dunston Hill School Peter Maughan Kevin McClurey Oct 17 (2)

The old Dunston Hill Primary School closed its doors for the last time a few years ago but the building has been left to become derelict. It is right in the heart of Dunston and residents have watched the weeds grow over the past few years. Nature has now started to reclaim the walls as well which are now developing their very own mini-woodlands. There was talk of a cancer treatment site run by a charity on the site but nothing has been happening on the site other than the increasing dereliction and the growth of an unplanned urban mini-forest. What is so odd is that the council are very keen to sell off sites it no longer needs to get a capital receipt and the income that accrues to the council from the building of new houses (new homes bonus and council tax). We are wondering why this site appears to be viewed differently.

Yet, up the road, Labour are pressing ahead with their love of executive homes on the greenbelt. The site to the south of Whickham highway was removed from the protection of the greenbelt by Labour who want over 550 upmarket homes built on this area of countryside. Labour are ignoring the urban core in favour of bulldozing the greenbelt.

Photo above: Cllr Peter Maughan and Kevin McClurey outside the derelict Dunston Hill School.

Dunston Hill School derelict Oct 17 (2)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dunston Hill delivered

Having spent my time on Tuesday evening printing the next Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill Focus, I spent Wednesday afternoon delivering the patch there that I normally do. Annoyingly, I was 5 leaflets short. I'll have to make a return visit at some point to finish off the delivery.  The Focus leads on the news that the finalised plans for building nearly 600 executive homes at the top of Dunston Hill could be ready for a decision in December. The back page lead is about the need for action over the derelict Dunston Hill school which has been allowed to fall into ruin.

No Mates MP and her Italian Job

Laura Pidcock Journal 26 Oct 17

Last week, Conservative MP Douglas Ross was criticised for refereeing a football match in Barcelona, missing a Commons debate on Universal Credit in the process. Since all Conservative MPs were whipped to abstain, his absence from the debate made no difference to the result. Nevertheless, his appearance on the pitch rather than in Parliament attracted criticism, including from Labour MP Laura Pidcock.

Laura's fancy footwork on the Parliamentary pitch since here election as a North East MP in June included a foot-in-mouth incident in which she announced that a sort of leftwing McCarthyism would be applied to her friends - she would never allow anyone who has been or is a Conservative MP to be her friend. This posh girl's next bit of fancy footwork, leading to a Parliamentary own goal, was reported in the Newcastle Journal this morning. Having tackled Douglass Ross over his absence abroad last week, class warrior Laura decided to jet off to Venice for a couple of days (while Parliament was sitting) thus missing an emergency debate on Universal Credit. Oooops! Plenty of people have been blowing the whistle on Laura's hypocrisy. But that won't stop Laura's career progressing. She looks like an ideal candidate for promotion to the premier league of Labour politicians. The front bench beckons!

Is this an appropriate use of public funds?

When I first heard the news of the McCarthy-style letter to UK universities by Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris asking for information on European studies and who was teaching a syllabus that did not reflect the narrow world of the Brexit extremists, my first thought was that this was a questionable use of public money. MPs can use Parliamentary stationery and postage to support their activities as a constituency MP or as a minister. I was having difficulty matching CHH's letter to any of these legitimate uses. And then today, we learnt that CHH was writing a book (presumably about Brexit). I'm not sure it will be a contender for the Booker prize and I doubt it will be a blockbuster but it does strike me that taxpayers should not be paying for the research for a book.

I'm glad to see that Tom Brake has taken up this issue. Hopefully CHH will repay the public money spent in pursuit of his book's research. It could be used as the first installment of the so-far unseen £350 million a week extra for the NHS.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Printing the next Focus

Focuses in office Oct 17

I was in the Lib Dem office in Consett again last night and tonight. Our next Focus is now ready to be delivered. I do my patch tomorrow.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting my hands dirty

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (11)

10am this morning and I was on Church Green in Whickham to help with the planting of the flower beds, organised by Planting Up Whickham. Time to get my hands very dirty. By the time we had finished, thousands of plants had gone into the ground. Thanks to everyone who took part. And thanks to St Mary's Church for the lunch!

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (8)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (5)

And yesterday Focus delivery was in.....

Delivering in Whickham South Oct 17

I was in the Whickham part of my ward yesterday with a bundle of 450 Focuses to deliver. My usual 3 patches were done and I was back home by 3.30pm. That's my deliveries done for this Focus. There will, of course, be more Focuses coming up.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Delivering Watergate Estate

Delivering Watergate Estate Oct 17

I delivered 370 Focuses this morning in Watergate Estate in Whickham. I have delivered this patch so often that I could do it with my eyes closed! Tomorrow I have another 3 patches to deliver in my own ward. Hopefully the rain will hold off.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Printing Focus

Focus printing Oct 17 (4)

I spent the morning in the Lib Dem office in Consett, printing my latest ward Focus. I returned to the office this evening to do the folding. Delivery starts tomorrow though the weather may not play ball. The lead story is the re-opening of Chase Park. Page 2 leads with the takeover of Whickham Library by volunteers. Fly-tipping and new powers to fine people is also covered. There's also a bit about Vince becoming leader of the Lib Dems.

Focus printing Oct 17 (3)

Focus printing Oct 17 (1)

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.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Looking at the issues surrounding Universal Credit

We had a presentation this week at Gateshead Civic Centre about the role out of Universal Credit. Later this month, UC will arrive fully in Gateshead. The presentation looked at how UC has been created from the merger of 6 separate benefits and will be paid monthly in an attempt to reflect the circumstances of those in work who receive their pay and have to budget a month at a time. I have no particular problem with that but the key issues in my view are the 6 week delay in making the first payment and the rejection of most applications to have the housing benefit element paid directly to landlords (in many circumstances they are social landlords).

Whatever the reason for a household being on the breadline, failing to pay benefits for 6 weeks simply makes a bad situation worse and in no way reflects the typical circumstances of households in employment. While it is typical for someone's salary to be paid partly in arrears, there must be very few employers who pay two week after the end of the month.

Where pilot schemes for paying UC have already gone ahead, rent arrears have mounted. I did ask at the presentation what the outcomes of applications for direct payments to landlords were but the answer was that nearly all are rejected. Since the taxpayer is providing this money to cover a person's rent, it seems reasonable to require that the money is actually used for the rent payments rather than other purposes. Ideally, the recipient should be budgeting for this but if, for whatever reason, they don't, the taxpayer, footing the bill for this benefit, should have a realistic expectation that the money they pay for a recipient's rent is used for that purpose.

So, ending the 6 week delay and allowing more direct payment of rents are two key issues to solve before UC will work properly.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Urban garden in Gateshead

Gateshead Quays Dec 16 (2)

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the Gateshead Newcastle Partnership at the Civic Centre. One of the issues to consider was the proposal for a temporary urban garden at Hillgate, on the Gateshead Quays, which will coincide with the Great North Exhibition next year. Much of the garden will be built from disused shipping containers. There will be the inevitable shops, bars and cafes incorporated into the plans but it looks to be an interesting addition to what will be on offer during the Exhibition. No cost will fall on the taxpayer so Gateshead will not be footing the bill. I suggested the garden should become permanent rather than temporary. I live in hope!

Checking out the Chase Park improvements

Whickham windmill Chase Park Oct 17 (2)

I paid a visit to Chase Park in Whickham yesterday to have a look at the results of the renovation work that has now been completed. I was here a couple of weeks ago at the official re-opening event but as I had a stall to run and a goat to look after, I did not get to see the improvements. Yesterday I was able to walk around the park and see for myself what's been done. Everyone can be justly proud of what's been done, especially the Friends of Chase Park under whose management the work took place. So here are a few of the photos I took.

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (1)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (5)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (9)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (11)