Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pinkie a success at Chase Park re-opening

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 1

Whickham's Chase Park was officially re-opened today after its £1 million refurbishment, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Find and the Big Lottery Fund. I brought along Pinkie, one of my goats, who is always a hit with people of all ages. She certainly was today. I think she must have been in more photos than anything else in the park today.

I came away from the event today with lots of casework and visits lined up to meet a couple of local organisations.

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 3

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chase Park reopening this weekend

Whickham windmill Mar 17

Major renovation work on Whickham's historic Chase Park has now been completed. To celebrate the £1 million refurbishment, Friends of Chase Park are holding a re-opening event on Saturday, 23rd September, from 11am to 3pm.

The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, will lead the re-opening ceremony. There will be lot of entertainment, activities and a fair.

Everyone is welcome to join in the celebrations.

Chase Park entrance renovation Jul 17

The renovation of the Park was the result of the Friends of Chase Park's campaign to restore it to its former glory. A partnership of the Friends and Gateshead Council saw a successful bid for £1 million made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. The work was carried out during 2017 and includes:
•​Restoration of the listed windmill, entrance gates, paths and ornamental garden
•​Replanting of flower beds and trees
•​Remodelling and enhancement of the toddler play area
•​Resurfacing of the tennis courts and new table tennis installed 
•​New junior play area and skateboard park
•​Outdoor gym/trim trail 
•​Development of community garden 
•​New benches, signs and interpretations of heritage points of interest.
I'll be there with a couple of my goats (Pinkie and Coal) to promote my self-sufficiency project and to sell preserves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hooray - home at last!

After leaving Bournemouth yesterday, I headed to London where I stayed overnight. This morning I struggled through the rush hour crowds (I am so pleased I gave up the rat race 8 years ago) to get to Kings Cross and caught a train back to the North East. I couldn't return home immediately. On leaving Newcastle Central Station, I got a taxi to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to visit my friend Richard whose condition deteriorated last week. I remained there until 7pm. I'm back home now! Hooray! And it's not long to go before my first council meeting. It's tomorrow, so I'm straight back into activities.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Photos from Vince's speech

Vince Cable arrives for conference speech Sept 17 (2)

In years gone by, I used to take photos for use by the party of conference. That normally meant being part of the photographers' scrum in front of the leader during the speech. I couldn't resist the temptation so I joined the scrum again. Here are a handful of the photos from Vince's arrival and then his speech.

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (12)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (19)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (21)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (22)

The best lunch at conference

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (4)

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation normally, in my humble opinion, put on the best lunch at conference, and this year was no different. My reason for attending, should you choose to believe me, is that I have an interest in shooting. I don't take part in the activity myself, but in my world of self-sufficiency, I trade with people who do go shooting and fishing. They provide me with game which I pay for with jars of preserves, eggs etc.

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (5)

So it seemed perfectly reasonable that I should attend the BASC meeting.And of course the good food was appreciated!

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (1)

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (2)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Another What's-the-point-of-Brexit moment

I see Theresa May is off to Canada for talks on, among other issues, post-Brexit trade. The Canada-EU trade deal (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - CETA), 7 years in the making, comes into effect shortly. According to the BBC, May wants to use CETA as the model for a UK/Canada trade deal.

But wasn't Brexit meant to give us the freedom to arrange bigger, better trade deals? Instead, we have May announcing that one of the benefits from which we are walking away is to be copied and applied to Britain. Nothing bigger, nothing better, just the same, except for the added costs of negotiating something we already have. So what is the point of that?

Lib Dem mugs - new and recyled!

Lib Dem mugs (2)

Get them while they are still in stock! Lib Dem Image are selling an extended range of Lib Dem mugs thanks to Theresa May's decision to call a snap election. With 4 more MPs than this time last year, it now costs 50% more to have a full set of Lib Dem MP mugs! In a move that will please the environmental movement, mugs of former MPs from before the 2015 general election can now be recycled - mugs of Ed Davey, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have made a reappearance after 2 years of storage in the Lib Dem Image stock room.

So buy while stocks last and take your mug home - the tea there will be a heck of a lot cheaper than what's on sale at the conference centre!

Lib Dem mugs (1)

Foodie photo op for Vince

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (3)

The Bournemouth Food Bank has a stand at the Lib Dem conference and people can bring donations of food. So yesterday, Vince Cable, at the start of the leader's tour of the exhibition area, handed over 2 shopping bags of groceries. It struck me that the contents of those two bags would have been cheaper than a round of teas, coffees and sandwiches at the Bournemouth Conference Centre tea room where prices are eye-wateringly steep.

Anyway, well done to Vince for his donation and it reminds me that when I get back to Gateshead, I need to sort out a session with a group that helps supply food to low income households. The plan is to use allotment and garden surpluses that would otherwise go into the waste system. More on this on another day.

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (6)

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (9)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Labradors for Lib Dems meet Vince Cable

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (10)

Glad to see Vince Cable was the guest at the Labradors for Lib Dems meeting today. I hope they didn't give him a rough time when he took himself for a walk around the exhibition area. It was a stroke of luck that I got this photo. I had to paws to take it. etc

I think that's enough........

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (1)

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (9)

Admiring my handiwork

Vince Cable at PCA stand Bournemouth Sept 17 (13)

Vince Cable did his obligatory leader's tour of the exhibition area this afternoon. What an ideal opportunity to get a pic of Vince admiring a copy of Parliamentary Campaigner! (Editor is.....ahem....a certain Jonathan Wallace who produces it for the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates Association.)

Going to Conference stage 2

History magazine Sept 17

So much for planning to leave early this morning. Without the need to get up to deal with my livestock, I ended up sleeping in. It meant I only got on the train at Clapham Junction at 10.40am. The good news was that I found a cafe that served breakfast for only £3 - a bacon role and a cup of tea. That must be a record for London. Two hours to Bournemouth - a good chance to catch up with reading my BBC History magazines which often get neglected as I'm tied up doing lots of other things.

I'm at conference now. Having won the battle to work out how to get on to the BIC's wifi, I will be posting up photos from around the centre. First up is Vince Cable's tour of the exhibition area, at 4pm.

receipt Sept 17

Above - the breakfast receipt proving that breakfasts can be unexpectedly cheap in London. However, back home, breakfast normally costs us nothing - one of the joys of self-sufficiency!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Going to conference - stage 1

luggage Sept 17

Lib Dem conference started this morning in Bournemouth but I'm not there yet. I am staging my journey. I left Newcastle by train this aftrnoon and am now at my flat at Crystal Palace. It has been unoccupied for 3 months as my friend, who normally lives there, is seriously ill and since June has been either living with us where we can care for him, or is in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead where he is getting medical treatment. Apart from the appearance of some cobwebs and a large pile of post, the flat is in good order.

I travel lightly: a rucksack containing cameras, rechargers, underwear and shirts plus my laptop case. I always keep what I travel with to a minimum. I can never understand why some people going away for a few days need to take the contents of an entire walk-in wardrobe with them! Anyway, I'm leaving behind the world of self-sufficiency for a few days to be beside the seaside for sun, sea and politics in Bournemouth. I should arrive there early Sunday afternoon.

Lib Dem Conference live on YouTube

Lib Dem conference is live on YouTube. If you can't make it to Bournemouth, you can still follow what's happening.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Email to Gateshead members

I will be heading off to conference at Bournemouth tomorrow, Saturday, though I don't get there until Sunday (I'm staying overnight in London). I've just emailed Gateshead members about conference and some of the key debates that are taking place. You can read the email on this link.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A decade ago

It is hard to believe that the news of the death struggles of Northern Rock first surfaced a decade ago. I remember the time well. Gordon Brown had recently undergone his coronation as Labour Leader and PM. He was deliberately dropping hints of a snap general election and then backed off. His ratings nosedived and his twisting and turning led to Vince Cable's "Stalin to Mr Bean" quip. Northern Rock however began to steal the headlines and for the first time in the lives of all of us, we saw a run on a bank with queues of people waiting to take out their money.

Vince Cable had warned of problems in the financial sector and had been attacked by Labour as a party pooper. The debt-fuelled boom was set to burst and when it did, a decade ago, the consequences were horrendous and we have still not recovered from them now.

And do you remember the money lending adverts? If anything sums up the madness of stupidly easy access to "credit" (ie debt) it was the "Picture The Loan" advert with the Geordie woman who casually borrows £25,000. As someone who leans much more towards the importance of having savings rather than constant consumer spending, I detested that advert and I made my feelings clear every time it was on the tv. Like so many other financial companies, they encouraged people to take up large amounts of debt. Then they encouraged people to take out a single loan to "consolidate" all the other loans they had hanging around their necks, with "cheaper monthly repayments" (forgetting to mention the debt will run for more years). There was always the suggestion that when taking out a consolidated loan, people should borrow even more so they can have the expensive holiday in the sun (and spend the next decade paying for it).

The question is, has Britain as a nation learnt from the serious mistakes of that period? One look at tv advertising would suggest we haven't. Adverts for payday loans at 1300% interest and equity release (ie long term debt for the elderly to pay for round-the-world cruises) would suggest we have not. People's desire to have more and more consumer products and to buy them before they have earned the money to pay for them say to me that old habits are still alive and kicking. Will the banking reforms of the past decade be enough to save us from another financial crisis? The answer is likely to be "No" if personal debt levels continue to grow.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The cost of clean electricity falls

A system of auctions for low carbon electricity generation, introduced by the Liberal Democrats as part of the Coalition, has helped to bring the cost of offshore wind energy down to below that of nuclear. In the auctions, low carbon power generators bid for a price to be paid them for each megawatt of electricity. The company bidding the lowest price wins.

The system has reduced the bid price from £120 in 2015 to £57.50 in the recent auction. This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour.

The bid price is paid by electricity distribution companies which pass on the costs to customers. The higher the bid price, the higher the retail price of electricity. The auction system has helped drive down costs by forcing the pace of innovation to save costs for example through bigger turbines, higher voltage cables and lower cost foundations.

Remember - this is what the Conservatives in the Coalition called the Lib Dems' "green crap".

Hurricane Brexit heads for Britain

There is a severe weather warning as Hurricane Brexit heads for the UK's shores. Landfall is expected in March 2019 and there are fears of widespread damage. The effects of the hurricane can already be felt with stormy economic seas resulting in the sinking of the pound. While Brexit is tearing up the country, Britain is expected to be cut off from Europe. In expectation of the arrival of the hurricane, many skilled workers have already evacuated themselves to the safety of Europe, putting a severe strain on public services, especially the NHS which is yet to receive its promised £350 million a week. Severe damage to the economy is anticipated and battered Britons are strongly advised to batten down the hatches. The bad news doesn't end there as those emerging from the wreckage after the storm could be subjected to a "fact-finding" tour of disaster-hit areas by Boris Johnson.

You've been warned: be prepared for the dangers ahead.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Plain packaging and illegal cigarette sales

cigarette packaging Sept 17

I attended a meeting of Gateshead's Health Scrutiny Committee this afternoon. One of the main presentations was about smoking in the borough. Figures showed that 17.9% of adults in Gateshead smoke, a fall from the previous year when 18.3% smoked. It's a move in the right direction but it still leaves Gateshead with one of the highest smoking rates in the country.

The decision to impose plain packaging on cigarettes appears to have had a positive impact. There are now fewer varieties and the visual appeal is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, there are still too many illegal cigarettes coming into the country in their bright, attractively designed boxes. Some of these boxes, which had been seized by Trading Standards, were shown to the meeting. Also considered were the figures showing a significant drop in the number of admissions to hospital for illnesses caused by secondary smoking after the ban on smoking in public places was brought in.

In a sense, the easier actions have been carried out, such as plain packaging, the ban in public places, higher taxes and so on. Reducing the 17.9% rate to a minimal level of 5% is going to be a much bigger challenge. The main focus needs to be on children and young people. The smoking industry kills off lots of its customers so constantly needs to replace them. Quite how we stop young people being attracted into taking up smoking is the big challenge for which no one yet has any real solutions.

A late sign

roadwork signs in Sunniside Sept 17

I was phoned by a constituent over the weekend to ask if I could arrange for roadwork signs to be removed from Sunniside Front Street. The roadworks were completed weeks ago and the continued appearance of the signs is just plain annoying. I've passed on the concerns to Highways officers. The Council needs to be a bit more proactive when it comes to leaving public property needlessly scattered about the borough.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Farewell Mike

I was saddened this week to learn of the death of Mike Neville, one of the greats of North East broadcasting. I was brought up watching him present BBC Look North before his move to Tyne Tees. He was a constituent of mine until boundary changes moved his house into Whickham North ward. He will be greatly missed.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Discussing rail

There was a rather useful seminar yesterday at Gateshead Council for members about rail services in the North East. One of the senior officers from Nexus was there to talk us through rail issues and how they are likely to impact on the North East economy. I think it is fair to say that rail systems in the North East are at the limit of their capacity and without investment, they will deteriorate and be unable to operate fully. This could have a major effect on business activity as it will be harder to move good and people around the region.

There are a number of pinch points but the 2 most significant ones are the state of the Metro in Tyne and Wear and the East Coast Mainline being dependent on only two tracks.

It is estimated that by 2025, there will only be 66 Metrocars left running on the Metro. That would require a peak service reduction of up to 30%. The rolling stock, now nearly 40 years old, is already causing problems with frequent breakdowns. The government has accepted the case for replacing the fleet. The issue is how this should be paid for. A decision is needed soon. It turns out that off-the-shelf trains cannot be used on the Metro as the tunnels are smaller than most other equivalent systems. The new fleet will have to be specially designed and built for the Metro. That means getting the contract sorted soon or else we wont have the new fleet in time for 2025.

The East Coast Mainline suffers from having only two tracks through the region. It means Intercity high speed trains have to share the tracks with slower commuter and freight trains. The line is at capacity now so cannot accept extra services. New capacity is needed but the government has only agreed to take HS2 as far as Leeds. High speed trains travelling further north will have to use existing track. There will be no additional capacity in the region. This is likely to restrict future economic development.

There is much to ponder but had Labour not mucked up devolution in the North East, we would at least have a strong political voice to put the regions concerns and needs to ministers.

Labour's tax haven fireside sale

This story caught my attention in the Newcastle Journal on 31st August: the grade II listed building on Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, which is the former home to the HQs of both Northumbria Police and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, has been sold to the British Virgin Islands based arm of Motcomb Estates, owned by billionaire brothers Simon and David Reuben. The sale was made possible by the relocation from the building of the Newcastle Civil and Family Court to Newcastle Civic Centre and the magistrates courts to the Quayside.

Labour are the political bosses of both the police and fire service here. Given Labour's current contempt for the super rich and offshore tax havens, such a sale certainly raises a few questioning eyebrows. So the next time a Labour MP, candidate or councillor makes a noise about cracking down on tax havens or attacking the super rich, just remind them Labour are happy to sell the family silver to a couple of billionaires based in a tax haven.

According to the article, the Reubens already owned the derelict buildings next to the Pilgrim Street police station. They are planning a hotel, bars and a restaurant on the site.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The North East goes AWOL

One of my arguments for accepting the government's devolution offer to the North East was to ensure the region had a strong political voice that could speak for our area. I am no fan of elected mayors but I like my home area being emasculated even less. Thanks to Labour's tantrum and dummy-spitting activities that resulted in the North East being left behind with no devolution settlement, our region had no representation at all at a meeting last week of northern mayors and the Chancellor. To be at the top table, a region needed a mayor. Labour in the North East has ensured that not only were we not at the top table, we weren't even in the building. Well done Labur, that's another fine mess you've gotten us into.

How to strangle the economy the Brexit way

We now have a glimpse of Brexit Britain following the leaking of a government paper on immigration in the brave new world after March 2019. The Brexit extremists have clearly put a great deal of work into this report, looking at all sorts of ways to strangle the economy by making the UK as unwelcoming as possible to anyone from abroad (except for Australian media tycoons and PR bosses) who want to pay taxes here and contribute to the economy. We are told that there are too many unskilled workers coming here but we have an unemployment rate of less than 5% and a crying need for unskilled Labour which the Brits are not filling.

The extremist Brexiteers, according to this report, will put up as many barriers as possible to both skilled and unskilled foreign workers. Unskilled workers will be kicked out of the country after either one or two years, leaving the soft fruit in Lincolnshire to rot on the shrubs, hotels to close due to staff shortages and elderly patients to be stuck in hospital, bed-blocking, because care homes can't recruit sufficient staff. And even skilled staff are going to be kicked out after five years. Maybe to fill the resulting gap in the NHS, the Brexit extremists can get the bed-blocking elderly patients to retrain as GPs and nurses (as long as they are British patients - none of these health tourists please though trying to be any kind of tourist in the UK will be a bit of a challenge if the hotels can't recruit the staff needed.)

The direction of travel is clear under the Brexit extremists: keeping out foreigners is far more important than the economy, wealth creation and prosperity. Let's hope this report ends up being shredded.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

5 million YouTube viewings

A new milestone reached on my YouTube account: my videos have now been viewed 5 million times (5,025,276 to be precise). Over the past 11 years of making videos, I've posted 1,128 to YouTube. The most viewed is "Inside a former Soviet Secret submarine base", filmed in Balaklava in the Crimea, then part of the Ukraine and since stolen by the Russians. Viewing figures are 291,246. "View from the London Eye" is 2nd on 249,677. 3rd is my top performing foodie video, "How to dry tomatoes" at 223,938.

People have spent 6,281,088 minutes viewing my videos since mid 2012 when this statistic was first recorded. This works out at approximately 6,250 days. Not bad!

New chairman of Sunniside History Society

Tonight I was elected as the new chairman of Sunniside History Society at the AGM in Sunniside Club. About 70 members were present. I am taking over from Colin Douglas who held the position for the past 15 years but stood down due to health reasons. It will be a challenge to keep up the momentum that Colin gave the society but I am ready for it.

The society meets at 7.30pm on the first Tuesday of every month. Our next will be on 3rd October when the speaker will be from Beamish Museum talking about the new developments at Beamish Museum.

Tackling food waste

produce surplus at Comfrey Project Sept 17 (2)

On Sunday I collected more surplus fruit from local residents who would otherwise have put most of this bounty into the waste disposal system. It's appalling to think of all this fresh, wonderful food being dumped. I therefore put quite a bit of effort into encouraging people to swap surpluses for my preserves.

The problem I have had recently is that we have had more plums given to us that we can possibly use ourselves, even taking into account all the jam we make for own use, for swapping and for sale. On the other hand, the vast amount of apples I have received don't need to be traded on. Instead they can be stored for later use by ourselves and the goats.

Anyway, to shift the surplus plums I donated them to the Comfrey Project, the charity in Bensham, Gateshead, which helps low income families and refugees access affordable food and which I first visited in August. As part of the donation, I also gave them a box of apples, a load of rhubarb from my allotment and about 6-7 kg of runner beans (see photo) given to me by one of the allotments on the Whinnies Community Garden. They had more than they could handle.

As a society we need to avoid waste but we also need to set up systems that ensure garden produce surpluses go into the food chain rather than the waste disposal system. I discussed this with Tony Alder, who heads up Gateshead's waste collection and disposal system, on Monday. He is going to see if an analysis can be made of the amount of usable garden produce going into the garden waste bins or taken to waste tips. If the amount is significant, we then need to look at ways of collecting separately this food and getting it into the food chain without costing the council anything. That's the challenge we need local charities to take up.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labour's one-party state just got bigger

The Labour Party on Tyneside has, for decades, had a one-party state mentality. Recently, the four constituent authorities that make up Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, all Labour run, decided to scrap the joint committee, made up of three councillors from each council, and replace it with a "strategic board". This will consist of one member from each authority, along with a small number of "independent" members and an "independent" chairman. At one fell swoop, the change abolished opposition representation.

Now, the announcement has been made that the new "independent" chairman has been appointed. She is Joyce Quin, former Labour MEP for Tyne and Wear and MP for Gateshead East and now a member of the House of Lords, sitting on the Labour benches.

I don't doubt Joyce will do a good job. She is one of those Labour politicians from the North East who can actually be counted as among the ranks of the capable. But as far as an exercise in democracy is concerned, it is not!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Thank you Colin

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (8)

Colin Douglas is to stand down as chairman of the Sunniside History Society at the AGM this Tuesday. He has been chairman of the Society for 15 years and has steered it to be one of the most successful local history organisations in the area. Sadly, Colin's health has not been too good recently, therefore contributing to his decision to retire. We had our last executive with him in the chair on Thursday. The new chairman will be announced at the AGM, Sunniside Club, Tuesday 5th September.

I wish Colin all the best in his retirement and for a speedy recovery and thank him for his many years of hard work.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Live waiting times at Gateshead health centres

Queen Elizabeth Hospital Jonathan Wallace May 17 2

An interesting innovation has gone live in Gateshead: the website for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital A&E and Blaydon Urgent Treatment Centre now gives up-to-the-minute waiting times. Anyone wanting to be seen can now have an idea of how long they will need to wait. The aim is to encourage people with non-urgent illnesses to go to more appropriate centres, such as pharmacies and walk-in centres.

This is a sensible attempt to get people to use local health resources more effectively and efficiently. A&E centres often find they are treating people with minor ailments and other conditions that are not the results of accidents or are not emergencies. That makes it harder to treat patients with serious conditions. So the addition to the website is a good idea.

Vince's photocopier comment

It struck me as odd that Theresa May should visit Japan with the hope of winning a trade deal shortly after the final details of the Japan-EU free trade deal were being sorted. But the Brexit camp now wants to apply a cloned version of this deal to the UK and Japan. So much for all the wonderful, improved trade deals that Brexit would give us. Vince Cable's suggestion that International Trade Secretary Liam Fox should be confined to an office with a photocopier is very apt. So I've included below the whole of the Lib Dem news release about Vince's comments.

"Leave Fox in a room with a photocopier" - Cable
Following reports that ministers are now seeking a "cut and paste Brexit", whereby Britain would simply have the same trade deals with other countries as we currently enjoy from inside the EU, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has said that the government's Brexit strategy now "defies all logic".

Vince Cable said:

"Brexiteers promised a new dawn of improved trade deals across the world. But rather than jet-setting round the globe, Liam Fox might as well be left in a room with a photocopier.

"The government's Brexit strategy now defies all logic. It is not even asking Japan for a bespoke trade deal. India has already told us they won't give us one. The government should not be surprised if China says the same.

"Far from bagging lots of new trade deals, the government is simply trying to cut and paste our existing arrangements. Its Brexit strategy has just reached new levels of absurdity.

"The Institute for Government estimates that the civil service bill for negotiating Brexit is £65m a year. But if ministers are simply trying to cling on to what we have already, it raises the question, why leave the European Union?"

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are we heading for parity with the Euro?

When I last looked at the exchange rate at around 10am today, the pound was worth 1.07 euros. It's the worst exchange rate for a year. The pound's value collapsed after the Brexit referendum and only ever made a partial recovery against the euro. That recovery has now been lost.

There are both benefits and drawbacks from a weak pound. Our exports are cheaper and we are a more attractive place for foreign tourists to visit. However, our imports are more expensive and inflation is now reducing real incomes, making the UK worse off.

As the UK imports far more that is exported, foreign nations have built up a vast reserve of sterling. If the value of this is deteriorating, foreign banks will not want to hold onto such vast reserves for too long. If bankers feel the pound will continue to slide, the process could be accelerated if sterling is dumped. And there could be another effect. The drop in the pound's value makes takeovers of UK firms cheaper. We could end up with more foreign control and ownership of British companies. Perhaps the Brexit fanatics who have demanded that Britain needs to "take back control" should ponder that one.

Meanwhile, we are heading towards parity with the Euro, the very currency so many anti-Europeans dismissed in recent years as heading for an early grave.

Monday, August 28, 2017

My day off from politics

Glendale Show Aug 17 (1)

I had a day off from politics today. I went to the Glendale Agricultural Show near Wooler in North Northumberland. I wasn't exhibiting, just visiting. I was however spotted by someone who recognised me and chatted about politics for a few minutes before getting on to a discussion about goat-keeping!

I'm back to the grind now, having spent part of this evening sifting through recent emails.

Glendale Show Aug 17 (4)

Glendale Show Aug 17 (11)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Labour's temporary u-turn

Flying flag for Europe Gateshead Quays Mar 17 (42)

At last, a bit of clarity from Labour on the most important issue of the day: Brexit. After months of confused statements from Labour in which they hovered close to the Tories' hard Brexit position while trying to appear pro-EU, Labour today have some out in favour of keeping the UK in the Single Market and the Customs Union, but only for a short period after March 2019. The policy was announced by Kier Starmer who, just a few weeks ago was dismissing the same proposal as not allowed under EU rules. He was wrong, as Norway will be able to tell him, but that didn't get in the way of getting out of a tricky question about Single Market membership put to him by Sky News.

The problem now is that after the unspecified transition period, what is Labour's policy? Watch out for more smokescreens. In the meantime, Labour's conversion to a soft-now-but-probable-hard-Brexit-position-in-the-future is welcome.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Laura "No-Mates" Pidcock MP

Laura Pidcock article Aug 17

New Labour MP for Durham North West, Laura Pidcock, is on course to be the Parliamentary Joke of the Year with her recent attack on the suggestion that class warriors such as herself should be mixing socially with "the enemy" (AKA Conservative MPs). "The idea that they're not the enemy is simply delusional," she said in an interview. "Whatever type they are, I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them." Whether or not anyone actually wants to be her friend is a great unknown.

The Newcastle Journal featured the unfriendly Pidcock today and interviewed Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, who recommended the benefits of co-operation across parties. It does strike me as something of a dereliction of duty not to cooperate with politicians from other parties in the interests of constituents. It also strikes me as absurd that in social circumstances, Pidcock would require someone to produce their membership card of the "working class" or that statements have to be made to the effect that someone is not and never has been a member of the Conservative Party before she lets anyone in her exulted presence. But that's her loss and her posturing simply makes her look petty and absurd.

For the record, I have lots of friends in other parties, and no parties, including one who is a Labour councillor who I am helping through a period of illness. I politely suggest to Laura Pidcock that in this day and age, treating people as friends rather than enemies is far more productive.

Friday, August 25, 2017

What happens in Europe directly affects us in the UK

The EU, even without the UK, is the world's biggest and wealthiest market. In terms of population it is beaten only by China and India. EU economic influence is felt around the world. For us in the UK, decisions in the EU directly affect us here. You can have as much theoretical sovereignty as you want, as much British control over over own laws as you demand, you can make Parliament supreme over UK decision-making but we are, ultimately, a small nation that cannot escape the effects of Europe's actions. For centuries, we have recognised the truth of that situation. That's why we have, often belatedly, ensured our voice is heard on the European continent. That's why we fought the likes of Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler - to stop Europe being united with no British say over European decisions that directly affect us.

The Brexit decision was, in my opinion, a serious break with that long standing policy and is against the UK's national interest. Brexit means we will not be in Europe but will be run by Europe. Outside the EU, we may be free to decide our own laws but ultimately, they will have to reflect the reality of the situation. Business and trade rules in particular will have to conform to EU conditions, even with a free trade agreement. The EU is, after all, vastly more powerful as a partner in a future UK/EU relationship.

The Brexiteers have, however, hinted that their bid to be free of Europe is unsustainable. The cold dawn of reality (and Brexit hypocrisy) can be seen in the position paper published yesterday about business regulation. The paper argues that cooperation between the EU and UK on matters such as data protection are essential if our economy is not to be damaged. The paper goes on to suggest the UK could continue to have a role in writing EU business regulations. Having been told by the Brexiteers that nasty foreigners are to have no say over British laws and rules, you can well imagine just what they think of a UK demands for a say over EU laws and regulations.

Do the Brexiteers actually live on Planet Earth? They decide to leave the club but demand a continued say on the rules of the same club from which they have just resigned (and for good measure demand all the benefits of club membership without being a member.)

Brexit means the UK has less say over our destiny. We are a small nation that will bob along in the wake of the European super tanker where once we had a British presence on the deck. Not any more.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

What I'm missing at Conference

Tim Farron Q&A Sept 15 (14)

My conference pass arrived yesterday so it encouraged me to take a look at the agenda. I will be attending conference on Sunday to Tuesday so I will miss the Saturday sessions. Annoyingly, my key interests are debated on that day. There are motions on climate change and the Paris Agreement and on the natural environment. Furthermore, there is a debate on the impact of Brexit on public services.

Alas, on the evening fringe, I will be missing the councillors' awards and the Green Lib Dem meeting. Happily, I won't be around for the members' disco!

Were I to find a park bench on which to sleep on the Friday and Saturday evenings, I would be able to attend. The hotels on those two evening were either full or charging silly prices. 

Whickham Volunteer Library meeting

Whickham Volunteer Library July 17 1

Last night I attended a meeting of the volunteers who now run Whickham Library. I am one of the trustees of the organisation though my plans to help issue books, deal with queries and the plethora of other librarian activities have not yet materialised. Earlier this year I put myself forward to be one of the volunteers and then missed all the training events because of the general election unexpectedly being called.

There was a long list of issues to discuss at the meeting, most of which were resolved. The volunteer library itself opened on 9th July (see photo above). We have two years to sort out the full operation of the library and start fundraising. Lots to do and it's going to be a challenge but there is a good group of people who are determined to ensure the library is a success.

Whickham Volunteer Library July 17 5

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Another "Well Done" moment for the Brexiters

While Jeremy Corbyn regards the EU as a capitalist conspiracy against the proletariat and the Tory Right regards the EU as a threat to the British Empire, EU institutions start the work of separating the UK from the world's most successful international organisation. We learn today that the European Investment Bank has, in effect, closed the doors on further medium and long term loans to public bodies and companies in the UK. The Daily Express accuses the EIB of being "bitter". Like so many in the Brexit camp, they simply don't understand that you can't have the benefits of being a member of the club if you resign and walk away from the club. If you aren't prepared to live by the rules, stop whinging when you can't get access to what those rules entitle you.

The loss of EIB investment could have a serious long term damaging effect on the economy, business growth and the establishment of high tech businesses in the UK. Well done Brexiters. That's yet another fine mess you've gotten us into.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A visit to the Comfrey Project

Comfrey Project Bensham Aug 17 (6)

I visited the Comfrey Project in Bensham, Gateshead, today. An interesting operation that aims to support refugees while working with the local community on local food production. I am hoping to go back to do a talk on self-sufficiency at some point soon. The Project has a cafe and volunteers grow many of the ingredients. I am hoping there is an opportunity to involve them in local food networks in which surplus food grown in local gardens and allotments is swapped.

Comfrey Project Bensham Aug 17 (7)

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Comfrey Project Bensham Aug 17 (4)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Visiting High Spen Hop Garden

Hop Garden High Spen Aug 17 (1)

The Hop Garden in High Spen is a community run allotment in which residents can have a go at gardening and can pick the fruit and vegetables for themselves. I have visited it a number of times before and on Friday I made a return visit in response to a call by the organisers to help shift the abundance of windfall apples they have. In return I took up a stack of quail eggs and a load of rhubarb. I have both is excessive abundance at home! A suitable swap was made.

Bizarrely, this is exactly the sort of sustainable, green activity over which the Labour Party in Blaydon constituency attacked me in the general election.

Hop Garden High Spen Aug 17 (3)

Hop Garden High Spen Aug 17 (2)

Friday, August 18, 2017

The UK's Trump style wall

One of the key hopes of Brexit supporters is the imposition of extensive border controls. Leaving the EU, they told us, would give the UK the ability to control who comes in to the country. An impenetrable iron curtain of gleaming razor wire, pill boxes and border guards would keep out all those foreigners intent of coming to the UK to work, pay taxes and win medals for us at international sporting events.

Quite how the government's newly announced proposals for our only land border to be "seemless" and totally open squares with the top Brexit demand of taking control of our borders is almost impossible to answer. After March 2019, anyone wanting to enter the UK simply has to come via Ireland. Taking control of our borders? That only works with a Trump style wall and the government has already indicated that will not be built. This key demand of Brexit is therefore unworkable, as is the case with so many other hopes of the Brexit lobby.

Meeting Marley Hill Bowling Club

Jonathan Wallace at Marley Hill Bowls Club Aug 17

Gateshead are undertaking a review of bowling greens and the likelihood is that many will be mothballed if they are not taken over by the clubs currently using them. I strongly support the idea that organisations of local users are better placed to take on the running of local facilities. Gateshead is pursuing this course of action because of austerity. It is something I believe should be implemented regardless of whether or not the government is cutting our funding.

Yesterday therefore I had a meeting with Marley Hill Bowling Club to talk them through what they need to do to be able to take over the bowling green. It was a useful and at times entertaining meeting. Members of the club are keen to go ahead and I have promised to do all I can to help them. Sadly I had to turn down the offer of a game of bowls as I had other tasks to carry out after the meeting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Blaming the Allies for the Second World War

It seems that the saga of the Trump comments on Charlottesville's white supremacist parade is not going away and is indeed being fueled by Trump himself. His attempt to put some of the blame for the violence on anti-Nazi protesters reads more like an apology for the far right. 

Today he describes the statues of defeated Confederate generals as "beautiful". "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," he tweeted. I wonder whether he knows his own nation's history. The people represented in the statues actually wanted to rip up the USA. These statues are now regarded as symbols of white supremacy, racism and slavery. 

I wonder what comments he'll spew forth next? Perhaps he will blame the Allies (as well as Hitler) for the 2nd World War. 

Remembering Elvis

Those of us old enough to be around in 1977 will probably remember what we were doing when we heard the news that Elvis Presley had died (the 40th anniversary of his death was yesterday). It's our Kennedy moment (I missed the Kennedy assassination as I was born only a few hours after he died.) I remember sitting in the living room of our house at Lobley Hill,  Gateshead, and hearing the news on the radio that Elvis was no more. I had not been long out of hospital as I had been in the children's ward at the Queen Elizabeth for a couple of months after being hit by a car while crossing Consett Road.

As this was before the era of wall-to-wall 24 hour news coverage (even the 3 terrestrial channels then weren't 24 hour), I had to wait for the evening news at 5.45pm to see how it was reported. Sure enough, the news led on the death of Elvis. Interviews with upset fans outside Graceland were broadcast. Radio One (then only broadcasting on medium wave) played one Elvis hit after another.

It would be interesting to see how many of today's music stars will be able to rival Elvis's staying power forty years from now. I just hope I will be around to find out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What is the point of that?

The government today are suggesting that a temporary customs union be set up between the EU and UK. Since we already have a customs union across the EU, of which the UK is part, in effect the government are asking for a delay to the full implementation of Brexit to avoid the economy and business prosperity from being dragged over a cliff. All this raises the issue of what is the point of what the government are doing? The government want to demolish the customs arrangements with the EU and replace them with a new arrangement that aims to do  the same, the only difference being that a whole new, expensive bureaucracy has to be created to run the system. It would be so much easier to stay in the existing customs union.

And going into the future, the Brexiteers say they want a frictionless border where customs issues are not relevant. This must surely be the opposite of the UK being in control of its borders. In effect, the Brexiteers want a closed border that is open. "Having their cake and eating it" is something that springs to mind. Let's hope the cake doesn't get stuck for ages at the UK border. Brexiteers eating stale food would be most unfortunate!

Monday, August 14, 2017

It must be summer

The title is not a reference to the rainy weather. Instead, it is about how daft, unrealistic political stories make it into the headlines. August always sees a famine of real political issues so the nation's army of political journalists, rather than shutting up, puts fingers to keyboards to write rubbish (some would argue they do that all year round).

So what are the mad political stories doing the rounds this week? Apparently Jacob Rees-Mogg is a possible Tory leadership contender in the event of Theresa May crashing and burning (again). Quite how the Member of Parliament for the Eighteenth Century can be the saviour of the Tories is not explained but a scenario of Rees-Mogg as PM is more like a nightmare than a summer fantasy.

Then there is the story of calls for UKIP and Plaid Cymru to work together in Wales. Given my experience of working in politics in North Wales over 20 years ago, I'm not sure which of those parties is the worst.

But the biggest joke story of the summer season was the claim by Philip Hammond and Liam Fox that they are both working together in a show of forced unity to keep returning the returning Prime Minister happy. Given a bit of time, the rows will start again.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rained off at Swalwell

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 1

The great British summer - don't we just love them!? Well, no actually! I went along to the Swalwell Community Fayre yesterday along with 2 of my goats (Pinkie and Snow), set up our table to sell our preserves and then watched as the rain came down. We sheltered under trees to keep dry. The goats proved popular with the visitors to the fayre. They also chomped their way through brambles growing wild around the fringe of the park, thus saving Gateshead taxpayers a vast sum of money in clearing them!

I love local community fayres but this year I have experienced two that have been rained off. Alas, we cannot control the weather.

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 4

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 3

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