Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The annual conference rugby scrum

MPs on beach Bournemouth Sept 19

I couldn't resist the opportunity to join the rugby scrum of photographers for the leader's walkabout before her speech this afternoon. This is an annual event and this year it took place on Bournemouth beach. So, there I was, battling with the tabloid photographers, Sky News camera teams and the BBC to get a set of photos. Job done!

Today at conference

There will not be a dry eye in the conference chamber this morning. At 10.50am there will be a tribute to the late Paddy Ashdown. The chamber will be packed for that. The biggest event of the day however will be Jo's leader's speech, her first. There is an air of anticipation in the conference centre about it. Meanwhile, there will be policy debates on citizenship, housing and the railways.

North East Dinner

North East Lib Dem dinner Sept 19 (2)

A bit of a catch up last night: I attended the North East regional dinner at Valentino Restaurant last night. It was good to catch up with others from the region. Conversations across the table covered a wide variety of issues including self-sufficiency, campaigning and Labour vote meltdown. It was also useful to meet up with some of the key campaigners from Sunderland. Lots of swapping of campaign ideas took place.

North East Lib Dem dinner Sept 19 (1)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Excellent speech Ed

Ed Davey Sept 19

We had a superb speech from Ed Davey MP this afternoon. He gave us some great attacks on Corbyn, Johnson, Brexit and climate change. But there was plenty of detail about what he would do if he becomes Chancellor including investing in training, town centres and especially in green technology.

Dr Wollaston I presume

Jonathan Wallace Sarah Woolaston Sept 19

One new game we are playing at this conference is get a selfie with a new MP. This is my first, with Dr Sarah Wollaston!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

I've arrived!

I arrived at Lib Dem Conference at about 3pm today. I am a day late as I was at the Bowes Agricultural Show yesterday. We do this show every year so Conference had to take a back seat for a day. My train left Newcastle at 7.54 this morning and I am feeling the effects now!

I missed the big debate today on Europe because of my late arrival. It went the way the party leadership wanted. A majority Lib Dem government means revoking article 50 without a referendum. We continue to work cross party before the election to put an end to No Deal Brexit. And if we have no Lib Dem majority after polling day? More negotiating cross party, I guess.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Brexit Party takes over the helm at Hartlepool

If you want to see strange goings on in politics, go to Hartlepool. Famous for electing Peter Mandelson as MP and then the football team's mascot as Mayor, the town's new claim to fame is the appointment of the first Brexit Party local council administration. Or rather, a Brexit/Conservative administration. Apparently, ten independent councillors joined the Farage party last night. Today the old administration was ousted when the Brexit councillors teamed up with the Tories.

No doubt, up the coast in South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for the town, will be eyeing up the situation in Hartlepool. She came out yesterday in favour of a coalition with the Brexit Party, rather than the Lib Dems. She may be feeling dreadfully let down by her prospective coalition friends jumping into bed with an alternative suitor. Never mind Emma, I'm sure there will be other opportunities to team up with the Brexit Party in the months to come.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Another Labour vote collapse

Just in, a council by-election result and yet another Labour vote collapse (and Lib Dem gain!):

Middleton Cheney (South Northamptonshire) result:
LDEM: 44.3% (+10.2)
CON: 39.8% (-2.3)
GRN: 10.3% (+6.2)
LAB: 5.7% (-14.1)
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

Labour could explain the result by suggesting they were squeezed in what is a marginal ward. Had this been a three way battle, the argument could stand up to challenge. However, in this instance, it was a 4 way battle. And the party that came 4th last time (the Greens) had a modest increase in vote share and leapfrogged into third place ahead of Labour. They weren't squeezed, unlike Labour.

This result is not a one off. Council by-election results are regularly showing a Labour collapse. And opinion poll results, when compared to 2017, are dire.

South Shields Labour MP backs coalition with Brexit Party rather than Lib Dems

Emma Lewell-Buck is the Labour MP for South Shields. She was David Miliband's replacement after he resigned to spend less time with his brother who had just beaten him for the Labour leadership. While David went on to be the head of the charity International Rescue (I'm trying to avoid references to Thunderbirds to the rescue), Ms Lewell-Buck headed to Parliament as the new MP. She is not without her controversies. She seems very much on the Brexit wing of the Labour Party. Indeed, she is so devoted to the Brexit cause that earlier this year Corbyn, a lifelong Leaver, sacked her for voting against a further referendum when the Labour line, as usual, was to sit on the fence and abstain.

Ms Lewell-Buck has now courted more Brexit controversy by announcing she would prefer to go into coalition with Nigel Farage's Brexit Party rather than the Liberal Democrats. Maybe she has an eye on recent expulsions from the Labour Party of members who admitted voting Lib Dem in the European elections in May. While action against Labour anti-semites has been slow, anyone with a hint of Liberal Democracy is immediately show the exit door from the Labour Party.

But could she really be prepared to go into coalition with the Brexit Party? This is an organisation near enough to the far right to make any association with it by anyone of a progressive hue at best uncomfortable and at worst carrying out a complete betrayal of their principles. The answer is yes.

According to ITN's "Acting Prime Minister" podcast, when she was given the choice of a coalition with the Lib Dems or the Brexit Party, she plumped for the latter.

"Nigel Farage openly stokes racism, hatred and division, but some people in the Labour Party are so determined to deliver Brexit they'd put him in Government," said Jo Swinson.

Even Boris Johnson has ruled out an election pact with Brexit and has said Farage will not be allowed anywhere near the levers of power.

It will be interesting to see what Labour will do. My guess is that as she wasn't advocating teaming up with the Lib Dems, expulsion is not an option. Aspiring Labour politicians need to put their CVs back in the drawer!

Whickham eFocus no. 123

We published our latest eFocus for the Whickham area earlier this week. Issues covered include:
  • Tour of Britain cycle race coming to Sunniside, Whickham and Swalwell on Tuesday 10th September;
  • Dunston house building plans rejected;
  • Whickham Social Club to be demolished;
  • Mayor re-opens Marley Hill Bowling Club's pavilion;
  • Dunston School Plans submitted;
  • Teddy bears picnic in Sunniside.
You can read eFocus on this link.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tour of Britain cycle race in Sunniside

I'm just back from standing on the corner of Sunniside Front Street and Sunniside Road (less than a minute's walk from my house) to watch the Tour of Britain cycle race go through Sunniside. Two minutes of high speed cyclists and support teams captured on video. Enjoy!

Monday, September 09, 2019

Jo Swinson more popular among Labour voters than Corbyn

No doubt the Corbynistas will claim this is evidence of a conspiracy by the media to stop the People's Revolution in its tracks but back in the real world, a poll by Opinium of voters who backed Labour in 2017 puts Jo Swinson ahead of Jeremy Corbyn. Given Jo has been the Leader of the Lib Dems for less than two months, being ahead of Corbyn among his own voters is just plain delicious. Some in Labour worship Corbyn as if he were a deity who can walk on water. Others regard him as an iceberg that has just holed them below the waterline. Either way, Labour are stuck with him if there is a general election this year.

So, a brilliant start to Jo's leadership. In the meantime, here are those delicious opinion poll figures:

  • Johnson MINUS 46
  • Corbyn MINUS 6
  • Swinson PLUS 4
  • Farage MINUS 38

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Lib Dem brunch

Land of Oak and Iron cafe Sept 19 (2)

Gateshead Lib Dems' latest social event was held yesterday in the Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre near Winlaton Mill. A good turnout and it was great to see some new members attending as well.

I recommend the potato rostis.

Land of Oak and Iron cafe Sept 19 (1)

On yer bike!

Tour of Britain road closure sign Sept 19 (1)

Gateshead is hosting the 4th leg of the Tour of Britain cycle race on Tuesday. This is great news for the image of the area and the local economy. Just think of all those visitors coming here and spending money with local businesses. But I was not overly impressed with an invitation from Labour run Gateshead Council to attend the start of the race. I received an email inviting chairs and vice chairs of committees to the event. As I am the only non-Labour person to be in this category, it meant all other members of my group were excluded. And it is typically elitist of Labour to make such an invite.

I turned down the offer.

The other reason I didn't want to attend the start was because the race is due to come through our village and past my house. With such a good vantage point on home territory, I decided staying in Sunniside was better!

Good luck to all the competitors. I'm looking forward to a great race!

More Whickham Focuses

delivering in WS Sept 19

I had a stack of Whickham Focuses to deliver in the Whickham part of my ward this week. The first batch went out on Tuesday. I finished the entire patch on Thursday. Hooray! Now, all I have to do is deliver the patch I have to do in Sunniside!

Re-elected chairman of Sunniside History Society

And now for something completely different! Forget politics (just for a moment). On Tuesday I was re-elected chairman of Sunniside History Society. My thanks to members for returning me to the post and to the officers and committee members who have made the past year such a success.

Our big project over the coming months is to collect people's memories of wartime and postwar periods. In May next year, along with Sunniside Methodist Hall, we will be using the memories to produce a display at Sunniside Methodist Hall about how people lived in the war years to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

So, lots to do.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Revised clean air zone proposals

Earlier this year Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils published proposals to tackle illegal levels of vehicle emissions in the urban core around the Tyne bridges. Two proposals were put forward. The first was for a toll payable when using one of the bridges. The second was for a clean air zone which  would have charged the more polluting vehicles.

My problem with the first was that it taxed clean vehicles at the same rate as dirty vehicles, therefore creating no incentive to people to have a vehicle producing low emissions. My problem with the second proposal was that it was very likely to divert vehicles to the A1 and move the pollution up river to Blaydon.

Both proposals have now been dropped and yesterday at a members' seminar in Gateshead I learnt what the new proposal is. A clean air zone is proposed but it will be smaller than what was previously on offer. People will be able to use the bridges without incurring a charge. In the initial period of the zone's operation, cars would not be charged. Instead, the charge (as yet an unspecified amount) would fall on taxis, buses, vans and heavy goods vehicles.

The problem in my eyes is that we want more people to use buses but charging them to enter the clean air zone will push up fares. I pointed out that a bus that is quite dirty in its level of emissions while carrying 60 passengers will still produce less pollution that 60 people each travelling in their own vehicle.

The proposals come to cabinet on 17th September. They will then go out to consultation later this year.

Visiting Bamburgh and Seahouses

Bamburgh Castle

On Wednesday, wearing my Sunniside History Society chairman's hat, I went to Bamburgh Castle and Seahouses on our annual outing. 21 of us took the trip. A good time had by all. Photos from the trip are above.

Ditch digging

allotment drainage Apr 13 2

In preparation for a prime ministerial visit to our allotment, we have finished digging the ditch!

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Low Fell eFocus no. 41

Last night edition 41 of the Lib Dem email newsletter for Low Fell was published. The key articles include:
  • Tour of Britain Cycle Race comes to Low Fell
  • Sponsors needed for Low Fell's Christmas tree and lights
  • More flowers for Low Fell
  • Flagstones replaced
  • Welcoming Grace College
  • Low Fell Library hosts Macmillian coffee morning
You can read eFocus on this link.

Delivering in Whickham

Whickham South Focuses Sept 19

I was out in the Whickham pat of my ward on Tuesday. I had 300 Focuses to deliver. It took just over an hour to completed the patch.

But there's still more to do!

In praise of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act

We had a debate in Gateshead Council last year about the need for a referendum on any Brexit deal. This was at the time when Labour opposed a referendum but supported a "public vote". We were told by Labour during the debate that a public vote was NOT a referendum but refused to say what it was. But one of the most interesting contributions from Labour during the debate was the claim that the Fixed Term Parliament Act was "working class" legislation. This is such utter nonsense that I almost laughed when the comment was made. Stopping Conservative Prime Ministers from choosing the date of general elections to suit themselves and their political party is, instead, a positive. And we have seen the results of that over the past 24 hours. Parliament's decision not to back Johnson's call for an election means we are less likely to have a No Deal Brexit (though the possibility of dropping out of the EU is still very high). As No Deal is most likely to hit those on lower incomes the hardest, Labour's absurb class war rhetoric in Gateshead leaves them with egg on their faces.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

We need an election like a hole in the head

I watched Johnson's speech last night and was a little lost for words. "Is that it?" I thought to myself. Nothing new. Just an attempt to move us to an election Johnson wants but claims he doesn't want. If a snap election is held, there will be an improved performance for the Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative votes will drop and the SNP may pick up seats. As Labour will drop more than the Conservatives, Corbyn is likely to lose seats to the Conservatives and some to the Lib Dems. It could hand Johnson a majority which he will claim is evidence of the nation being on his side in terms of Brexit. It is, of course, nothing of the sort and Johnson, at current trends, is polling a share of the vote which is little more than a third of those intending to vote.

We await developments but if Johnson calls an election and therefore sparks a Commons vote on going to the country (which needs a two thirds vote) Labour have made so much noise about having a general election that it will be difficult for them not to vote for one. Turkeys and Christmas spring to mind.

I suspect however that the people themselves are not keen on an election. Indeed, they probably want one like a hole in the head.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Cooking up history

homity and pigeon pies Sept 19

Tuesday 3rd September will be the 80th anniversary of the declaration of war by the UK on Nazi Germany. We are marking that anniversary at the Sunniside History Society and today I spent a bit of time making some pies to wartime recipes: two homity (vegetarian) and one pigeon. The wartime quiz I have prepared is also ready: 30 questions mainly about social history of the war years and the immediate postwar period. It should be a great event.

Be careful what you hope for

When I attended the protest against the suspension of Parliament on Saturday in Newcastle, there were lots of speakers demanding a general election, under the expectation that it would lead to a majority Corbyn/Labour government. While I appreciate that Labour members will dream of a Labour government (though how many dream of a Corbyn led government is another point), the dream itself is not set in any basis of fact. Labour have been performing worse that the Conservatives in elections and opinion polls this year. The latter show that Labour have lost 40%-50% of their 2017 vote. This is hardly the stuff of election victories. Labour need to be careful what they hope for.

Under first past the post, a drop in vote share can still lead to an increase in Parliamentary representation. The issue is, how big is the lead of one party over another? If it is significant, regardless of share of the vote, the lead party wins a big majority. In the current circumstances, the Conservative vote has dropped, losing about a quarter of their vote share from 2017. They are typically polling in the low 30s, an historically low level beating even the dire Conservative performance in 1997. Labour however are in the low 20s. And that simply means that a snap autumn election is more likely to result in a Conservative majority. It is not a certainty. There are huge unknowns: will the Brexit Party stand and,if so, who do they damage the most?; will a Lib Dem recovery cost Labour and the Conservatives seats?; will the Conservatives be wiped out again in Scotland?

There's lots to think about, but there is no clear picture of what's around the corner other than that the Conservatives (the Johnson wing of it) are planning an election this autumn to take advantage of Labour weakness and to get rid of their Remain wing.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

People's Vote Rally in Newcastle

Peoples Vote Rally Newcastle Aug 19 4

Superb rally for the People's Vote campaign today in Newcastle. I was there along with hundreds of others. We heard a great set of speeches but the best was, in my humble opinion, Andrew Adonis. Anna Turley MP, Phil Wilson MP and Anna Soubry MP also spoke well. The question that is unanswerable at the moment however is: do we have enough time to stop the UK sliding over the edge of the No Deal Brexit cliff?

Peoples Vote Rally Newcastle Aug 19 5

Peoples Vote Rally Newcastle Aug 19 1

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Birds of Prey at the Whinnies

Owl at Whinnies Community Garden Aug 19

I left the democracy protest at 12.30pm today so I could go to the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside. They were hosting a birds of prey day. It was a successful event. Lots of cash raised for the garden.

Protest at the Monument

Suspending Parliament protest Newcastle 31 Aug 19 (1)

There was a sweet irony at the protest against the suspending of Parliament at the Monument in Newcastle today. Lord Grey's statue looked out over over 3000 protesters who were demanding greater democracy. Lord Grey was, arguably, the person who set in train the modernisation of the UK Parliamentary system by engineering the first Reform Act.

The bizarre circumstances of modern Britain has brought together a wide ranging coalition of people. That was clear from the crowds of people who gathered at the Monument, less so from the speakers who were on stage before I left at 12.30pm to attend another event.

It was good to hear Labour speakers talk of the need for greater and better democracy. Hopefully they will put their words into action and back fair votes and a written constitution. I await with baited breath.

Suspending Parliament protest Newcastle 31 Aug 19 (2)

Suspending Parliament protest Newcastle 31 Aug 19 (3)

Friday, August 30, 2019

1,784 signed so far in Blaydon

The petition opposing the proroguing of Parliament which I signed earlier this week has, at the time of writing this, reached 1784 signatures in Blaydon constituency. Keep on signing everyone! You can see the numbers for each constituency on this link.

Focuses have arrived

Whickham South and Sunniside Focuses  Aug 19

Just arrived: nearly one thousand Focuses for my ward. It looks like I'll be pounding the streets over the next few days. So no change there!

Whickham Post Office to reopen

WSS cllrs St Marys Green Aug 19

Good news about the Whickham branch Post Office. It has been closed for some time and the search was on to find a new location. The issue is now resolved. The branch reopens at Whickham News in St Mary's Green on 17th September.

Photo above: Cllr John McClurey, Cllr Marilynn Ord and me outside the new location for the Whickham Post Office branch.

Seeing off the Nationalists

Congratulations to Beatrice Wishart on winning the Shetland by-election to the Scottish Parliament yesterday. The result was:

LD – 5659 (47.9%, -19.5)
SNP – 3822 (32.3%, +9.3)
Ind RT – 1286 (10.9%, +10.9)
Con – 425 (3.7%, -0.1)
Grn – 189 (1.6%, +1.6)
Lab – 152 (1.3%, -4.6)
Ind MS – 134 (1.1%, +1.1)
Ind IS - 66 (0.6%)
UKIP – 60 (0.5%, +0.5)
Ind PT – 31 (0.3%, +0.3)

The challenge to the Lib Dem hold on the island constituency was always going to be from the Scottish Nationalists and I understand they threw everything and the kitchen sink into the battle. The Shetland Islands are in a UK Parliamentary constituency with the Orkneys which the SNP were within a few hundred votes of winning in the 2015 general election. Indeed, the Orkney and Shetland Islands was one of only three constituencies the SNP failed to win in Scotland that year. Now, with the SNP still riding high, a close result was expected but failed to materialise.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives had a standstill result and stayed in deposit losing territory. Labour started the campaign just inside deposit saving territory but slumped to 6th place and a lost deposit. Indeed, Labour lost three quarters of their share of the vote though some of this can be explained by their being squeezed in the battle between the Lib Dems and SNP.

A noticeable absence was the Brexit Party. What happened to them?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

I've signed

The petition calling for Parliament not to be prorogued has, at the time of writing this, about 1.3 million signatures. I've just added mine. I urge everyone reading this post to do the same. The petition is on this link.

Great interview Leanne

Leanne Brand, Lib Dem campaigner in Bensham, was invited on to BBC Radio Newcastle yesterday morning to talk about fly-tipping in the area. One of the presenters had been to Bensham to see for himself the problem and he interviewed local residents who were fed up with the problem. Leanne did a great interview, highlighting the problem and talking about the need for rapid action to tackle the rubbish that is regularly dumped in back lanes and open spaces.

You can listen to the interview on this link. It starts about 8.30 minutes into the programme.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This tastes like a constitutional coup

World history is littered with examples of troubled executives that have suspended the legislative part of the governance system. I struggle to find any examples that have ended well. With the government's announcement here in the UK that Parliament is to be suspended in September, this action tastes very much like a constitutional coup. I never thought I would see this happen in my own country.

Fly-tipping in Bensham

Our latest Focus newsletter in Bensham caught the attention of the local media earlier this week. Local campaigner Leanne Brand highlighted the problem of fly-tipping in the area and demanded action to put an end to the problem. A spokesman for Gateshead Council admitted in the Chronicle yesterday that "The amount of deliberate fly-tipping in the Bensham and Saltwell area is clearly much worse and more extensive than any other area of Gateshead."

Fly-tipping is carried out by a small number of selfish people who have no sense of responsibility or belief in the common good. Those responsible for fly-tipping need to be pursued and prosecuted. Significant fines and paying the costs of clean ups would be a good advert for putting your rubbish in the bin and disposing of it properly. Indeed, I would go one step further. I support community justice where it is appropriate. Making those who fly-tip clean up the mess will go some way to address the problem.

You can read the Chronicle article on this link.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The contortions of Labour's Brexit

The spinning, bending and writhing of Labour over Brexit are enough to put a professional contortionist to shame. Having been dragged kicking and screaming to a point where Leaver Corbyn will support a confirmatory referendum, a Labour government remains committed to their own Brexit which would be put to the people in a remain versus Labour Brexit referendum. Such a deal is one of those mythical unicorns that are now so associated with the Brexit debate. But let's just suppose that they manage to pull off the impossible and get some kind of negotiated deal that is different to the deal negotiated by Theresa May (though the EU have made it clear there will be no renegotiation). Labour claim they are committed to campaigning to remain. In other words, their current position is to go to the people in a general election, ask them to vote them in to negotiate a different deal which will then be put to the people in a referendum in which Labour's official position is to campaign against their own deal!

It's hardly surprising that Labour's vote has collapsed in opinion polls and electoral contests with leadership like that!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

More printing

Printing Whickham South Focus Aug 19 1

After my council surgery this morning and a quick photo session with fellow councillors, I headed to the Lib Dem office in Consett to print the back page of our next focuses for Whickham South and Sunniside. We have now had to increase the print run as new houses in Marley Hill and Streetgate now have to be added to the delivery list. A colleague will complete the printing on Sunday. And then, all we have to do is deliver them!

Printing Whickham South Focus Aug 19 2

Friday, August 23, 2019

Birtley eFocus edition no. 5

Birtley eFocus was published tonight. Issues covered include residents reject Labour's bridge tolls, £2.5 million wasted on unnecessary PCC by-election, Morrisons planning application, empty homes and others.

Whickham eFocus edition 122

Just published, eFocus for the Whickham area, edition no. 122. Issues covered include Whickham and Swalwell post offices, concern about the empty Dunston Health Centre, defibrillator installed in Sunniside and more.

You can read eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet

North East Lib Dem regional conference Nov 18 (8)

Jo Swinson today announced her new Shadow Cabinet. I was pleased to see my friend Ed Davey has been appointed Shadow Chancellor and Business and Energy Secretary. I was also pleased to see Christine Jardine appointed as Shadow Home Secretary. Last year she spoke at the North East Lib Dem regional conference. I was impressed by her.

The Shadow Cabinet in full is:

Jo Swinson: Leader
Ed Davey: Chancellor of the Exchequer, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chuka Umunna: Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development, International Trade
Christine Jardine: Home Department, Justice, Women and Equalities, Deputy Chief Whip
Tom Brake: Exiting the European Union, Duchy of Lancaster
Jamie Stone: Defence, Scotland
Vince Cable: Health and Social Care
Layla Moran: Education, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Wera Hobhouse: Climate Change and Environment, Transport
Tim Farron: Housing, Communities and Local Government, Work and Pensions, North of England (Northern Powerhouse)
Alistair Carmichael: Chief Whip, Northern Ireland
Jane Dodds: Wales, Food & Rural Affairs
Catherine Bearder: Europe
Siobhan Benita: London
Willie Rennie: Scotland
Kirsty Williams: Wales
Dick Newby: Leader of the House of Lords
Sal Brinton: President of the Liberal Democrats

Collecting memories

Sunniside Methodist Church are running a set of events in May next year to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of war in Europe. They had a meeting last night to which I was invited as local councillor to see how I can help them and what ideas I had to contribute to their plans. At the same time, Sunniside History Society, of which I am chairman, is launching a project to collect people's memories of the war years and the immediate postwar years. There is scope for cooperation especially on collecting memories and putting together a display. I suggested on 8th May next year I could run a wartime "British Restaurant" in the church hall while the display is being held. Sadly, the menu won't be in 1945 prices!

We have agreed to spend the rest of the year collecting people's memories. In early January we will meet again to put together the plans for May. We hope to have a great set of events in place for the community.

Shunting HS2 onto the sidings

It's a nervous time for those of us who believe the train should take the strain. Prime Minister Johnson has ordered a review of HS2. By the end of the year there needs to be a recommendation over whether or not it goes ahead. For the North East, this is a significant issue. The East Coast Line is operating at capacity. Passenger numbers are at a record high. Fast intercity passenger trains have to share lines with freight and slow moving commuter trains. We need more capacity on the rail system into and out of the North East. Without that, we will end up with the East Coast acting as a 450km long bottleneck. Shunting HS2 onto the sidings will be a significant restraint on our North East economy.

Chick peas at Winlaton Mill

Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre Aug 19

I missed the official opening of the Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre at Winlaton Mill because it clashed with something else I was doing. On Sunday I was able to make my first trip to the building. As I have written many times before, we need to boost the tourism economy in our area. We need places for people to visit so the Heritage Centre is an important addition to the tourism offer.

Red Kite pub Aug 19 (2)

A short walk from the Heritage Centre brought us to the Red Kite pub. I'm not a vegetarian but most of my meals are meat free to reduce the impact my lifestyle has on the environment. I have a rule which is that when I eat out (not so often these days), I eat vegetarian. So chick pea burgers were a good choice in the Red Kite on Sunday.

Red Kite pub Aug 19 (1)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

I thought the Greenland story was a spoof

When I first read about Trump's interest in buying Greenland from Denmark, I thought it was a spoof story doing the rounds. So I was a bit surprised to learn that the story was for real. Greenland is the biggest area to leave the EU and the population of 60,000 has something of a reputation for wanting at least their own internal independence. It's unlikely they will ever want to be bought or sold in some kind of 21st century Louisiana Purchase.

Whether or not Trump's USA will have enough money to buy Greenland after having snapped up the bargains of Brexit Britain is another matter.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Visiting the Hop Garden in High Spen

oyster mushroom Aug 19

I visited the Hop Garden in High Spen today. I've been to this community garden a number of times before. Today Sarah and David who run the site were selling produce from the garden. I ended up with a large oyster mushroom and a bag of bashed apples for my goats. The cost me 2 boxes of quail eggs and a bottle of my homemade gooseberry ketchup, plus a modest cash donation.

Low Fell eFocus no. 40

Published this weekend, edition 40 of Low Fell eFocus, covering:
  • Boer War Memorial on Durham Road to be cleaned
  • Extra bin trial - your views wanted
  • Making Chowdene Bank safer
  • Empty houses but Council spends thousands on temporary accommodation.

Another Whickham delivery

DHWE thank you focus Aug 19

I was in Whickham this morning to deliver 120 Focuses. It may have been breezy but thankfully, this time, there was no rain, though there were lots of hills to climb! I had only one conversation during the hour I was pounding the streets, about diesel powered cars and their disappearing second hand value!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

For Corbyn it's about the keys to Downing Street

I would trust Jeremy Corbyn as far as I can throw him. So I am pleased that Jo Swinson has said the Lib Dems will talk to Labour but not support Corbyn's appointment as Prime Minister. The last thing we should be doing as a Remain party is to put a Leaver in the driving seat. Corbyn doesn't even command the support of the bulk of his MPs. A National government will need the support of some Conservative MPs. Corbyn will kill off any idea that a good size group of Conservative MPs will back a National government. But it could be possible for enough MPs from across the political spectrum to come together to back a government led by a senior Labour or Conservative figure. Today, the names of Harriet Harman, Ken Clark and Hilary Benn have been mentioned as possible Prime Ministers.

We are running out of time to sort all this out. Corbyn setting out to be PM will waste much of the little time we have left. The Lib Dems will support a no-confidence motion (we were calling for it before the recess but Corbyn sat on his hands). Corbyn says other opposition parties need to make compromises but he seems reluctant to follow his own advice by backing a Harman or Clark or Benn PM.

Nor are Corbyn's claims that he must be considered for PM as the leader of the 2nd biggest party. When the Labour government collapsed in 1931, Ramsey MacDonald continued as Prime Minister but not as Leader of any party (he was expelled from Labour). Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin had the 2nd largest number of MPs but did not take on the Premiership. Likewise, in 1940 when Chamberlain resigned as PM, he continued as Conservative leader even though Winston Churchill had become PM.

Both MacDonald and Churchill took over the reins of government without leading political parties but able to command a majority of MPs in the Commons. Corbyn cannot do that even as Leader of the Labour party. But, of course, this is not about Brexit as far as he is concerned. This is about getting the keys to Downing Street.

Finishing Bensham patch outside historic home of a Liberal

Robert Spence Watson house Bensham Aug 19

I was back in Bensham this morning to finish delivering the Focus patch I was unable to complete on Sunday because of the rain. Today it was breezy but sunny so I ended up with no soggy leaflets! I couldn't resist the temptation to take this picture of the plaque outside the home of the famous Liberal Robert Spence Watson. Gateshead was a stronghold of liberalism a century ago. It's time for the borough to return to its roots!

Another MP

Just before I headed off to bed last night, an email arrived telling me that Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, has joined the Lib Dems. Great news! But there are other MPs still to make the leap over to the Lib Dems. We await their arrival.

Off to a flying start - yesterday's Journal

Journal 14 August 2019 2

My campaign for Blaydon seems to have got off to a flying start. Yesterday, the Journal carried an article about it - see above, though ignore the article on the left about the rather silly and childish comments by Laura Pidcock, Labour MP and worshipper of the god Jeremy Corbyn. And then later in the same paper was an article about empty houses in Gateshead, complete with quote from me and my photo! So double helpings yesterday!

I bet Labour were pleased! (not!)

Journal 14 August 2019 1

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Selected for Blaydon

I have been selected as Lib Dem candidate for Blaydon. The email informing me of this incredible opportunity to spend less time with my livestock and jam pan arrived last night. Assuming there is a snap general election this autumn, it will mean we have experienced four elections this year (local, European, PCC by-election and general election). Is this a record? And it will mean I have been a candidate three times this year. (Another record?) In less than a year, we will also be having local and PCC elections again. It seems we are on election overdrive.

So wish me luck everyone as I storm the barricades and slug it out with my political opponents. In most years, Labour would expect to win easily in Blaydon. The collapse in the Labour vote makes a snap election here much more interesting.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pelaw and Heworth eFocus no. 13

The 13th edition of eFocus for Pelaw and Heworth was published this evening. Issues covered include:
  • Northumbria Police launch scheme to help those with dementia
  • Fly-tipping in Gosforth Terrace reported
  • Supporting local groups
  • Treating Japanese Knotweed 
  • Gateshead Housing Company told to improve 
  • Got an issue? See Ian and Paul! 
  • Council u-turns on plans to cut special needs provision
You can view efocus on this link.

Bensham action day - the video

On Saturday Gateshead Lib Dems held another action day, this time in Bensham. The aim was to deliver selected areas in Bensham though we ended up with an inadvertent surplus which we decided to deliver in Saltwell. Some members also carried out a survey of residents. Apart from some patches off Bensham Bank, we achieved everything we set out to do. I have some of the Bensham Bank patches to do. The plan was to deliver them yesterday but by the time I got to Bensham, it was raining heavily. I will return later this week.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Heavy rain at Watergate Park

On Friday I paid a visit to Watergate Park to check out how the lake was coping with the recent heavy rain. I filmed this video on the day. The lake is fed by a number of streams all of which are carrying unusually heavy flows of water. I'm pleased to report that the lake was coping well.

It highlights the need for the recreation of ponds and lakes to store rainwater upstream in many areas of the country as we face climate change and more, sudden and heavy downpours. This will also help to maintain water levels in streams during the increasing periods of dry weather.

Video - Crawcrook Fair

Crawcrook fair was held on 3rd August. This is the short video I filmed on the day.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Bensham action day

Gateshead Lib Dems will be holding our next action day tomorrow, this time in Bensham. We are taking the battle to the heart of Labour territory in a ward which has been held by them for decades. We are building up our strength and campaigning activities as we move towards a possible snap general election this autumn and the local elections next May. Let's hope the rain doesn't curtain our activities!

Lib Dem coffee

Staiths Cafe Aug 19

Last night Gateshead Lib Dems held a get together over coffee in the Staiths Cafe on the Staiths Estate in Teams. It was well attended especially by new members. And there were plenty of people there would are a fraction of my age!

We will be having more events like this in the future. The next one is currently being organised for early September and will be a pizza and politics event. More details to follow.

Lib Dem coffee Aug 19 (2)

Lib Dem coffee Aug 19 (1)

New attractions at Beamish Museum

Beamish Museum Aug 19 (2)

Yesterday I took half a day off from politics and self-sufficiency to visit Beamish Museum. It is a ten minute from from my house and we have been regular visitors for years now. However, there are two new attractions at the Museum which have opened since we were last there.

The first is the cottage of Joe, the Quilter, in the Georgian area of the Museum. Pictures of the cottage were in national newspapers of the time as Joe was brutally murdered and the press covered the crime extensively. Beamish used the pictures to build the replica cottage (including the large crack down the wall), aided by the discovery of the foundations in Northumberland.

Beamish Museum Aug 19 (14)

The other new attraction is the replica of Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre. It is based on the building that was erected in the 1950s and forms the first attraction in the 1950s town that is currently under construction. I am eagerly awaiting the completion of this area of the Museum and especially the running of the trolley bus. The axing of trolley bus services in the 1960s was one of the worst transport decisions ever taken in this country.

Beamish Museum Aug 19 (15)

Labour's vote meltdown

It's a Friday morning so we are waking up to the results of yesterday's by-elections, of which there were two. In Newnham, Cambridge, Labour had previously been within 7% of winning the seat from the Lib Dems. Yesterday, their vote collapsed, from 36% to 18%. (For good measure, the Lib Dems held the ward with 60% share of the vote, up 16%.) The second was in Claines in Worcester where the Lib Dems gained the seat from the Conservatives. Labour collapsed from 15% to 2%.

Okay, so here comes my usual health warning on individual by-elections and opinion polls - in isolation they should not be taken as representative of the political situation. Instead, put them all together and you get the big picture of what's going on. As with other recent polls and by-elections, Labour's vote is melting under the heat of current political circumstances.

No doubt Labour will argue that yesterday's results were peculiar to the wards fought. There was a squeeze on Labour in Claines. While that can be taken as an explanation for that ward, it can't for Newnham. This was a ward in which Labour were previously in contention. Instead of celebrating victory, they now can't even be counted as serious challengers in the ward.

Labour's sinking vote is a common feature of opinion polls and by-elections. We are picking up on the doorsteps here in Gateshead that Labour's vote is in meltdown. We will be campaigning in Bensham tomorrow (weather permitting!) so we will see whether Labour's meltdown is continuing in a part of the borough where Labour normally expect to romp home.

My request to Labour members however is to keep Corbyn in place. He is an excellent recruiting agent for the Lib Dems and is perfect at slashing the Labour vote.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Whickham area eFocus no. 121

Just published, edition 121 of eFocus for the Whickham area. This edition includes:

  • thank you to those voting Lib Dem in the recent PCC by-election;
  • green flag for Chase Park;
  • Marley Hill bowling green pavilion restored after fire;
  • Dunston Hill housing plans;
  • Sunniside bird of prey event postponed;
  • Helping people with dementia;
  • Tyne and Wear Fire Service rated good.

Thornley Lane Closure

Thornley Lane Lockhaugh Aug 19 (2)

On Tuesday work was taking place to resurface Thornley Lane between Lockhaugh and Winlaton. A sudden downpour at a key moment in the work destroyed the new surface and stopped the bitumen from setting. Work had to stop.

My recollection is that the weather forecasts were warning of sudden heavy downpours. How was this missed? I've emailed the director to ask.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Incas and industry - Sunniside History Society

Last night the monthly meeting of Sunniside History Society was held at Sunniside Club. I chaired the proceedings. We had 2 DVDs to view - the first was on the lost cities of the Incas and the second was about old industries in the North East that are no longer with us. I announced that, having viewed the Inca DVD, I have decided to add a visit to Inca cities to my bucket list. Sadly, carrying out the bucket list is a bit more challenging these days. I haven't been on holiday for four years, other than a couple of weekend visits to North Wales and London (which were partly business trips as well). Finding time away from constant elections, council and campaign activities and looking after my livestock is something of a challenge!

I was also able to announce details about our next meeting on 3rd September when we will be marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the 2nd World War. We will be holding a wartime quiz and will have a speaker who, as a child, lived in Whickham/Sunniside during the war. The aim of the meeting is to encourage people to tell us their memories of the wartime period so we can collect and preserve them. We are looking forward to a great meeting.

A beneficial development

With an aging population and a squeeze of social care budgets, we are facing as a nation serious problems with housing for older people. As people live longer, their support needs are going to grow. The ultimate course of action is for people to be moved into residential nursing care when there are no further options to support people living at home. This is, of course, an extremely expensive outcome for local authorities which pick up the bill.

So, a planning application to build 14 apartments on the site of the derelict Whickham Social Club caught my attention recently. The apartments will be designed specifically for people with mobility and health issues and, in many cases, still living with relatives who are often their carers. We have a huge shortage such housing in which addressing the on-going and future care needs of individuals are built into the housing itself. Such housing will allow people to remain independent longer and will help to keep people living in the community rather than in care.

I met planning officers and the agent for the developer yesterday at the Civic Centre to discuss outstanding issues about the application. Hopefully these will be resolved before the planning committee considers the plans in September. This will be a beneficial development that addresses specific housing needs, clears away a derelict eyesore and increases the council tax revenue to Gateshead.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Farewell Norman

Norman Callender funeral Aug 19

I was in Ryton this morning for the funeral of Norman Callender, former Lib Dem Councillor for Ryton, Crookhill and Stella. Norman was elected in 1992 and retired in 2011. He was popular in his ward and was a great servant of his constituents. He will be greatly missed.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Crawcrook Fair

Crawcrook Fair Aug 19 (2)

A sunny day yesterday so I headed over to Crawcrook to go to the village's annual fair. A pleasant day had by all, including the donkeys!

Crawcrook Fair Aug 19 (1)

Friday, August 02, 2019

Congratulations and commiserations all round

Congratulations to Jane Dodds on her victory in Brecon and Radnorshire where she took the seat from the Conservatives in the by-election there yesterday. I have to confess, I did stay up for the result! It meant I was a bit bleary-eyed this morning when I was feeding the livestock.

There have been some interesting responses to the result so I thought I would summarise them here:

  • Lib Dem response: we won!
  • Conservative response: a stunning victory for the Conservatives and a rotten result for the Lib Dems who were supposed to win every vote in the constituency and some more!
  • Brexit Party response: oh b****r.
  • Labour response: we saved our deposit by 0.3% in a seat we held until 1979. Onwards to the people's revolution from the comfort of the fence.
  • Monster Raving Looney response: people must understand we are not the Conservative/Labour/Brexit/UKIP parties.
  • UKIP: we beat the Monster Raving Looney Party for the coveted last place.

The reality is that this is good news for the Lib Dems, bad news for the Conservatives which adds to the complications of Parliamentary arithmetic and dire for Labour whose policy of effectively having no policy on Brexit has been a disaster. The Labour vote meltdown seen in the local and European elections, council by-elections and opinion polls was reflected in Brecon and Radnorshire. Labour are facing disaster.

So well done Jane and the by-election team. A great boost as we head towards the autumn and whatever that brings.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Please, not Brighton again!

Sage Mar 12 (4)

I appreciate that venues suitable for Lib Dem federal conference are limited. And choices of venue are directly affected by costs. But do we have to go to Brighton again? It seems we have got ourselves stuck in a Brighton/Bournemouth autumn conference axis. It has just been announced that autumn conference next year is in Brighton. Yesterday I booked my hotel for this September's Bournemouth conference. There are other suitable venues the party has used in the increasingly distant past - Manchester and Birmingham spring to mind. While not at the geographic heart of the country, at least they aren't on the distant south coast.

Spring conference now seems to be permanently held in York. Okay, it's a bit more central and as it's on the East Coast line, getting there is relatively unchallenging. But there are many smaller venues capable of hosting spring conference. Way back in March 2012, spring conference came to the Sage in Gateshead (see photo above). I guess I am biased in favour of my home town but nevertheless, the constant use of the same few venues in recent years is becoming distinctly annoying.

In a few years' time, we shall have the new convention centre built on  the Gateshead Quays. It will easily accommodate autumn conference. So hopefully the conference committee and office will consider Gateshead as a venue and spread the privilege of hosting conference around the country. Who knows, if everything goes according to plan, I could be welcoming everyone to Gateshead as the Leader of the Council!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Whickham Library and Sunniside History Meetings

Whickham Library Jonathan Wallace July 19

I had two meetings this evening. The first, at 5.30pm, was at Whickham Library. The monthly meeting of the trustees was over quicker than usual. There were no big agenda items. Instead, lots of small issues were handled.

I then headed to the executive meeting of Sunniside History Society at Sunniside Club. The two big items on the agenda were the society's forthcoming trip to Bamburgh Castle and the meeting we are holding on 3rd September. This meeting falls on the 80th anniversary of the UK declaration of war on Nazi Germany so we are marking that with an evening all about the Second World War. We will start with a minute's silence followed by a wartime quiz and then a presentation by a lifelong resident of a Whickham who remembers the war years and will lead a discussion to tease out people's memories.

We are looking forward to a great evening and all residents are welcome to come to the meeting which will be held on Tuesday 3rd September at 7pm at Sunniside Club.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Project Fact

I have no holidays planned for this year. Having spent the first 7 months of the year fighting elections, there was no time for getting away. While I yearn to see the rest of the world, the lack of a vacation may actually turn into a financial blessing in disguise. Boris Johnson's first gift to the nation as PM is the sinking pound. What immaculate timing! Just as people (not me obviously!) are heading off on holiday. It isn't just Brits abroad who will be impacted immediately. Watch out for the rise in petrol and diesel prices over coming weeks. Crude oil is prices in dollars so any fall in sterling quickly catches up with you on the forecourt.

The prospect of No Deal Brexit pressing down on the pound will lead to increased consumer prices. We import about half our food. An even higher proportion of animal feeds are imported. There may, of course, be sudden gluts. The lamb that will no longer be exported to the EU because of 42% tariffs under WTO could be dumped on the market. An while the nation chomps its way through cheap chops, within a year the lamb producing agricultural sector could be dying as it is no longer viable.

Brexit fanatics tell us the drop in the value of the pound will make our exports more competitive. The experience of manufacturing exporters since the referendum does not support such claims. The low value of the pound needs to be taken alongside the collapse in investment in machinery and plant as businesses have awaited over the past three years the form that Brexit will take.

We are told this is all Project Fear but the reality is that this is Project Fact.

Monday, July 29, 2019

RIP Norman Callender

Ryton Library Feb 06 no 1

I'm saddened to report that former Ryton Lib Dem Councillor Norman Callender passed away last week. Norman was a member of Gateshead Council for nearly 20 years and was a tireless proponent of Ryton. He will be greatly missed.

The funeral will be held next Monday at Holy Cross Church, Ryton, at 11.15am, followed by a service at Mountsett Crematorium.

Norman pictured above with former ward colleagues Christine McHatton and Ione Rippeth.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Rained off

Pack Horse Burnopfield July 19

I had hoped to go to the Gibside Community Farm open day today after my advice surgery in Whickham. I left the surgery late as it overran due to a higher number of constituents calling in than expected. Alas, the rain was tipping down so when I passed the community farm on Fellside Road, there was no one there. I took refuge instead in the nearby Pack Horse. Lunch was a rather pleasant chicken masala.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Not measuring up the curtains

Yesterday, with my two ward colleagues Councillors John McClurey and Marilynn Ord, we had our annual ward meeting with Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council, and the Chief Exec. It is an opportunity to discuss matters of local relevance. I brought to the table issues about the future of Sunniside Park and the neighbouring Lambing Hill/reservoir area and the Sunniside Kingsway community orchard.

Martin's office itself is spacious and comfortably furnished. When I took over as Leader of the Opposition four years ago, I changed nothing in the Opposition Office other than having the swivel seat replaced (it was falling apart). It still has the same wallpaper and furnishings from 1987 when the Civic Centre was completed and opened. I saw no need to change anything. I will treat the Leader of the Council's office in the same way when the Lib Dems take control in the near future! No need to measure up any new curtains!

Be ready for an autumn election

I can't help but feel there is going to be an autumn general election. There has been a major clear out of the cabinet and Johnson is heading off on what looks very like an election tour. Having shown he can ruthlessly dump all his opponents in government as quickly as he can dump previously held political beliefs, a general election will also give him the opportunity to purge all opponents from the Conservative Parliamentary party. Those MPs not backing him will simply be replaced by candidates backing Johnson.

Were the UK to go for No Deal Brexit, Johnson will want the election over before 1st November so the election is not fought on the problems that go with crashing out. An election will also effectively close down Parliament for a few weeks, killing off temporarily the legislative wing of governance and the only barrier left in the way of No  Deal.

And another factor that could push us towards an early election is the state of the Labour Party. Their vote is in freefall. Corbyn is increasingly a millstone around Labour's neck. The starry-eyed Corbynistas must at some point realise that Corbyn is the problem rather than the solution to their current predicament and will get rid of him. So Johnson will want the election over before then. He'll want a big majority, just as May did in 2017. The snap election backfired then but that is not necessarily what would happen were there to be an election this autumn. There will need to be a great deal of emergency powers to make No Deal work. Johnson will need a big majority to ensure the emergency powers legislation is passed.

So, having campaigned in three elections this year (locals, European and PCC by-election), two as candidate myself, we may be heading for a fourth contest in 2019. Oh joy!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Gateshead East branch meeting

On Tuesday evening I attended the Gateshead East Lib Dem branch meeting to give my group leader's report. I talked about the cabinet reports that are presented to full council which say absolutely nothing about what the cabinet members are doing. Clearly that needs to change  but so far, my suggestions have been ignored by Labour.

Also discussed was campaigning in our key wards. It was reported that Focuses have recently gone out in Pelaw and Heworth, Low Fell and Chowdene. Some campaigning is about to be done in Bensham as well. There will be many other activities taking place over the summer.

Low Fell eFocus no. 39

The Low Fell Focus Team have just published their latest eFocus, number 39. Issues covered include:
  • Council to rethink tolls on Tyne Bridges
  • Low Fell volunteer gardening group supports world polio day
  • Fighting graffiti in Low Fell
  • Fixing drainage on Durham Road
  • Safety on Chowdene Bank
  • Barriers on Dryden Road removed
  • Council u-turns on cutting special educational provision
You can read eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Liberal society is under attack

News is coming through of Johnson's Cabinet appointments. The one that catches my eye the most is that of Priti Patel as Home Secretary. This is enough to make me shudder. This one-time backer of capital punishment has an illiberal record on LGBT issues. She opposed same sex marriage, an issue for which she is now responsible at the Home Office. We previously  had the "hostile" environment towards migrants. I fear that there could now be a hostile environment towards those in the LGBT community.

Looking at the composition of the Cabinet so far, this is one that is swinging far to the right. Liberal society in under attack and we must step up the battle to protect it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

I fear the country is about to be bluster bombed!

So, as expected, Boris Johnson is the new Tory leader. We have little in the way of detail as to what he wants to do but expect a vigorous campaign of bluster bombing to hide the lack of content of this political charlatan. However, be careful not to underestimate him. He won the 2012 mayoral election against the odds in a city that has been moving away from the Conservatives. For many on the right of the political spectrum, he is very much their man. For the rest, his is divisive and dangerous. The country is likely to remain divided for some time to come.

Video diary - 20th July: Northern Pride

On Saturday I was in Newcastle to take part in the Northern Pride parade. Despite the rain there was a good turnout and spirits were high. I joined the parade with other Lib Dems from around the region.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Video diary - 19th July 2019: at the PCC by-election count

Last Friday I attended the count for the Northumbria PCC by-election. As Lib Dem candidate was I heading to for a completely unexpected victory? No! Did Labour see their usual easy victory? No! Previously Labour took over 50% of the vote. Therefore 2nd preferences were never previously counted. This time Labour's vote dropped from 56% to 37%. Our vote climbed from 10% to 18%. It was a reasonably good performance which lifted us off the electoral sandbank on which the Lib Dems had been stuck from 2010 to the end of 2018. But it would be unwise to read to much into the result. The turnout was lamentable at 15%. This does show that the whole PCC system has failed to engage with people. I continue to argue that the system should be scrapped.

So, a creditable performance, a move in the right direction but the big battles are still ahead waiting to be fought and won.

Congratulations Jo

I missed the live announcement of the Lib Dem leadership vote this afternoon as I was at that point in time sawing a horn stub off a billy goat. As far as excuses go, that is probably unbeatable! So congratulations to Jo Swinson. We now have our first female and our youngest leader. The challenge for Jo is to take us forward as a party and build on the political capital created under Vince's leadership, especially in the past few months. I have every faith in Jo. I am sure she will achieve a great advance for the Lib Dems.

Commiserations to Ed Davey. I voted for Ed. I've known him for many years and we used to work together on many political issues when I was employed by the Lib Dems. I know he will continue to make a great contribution to the success of the party.

And finally, thank you Vince. You took on the leadership at a time when we were deep in the doldrums. You have left us in a vastly improved state.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Video diary - other things still happen on polling day

Thursday 18th July 2019 was the day of the Northumbria PCC by-election. As my video diary shows, I had plenty of other activities to occupy me, including attending a NECA scrutiny meeting in Sunderland and full council in Gateshead.

Streetgate housing plans

Streetgate housing exhibition July 19 (1)

On Wednesday housing developer Lok held a consultation event at Sunniside Club about their plans for 24 houses on land to the north of Gateshead Road in Streetgate. The site was formerly greenbelt but we lost the battle to save it from housing when Labour passed the revised Local Plan in 2014.

The plan for 24 houses is the start of the development of this site which is currently divided between four different ownerships. The first plot will include the 24 houses. As the subsequent 3 plots become available, new housing will be built in phases. About 48 houses will be the overall total on the site.

Access will be opposite Sorella Sorella on a bend in Gateshead Road. This is what I have a bit of trouble with. I need to be convinced this new junction is not an accident waiting to happen. I made this point to the developers who believe it will be safe when I met them on Wednesday. I will visit the precise location shortly to see it for myself.

Streetgate housing exhibition July 19 (2)

Video diary - eve of poll

Another bit of catch up - I filmed this on the day before the Northumbria PCC by-election. In the morning I was in Whickham delivering PCC by-election leaflets but was then called away to deal with a bee swarm. In the afternoon I attended a council seminar and then headed to Sunniside Club to talk to developers wanting to build 24 houses in Streetgate. A typical summer day!

Video diary - meeting the Chief Constable

This post is catch up after the PCC by-election. I met Northumbria Chief Constable Winton Keenen on Tuesday last week to be briefed on various issues relevant to the policing of the area and to have a bit of amusing speculation on what a Jonathan Wallace PCC would be like!

Labour votes to expel former chief whip

The mess of their own making in the Labour Party  has just got even messier. While the party of Corbyn and his comrades turns a blind eye to anti-semitism in their own ranks, anyone who is critical of The Great Leader is purged (and you are also sent to the Gulag if you admit to voting Lib Dem). The latest incident of Corbynite lunacy comes with the decision by the former constituency party of Hilary Armstrong (Durham North West and therefore in the neighbourhood of my constituency of Blaydon) to expel her for speaking out against JC. Her heinous crime was to put her name to an advert in the Guardian, signed by other distinguished Labour figures as well, pointing out the indisputable fact that Corbyn has failed the test of leadership.

The constituency party has no power to expel her (the Chief Purger is the Labour General Secretary) so the move is in reality a gesture by the Corbyn fanatics. So, with a snap general election likely, the Tories in a mess over Brexit and the new Tory Leader likely to alienate a significant section of his own party, Labour choose to waste their time fighting themselves rather than kicking the ball at a goal which currently has no goalkeeper.

Well done Labour. You can always be counted on to do the wrong thing!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Video diary - £620 meal at the taxpayers' expense

In our Chowdene Focus we revealed that two council officers had attended an awards ceremony at a top hotel in London which included a meal costing Gateshead Council £620. Labour leader Martin Gannon knew nothing of this and emailed me to find out more about this rather expensive meal. It's nice to know that Martin has to turn to me for information about the council he leads. So, come on Martin, get a grip!

Video - Chowdene action day

On Sunday 14th July Gateshead Lib Dems held another action day, this time in Chowdene ward. This is the video I shot on the day.