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!