Tuesday, October 22, 2019

And now for the goodnews

Back to Northern Ireland again! This time some good news. Westminster legislation has now been enacted to put an end to the near-total ban on abortions and the outright ban on same sex marriage. Northern Ireland has now been brought into alignment with the rest of the UK and Ireland. It would have been better for the liberalisation of the laws to have come from the Northern Ireland assembly but there are times when basic rights have to be universally available. And since the Assembly hasn't functioned for over two years, Westminster had to step in to bring about the reforms.

We are witnessing however a bizarre situation in which the DUP, the party which looks to Westminster to ensure Northern Ireland is treated no differently from the rest of the UK, is attacking Westminster for not treating Northern Ireland as different to the rest of the UK. And Sinn Fein, no fans of Westminster and with elected MPs who refuse to take their seats in the Commons, are welcoming the new conformity of Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK (and Ireland).

What a strange world in which we live.

Video - People's Vote Rally

This is the video I filmed on Saturday of the People's Vote rally in London. A million people were on the march, including thousands of Lib Dem members.

A cracking deal that's cracking up

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay isn't exactly performing well while in the spotlight. He recently described the Brexit deal as "cracking" for Northern Ireland businesses as it would give unfettered, frictionless access to the Single Market while enjoying all the benefits of being in the UK customs area. This begs the question, why should the rest of the UK not benefit in the same way? But now we learn that Barclay didn't quite get it right when he said there would be no tariff barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. There will be such barriers in place. For a party that said such a situation would be unacceptable, in effect the Johnson government has surrendered. This is just one example of why railroading the Brexit Bill through Parliament is dangerous. Over 100 pages need to be scrutinised and that can't be done in 3 days.

So, a cracking deal for Northern Ireland? Or is the Brexit deal simply cracking up under what little scrutiny that has so far occurred.

Monday, October 21, 2019

People's Vote Rally

Peoples Vote Rally Lib Dems Oct 19 (22)

On Saturday I was in London for the People's Vote Rally. I was one of those tiny specks in a vast, one million strong, crowd of people that snaked its way from Hyde Park to the Houses of Parliament. I joined the Lib Dem contingent and, as usual, took along my cameras. You can see my full set of photos this link.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The shortest meeting on record?

After delivering 160 tabloids in Birtley (and returning home for a shower and a quick change of clothes, I headed to Gateshead Civic Centre for a special full council meeting. It must have been the shortest meeting I have ever attended. I think it was less than a minute! Only one item on the agenda: the new senior management structure. To ensure it goes ahead, it had to be agreed by full council. As the next full council meeting is not scheduled until late November, this extra meeting was called to deal with it. Given the fractious nature of the September council meeting, today was a significant improvement.

Delivering in Birtley

Delivering Birtley Oct 19

This morning I headed to Birtley to deliver 160 tabloids. A gloriously sunny morning, I was rather pleased I'd decided to wear a light jacket. Delivery was done in less than an hour.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Printing for Deckham

Deckham leaflet Oct 19 (1)

After cabinet yesterday morning I headed to the Lib Dem office in Consett to print our next leaflet for Deckham ward. It will be going into circulation shortly.

Deckham leaflet Oct 19 (2)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Gateshead East branch meeting

Gateshead East branch Lib Dem monthly meeting tonight and I attended as group leader. The longest section on the agenda was ward reports. There was much to report on. Central Gateshead wards reported on their Focuses, Low Fell and Pelaw and Heworth wards informed us of their eFocuses as well as their printed Focuses. Action days are planned including in the riverside area (the Staiths Cafe is always a popular meeting place!)

Meanwhile, Ron Beadle and I reported on recent developments on Gateshead Council. There was a great deal of interest in the bottled water motion we moved at the last meeting which Labour then destroyed. Some discussion also took place on possible motions for future meetings.

I took along 600 tabloids for delivery in one of the central Gateshead wards. I'm pleased to report that someone took all of them and will deliver them tomorrow!

Labour's "urgent meeting"

Back from the Civic Centre earlier today and I bring news that Labour in Lobley Hill and Bensham ward are selecting their candidate on 22nd October for the local elections next May. The expectation is that Labour Deputy Leader Catherine Donovan will be chosen again to fight the ward. So, in a spirit of good comradely relations, let me wish Catherine good luck.

But what's this? An email to Labour branch members calling them to an "urgent additional branch meeting to discuss the local election campaign." Lobley Hill and Bensham has been Labour for as long as anyone can remember. But Labour's vote came down with a bump in May this year. The Lib Dems jumped from 5th to 2nd place with a modestly healthy vote increase.

Are Labour getting so nervous in a heartland ward that they require an "urgent" meeting?

Meanwhile, our latest Lib Dem tabloid is going into circulation and lots of people are reading it in Lobley Hill!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Conference video

This is the video I shot at the North East Lib Dem regional conference on Saturday. It includes parts of Tim Farron MP's speech, regional awards and the Presidential hustings.

Delivering in Lobley Hill

Gateshead Lib Dem tabloid Oct 18 3

I was in Lobley Hill today armed with 250 of our Gateshead Lib Dem tabloids. All delivered in under an hour and a half. The tabloid is gradually hitting the streets across the borough. There are however still tens of thousands to deliver.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Customs confusion

The suggestion leaking out from the government over Northern Ireland customs arrangements is that the province will remain within the UK's customs territory but customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue as if Northern Ireland is in the EU customs union. So, customs between the North and South will continue to be harmonised. Were the UK to achieve the unicorn dream of trade deals that results in some imports being free of duty or at least at a lower rate, people in Northern Ireland would be paying initially the EU customs rates but could then claim a rebate. This sounds like a horrendous bureaucracy and will also mean Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are operating different systems. That's what brought down Theresa May's deal.

But, let's suppose the dual system is put into operation. What's to stop someone in Northern Ireland importing lots of goods from the UK's trading partners under the mythical unicorn trade agreements we are supposed to sign who then claims a customs rebate before quietly shipping all the goods over the border into the Republic. Since the border will be open, there will be no customs checks.

This would be a smugglers charter.

North East Lib Dem conference

HMS Trincomalee Hartlepool Oct 19 (1)

North East Lib Dem conference was held today at the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Hartlepool. A well attended event, I was in the interesting situation of most of those attending were strangers to me. The increase in membership of the Lib Dems and the growing number of party activists means that many new faces are around.

There were a number of debates. I spoke in the one about exploring tactical voting alliances to defeat the Brexit backing Conservatives. I pointed out that this would not work as Labour in the North East contains plenty of Brexit backers. While there are some Remain MPs whose re-election would not cause us difficulties, there were others we would not want to touch with a barge pole. The motion was defeated but it was a good-natured debate and there is always the scope for arrangements on the ground in specific constituencies.

North East Lib Dem regional conference Oct 19 (2)

In the awards section, Gateshead member Paul Gibson won the Frances Foote Wood award. This is for someone who has given exceptional service as a member who has not previously been elected as a councillor or MP. Paul is part of an amazing delivery machine and over the years he must have delivered hundreds of thousands of leaflets. He wasn't able to attend conference so Gateshead Chairman Dawn Welsh collected the award on his behalf.

Tim Farron MP was the guest speaker and there was also a hustings for the two candidates standing for the position of Party President: Christine Jardine and Mark Pack. I'm still undecided how to vote.

North East Lib Dem regional conference Oct 19 (6)

North East Lib Dem regional conference Oct 19 (5)

Lib Dem tabloid arrives

Gateshead Lib Dem tabloid Oct 19 (1)

Gateshead Lib Dems have been working on a big project recently. Our next tabloid has now been written and printed. It arrived three days early. That meant yesterday saw quite a bit of activity to move tens of thousands of tabloids from their drop off site to the ward teams. Delivery began this morning.

Gateshead Lib Dem tabloid Oct 19 (2)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Delivering again in central Gateshead

Focuses Oct 19

On my way to a meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre last night I had two bundles of Focuses to deliver in the town. Over 300 leaflets in total but fortunately I was given terraces to deliver. Job done in just over an hour. I even had time to listen to the Radio 4 news before going to the meeting.

Looking into the darkness

On Tuesday, I attended an advisory meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre about how the council is planning for Brexit. As I was the person who had repeatedly called for this meeting, it was hardly surprising that I was there with a long list of questions. The key point to come out of the meeting, unsurprisingly, was that the council are trying to plan while staring into the darkness. We can't say with any degree of certainty what is going to happen with Brexit and therefore planning for it is extremely difficult. The officers are clearly doing their best in the circumstances but there are so many unknowns that we simply have to expect the unexpected.

The good news is that prescription drug supplies and school meals are not expected to be disrupted. The police also have plans in place to deal with any troubles though some of our Northumbria officers may be moved around the country (but not at Northumbria's expense) to help deal with significant incidents (turning roads into immobile lorry parks in Kent springs to mind).

So, we have small nuggets of good news but otherwise the Brexit crystal ball is not telling us much.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

South Tyneside Labour bun fight

It seems a Labour Party bun fight is breaking out in South Tyneside, next door to us in Gateshead. Stephen Hepburn, Labour MP for Jarrow (which includes a small part of Gateshead) has been suspended because of allegations, dating back to 2005, of sexual harassment. If there is a snap general election, this could mean an early retirement for this MP.

Meanwhile, his neighbour in South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, is facing being replaced as MP after members of her constituency backed a trigger ballot which opens up the selection contest to anyone interested in becoming a Labour MP.

For an aspiring Labour politician, South Shields would be a plum constituency. It's been Labour held for as long as anyone can remember and MPs there are returned with comfortable majorities. A recent holder of the constituency was David Miliband who resigned to spend less time with his family (little brother Ed had just become Labour leader). I am not aware of the reasons for the attempts to unseat Ms Lewell-Buck though her recent suggestion that she could contemplate a coalition with the Brexit Party may not have endeared her to her local members. Nevertheless, South Shields would be a prize catch for a Labour would-be MP. I wonder whether that is motivating some of her Labour opponents.

She does, however, have some choice descriptions she has applied to those trying to unseat her. According to the Chronicle, they are "bullies and tricksters", "evil" and "corrupt cadre".

She also revealed that problems within her constituency Labour party have been going on for years. 
Ms Lewell-Buck said, “I am not the first MP for South Shields to face this kind of continued abuse. Complaints about the behaviour of my CLP have been a constant for many years and it is a sad fact that the party nationally has failed repeatedly to deal decisively with the deep level of corruption that exists there.”

They're not a happy bunch in South Tyneside Labour! And the more they fight themselves, the less they can fight their opponents outside the Labour Party.

We live in interesting times

Saturday 19th October 2019 could be an eventful day in London. Assuming by then Extinction Rebellion are no longer blocking the streets, the People's Vote Rally will be winding its way from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square. At the same time, Johnson will be on his feet in Parliament explaining either his No Deal plans or his Brexit Deal plans, whichever is applicable. We live in interesting times!

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Brexit seminar this afternoon

My only council meeting today is this afternoon when we will be having a seminar about how Gateshead Council is preparing for Brexit. I was the one who insisted earlier this year that we have this seminar so obviously I will be there. The news coming out nationally however is looking like an agreement on Johnson's latest proposals is virtually impossible. I suspect the Conservatives always knew this. I reckon Johnson put forward proposals he knew would be rejected as he is a prisoner of the extreme Brexiteers who want a no deal departure. They call the tune in the Conservative Party.

A no deal departure will allow the building of a completely different model of economics on the wreckage of the British economy, an extreme free market, minimal state intervention, low regulation, low standards approach. Their vision is of Britain as Europe's offshore Singapore. Britain leaving with a deal means Britain continuing to conform, by agreement, with EU rules and regulation. The Brexiteers' alternative will require wholesale demolition of significant parts of the UK economy. Kiss goodbye to farming, car manufacturing and so on. That's their dream, for the rest of us a nightmare.

Monday, October 07, 2019

£620 on a meal for two

We discovered earlier this year that Gateshead Council sent two officers to a Local Government Chronicle awards ceremony at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. It's not exactly the best way to demonstrate that the Council is keeping costs and unnecessary spending under control. The cost of the meal for two was £620 with a further £330 on travel and accommodation. I can't imagine many residents of Gateshead splashing out £620 on a meal. Even a tenth of that would be beyond what many would be prepared to fork out.

The story was carried by the Chronicle and Journal on Saturday and Labour run Gateshead Council explained that "attendance at this national awards ceremony was funded by an income-generating service run by the Council and not from Council Tax payers. Money generated by this team goes back into providing local services for Gateshead residents."

But if you spend £950 from generated income on a meal and trip to London, that's £950 less to spend on services. And all money generated by Gateshead Council belongs to the council taxpayers of Gateshead anyway.

You can read the Chronicle coverage on this link.

Low Fell eFocus no. 43

The latest edition of eFocus for Low Fell was published last week. Contents include:

  • Supporting St Peter's Choir
  • Residents need right to park
  • New bus stop for Kells Lane
  • Concerned about crime? Come and meet the police
  • Supporting the Little Theatre
  • Dealing with flooding on Kells Lane
  • Labour Council causes Gateshead to lose say over money

You can read eFocus on this link.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Sunniside History Society meeting tonight

Sunniside History Society 1 Oct 19

It's the first Tuesday of the month and that means tonight Sunniside History Society is meeting. The speaker is David Goldwater, one of our own members but also one of the key archeologists working on Roman Vindolana. He will be giving up an update on the recent finds at the site.

Residents are welcome. The meeting starts at 7pm in Sunniside Club. £1 on the door.