Thursday, December 24, 2009

Heading south

We are currently in the car at the moment heading to London and just passing the Nene Valley Steam Railway. We will be in London and Kent over Xmas. Andrew, my older brother is temporarily moving into our house in Sunniside over the Xmas break as it beats sleeping on Dad's floor whilst he is up visiting the rest of the family over Xmas.

I am also doing a bit of photography and video in London whilst I am down for candidates.

The car is packed full of home grown and wild foraged food. Our aim is to have as near self-sufficient Xmas dinner as we can get. More about that later.

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas has hit my radar

Bahhhhh humbug and all that. Christmas has now hit my radar screen. I'm off to Newcastle now, on the bus, to do some Xmas shopping. Thank goodness for vouchers. They make much better presents than actually buying something for someone that they don't want.

I did however spend a hour on the allotment in the snow this morning. We are aiming to have a self-sufficient dinner on Xmas day. So I picked cabbages and sprouts, dug up ready frozen leaks, and harvested some plump parsnips of which I am, sadly, rather proud.
Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, December 21, 2009

On equal terms

Very good news - debates between all three party leaders will take place at the general election on tv. This immediately removes one of the disadvantages under which the Liberal Democrats operate. The three leaders appearing together should help alter that perception. We will be on an equal footing with the other two.

The agreement on the leaders' debates is also a last throw of the dice for Brown. With little else to lose, the debates could be the boost Brown needs, at least to salvage something from the election. The biggest threat is to Cameron. His vacuous statements and shallow policy pronouncements may not stand the scrutiny of the leader debates. Interesting times ahead, me thinks.
Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A view inside Lib Dem conference centre 2012

Lib Dem conference is coming to the Sage, Gateshead, in March 2012. The building is one of the best music halls in the country and on Thursday it celebrated its 5th birthday. I filmed the following video at the celebration. For Lib Dems it will give a taste of the venue for conference though I did not film inside any of the performance halls.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Don't walk away, make it the start

Copenhagen's outcome is a huge disappointment. The stakes are high and the cost of failure is enormous. Ambitions before the conference were very high. But we must not stop now. We may not have got the binding treaty we need but we have the foundations for an agreement that cannot come too soon. So whilst Copenhagen is very disappointing in what it has produced, we can build on the agreements we have reached.

Sent via BlackBerry

Visiting the Gibside Farmers' Market

Gibside is a National Trust property in my ward in Gateshead. It is the former home and estate of the Bowes-Lyon family, of Queen Mother fame. Once a month a farmers' market is held here. It is on now and I am currently having a coffee in the cafe waiting for the final trader to arrive. Despite the snow the event is going ahead but the final trader is the one who sells the exotic gins (which we want to buy as presents for people as well as compare with our own homemade fruit gins.)

And from here I will be going to Rowlands Gill to deliver a few Xmas cards and Neil Bradbury annual reports. I say a few. I actually have 800. That's what happens when you volunteer to deliver!

Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Exclusive news on 2012 Lib Dem conference

I am at the Sage in Gateshead, the fantastic new music hall on the banks of the Tyne. And I can exclusively reveal that Lib Dem spring conference will be held here in March 2012. Fantastic news. Really pleased. I knew conference office were interested in coming here and when I was at Cowley St I was constantly plugging the location as ideal for conference. So come to Gateshead in 2012 and enjoy my home town!
Sent via BlackBerry

The Sage 5th birthday

The Sage is the concert hall on the Gateshead Quays. It was opened 5 years ago and is today celebrating its 5th birthday. Thanks to the short-sightedness of the then Labour run Newcastle Council, Gateshead got the Sage, rather than it going north of the Tyne. Nevertheless, we are all proud of it on Tyneside. I am on the bus heading to Gateshead now to go to the Sage birthday party.

I had thought I could get through this year without a cold or any other illness. Alas, as I sit here on the bus, I am experiencing a cold, my body defences having let me down at the 11th hour! And it's cold outside as well, though we are on lower ground than Sunniside and therefore the snow has not been lying.

Sent via BlackBerry

Voting to jump off a cliff

The demise of Flyglobespan yesterday should be a timely warning shot to cabin crew at British Airways. The airline industry is in a perilous state and companies such as British Airways can either get their costs under control or collapse. Given the former is the lesser of the two evils, the decision by BA cabin crew to strike over Christmas seems like little other than a vote to jump off the top of a cliff with no safety net to catch them.

I wonder of there is a growing trend of industrial and commercial irresponsibility and suicide on the go at the moment. The postal workers were on strike despite the devastating consequences to their own under-threat Royal Mail. BA cabin crew vote themselves a long Xmas break that could crash land their company. Management are just as wreckless. Bank bonuses on a massive scale have been paid when the banks themselves have been bailed out by the taxpayer and are still on a commercial life support machine.

It waits to be seen what impact this sort of suicidal behaviour has on the economy as a whole.
Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Xmas card stuffing party

Whilst Labour council cabinet members get an officer of Gateshead Council to send their Xmas greetings by email, Lib Dems in Blaydon had a Christmas card stuffing party in my dining room last week. Here's the proof:

Christmas cards Dec 09 no 2

The cards have now been delivered in a number of wards in the constituency (Labour will have to ask around as to where but most houses will eventually get a card) but more are still to go out. We have another stuffing party tomorrow evening.

By-election alert in BNP target seat

There is to be a by-election in the Primrose ward of South Tyneside following the death recently of Labour's Cllr Barrie Scorer. The ward is not one that necessarily appears on the radar screen of closely fought battles and therefore normally does not generate a level of interest in the way a marginal seat would do so. Except now is different. The result last time put the BNP on a third of the vote. The result in May 2008 was:

Labour 1005
BNP 681
Conservatives 382

Turnout was 33% which for local council election is (relatively speaking) not that bad. I can't imagine for a moment that the BNP are going to let the opportunity pass. The question is, are Labour going to remain asleep and let the BNP have a go at wresting this ward from them?

NewcastleGateshead in World Cup bid

The host cities for England's World Cup 2018 bid have been announced and I am delighted to see that NewcastleGateshead is included. I have to confess that I am not a follower of football but I am a very strong advocate for tourism in my region. Anything that brings the visitors (and their money) to our area is welcome.
Sent via BlackBerry

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My 4th video to hit 50,000 YouTube viewings

Shock news from my YouTube Channel! I now have 4 videos with over 50,000 viewings. The video below is of the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai. I visited the emirate state in 2002 (I hasten to add I did not stay at the 7 star Burj) and filmed this short video. I only added it to YouTube last year.

For those who don't know the Burj, it is the hotel built on its own island in the shape of a sail (not a sale which I think Dubai may have to do of its overseas assets to pay the debts built up to invest in buildings such as the Burj.)

Anyway, here's the video:

Meanwhile, I am approaching the one-million-viewings-of-my-videos-on-YouTube milestone.

A significant quantity of constituency Christmas cards

In Blaydon constituency recently we had a significant quantity of Xmas cards produced and dropped off ready for putting into envelopes. The whole lot of them were dropped off at my house and 8 of use worked an entire evening last week to stuff as many of them as we could. There were still lots of boxes left to do when we stopped at 1am. I won't say how many we had delivered - such tactical information is for Labour to wonder about rather than be handed on a plate - but deliveries have started in a number of wards in Blaydon. The Northside estate at Birtley is the most recent to be ticked off the list.

I have been away in London filming videos and taking photos since Thursday evening last week but I have received today an email from Noel Rippeth, my group leader and agent in the constituency, updating me as to how far we have got with deliveries and asking me to host another envelope stuffing party! We have of course increased the pace of the Blaydon campaign in recent months. We have Dave Anderson MP firmly in our sights!

I am now heading home to Gateshead and am looking forward to that joyous task of delivering thousands of Xmas cards.
Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, December 14, 2009

A high profile day in the press

I blogged yesterday about the Journal being in touch to follow up some questions I had raised at Council last week. Well, two main articles today in the Journal and Evening Chronicle. It looks from the website (I am in London at the moment so I'm reading material on line) that the Chronicle coverage of the slow progress on the Gateshead Get Carter Multi Storey car park demolition was the main front page story. I'll get the press cuttings when I'm back home tomorrow.

I do however have a priceless gaffe. I got to Victoria Station a short while ago and got on the train. Not my train as it turned out. I casually watched through the window as my train pulled out of the station, thinking to myself, I wonder why the train I am on is not moving. So here I am still on the platform, waiting for the next train to Crystal Palace.
Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another video shoot and some press work

I am off to Parliament Square now. I have another session this afternoon of shooting videos and taking photos for parliamentary candidates. Only one customer today but more on Monday and Tuesday.

I had to deal with an email from the Journal in the middle of filming yesterday. They have picked up on some questions I asked at Gateshead Council on Thursday about funding the proposed conference centre and about the non-demolition of the Get Carter car park. Demolition of this was supposed to have been carried out two years ago. The hideous, concrete monstrosity that looks as though it came straight out of the Josef Stalin Guide to Communist Architecture is still standing. The Evening Chronicle may well carry something on this latter story.

I also gave some comments about the budget cuts Gateshead is facing - up to £60 million. If they are published, avid Labour readers of my blog will be able to read them in the coming week in the Journal.

Sent via BlackBerry

Saturday, December 12, 2009

He would say that, wouldn't he?

Tony Blair claims he would have invaded Iraq even if he knew Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction. He claims he would have deployed alternative arguments but the world was "better off" without him. Well, he would say that anyway, and I can't help but feel he is attempting to smooth the route to the Iraq inquiry which he will face in the new year.

What we already have in response however are MPs rushing to say that they were conned by Blair when the Commons they voted for war in 2003. Had they known the truth about the non-existent WMDs, they claim, they would never had supported the war. I saw Tory MP Richard Ottoway making that claim. Frankly, such people are as bad, if not worse than the likes of Blair. The Tories had the opportunity to question the "evidence" in 2003. They chose not to. Instead, they were the cheerleaders for the war. They put the boot in on those who did question the evidence. It hardly bolsters their credibility now to pose as the upholders of scrutiny and peace.
Sent via BlackBerry

Westminster videos

I am currently heading to Westminster on the train. The purpose of this trip is to film some videos for Lib Dem Parliamentary candidates outside Parliament. Also to take their photos. The videos are for the websites. For most of them, this is an innovation so it will be interesting to see how they do.

The climate change meeting yesterday was very interesting and it gave me some ideas I think we should try in Gateshead.
Sent via BlackBerry

Friday, December 11, 2009

Heading to a climate change conference

I am currently heading to Euston from my house in Crystal Palace to go to a conference on climate change. The conference is headlined "Hotter and drier summers" and is being put on by the Local Government Information Unit and DEFRA, the government department for environment, food etc.

I was invited as a result of my blog! I think the post that caught the attention of LGIU was the one about the floods we suffered in Gateshead last year when the Derwent burst its banks and swept away the historic Butterfly Bridge, the site of which is half in my ward. The bridge itself was swept down river and now lies like a beached whale on the river bank. I paid a visit to the remains of the bridge a few weeks ago to photograph it.

The aim of the conference is to share experiences and knowledge and look at how climate change can be tackled in our communities. It is being held in BMA House near Euston Station. I caught the train this morning I used to get when going to Cowley St when I worked there. Quite a sense of deja vu!

I am also using the visit to London to do some photo and video work for Lib Dem candidates. Admittedly this is the main reason for the trip to London.
Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More delegated Xmas greetings by email

Following my email of last night in which I posted about a Labour council cabinet member in Gateshead not following the advice to councillors not to get the members' secretary to send out Xmas greetings by email on their behalf, another Labour cabinet member has committed this heinous crime! As I said last night, I think council staff have better things to do than send seasonal greeting emails for councillors who are somehow unable to do this most simple of tasks for themselves. I won't say who the new offender is but for Pete's sake send them yourself or else my mole in the cabinet will tell all!
Sent via BlackBerry

The Mick Henry Longevity Clause

A change to local government executives throughout England is currently underway. Councils are required to have one of two models: the first is the leader model in which the Leader is elected by councillors and remains in place until such time as his/her constituents vote him/her out. The second is the elected mayor model.

There is an additional way to get rid of the Leader. The loss of a no confidence vote in full council removes the leader. Or does it? Well, in some councils it doesn't because the hurdle for a no confidence majority is set so high that it becomes virtually impossible to remove him/her. Gateshead has opted for a two thirds majority before a leader can be removed. Some other councils have a similar requirement. One or two even higher. Our argument is that it should be a simple majority. After all, if the majority of the council has no confidence in the leader, there should be a moral obligation on that person to resign. With the majority of the council against a leader, that person should go. Governments operate in the same way. What's good for government centrally is good for government locally, at least in this instance.

We debated the amendment to the council constitution today. Labour, led by Mick Henry, argued against our alternative of a simple majority and in favour of a two thirds majority.

I spoke in this debate, dubbing the Labour amendment to the constitution as "the Mick Henry longevity constitutional clause". The argument I put forward was 2 fold. Firstly, a change in the balance of power on the council, eg as a result of an election, may not necessarily lead to a change in the political leadership under Labour's plan. A leader of the council who had just lost an election could stay on as leader as long as his or her party held over a third of the seats.

Mick Henry argued that the new majority group could simply change the constitution so that a confidence vote of only a simple majority would be needed to remove the leader. He made no mention of course of the long time needed to carry out such a change. Interestingly he did not say words to the effect of, "you have my assurance that if Labour lost control in Gateshead, we would abide by the democratically expressed wishes of the people and I would resign." No, the only scenario he was prepared to debate was Labour clinging to power and the Lib Dems having to amend the constitution (which requires only a majority vote) to get rid of the Leader.

Cllr Henry actually refused to contemplate Labour ever losing control of Gateshead, arrogantly describing such a day as being "when pigs fly." Given the low standing of politicians amongst the public, I wonder if the public will treat such arrogance with the contempt it deserves. We will of course be telling the people of Gateshead just what Cllr Henry thinks of their right to decide through elections who they choose to represent them. Perhaps he would like to tell the people why anything other than Labour control of the Council is in his mind at least never to be contemplated.

Now we come to the second point I raised. A leader in a majority group could end up losing the confidence of their own group but could stay on in power if he or she can cobble together a deal with the opposition, as long as together they have a third of the seats on the council, the minimum strength needed to block a no confidence vote. Then came an even more remarkable line of argument from Cllr Henry in response: having such a high hurdle to remove the leader was needed to "protect the Labour group." What happened in the Labour group was "the most important thing".

So, the hurdle is high to protect the Labour group! He said he did not want a situation in which a rebellion and breakaway in the ruling group would lead to a no confidence vote to oust the leader. In such a scenario the rebels team up with the opposition and under the unintended consequences which I do not believe Labour have thought through, the Leader could stay in control even though the group he/she has just left continues to command a majority on the council.

The debate did, as you would expect, go Labour's way. After all they do have a simple majority on the council. But the debate also threw some interesting light on the thinking and worries within the Labour party. They are concerned to cover their own backs in case of an internal rebellion. And they are determined to cling to power come what may in Gateshead.

Whatever the thinking in the Labour party, one thing is clear: they are stuck with Cllr Henry, at least until the day pigs take to the air! Labour councillor backbenchers can rest assured however that we are doing our best to bring forward that day!
Sent via BlackBerry

A tall story spread around the world

I have just discovered that one of my YouTube videos has been featured on three foreign websites with the result that its viewing figures have gone up by over 5000 in the past 3 days. The video was shot on the Skybridge of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

I suspect the cause of the interest in very tall buildings has been sparked by the completion of the Burj Dubai Tower which has somewhere in the region of 160 storeys. My video has been included with a number of others shot from famous skyscrapers.

Anyway, the Japanese, Russians and Americans are enjoying my video handiwork on the following sites:

If you have a head for heights, watch some of the other videos on the sites as well.

Delegated Xmas greetings by email in Gateshead

A few days ago, we had an email from the members' secretary in Gateshead suggesting that anyone wishing to send seasonal greetings via email whilst making a donation to the mayor's charity instead of sending Xmas cards should send the email themselves. It was pointed out that the emails sent from the members' secretary actually appear as if they came from her, not the person wishing to send Xmas greetings.

This is a very sensible piece of advice. Were all 66 councillors to disregard this advice and ask her to send everyone Xmas greetings, she would have rather limited time left to do the real job of being members' secretary. And frankly, it is not the most challenging of tasks for councillors to do themselves. How long does it take to write a few lines of seasonal greetings and then click to send it to the all members mailing list?

So, a number of councillors in Gateshead have been raising eyebrows after reading an email from an officer of the council which was sent a couple of days ago:

Sent on behalf of Councillor XXX XXX

Dear All

Councillor XXX XXX has asked that in lieu of Christmas Cards this year he will also be making a donation to the Mayor's charity.

Wishing you and your families all a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

Many thanks

I've made this anonymous to spare the blushes of the councillor concerned (who is a member of the Cabinet!) but really, this is a bit much! A message sent to councillors containing sensible advice on how to avoid the council machinery getting bogged down in doing something which is not really something officers should have to do. And then shortly afterwards, the same advice is ignored by a cabinet member.

Maybe this councillor is so incredibly important and busy that the job of sending his Xmas greetings has to be delegated to officers to do. Frankly, I think the officer's time is better sent on other things.

Anyway, after this I guess I am no longer on this councillor's (delegated) Christmas (email) list!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Play equipment and X Factor appearances

I had a meeting in Gateshead Civic Centre this afternoon about the play equipment we have been planning for ages for Sunniside Park. We have quite an exciting scheme and the money for it. Next year we will be involving local schools and consulting with residents on the actual equipment to go in.

Equipment that has been promised us but is yet to appear in Sunniside however is the traffic lights at the junction of Front St and Sunniside Road. I think we have now hit the 8th deadline for their installation yet they remain nowhere in sight. This is becoming very frustrating yet the need for these lights is growing all the time. This is a dreadful junction and people actually rat run through other parts of the village to get to other junctions that do have traffic lights.

Anyway, as I left the meeting I got an email asking if I wanted to meet Joe McElderry and Cheryl Cole from X Factor at the Sage, Gateshead, tonight. Alas I had a group meeting to go to, followed by a Focus delivery in Dunston and then to the office to print 20,000 letters. I am in the office now slaving over a hot riso. So I missed by chance to mix with the stars. Oh well....
Sent via BlackBerry

The Monday morning blog: the pitfalls of class warfare

The Brown fightback was evident last week when the Prime Minister used PMQs to attack David Cameron's privileged background. Whilst Cameron was clearly stung by the attack, and Labour MPs were energised by the comment that the Tories' inheritance tax policy was invented on "the playingfields of Eton" (paraphrasing the words of the Duke of Wellington if my history serves me correctly) the question needs to be asked, is this an effective attack or just something that turns on Labour MPs?

The "Tory Toff" gibe was a disaster for Labour in the Crewe byelection last years. And Labour showed their own hypocrisy when they made the attack. After all, there are plenty of toffs in their ranks. Just look at the Lady Harriet. Ordinary members of the public are not interested in fighting the class war. Labour realised that in the 90s, especially under Blair, and abandoned this millstone around their necks. They should return to it only after very careful consideration.

They should remember that what motivates their own activists is not necessarily what motivates the people. If Labour's only message is an anti-toff one, they will look desparate and out of ideas. But, it may not be entirely all bad for Labour. It depends on how they handle the issue.

As part of an armoury of weapons against the Tories, an attack on them for defending the privileged and rich during a period of financial turmoil and cuts, when everyone needs to be seen to be paying their fair share towards the cost of recovery, could be a very strong message against Cameron. The Tory inheritance tax plan, initially seen as a positive for the Tories, is now a millstone. It is too easily seen as a handout for the rich and understandably, Labour will use it ruthlessly to portray the Tories as the party of the rich (despite Labour having been the friend of the rich since 1997).

But Labour needs to tread carefully. If the language used to attack Cameron chimes only with their own activists, they will lose more votes. But if they successfully paint the Cameron Conservatives as defenders of the few against the many, they may be able to salvage something from the disaster of the past few years. Time will tell.

Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday round up

It is 9.45pm and sadly, I am in the Blaydon Lib Dem office printing more Focuses. I'll leave the regular Labour readers of this blog wondering which wards I am printing. They can read them when they come through their letterboxes. They won't lilke them, but there again, they never do!

This afternoon I did a delivery in Newcastle North, one of our other target constituencies on Tyneside. Thankfully the rain held off (just). I then had a short stint trying to work out how to put YouTube videos onto our new Blaydon Lib Dem website. Still none the wiser though it is possible - I know it is as other constituencies have put my videos on their sites. I'll give myself a couple of days before I call for help again!

Anyway, the riso says 2500 left to print. Back now to the ink.
Sent via BlackBerry

Gordon Brown for sale

I couldn't resist this one! I was visiting Birtley with our Blaydon candidate Neil Bradbury recently and discovered this "For Sale" sign. I snapped this on my Blackberry.

There used to be a time when estate agents were seen as amongst the lowest of the low in terms of professional standing. Now, their standing must be something to which politicians must aspire! So were Gordon Brown to lose the election and need a new job, flogging homes may be just up his street!

Neil Bradbury Gordon Brown for sale Oct 09

Jam today at the Lib Dem fayre

Whickham Lib Dems held their annual Xmas fayre yesterday in the community centre in the village (in Blaydon constituency for those who don't know the area). I had a table selling jams and chutneys and my cookery exploits of Friday paid off when the 4 apple pies I made sold out quickly! Here are a few pics from the day itself:

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 4
Me and that jam and chutney

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 6
Cllr Peter Maughan and partner Eileen on the soft toy raffle stall

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 3
Cllr John McClurey with his winnings

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 1
Prospective MP for Blaydon, Neil Bradbury, right, is urged by Cllrs Chris Ord and Susan Craig to dig deep to buy raffle tickets

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 2
The Wallace family out in force

Friday, December 04, 2009

By-election capital sees another resounding Lib Dem win

Redcar and Cleveland Council here in the North East region has had 6 by-elections in the past 12 months, which must make it the by-election capital of the country. 4 of the contests have been won by the Lib Dems.

Yesterday's by-election in Ormesby ward is one of the 4. It was a Lib Dem ward in the first place but there was a significant swing to us in an area that was already predominantly Lib Dem supporting. The result was:

Ann Wilson (Lib Dem) 1084 (73.5%; +12.4%)
Steven Goldswain (Lab) 210 (14.2%; -5.1%)
Martin Bulmer (UKIP) 103 (7.0%; +7.0%)
Colin Jones (Con) 77 (5.2%; -14.4%)
Majority 874 Turnout 29.55% Lib Dem hold

The by-election was held due to the resignation of long serving Lib Dem Councillor Eric Empson. Congratulations to Ann and to our prospective MP Iain Swales. This could be an interesting constituency come the general election.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Like lovers who have fallen out

Hands off the bankers, they are the driving force of the economy. That was Labour's message just 24 months ago. Labour and the whizz kids of the City were in love and the affair lasted a decade. Then it all went horribly wrong. Now Labour and the bankers are at each others throats, like a couple of ex-lovers or a married couple going through a very messy divorce.

So today we have the RBS directors threatening to resign if they can't give bonuses to their best staff. They say they need bonuses to recruit the best people. (Wasn't it the same "best people" who got us into trouble in the first place?) Labour are saying no to bonuses. Looks like there is about to be a gun fight in the City, and that the Labour/City divorce is going to get even messier.
Sent via BlackBerry

The race begins to be the fittest councillor

I received the following email yesterday from Gateshead Council:

I need your help! As you know next year Gateshead will be the European City of Sport. To support this and further promote our commitment to making residents much healthier, we will also be launching Active and Healthy Gateshead in January. (Date to be confirmed.)

As part of the media launch we would like as many of you as possible to commit to becoming healthier over the year with assistance from our health checkers, dieticians, fitness experts, smoking cessation counsellors etc.

We are currently planning a launch/press day at Gateshead Stadium where you can access all of the experts mentioned and will be photographed for the press.

You will then be monitored over the course of the campaign and your improvements publicised.

This is an excellent opportunity to not only improve your own health and fitness, publicise the services Gateshead Council offers but to encourage and inspire residents within your wards to follow suit.

After this initial launch we will be appealing for residents across the Borough to take part.

I would be grateful if you could let me know if you are interested asap so we can finalised the numbers and details.

Alas, I have signed up for this. The whole borough will be able to watch me struggle to improve my health! Gone have the days when I used to swim 4km a week. My exercise now amounts to delivering Focuses and digging the allotment. Admittedly I do plenty of both.

The diet isn't too bad at the moment. I have cut down heavily on meat and milk. Lots of fresh veg and fruit is consumed from the allotment. Alas, I have failed to give up on my liking for cheese and chocolate.

So watch this space and enjoy! I will be reporting the results.

10:10 motion to be debated by Gateshead Council

We had our group meeting last night in Gateshead and decided to put forward a motion inspired by the 10:10 campaign. The motion is as follows:

Council notes that Climate change predictions show that without severe cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the world will be hit by drought, flooding and famine affecting all of us and poorest countries in particular. Some of these countries are already suffering from the effects of climate change. This is an issue of social justice as well as a call to take environmental action.

Council also notes that under the UK Climate Change Act 2008 the UK is due to cut its emissions by 34% by 2020 and that the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions in 2010 by 10% is supported by a large number of individuals and organisations, including front bench MPs from all three major parliamentary parties, and a number of Councils.

Council notes the steps it has already taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Gateshead and supports the ambitions of the 10:10 campaign. Council therefore asks the Chief Executive to prepare a report for cabinet to consider the feasibility of Gateshead Council signing up to the campaign

Full Council is on Thursday next week. It should make for a good debate.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Where will Labour's dinosaurs be in the voting reform debate?

Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs May 06 no 2

The move by Labour to legislate for a referendum on electoral reform will throw some interesting light on the position of the dinosaur "socialist" brethren in Labour's ranks who share the Tory horror at changes to the voting system.

In strong Labour areas, such as the North East (admittedly Labour are not as strong as they used to be), the tendency amongst Labour members is to support the existing first past the post system as it has given them a local dominance they find comfortable and enjoyable. Though the existing voting system has given Labour a temporary benefit by giving them a considerable majority in the Commons, completely out of proportion to their share of the vote, first past the post has historically benefitted the Conservatives. I am not arguing that the Conservatives are on the verge of election victory (they aren't and recent polls suggest the trend is making a Tory majority less likely) but the system left to run unreformed will eventually produce a majority Conservative government which is likely to last some considerable time. Just look at the political history of the 20th century to see that in practice.

Despite the current system historically favouring the Tories, the Labour dinosaurs continue to support it. So the move to Alternative Vote, itself just a modest step, is going to press the Labour reactionaries into something of a problem: do they support the line taken by their party, do they shut up, or do they jump into bed with the Tories and run a joint campaign to keep the old (Tory favouring) system in place.

Perhaps some of you local diehard "socialist" Labour reactionaries who so regularly read my blog may wish to use this opportunity to enlighten us as to your view: are you reformer or reactionary?

A photo of me taking photos

My thanks to Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates Association Chairman Martin Turner for this photo, taken at the National Liberal Club in October. I don't often get to be in the photos as I am normally on the other side of the lens. So I thought it would be amusing to post up this one of me taking a photo of Nick Clegg.

JW photos Nick Clegg Oct 09

Tree planting in Whickham

One of the tasks to perform yesterday (Tuesday) was to help plant trees at Washingwell School and on the Watergate Estate in Whickham. The Mayor Cllr John Eagle came along as well. My colleagues Councillors Peter Maughan, Yvonne McNicol and John McClurey (and his dog) joined in as well, despite the freezing weather.

Inevitably I turned up with my SLR and my new video camera. A few of the photos are below. A full set and the video will be sent to Washingwell School once the video is edited. And as I'm such a generous chap, I'll send a disc to Labour Councillor and Mayor John Eagle.

As a result of the mud, my shoes and suit now need cleaning.

Meanwhile, good time had by all this evening at the Sunniside History Society Xmas buffet in Sunniside Club. I did not win the history quiz!

Washingwell School tree planting Dev 09 no 39

Cllr Peter Maughan and Cllr Yvonne McNicol with shovels at the ready

Washingwell School tree planting Dev 09 no 21

The Mayor Cllr John Eagle shovels the dirt!

Washingwell School tree planting Dev 09 no 17

Green fingers and green jackets

Washingwell School tree planting Dev 09 no 16

Yvonne directs the planting

Washingwell School tree planting Dev 09 no 15

More green fingers

Our latest tabloid

Our latest tabloid in Blaydon constituency has been hitting the streets over the past week. My village, Sunniside, was delivered today. This edition contains a mix of stories both national and local.

The lead is about the closeness of the result in the constituency last time. There is also coverage of the Lib Dem plans for education, Vince on the economy and a fair deal for our troops. On this latter poinnt, Neil Bradbury, our candidate for Blaydon, has been out campaigning on this for the past few weeks. He's picked up quite a few signatures on his petition and has visited the village and town centres of Crawcrook, Ryton, Blaydon and Whickham to collect them.

The picture below was one I took in Crawcrook in early November of Neil and Councillor Sally Danys collecting signatures for the petition.

collecting petitions Nov 09 no 2

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Frost and focuses

I looked out of the window this morning and saw frost. Well, I shouldn't be surprised. I was out last night in Dunston delivering Focuses. It was a difficult patch which I haven't done since the council byelection a couple of years ago. I had planned to do it in the morning but the rain set in. Doing it in the evening would have been easier if I had night vision. At least the weather was dry last night (for most of the time) but there was clearly a drop in the temperature. So frost is hardly a surprise to me this morning.
Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Monday morning blog: Susan Kramer's early Christmas

Susan Kramer MP and the Lib Dems in Richmond Park in London must be feeling Christmas has come early. It has been revealed that their golden boy Tory opponent, the super-rich Zac Goldsmith, is a tax-avoiding non dom.

Mr Goldsmith argues that it's something he inherited so therefore it's hardly something he sought to have. He seems to think we will all accept it is a bit like an unwanted hereditary peerage. He is, of course, eager to "relinquish" his status (especially now that it has been exposed!) The poor lad has, of course, gained "very few benefits" from his non dom status. Poor, poor lad, how terrible that must be for him.

Cut now to all those heavily mortgaged, tax paying residents of Richmond Park. No Cayman Island provided housing for them. I wonder just what they think of this aspiring Tory Boy's tax affairs. Probably not very supportive, I suspect.

Anyway, I stepped out the house this morning to go down to Dunston to deliver some leaflets and at that point it started to snow! So I'm still stuck in the house. I'm due in Morpeth at 12.30pm so the delivery may have to wait til this afternoon.

Sent via BlackBerry

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A walk down the Sandy Lonnen

I took a walk down the Sandy Lonnen a few days ago. It is now just an old track between Whickham and Sunniside but is part of a longer medieval road. The purpose of the walk was to pick some wild berries. What I found in addition to them was not a welcome sight. People had dumped their garden waste and rubble from building extensions. You have to wonder about the scumbags who do this sort of thing. Not only are they dumping responsibility for their own waste on the countryside and the rest of us, their brains must operate on a single cell. Gateshead Council already operates a free garden waste collection scheme. And municipal waste sites exist nearby for other waste.

It means I have to ask the council to come out to collect the rubbish. If we could find the culprits, I would make them pay dearly for the clean up. I don't see why the taxpayer should have to pick up the bill for the actions of a selfish, ignorant, irresponsible handful of anti-social people.

Right, now that I have that out of my system, I can tell you I am off to Hexham to do a bit of filming of Hexham Abbey and the town centre, and to have lunch with some historian colleagues.

Sent via BlackBerry

Friday, November 27, 2009

Another doctor in the family

My elder brother Andrew has just graduated from Leicester University with a PhD in personal carbon budgets and global climate change. So that's 2 of us now in the family with the "Dr" in front of our name! (My PhD is in early twentieth century British political history with a fair whack about foreign policy in the run up to both WW1 and WW2 - as you can see the intellectual interests of Andrew and I differ somewhat!)

I wasn't able to make his graduation but Dad went along. Here are a few pick:

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 5

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 4

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 3

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 2

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 1

Lord Who?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Anyone heard of him? He has just been elected as leader of UKIP. I'm watching him now. Inspiring is not the word to describe him. His favourite hate words are "political class" which appears to be a nebulous group of people who staff the political institutions of the UK (I wonder whether that includes the House of Lords!?)

With someone so inconsequential and uninspiring, I can only guess that the Conservatives will feel happy with this leadership election result. They are after all the most vulnerable party to UKIP.
Sent via BlackBerry

National Express bites the dust again

So National Express is to lose its franchise for train services in the eastern region. The company's foray into train services has been a disaster and has turned a leading UK company into something of a joke. What is interesting about the loss of this second franchise is that it is not immediate. The company will continue to hold onto it for two years? If they are seen as incapable of running the service in the future, why are they allowed to run services for two years more? Presumably their failings are happening now, regardless of their future performance.
Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Deciding on war then looking for the excuse to invade

No wonder Labour politicians were so reluctant to have an inquiry on the Iraq war. Once the time had run out for putting off the evil day, the story about the decision to go to war would come out into the public domain. And so we are starting to see what did go on. Today, Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to the UN, revealed that they were scraping around looking for a "smoking gun" only weeks before the invasion started, yet Bush and Blair had already opted for war a year before.

So Blair was sending the troops to war without the cause for war. He never got the excuse and the rest is history. What I find so amazing however is that the Lib Dems and a minority in Labour could see that the evidence for WMDs was not there before the war happened. Why was the Cabinet not able to see that the excuses for war did not exist. Whilst Blair needs to take his share of blame, serious questions have to be asked about the craven backing for war by the senior levels of the Labour government. Responsible government broke down in 2002-3. Labour politicians who were there at the time need to explain the failure that has made them as guilty of huge misjudgement as Blair was.
Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weapons of non-construction

The second day of the Iraq inquiry and it is already throwing up some very interesting issues. Today we learnt that the weapons of mass destruction that did not exist anyway could not be assembled to be used in the infamous 45 minutes claimed for them. Apparently Tony Blair knew this 10 days before the start of the war to get rid of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Seems as though the war had taken on a life of its own, even before it started.

Sent via BlackBerry

The right decision by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court have just spoken and they have announced their judgement: the banks can continue to charge for unauthorised overdrafts; their charges are not excessive. There is now a great deal of noise from campaigners who want the charges refunded to those who took money from banks that they weren't authorised to take and wasn't their money to take.

So, I for one want to speak up for the responsible customers who keep to the agreement to spend only their own money or not to take other people's money without permission. These people would have been the big losers if the Supreme Court had gone the other way. They would have been stung for charges as it would almost certainly have meant the end of free banking. Why penalise the responsible?

If your can't stick to the agreement you made, expect penalties, and accept responsibility for your own actions.

Sent via BlackBerry

Still in recession

France, Germany, Japan, USA, Eurozone, all out of recession. They are part of the world that Brown claims to be leading. But the just announced revised figures for GDP in the UK show the economy continues to shrink. Of all the world's major economies, Brown's Britain is the worst performing. I wonder what all those self-righteous Labour members in Gateshead who regularly read this blog think of their own record on the economy. Past experience suggests they will claim their own government is nothing to do with them.
Sent via BlackBerry

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RIP John McWilliam

Back home and I discover that John McWilliam, MP for Blaydon from 1979 to 2005 died recently. He may have been a political opponent but he was always pleasant and courteous to deal with. I remember a few years ago bumping into him in the Commons and he took me for a drink in a bar there and used the occasion to tell me about the history of the building.

My sympathies to his family.

Sent via BlackBerry

That poll

One of the first things that caught my attention when I got back to the UK on Sunday was the poll that showed a significant drop in support for the Conservatives. Talk was of a hung parliament, the likely outcome of an election in which those voting proportions are cast. The no-win-for-anyone scenario has been what I have been predicting for some time now, despite the talk in the national media about an easy Tory victory with a comfortable majority.

For the Tories to win a majority, they need to gain 117 seats. That will give them an absolutely minimal majority. It should be remembered that in terms of seats the Conservatives are in a worse position that Labour after their meltdown in 1983. Labour needed another 3 elections before they were able to claw back the seats needed to win a general election. Admittedly the electorate is more open to shopping around with their votes nowadays. People tend to be less committed to voting the same way at each and every election. Indeed, they seem to be less committed to voting at all. So significant numbers of people can shift at a single election to cause a major change on the political landscape. 1997 and 1979 are classic examples of this. But there is no yearning for a Tory government now like there was for Blair in 1997. Whole swathes of the country remain areas where Cameron and his party are barely on the political radar screen. The North East is an example of this. The Tory ratings in opinion polls are well short of where Labour ratings were back in the 1990s and even then Labour fell well short of the expectations held at the time in terms of share of the vote (though admittedly matched or exceeded expectations on seats won in 1997). As we get closer to the general election, my expectation is of a firming up in the Labour vote.

This is not to say that Labour can hope to walk back into Downing St. Whilst their projected majority at the last election under the new boundaries was a still comfortable 55, a small swing would wipe that out instantly. Labour could also face a tactical squeeze that they used successfully against the Tories which could now work against them. That would add to a calamitous election campaign for Brown and Labour. Nevertheless, the Tories are going to need more than a Labour calamity and meltdown to win the general election outright. And at the moment I just can't see that happening. They may get to be the largest party, they may even get close to a majority, but there is a very serious possibility of a 2nd election in 2011. And what a joyous thought that is (not)!
Sent via BlackBerry

Testing out East Coast

I have just got on board my first East Coast train - ie the company that has replaced the total failure that was National Express. I am at Kings Cross waiting to head home to Gateshead. The livery is the same, the National Express symbols and words have not been changed (frankly there are more important things to spend money on at the moment) and the staff are the same. Let's hope however that the real change comes with the quality of service.

So, I am back in the UK after a short absence in the Atlas Mountains and royal cities of Morocco. Watch out for the inevitable run of photos and video. I've already started sorting them.
Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, November 23, 2009

From the frying pan into the flood

From the frying pan into the fire doesn't quite describe it. Flood is a better description. I have just got back after nearly two weeks in Morocco. I spent two weeks taking photos and video in the sun. Not a cloud in sight. Shorts worn at all time even when I was in the cooler Atlas Mountains. Temperatures were well over 30C. And yesterday I stepped off the plane at Gatwick into pouring rain, 8C temperature and the news that the North West in particular has been ravished by massive floods and the heaviest rain the country has ever experienced.

Anyway I am now back in the UK and blogging is restarting. (My last post was written before I left but timed to be posted whilst I was away.)

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better late than never

Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson should have a motto of “Better late than never!” He called on MPs to visit pubs in the summer recess. The only problem was he made the call in October, a month after summer officially ended and with the long nights of autumn drawing in!

Mr Anderson also announced he was looking forward to the publication of a report on the blacklisting of trade unions, a day after the report was published!

And in October Mr Anderson congratulated the boxer Amir Khan on his victory over Andriy Kotelnik, a mere 3 months after the match was held.

All of the above comes from the Early Day Motions signed by Mr Anderson since the end of the summer recess.

As the saying goes, “Better late than never!”

Remembrance Day Parade

Here are the photos from the Remembrance Day Parade on Sunday in Whickham. My ward colleague Cllr John McClurey laid the wreath on behalf of residents of Whickham South and Sunniside, Cllr Yvonne McNicol for Dunston Hill and Whickham East and Cllr Peter Craig for Whickham North.

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 3

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 15

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 5

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 14

The link to all the photos of the parade are on my Flickr site:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Visiting the Butterfly Bridge

One of the victims of the floods of September 2008 in Gateshead was the Butterfly Bridge, a historic crossing over the Derwent River. The bridge was built in the nineteenth century but is on a much older, medieval road which crossed right through my ward. Hundreds of years ago it was part of the main north/south route between Northumberland and Durham.

Last year the floods swept the bridge down river. It is lying on the river bank like a beached whale. There are plans however to replace it next year so my two ward colleagues Marilynn Ord and John McClurey, and Blaydon prospective MP Neil Bradbury visited the site on Saturday. I took the photos which required taking on an interesting challenge of clambering over the wrecked bridge to get the best shots!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 1
This is me about to be up to my ankles in mud!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 4
Here I am climbing onto the bridge - never let your colleagues look after your camera. They end up taking photos of me!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 8
This was one of the photos I was after.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 10
This was where the bridge used to be.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 3
This is the bridge as it is now.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 11
And another of how it is now.

And the following is a bit of video I shot last year of the River Derwent flooding at Blackhall Mill.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Clap hands, there goes Cadburys

It seems as though another one of our great British companies is about to be gobbled up, this time by chocoholic Americans. Kraft is putting in a hostile bid for Cadburys. I fear that yet another market is about to be cornered by an international conglomerate with little commitment to where the company originated.

The ongoing growth of companies by merger and takeover rather than by organic growth of the business itself is something that now has to be questioned closely. Some of these merged companies are so big they are stronger than some governments.

Whilst there is understandable economies of scale, is it a price worth paying if competition is reduced? Some recent mergers have been a disaster. Look at Lloyds Group. The banking crisis would have been greatly reduced had the banks been smaller. 20 years ago, the 7 institutions that are now part of the group were all independent of each other: Lloyds, TSB, Halifax, Leeds, Cheltenham and Gloucester, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Widows.

Now the process has gone too far and Lloyds, having just merged with HBOS is now required to down size. The issue now is whether or not other sectors of the economy need the same treatment.

Sent via BlackBerry

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Blue rinse Tory Socialist Ambling to nowhere

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the Tory candidate who will challenge Lib Dem MP for Berwick upon Tweed, Sir Alan Beith, at the general election. Lib Dems form the administration on Northumberland County Council though they do not have a majority of seats on the authority. The introduction of personal budgets in social services in Northumberland (a government requirement) has forced the County to close a number of under used day care centres in the county, one of which is at Amble. The closures will actually lead to improvements for users as more people will be able to choose and buy in their own service, through their personal budget, to suit their needs. That is the background. Here's the Tory story.

Anne-Marie has decided to do a bit of political cross dressing. In the world of local politics she has clad herself in the clothes of a blue rinse socialist, fighting to keep open a publicly provided facility. Whilst doing her drag act, she has battled against the provision of services by private and voluntary sector providers.

The problem for her is that her Tory councillors on Northumberland have blown her campaign to smithereens. Firstly, the social services changes were flagged up in the budget in March which the Tories voted for. Okay, the Tories then performed a minor uturn by backing a Labour amendment a couple of months ago to keep the centres open for 6 weeks whilst the Council was instructed to look for someone who would take over the centres. Since this had already been investigated, the whole exercise was a meaningless waste of time - however, Tory and Labour jumped into bed together to have a good time at the Lib Dem council's expense by voting through the unnecessary delay. 6 weeks later and the closure plans can back to council and despite (or was it because of?) Anne-Marie's campaign, the Tories voted for the closure. The Tory double uturn ensured the policy of personal budgets, and the closure of underused centres, will go ahead.

Undermined-Anne-Marie, wilting under the weight of her new found socialist baggage, seems however to have completely forgotten that her Tory chums have backed the closure she said should not go ahead. Just a couple of days ago she was ranting in the press about her demands that Amble Day Care Centre should remain open.

So if her own party can't be bothered to listen to her, why should the rest of us?

Writing for

For local readers of this blog, is worth checking out. It is a commercially run site which provides information about businesses in the Whickham area. It also has a news section. The site is designed to be accessible through your mobile.

The interesting point for me is that I write most of the news that the site carries. The people behind the site approached myself and my colleague Cllr Peter Craig earlier this year to outline their plan for the site. We liked it so much that we offered to supply them with the news with which we fill our Focuses and email newsletters.

So I've just sent off a load more news which is also going into the next eFocus which will be emailed out shortly.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why no declaration of interest?

Gateshead Council has just finished meeting. On the agenda was a motion calling on Scottish and Newcastle Breweries to retain the production of Brown Ale at the Dunston plant in Gateshead. (The company wants to move production to Tadcaster.) There was general unanimity and interestingly when I spoke, I was not heckled, interrupted or prevented from finishing what I had to say. One Labour Councillor, Mick McNestry, even followed me by saying he agreed with what I said. Interesting change from theantics of Labour at the last meeting.

But there was also an interesting intervention in the debate from Labour Councillor Stephen Ronchetti. He used the opportunity to attack the government on beer tax and do some special pleading for pubs. He complained that too many pubs were closing and amongst other things pointed the finger of blame at the government's decision to ban smoking in public places. In many ways it was a very strong boot up the government's backside.

All very interesting coming from a Labour councillor. But that is not what was the most interesting point. Cllr Ronchetti is a publican. He runs a pub in Blaydon. So I was a bit surprised that he decided to use a council meeting to make the case against government policy that he regarded as damaging to pubs.....without declaring an interest in the matter.
Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boy Wonder and the conference centre

Newcastle and Gateshead, in partnership with One NorthEast created 1NG as the development company for NewcastleGateshead. It has a heavy weight chair - Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor. In a nutshell, its remit is to produce the economic plan the the NewcastleGateshead "City" area. As the 1NG website explains, "The NewcastleGateshead economic masterplan - 1PLAN - will set out a blueprint for economic development and physical regeneration for NewcastleGateshead." This is all about co-operation across the two authorities and a recognition that by working together, both sides of the River Tyne benefit economically. What's good for Gateshead is good for Newcastle, and visa versa.

The reason this needs to be explained in simple terms is Labour in Newcastle are having considerable difficulties in understanding this. It was announced yesterday that 1NG had identified a site on the Gateshead Quays as being the best location for an international conference centre. The childish response from Labour in Newcastle yesterday was to state:

"It will be a huge missed opportunity for Newcastle to have a prestigious international conference centre across the water. Good on Gateshead for getting their act together and shame on Newcastle for dithering around."

The comment was made by Cllr Nick Forbes, the Boy Wonder of Newcastle politics (the wonder is why on earth Labour ever put up with this loose cannon). It tramples all over the principle of co-operation between the two authorities and suggests that were Newcastle ever to endure Mr Forbes as their City Leader, there would be a shift away from mutual co-operation which would mean the River Tyne becoming more than just a watery divide between the two authorities. His comments also exhibit a level of political immaturity that should worry Labour on Tyneside.

There is a further point to consider. A major reason for the choice of Gateshead Quays as the location is the presence there of the Sage, the great new music hall. This is a magnet for other developments. And why is the Sage in the Gateshead Quays? It wasn't something to do with the rejection by Newcastle City Council of initial proposals to site the building in Newcastle, was it? And when did that happen? Wasn't it when Labour ran Newcastle Council before 2004?

So, to follow the purile rantings of Mr Forbes to their logical conclusion, the "dithering" of Labour in Newcastle is to blame for the proposed location of the Sage not being in the city he himself aspires to lead.

Cameron declares he is to take UK out of Europe

A "British Sovereignty" law, proposed by David Cameron today to replace his collapsed referendum policy, would mean that the UK is in effect leaving the EU. It would be the only way British laws in all areas are supreme over European laws. By signing up to various European treaties in the past, the UK has agreed to share sovereignty on some issues. Therefore the European institutions in those policy areas make the laws. And the European Court in Luxembourg is the supreme interpreter of those European laws. They override domestic laws in those policy areas which the treaties have agreed to share.

Any country that decides their own laws are supreme over European law in those areas of shared sovereignty means that country is stepping out of the agreed institutions and structures of Europe. Cameron should be honest. He should be clear that if you are part of the club, you abide by club rules. And if you don't like the rules, you resign from the club. Cameron talks of being "straight" with the voters. All we had this afternoon during his new policy announcement was a load of slather and posturing. He should be honest and offer a referendum on membership of the EU. And he should stop making impossible claims: a British sovereignty law means withdrawal from the EU. He should be honest about that.
Sent via BlackBerry

The demise of National Express as the Fat Controller

The days of National Express running trains on the East Coast are very very numbered. Excellent news. On 12th December, the National Excess Fat Controller will be redundant. A new publicly-owned operator, called East Coast Main Line, (very original!) will operate the trains. The arrangement will last for at least 18 months. The franchise may or may not then return to the private sector. I am open minded as to whether that should happen. The issue that should govern the decision is whether or not such a move will lead to better services whilst cutting pollution and boosting the regional economy.

It is interesting to note however that the Government will not require an end to the new and controversial £5 seat reservation charge for return tickets. Labour will allow it to remain in place. All that bleating and gnashing of teeth by Labour in Gateshead in the summer about how bad this charge was now all looks a bit like a dose of hypocrisy from the "socialist" brethren.
Sent via BlackBerry

Making Lloyds get rid of branches they wanted to close anyway

It's hardly surprising the share price of Lloyds benefited from the announcement today on cash injection and branch sales and closures. The company is almost certainly of the view that it has vastly more branches than it needs, now that HBOS has been absorbed into it. There must be hundred of Lloyds branches sitting near a Halifax. This duplication would not have continued, even if it had not been an EU requirement for additional state aid to get rid of them.

Earlier this year Lloyds announced that the entire Cheltenham and Gloucester branch network would close. Months later the closure plan was abandoned though I have a suspicion that the cancellation was forced on them so that the mortgage wing of Lloyds could be sold off with a high street presence of its own. So Lloyds gets to dump the troublesome branches after all. Okay, so the mortgage wing will have to be demerged and sold off but Lloyds could still continue to sell C&G mortgages if it turns out to be financially beneficial to do so. C&G after all has only a limited high street presence of its own so it will not want to lose the extensive reach it has by being sold through Lloyds branches. Lloyds benefits by not having to pay for the network they had initially planned to close anyway.

So, the EU and the government have provided Lloyds with the excuses for dumping a huge number of branches, many of which the company will see as a drain on its resources. No wonder the share price has gone up.
Sent via BlackBerry

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I picked a great day to try to upload videos....

I have been in London for a few days and took with me my laptop to edit a load of travel videos. I don't upload them to YouTube from the laptop as the files I create are so large that it would take forever (and cost a lot of cash). So I stockpiled them to upload now that I am just back from London. I thought I'd put them up before heading off to the Sunniside History Society meeting and pie and pea supper tonight.

Alas at this moment YouTube announces that the site is closed for a short while "for maintenance". Bloody typical. I've got 10 videos waiting to go up. 1 gig total size. I'll have to wait til after the meeting.

Will Milliband head for Europe?

One interesting impact of the Czech signature on the Lisbon Treaty will be the future of David Milliband. The possibility he will be the new European 'Foreign Secretary' throws up the need for a by-election in South Shields, just down the road from us in Gateshead (what a joyous early Xmas present that would be - not). It's enough to make any political activist wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat!

The second and arguably more serious point is about Labour itself. No doubt (and despite the portestations of non-interest in the post) Milliband will have considered future prospects. Let's assume a poor result for Labour at the general election. Brown resigns as Leader. But what state will Labour be in? It could be that they will be out of power for a considerable time. The new Leader could spend many years in opposition. Would someone like Milliband, who enjoys the reins of power, really want the job of rebuilding Labour in opposition with prospects of power not being strong? I'm not sure he does. The European Foreign Secretary position could be a tempting post, striding the world stage and giving him the stature he craves and the influence he clearly enjoys exercising.

Or maybe rebuilding Labour is a challenge he wants to take on. But there again, to become Labour Leader, he needs to win a leadership election and I'm not convinced he could pull it off, especially with his Blairite baggage.

This is of course all speculation. Labour have not yet lost the election but it will be interesting to see which way he goes. And were Milliband to opt for Europe, it would suggest that at the very heart of government, the writing on the wall is being read.
Sent via BlackBerry

Events forcing Cameron's hand

The Czech signature on the Lisbon Treaty today now forces David Cameron's hand. No longer can he hide in a fog of meaningless statements. He will have to state his abandonment of a referendum or look completely ridiculous. It also means that the anti-European obsessives and headbangers in the Conservative Party will be going wild with rage at Cameron's climbdown. Should make for an interesting exhibition of traditional Tory mutual knifing!

Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Labour's bank u-turn

The proposals coming out of the Treasury today that the big nationalised banks will be partly broken up raises the question of why on earth did Gordon Brown push through the very opposite last year with Lloyds and HBOS. This merger was very much the pet project of Brown. It has been a disaster for Lloyds. And it also created a vast banking organisation which a year later the Government wants to reverse. The merger went ahead because Brown did not want another nationalisation on its hands. The outcome was that instead of nationalising HBOS it has had to part nationalise a far bigger share of the banking sector which itself was weakened by the decision to merge.

It seems that the Government are making policy up as they go along and it changes regularly.
Sent via BlackBerry

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tory Euro policy in tatters

Quite how the Tories are going to respond to the final implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will be interesting to see. The news in the Guardian this morning suggests Cameron will abandon the promise to hold a referendum once the Czechs have signed up, which is expected within a month. It means that the Tory Europhobic headbangers will go apeshit. Cameron very much has himself to blame. He made unsustainable promises to the anti-Europeans which means an embarrassing climbdown will have to be made. And it all suggests that were the Tories to win the election and form the government, Cameron will face continuing divisions on Europe and the anti-Europe obsessives grabbing the headlines all the time.

So nothing new there.
Sent via BlackBerry

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hardly a surprise

So Tony Blair is not getting the backing of the socialist group in Europe for the Presidency of the European Council. Can we really be surprised at that? After all, Blair can hardly be described as a socialist. And being best mate of a failed, right wing US president is hardly a characteristic that will inspire support.

I wonder just how many of the "socialist" brethren of the Labour Party would be keen on a Blair presidency. At the rate they are going however, there are probably more than there are who want a Brown leadership of the Labour party.
Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brown associates himself with someone more popular

If you are deeply unpopular in the eyes of the public, as indeed Gordon Brown is, why not associate yourself with someone much more popular!? I remember the Spitting Images sketch from the 1980s which featured Neil Kinnock trying to fit in the words "lovely nurses" into everything he says in an attempt to boost his popularity.

So now Gordon Brown, the man who had a festering grudge against Tony Blair whilst the latter was Prime Minister, is now heading up the Tony-Blair-for-President campaign in an attempt to make him top dog in Europe.

It's almost like politicians cuddling up to bankers in an attempt to make themselves more popular in the eyes of the public.

Anyway, Brown says Blair would be "excellent" for the job of Euro President. Sounds llike the kiss of death to me!
Sent via BlackBerry

Growth in US and continued recession in UK

The failure of Labour on the economy and their absurd posturing that they "saved the world" and are "leading" the world out of recession have been exposed yet again today. The growth figures in the US just announced add that country to the list of countries out of recession. The list includes the Eurozone and Japan. China never went into recession. So all the leading economies are now out of recession, all except the UK.

Sent via BlackBerry

Dave the Chameleon Watch - no.2: the 10:10 campaign

Madagascar chameleon Dec 07 No 1

The 10:10 campaign is familiar to many. The following Early Day Motion in the Commons explains what it is all about:

This house welcomes the 10:10 campaign, which aims to unite every sector of British society behind the idea that, by working together, it is possible to achieve a 10 per cent. cut in the UK's carbon emissions in 2010; notes that the campaign provides an opportunity for people, businesses and schools to come together to make a meaningful difference by concentrating on immediate, effective and achieveable action; recognises that climate change is one of the most important challenges facing humanity, requiring urgent and radical action; urges individuals and organisations to sign up to the campaign and pledge to cut their emissions by 10 per cent. in 2010; and calls on the Government to match this commitment at the national level.

This EDM was proposed by Labour MP Lynne Jones on 12th October. Note the demand for action from the Government. Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson signed up to the EDM 3 days later.

However, less than a week after Mr Anderson called on the Government to back the 10:10 campaign, he was faced with the opportunity of voting for it. The following was the Opposition Day Motion from the Lib Dems on 21st October:

This House
•believes that it is vital that the UK demonstrates political leadership at all levels in response to the climate crisis, and that this is particularly important ahead of the United Nations Climate Change summit in Copenhagen if there is to be an international agreement which will avert the worst effects of catastrophic climate change;
•further believes that immediate practical responses to the crisis should include a massive expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency and a commitment for all homes in Britain to be warm homes within 10 years;
•acknowledges that action taken now to tackle the climate crisis will cost less than action taken in the future;
•notes the declared support of Labour and Conservative frontbenchers to the objective of the 10:10 campaign which calls for 10% greenhouse gas emission reductions by the end of 2010;
•agrees that the House will sign up to the 10:10 campaign;
•calls on Her Majesty's Government and all public sector bodies now to make it their policy to achieve a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2010; and
•further calls on the Government to bring a delivery plan before this House by the end of 2009 on how these objectives will be achieved.

Mr Anderson of course voted to kick this out and opted instead for a weak Labour motion that in effect said the 10:10 campaign is fine for others to follow, as long as the Government doesn’t have to sign up itself.

Yet again, Mr Anderson showing consistency by being inconsistent.

This is a union that is determined to strike regardless

The 2nd CWU strike has gone ahead. Why? It seems that the CWU has a negotiating team that is willing to do what its name on the wrapper suggests - to negotiate. But the moment they go back to the CWU executive, the negotiated solution is rejected and demands are increased. So the negotiating team goes back to Royal Mail with the CWU having moved the goalposts (or did they move the letterbox!?)

This is a dinosaur union that is determined to strike come what may. It behaves as if the 1970s had not ended. It is wrecking the business in which its members work. Their leadership has also raised 2 large fingers to Brendan Bracken and the TUC who tried to broker a deal. This is a badly led union that is on a suicide mission. The result of their behaviour will be even more job losses than the modernisation programme would otherwise cause.

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Second mortgages and family on the payroll

The recently leaked Kelly proposals on 2nd mortgages and family members on the payroll is likely to be the latest cat amongst the MP expenses pigeons. Events have moved on since earlier this year when we all seemed to be putting forward proposals on how to tackle the crisis. My idea was to taper the support MPs get if they buy a 2nd home as the cost of mortgages in real terms goes down the further you are into it relative to a person's income. Meanwhile, they should get nothing for furniture etc. They are after all well paid.

Events have moved on and Kelly's new proposals must be regarded positively. I appreciate the plan to stop MPs employing spouses or other family members will cause some problems. And it can sometimes be that MPs and their spouses first met in their political roles with spouses therefore sometimes being an ideal candidate to work for an MP. However, some of these people are paid massively more than what the equivalent jobs elsewhere get. Sums of well in excess of £40k for a secretarial role are way beyond what many more important and demanding jobs would expect to fetch.

So whilst I recognise that many family members working for MPs do a great job, the minority of abusers have forced an "enough is enough" response.
Sent via BlackBerry

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Delivering Birtley

Sunday was a mix of the good, the bad and the downright careless. In the morning I went down to Dunston with the local councillors and our Blaydon candidate Neil Bradbury to do some photos outside the Fed Brewery which S&N want to close. Then I managed to wreck the video camera. Apparently it doesn't like being dropped on the ground. The night before I had managed to wreck an external hard drive which, also as it turns out, doesn't like being dropped on the floor. Fortunately I was planning to get a new video camera (widescreen, high resolution, shoulder mounted and Jonathan proof) so I have been wandering around Newcastle camera shops today looking at what's available.

Anyway, after the expedition to Dunston, we headed off to Birtley for a modest leafletting session. On one street there was a "Gordon Brown For Sale" sign. It was amusing enough to take a photo which I will post up at some point though Neil has already posted it on his blog. How unfortunate for this estate agency however that they share their name with the most unpopular PM on record!

The horrors of the day did not end with my camera trashing experience. When sorting my post in the evening I checked my mobile bill. Turns out my mobile provider was charging me 10p a text (and I do lots of them!) This wasn't quite what my contract stipulated. Unlimited texts are not supposed to cost 10p each. A phone call the next day to the company sorted it out. The money will be offset against future bills. How very kind of them.

Anyway, I am on the no 43 bus now heading back to Sunniside and a bit of Focus writing.
Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, October 26, 2009

Freda RIP

I was amazed at how much interest there was over on my Facebook site about my cat Freda. She was nearly 21 years old when she died last week. She had a significant local following in our village of Sunniside with people regularly calling to see her. And when she died, I had loads of messages including a steady flow on Facebook. So thanks everyone.

Here's Freda's picture:

Freda June 2005

Meanwhile, our nephew Jay even managed to take some of our photos of Freda and produce this video:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Keeping Broon on Tyneside

Brown Ale Fed Brewery Oct 09

Newcastle Brown Ale is as much an icon of Tyneside as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris. So the idea that brewing Broon should be transferred by Scottish and Newcastle to Tadcaster in Yorkshire is not being universally welcomed on my home patch. So we are launching a petition to the company asking them to think again.

I met up with some of my colleagues this morning to launch the campaign outside the brewery in Dunston, Gateshead. I took the photos, including the one above. Neil Bradbury, our Blaydon candidate, is heading up the campaign.

One of the bottles in the picture will be used tonight in a casserole we are making. Waste not, want not!

In the photo above are Neil Bradbury and Councillors Yvonne McNicol, Allison Chatto and Peter Maughan.

Dave the Chameleon Watch no. 1

Madagascar chameleon Dec 07 No 1

Remember the Labour attack on David Cameron. They called him Dave the Chameleon because he changes what he says to suit his audience. A reasonably accurate description but there is another Dave-The-Chameleon on the block. It is none other than David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon. Readers of this blog will recall that the interesting inconsistencies do often get raised by me. However, I have decided to put them onto a more formal basis. So today, I can exclusively reveal that I am launching "Dave the Chameleon Watch"!

Today we are featuring Mr Anderson's position on Equitable Life. Back in May 2009, Mr Anderson was so annoyed about his government's handling of the Equitable Life disaster that he put his made to an early day motion which read:

That this house notes the Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of using powers under the 1967 Act to present Parliament with a further and final report on Equitable Life;

also notes that the Public Administration Select Committee's second report on Equitable Life, Justice denied? concluded that the Government response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report was inadequate as a remedy for injustice;

recognises the vital role the Ombudsman plays in public life;

reaffirms the duty of Parliament to support the office of the Ombudsman;

believes the Government should accept the recommendations of the Ombudsman on compensating policyholders who have suffered loss;

welcomes the formation of the All-Party Group on Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders;

and notes with regret its necessary formation and the fact that over 30,000 people have already died waiting for a just resolution to this saga.

Move forward to 21st October and Mr Anderson actually had the opportunity to stand by his demand for action by voting for the very same motion in the Commons, proposed by Vince Cable. There was only one small difference. Vince's motion included the line "notes the outcome of the Judicial Review announced on 15 October extending the period for compensation claims back to 1991". This simply took into account a recent development but did not materially change the motion.

So, did Mr Anderson last week vote the way he demanded in May? Did he hold the government to account, the same government of which he was so critical earlier this year? Errrr, no, he didn't! Instead, he voted to kick out the motion and replace it with something that backed the government.

Not very consistent are you Mr Anderson?

(I took the photo in Madagascar in December 2007!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Doing last night's job tonight

I got off the train from London yesterday afternoon and went straight to Gateshead Civic Centre for meetings with my two ward colleagues Marilynn Ord and John McClurey and officers. Very useful and hopefully some progress will be made on the issues we raised.

When I got home however, my very elderly cat Freda (nearly 21 years old) was not looking too well. She had had breathing problems on Sunday evening but she seemed okay by the morning and whilst down in London I was getting messages from David to say she was okay. By yesterday afternoon however she was clearly unwell and so we took her up to the vets at Sheriff Hill. There she was diagnosed as having kidney failure.

Rather shaken by the potential loss of something that has been part of our lives for 20 years, we took her home. She died at 6.45am this morning. I buried her in her favourite part of the garden where she used to like to sunbathe.

It meant last night I didn't get the printing done I was planning. I am now in our Blaydon office running off 1600 Focuses. I also need to sort a few things out for our Blaydon constituency branch meeting tomorrow.

Sent via BlackBerry

Where does this leave Labour's claims to be leading the world?

Yet more dire economic news. Perhaps people thought there would be growth in the GDP figures produced today, reflecting the fact the Eurozone has climbed out of recession. Japan is out of recession too. But here in Britain, the figures are still in the negative.

The question is, will we continue to hear Gordon Brown claiming he is leading the world out of recession? The answer is probably yes. After all, Labour cannot do anything other than claim they lead on everything. In the real world, a place totally alien and unknown to Labour, the situation is very different.

Meanwhile, the pound is under pressure following the announcement of the GDP figures. Bloody typical. The pound slides just before I am about to go abroad.
Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Heading home

I had a hellish journey by Tube across London this morning. The Victoria line was congested. I had to wait with hundreds of others outside the entrance to the Tube station for ages before they let us in. Fortunately I still got to Kings Cross in time and my army of Labour readers in Gateshead will no doubt be delighted to know that I am now heading home ready to do battle with the "socialist" brethren.

Meanwhile, I have a meeting at 2pm in Gateshead Civic Centre about ward issues. Assuming the train does not get delayed, I should be on time for it.

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A politically motivated strike

I watched and listened with amazement. It was like back to the future, 1984 all over again. I don't mean the great novel by George Orwell. Watching the CWU press conference was like watching Arthur Scargill misleading the miners into the disaster of the miners' strike.

That strike hastened the demise of the deep coal mining industry and of the National Union of Mineworkers. It was a politically motivated strike. And I can't help but feel that the CWU is heading down the same route.

Look at everything they said at the CWU's press conference and you will see a long political rant against the government. As readers are likely to know, I am no fan of this government. But I dislike even more the self-appointed spokespeople for the country who think they can wreck the economy, people's jobs and businesses in pursuit of their own political agenda.

Labour's rewritten history of the Northern Rock saga

It's happened again. Gordon Brown in Prime Minister's Questions today attacked the Tories for their failure to support nationalisation of Northern Rock. The Tories got it wrong - that's Labour's message. Actually they are right on that. The Tories repeatedly got it wrong on Northern Rock as they had a different policy on different days on what to do with the failing bank. Indeed, they often had different positions on the same day.

But Labour posturing on Northern Rock overlooks the fact that they ineptly let the bank drift through the crisis for four months before events forced their hand and they nationalised the company. Vince Cable was the first to call for nationalisation. The proposal was put forward by the Liberal Democrats in December 2007 in the Commons. This brought a hysterical response from some Labour MPs in the North East who came close to accusing Lib Dems of eating babies for breakfast because of our call to nationalise Northern Rock.

Blaydon Labour MP Dave Anderson said in the debate, "The Liberal Democrats have come forward with proposals that they think will grab a headline. We are used to that. The people of the north-east will see through what they are doing and will not forgive them for it."

Now Labour claims they led the fight to nationalise the bank in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives. Such posturing overlooks the fact that Tories and Labour we dithering in bed together on this issue for 4 months before Labour abandoned their hostility to nationalisation, and a large number of Labour MPs had to eat their words, along with a large helping of humble pie.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lord Rennard is innocent!

As I start to sip my pint of heavily overpriced Fruili in the White Hart near by house in Crystal Palace, news comes through that Chris Rennard has been cleared of any wrong doings on expenses. He broke no rules. Rather puts the boot into all the stories of wrong doing that those on the right (possibly upset by his record of destroying the Tories in byelections) have spread. The right are wrong! Not for the first time.
Sent via BlackBerry

Even the Leader asks about the allotment!

It's often the first question people ask me: how is the allotment? I can add Nick Clegg to the list of people who have now asked! I was at the National Liberal Club tonight to do photos of Nick Clegg and candidates. Well, he did ask, so I told him! Allotment doing very well thank you. He wasn't the only one to ask.

Sent via BlackBerry

Monday, October 19, 2009

Heading down to London

I have just boarded the train at Newcastle to London. I am heading down to do the photos at the Parliamentary Candidates Association reception tomorrow. It's also the chance to do a few other small tasks. It was touch and go this morning as to whether or not I would get everything done I needed to do. It was one of those days when if it could go wrong it did go wrong. I phoned council officers who weren't in. I had a printer that wouldn't work properly and a pc that was being very difficult. In the end however I got to the Central Station with 45 minutes to spare. Typical!

Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feeding tabloids and fingers to dogs

I went to a village in Blaydon constituency called Kibblesworth today with Neil Bradbury, our Parliamentary candidate. The aim was to deliver our latest tabloid in the village. We kept going until we ran out. There seemed to be an awful lot of dogs, all of which seemed to be located behind letter boxes and all of which seemed to be so hungry that they ate the leaflets as I put them through doors. Fortunately my fingers did not manage to get onto any doggie menus today.

I delivered tabloids in West Denton in Newcastle North on Thursday as well. There I encountered 2 enormous rottweilers in someone's front garden. No house could be left out of the delivery so into the garden I fearfully headed. Yet, rather than treat me as a fresh meal, they were instantly out of the gate and up the road. Fortunately the front door of the house was open and I was able to call to the people there that their pet meat eating machines had gone walkies. I saw the people a few minutes later walking their canines back home.

I have only once ever lost blood as a result of being bitten by a dog whilst out delivering. It was during the Langbaugh byelection in 1991. Big, loud dogs are better than the tiny little terriers specially breed to be silent and deadly with fingers. They lie in wait all day behind letter boxes ready to silently sink their serrations into human digits. Post, leaflets and newspapers are shredded by them as well. My memories of Langbaugh are of having to go to hospital for all sorts of injections. I don't know whether the dog survived the experience!

Anyway, I took this photo of Neil in Kibblesworth after today's delivery on my new fangled blackberry.

Neil Bradbury Kibblesworth