Monday, December 19, 2011

Revolting Labour councillors

It seems that there will be an announcement of a possible resolution of the public sector pensions dispute later today. The strike on 30th November was not supported by Ed Moribund, Labour's beseiged Leader. In an illustration of just how little notice Labour members on the ground take of their Leader, many of them joined demonstrations and picket lines. Indeed, the people who were thin on the ground at these public displays were the ordinary, non-activist staff most of whom did not vote for strike action. In Gateshead, a number of Labour councillors revolted against their Leader and relived the glory years of union militancy of the 1970s by joining the march from Gateshead to Newcastle. Here are some of them:

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Guerrilla gardening

In Gateshead each ward has a local community fund which can be spent on local projects, as long as it does not leave the council with an on-going revenue cost. The fund is not vast, about £40,000 per ward. In my ward, my two colleagues - Councillors John McClurey and Marilynn Ord - and I have put in requests for various schemes. One was to have daffodil bulbs planted on the grass verges leading into the village of Sunniside. This would create an attractive and (in theory) cost effective display on one of the main roads in the borough.

We were horrified therefore when the quote for the scheme came back at 80p per bulb plus a significant cost to plant them. When I first saw the quote, I asked the officers for a breakdown of the costs and an explanation as to why it was so high. The answer came back that there was a very high specification on the bulbs. I was wondering if the bulbs were due to arrive gold plated.

I then went on to the internet to look at some of the gardening websites I visit regularly and found bulbs on sale at 4p each, one twentieth of the price. By a remarkable coincidence, John phoned at the same time to say he was doing the same internet seach - and by a further coincidence we both happened to be looking at the same time at the same website. We reached the same conclusion - the costs of this were far beyond what was reasonable. We agreed to pull the plug on the plans.

Maybe we were influenced by the Big Society or just had a general compulsion to be community spirited but we decided to buy and plant some bulbs ourselves. Actually, to be honest, John bought the bulbs - a large sack of them for £40. We then put out a request to constituents for locations where people would like to see the bulbs planted.

Last week, John and I were joined by a green-fingered constituent and together we planted hundreds of bulbs around Sunniside and had some left over which John has given to Front Street School where the kids will be planting them.

So, the council came up with a quote of £2,000 to plant bulbs. We did it for £40.

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Above: me planting daffodil bulbs. Below, John doing the same.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

A visit to the pharmacy

Whickham Pharmacy Dec 11

I went to Whickham Pharmacy on Wednesday, not because of anything to do with my state of health (political opponents will be delighted to know that I am in the best of shape!). The visit was on the invitation of the owner of the business, Mark Burdon. In the summer he contacted me to help with a planning application. At that point his shop was in a smaller unit but a bigger shop had become vacant on the other side of the road. He didn't need planning permission to move his pharmacy business into it but he needed to put in a planning application to change one of the upstairs rooms into a clinic. That's when the problem arose as incorrect rumours started to circulate as to what the purpose of the upstairs clinic was to be. The actual purpose is for cosmetic surgery such as administering botox. Mark therefore got in touch with me.

I agreed to speak to the other businesses in the area and I held a meeting at which Mark could meet the other shopkeepers to discuss their concerns. Mark then showed me the premises into which he was planning to move and explained the functions that would be carried out.

I had already applied to speak to the planning committee on behalf of the other businesses to raise their concerns so at the planning meeting, Mark's agent was able to allay the concerns of the other traders. The planning committee therefore voted unanimously for the application.

The move has meant the business has been able to expand, taking on additional staff and an apprentice. The new pharmacy is now open and Mark showed me and a colleague, John McClurey, around the new premises. John previously could not be involved as he is on the planning committee.

Whickham village has been feeling the strain for the past two decades of having the Metrocentre close by. The regular meetings I have with business people in the Village keep me up to date with the struggle this modest centre is having against the giants down the road. It is therefore good news to see one of the businesses expanding, taking on new staff and training young people.

Photo: me, Mark Burdon (who runs the pharmacy) and my colleague Cllr John McClurey behind the counter of the new Whickham Pharmacy.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Northern Democrat - December 2011

Northern Democrat No 60 December 2011

This is the latest edition of the Northern Democrat, the newsletter I produce for Liberal Democrats in the North of England.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In case the Euro collapses and the economy goes up in smoke

A few weeks ago, I was invited to become a contributor to an American website, The editor of their self-sufficiency section was a reader of my allotment blog ( and wanted to include the material on their website. I would also be able to write to material specifically for the site. So I agreed to their request.

The following is the first article I have written specifically for the site. It's mainly for an American audience, hence the regular use of terms such as "here in Britain", nevertheless, it's as relevant to us "here in Britain" as it is to Americans.

In case the Euro collapses and the economy goes up in flames

It seems that the crisis in the Eurozone has dominated the news here in Britain for the past 18 months. One meeting of European ministers after another does nothing to alter the fundamental problem that the crisis exists because of debt. We have to go through the pain of paying down the debt before we are out of the woods on the Euro.

Britain isn’t a member of the Eurozone. We still have the pound. Yet we are at the mercy of the markets. The world’s two greatest currencies, the US dollar and the Euro, may not be legal tender here in Britain but what happens to them, and especially to the US and European economies, affects us directly. If the Euro really has been holed below the waterline by the debt iceberg and sinks, it will drag us down as well even though we are on a different currency ship, so large is the Euro. And likewise, when the budget crisis came close to crippling the US government earlier this year, we felt the cold chill here in Britain as well.

So, will the Euro collapse? It’s unlikely in my view. Countries like Germany don’t sit back and let their currencies and economies go to the wall. Nevertheless, we need to be prepared just in case the unlikely becomes a reality.

There is, however, one reality we need to prepare for. India and China have a third of the world’s population between them. They are developing rapidly. They are building up huge trade surpluses and sit on trillions of Euros and dollars they have earned from the West which we in turn have financed through debt.

Both countries now have the wealth and foreign currency to pay for the improved lifestyles that so many want. Standards of living for a growing part of the populations of both countries are increasing. Middle class, westernised habits are creeping in to daily life, such as higher meat consumption, car ownership, possession of large quantities of consumer goods.

The considerable increase in the price of food in the last few years is a warning that the emergence of China and India will increase competition for global resources in the years ahead. The days of cheap commodities such as wheat and oil are fading. Okay, I accept there are other factors driving higher prices as well, such as extreme weather conditions damaging crop production. Nevertheless, the growing economic power of China and India will not go away.

This was one of the driving factors that made me rethink my lifestyle two years ago. I had worked in London for nearly 10 years. Then the opportunity came along to return to my home on Tyneside in the North East of England where we have a little bit of land. This was the life changing moment when I decided I was going to grow my own food and become independent of the food supply chain.

If the economy goes up in smoke, the Euro sinks or the Chinese and Indian’s outbid us for the world’s food supplies, I should be ready. We aren’t self-sufficient yet but we are getting close. We live on the urban fringe and are able to demonstrate that self-sufficiency in or close to an urban area is possible.

But it’s not just about me. In showing it is possible to become self-sufficient and independent, I want others to follow. That’s why I keep a blog ( and we make programmes about how we are getting on. The latest covers how we coped with October. So if you want to see how we do self-sufficiency in the North East of England, view the video:

Strikes blamed for Miliband popularity slump

Ed Miliband's decision to oppose the recent public sector strike whilst trying to look as if he backed the unions appears to have won him no friends. A survey by Labour List has found his popularity (or lack of it) has plummeted since the day off taken by public sector workers. Only 26% rated him as excellent or good. Remember, this is a survey of genuine Labour anorak wearers so these are people who will, by nature, be favourable to David's kid brother. 41% think his performance has been poor or very poor. In July, Miliband was rated as excellent or good by 59% of people in the survey Labour List carried out that month.

Labour List explains:

"The explanation for the slump seems to be linked to Miliband’s handling of the November 30th strikes. LabourList readers were overwhelmingly supportive of the strikes, with 83% backing the action. Meanwhile only 25% believe that Miliband handled the strike well, compared to 67% who think he handled it badly."

The problem with Miliband is that though he wants to appear reasonable, centrist and considered and seems to want to avoid upsetting anyone, few in his party are interested in following his lead, if indeed, "lead" is the right word. Labour members rather like being in the comfort zone of opposition. They don't have to defend hard but sensible decisions and they can posture as "socialists" after having had to suppress their more militant tendencies since Blair successfully launched his Occupy Labour bid in 1994.

Labour members have eagerly raised 2 fingers to their leader's pronouncement that this strike was a mark of failure he could not support. They joined marches and picket lines (most of the actualy workers on the other hand were shopping or taking the kids to the cinema). It seems Little Ed has a party that wants to head off in a direction he knows will not return Labour to power. And Labour members themselves seem to want to leave him behind.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This Labour candidate should explain herself

Elaine Dobson is the Labour candidate for Lib Dem held Whickham North in Gateshead, the neighbouring ward to mine. She has stood a number of times before and has an impressive record of defeat at the polls, including in my own ward when she stood as Labour candidate in a by-election in 2008.

Back in the autumn of 2007, when the election-that-never-was was happening, Mrs Dobson edited a leaflet which was delivered in both Whickham North and my ward. I wrote about it at the time on my blog (12th October 2007). In summary, Labour claimed Lib Dem run Newcastle set up a recycling scheme, then immediately abandoned it, wasting millions in the process. The problem with the story was that it was a complete work of fiction. It was completely made up.

Though I wrote to Mrs Dobson at the time and asked her to withdraw the claims she had made, she didn’t even bother to acknowledge my letter.

It seems Mrs Dobson’s difficulties with actual events have made a reappearance over the past few months. So here’s a story about a tangled web of intrigue spun by Mrs Dobson.

Back in May, a planning application was submitted to install a very large phone mast on an estate in Whickham North. Mrs Dobson sent a letter to residents telling them about the application and advising them on how to make comments on the application. She avoided making any commitment either for or against.

Mrs Dobson was not exactly a quick starter. Her letter went out a month after our Focus Team (minus Cllr Chris Ord who is on the planning committee) had delivered letters and collected a large number of signatures on a petition opposing the application.

The application came before the planning committee in late June and was approved, on the casting vote of the chairman. I represented residents to speak against the application. I was joined by Focus Team member and local resident Sonya Hawkins. Mrs Dobson was not present, nor had she sent in any objections.

Later the same day we had delivered our Focus newsletters to the estate to tell residents the news.

Weeks went by and the mast was installed. To the horror of residents, it stands like a huge, green-coloured chimney only metres from people’s homes. And so another letter to residents is produced by Mrs Dobson.

In this letter, she states, “As you know, I opposed the application to install this mast at this location.” This came as news to everyone so we checked again and found that she had made NO objections to the application to planning officers.

There is also something remarkably arrogant about her dealings with residents. “As you know,” she began. Who on earth does she think she is to make the assumption that everyone knows both who she is and her opposition to the mast, especially as she had not informed people of her opposition. She must have a rather inflated view of herself.

Her letter then goes on to claim that “I have raised this [the appearance of the mast] with the Planning Department at Gateshead Council.” A colleague checked out this claim. He was informed that the Department had not received anything from her.

Mrs Dobson rounded off her letter with, “If you would like to speak to me about this in the meantime, please give me a call on the number above.”

That seems a reasonable way to finish a letter. Isn’t it nice that she is giving people the opportunity to speak to her? Except....the phone number was not above. Now was it below or even in between. There simply wasn’t a number on which she could be called. Nor did she include her home address or an email.

My guess is that residents had one of two responses to this: Mrs Dobson is either incompetent or is taking the piss.

I saw Mrs Dobson briefly on Remembrance Day. The procession was just beginning to assemble. Labour’s candidate for Dunston Hill and Whickham East was there as well and my attention was focused on him and Yvonne McNicol, Labour councillor for this latter ward. Mrs McNicol was giving the latter candidate a helping hand to gatecrash the councillors’ area of the procession. I pointed out to Mrs McNicol that as the councillors represent the mayor, turning a Remembrance Day parade into a party political stunt was completely inappropriate. She sent him packing after I said I would be taking this matter further.

At least Mrs Dobson had by then disappeared from my view. Nevertheless, she needs to explain why there is a significant mismatch between her claims and her actions (or lack of them). If she bothers to give an explanation, I’m happy to publish it.

Blue shirts

This made me laugh! According to Labour Councillor John Eagle at Gateshead Council's last meeting, I am "a Tory" because I was wearing a blue shirt and tie. When I say "laugh", I mean laugh at Labour, not with them, as Labour descends even further into the shambolic mess that is their comfort zone. Cllr Eagle is, shall we say, not amongst the best when it comes to public speaking. That characteristic was clearly on display at the last meeting.

The debate we had on Labour's proposals to solve all economic problems by
waving a magic wand was the opportunity for Cllr Eagle to spit more venom at the
Lib Dems and I was, yet again, the target. "I used to remember the times Cllr
Wallace turned up for council meetings wearing a yellow tie to show his party
colours," claimed Cllr Eagle. "Now he's turned up wearing a blue shirt and blue
tie! That makes him a Tory."

I have to say that as that seemed to be the main point he wanted to make, then
he is in danger of being seen as joker rather than politician. As for his
allegations, it is fair to say that I have worn yellow ties (and blue ties) in
the past, and I continue to wear ties of both colours now. I also have a rather
attractive range of pink ties, some multi-coloured ones but alas, no red ones. I
appear not to be alone in the absence of red however. I looked across the
chamber at Labour councillors and saw barely a red tie at all. Indeed, as I was
able to point out in an intervention, the Labour leader and deputy leader of the
council were wearing blue shirts. And indeed, so was Cllr Eagle himself! "But
I'm wearing a trade union tie!" he replied. Well, that made all the difference!

Cllr Eagle loves to make "speeches" (I use the word carefully) in Council meetings, lambasting the Lib Dems. He seems to hate the thought of Lib Dems in government and he used his most recent "speech" to call on us to leave the Coalition. Presumably, he is all in favour of letting the Tories rule all by themselves. Cllr Eagle's call for a Tory only government is not something I support.

Nevertheless, let's take Cllr Eagle's announcement that the colour of a person's shirt expresses the political views of the wearer at face value. Wouldn't it be funny to see him wearing something dayglo orange! He would look like a walking advert for the Lib Dems! Now, if only I had such a photo of him dressed in such a way......

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How useful, just found the above photo taken at last week's public sector strike and march last week. Cllr Eagle is in the centre wearing dayglo orange and, ahem, blue.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Unison boosts Clarkson DVD sales

There is little about Jereny Clarkson I like. Indeed, I'm trying to find anything in his high-octane, petrol propelled promotion of carbon guzzling technology with which I could agree, and so far, I've found nothing. He is a person who promotes himself by shock value. He thrives on making controversial and offensive statements. They get him noticed and he therefore increases sales of his programmes and DVDs. He must be rubbing his hands with glee about Unison's response to his comments yesterday about shooting strikers.

Unison should have dismissed it as the ravings of an over-the-top right winger. They should treat him as someone who makes noises as he does to compensate for something otherwise lacking in his life. They should not act as if his comments are a surprise. Think of all the additional sales all the publicity will bring for the DVD he was promoting on television yesterday. The cash till must be ringing in Clarkson's ears. Calling for his sacking simply added petrol to the fire of publicity.

One final point however. I think it rather unwise of Unison to call for the summary sacking of a person. Whatever happened to disciplinary procedures and employment law that gives employees threatened with dismissal the right to put their case? I would have thought that was something Unison would want to protect, not throw out of the window. Unless, of course, Unison take the view that those with a different world view to their own have no right to job protection.

Photos from Public Sector Unpaid Day Off Demo

The Prime Minister described yesterday's strike as a "damp squib". Though I don't support the strike and I think it was more a case of chest-beating by the trade union leaders who want to parade as the leaders of the Labour movement, filling the void left by the Labour Leader Ed Moribund, the fact was that a large number of public sector workers did fail to turn up for work. Whilst the levels of support claimed for it by the union bosses are well off the mark, so was Cameron's description.

I hear that many reluctant strikers used the strike as a day off to go Christmas shopping at the Metrocentre. I know of one who didn't want to strike, voted against it, but felt obliged by the closure of the council he works for to remain away from work. He went with me to Durham instead to buy chicken food for my hens!

Yesterday I went to Gateshead to take photos of the start of the union procession. I was surprised that the Council had willingly allowed its property to be used as the gathering point of the march. Nevertheless, the march assembled in Gateshead Civic Centre car park. As the photos below show, it was not crowded.

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People were shipped in from all over the place to boost numbers. As the photo below shows, they came from as far as Manchester. I saw coaches from the Borders and Teeside as well.

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And so the March heads off to Newcastle.

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This dog tried to make a point:

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Hopefully the protester who held this poster managed to get out of the way before the vehicle went past (was it driven by Jeremy Clarkson?)

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Wherever there is a protest, "Socialist Workers" latch onto it.

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I thought this was meant to be a protest against creating sustainable pensions. (I also saw people protesting against violence in Syria, a very noble cause but not relevant to the issue. Nevertheless, it helped to boost numbers.

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Hexham Labour Party decided not to follow the advice of Ed Moribund and turned up with a banner containing an essay. I could take their message more seriously if Hexham Labour Party hadn't run such a vile, homphobic campaign against me when I was Lib Dem candidate in the constituency in 1992.

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This guy brought his fishing rod.

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The impression I have is that the union activists and enthusiasts were the vast majority of people on this demonstration. Where were the ordinary union members, those reluctantly on strike? They were treating it as an unpaid day off and were making the most of it to beat the Christmas queues in the shops. The North East has a higher than average proportion of the workforce in the public sector. Even though people were shipped in from as far as Manchester, the question has to be asked, why only a few percent of the public sector taking part in this demonstration?

The unions have a reservoir of support within their own ranks but yesterday's action has already drained some away. There are only so many times people will be prepared to lose a day's pay. It's interesting to note that the union bosses won't call an all out strike, just "days of action". If they have any sense, they will reach an agreement with the government before their reservoir has drained.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Labour's Balls impaled on fence

Anyone watching the news recently would have seen the degree to which Ed Moribund has avoided answering the question about whether or not Labour supports the public sector strike today. Eventually, a journalist was able to crowbar an answer out of Little Ed. Apparently he is against the strike, well sort of anyway, in an I'm-comfortable-sitting-on-the-fence way. Basher Balls was at it as well this morning. He was pressured into admitting too that he is against the strike but very sympathetic in an I-think-you-should-be-on-strike-but-I-havent-the-balls-to-say-so sort of way. He demanded talks should take place (they are Balls - get up to speed) and said there should be give and take on both sides (perhaps he missed the latest offer from the government.) The impression however was left that Balls was fence sitting and couldn't move as a certain part of his anatomy was nailed to a fence post.

Though the national Labour leadership are opposed to strike action (even if they leave one foot in the pro-strike camp, I noticed that plenty of their local troops are all for it. I am on the bus heading back home from Gateshead where I have been taking photos of the union rally in the Civic Centre car park. I spotted a number of Labour councillors enthusiastically joining in the procession. One at least works in the private sector so has taken the decision to ignore her leadership's "opposition" to the strike.

Don't get me wrong - I don't support the strikes, I believe the Government is offering a sustainable deal that is fair to the nation generally. I was there simply to take photos. Yet I have a slight degree more respect for the Labour members who are making a stand for something they believe in (I think the motives of the union leaders are different but that is for another blog post) even if I fundamentally disagree with them.
The problem for Moribund is that he may try to make reasoned noises at the top but on the ground, Labour members have reverted to their old beliefs and comfort zones and have no intention of returning to the real world.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Labour actually believe they left a golden legacy

Back again to the back-of-a-flag-packet policies put forward by Labour in their spoon fed motion they had copied and pasted from the national Labour website and which was debated by Gateshead Council on Thursday. I have already blogged about Labour's out-of-touch belief that the typical household in Gateshead earns £50,000. And I've already looked at Labour's magical bank bonus tax which raises £2 billion but pays for about £6 billion of spending. Today however, I want to discuss the so-called legacy Labour claimed they left us.

The mover of Labour's motion was Councillor Martin Gannon. Martin has an interesting and colourful political history. Back in the 1980s, he was one of those who had pitched his tent on the left of the Labour Party, militantly holding to his socialism. In the 1990s, with Blair having given the Left an eviction notice to pack up their tents and go away, Martin reappeared in a flashy new suit, with flashy new views and a new Blairite outlook on the world that was so New Labour he squeaked when he walked! Alas, Martin's conversion to the Blairite Faith did not quite achieve the personal results he wanted. His attempt to be selected as Labour candidate for Blaydon didn't get far. David Anderson won the prize instead, on an anti-New Labour, posturing left wing platform though once elected to Parliament he instantly turned into a Blair babe, never once voting against the Labour government despite his claim he was not an "identikit" New Labour man. Martin's delayed consolation prize was to become deputy leader of Gateshead Council. Quite where he stands on the political spectrum now however is as clear as mud. Everyone in the Labour Party now claims to have been against Blair from the start. Quite what they are for is a debatable point and that goes for Martin as well.

Anyway, Newly-Old Labour Martin delivered his speech with an incredible claim that Labour left a golden legacy when they left office. Not even the Labour Dictionary of New Speak has come up with a definition of "golden legacy" to mean an appalling mess of record debt, poverty, crisis and unemployment, though by the looks of it, the Labour Dictionary is about to be rewritten. Martin then went on to claim that the Government was unelected. Perhaps Martin may not be aware that there was an election in 2010 and the combined vote for the two parties now in office was 61%, unlike the last Labour government which got 36%, less than the Tories got last year. What gave Labour their majority was the gerrymandered voting system and boundaries.

The seconder of the motion was Cllr Gary Haley. He opened by saying he had had only 2 hours notice that he was going to second the motion. He then spent a few minutes demonstrating the accuracy of what he had just said. Preparation time had clearly been lacking and so he rested his case too on this amazing claim that Labour had left a golden legacy. Cllr Haley however seemed a bit of an odd choice to speak. I remember his failed attempts in the early years of the last decade to unseat my in my ward. He posed as someone Tories could vote for, claiming that Conservative voters were swinging to him in large numbers to unseat me (they weren't!) I reminded him in my response that his campaign against me was based in part on opposition to the 50p income tax rate the Lib Dems supported. Mr Haley was all for protecting the rich against tax increases nasty leftwingers like me wanted to impose!

The classic moment during my speech however was seeing the expressions on the faces of Labour councillors when I referred to the real legacy they left us. Some were incredulous with rage when I pointed out the increased level of unemployment, debt and poverty they left us. It seems that many in Labour believe unemployment, poverty and the economic crisis only started in May 2010 when they were removed from power by an illegal coup of unelected Tories and Lib Dems who are occupying Downing St and the corridors of power. Their tortured expressions when they were reminded that they left office with 2.5 million unemployed, up nearly one million from 1997, shows they have a huge difficulty dealing with the painful truth about their own record. To cope with it they have descended into an incredible state of denial. As far as they are concerned, the world was wonderful when they left office. Their claims that they left a golden legacy of a booming economy that was growing strongly just show how out of touch with reality they are.
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A day off from campaigning and gardening

I am currently on the bus heading to Gateshead to catch the Metro to Tynemouth. Today is a history day for me, in which my gardening, food production and political campaigning activities take a back seat. Every few weeks I meet up with fellow historians for lunch. We invariably discuss local history and forthcoming holidays that involve visiting historic sites. I've just booked a tour of WW2 sites on the Continent for June next year so I will no doubt be discussing that.

Anyway, the bus is about to arrive in Gateshead so I will give details about today's activities later.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

£50,000 - the typical household income, according to Labour

Labour's back-of-a-fag-packet policies were debated yesterday in Gateshead Council when a Labour motion, copied and pasted from their national website, was debated. I've already discussed the section of the motion which referred to their magically regenerating bank bonus tax which they are able to spend 3 or 4 times over. What I didn't mention is that many Labour members also claim that the bank bonus tax can be used to pay for all their other spending commitments, for reducing the deficit, for paying for their pet projects, for paying for increased services. You name it and Labour reckons this one tax will be able to pay for it. Anyway, this post is about a different part of Labour's back-of-a-fag-packet policies: their proposal for a "temporary" cut in VAT.

Labour claims that the typical couple would "save £450" by this temporary tax cut. So let's examine this claim. Firstly, there is no definition of "temporary". It is completely unclear how long their proposed cut to 17.5% would last and despite being asked by us yesterday, the councillors refused to give any details. I suspect they are completely clueless. They don't know because Labour have not worked that bit out. Presumably there was no room on the back of their fag packet for such details.

A 2.5% cut would cost £12.5 billion. There was no mention at all as to how a Labour government would make up the loss of the revenue. This amount will of course be higher if Labour's definition of "temporary" lasts longer than a year. Presumably this whopping amount of cash will simply be borrowed. At a time when western economies are facing a debt crisis, Labour comes forward with a plan to make a bad situation worse. Nor would a cut in VAT necessarily help the economy. It may, or may not, give a short term and rather small boost to retail sales (the experience of 2008-9 when there was another temporary VAT cut suggests there would be no such boost). Were such a boost to happen, the chances are that Britain would simply end up importing more.

The most brain dead of Labour's claims about VAT is that a typical family would save £450. What they fail to say however is that the typical family would have to spend £18,000 (£1500 a month) on goods that are fully VAT rated. Whilst there are families around that do spend that amount of money, they are a small minority and are in no way representative of the typical family. The majority of people's outgoings are on zero or lower rated goods and services such as water, gas, electricity, mortgage, pension contributions, rent, kids' clothes, half the food they eat, bus fares, newspapers and so on. That would mean Labour's typical family spending £18,000 on VAT rated goods would have an overall expenditure of around £40,000 or a gross income in excess of £50,000!

This crass ignorance of how real people live further ignores the fact that in Gateshead, income levels are lower than most of the rest of the country. Quite what the residents of Gateshead will think of Labour when they are told that Labour thinks they are raking in the money is yet to be seen.

And one final point, how would Labour square their plans to cut VAT with their plan to raise VAT from 17.5% to 19% had they won the last election? Perhaps the anonymous Labour readers of this blog, especially that really stupid one (we all know who we mean) would like to elaborate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Labour's magic tax yield

Labour on Gateshead Council today proposed a motion on the economy that had clearly been cut and pasted from the national Labour website. There were no surprises in it: it contained the half-baked, uncosted, unrealistic, back-of-an-envelope proposals that are the best that Labour can come up with at the moment.

In their motion, Labour claimed their proposal for a bank bonus tax would raise £2 billion. This is a debatable point but let's suppose for a moment that they did manage to gather that sum. Labour suggest the money would create 100,000 jobs for unemployed young people who would then build 25,000 affordable homes. The trouble is, the £2 billion from the bank bonus tax would be more than swallowed up employing 100,000 people. £2 billion divided between 100,000 workers means £20,000 per job. Out of that sum employers' national insurance would have to be paid as well as pension contributions. It means that the pay will be about £16,000 at best, not exactly the high paid jobs Labour keep claiming they want.

These costs however mean the £2 billion is all spent before a single brick can be laid. A rough estimate of the cost of the materials for building one, small, affordable house is about £40,000, or £1 billion for the full programme. Then of course there is the cost of the land, which could be billions for the 25,000 houses to be built(typically it is the largest single cost involved in building a new house).

In addition to all of this, Labour state that all the jobs will be for young unemployed people. That's a laudable aim but it comes with a significant problem. Building houses needs a skilled workforce. 100,000 unemployed young people would need to be trained. That will take time and money. So yet again, this £2 billion programme will require even further money to be spent on it.

One Labour councillor shouted at me that the houses built would be sold. Personally, I would have thought it better to build affordable housing for rent but quite how they would have any houses to sell when all the money had been spent before a brick could be laid is not explained.

Basically, Labour's scheme is a back-of-an-envelope policy that will cost vastly more than the £2 billion allocated to it. Far from being a bonus tax, it is a magic tax - £2 billion to be collected and it can magically be spent many times over, instantly creating an army of skilled workers and thousands of new homes. The Coalition Government has Project Merlin. It seems Labour has Merlin the Magician writing their policies.

Whickham Xmas lights switch-on

The Xmas lights were switched on in Whickham on Tuesday. Here are the photos I took.

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 26

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 25

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 22

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 20

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 19

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 16

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 14

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 12

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 5

Whickham Xmas lights switch on Nov 11 1

Heading for a museum

I am sitting on the Metro heading towards Sunderland for a committee meeting. The irony is that it is my birthday and the meeting I am heading for is the Tyne and Wear Museums Committee! I'm old enough to be an exhibit myself!

The meetings don't end there. I have to come back to Gateshead for a full council meeting in which Labour are proposing a motion which claims they left a golden legacy for the Coalition on the economy! I'm moving an amendment which attempts to bring Labour back down to planet Earth.

Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A weekend of surveys

Gateshead Council's Strategic Land Review proposes a number of areas in or new my ward should be removed from greenbelt and used for house-building. Were these sites to be agreed, it may not be until 2030 that the land is used. The two biggest sites in my ward are to the south of Sunniside, the village where I live. Sunniside currently has around 1650 houses and the proposal is to add a further 750. This includes housing on a further small site to the north of the village of Streetgate. The immediate concern raised by myself and my two ward colleages - John McClurey and Marilynn Ord - is that the main road in the area, the A692, cannout cope with the traffic that is on it now. Adding 750 houses could make a bad situation worse.

Just down the road, the council is looking at allowing 800 houses to be built on land in the greenbelt. Though loss of greenbelt and open countryside is an issue in Sunniside, it is an even bigger one in Whickham, Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill. The concern is that the loss of this land will come very close to joining up the three settlements into one large conurbation which itself would be an extension of the Gateshead urban area. Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill are also the bottleneck for the A692 before it joins the A1. More traffic there would be a nightmare if vehicles have to use existing roads.

So, we have been carrying out a survey of residents of Sunniside/Streetgate, Whickham and Dunston Hill to find out people's views. Over the weekend we delivered 1650 surveys to every house in Sunniside and Streetgate. We also delivered 400 to houses nearest the site in Whickham. Last week we delivered 750 surveys to houses in Dunston Hill.

I have a large pile of replies, over 400 so far, with plenty still coming in. I'll start working my way through the replies shortly. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Labour divisions on Tyneside hit the boundary

The internal row in the Labour Party on Tyneside burst out for all to see earlier this week at the North East hearings on the Boundary Commissions proposals for new constituencies. Labour MPs are openly arguing for the retention of their own constituencies with the knock on effect that they inadvertently (or arguably deliberately) dump all over their colleagues. Our regional newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, reports that, "...such is the depth of infighting in Labour's Tyneside heartland that Greg Clark, Labour's head of political strategy, was yesterday unable to offer an alternative proposal as behind-the-scenes rows rumble on." We already knew of the bunfight in Labour's ranks. It's interesting to see it all over the newspapers.

Some MPs are coming up with interesting tactics to keep their constituencies. David Anderson in Blaydon argues the new boundaries cannot go ahead as the Angel of the North would end up in a Sunderland constituency. I hear of another MP whose partner turned up to speak as an "ordinary member of the public" without mentioning the rather close relationship to the MP whose constituency this member of the public was attempting to retain. Meanwhile, former minister Nick Brown has created a set of proposals which, the Chronicle claims, "would prevent the long standing MP having to bid for reselection against a different constituency party not necessarily loyal to Mr Brown."

Some in Labour warned before the last general election that a Tory win would mean the return of blood sports. Perhaps they were right, but not quite as they meant it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Labour MP dumped - shock as no one notices!

Labour MP for Blaydon, David Anderson, proudly announced in October last year that he was "delighted to have been asked to play a role in building our [Labour Parliamentary] team". Mr Anderson's comments were made as he had just been appointed to the dizzy heights of Opposition Assistant Whip. He was going to help "devise a reasonable and convincing alternative" to the Coalition.

Alas, Mr Anderson's shadow ministerial career has proved to be shortlived. Ed Moribund sent him packing last month and replaced him. No one appears to have noticed that Mr Anderson has been dumped, perhaps because it is a debatable point as to whether many noticed he had been appointed in the first place. I only noticed he had gone because Mr Anderson has started spending more time with his early day motions. (Mr Anderson has a history of signing vast numbers of EDMs - for example I found in one day he had signed over 70).

As for his "convincing alternative", his regular bemoaning of the closure of coalmines and his desire to see us burn more coal didn't get much support when he spoke at a recent meeting I attended in the constituency. His anti-capitalism rant at what was a social event did not go down well. A group of retired ladies sitting near me proverbially shredded him and told him he needed to move on and stop living in the past. At that point I decided to say nothing myself. I didn't need to!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Remembrance Day Parade photos

I attended the Remembrance Day parade in Whickham yesterday. My ward colleague, Councillor John McClurey, laid the wreath on behalf of the Mayor and residents of Whickham South and Sunniside. This was the biggest parade I have seen for many years. 30 wreaths were laid by a wide range of organisations and individuals.

Here are some of our photos of the parade and ceremony.

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 4

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 8

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 13

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 23

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 27

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 32

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 42

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 54

Remembrance Day Whickham Nov 11 62

Photos from "Occupy" St Paul's

St Paul's Cathedral is London's newest campsite. It comes with its own "university", light musical entertainment, first aid tent (especially useful for those suffering from Attention Seeking Syndrome) and wonderful views of the next tent. Conveniently situated near St Paul's tube station, you are able to get there easily after a good night's sleep at home in a comfortable bed, and leave just as easily in the evening when you are cold, bored and need your Philipino maid to cook your dinner. The local corner shop is a Marks and Spencer store so stocking up on good food could never be easier. If you want a coffee however, do expect to experience queues at the local Costa Coffee.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 5

Okay, so last week, whilst I was in London, I was in the vacinity of St Paul's because I was doing a walking tour of little known historic sites around the City. It was therefore difficult to avoid the protesters and their holiday camp, so I took some photos, which is what this post is all about.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 2

I have argued all along that those engaging in this "occupy" protest activity are self-appointed, unrepresentative, overwhelmingly from prosperous backgrounds who come from families who generally speaking have done rather well over the past couple of decades. Now that the boom has gone from Britain (and the western world generally) suddenly they are against the system. Quite what they are for is much more difficult to work out.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 1

As the above photo shows, this makeshift noticeboard (outside M&S) appealed for people to support just about every other protest and Parliamentary lobbying demonstration going. Whether this notice succeeded to creating a rent-a-demo worked or not, I don't know. I certainly didn't see any of the protests feature in the news.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 8

So, this is what democracy looks like? I don't think so! A campsite of self-appointed, wealth-enjoying anti-capitalists does not speak for the vast majority of people. They speak for themelves. The campers have a very strange notion of democracy. Votes in the open air, in full view of others. So the secret ballot has gone. Anyone can turn up. Meetings can be packed out with your mates. I prefer the ballot box (and the secret ballot).

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 9

"Grow the real economy with love and empathy"! I prefer my own version - grow the economy by being realistic.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 7

The above banner is, to me, confusing. It appears to be complaining that the government is borrowing money. Most of the other protesters seem to think the government should be borrowing more money.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 11

An example of a tent that has done the rounds. This one was at the Climate Camp in Edinburgh 2010. Is the "Occupy" St Paul's movement adding global climate change to its catalogue of campaigns. Or is this just part of the problem the "Occupy London" movement has - that it has no coherent message.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 14

Meanwhile, the message from this tent was all about saving the music department of the University of East Anglia. But the protestors weren't singing from the same hymn sheet.

Occupy St Pauls Nov 11 17

Meanwhile, the Greens wanted to turn the camp into an anti-nuclear power protest.

So, lots of mixed messages, lots of issues people were campaigning against. But where were their solutions? There were very few.

Don't get me wrong. I fully support the right of people to protest though I think these camps go too far and cause needless disruption for others. There were even some points they raised I could support. Nor am I a supporter of big business capitalism. I want to see a system in which people have a direct stake in their work and their communities. I prefer small to big business. I want people freed to enjoy the benefits of their own work and productivity. If we were all put on a spectrum according to outlook and lifestyle, with hippy individualist at one end and capitalist big business people at the other, I would be much closer to the hippy end. After all, I gave up the job in London and the salaried job to grow my own food, live a sustainable lifestyle and create and run a small business. But I also believe that politics is about realism and the art of the possible. It's about putting forward solutions that work. And whilst I have some sympathy with some of the views expressed by some protesters that the system is not working, I differ very strongly from them in believing that it cannot be solved by simply pitching your tent in the grounds of a tourist attraction and making a nuisance of yourself.