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.

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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.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heading home

My week of leisure and business in London is now over. I am on the train heading back to the North East. It was quite an enjoyable week. I saw the new party HQ, walked past the "occupation" of St Paul's Cathedral (watch out for my forthcoming photos), got blockaded into a pub because of a passing demonstration and visited a significant number of hidden historic sites around the City.

Tomorrow I will be in Whickham for the Remembrance Day parade. And I'll have a week's correspondence waiting for me to sort.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Photos of the student protesters

I came into central London yesterday to do a walking tour of little known historic sites in the City. We had planned to avoid the student protesters but found that the route of the protest went right past the pub where we where having lunch. The result was we were locked in and the protesters were locked out. Nevertheless, I was able to take some photos of the protesters going past through the window of the pub (the Viaduct Tavern). Be warned, the protesters were rather few in number. Here are some of the photos.

student protest Nov 11 1

student protest Nov 11 2

student protest Nov 11 3

student protest Nov 11 4

student protest Nov 11 5

student protest Nov 11 6

student protest Nov 11 7

student protest Nov 11 8

Photos from the Tim Farron dinner

Party President Tim Farron MP was the guest speaker at the Northern Durham Liberal Democrat dinner last Friday. I was there with camera so here are a few of the photos I took.

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 11

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 8

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 6

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 5

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 4

Northern Lib Dem dinner Nov 11 1

My first visit to the Lib Dems' new HQ

I had a meeting this morning with Hilary Stephenson and Shaun Roberts from the Lib Dems' campaigns department. It was held in HQ in Great George Street. It was my first visit to the new HQ. I worked for 7 years at Cowley St so I got used to its warren of rooms and corridors. The new HQ is completely different. It is all open plan and all on one floor. I was impressed. It may not have the historic character of Cowley Street (initially built as the HQ for the London and North Eastern Railway in the early 1900s) but it is a much more modern working environment. So that's a thumbs-up for the move from me.
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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

We are under siege!

Today is supposed to be a day off for me. We were aware the student "protests" would be taking part in London (I am down here for a few days) but wanted to do a tourist day out in capital. So we got our lists of historic sites and planned a route.

Alas, all great plans hit a brick wall, or in this instance, a cordoned off route along which an extremely large number of police were to direct a pathetically small number of protesters. Our plan was to visit 40 minor historic sites, take photos and have lunch at the Viaduct Tavern, London's original gin palace. We got to see the first 11 before we realised we had to negotiate with the police to cross the road to get to the Viaduct.

Having achieved that, we found that once inside the pub and tucking into lunch, the doors were locked. No one could come in. That included the tv crew filming us through the window and wanting to enter to interview under siege tourists. And as the "protesters" approached, suddenly the bar stopped serving (I used my best persuasive powers to be the last person to be served before the taps to the beer barrels were turned off.)

And then the "protesters" arrived. The first banner was totally confusing. It was in German and was from the "New German Youth". Then the bulk of the procession passed us. It was populated by a mixed bag of differing messages. There were those demanding an end to Trident, an end to tuition fees, an end to world poverty, an end to capitalism, an end to Nick Clegg and, one demanding, "Eat the rich." How this latter one went down with the Vegetarians-for-World-Peace is not yet clear. There was also a modest sprinkling of "Socialist Workers" demanding a general strike and lots of money for any spending project going, except bankers' bonuses which they are all against.

And within a very short space of time, the "protesters" were gone. Small in number, incoherent, mixed and contrary messages with no clear message but blessedly free of megaphones. Clearly the ones who love the sound of their own voices must have had better things to do.

The doors to the pub have now opened again, the bar is serving again, but we won't get through the other 30 locations to visit on our history tour. We'll finish it tomorrow.

And watch out shortly for the photos I took of the procession from the pub.

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Putting away my chef's hat

I had an interesting email from YouTube a couple of weeks ago. They wrote to me as an "expert chef" and YouTube partner, inviting me to apply for their Next Chef programme. For the 12 lucky people selected, there would be lots of new camera equipment and additional promotion of their YouTube channels. I rather liked the fact that I had been invited, thought it would be fun to apply, held out no expectation of getting anywhere and, once I had completed the form, completely forgot about it.

Alas, this morning I received an email telling me that I had not been successful. Time to put my chef's hat away. Still, it was nice to be invited and useful to know that my channel has been noticed by the people running YouTube.

If anyone wants to view any of my videos, go to

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Monday, November 07, 2011

2 million Youtube viewings

My YouTube activities seem to be going from strength to strength. I can now announce that I have passed another YouTube milestone. Over the weekend, I reached 2 million viewings of my videos.

The channel can be viewed at

The difference between local and national trade union leaders

The Gateshead Lib Dem Council group held a meeting last week with the local leaders of the GMB and Unison. It was at our invitation though we were not sure how they would react to us - and, indeed, how we would react to them. Nevertheless, we felt it was important to have a dialogue with them. I'm not at liberty to report what was said. Both sides agreed that in advance but by all counts, we found it a constructive and quite revealing meeting. I don't think I am breaking any confidences by saying the union leaders were pleased to be invited. Both sides had differences and these were aired but generally speaking, we found that discussing these differences, as well as the common ground, was a useful exercise.

A couple of days later, the Government made an offer to the unions over public sector pension reform. I was struck by the significant differences between Brendan Barber's posturing and the approach taken by the local trade union leaders we met. Barber was highly dismissive, and loving the limelight whilst parading around as the union boss to whom everyone had better listen, or else. Yet those union leaders who have to work at the chalk face seem to have a better grasp on reality than the barons based in London who probably think a reality check is something paid into the bank account of someone who appears on a so-called reality show.

And whilst I disagree with some of the views of the local trade union leaders, at least they don't seem to think they are the thrusting alternative leadership of the Labour "movement" filling the gap at the top which Ed Moribund is failing to occupy.
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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Double deckers and fireworks

I came to London last night and was persuaded by a group of Labour friends to join them to watch the Crystal Palace fireworks from the Grape and Grain, the pub at the top of Anerley Hill. Apparently, it was going to cost £5 each to get into the park for a top notch view of the display. Why not watch it for free at the top of the hill, from the comfort of the pub courtyard? What a great idea! That was, until we realised that, being on a main bus route, next to a busy junction with too much traffic, double decker buses wreck any possibility of seeing any fireworks. A great money saving idea, not.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Having my cake and eating it

Sunniside Methodist Chapel are always happy to see me at their fairs and I always make it a personal requirement to go to them. They are a useful source for plants for the allotment and garden and for cakes. And so this morning, when I was there, I bought their entire stock of wild strawberries. At the cake stall, I mentioned I needed some cake to eat on the train to London this afternoon. This resulted in a series of very persuasive cake sellers encouraging me to buy a wide variety of homemade goodies. £13 later and David and I were stocked up with cake to keep us going for months. Back home I cut a large piece of walnut cake and put it into my bait box for the train journey. Alas, I ate the cake at Newcastle Station. I'm now reduced to eating the food I made myself. The train arrives in London in a couple of hours.
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Energy from waste - looking at the future for rubbish

On Monday I visited the Sita energy from waste plant on Teeside. We had a look at the line that deals with Northumberlands waste but in 2014, an almost identical plant will be opened next door which will be used to burn Gateshead's waste.

This is the video I shot inside the plant.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The boundaries of agreement

The Electoral Commission's recent proposals for new constituency boundaries are, with a few exceptions, a politician's rather than a people's issue. In my 24 years as a councillor I've never had anyone beating a track to my door to raise the issue of ward or parliamentary boundaries, even when changes are proposed. When my ward boundaries were last changed, I wrote to every constituent to tell them about the proposals and asked for comments. All I got back was a passing conversation from a constituent at the local methodist fair that she was disappointed that I would no longer be her councillor as her part of my ward was being moved to a different one. So, people generally (though I accept not in all circumstances) are not overly concerned about where ward and constituency boundaries go. Alas, if only we could say the same about us politicians!

Currently, Gateshead has two full constituencies - Blaydon and Gateshead - and a bit of Jarrow within the borough's boundaries. This was an improvement on 2005 when we had one full constituency and the bits of 3 others. Under the new proposals from the Commission, there will be a new Gateshead West constituency which will be the only one wholly within Gateshead. And in a back-to-the-future move, we go back to having bits of three other constituencies within the borough as well. Overall, the North East drops from 29 to 26 constituences, and to make the figures balance, it seems that Gateshead has been dismantled so that the spare bits can be grafted on to neighbouring areas.

For Labour in Gateshead, the Commission's proposals are a disaster. I hear on the grapevine of rumblings of Labour discontent for, if they are implemented, it will mean their two MPs, David Anderson and Ian Mearns, going head to head for the selection for Gateshead West. The loser will have to attempt to get selected for the Jarrow and Gsteshead East constituency, more of which is in South Tyneside and therefore, outside the current influence of Gateshead Labour. The talk in Labour is that Ian Mearns would win the Gateshead West nomination leaving DA to do a chicken run tour of Jarrow and anywhere else in North East Labour ready to give a hearing to his anti-capitalist rants. Personally, I think Ian would do a far better job of representing the area than David Anderson but such an endorsement from me may be the kiss of death for anyone in Labour so I therefore apologise to Ian!

Yesterday, a council advisory group was held to consider the Commission's proposals and various alternatives. Advisory groups are sometimes not well attended but this one was. I saw a whole string of councillors who work for MPs (especially David Anderson) as well as a number of councillors who are rather chummy with Mr Anderson. One office assistant for Mr Anderson turned up with laptop and maps.

The Council's favoured option was discussed. Officers put forward a proposal in which Gateshead consisted wholly of 2 constituencies. This would mean no Anderson-Mearns wrestling match as the two would be slotted in to the appropriate constituencies. But, as I pointed out, it is all very well for the Council to come up with a solution that solves all of Gateshead's boundary issues but the Electoral Commission has to look at the bigger picture. If all that happens is that Gateshead puts forward a proposal that simply exports the fragmentation elsewhere, the Commission will reject it.

Well, blow me dead! The advisory group appreciated the argument and accepted a back up. Whilst members accepted the Council's two-constituency solution as the favoured option, they also took a pragmatic view that a back up was needed. The one agreed still saw Gateshead with one whole and 3 part constituencies but saw a more sensible arrangement for the periphery. One of the part constituencies would be mainly in Gateshead though what South Tyneside will think of this is likely to be easy to judge. Jarrow Labour are likely to have something to say in opposition to such a move that would see their constituency as the junior partner of Gateshead East.

Gateshead Council's views will be reported to the Electoral Commission. And if they are rejected, start booking your places now at the local Labour club, fight-to-the-finish wrestling matches. (If you are squeamish and don't like blood, stay at home!)