Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Switching on the Christmas lights

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 21

After all the preparations by the Lighting Up Whickham group, of which I am a member, the Christmas lights were switched on yesterday. I was there as usual as the official photographer (that's me above with Cllr Peter Craig who chairs the group). We began with switching on the lights at Rose Villa School and then a procession headed to Church Green where the Christmas tree lights were switched on. The whole event was accompanied by lots of singing though, thankfully (for the sanity of all in my vicinity), I was too busy taking photos to employ my vocal chords!

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 19

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 10

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 9

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 7

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 5

Whickham Christmas Lights Nov 13 4

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turning 50

Whilst the world was noting the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Dr Who, I was celebrating my 50th birthday. Alas, the day was spent running the community cafe and craft market at Marley Hill Community Centre thought there was an appearance of a birthday cake, courtesy of David and my sister \Esther. Fortunately, only a fraction of the required candles was lit. I'm not sure if the fire insurance on the building would have covered it!

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates' Panel

After an absence of a decade from the Parliamentary fray, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring for the General Election in 2015. I am now back on the Parliamentary Candidates' Panel - the list of the great and the good who have the enviable job of being able to stand as Lib Dem candidates at the general election and turn themselves into bomb proof shelters whilst voters and opponents alike throw everything they can at us! My assessment day was on Sunday in Leeds and I discovered I had reached the grade on Wednesday when, ironically, I was standing in the rain in a queue to get into Parliament (for a meeting of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates' Association). Of course, there is the little issue of actually getting selected for a seat. The selection fun will no doubt start at some point soon.

The last time I stood was in 2001 when I was candidate in Tyne Bridge, a constituency that straddled both Gateshead and Newcastle. In 2005 I did not stand as I was working in HQ and in 2010 I did not stand as I was setting up a business and trying to get my food self-sufficiency activities going. Now that those activities are done, I have been persuaded of the merits of going back into battle myself. Stickler for punishment that I am, I await the selection and Parliamentary battles that lie ahead with a sense of amused resignation as to the effort required to achieve the outcomes that are possible.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The next step for our community library

Land Rover at Gateshead Civic Centre Now 13

Our plans to set up a community library in Marley Hill Community Centre took a small step forward yesterday. Currently we have a large quantity of books in boxes which we store under the stage. It's a complete pain having to get them out, put onto tables and then put back under the stage. Then we discovered that Gateshead Civic Centre was giving away some surplus cupboards. We checked them out, found they were perfect for what we wanted and agreed to take two of them. The big task was getting them to the Community Centre. So yesterday, I turned up at the delivery entrance of the Civic Centre with my land rover and trailer. These are normally used for moving bee hives and goats so heavy duty cupboards was a bit of a new experience.

With my ward colleague, Cllr John McClurey, we got them into my trailer and eventually got them to Marley Hill. With Trevor, our caretaker, we got them into the building where we found we can fit another 3. So we will be asking for more spares. The library will be open on Sunday though we won't be using the cupboards. At the moment we don't have the clips for the shelves. So another episode of crawling about under the stage is forthcoming.

Labour's love-hate relationship with history

There was a time when Labour couldn't open its mouth without reference to something historical. Before 2008, no Labour statement was complete without a mention of a record breaking number of quarters in which there was continuous growth under the miracle-performing Gordon Brown. Post 2010 and history is no longer loved by Labour. Indeed it is a bit of a raw nerve for them. How many times do you hear Labour praising the work of the Blair/Brown governments? How often do you hear Labour members even utter the names of their two former leaders? Since 2010, I have listened to Labour councillors in Gateshead talk as if either history began when the Coalition came to office or, if history did begin before 2010, somehow the years 1997 to 2010 have been deleted from the Comrades’ collective memory. “The History of the World According to the Labour Party" is a book that is not yet written, so don't rush to buy it. And were it actually to be written at some point, look for it on the fiction shelves, rather than in the history section of your local bookshop.

As for which Labour "historian" who could be tasked with writing such an amusing fantasy, can I suggest Cllr Martin Gannon, deputy leader of Gateshead Council, rejected candidate for Blaydon and now office assistant for Ian Mearns MP? In Martin's New Labour days (an era that immediately followed his militantly socialist days with apparently nothing in between), he was always ready with the New Labour briefing, having a go at any Lib Dem spending plan and constantly sharpening his sword to lead the New Labour middle classes against those terribly leftwing Lib Dems.

Now, far from spending his energy on referring to his beloved New Labour government, he spends considerable amounts of time attacking us in council meetings for referring to the Blair/Brown years. Martin, like so many in Labour, wants everyone to believe that none of the current problems are anything to do with them. For Labour, all our economic woes are the fault of the Coalition. We should not be blaming Labour, so the likes of Martin claim. Indeed, at the last Council meeting earlier this month, we had a long rant from Martin in which he moaned about previous governments being blamed for too long by their successors for the problems they have to deal with.

Given that the deficit started under Labour and is one of the key issues being tackled by the Coalition, (indeed we are tackling it “too far and too fast”, according to Labour) it seems that historical facts are getting in the way of Labour’s absurd claim that no current problem is anything to do with them.

As for Martin himself, he is one of the Labour councillors for whom I have quite a bit of time. I enjoy the conversations we have together, even when he is likely to have a different opinion sometime in the near future on the subject about which we happen to be talking. He has however a great deal of historical baggage. Cheerleader for the militantly left in the 1980s and early 90s, then cheerleader of New Labour from 1994 to 2010. Pack that lot into a suitcase and he’d be well over the baggage limit to get his political career airborne. Given the swing to the left in Labour, a New Labour history is not something an aspiring "socialist" like Martin really wants highlighting. This may say something about Martin's views on the use of recent history in council debates.

So, for Martin's sake, I will avoid too many mentions of his days as the Champion of New Labour in Gateshead. I'd hardly want to wreck his standing with his group by doing so! And I will avoid any further praise for him as well. Positive mentions from me will hardly endear him to the tribal ranks of Labour. Indeed, any compliments by me about any Labour councillors in Gateshead are likely to be seen as the kiss of death by the Comrades of the Definitely-Not-New Labour Party.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Twisting and turning as Labour Councillor praises money speculator

Labour on Gateshead Council decided at the last Council meeting to move a motion calling for a financial transaction tax. It wasn't directly relevant to Gateshead and I suspect that some of the motivation for bringing it forward was more to do with profile raising in the Labour group (as it was with the other motions debated at the same meeting) rather than actually achieving any change in tax policy. We have picked up rumours of mutterings about the Labour group leadership. We hear of certain individuals who would be interested in filling the shoes of the Council Leader, were he to be accidentally run over by a vote of no confidence by the Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Socialist Revolution. But more about that on another day.

Mover of the motion was Cllr Liz Twist. Given that Labour in Gateshead blame the Lib Dems in government for every economic problem, especially the ones that started with them, it was refreshing to hear Cllr Twist blame instead the banks for the current problems. But then she started heaping praise on George Soros, the speculator who sparked Britain's collapse out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992, and who made a fortune out of the UK's troubles. Cllr Twist was lavish with her praise for Soros and his support for a financial transactions tax.

Cllr Twist was an interesting choice to be Labour's self appointed expert on international finance. Her job in the office of David Anderson MP presumably gives her a great insight into the workings of the City and the activities of financiers. To be fair to Cllr Twist, I didn’t have a problem with what she said until she started praising Soros. And then it was downhill. Out popped the usual attacks on the Coalition. Apparently, the Lib Dems are standing in the way of a financial transactions tax.

Cllr Twist then resumed her seat and the debate began. Ron Beadle led for the Lib Dems, pointing out that she had failed to mention Gordon Brown (increasingly airbrushed out of history by Labour) had opposed such a tax when he was so brilliantly leading Labour and the economy to ruin. I couldn’t let the praise heaped on Soros go without comment. So in my contribution I remarked that I was surprised that Cllr Twist should want to use Soros as a hero of fair taxation, given how he had profited so greatly from his speculative activities. And Cllr Twist’s response to me in her summing up: “All I have to say to Cllr Wallace is that it takes one to know one.” There were stunned looks and sharp intakes of breath on our benches (and I suspect on Labour’s as well).

I took her to one side at the end of the meeting and asked her what she meant by her comment. She claimed it did not mean anything. I pointed out the difficulty of accepting that as the man she had likened me to was a speculator who benefitted from the misery of the nation and that she was describing me as the same as him. She continued to deny this and claimed what she said had come out wrong and she didn't mean anything by it.

Having given some thought to this, I have decided to take her at her word: what she says is meaningless. I shall remember that if she is ever to make another speech in Council.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

At the North East Lib Dem Conference

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 13 3

I attended the North East Lib Dem regional conference in Newcastle today. A good speech by Ian Wrigglesworth, recently ennobled, who talked about the need to raise aspiration in the North East. There was interesting praise for Ed Miliband on his decision to reform trade union funding (no doubt the local Labour dinosaurs will not be sharing in the praise). Ian also talked about how it would be nuts for the UK to leave the EU. Speculation about our future in Europe is damaging for business investment.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 13 2
Other speakers included someone from Membership Dept in HQ talking about why our membership increased in the 3rd quarter. There was also a Parliamentary panel discussion focused on jobs with Lord Shipley, Ian Swales MP, Baroness Diana Maddock, Fiona Hall MEP, Angelika Schneider (prospective Euro candidate) and Alan Beith MP.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 13 4   North East Lib Dem conference Nov 13 5   It was also Fiona Hall's last regional conference as MEP She retires at the next election so she was presented with flowers as a thank you from the region.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Whickham Remembrance Day Parade and Service

Whickham Remembrance Day November 2012 (6)

I attended the Whickham Remembrance Day parade this morning. My ward colleague Cllr John McClurey laid the wreath on behalf of residents of our Whickham South and Sunniside ward. A full set of our photos of the parade can be seen on this link.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Labour liked my amendment so much they decided to vote against it

Labour in Gateshead occupies a strange little world. If it's not proposed by them, they will vote against it, no matter how good an idea. It's petty, it's silly, it's completely unnecessary. But it's Labour to the core in Gateshead.

An interesting example of this can be found in the machinations of Thursday's council meeting. Labour's Paul Foy moved a motion calling for restrictions on payday loan companies. It heaped praise on Ed Miliband for his call for a levy on such lenders to support credit unions and poured venom on the Coalition for failing to tackle the issue. The motion called for a block on adverttising by payday lenders on council property and the chief exec to write to a few people about what Gateshead has done.

None of this was particularly objectionable. I class myself as an economic liberal but I don't believe that living beyond your means is something that fits that ideology. So I am quite happy to back calls for restrictions on the activities of any lender that engages in irresponsible and unsustainable lending. After all, the failure to apply restrictions over the past few decades led to the banking collapse and those who lived within their means and put money aside have been amongst the hardest hit by the measures to restore the economy. That's not particularly liberal and but has been rather uneconomic for the people who did the right thing.

Yet Labour's motion lacked something. Firstly it tried simply to blame the Coalition for doing nothing to restrict payday lending  (somewhat unfairly as regulation has been tightened) and ignored completely the failure of the last Labour Government to tackle unsustanable lending for consumption. Indeed, there was a proliferation of such lending under Blair and Brown and they ignored all the warning signals. And secondly, it made no call on the government to do anything that would seriously tackle the problem.

So, my amendment added just a couple of words to the section attacking the Coalition by extending the attack to the previous government as well. And at the end, I added a paragraph calling for the restrictions placed on advertising tobacco and sponsorship by tobacco companies to be applied to payday lenders.

I usefully discovered a set of Early Day Motions from the 2005-10 Parliament which criticise the then Labour governments for failing to cap interest rates. All of them had been signed by Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson. And I also found a Parliamentary Question from Mr Anderson in 2009 asking when the then Labour government would cap interest rates. The answer was that this was a commercial matter for the lender - in other words, Labour in government were not going to intervene. The fact these EMDs and questions existed proved that the last Labour government did nothing. The problem was as real then as it is now.

And so to Labour's response to this. Cllr Foy - who just happens to work for Mr Anderson - announced he liked the call regarding advertising and sponsorship. He liked it so much that he was going to vote against it! Why? Because we were being "party political" by attacking the former Labour government. We were "trying to deflect attention" from the failure of the Coalition to tackle this issue, presumably by pointing to the failure of his own beloved New Labour government to do anything. This is all the more odd because our amendment took the party politics out of the motion by being equally critical of the Coalition and Labour. But the Brothers and Sisiters of the Order of Sanctimonious Socialism were having none of this. Every one of them voted against my proposal, even though their spokesman had said it was a good idea he wanted take forward.

The small-minded world of Labour in Gateshead. Petty, purile and silly. Opposition for opposition sake. Perhaps I should move a motion at the next full council meeting praising Miliband for adopting the Lib Dem mansion tax. That would really stump them in Gateshead!