Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Counting my chickens

One of my hens went missing three weeks ago. She reappeared today, accompanied by three chicks! So whilst I am not in the habit of counting my chickens before they have hatched - especially in the world of politics - at least with my poultry I can count the chickens after they have hatched!

St George at Marley Hill

We had a belated St George's Day celebration on Saturday at the Marley Hill Community Pub. Okay, it wasn't anything spectacular. We just had a few flags up, but it was a bit of fun for ordinary people to reclaim a flag too often hijacked by a tiny minority on the Right. The flag after all belongs to the whole nation.

How soft is Labour's vote?

In Blaydon constituency we have been canvassing people who last voted in 2010. When we started this exercise a few months ago, we found that the Lib Dems in this group were still likely to vote for us in the local elections but less likely to do so in the Parliamentary vote. This was expected. We have known here for decades that lots of people vote for us in the locals but are less likely to do so in general elections. The proof of that is that our local election vote always out performs our general vote. In the past couple of weeks however, we have picked up on some developing trends. Firstly, the proportion of people saying they are voting Lib Dem locally and nationally has increased. Secondly, the Labour vote has not firmed up. Instead, it is softening. A modest proportion of it is voting Lib Dem in the locals and reluctantly for Labour in the general. Some Labour general election vote is now starting to show up in the UKIP column.

I suspect some of those wavering between UKIP and Labour will revert back to Labour by the time polling day arrives (the group I am discussin includes no postal voters). The health warning about this canvass is that it is of people who have not voted for 5 years and therefore are disengaged from politics or rank local politics of lesser importance (or a combination of the 2).

Lots of old certainties have gone. Interesting times ahead.

Rowlands Gill public meeting

The 2nd and final public hustings meeting of the general election campaign in Blaydon took place at the Methodist Church Hall on Strathmore Road, Rowlands Gill, on Friday last week. There were two significant differences between this event and the hustings held in Birtley the week before. Firstly, the Green candidate Paul McNally attended. He was absent from the one at Birtley. Secondly, there was a much bigger audience and it was predominantly members of the public rather than Labour councillors. The UKIP candidate was yet again absent. So far there has been neither sight nor sound of him at all in the campaign.

There were no surprises and all the candidates gave a creditable performance. Conservative Alison Griffiths again suggested she was the "better looking" candidate. Labour's Dave Anderson wanted all zero hours contracts banned, a move that will no doubt solve the problem of having to go to work by making people redundant. The Green's Paul McNally offered to spend gargantuan sums of money on everything. And I got in my line about being born just after the first broadcast of Dr Who!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Taking the Green biscuit

We held our monthly street surgery at Whickham on Saturday in the morning. Afterwards I visited the St Mary's Church coffee morning (lots of people clutching completed postal votes and telling me they had voted for me!) and then went to Dunston for some canvassing (yet again lots of people interested in my self-sufficient good life.)

Then back to Whickham for lunch at Wetherspoons. We knew the Greens were going to have a street stall there (I don't just have sources in the Labour Party!) so we went out of our way to visit them. They were looking rather lonely. Had they done their homework, they would have realised that Saturday afternoons on St Mary's Green are not the busiest of times. They were a friendly enough bunch and had a number of leaflets offering to spend gargantuan sums of money on just about anything going. They even asked me how my goats are. In terms of lifestyle, I can of course out green any Green candidate who cares to stand against me. I did however persuade them to part with a chocolate biscuit though such generosity would not convert me to their economically unsustainable cause. If people are voting on environmental issues in Blaydon constituency they may wish to consider the following: I led numerous campaigns against opencast mining here, the Greens were nowhere to be seen; Lib Dems led the battle against landfill in the constituency, the Greens were nowhere to be seen; I'm directly involved with running environmental projects in the Whickham area and yes, you guessed it, the Greens were nowhere to be seen.

Lunch then followed in the Harry Clasper, the former Whickham Council Offices, now a Wetherspoons pub. Burger and chips. Not very self-sufficient admittedly.

Stairway to victory

I delivered some letters on Fellside Park last week. Much of the estate is in my council ward and I was greeted by thumbs ups and waves through windows from voters. In the blistering heat of the day however, getting around the estate was a challenge. It is built on a steep slope. The best way to get around was to use the long flight of steps at the end of Sunnidale. Good exercise, bad for the state of my shoes which are now rather worn out!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Campaign injuries

My hands have not fared well with letter boxes in recent weeks. I have had numerous knuckles repeatedly bloodied as letter boxes chew up my fingers whilst putting leaflets through. I look forward to the day when we either have everyone's email addresses or a robot can deliver leaflets for us!

Not all injuries in the photo were campaign caused. The scar on my thumb was the result of chopping firewood.

Fuel for the campaign

We don't normally have chocolate in our house. After all, it's not something we can grow! But a couple of weeks ago, we let ourselves go and bought a pile of chocolate biscuits. This is fuel for the campaign. Sadly, it's all gone now. No more until our next sweet ration coupons come through!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

2 weeks today and it's all over

Hooray! Just 2 weeks to go and its all over bar the counting and shouting. Here in Gateshead the postal votes arrived today so we did a local election knock up this evening of supporters, soft Cons, soft Labour and Ukippers. Those who had indicated some kind of UKIP leaning in the past were quite interesting. They now seem to be plumping for us locally and UKIP nationally. Just as interesting was the soft Labour vote. Some of it has gone to UKIP in the Parliamentary election. Some of it has come to us locally. Some of it has firmed up for Labour, though is smaller amounts that I would have expected.

Tomorrow is the second and last hustings meeting of the Blaydon campaign. It will be held in Rowlands Gill. It will be interesting to see if the UKIP and Green candidates turn up. They were absent from the hustings in Birtley last month.

Two weeks from now we should be in the Blaydon count. And as soon as that's over, we go straight into the local election count. It will be a long night.

More deliveries

With the postal votes arriving this week, we've been out delivering letters and leaflets to those whose voting papers are now dropping through letter boxes. For the past 4 days, I've built up quite a sun tan in Ryton, Whickham, Sunniside and Dunston. In the picture above are letters and Focuses for my constituents in Whickham South and Sunniside.

Apart from one patch on Fellside Park which I am about to do now, the job is done.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Not quite snouts in a trough

A bit of light relief from the election campaign. Politicians are viewed by some as having snouts in troughs. Pinkie, one of my goats, yesterday demonstrated this with a bucket. She was of course stealing the other goats' food. Or so she thought. Sadly for her, the bucket was empty.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Labour throws in towel in Low Fell

There was an interesting article in the Newcastle Chronicle today about the battles taking place in the local elections in Gateshead. Martin Gannon, deputy leader of Gateshead Council, and the Rainbow Warrior of Lost Labour Causes, admits that Labour are unlikely to win Low Fell, a ward the Lib Dems are defending in the May local elections.

Low Fell used to be Conservative but was an area that Labour felt belonged to them by right. The Conservatives lost the seat they were defending in poll tax year to Labour - 1990. The following year, the Tories lost to the Lib Dems. In 1992, the Tories held on. In the next local election, in 1994, Labour lost to the Lib Dems and we have won ever since. The Conservatives have more or less given up but Labour still think they are in with a chance. Martin Gannon is rolled out every year to give the same prediction - Labour will win. And just as consistently, Labour have lost.

So Martin's admission this year differs from his usual mouth-opening-for-insertion-of-foot routine. "It's a significantly difficult seat for us to win," Martin told the Chronicle.

For good measure however, he has predicted Labour will win my seat in Whickham South and Sunniside. Labour have never held it before, and in my 28 years as councillor, they have never once put up a serious candidate with a serious campaign. Last year Labour were 900 behind us and were in danger of dropping to 3rd place. This year, Labour have had to rely on delivery companies to get their literature through doors. They have done zilch in the ward since the last elections. I'm not complacent and we are fighting my ward hard, but Martin's brash, arrogant claim that Labour somehow have my ward in the bag is, to say the least, wishful thinking.

If he is right, the smug, Blairite grin that so readily adorns Martin's face will continue to remain in place. If however Martin is wrong, we are already considering which cleaning utensils to apply to wipe his smug mug clean. So stay tuned for the next, thrilling adventure of Gateshead Goes to the Polls, or rather, come back on 8th May and I'll tell you the result in Whickham South and Sunniside!

Catching the sun in Ryton

Off to Ryton in the west of Blaydon constituency for a bit of campaigning and letter delivery this morning. A beautifully sunny day. I'm feeling a bit frazzled as a result. Cllr John McClurey was with me and he brought Coco, his labrador. At least he was able to have a drink of water from a bowl.

The humans had to wait until they were back home!

When mass email campaigns go wrong!

Like most other Parliamentary candidates, I've been receiving lots of emails sent out as part of mass email campaigns, most of them from the 38 Degrees Mass Email Factory. People just have to go onto the campaign website, click on the message and put in their own details in the appropriate places. But sometimes it goes wrong. I've had 2 messages so far which read:

My name’s [YOUR NAME].

"I’m a member of 38 Degrees and together with other 38 Degrees members in [YOUR CONSTITUENCY], we’d like to invite you to meet us for half an hour at [TIME, DATE AND LOCATION]. We want to deliver you a huge petition calling on you to Save Our NHS if you're elected.

"As well as receiving the petition, there’ll be the opportunity to talk to local residents and take a photo with the local press.

"Will you confirm if you will attend the petition delivery at [TIME, DATE AND LOCATION]?"

I've emailed back to [YOUR NAME] in the hope they will be able to provide me with the appropriate [TIME, DATE AND LOCATION].

I await a reply.


This was the unhelpful reply I received to my email pointing out that the original information contained no information about venue, timing etc and requesting information about the event:

Dear Jonathan,
Thank you for pointing this out to me, but I am sure mine is not the only correspondence you have received on this matter?
Kindest Regards

Monday, April 20, 2015

Birtley Hustings Meeting

Last Thursday evening brought us the first hustings meeting of the Blaydon campaign. Held at the St Joseph's Catholic Club in Birtley, it is something of a tradition, having been held at every election since 1992. All 5 candidates were invited but the Greens and UKIP didn't turn up. So it was me, David Anderson (Labour) and Ali Griffiths (Conservative). It was the first time I had met her. She did claim to have a local connection - a "family connections with the area" - though she did not explain what it is. A quick internet search and all I could find was that her brother went to university in Newcastle some decades ago!

All 3 candidates performed creditably. The questions were very much as expected.

I think I won the prize for the best sun tan. Ali won the prize for the most catty remark (she was the "better looking" of the candidates). Dave won the prize for the most absurd claim (graduates won't take jobs paying over £21,000 to avoid paying back their tuition fees!)

The size of the audience was disappointing. About 20 there, 6 of whom were Labour councillors, one was the Mayoress of Gateshead and one was a Labour candidate. They were ready with their questions and I was ready with my answers.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Shifting the mountain of paper


The colour tabloid that was delivered to us earlier last week was no use to anyone sitting on my living room floor. So one of the big jobs of the past few days has been to get it through people's doors.

The copies for my ward where put into their delivery patches in my house. I had to move them all in my land rover to get them to our campaign HQ (John McClurey's house)

They were delivered today. Other wards began delivery earlier. It has cleared the decks for the next delivery, an ordinary Focus and a letter.

In fact, we are a bit ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, the envelopes for the letter delivery are now all stuffed.

It took one evening in John's house to get the job done though some wards were done in other people's homes. My ward will be delivered tomorrow (Sunday) though, again, some wards have already finished delivering their letters.

Meanwhile, some of our deliverers in Whickham South and Whickham North wards bumped into the people delivering the Labour leaflets today. And yes, they were from a commercial delivery company. I hear on the grapevine that there has been a bit of a search going on in the Labour party to find people to deliver Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward. But there are complaints about the lack of action from a couple of socialist sisters, neither of whom, I am told, have impressed their "comrades" since joining Labour.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Next leaflet arrives

Our next election leaflet arrived from the printer today. It is an 8 page full colour Focus. Delivering it is certainly going to build up the biceps! Some areas have already started to put it through doors. Most will be delivered over the next three days.

On the doormat

Waiting for me on my doormat this morning was my Blaydon freepost leaflet, kindly delivered by the Royal Mail, along with the rest of our post - a copy of Radio Times and a holiday brochure. A holiday now would be lovely. Sadly it will have to wait until after 7th May. Indeed, after May as, regardless of the outcome, we have lots to do to keep our "good life" going. Pinkie our goat is due to give birth in late May and we are starting the process of incubating eggs. And there are crops to plant. No rest for the self-sufficient.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Freepost delivered to Royal Mail

The political anoraks who read this blog will know what an election freepost is. For the real people who aren't avid politicos, it is the leaflet from a candidate that the Royal Mail delivers to each voter in the constituency during the general election campaign. Mine was printed and put into storage last week so that it could be delivered to Royal Mail today. Frank Hindle's leaflet for Gateshead constituency was delivered with mine so it was all too much for my land rover. We therefore had to hire a van to move them to Sunderland this morning.

John McClurey, Frank and I were tasked with the job of getting the freepost to the Royal Mail.

Storage was in Felling so that was our first port of call after picking up the van.

Then off to Sunderland for the hand over.

I got to keep the pallets on which the leaflets were delivered to us. Useful building material on the allotment.

Meanwhile, the freepost leaflets should be arriving through doors this week.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

eFocus on Birtley, Lamesley, Kibblesworth and Eighton Banks April 2015

We have lots of email addresses of residents in the Birtley and Lamesley wards of Gateshead as a result of our campaigning. Plenty to make it worthwhile doing an eFocus for the 2 wards. So here is our first edition.

I'm currently writing the next edition of eFocus for the Whickham area. This one will be the 95th we have done since we launched eFocus in Whickham in 2004.

Delivering in Marley Hill

I got the last of the current batch of letters and Focuses delivered today in Marley Hill, the next village up from Sunniside where I live. There I encountered Poppy the hen, wandering around in her garden. She was hatched in my incubator last year and was raised by one of my brooding hens. She went to her new home a couple of weeks ago to be company for another hen (and a rabbit). The children there named her Poppy but the next day she hopped over the fence and wandered off. This sparked a number of Facebook messages to the entire village asking for people to look out for her. I picked up the messages while sitting in a scrutiny committee meeting with the environment agency! Fortunately, Poppy, as I expected, returned to her new home after a couple of hours where her wings were promptly clipped. She looked very much at home today when I delivered a letter and Focus to her new owners.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

On the campaign trail in Dunston Hill and Whickham East

Our Dunston Hill and Whickham East team were out on the doorsteps of the Lakes Estate today. This will come as no secret to the Labour candidate who was able to watch Cllr Peter Maughan and Kevin McClurey from the comfort of his car. Sadly I wasn't there for the canvass as I was tied up on other activities. I haven't checked the canvass yet so I've no idea what the figures are though it is fair to say the Lakes Estate is a good area for us. The canvass is done using an iphone which automatically uploads all the information to our Connect database. It's a bit of an advance on the election campaign that saw me elected for the first time in 1987. We would spend a weekend chopping up electoral registers and pasting them onto canvass cards, then drawing lots of lines across the pages. Every night after canvassing we would eagerly add up all the figures and add them to the running total. The technology is somewhat more sophisticated now. The tedious scissors and paste jobs have gone. Now it's all high tech.

And along came yet another letter and Focus for delivery

I delivered some of these letters and Focuses in my village this morning. Most houses got one of a variety of letters. Meanwhile, I can report on the rare appearance of a Conservative survey though, as with Labour, they have had to resort to paying for their literature to be delivered. It arrived through my door a few days ago. It seems as though delivery companies are doing well out of both the Conservatives and Labour in the 3 Whickham wards. I can understand the Conservatives resorting to paid delivery. This is after all a weak area for them. Labour on the other hand hold this constituency and have done so for 80 years. It is interesting therefore that their organisation is so depleted that they have to privatise their leaflet delivery.

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Blaydon campaign trail video for March

A slide show about my campaign in Blaydon constituency in March. The music is the track I use for my self-sufficiency broadcasts.

Visiting the Global newsroom

I was invited today to visit the Global Newsroom on the Team Valley to have a look around and learn about the company that produces Heart FM, Classic FM, LBC and Smooth Radio. Quite a fun time. I had a few questions about how they put their programmes together, based on my somewhat more limited experience of the technology. The tour started at 8.30am but it was worth getting out of bed early to feed the livestock at 7am. A few photos:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Happy birthday Cllr McClurey

A short break from campaigning last night. My ward colleague, Cllr John McClurey, turned 60 yesterday and he had a party for family, friends and politicos at Deanos Restaurant in Whickham.

John and Councillors Sonya Hawkins and Susan Craig.

My selfie with Sonya.
Good time had by all but then we had to be back on campaigning. I got home at 10.30pm and was straight back on the laptop. I had a big election publication to finish

Green target in Gateshead?

I am reliably informed that the Greens in Gateshead are rather hopeful about their prospects in Saltwell ward in the local elections on 7th May. This is a strongly Labour area and a first glance would suggest the Greens have no chance of winning. Then consider the changing demographics and a suggestion that they could pick up some of the growing student vote there and the prospects change, though in my humble opinion not by a great deal. The Green ratings go from not-a-chance to very unlikely.

To stand a chance of winning, the Greens will need to have put in a sustained campaign in the ward over a long enough period to convert enough people to Greenery to overtake Labour. I don't have enough info from any of my sources to get a reliable picture of Green campaigning in Saltwell but if the Greens were being realistic (not a term that sits comfortably with that party), they should be looking to get a noticeable improvement in their vote this May in the hope they can build on it next year. They will also have to hope the small Green bubble doesn't burst nationally and their national leadership avoids any more brain fades. Don't hold your breath!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hen pecked

I popped down to Church Green this morning to collect the large bag of weeds pulled from the flower beds last night. I managed to drag it into the land rover and took it off to the allotment to feed the hens. They had a major feast. And it saved the council having to dispose of the weeds.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Winning by taking the biscuit

Sunniside History Society meeting tonight. I've been a member for years and have missed only a handful of the monthly meetings in that time. With the election campaign into day 8 or 9 or whatever it is, I can now announce I am a winner.......of the History Society's monthly raffle, or rather of one of the 14 prizes. A rather nice box of biscuits. No doubt I'll burn off the extra calories by delivering more Focuses!

Weeding Whickham

We had a Planting Up Whickham maintenance event this evening. Down to Church Green at 6pm to weed the flower beds. All done in an hour. Everyone piled the weeds into a large sack which is still sitting on Church Green. I'll take the land rover down tomorrow morning to collect the contents. They'll be fed to my chickens.

Another Focus delivery

After a weekend of writing Focus leaflets and celebrating the 30th birthday of Focus in the Whickham area, today we went back into the ground war determined to deliver, errrrrr, yet more Focus newsletters. My colleagues kindly gave me the largest patch in the whole of Whickham, the Watergate Estate, complete with 370 doors. I did it in an hour and a half.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Happy birthday Focus - 30 years old

We had a bit of a party today. It is now 30 years since we first produced Focus in the Whickham area. It's the only regular newsletter produced by a political party in the area and it is widely respected by residents and universally despised by the Labour party. Hardly a Gateshead Council meeting goes by without a Labour councillor making a sneering comment about Focus. That suggests to me it is working well.

We had a cake to celebrate the 30 years of Focus. Eggs from our ducks were used to make it (we have a bit of a glut of them). And a crowd of us gathered in my front garden, between my land rover and my trailer, for the photos.

Here we are with Focuses old and new. I'm holding the first edition, dating back to 1985 when we were the SDP/Liberal Alliance. Cllr Sonya Hawkins, on the left, is holding the most recent edition which has just been delivered in Whickham (I still have a patch to do). Cllr Chris Ord is holding a copy of one of his ward Focuses from 1993, the year after he was first elected. He's looking a bit younger in the photo in that edition!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Incubating Easter Eggs

It's spring and that means our incubator comes back into use. The first eggs to go in are from our quails. We started incubating them in Good Friday. They are due to hatch 2 weeks today, in time for photos of cute chicks before polling day!

Meanwhile, a friend of mine hatched some of my hen eggs last week. So here is the exclusive, never-before published photo of the cute chicks taken on my phone after I finished delivering leaflets in Sunniside yesterday.

Whickham 20mph zone proposals

The scheme put forward by Highways officers at Gateshead Council for a 20 mph blanket zone in Whickham has now been officially advertised by the placing of legal notices.

People are asking us how they can make their comments, either to object to the scheme or to support it.

We recently wrote in our Focus newsletter that these need to be made in writing to Mike Barker, Legal and Corporate Services, Gateshead MBC, NE8 1HH.

However, we now also understand that Council officers will accept comments via email – MikeBarker@Gateshead.Gov.UK

All comments must be with the Council on or before 10th April 2015.

So far, representations have been made by Ward councillors that around 70% of the people who replied to our survey are in favour of a 20 mph zone around schools but opposed to a blanket zone. We know this because we have recently carried out an extensive survey amongst Whickham residents.

Other questions that residents have asked us are:

What is the reason for introducing the scheme? – it has been proposed as part of the West Gateshead Links to Schools project. The Council’s aim is to improve the journey to school taken by pedestrians and cyclists.

How is it being paid for? – the funding is coming from the Government, from the Department of Transport.

So if you have a view on this scheme, this is your chance to make your voice heard. To make sure that your comments are included, please send in your comments as soon as possible.

Photo: me, Cllr Chris Ord and Kevin McClurey on Front Street where Gateshead Council are installing a new crossing.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Taking rubbish from the North West

Gateshead Council had a scrutiny meeting recently to consider the issue of landfill in the west of the borough. There was a major incident last month in which high winds had blown a huge amount of rubbish from one site in particular, Blaydon Quarry, into neighbouring communities. At the meeting, the Environment Agency was questioned their response to Blaydon Quarry. One member, Paul Foy, claimed that the site was taking rubbish from Manchester. I don't think anyone would want Gateshead to take rubbish, cast offs and waste from the North West, or indeed anywhere else. Sadly, we have to as Gateshead Council has given planning consent in the past to landfill and we have to live with the consequence.

My argument is that putting rubbish into holes in the ground is a completely unsustainable way to deal with waste. We should all be working to reduce the amount of waste we produce. My non-recycling waste wheelie bin is filled only once every 6 weeks. Our recycling bin is put out for collection once a month. We no longer use the garden waste collection service. All organic waste is composted. Garden waste is wherever possible fed to the livestock. Paper is shredded for bedding for the poultry. We try to turn wherever possible our rubbish into a resource. Not everyone will be able to do this to the extent we do in our household, but we can each do our bit.

It was noticeable that when I saw the Blaydon Quarry landfill site last month, much of the windblown waste caught in trees, fences and shrubs nearby was plastic carrier bags. It's great news that Lib Dems in government have taken action to tackle the plastic bag blight by placing a levy on them. But the sooner we stop using them completely, the better.

Back in Swalwell

I joined our Whickham North Councillors in Swalwell last night for a bit of campaigning. Swalwell was home to me for 15 years. We lived in Napier Road, in two Tyneside flats knocked into the one terrace house. We moved from there to Swalwell 12 years ago but we thought it useful to get a photo in the street. I'm pictured above with local Lib Dem Councillors Chris Ord, Sonya Hawkins and Peter Craig.

We then headed down to Swalwell Church to have a look at the flower beds there. I helped plant them up last year with flowers donated by local allotment holders. As you can see, the bed now needs a bit of weeding. I'm a bit tied up at the moment to do that however!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Campaigning in Lamesley

A little bit of campaigning in Lamesley ward last night. I knocked on doors of some of those who would have been affected by opencast near Birklands had the plans been agreed last year. I led the successful battle against them and people I spoke to yesterday still remember my involvement. I am launching soon our eFocus for the Lamesley and Birtley wards so last night I was able to sign up a few more people to it. More about that soon.