Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Asking for a devolution update

Full Council in Gateshead last week: I asked Martin Gannon, leader of the Council, for an update on devolution to the North East. Our region entered negotiations through the all-Labour North East Combined Authority with the Government for a devolution package. Labour mishandled the whole issue and frankly they have been a shambles. The plans collapsed and Labour in the region are split over the issue with the three authorities north of the Tyne threatening to go their own way. In Gateshead, I moved a Lib Dem motion in September calling for a constitutional convention to be set up to take forward proposals that would be acceptable to the region and the Government. The Labour group accepted the proposals. Martin has raised the convention proposal with other Labour council leaders in the NECA area but we are awaiting news on responses. Hence my question at Council on 15th December.

There wasn't much light thrown on the issue but Martin did reveal that the business community is pressing for a meeting to move ahead with devolution.

This issue is now quite pressing as many other regions are going ahead with devolution. Thanks to the shambolic North East Labour Party, our region has been left, not in the slow lane, but the no lane.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Gateshead Lib Dem pint (and buffet)

Old Fox pub Dec 16 (2)

Gateshead Lib Dems had another Lib Dem pint event last night. This one was held in the Old Fox pub in Felling and also had a buffet. A good time had by all. I rather liked the pub - it had a real fire, not one of those fake gas things.

Old Fox pub Dec 16 (1)

Printing Birtley Focus

Birtley Focus Dec 16 (6)

I had a trip to the Lib Dem office in Consett on Tuesday to print the back of our next Birtley Focus. This morning I returned to print the front and fold it, just in time to get home and get changed to go to the full Council meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre.

The Focus leads on proposals to improve the A1 between the Coalhouse junction and Birtley. Also included is a bit about the council budget and my selection as candidate for Blaydon. The constituency currently includes Birtley though that looks set to change if the proposed boundary changes go ahead.

Paul Elliott, who is leading the Lib Dem team in Birtley, collected the Focuses from me this evening. Circulation will be underway shortly.

Birtley Focus Dec 16 (3)

Birtley Focus Dec 16 (7)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Challenging Gateshead Council on equality

This morning at Gateshead Council Cabinet I raised concerns about the equality implications on changes to terms and conditions for essential car user allowance. The report to cabinet showed that 75% of the staff affected are women but the equalities impact assessment said no groups would be impacted. In this video. I raise my concerns. I've also included the responses of the officer and leader of the council, Martin Gannon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gateshead Lib Dem Christmas Dinner

Stone Trough Gateshead Dec 16 (7)

On Saturday, Gateshead Lib Dems held their Christmas dinner at the Stone Trough in Low Fell. A good time had by all. Sadly for Cllr Peter Maughan, he was unable to attend so I was forced to have 2 dinners! Waste not, want not.

Stone Trough Gateshead Dec 16 (6)

Stone Trough Gateshead Dec 16 (1)

Stone Trough Gateshead Dec 16 (3)

Sunniside History Society's Christmas buffet

Sunniside History Society buffet Dec 16 2

Last Tuesday, Sunniside History Society held its Christmas buffet. I have attended most of the society's meetings this year and was closely involved with the Fugar/Washingwell Hidden History project. So there was plenty to celebrate last week. Alas, though I won one of the raffle prizes, it was a box of Liquorice Allsorts, which I hate! I gave them to David.

Sunniside History Society buffet Dec 16 1

liquorice allsorts Dec 16

Friday, December 09, 2016

Dunston lights switch on

Dunston Christmas lights switch on Dec 16 (6)

On Wednesday, another local Christmas lights switch-on took place, this time in Dunston. I was there to snap a few photos (with Councillors Peter Maughan and Sonya Hawkins). Well done to all involved.

Dunston Christmas lights switch on Dec 16 (8)

Swalwell lights switch on

New, improved, modern Santa visited Swalwell on Tuesday by trailer towed by a Volvo rather than in that old-fashioned sleigh. Congratulations to everyone who helped arrange the Christmas lights switch-on or helped at the event. This is the video I made. And below, a few photos.

Swalwell Christmas lights switch on Dec 16 (11)

Swalwell Christmas lights switch on Dec 16 (1)

Swalwell Christmas lights switch on Dec 16 (7)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Local economies and local currencies: self-sufficiency in Gateshead

I'm just back from a meeting of Gateshead Council's advisory committee looking at commissioning and procurement. The video is of my contribution in which I talked about how a local currency could keep more wealth in Gateshead and avoid it seeping out to centres of power and finance. I used my knowledge of history and my experience of self-sufficiency to illustrate how a local currency could work. I suspect the Council may return to this issue at some point.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Jack Charlton in Sunniside

Jack Charlton at Simply Local Sunniside Dec 16

On Saturday, my home village of Sunniside had a famous visitor. Jack Charlton of England's 1966 World Cup winning team, was a guest at the Christmas market at the Simply Local shop. Great to meet an English footballer who was a member of a team that actually won something, and did so without the fat cat football salaries of the 21st century.

Firebrick Brewery visits Simply Local Dec 16 2

Also at the fair was Alistair Lawrence who runs the Firebrick Brewery in Blaydon. Alistair and I went to Whickham School together over 30 years ago.

Spotless at Simply Local Dec 16 1

Meanwhile, Andy Singh, who runs Simply Local, was keen to have a visit from one of my goats. So we took round Spotless, our billy, who feasted on carrots kindly provided by Andy's mum!

Spotless at Simply Local Dec 16 4

Saturday, December 03, 2016

There's still a long way to go

Wetherspoon's breakfast Dec 16

I didn't expect to stay up into the early hours of Friday morning to watch the Richmond by-election result live. I decided to watch a bit of the coverage at midnight to get an indication of how things were going and then go to bed. But then I saw Sky News interview Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael who wasn't giving too much away verbally but whose smile suggested we were doing well. I decided to stay up until 1am. By then, the indications were that we could win. I decided therefore to stay up for the final result. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a fantastic result and it has been a great boost to the party in terms of profile and morale. We also won on a clear platform of being pro-Europe. In that sense, we have a result that is arguably different to previous Lib Dem by-election gains (it's a decade since we have had one). The key formula then was to hoover up protest votes in by-elections. (And before my legions of local Labour readers start sneering about that, let me just remind them that their own party employs exactly the same technique.) This time we are fighting on a clear, positive policy position. It may not be the policy supported by the majority of people and our message to hardline Brexiteers will be rejected by them, but the 48% who voted to remain now have a voice that will put the case for soft Brexit and continued cooperation with Europe.

One of the interesting suggestions from the Richmond result is that the Conservative Remain vote had collapsed. Without a strong Lib Dem presence on the political landscape, that vote has no home. Our job now is to rebuild that presence and win over the Soft Brexit voters from the Conservatives and Labour (who now seem to be totally at a loss on the Brexit issue). It is still a long road ahead of us, but the Richmond result has put a spring in our steps.

On Friday morning I went down to Whickham for a slap up celebratory breakfast at Wetherspoons. Walking along Whickham Front Street, I was stopped by 4 different people who wanted to chat to me. I got questioned about my Dad's recent operation, comments were made about my elder brother moving back to Whickham, I discovered a tv presenter friend had split up with his long time partner and, inevitably, I was quizzed about how the world of self-sufficiency is going. Alas, no one mentioned Richmond. As I said earlier, there is still a long road ahead of us.

(Photo: large, traditional breakfast from the Harry Clasper in Whickham.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whickham Christmas lights switch-on

The Christmas lights were switched on in Whickham by the Metro Gnomes. The event was organised by Lighting Up Whickham. Hundreds turned up for the event.

Museums at Cabinet

The title is not a reference to Labour! While Labour may be doing everything under Comrade Corbyn to consign themselves to being an exhibit in the Museum of the Self-Destructed and Deluded, this post is actually about the museums service in Tyne and Wear. I am one of Gateshead's three representatives on the joint committee that runs Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The committee is now to be abolished and the functions will be transferred to a board which will have no opposition members on it. Instead, there will be one representative from each council who will be the relevant cabinet portfolio holder. I've raised my concerns about this at a previous TWAM meeting but yesterday, at Cabinet, the report on the change over was considered.

I actually have no objections to the change to an executive board. TWAM need to increase their income from non-council sources and rely less on contributions from local councils. The new board will help to achieve that. The problem comes with the elimination of non-Labour voices. There are many of us who are not in the Labour party who can and do make a contribution to the running of the service. For example, I have advised officers on how to produce video material and gain an income from it (I am a YouTube partner and earn a modest income from advertising revenue). I warned at cabinet yesterday that the new arrangements will mean a reduced gene pool of  experience and expertise that could be brought to TWAM by restricting the political input to Labour only. I also said there needs to be a role for scrutiny that seems to be missing from the proposals. I suggested the council's corporate resources scrutiny committee takes on that function. I also suggested that the reports on the various establishments managed by TWAM which currently are reported to the joint committee are sent to all councillors.

To be fair to Gateshead Labour leader Martin Gannon, he was open to the proposals I had put forward and said that there would be a review in a year that could consider the issue of opposition representation. Sadly however I will have to cut my ties with TWAM in May next year when the joint committee is abolished.

Swalwell Quiz NIght

Poacher's Pocket quiz night Nov 16 (2)

I went to the pub quiz at the Poacher's Pocket in Swalwell on Monday night. The event was to raise funds for the memorial bench in Swalwell Park to Kaitlin Tremlett and Jennifer Fradgley who died in a road accident in August. Our team was called Pinkies, after one of my goats, and by the last round we were in 1st place....until the marks for the picture round came in. Alas, we finished 3rd though we did win various bonus prizes. David won the Christmas round.

Poacher's Pocket quiz night Nov 16 (1)

This was the picture round that sank us.

Lifting the lid on Sunderland

Niall Hodson and Jonathan Wallace Nov 16

Gateshead East branch had their AGM and annual lunch on Saturday. I'm not a member of the branch but I went along as Lib Dem leader of the opposition in Gateshead to give a report. The guest speaker was Niall Hodson who was elected as our first councillor in Sunderland since 2012. Niall had a barnstorming campaign in the run up to May and I visited the ward he won, Millfield, to help push him past the winning post. He won with over 60% of the vote.

Labour were not pleased and it seems, from Niall's speech, that the worst one-party state, authoritarian, bullying, silence-the-opposition traits have been to the fore in the Labour party since Niall's victory. Anyone who considers Labour a "progressive" party should pause for thought and take a look at Labour in Sunderland. They have a huge majority on the council and that control is not currently under threat though individual Labour held seats are. This is a council that needs a strong opposition. That doesn't come from the Conservatives in Sunderland but it is a good possibility that the role of opposition can be claimed by the Lib Dems in the borough over the next few years. It is clearly the case that Niall's team are not expecting to stop with just one seat in Millfield. They are clearly interested in expanding further.

Swalwell Christmas Fayre

Swalwell Christmas fayre Nov 16

Saturday morning was tightly packed with events for me to attend. After the red kite coffee morning in Whickham, I headed down to Swalwell Community Centre for the Christmas Fayre. Cake purchasing is a requirement, as is buying tombola tickets. This turned out to be a lucky purchase - I won 2 prizes - all chocolate!

winnings Nov 16

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Red kite coffee morning

Red kite coffee morning Nov 16 1

A constituent called at my house last week to invite me to the red kite coffee morning on Saturday at Fellside Methodist Hall. The red kites were reintroduced into the Derwent Valley over a decade ago and have now become established in the area. I sometimes see them flying over Sunniside. So I decided to call in to the coffee morning. It was packed. And the quantity of cakes would easily put Greggs to shame.

This was a useful visit. I got a useful briefing on the population of red kites in the area. Alas, I couldn't stay long. I was due in Swalwell for the community centre's Christmas fayre.

Red kite coffee morning Nov 16 2

Whickham lights switch-on

Poster Version 6 re Xmas Tree Switch on - 2016-page-0

I am just about to head down to Whickham for the switching on of the Christmas tree lights at Church Green. The event has been organised by Lighting Up Whickham who raised the funds for the tree and lights. Joining us for the switch-on are the Metro Gnomes - see photo below (taken at the Swalwell Community Centre Christmas Fayre on Saturday).

Metro Gnome Nov 16

Honorary aldermen

alderman ceremony Nov 16

As leader of the opposition in Gateshead, it fell to me to second the appointment of six honorary aldermen last Friday. The 6 were Brian Coates, John Hamilton, Yvonne McNicol, Ian Mearns MP, Joe Mitchinson and Pat Ronan. I calculated that between them they had jointly served 114 years as councillors. The honorary role is for former members of the council who have served 2 full terms and have given outstanding service to the authority. So, congratulations to the 6 new aldermen, and thank you for the 114 years of service you gave Gateshead.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Having my cake

Sunniside Club Christmas Fayre Nov 16 1

Sunniside Social Club held a Christmas Fayre yesterday. I decided to call in to have a look around but also to buy cakes. I found the cake stall, parted with my cash and ate the cakes when I got home (with help from David!)

Sunniside Club Christmas Fayre Nov 16 2

Jam today (again)

Lighting Up Whickham coffee morning Nov 16 2

On Saturday morning, Lighting Up Whickham held a coffee morning to raise money towards the village's Christmas tree. I was invited to have a table to sell my homemade jams. There was a reasonable flow of people into the library where we were holding the event. For me it was more like my councillor surgery as people spotted me and used the opportunity to raise local issues with me!

Hopefully, the coffee morning will become a regular event.

Lighting Up Whickham coffee morning Nov 16 1

Friday, November 18, 2016

Whickham eFocus 103

The latest edition of our email newsletter for the Whickham area, eFocus, was finished this evening and I sent it out to the 1500 people on the circulation list. It leads with the video of Sunday's Remembrance Day parade. Also included is the proposal to sell part of Chase Park, the Council budget, Derwentside in Swalwell to be converted to flats, deep clean at local swimming pools and various local events.

You can read it on this link.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rained on in Ryton

Ryton Riverside Nov 16

On Sunday afternoon, after attending the Remembrance Day Parade in Whickham, I headed down to Ryton to do a bit of campaigning. Alas, the rain came with me. I got rather wet on the new Riverside estate but at least I was able to have a look around one of the biggest recent new housing developments in Blaydon constituency.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Jam today

Jam on sale Nov 16

My self-sufficiency activities led to an interesting invitation last week: would I like to have a stall at Lib Dem regional conference on Saturday to sell my homemade jams? I took up the offer. A quite pleasing number of sales took place. Alas, the income was somewhat dwarfed by the vet bill I had on Friday when I had to call out a livestock vet for one of my goats, Pinkie. She had eaten something that disagreed with her. Fortunately she recovered quickly, unlike my bank balance!

Tim Farron's speech to North East Conference

Tim Farron MP was the guest speaker at the North East Lib Dem conference on Saturday in Gateshead. Most of the speech is covered in this video though annoyingly, the final few minutes were not captured as my camera decided the memory card was full (despite 800MB space left to use up).

Award for Frank at Gateshead Conference

My predecessor as Gateshead Council Group Leader, Frank Hindle, was awarded the Regional President's Award at North East Lib Dem Conference held in the Jurys Inn, Gateshead Quays, on Saturday. Well done Frank! He has put in a huge amount of work over the years for the party, not just as a councillor and group leader, but also as a Parliamentary candidate, agent in the European elections and more recently as our lead person co-ordinating the Lib Dem responses in the North East to the Boundary Commission's review of Parliamentary constituencies.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (16)

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (19)

The awards were presented by Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron MP. Wearside won the Alisdair Wardlow Cup following their spectacular gain of Millfield from Labour in this year's local elections.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (24)

And the winner of the Frances Foote Wood Award, for an individual who has put in effort well beyond the call of duty, went to Meg Crosby, from Sunderland.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (5)

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (3)

On Friday evening, Lighting Up Whickham held a race night at the Crown pub. As the only person in the organising group with a food handling certificate, I was tasked with being head chef for the evening. It was hardly an onerous task - reheating the pies, pasties and mushy peas. My catering pans and meat thermometers proved very useful on the evening.

I started the evening on a winning streak, betting successfully on the first 2 races. It was downhill after that as I blew my winnings on failed bets that helped boost the profit on the evening to £600, a great sum that will ensure Whickham village continues to have a Christmas tree.

I'm pleased to announce that my winning streak returned at the end of the evening. I won a bottle of prosecco, generously donated by Cllr Sonya Hawkins.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (1)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Whickham Remembrance Day - the video

The Whickham Remembrance Day parade and service went ahead today. This video covers parade, the readings by local children and the laying of wreaths by over 40 organisations.

Photos from today's Remembrance Day Parade and Service

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 16

I attended the Remembrance Day service and parade in Whickham this morning and laid a wreath on behalf of my constituents. You can see photos of the event on the photo link above.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The irony of timing

Berlin Wall Aug 13 6

I don't know if history is attempting to cheer us up with a sense of irony but yesterday was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the same day, it was announced that the wall-building Donald Trump had been elected US President. Whether or not the Trump wall will ever be built is a moot point and were it to go ahead, quite how he gets the Mexicans to pay for it is not explained. I suspect that even if work starts on it, Trump's Maginot Line will never be finished.

Meanwhile, I hear of interest among Americans in emigrating to countries such as Canada and New Zealand is soaring. Let's hope those countries don't follow Trump's example and start building walls - to keep the Americans out.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

We need Europe now more than ever before

There may be some in the crazy world of the Brotherhood of Brexit who believe a stronger link with the USA is vastly more important than good relations with the EU. The result of the US Presidential election should make us all stop to consider the consequences. Trump is a protectionist, which rather contradicts the assertion of Brexiteers that free trade treaties outside the EU are just waiting to be signed.

Secondly, Trump is a climate change denier, as are so many in the Brexit camp. International environmental treaties are likely to be put through the Trump shredder early in his Presidency. Environmental protection in recent decades is one of the great success stories of the EU and anyone who cares about the need to pass on a world that has not been wrecked by pollution needs the EU more than ever before.

Any finally, President Putin welcomes the success of Trump. It's hardly surprising that he was among the first to congratulate him. The Baltic States and parts of the Ukraine are in his sights and Trump has already suggested he will not necessarily support NATO (and EU) members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia if Russia attempts a land grab. If a Trump USA cannot be relied on to defend free democratic nations, the EU needs to be more united.

So the election of Trump shows we need Europe more than ever before but sadly, without us due to the Brexit vote. Instead, we will simply be bobbing along in Europe's wake, stuck in a special relationship led by a misogynist, racist, climate-change-denier over whom we will have virtually no control. How the hell did we ever get into this mess?

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Please let it be Hillary

New York Trump Tower Aug 15 (4)

I was in the US last year when the first tv debates were held for the Republican candidates. Even with 16 would-be presidents were battling it out, Trump dominated the stage. That says a great deal about the quality of the "establishment" candidates though few at the time believed Trump would triumph over the Republican field. And when I went to New York, we saw many demonstrations against Trump outside Trump Tower. Divisiveness is, after all, his defining feature.

I'm now doing something I haven't done since 2008 - sitting up to watch the US election results come in. The last time I did this was when Barack Obama was first elected. We were in Amsterdam at the time but tonight I'm back home in Gateshead. It feels we are at something of a crossroads. Americans could elect a racist mysogynist whose rhetoric chimes horribly with the far right. Or they can elect someone from the progressive centre. Though Hillary Clinton is far from perfect, she is head and shoulders above Trump.

So let's hope enough Americans do what we need them to do, vote for Hillary and reject Trump.

New York Trump demonstration Aug 15 (9)

New York Trump demonstration Aug 15 (7)

Monday, November 07, 2016

Planting up Whickham's flowerbeds

I was in Whickham yesterday, with volunteers from Planting Up Whickham, to plant the flowerbeds on Church Green. All the beds there were done but the rain put an end to plans to plant up other flowerbeds in Whickham. They will be done later this week.

Jonathan Wallace Church Green Nov 16

Above: me in my Sunday best, ready to get my hands dirty.

Planting Up Whickham lunch Nov 16

Good lunch at the church hall for the volunteers.