Friday, August 26, 2016

eFocus no. 102

I've just finished and sent out our latest eFocus for the Whickham area. This is edition 102 and covers proposals to close Whickham Library, news about the Whickham Festival, an update on the A1, the selection by local Lib Dems of a certain Jonathan Wallace as candidate for Blaydon constituency and a bit about Labour's dithering on whether or not to be in the North East devolution settlement. You can read it on this link.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Labour's shambolic dithering in Gateshead could cost residents millions

Shambolic dithering by Labour in Gateshead over their own call to declare independence from the North East could cost residents millions of pounds in lost government cash and extra bureaucracy.

Despite recent suggestions Theresa May wants to drop elected metro mayors, the Government policy remains in place and therefore the North East is due to elect a mayor next May. One of the necessary orders to set up the mayoral combined authority is due to go before Parliament in early September.

The new governance system will run transport, economic development, training and region-wide planning and, in the future, health. The mayor, working with the leaders of the constituent North East councils, would control a pot of money worth £3.4 billion.

But in March, Labour-run Gateshead refused to back the proposals, hoping they would spark the revolution that would wreck a major Government policy. But they seriously miscalculated - all 6 of the other councils in the North East voted to go ahead, leaving Gateshead isolated.

If Gateshead stays out, the people of the borough will be denied a vote to choose the mayor in May next year. Not a single penny of the money under the control of the mayor would be spent in Gateshead. The Metro is already run jointly by the 7 councils and it will mean Gateshead will have to be removed from the management of the system.

There are serious question marks over what Gateshead residents would be charged to maintain the Metro under Labour’s “independence” plans. Gateshead will have to set itself up as its own transport authority, a function that has been performed at Tyne and Wear level since 1974. This bureaucracy all comes at a price Gateshead can ill afford.

Labour are now dithering about whether or not to rejoin the other 6 councils. The all-Labour council cabinet met on 12th July but deferred the issue to 21st July when they failed again to make a decision. Another meeting was called in August, but was cancelled at the last minute and rescheduled for September.

It seems there are tensions between the realists and the revolutionaries and if this remains unresolved, the default position is that Gateshead continues as a “non-consenting authority” – in other words, we are kicked out of existing regional structures and have to go it alone.

Labour needs to stop dithering, get their act together and rejoin the other councils in the North East to be part of the new system. Going independent will cost Gateshead residents dearly. That may be great news to the Revolutionary Comrades of Corbyn, but for the people of Gateshead it will be a disaster.

And no one other than Labour in Gateshead will be to blame for the resulting chaos and mess.

Cutting back in Whickham's car park

Whickham car park Aug 16 (1)

As part of my contribution to Planting Up Whickham, 2 years ago I cleared this corner of the car park behind Whickham Library of the feral ash trees and shrubs that had taken over and were partly blocking the neighbouring path. After 2 years, the vegetation had returned. Over the weekend, I returned to cut it back again. I spotted other areas around the edge of the car park that need doing. I'll be back! In the meantime, my goats enjoyed the ash leaves.

Whickham car park Aug 16 (2)

feeding ash to goats Aug 16

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn - Labour's very own train crash

As a regular user of the East Coast rail service between the North East and London, I was a bit surprised to learn of Jeremy Corbyn's claims that he had to sit on the floor of the 11am train out of Kings Cross on 11th August, due to over-crowding. Admittedly the service is often busy, especially during the summer months. Often it is the case that there are lots of seats reserved but many are not filled when the train leaves the station as people have decided to catch another train, or sit elsewhere etc.

Nevertheless, Corbyn's rant to camera about the lack of seats and how that could be instantly resolved by nationalisation, clearly played to the view that a full train is a bad thing. For those of us who view systems in terms of their efficiency, a full train is not a bad thing. It shows that it is being used at or near its maximum capacity. Ploughing resources into moving empty train seats and coaches up and down the country is a waste of resources, just as 4 cars driving to the same destination, each containing one person, is a waste when one car could have done the job. Indeed, full trains are not only a better use of limited resources, it also shows the popularity of rail which has undergone a revival since privatisation in the early 1990s. The issue now is how to expand services to meet the increased demand, especially on services that regularly carry more passengers than their official capacity allows.

Corbyn however has created a negative news story needlessly by engaging in hamfisted spin of the sort that would have made New Labour proud. His interview this morning was nothing short of a train crash in which he demonstrated more than ever his sneering dislike of the media. Sadly for Labour, the Corbyn cultists will simply regard this as part of the big business conspiracy against Jeremy, conveniently overlooking the point that Virgin's CCTV undermined his claims about there being no available seats. The end result is that his support in the ranks of the Church of St Jeremy of the Deluded will be stronger than ever while in the real world, Labour's credibility will sink even further. From rolling stock to laughing stock......

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Recycling Whickham's weeds

weeds Aug 16 1

I received a message from Planting Up Whickham yesterday to ask me if I would pick up a dumpy bag of weeds they had just cleared from Duckpool Lane. So I went down, filled the land rover and took it up to our livestock allotment. The ducks and hens spent the evening sifting their way through it looking for bugs. Today, the ducks turned the heap into a comfortable bed until the rain arrived and they headed for cover. Recycling at its best!

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Good Life interview with the BBC

BBC Radio Newcastle interviewed my at my house and allotment on Monday about self-sufficiency and living the good life. It was broadcast on Wednesday and you can hear it on this link. The interview starts 12 minutes into the programme.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pinkie on parade at Chase Park

Chase Park Funday Aug 16 (2)

I was invited by the organisers to bring some of our animals to the Family Funday at Chase Park in Whickham yesterday. While the movement of chickens, ducks and quails to a fair is straightforward, I had to get a special permit from DEFRA to take one of our goats - and it was a goat in particular that the organisers wanted me to bring. Pinkie, our milking goat made the short journey to Chase Park and was very popular with people of all ages. She decided however that she was not going to stay in the area that was fenced off for her so we put her on a lead and one of us had to walk her around the spot where we were set up with all our poultry.

Chase Park Funday Aug 16 (4)

Chase Park Funday Aug 16 (3)

My guess is Pinkie will be invited back to future events.

Pizza in the High Spen Hop Garden

High Spen Hop Garden Aug 16 (1)

I paid a visit to the Hop Garden, a community allotment in High Spen, on Friday. They were holding a pizza evening but it was also a chance to swap some of our surplus for some of the garden's spare soft fruit. I took along 15 boxes of quail eggs for the swap. I came away with gooseberries, redcurrants and rhubarb. Good evening had by all.

High Spen Hop Garden Aug 16 (4)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gatecrashing the Rally of the Deluded: vlog no. 3 outside the Labour hustings

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn came to Gateshead for the Labour leadership hustings. I found out that the Corbyn fan club would be gathering outside the Hilton Hotel, venue for the hustings, to welcome the Beloved Leader. I decided to turn up with cameras and enjoy at close hand the Labour Party in self-destruct mode. It is, after all, the peak season for blood sports.

The BBC reporter was amused by my presence when he saw me. I assured him that I was there for the entertainment value and to get some photos and video. It was noticeable that there was not a single Smith poster, banner, leaflet or even supporter. Excluding the media, police, hotel staff and myself, everyone outside the Hilton was a Corbynista. I learnt from the BBC that Smith was entering the building via the back door! My guess is that his campaign will be leaving via the back door in September when the result is declared.

Anyway, the Beloved Leader swept in, got out of his car, got mobbed by the media and then waved to the waiting fan club. He was then ushered into the building. Outside, the Rally of the Deluded continued with a rendition of "The Red Flag" though clearly too few people knew the words to keep up a sustained singalong.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

7% turnout - hardly reaching the parts other politicians cannot reach

GMB Labour ballot Aug 16 1

GMB have gone for Owen Smith in the Labour self-destruction ballot and today, it has been announced that Unison have opted for Corbyn. Frankly, I don't give a damn who the unions back. It's their decision, to be reached by their own systems. The GMB decision however was interesting, not because of who they opted to back, but because of the tiny turnout. Despite all the protestations by the GMB that the Labour Party is "our" party, a mere 7% of the members voted in the consultative ballot. That certainly doesn't strike me as the result that would be expected were Labour to have been engaged with trade union members and seen to represent them. Out of 640,000 GMB members, those who weren't interested in taking part amounted to 600,000 people. This must surely provide some food for thought for Corbyn when he is re-elected. He is from the left. He makes  great deal of noise as a "socialist". So why the nearly total lack of interest in the Labour Party he leads by union members, or at least GMB members?

GMB Labour ballot Aug 16 2

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia May - July

This is my latest update on our attempts to be self-sufficient. The goats have had their babies, summer gluts have to be dealt with and we are back onto making butter and cheese.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Should I laugh or cry?

This morning's news that Labour acted illegally in blocking the right of members who have joined in the past 6 months to vote in the leadership election looks like being game, set and match for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour's National Executive decision always struck me as a bit of unsustainable gerrymandering by anti-Corbynistas carried out while the Corbynistas had momentarily taken their collective eye off the ball. They were, after all, ecstatic at the decision to allow Corbyn on the ballot paper despite having 80% of the Labour Parliamentary Party against him. The expectation is that a significant majority of the new members have joined to back Corbyn (though not to do any campaigning for the Labour party such as delivering leaflets or knocking on doors).

It seems therefore that the Smith challenge will fail dramatically and Corbyn will emerge stronger within the Labour Party while the appeal of the Labour Party in the country will be weakened further. In places like Gateshead that could be useful for the Lib Dems. There is no campaigning presence by the Conservatives, Greens or the Kippers. Whatever battles take place here in the future will involve only Labour and the Lib Dems. It is also very unlikely that Labour will split. I think the anti-Corbynistas will remain where they are but will engage in a war of attrition against the left, thus weakening Labour further.

The bigger picture is not so good. While I am confident the Lib Dems can mount serious challenges to the Conservatives, this can only happen in limited areas of the country. UKIP's entire purpose has now been served and Farage has gone. Even if the Kippers hang around (and survive the toxic battle to choose a new leader) they have not learnt how to break the voting system. 4 million general election votes and only one MP shows this to be the case. The SNP may be dominant in Scotland but that is, in terms of constituencies and voters, only a small fraction of the UK. Labour, not even able to form an opposition, never mind a government, will spend years fighting themselves rather than the Conservatives.

So be happy that Labour's self-destructive streak is creating openings for us. But be worried that the country is heading towards a one-party Conservative state for the next 20 years.

Visiting Crawcrook Fayre

Crawcrook Fair Aug 16 (1)

I took an hour off from campaigning in Rowlands Gill on Saturday to go to the Crawcrook Fayre. The live music wasn't quite to my taste but there were lots of stalls that were of interest. I spent quite some time talking to the soap-makers who were selling their goods. Some of the what I produce - honey, honeycomb, goats milk - are used by soap makers and I'm also looking for soap makers to join my produce swapping network.

Alas, I could only stay for an hour as I was needed in Rowlands Gill for our action day.

Crawcrook Fair Aug 16 (2)

Door-knocking in Rowlands Gill

We had another action day in Rowlands Gill on Saturday. Our aim was to deliver 800 leaflets and knock on 400 doors. That was exactly what we achieved! We have not worked this ward since before the Coalition years so the response of people to us in what was effectively virgin territory was always going to be interesting and revealing. As people opened their doors to us, the initial response was one of surprise. Many were then pleased to see us. That's not to say everyone was. A number said that they weren't interested in politics (some of whom made comments about all politicians being the same). We came across one person who votes Labour locally and Conservative nationally (I suspect that was a personal vote for John Hamilton, the Labour councillor who has resigned). We also found a number of Labour supporters who are abandoning their party because they don't like Jeremy Corbyn. We even found people who are Lib Dem supporters! All-in-all, we were pleased with the day.

Friday, August 05, 2016

"Out-of-date" MP

out of date insult Journal 3 Aug 16

Blaydon Labour MP David (Call Me Dave) Anderson has been shooting from the hip recently about the potential for Virgin East Coast to bring in staff from elsewhere to tide the company over if on-board staff go on strike over changes to working practices. The RMT union is balloting staff now despite Virgin guaranteeing there will be no compulsory redundancies. Mr Anderson has announced he does not want to travel if Virgin uses "scab" labour during the strike. He is demanding Virgin tell him all about their contingency plans should the RMT members opt for strike action so that he will know if he needs to avoid rail travel.

While I respect Mr Anderson's desire to be a go-nowhere Labour MP, I was struck by his crude language. His description of people being employed by Virgin during a possible dispute as "scabs" is rather unworthy. It is his decision not to occupy a seat on a train (though he fills plenty of seats in Corbyn's shadow cabinet where he holds a number of shadow secretary of state positions). His language however needs to be less insulting. He may find his words a big political turn on, but for most people, they are at best uncomfortable and at worst downright insulting.

It was interesting to note however that the Labour-supporting Newcastle Journal was deeply unimpressed by Mr Anderson's language. A leader comment on Wednesday said, "...the unpleasant and derogatory word 'scab' is the language of class war. It's an insult rooted in the last century - and that is where it belongs."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Blaydon candidate vlog no. 2 - "Your Liberal Britain" meeting in Gateshead

Gateshead played host to a "Your Liberal Britain" meeting last night. Find out about it in my latest political vlog.

Better the devil you don't know

At the start of August it seems an appropriate time to look back at the politics of the previous few weeks. At the start of July we were expecting a long Tory leadership campaign which was resolved in a rather brutal way, curtailing the 6 weeks of blood sport into just a few days. Theresa May has been installed as PM and somehow the Tory civil war that afflicted the Referendum campaign has been forgotten. May employed a few political flick knives and knuckle dusters to get rid of the likes of Gove and Osborne and handed on the poisoned chalice of Brexit negotiations to Bumbling Boris and the other Brexiteers.

Meanwhile, on the Labour benches, Jeremy Corbyn’s love of the 70s and especially the 80s is being re-enacted like a badly written soap opera with a recycled script. Far from being able to form a government, they can’t even form an opposition. How a party can go into an election with the majority of their MPs openly hostile to their own leadership is beyond me. That assumes of course that Corbyn wins the leadership contest which is looking very likely. Challenger Owen Smith must feel a bit like Captain Kirk, spending his time trying to defeat Klingons for the one thing Corbyn is good at is clinging on to his job.

Quite what the difference is politically between Smith and Corbyn is difficult to pin down. Both are pitching their platforms to the left, both seemingly putting forward the same policies,such as throwing people out of work by banning zero hour contracts and spending vast sums of money without any explanation as to where it is coming from. Perhaps there is no difference politically. Perhaps the difference is on personalities only. Smith is a complete unknown in the country as a whole. I have to confess I had never heard of him until he was paraded as a possible challenger to Corbyn. It seems that his pitch is “Better the devil you don’t know”!

These are strange times. They certainly remind me of the early 1980s when a mass-neurosis gripped the Labour Party. While many in Labour want to relive those years, that’s not something that appeals to me.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

"Your Liberal Britain" meeting in Gateshead

Your Liberal Britain meeting Gateshead Aug 16 (1)

Gateshead Lib Dems hosted a "Your Liberal Britain" meeting this evening. Lord Shipley, former leader of Newcastle City Council, was the guest speaker. There was a good discussion and I was pleased to see lots of our new members there.

Your Liberal Britain meeting Gateshead Aug 16 (2)

Your Liberal Britain meeting Gateshead Aug 16 (4)