Friday, December 29, 2017

"Green crap" fuels clean energy revolution

2017 was the UK's greenest year yet in terms of generating electricity. Low carbon sources in June generated more electricity than coal and gas combined for the first time ever. In April, we had our first ever 24 hour period in which coal was not burnt at all. Since 2012, carbon emissions by the electricity industry have halved. All great news.

Go back to the Coalition and you will be reminded of the discontent in the Conservatives' ranks about the Lib Dems' green policies which we were implementing. Remember how even David Cameron referred to it as the Lib Dems' "green crap." That same "green crap" is fueling the clean energy revolution, another one of the many benefits of having Lib Dems in government.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Putting Whickham on the map

The consultation on boundaries for the new Parliamentary constituencies came to an end earlier this month. The previous proposals would have taken a wrecking ball to Gateshead and the borough would have been split between 6 (or was it 7? - I have lost count) constituencies. The new proposals create a Gateshead West constituency (covering the old town of Gateshead, Whickham and Birtley), a revised Blaydon (covering Blaydon, Rowlands Gill, Ryton and, more controversially, a chunk of western Newcastle) and Jarrow and Gateshead East (the Gateshead bits are effectively the Felling area).So, in summary, Gateshead will have one full constituency and two in which wards of Gateshead form a significant part.

These proposals taken together are a significant improvement. The issue now is the name of the Gateshead West constituency. I believe that Whickham should be included, so my submission to the Boundary Commission's consultation made a case for this. It is a view not universally held: when it was discussed at a Gateshead Council advisory group, Labour Leader Martin Gannon dismissed the proposal to include Whickham with the words, "Not on your life!"

Anyway, here is my submission to the Boundary Commission consultation:

The proposed Gateshead West constituency covers a logical and sensible geographic area and avoids communities being split. However the name could be potentially misleading. A further 5 wards of Gateshead Council to the west of the Gateshead West constituency will be in the revised Blaydon constituency. It is therefore not an accurate description. The name of Gateshead on its own has significant historical recognition in terms of the old Gateshead town forming the eastern part of the new constituency.

Furthermore, Whickham is the 2nd biggest town in the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead, beaten only by the town of Gateshead itself. The name "Whickham" appears in three of the 22 wards in Gateshead.

The only other town in Gateshead to appear in the name of more that one ward is Dunston which appears in two (Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward and Dunston and Teams ward). Dunston historically is part of Whickham. The historic area of Whickham will therefore constitute nearly 40% of the constituency.

I therefore propose that instead of "Gateshead West", which could be confusing to many, the name of the new constituency should be "Gateshead and Whickham".

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hilarious Labour by-election leaflet cock-up

Labour leaflet Pallion Dec 17-page-0

There is a by-election in Pallion ward of Sunderland Council. At the last by-election in the city in January, Labour got an absolute kicking from the voters when their vote was slashed by two thirds and the Lib Dems went from 4th place on 4% to 1st place with over 40%. So, for Pallion, Labour are a bit more prepared....or are they?

This time, Labour have learnt that getting leaflets through doors is an important campaigning technique. Sadly (for them) they haven't learnt to check content! Have a look at the Labour leaflet above. Ignore the crassly posed photo and the unconvincing finger pointing. Read the text instead. Suggesting that one of your own "senior" councillors is responsible for the litter, fly tipping and dog fouling in the local community is probably not what they intended claiming. Labour really should have got someone to read through it before printing it and then putting it through every door in the ward.

I guess it should be a lesson to all of us!

I understand that litter and dog fouling are important issues in this by-election. Labour are posing as the saviours to sort out the problem. Residents however are unlikely to be fooled by finger-pointing poses in photos. They will, of course, recall that the council has been run by Labour since the Stone Age and they've had plenty of time to sort out the problem.

Sunniside Focus

Sunniside Focus Dec 17-page-0

Before Christmas, we delivered our latest Focus for the villages of Sunniside, Streetgate, Marley Hill and Byermoor. It led with the issue of the rejection of plans for the land to the south of Marley Hill to be used for motorbike scrambling and 4X4 off-road driving. Also included were articles about the Sunniside Christmas tree, Marley Hill Community Centre asset transfer, house-building at the former Marley Hill school and Vince as party leader.

Sunniside Focus Dec 17-page-1

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Is this UKIP leaflet legal?

UKIP leaflet Dec 17 (1)

This UKIP leaflet was delivered with the post by the Royal Mail yesterday. Wanting a moment's amusement, I sat down to read it. Point one: it has no imprint. Is this legal, especially given that this is a leaflet paid for by the "Europe of  Freedom and Direct Democracy" group in the European Parliament, financed by European taxpayers?

Point two: on the back page is a photo of the North East's UKIP MEP next to a photo of Nigel Farage. I have a small confession - I cannot remember the name of the current UKIP leader and frankly, I can't be bothered to look it up. Farage however was 3 or 4 leaders ago (sorry I've rather lost count). It doesn't say much for the recently elected Mr Forgetable that his own MEPs won't mention him in UKIP literature.

Point three: the leaflet claims UKIP have proposed "390 ways to cut the money the European Union spends from our taxes each year." Can I suggest number 391? Don't spend EU money on UKIP leaflets such as this one! I understand this leaflet is going out across the country, regionalised as appropriate. That's a great deal of taxpayers' money that could be saved.

Point four: we live in a democracy so I have no problem with political literature coming through my door with which I disagree. Others receiving this leaflet who do agree with the contents will have difficulty contacting UKIP as there was not a single bit of contact information. No email address, no website, no phone numbers, no postal address. Nothing. This is a classic howler for any political party, though in this instance I'm not complaining!

UKIP leaflet Dec 17 (2)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Beaten by a couple of Corbynistas

Old Fox buffet Dec 17 1

Gateshead Lib Dem Pint was held at the Old Fox in Felling last Wednesday. I am still recovering from coming last in the pub quiz. To add insult to injury, of the 7 teams taking place in the quiz, 6 were made up of Lib Dems with the remaining team made up of people who happened to be in the pub when a bunch of Lib Dems turned up.  And it was this team that won and they called themselves "The Corbynistas"! Nevertheless, after licking our pub quiz inflicted wounds, we did a good impersonation of a bunch of gannets when we stripped the buffet bare. Note the before and after photos!

Old Fox buffet Dec 17 2

Christmas tree celebration in Sunniside

Sunniside Christmas tree carol service December 2017

A Christmas carol service took place this evening in Sunniside to celebrate the village's Christmas tree. There was a good turnout at the event on Front Street - over 100 came along. They were joined by 2 donkeys as well!

This is the first time we have had a public Christmas tree in the village but we are already looking ahead to next year when we will need to raise the funds for the tree ourselves.

As usual I was photographer for the event. A full set of photos can be viewed by clicking on the above picture.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Labour councillor deselected

We have been informed by a friendly source of information in the Labour Party in Gateshead that Labour Councillor Anne Wheeler has been deselected by 18 votes to 6. Her tenure of Pelaw and Heworth ward will come to an end in May 2018 after 8 years in the role. This could well be the first signs of the Corbynistas on the march in Gateshead, or it could be Labour members getting rid of a rather low profile councillor whose ward was gained by the Lib Dems from Labour (by 20 votes) in the last local election there in 2016. Interesting times ahead!

Sunniside Carol Service

Sunniside Christmas tree Nov 17 (1)

On Monday 18th December the first event to mark the first ever public Christmas tree in Sunniside will be held. Four local churches together will be holding a carol service next to the tree on the Front Street from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. All welcome.

Ryton Focus delivery

Ryton Focus Dec 17

After helping out at the Whickham Library coffee morning on Saturday last week, I then headed down to Ryton to help deliver our next edition of Focus. As usual, I was given the Riverside patch to do. 450 Focuses and 2 hours later I was back at the home of local Lib Dem Councillor Christine McHatton. After a bowl of vegetable broth and a discussion about local issues, I was back home ready to get ready for the next Focus delivery.

vegetable stew Dec 17

Whickham Library Coffee Morning

Whickham Library coffee morning Dec 17 (1)

On Saturday 9th December, Whickham Voluntary Library held its first coffee morning. I went along to help though it turned out that a large number of the volunteers came along as well to give a hand. A useful event that got people through the doors and raised a modest amount in donations.

Monday, December 11, 2017

When is an agreement not an agreement?

Answer: when it's signed off  by David Davis. His suggestion yesterday that the UK could go back on the agreement drawn up last week and, contrary to what the Chancellor has announced, we abandon our obligations to pay our bills, signal that he can't be trusted. The UK is in serious danger of being regarded by our friends abroad as one of the members of that exclusive club of international basket cases (other members include Greece and Venezuela). And yet again, we have divisions in the cabinet there for all to see: the extreme Brexiteers in the David/Johnson/Gove wing versus the more sane (on Europe) wing of Hammond with May caught right in the middle. The really big and unbridgeable issue however is still to be settled by the government - alignment with the EU or hard Brexit. No wonder the Tories have put this debate off!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Red lines disappearing down a sink hole

The red lines of the Brexiteers: control of our borders, no money to Brussels, control of our own laws, British courts supreme. What have we got: our only land border to remain open; £40 billion to go to Brussels; the UK will align itself with EU laws, rules and regulations; the ECJ to continue to have jurisdiction over the UK. It seems the Brexit extremists drew red lines on the ground and have just seen them swallowed up by a sink hole.

Months of unnecessary wrangling by the government achieved nothing. The delay they unnecessarily caused by their posturing has given the UK and EU greatly reduced time to negotiate the future relationship, particularly on trade. It turns out ministers don't even have a vision yet of what our future should be.

I read the divorce agreement document this morning. I was struck by the announcement that, in the absence of a free trade agreement, the UK will be aligned with the single market and customs union. So, we are paying £40 billion to leave but will agree to abide by the rules we were told we were leaving behind. The big difference between now and Brexit Britain is that we won't have any say over the rules in the future. This is not a case of "taking back control". It is a case of handing over control.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Marley Hill School house building plans

Marley Hill School Nov 17

Constituents have been asking me recently about what's happening at the former Marley Hill School site. Work recently took place to demolish the brick-built extensions to the original stone-built school building. Planning permission has been granted for 22 houses on the site. When we were first consulted about the sale of the site by Gateshead Council, Councillors Marilynn Ord (pictured above with me outside Marley Hill School), John McClurey and I stipulated that we wanted the stone building to be retained as it is one of the oldest buildings in the village. This formed part of the subsequent planning application which was submitted by the developer who bought the site. The old school building, minus the more recent brick extensions, will be converted into two houses and a further 20 houses will be build on the rest of the site. Work is now on-going.

Crushed by a celebrity quiz

Last night, the Sunniside History Society, of which I am the chairman, held its Christmas buffet at Sunniside Social Club. About 80 people were there and a good time has had by all. Alas, the quiz was my downfall. 32 celebrities had to be named. They were all film stars from the 1940s and 50s. I managed 4 and came last! And as chairman, there was no way I could hide my performance. The winner managed to name 25.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 2nd January at 7.30pm.

Paper chase for nonexistent reports

Just what does the Department for Exiting the European Union do? Led by Brexit cheerleader David Davis, he has bungled the Brexit negotiations and miserably failed to ensure his own governmental prop - the DUP - were on board when the divorce settlement seemed close to being signed in Brussels earlier this week. Now, we are told, his own department has not produced the impact assessments on the various different sectors of the economy which the government, and Mr Davis, had led everyone to believe were being written. The government therefore has no analysis on how Brexit, in whatever form it comes, will impact on the economy. What an utter shambles and waste of taxpayers' money this person and department are.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Shambolic surprises

When the hints in the media yesterday morning were all pointing towards a deal with the EU which included "regulatory alignment" of Northern Ireland with the EU, I began to think that Theresa May had pulled off the impossible - she had actually got the DUP to change its mind and back plans which they had previously implacably opposed. In all the media coverage last week, the DUP had made its position clear: no deal that meant a status for Northern Ireland different from the rest of the UK.

So when the deal fell apart yesterday, I was a bit surprised that everyone was surprised with the DUP's position. What they should really have been surprised about was the failure of Theresa May to get the DUP's support before going to Brussels to agree the deal that she thought was in the bag. This is an utterly shambolic approach to government.

Also shambolic is the government's blurring of its red lines. We were told Brexit means control of our borders but our only land border is to be open. Brexit was meant to let the UK make its own rules but part of the nation has been offered up as a place where the Single Market and the Customs Union will continue. Brexit promises also included £350 million a week for the NHS, not handing over £40 billion to the EU. The reality is that the leaders of Brexit have put forward impossible and unrealistic claims, drew red lines in the sand, and then spent the last year redrawing them while the government caved in to every EU requirement.

I have consistently argued that the national interest lies in being in the EU, arguing our case and shaping it to our needs. The alternative is to be a small nation bobbing along in the wake of the EU superpower. The past year has shown that we are slipping into this alternative role. Welcome to Brexit Britain.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Let the state visit go ahead

I have listened to the calls by many, including from within the Liberal Democrats, that the Trump  state visit should be cancelled. Personally, I don't think the offer should ever have been made. The haste with which Theresa May offered the visit to Trump, within days of his inauguration, was a national embarrassment. Nevertheless, the offer was made and the visit will go ahead. Public bodies in the UK will need to decide whether or not to participate. I suggest they don't. But I don't think the offer should be withdrawn. I want Trump to be aware that he will return to the USA knowing that he was the cause of the biggest protest this country has ever seen. So let him come here, and let us show what we think of him.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

With friends like that....

He's done it again! Trump's trigger finger has fired off a series of retweets and comments of an offensive divisive nature. And this time he has given a tiny extreme right group a massive dose of publicity. Quite how the leader of the world's most powerful nation has time to trawl through the digital output of tiny extremist organisations is beyond me. Quite what he was thinking of in retweeting them is another point that needs answers. From applying his fingers to write his tweet, he then raised two fingers to the PM and the special relationship with his suggestion the UK is not doing enough to tackle terrorism.

Yet again, we have another example of the problems Brexit Britain faces. No longer part of the European alliance, we face the danger of drifting into a a state in which we are shackled to the USA and Trump (assuming he is elected for a 2nd term.)

But with friends like Trump, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Photos from the Whickham Christmas switch on

Whickham Christmas lights switch on November 2017

Switching on the Christmas lights in Whickham took place yesterday. I was the official photographer and you can see the photos on the above link.

Who is whistling now?

Brexit was the promised land of milk and honey. We were going to control immigration (despite the needs of the economy), we were going to take control of our borders, we were going to divert all that money going to the EU to the NHS instead. The Brexiteers tell us that Europe needs us more than we need them. Brexit would be a walk in the park.

And then reality kicked in. We are told that our only land border, with the Irish Republic, far from being under our "control", is to be open. The NHS is not to get a penny extra of diverted cash as we have a £40 billion plus divorce bill to pay, something the Brexiteers failed to tell anyone about during the referendum. Remember Boris Johnson telling the EU to "go whistle"? Who is whistling now Johnson? And of course we haven't yet heard what the new immigration system will look like but the chances are that the arrival of people to the UK to work being in "tens of thousands" will only be achieved if we strangle the economy and make all of us poorer. Now we are hearing rumours that the European Court of Justice is to have a role in policing the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK. In other words, another Brexit red line has been ignored.

Given that the UK now looks set to agree all the EU demands on divorce, we can expect negotiations to start on trade. If the last few months are anything to go by, the negotiations will be a case of the dominant EU setting out its terms and the relatively weak UK agreeing to them. And as time goes by, the EU will take decisions on trade, the UK will have no say on them (after all we will no longer be a member of the club) but the UK will adopt them anyway to retain access to the Single Market. Quite what we have achieved as a nation from Brexit is unclear.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Whickham lights switch on today

Metro Gnome Nov 16

The Whickham Christmas lights will be switched on today. Events kick off at 3pm in the Harry Clasper car park where there will be a Christmas market.  The first lights will be switched on at Rose Villa at 3,30pm and then everyone heads to Church Green to switch on the tree lights. Everyone is welcome to join in.

Watch out for appearances from the Metro Gnomes (the one on the right in the above photo!)

Keep the replies coming in

I was door-knocking again on Saturday in Dunston, with local Lib Dem campaigner Kevin McClurey. We were carrying out our petition calling for the derelict Dunston Hill School to be demolished and the site to be used for affordable housing. We got a good response as there is increasing annoyance among residents that the old school has been left to deteriorate over the past three years.

Replies to the petition are still coming in so if you want to sign and haven't yet done so, please return your petition to us as soon as possible.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

400,000 pageviews

Thank you to the visitors to this blog - regulars, occasionals and the mini army of local Labour people who can't seem to get enough of it. Your splendid reading habits have helped my blog to reach 400,000 pageviews. Keep visiting and keep reading!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Having your culture cake and eating it

There has been quite a fuss made of the EU's decision to stop UK cities applying to be European capital of culture in 2023. According to Downing Street, the government disagree with the decision and are seeking "urgent discussions" with the European Commission. Quite what these talks can achieve is debatable. The rules are simple. If you want to be considered for the EU's capital of culture, you have to be a member of the EU, the European Economic Area or an applicant to join. Nowhere in the rules does an applicant to leave have a right to be considered. Those bleating Brexiteers kicking up a fuss have no case.

Ian Stewart MP, Brexit-backing Tory MP for Milton Keynes, one of the applicant cities, argued in February 2016 that "I have concluded that the moment has come for us to part company with the EU." Yesterday he claimed the UK was not walking away from the EU, rather it was the other way round: “we are not turning our backs on Europe, yet this [culture city decision] looks like they are turning their backs on us”. This is a rather absurd attempt to rewrite history in the face of all the historical evidence. The position of Stewart, who is starting to find the Brexit-consequences chickens coming home to roost, is a bit like the UK pulling out of the Olympics and then complaining that we are not allowed to claim gold medals. Having your culture cake and eating it. What a pathetic state of affairs.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A pathetic, miserable, divisive waste of time

The Chancellor announced yesterday that the North of Tyne devolution deal is to go ahead. Instead of a strong devolution deal for the North East, the three authorities north of the River Tyne - Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside - are to break away to form their own mini fiefdom which will split the region and leave us all weakened in the face of stronger devolution deals elsewhere. I have heard on the grapevine in Gateshead what the deal contains - and what it doesn't. One of the crucial reasons for devolution - transport - is not to be devolved. There will be a few powers over training and housing, a modest pot of money for some economic development, and that is pretty much it. This is a shadow of what was previously on offer to the whole of NECA. It is a pathetic and miserable attempt by Labour and Tories north of the Tyne to rescue devolution from the car crash in which they left it in 2015.

While the deal may be appealing to the likes of the saintly Nick Forbes, Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, and his Conservative soulmate Peter Jackson, Leader of Northumberland County Council, it is the region as a whole that will pay the price of a divisive and weak settlement. The main culprits of this mess are the North East Labour Party that tore itself apart recently over devolution. Instead of aiming to get the regional deal back on track, Labour have helped turn the mess into a disaster.

What a shambles.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The brave new world of a Brexit Britain ignored

The extreme Brexiteers' dream of a Britain freed from the EU to stride the world as a colossus, making people listen to us, our influence reaching the parts of the globe that of EU-member Britain cannot reach. The reality is a weakened Britain that is seen abroad as inward looking and is walking away from membership of one of the most important international organisations on the planet. Note the recent failure of the UK to secure the re-election of a judge to the world's most senior court, the International Court of Justice. Brexit was not the cause of this but it was there in the background as dozens of countries ignored UK pleas to vote for our guy. Where does that leave the government's plans for "global Britain" when we've been tripped at the first hurdle?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Door-knocking in Dunston

Marilynn Ord John McClurey Jonathan Wallace Nov 17

I was part of a team of local Lib Dem campaigners in Dunston on Thursday, knocking on doors of homes near the former Dunston Hill Primary School which has been left to go derelict by Labour. We were collecting signatures on our petition calling for the old school to be demolished and the site to be used for affordable houses. We featured this issue in our recent Focus newsletter and we discovered that Labour had rushed out a rather panicked responses which, according to the many people I spoke to, had not gone down well! And this was in Labour's strongest area in the ward.

We had another team out yesterday. We are still pulling together the results of the petition.

Photo above: Whickham South and Sunniside Councillors meet up in Dunston to help with the Dunston Hill School petition: Marilynn Ord, John McClurey and me (in the woolly hat!)

Politics and prosperity

Did I hear this correctly? Brexit secretary David Davis is saying that we should put prosperity before politics. I support this view but I find it rich for a leading Brexiteer to be saying it. Pulling out of the EU is a political decision, supported by a small majority of those who voted in last year's referendum. It was taken despite concerns about prosperity. It was a decision taken in spite of economics, not because of them. Ultimately, there is a price the UK has to pay for the Brexit decision in terms of less future prosperity (note how we how have the most sluggish growth of all the major economies). Those of us on the losing side are doing our best to mitigate the circumstances but that does nothing to hide the fact that Brexit was a political decision that was taken before the effects on prosperity (and I would argue the UK's influence in the world) were considered. In other words politics before prosperity.

Davis is also saying we need the "freest possible trade in goods and services". Again, I agree. But, we already have that. It's called being a member of the Single Market and European Customs Union - which he wants to leave.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Whickham Focus

Whickham Focus Autumn 17-page-0

Delivery of our Whickham Focus is now complete. This is what we have been putting through local doors.

Whickham Focus Autumn 17-page-1

Sunniside Christmas Tree

Sunniside Christmas tree Nov 17 (2)

Marilynn Ord, John McClurey and I, as the councillors for Sunniside, have used part of the ward's Local Community Fund to ensure Sunniside village has a Christmas tree. The fund has also paid to install the electricity supply. We are planning a switch on event so if you would like to be involved, please get in touch on

Sunniside Christmas tree Nov 17 (1)

A glimpse of things to come

Brexit Secretary David Davis is calling on the EU to compromise in negotiations with the UK over the divorce settlement and on a future trade deal. He overlooks a couple of significant points when doing this. Firstly, the UK has taken the decision to leave. It was not the EU asking for this. It wasn't the UK and EU mutually coming to a decision that matters would be better if the UK leaves the organisation. It was a simple, straightforward decision by the UK that the UK was no longer to be a member of the club. Decisions have consequences and as we have voted to leave the club and no longer be subject to the club's rules, that has consequences for us. None of this was a decision of the EU so the onus on compromise falls on the UK if we want to enjoy some of the benefits of club membership without being a member ourselves.

Secondly, the world has moved to one in which smaller nations join together into political and economic associations to open up trade and regulate their economies while providing institutions which allow for solutions to outstanding issues to be addressed peacefully, rather than by war or threat of war, which tended to be the way of doing business before 1945. The EU is the most advanced of these international organisations and it gives the nations of Europe a stronger negotiating position in the world. Brexit removes us from the structure that has given us beneficial trade deals with over 40 other countries, deals which the individual nations of the EU, including the UK, would probably not have been able to negotiate in their own right.

The EU has built itself up to a position of major influence not just in Europe but throughout the world. It is the world's biggest market and the 3rd largest population. As a relatively small nation, the UK is not on the same level. The EU is a superpower compared to the middle-ranking UK. The EU has all the best cards and the UK has little to put into this game of international poker. We can bluff as much as we like but the EU doesn't have to compromise as it holds all the aces. The UK put itself in that position so we can't complain.

The uncompromising position of the EU is a glimpse of the future for Brexit Britain. We will no longer be able to magnify our power as a nation through the EU. We will be dealing with international organisations and nations such as the USA and China which are vastly more powerful than we are. They will hold all the best cards. And we will be bobbing along as an offshore island in the wake of the EU. For a country with a great history, this is a sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dunston Focus

Dunston Hill Focus Autumn 17-page-0

Delivery of our Dunston Focus is newsletter is just about completed so without more ado, here is what we have been putting through letterboxes.

Dunston Hill Focus Autumn 17-page-1

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lighting Up Whickham race night

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (3)

There was another race night to raise funds for Lighting Up Whickham's appeal for the village's Christmas tree on Saturday 11th November. The packed event took place at the Glebe Sports Club. As the holder of a food handling certificate, it was my job to help dish out the pie and pea suppers. Alas, I did not win a single bet! I did manage however to be the "owner" of a winning horse. The prize was a bottle of wine. And in the raffle, I won a £10 voucher to spend at R Martin and Son, the butchers in the village. We haven't bought meat for years as we produce our own or trade for it. We will have to buy something we don't normally have. A nice beef joint springs to mind.

At this point I don't know how much was raised on Saturday. I will let you know.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (2)

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 17 (1)

Delivering in Pelaw and Heworth

Pelaw Heworth focus delivery Nov 17

On our current round of Focuses, Pelaw and Heworth ward was at the forefront of deliveries last week. Alas, Councillors Daniel Duggan and Ian Patterson were doing such a good job that I wasn't asked to deliver any patches! Keep up the good work guys!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dunston Action Day

Dunston Action Day Nov 17 1

We had a mini action day in Dunston yesterday to get the bulk of our latest Focuses delivered. I was given two patches to do, 350 houses in total, all but two streets on the flat. Given that most of the houses in the Dunston part of Dunston Hill ward are on a slope, I got the better deal!

Dunston Action Day Nov 17 2

Remembrance Parade in Whickham

Whickham remembrance parade and service Nov 17 (13)

I attended the Whickham Remembrance parade and service today. It is the biggest in Gateshead with over 500 people attending and over 40 organisations laying wreaths. Cllr John McClurey laid the wreath for our constituents in Whickham South and  Sunniside. You can see all the photos on this link.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Photos from North East Regional Conference

North East Lib Dem regional conference was held last Saturday so here are a few of the photos I took of proceedings.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (1)

Regional chair, Amanda Hopgood, introduces guest speaker Vince Cable.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (4)

Northern Durham were the winners of the Alastair Wardlaw trophy given to the party which shows greatest membership engagement and growth.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (6)

The President's Award, for greatest contribution to the regional party, went to Ian Jones of Middlesbrough.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (5)

Dave Fawcett of Gateshead was awarded the Frances Foote Wood award for the individual who showed greatest commitment to the party and fighting for liberal democracy. Dave wasn't able to attend the conference so his award was collected by Low Fell Councillor Daniel Duggan.

North East Lib Dems regional conference Nov 17 (8)

Craig Martin and Stephen O'Brien, two of our newest councillors, gave a presentation on choosing a ward and winning it. I think both were born after I was first elected in 1987. That makes me feel rather old.

Stubbing out UKIP

Voting UKIP is a bit like taking up smoking. You know you shouldn't do it, you know it's damaging to your health, you know it has long term negative consequences, and you know you shouldn't do it in public. For some, there is the soothing qualities of a rush of nicotine. The good people of Fareham yesterday seemed to have kicked the bad habit of voting UKIP. In Stubbington ward the voters went to the polls to vote for the replacement of a UKIP councillor who, to complicate matters, had defected to the Conservatives and then resigned. UKIP were well and truly stubbed out. Their share of the vote fell 37.9% to a mere 5.4%. The result came with the added bonus of being a Lib Dem gain:

Stubbington (Fareham) result:

LDEM: 55.2% (+32.4)
CON: 35.8% (+6.1)
UKIP: 5.4% (-37.9)
LAB: 3.5% (-0.5)

So well done Stubbington, living up to your name, by stubbing out UKIP. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Historical incompetence back in force

At the Sunniside History Society meeting on Tuesday, our guest speaker was Professor Richard Madeley who gave a presentation on the Crimean War, 1853-56. For those unfamiliar with this period in history, the Crimean War, fought by the British, French and Turks against the Russians, was one of the most incompetently run wars of the past 200 years, especially by the British. The UK was significantly under-prepared for the conflict and once the Turks, who had initially been attacked by the Russians, had cleared their territory of the invading Tsarist forces, few in the British side had a plan of what to do or even any significant war aims other than to justify sending the navy and lots of soldiers to the Black Sea. Squabbling military leaders and a failure to communicate with each other resulted in significant losses and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. Meanwhile, vast amounts of British taxpayers' money was wasted on the venture that gave little in return to the UK.

Over 160 years later and doesn't the incompetence, lack of vision, absence of a plan and squabbling leaders seem worryingly familiar?

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

What is is about Americans and guns?

Another month and another mass shooting in the US where a large part of the population is in denial about the serious problem of guns. The even more depressing point about the Sutherland Springs massacre in Texas is that many, including Trump, are arguing that more guns are needed to protect people against guns. If ever there was a cycle of destruction, this must be it. The US is awash with guns, many of them automatic or semi-automatic, manufactured primarily for military forces, not private citizens. The weak gun control laws in place now can easily be circumvented simply by the sheer abundance of weaponry.

Compare that to the UK where gun control is rightly very tight and heavily policed. We do have problems with gun crime in some areas but this is tiny compared to the situation in the US. In most circumstances, semi and fully automatic guns are not permitted for civilian use. All those with a firearms certificate have to be assessed regularly and weapons have to kept in appropriate metal cabinets under lock and key. I have first hand experience of this as we have a shot gun in our house. It is over 60 years old, has been disarmed, no one manufactures the cartridges for it any more and it hasn't been fired in over 60 years. Nevertheless, we have to have a firearms certificate, regular police checks and inspections and a steel cabinet bolted to the wall which has to be kept permanently locked.

If only the USA were as sensible when it came to guns.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Splitting the region

I was in London last week and I wasn't closely following the news back home. It meant there was a pile of Journals waiting for me to read but I only got to look at them tonight. I noticed the story about the North of Tyne bid for a devolution settlement separate from the south of Tyne authorities. Such a move would be a wrecking ball slamming into the North East. We already have to live with the region being split in two following the decision of the Tees Valley not to throw in its lot with the rest of the North East and to create its own combined authority and elected mayor. What we are now facing is a truncated North East about to be torn down the middle by the war that has been going on in the Labour party.

A separate devolution settlement for the North of Tyne will weaken the overall effectiveness of governance in the region as a whole. It will make matters such as planning and especially transport far more difficult to coordinate. We need to have a devolution settlement for the whole of the NECA area. I fear now however that Gateshead is in danger of being left behind (the same fears can be applied to South Tyneside, Sunderland and Co Durham.) Labour need to get their act together or they will end up being the co-authors with the Conservatives of the North East's fragmentation.

The Journals have been torn up by me so that I can use them for bedding for my goats. The irony is that the region is being torn up as well. Quite what the Conservatives and Labour will deposit on the North East is still awaited.

Labour camping it up in the 1980s

Labour banner old fashioned Nov 17

I was in Rowlands Gill yesterday and spotted something that was a blast from the past. Tucked away in a side street was a campervan with a Labour banner draped over the back, set up as a street stall. It was not just any Labour banner but something of great historic interest - a banner with the logo that predated the rose. Popular back in the 70s and early 80s, this was an icon of the Militant Tendency era, of leftwing Labour and and trade union barons. In the Blair years, possession of such paraphernalia was regarded as a crime against the party. All those old banners, undergraduate essays on Marx and "Coal not dole" stickers had to be hidden away in political priest holes. Now the resurgent left are dusting down their cherished banners and their outdated symbols. Whether or not any ordinary member of the public will notice such old-fashioned logos is debatable. After all it's been over 30 years since the rose became the core of Labour's corporate branding. And the two Labour members in Rowlands Gill were not attracting any interest from passers-by, certainly not in the time they were in my line of sight.

Hopefully for the two Labour members involved, they had a great time reliving their youth yesterday!

Back to Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee Nov 17

I am now the carer for my friend Richard, and have been since the start of the summer. Alas, he has had to go back into hospital. It means I am, yet again, doing daily visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. And that inevitably will lead to a daily visit to the Costa Coffee on level 2 of the hospital. We have dubbed the place Costa Fortune, for obvious reasons. I am hoping that this current hospital residency is going to be shorter than the previous ones. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Vince Cable's speech to the North East Lib Dem conference

The North East Lib Dem regional conference was held today at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. Vince Cable was the guest speaker and he covered Brexit, the Westminster sexual harassment scandal and the forthcoming budget. I recorded the whole speech on the video above.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Sausages at the Hop Garden

The Hop Garden in High Spen had a not-Bonfire-Night event tonight which I attended. Lots of people there I know from my self-sufficiency activities. A local farm was running a barbeque selling pork sausages from their own rare breed pigs. I guess after the evening that they were even rarer pigs! I discovered the farmer was, like me, a goat keeper. She also had hay for sale. A useful purchase was made. We need to go back for the hay on Sunday as we had turned up in our little Polo which would barely hold half a bale, never mind the 9 we bought! The land rover will therefore not be having Sunday off.

From Cuddly Corbyn to Shifty Socialist

To the Corbyn fan club, the Labour leader can do no wrong. Cuddly Corbyn can walk on water, and turn it into wine as well. His halo lights up the world, as does the other end of his body, each time he bends over. The super soft Jeremy however gave way to the Shifty Socialist this morning when he was pursued by journalists asking questions about the appointment of Kelvin Hopkins MP to a rather fleeting role on Labour's front bench after action had been taken against him following allegations of impropriety. He could easily have dealt with the questions by repeating the statement already made by the Labour party about Hopkins. He chose not to.

Instead, he behaved like a cornered puff adder spitting venom at a pursuing mongoose. Refusing to answer journalists' questions but happily responding to a Corbynista shouting praise, his behaviour made him look as if he had something to hide, shifty and unable to explain himself.

The real Corbyn was shining through.

11 minutes of peace

We are in an odd state of affairs when both Trump's machinations on Twitter and his temporary absence from it both make news headlines. The member of staff at Twitter on his/her last day kindly gave the world 11 minutes of peace from the Trump bile. Sadly, it was just for 11 minutes. The flow of venom has resumed.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Gateshead AGM interrupted by breaking news

I attended the AGM of Gateshead Lib Dems tonight. I gave my reports as group leader and as media officer. But part way through the meeting, the news of Michael Fallon's resignation as Defense Secretary broke. Back home I watched the coverage on Sky News. Jon Craig reported that most MPs believe there is more to come out. At some point we are going to move on from this badly written political soap opera. Sadly, at the moment we are all stuck in it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bypass plans delayed

A1 Mar 15 2

Highways England have not made friends recently following their announcement that improvements to the A1 between the Team Valley and Birtley are to be delayed by a year. Everyone was expecting a start date of 2019 but Highways England have decided that with work also taking place on the A19 in Sunderland, somehow the region cannot cope with two sets of major roadworks. Well, no one likes roadworks but they are a necessity if we are to have the improvements installed. The plan for the A1 is to increase the lanes to three in each direction on a road that is currently carrying well above its planned traffic load.

Highways England's proposal is to get the A19 work out of the way and then start on the A1 improvements. In other words, they are going to spread the pain over an additional year. My fear is that when an infrastructure project slips, there is more time for the government to reconsider and cancel it.

This is not good news for Gateshead.

No deal Brexit to cost Gateshead £1.09 billion

A report by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has predicted that Gateshead's economy would lose £1.09 billion over five years under a hard Brexit. The North East economy as a whole would lose £8 billion. Our region is the only part of the UK to export more manufactured goods than we import and our biggest market, by a long long way, is the EU. A no deal Brexit that means we are outside the Single Market will cost the North East dearly. Even a negotiated deal will not give us the quality, free trade arrangements we have now. We have to me a member of the club to get the full benefits.

Cutting down the Lords is not enough

The report by Lord Burns on the size of the House of Lords is due shortly. There are currently 800 jobs-for-life members of the upper chamber, bigger than the elected House of Commons. The chances are that there will be a substantial cut in numbers. How this is to be achieved is yet to be announced but expect a great deal of cooperation between Labour and Tories to protect their members at the cost of everyone else.

Axing numbers however is not enough genuinely to reform the Lords. A legislative body made up entirely of life appointments (or in the case of hereditary peers, 92 individuals elected by other hereditary peers already in the Lords) is an affront to democracy. How people get into the upper house is the electoral elephant in the gilded chamber and this is to be left untouched.

We can thank the Tory/Labour old pals act for failure to reform the Lords in the Coalition years. Labour worked with the Tory right to destroy the chances of introducing a reformed and elected upper house, something Labour are supposed to support.

Ultimately, no matter what is done to the numbers, without direct election, the House of Lords will remain an undemocratic body that represents the few rather than the many.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Video - Planting Up Whickham

I filmed this on Sunday 22nd October when I joined the volunteers at Church Green, Whickham, to plant up the flowerbeds. There should be a good display of flowers next year.

Derelict buildings and building on countryside

Dunston Hill School Peter Maughan Kevin McClurey Oct 17 (2)

The old Dunston Hill Primary School closed its doors for the last time a few years ago but the building has been left to become derelict. It is right in the heart of Dunston and residents have watched the weeds grow over the past few years. Nature has now started to reclaim the walls as well which are now developing their very own mini-woodlands. There was talk of a cancer treatment site run by a charity on the site but nothing has been happening on the site other than the increasing dereliction and the growth of an unplanned urban mini-forest. What is so odd is that the council are very keen to sell off sites it no longer needs to get a capital receipt and the income that accrues to the council from the building of new houses (new homes bonus and council tax). We are wondering why this site appears to be viewed differently.

Yet, up the road, Labour are pressing ahead with their love of executive homes on the greenbelt. The site to the south of Whickham highway was removed from the protection of the greenbelt by Labour who want over 550 upmarket homes built on this area of countryside. Labour are ignoring the urban core in favour of bulldozing the greenbelt.

Photo above: Cllr Peter Maughan and Kevin McClurey outside the derelict Dunston Hill School.

Dunston Hill School derelict Oct 17 (2)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dunston Hill delivered

Having spent my time on Tuesday evening printing the next Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill Focus, I spent Wednesday afternoon delivering the patch there that I normally do. Annoyingly, I was 5 leaflets short. I'll have to make a return visit at some point to finish off the delivery.  The Focus leads on the news that the finalised plans for building nearly 600 executive homes at the top of Dunston Hill could be ready for a decision in December. The back page lead is about the need for action over the derelict Dunston Hill school which has been allowed to fall into ruin.

No Mates MP and her Italian Job

Laura Pidcock Journal 26 Oct 17

Last week, Conservative MP Douglas Ross was criticised for refereeing a football match in Barcelona, missing a Commons debate on Universal Credit in the process. Since all Conservative MPs were whipped to abstain, his absence from the debate made no difference to the result. Nevertheless, his appearance on the pitch rather than in Parliament attracted criticism, including from Labour MP Laura Pidcock.

Laura's fancy footwork on the Parliamentary pitch since here election as a North East MP in June included a foot-in-mouth incident in which she announced that a sort of leftwing McCarthyism would be applied to her friends - she would never allow anyone who has been or is a Conservative MP to be her friend. This posh girl's next bit of fancy footwork, leading to a Parliamentary own goal, was reported in the Newcastle Journal this morning. Having tackled Douglass Ross over his absence abroad last week, class warrior Laura decided to jet off to Venice for a couple of days (while Parliament was sitting) thus missing an emergency debate on Universal Credit. Oooops! Plenty of people have been blowing the whistle on Laura's hypocrisy. But that won't stop Laura's career progressing. She looks like an ideal candidate for promotion to the premier league of Labour politicians. The front bench beckons!

Is this an appropriate use of public funds?

When I first heard the news of the McCarthy-style letter to UK universities by Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris asking for information on European studies and who was teaching a syllabus that did not reflect the narrow world of the Brexit extremists, my first thought was that this was a questionable use of public money. MPs can use Parliamentary stationery and postage to support their activities as a constituency MP or as a minister. I was having difficulty matching CHH's letter to any of these legitimate uses. And then today, we learnt that CHH was writing a book (presumably about Brexit). I'm not sure it will be a contender for the Booker prize and I doubt it will be a blockbuster but it does strike me that taxpayers should not be paying for the research for a book.

I'm glad to see that Tom Brake has taken up this issue. Hopefully CHH will repay the public money spent in pursuit of his book's research. It could be used as the first installment of the so-far unseen £350 million a week extra for the NHS.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Printing the next Focus

Focuses in office Oct 17

I was in the Lib Dem office in Consett again last night and tonight. Our next Focus is now ready to be delivered. I do my patch tomorrow.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting my hands dirty

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (11)

10am this morning and I was on Church Green in Whickham to help with the planting of the flower beds, organised by Planting Up Whickham. Time to get my hands very dirty. By the time we had finished, thousands of plants had gone into the ground. Thanks to everyone who took part. And thanks to St Mary's Church for the lunch!

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (8)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (5)

And yesterday Focus delivery was in.....

Delivering in Whickham South Oct 17

I was in the Whickham part of my ward yesterday with a bundle of 450 Focuses to deliver. My usual 3 patches were done and I was back home by 3.30pm. That's my deliveries done for this Focus. There will, of course, be more Focuses coming up.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Delivering Watergate Estate

Delivering Watergate Estate Oct 17

I delivered 370 Focuses this morning in Watergate Estate in Whickham. I have delivered this patch so often that I could do it with my eyes closed! Tomorrow I have another 3 patches to deliver in my own ward. Hopefully the rain will hold off.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Printing Focus

Focus printing Oct 17 (4)

I spent the morning in the Lib Dem office in Consett, printing my latest ward Focus. I returned to the office this evening to do the folding. Delivery starts tomorrow though the weather may not play ball. The lead story is the re-opening of Chase Park. Page 2 leads with the takeover of Whickham Library by volunteers. Fly-tipping and new powers to fine people is also covered. There's also a bit about Vince becoming leader of the Lib Dems.

Focus printing Oct 17 (3)

Focus printing Oct 17 (1)