Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I'll be on the protest

Before 2016, I had never been on a protest. I had been a bit dubious about their value and I still feel that, back then, they achieved very little. The Brexit vote however changed the environment in which we were living. Having lived through a number of decades of liberalisation and growing tolerance of and acceptance of diversity, after 23rd June, I felt the movement was starting to go into reverse. In July last year, I went on my first rally, Newcastle's Gay Pride Parade. It wasn't a protest. Far from it. It was a celebration of diversity.

In September, not only was I at the pro-Europe rally in Newcastle, I was one of the speakers. This was a demonstration in support of an issue. It was not a protest.

And then came the election of Trump. And the values on which the western democratic world have been built for decades took their most serious battering since January 1933.

Now is not the time to assume that liberal tolerance, strength in diversity and freedom are safe. They aren't. They are under threat. Now is the time to make a stand and make sure the voice of liberal democracy is heard. So I will be on the protests when Trump comes to Britain on his state visit. Since size concerns him, the more people on the protest, the better.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Our Brexit/Single Market motion to Gateshead Council

On Thursday last week, the Lib Dem group in Gateshead submitted the following motion for debate at Council on 2nd February.

This Council notes the results of the referendum on the 23rd June 2016. This Council further notes that many leading supporters of the leave campaign backed calls for the UK to remain in the single market, even if there was a decision to leave the EU. Furthermore, this council notes that proposals to withdraw from the single market were not included in the referendum question. 

This Council notes that significant numbers of Gateshead’s residents are employed by businesses that trade directly with the single market. 

This Council calls on the Government to negotiate to keep the UK in the single market and calls on Gateshead MPs to oppose the triggering of Article 50 in Parliament until assurances are given that the Government will negotiate for the country to remain in it.

I've already had indications from the within the Labour group that the motion will be rejected by them though they have their group meeting tonight so an amendment is a possibility. Given that a significant number of Labour MPs are set to rebel against Jeremy Corbyn's craven surrender to Theresa May on this matter, Labour councillors should not have a significant problem supporting our motion.

We shall see.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Advice for my Labour friends

This blog is regularly read by Labour MPs and Gateshead Labour members so I thought I may just use it to give them some advice. If you don't like the thought of voting to trigger Article 50 now that the Government have made it absolutely clear that leaving the EU means leaving the Single Market, defy the 3 line whip imposed by Labour "Leader" Jeremy Corbyn under which he is instructing Labour MPs to back the Government. Take a leaf out of the book of that Labour MP who rebelled over 500 times during the Blair and Brown years and vote with your conscience.

Someone please remind me of his name......

Having Trump as President is torture enough

We now live in strange times and we learnt today that Trump supports the use of torture. He seems intent however on torturing the whole world. Today his victims include Mexico who learnt via Twitter that their President wasn't welcome at the Whitehouse if he did not bring a few billion dollars to pay for Trump's Wall. Trump's approach to international relations however highlights the dangers ahead for Britain. He wants bilateral, rather than multilateral, trade agreements. A bilateral approach means that the US will always be the strongest in any trade discussions. It's hardly surprising that he seems to despise the EU, whose multilateral approach is the opposite to his. Theresa May is desperate for a trade deal with the US. She will take whatever crumbs will be thrown her way by Trump. Such a deal could never be as good as what we have already in the Single Market.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Delivering in Dunston

Dunston Hill Focus Jan 17

I had planned to deliver my patch of 200 Focuses in Dunston Hill in between the Gateshead Council cabinet at 10am and health scrutiny committee at 1.30pm. Alas, Cabinet didn't finish until midday so the delivery started at 4.30pm instead.

The lead Focus story is about the plans for the housing development to the south of Whickham Highway. We also had an article about Europe - a call for EU citizens to be given the right to stay after Brexit. Other articles include further improvements to the A1, the clean up of Dunston Pool, the council budget and my selection as candidate for Blaydon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Battling for Whickham Library

Petition replies Jan 17

Gateshead Council have put forward saving proposals for the library service. There are a number of options that have been put out to consultation and all but one of them proposes the closure of Whickham Library. Other than the Central Library, Whickham is the busiest branch and as an area library, it supports school services and other libraries as well. The proposals to close it do not stack up so local Lib Dems have been campaigning to save Whickham Library. Today we have been delivering petitions. I delivered 450 across three delivery patches in my ward this morning. I returned this evening to collect 115 replies (see photo above). There is clearly a great deal of interest in this issue.

Lighting Up Whickham Coffee Morning

selling jam Jan 17

Another chance to combine politics and self-sufficiency presented itself on Saturday morning. Lighting Up Whickham, the group of volunteers set up to raise funds for the Whickham Christmas tree, were holding a coffee morning in Whickham Library. I brought my eggs and jam along to sell to help raise funds.

Heath Robinson invades Lib Dem office

folding machine Jan 17

While sane people are spending Friday evenings at home, obsessive campaigners like me are at the local Lib Dem office in Consett carrying a huge tonnage of new equipment up a flight of 22 stairs. The new kit we were installing was a new folding machine. Frankly it looked like something from Heath Robinson. This folding machine works like an industrial strength hair dryer. It took 4 of us to get it up the stairs. At least I was able to print another Focus afterwards, though the new folding machine was not at that point in working order. We therefore employed our trusty old folder which must, by now, have folded literally millions of sheets of paper.

Now that the Focus is printed, I will be hitting the streets with it in the coming days.

Focus printing Jan 17 1

Speaking to Gateshead Rotary

Ravensworth Arms, Lamesley Jan 17

I was invited to speak at the Gateshead Rotary Lunch at the Ravensworth Arms near Lamesley on Thursday, about self-sufficiency. The invite came via a constituent who had read in one of our recent Focuses about how I live the good life. I've done a number of talks on this issue before so I was happy to take up the invite and tell the assembled Rotarians about growing my own food, keeping goats and chickens, reviving old skills and planning to generate our own energy. The talk seemed to go down well. As a thank you, they gave me lunch. I opted for something we can't produce from our own self-sufficient sources - scampi and chips!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

More positive Lib Dem coverage in the Journal

Journal 20 Jan 17

And so the revolution at the Journal continues. This North East newspaper is normally loyal to Labour but in recent weeks, it has been putting out positive coverage of the Lib Dems. On Friday, it carried a front page lead on Tim Farron's attack on the useless and ineffective Labour "leader" Jeremy Corbyn who is abandoning the role of opposition to join Theresa May in pushing through the Parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 without the scrutiny such a major decision needs.

Given the inept leadership of Corbyn, and the North East's dependence on the Single Market for exports, hopefully the Journal will continue to scale down its support for Labour and develop a more pluralist approach.

Brexit Britain's "America First" trade deal

If Brexiteers believe that Britain is in line for a great free trade deal with the US, can I just refer them to Donald Trump's inauguration speech. He made it absolutely clear, in every capital around the world, that America is first. He wants capital and wealth "returned" to America. I'm left wondering what will happen to American businesses that have invested in the UK. Are these factories to be repatriated? If Theresa May and Boris Johnson want a free trade agreement, they cannot count on US businesses being able to invest in Britain. It is simply not possible to have a free trade treaty with a protectionist nation.

Whether in or out of the EU, Britain is looking for Chinese investment in the UK. But what restrictions will Trump want to put on us in terms of our dealings with China if, as expected, he launches a trade war on the Chinese. And what happens to UK firms that have invested in the US but want to extend their investment by setting up in Mexico as well. Are they going to be threatened? After all, Trump has attacked Toyota and BMW for planning to invest in Mexico. It seems the Japanese and Germans must now operate an America First approach to investment of their yen and euros.

With Britain separated from the Single Market and divorced from the EU, there is a danger that Theresa May will grab any morsel thrown her way by the US which will then be claimed as a great free trade treaty for Brexit Britain. The reality is that a deal with protectionist, Trump-led America will be a poor replacement for what we have now with the EU. And worst of all, it will leave us shackled to Trump.

As I write this, I discover that in the last few hours, Trump's staff have already closed down the climate change and LGBT pages of the Whitehouse's website. It seems Trump is wasting no time to move the world backwards.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Keep faith with Labour" pleads by-election leaflet

Sandhill By-election Jan 17 (2)

I promise this will be the last post about the Sandhill by-election in Sunderland. I saw this Labour leaflet on Tuesday when I was there to help deliver Lib Dem election letters. "Keep faith with Labour" was the bit that instantly jumped out to me. Having looked at the campaign and the Labour campaign messages, they offered very little reason for people to "keep the faith" in Labour. There was also a rather arrogant assumption by Labour that people had faith in them in the first place and that all they had to do was tap into that faith to get elected.

Like so many areas of the North East, Labour are the political masters who are remote and out-of-touch. They are seen only at election times and they take too many wards and constituencies for granted. Sunderland may be an extreme example of this but if Labour are to survive, they need to reconnect with communities and the people who live in them. I'm not convinced they are ready to do that.

Delivering in Ryton

Ryton Focus delivery Jan 17

A new year and a new set of Focuses to deliver in Gateshead. Today I was in the Stella Riverside development in Ryton ward. Nearly 500 Focuses to deliver. I did it in 2 hours. I was very impressed by the view of the River Tyne from this estate.

Stella Riverside Jan 17

"Only the Liberal Democrats are enjoying the voters' verdict right now" - Journal

Journal leader 14 Jan 17

For the second time in a week, it was a joy to read the Journal, the North East's morning newspaper. At the start of the week, its front page was a story provided by the Lib Dems on the pressure on the NHS. Yesterday, the Journal reported on the Sandhill by-election result in Sunderland where, on Thursday, the Lib Dems went from 4% and 4th place to win the seat from Labour in a by-election with 45% of the vote.

The Journal could have been dismissive of the Lib Dems. The newspaper could have buried the result away with little comment. But in what could possibly be a sign of the times, the normally Labour-backing Journal has given us some stonking great lines in an editorial, in addition to a lead news article that focused heavily on the youthful Lib Dem campaigners winning over the people and giving Labour a serious mauling.

Here are a few of the quotes from the editorial:

"...the victory by Liberal Democrat Stephen O'Brien in Sunderland's Sandhill ward on Thursday was a stunner."

"...a protest vote against Labour was always possible. However, the scale of it was quite something."

"Only the Liberal Democrats are enjoying the voters' verdict right now."

And on UKIP (remember Sunderland is the Brexit capital of Britain and in the last election in Sandhill, the Kippers came a relatively good second) the Journal said:

"If there is going to be a protest vote in Sunderland....why did it not favour [UKIP]? More evidence that the Kippers just do not perform well enough in first-past-the-post elections."

So, time to enjoy the headlines and media coverage but the hard work continues. Talking of which, I'm about to head to Ryton ward in Gateshead to help deliver our next Focus.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sandhill By-election - the movie!

Yesterday, after a Gateshead Council advisory group meeting, I went back to Sandhill in Sunderland to help with the Lib Dem polling day operation in the by-election. I was the voice of caution as members got excited about the figures coming through from the knock up. We knew we had done well on the postal votes which were the majority of ballots cast. The door knocking operation had the potential to push us over into first place. I kept telling people to keep calm and not get carried away.

Labour knew they had a problem holding on to what was normally a safe seat for them. We knew that because they put out a fake Focus leaflet and had been going around the ward on Wednesday with a loud speaker car shouting about "liberal lies".

Our wildest dreams included a Lib Dem win but only with a slender majority. The cold air of reality (and it was bitterly cold in Sunderland yesterday) told me we would get close but come second. But I just did not expect the final result which went way beyond our most vivid fantasies. The Lib Dem vote increased by nearly ten fold. The final votes with last year's in brackets were:

  • Stephen O'Brien (Lib Dem) 824 (90)
  • Labour 458 (1229)
  • UKIP 343 (579)
  • Conservatives 184 (277)
  • Green 23 (59)
So, it wasn't even close. Clearly a large number of people have moved over from Labour directly to the Lib Dems. And UKIP have blown their chances in the Brexit Capital of Britain.

Anyway, feel free to enjoy Sandhill By-election - the Movie! I filmed it on Thursday evening during the get-out-the-vote operation. It also includes the declaration of the result and responses to it.

And finally, congratulations to new Lib Dem Councillor, Stephen O'Brien. Well done on a bloody fantastic result.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Labour hits panic button in Sunderland by-election

Fake Focus Sandhill Jan 17 1

Yesterday I wrote about the possibility that Labour's dominance of Sunderland politics could be cracking. Their performance in the Sandhill by-election was somewhat lacklustre and I was hoping that the Lib Dem performance would show an improvement on the distant 4th place we got in the ward last year. I wasn't quite expecting any political earthquakes, but a few political earth tremors was a reasonable expectation.

I did say to other Lib Dem campaigners in the ward yesterday when I was helping to deliver election letters that what we needed was for Labour to slag us off in their last minute leaflet. That would give the voters the impression that the by-election was a battle between Labour and the Lib Dems with other parties simply playing the role of spectators. Always useful for squeezing the other parties and picking up soft Labour supporters.

Labour have very kindly done what I hoped and, indeed, have gone one step further.  They have hit the panic button by producing a fake Focus full of all sorts of attacks on the Lib Dems, done in such a way that it is so utterly obvious that it is produced by Labour and not by us. It means they have laid their cards on the table regarding who they believe are the challengers (in a ward which last year saw Labour on 1200 votes and the Lib Dems on 90).

Labour need something positive to appeal to their own voters. Their previous election leaflets lack that in this by-election. They simply attack opposition candidates generally for not supporting their cuts. That doesn't strike me as the way to win, and it rather contradicts the contents of the fake Focus. So, Labour's manpower in the ward today has not been used to tell voters why they should vote Labour, it's been used to tell voters that the Lib Dems are a credible threat to them.

And that's going to make this an interesting battle tomorrow. I'll be there is give our candidate Stephen O'Brien a helping hand.

Fake Focus Sandhill Jan 17 2

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wind power beats coal for electricity generation

wind turbines Oct 11 1

There is some interesting material on the Carbon Brief website about electricity generation in the UK in 2016. During that year, wind generated 11.5% of the country's electricity and for the first time ever, it beat coal which produced 9%. Solar also generated more power than coal from April to September.

This is good news for the renewable energy sector and I am especially pleased that this milestone has been passed at a time when Donald Trump is getting ready to trash international agreements on climate change and emissions. I wonder what coal-loving Labour MPs make of Trumps call to burn more (American) coal. Perhaps they could enlighten us.

Is Labour's hold cracking in Sunderland?

cracks in road surface Jan 17 (1)

I spent today in Sunderland helping Stephen O'Brien, the Lib Dem candidate in the Sandhill by-election.  We delivered letters to target voters (and had a pub lunch at the Hastings Hill).

The ward has returned Labour councillors for decades. We were 4th here in May 2016 when it was last contested. The result was:
Lab 1,229
UKIP 579
Con 277
Lib Dem 90
Green 59 

So at first sight, it looks like Mission Impossible for the Lib Dems. But I would hazard a guess that we will make some progress when the result is declared on Thursday. I suspect cracks are showing in Labour's hold on the area. Given the poor state of the roads, including the San Andreas style crack along one road in the ward that I snapped while delivering letters, it wouldn't surprise me if people were a bit fed up with the poor rate of return from Labour run Sunderland. Whether there is enough discontent to cause a political earthquake is yet to be seen.

We bumped into a group of ukippers outside the Hastings Hill. They said their postal vote was "so so" and hoped "not to be wiped out". It was hardly the talk of a party confident of success. Remember - this is Sunderland, the Capital of Brexit.

There may not be a political earthquake on Thursday in Sunderland, but expect a few more tremors and a few more cracks in Labour's dominance.

Sandhill By-election Jan 17 (3)

A positive front page about Lib Dems in a Labour supporting paper

Journal 10 January 17

This was a bit of a surprise - the Journal, Tyneside and Northumberland's morning newspaper, carried a positive front page lead story about the Lib Dems and the A&E crisis at Cramlington Hospital. The Journal, owned by Trinity Mirror, is usually a slavish supporter of Labour. Is their commitment to them beginning to crack? The Journal backed the Remain campaign and with Corbyn today trying to turn the Labour Party into UKIP Lite, are we going to see a less Labour-supporting tone from this newspaper? Let's hope so.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Dunston Hill housing consultation

Dunston Hill housing consultation Jan 17 1

House-builder Persimmon held a consultation this evening in Lobley Hill Community Centre about their plans for 550 executive houses on land to the south of Whickham Highway. I attended the event with Lib Dem campaigner Kevin McClurey and Cllr Peter Maughan. We fought the battle to keep the area in the greenbelt but Labour used their majority on Gateshead Council in 2015 to push through the change. With the protection against development stripped away, it was only a matter of time before the application for housing was submitted. The planning application is expected by the end of January. The consultation today was part of the build up to the application's submission.

The Charles Church division of Persimmon deals with the expensive end of the house-building market and they are handling this application. Labour's plan for this site was for expensive executive housing and it is noticeable that there was no mention of affordable homes here at the consultation. We hear much from Labour about the need for affordable housing. But that's not what we are going to get here.

Dunston Hill housing consultation Jan 17 2

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Winning at the History Society

Sunniside History Society Jan 17 (1)

My first meeting of 2017 was on Tuesday evening. Sunniside History Society is held on the first Tuesday of the month. We had a speaker from Durham Cathedral to talk about the Open Treasure exhibition. It looks interesting and as I have a trip to Durham to do later this month, I will pop in and have a look.

Meanwhile, rather embarrassingly my ticket was the first to be drawn in the raffle. I won a bottle of beer. As the prize winner, I had to draw the next ticket, which, even more embarrassingly, was also mine! I suggested another ticket be drawn instead. But if winning first prize is a sign of the year ahead, it could be an interesting 2017.

Sunniside History Society Jan 17 (3)

Sunset over Sunniside

Sunniside sunset Jan 17 (1)

I snapped this a couple of nights ago. My village of Sunniside is well named! A brilliant red sunset as I was returning home from feeding my goats. Whether the sun is setting on the red socialists of the Labour party in 2017 is still to be seen, though the initial evidence would suggest it is.

Sunniside sunset Jan 17 (2)

Loathsome Leadsom and the crop failure of Brexit extremists

Journal Jan 17 1

Environment Secretary Angela Loathsome Leadsom is great at planting crops of grass-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence. In this instance, her claims are that the farming industry is set to flourish in the sunny uplands once Brexit has taken place. Those of us with even a limited understanding of agriculture know that the uplands are tough and challenging places for crop production and what can be produced there is limited.

I spotted the claims made by Angela Leadsom in the Journal this morning. What caught my eye was the claim that cutting EU regulations will "free our farmers". What she failed to say was that many regulations come not from Europe but from Whitehall. I keep goats and have lots of DEFRA regulations to follow. The author of some of these regulations is London, some of them are from Brussels. They exist for good reason. Animal welfare, disease control and environmental protection regulations come at a cost but are necessary. Leadsom's suggestion that there could be a bonfire of regulations, "freeing farmers to produce food" may sound great but without an explanation of which regulations are to be incinerated, farmers are in the dark as to just how realistic her rather vague vision is. Given that many DEFRA regulations are additions to European regulations, if the latter are scrapped, we would lose the former as well.

The Single Market is where 75% of UK agriculture exports are sold. Brexit extremists dismiss this with a shrug of the shoulders and make a simplistic suggestion that we can "sell to China instead" (we already can do that). Removing ourselves from our biggest market could seriously undermine the health of the agricultural sector. And far from "taking control" of our country as the Brexit extremist claim, our food security could be put into the hands of nations such as China and India. Fruit growing areas could relocate to Europe if businesses aren't able to recruit European fruit pickers. The Brits simply don't want to do that job and despite efforts to recruit in the UK, fruit growing businesses have been forced to recruit in eastern Europe or face leaving the fruit to rot on the bushes and trees. Many extremist Brexiteers want us to import large quantities of cheap food from Asia where there are cheap labour and poorer environmental standards. That's not "taking back control" - instead it's handing over control to the Chinese Communist Party and to Putin's Russia while damaging the environment at the same time.

This Brexit extremists' vision of Britain dependent on cheap food imports from the other side of the planet could result in the bankruptcy of significant parts of the UK agricultural industry. Farms will lose the £3 billion of European subsidies (much of which pays for environmental protection schemes) and be unable to compete against the flood of cheap imports. Animal welfare standards (the UK arguably has some of the strongest in the world) would have to be significantly lowered to allow the industry to survive against foreign suppliers where such regulations barely exist.

According to Leadsom, farms will flourish once they no longer have to abide by the regulation that they must display signs that they are getting funding from Europe. This rather sums up Brexit: a small gain (in this instance no longer having to display a sign about European funding) which comes with a tremendous cost (losing the £3 billion European funding)! What a mad state of affairs.