Friday, February 24, 2017

Miserable Mick

cabinet Gateshead Feb 17

Mick McNestry is a Labour cabinet member in Gateshead. He is the sort of person who can walk into a room and no one notices. He however seems to notice me. I was sitting in the Civic Centre on Tuesday watching the machinations of the cabinet when he decided to launch an attack on me for smiling and being happy. I appreciate that being around Miserable Mick is not the most endearing of experiences....but there again, the shambles of the Labour party is enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. I'm not going to follow his demand that we all be as miserable as Mick. There's already enough wrong with the world!

(Photo: Mick McNestry 5th from right)

The political undertakers are on standby

So, as expected, yesterday the Conservatives won the Copeland by-election and Labour held on in Stoke. Had Stoke gone to the Kippers, Corbyn would have been toast. For once however he was helped by the press he so clearly despises. Early suggestions that UKIP were going to win meant the Labour hold in a seat they have held since the 1930s appeared more like a major victory against the odds rather than the easy hold it should be in normal political times.

Corbyn will therefore continue as leader, wounded and dragging down the Labour Party as a significant force. It would be interesting to know the views of the Corbyn fans on Gateshead Council. While the voters of Copeland and Stoke were going to the polls yesterday, we were at full council setting the budget. Labour Deputy Leader Catherine Donovan was again looking forward to Labour sweeping the country in 2020. The by-elections indicate that the Tories, not Labour, are set to storm to victory at the next general election.

Apart from a modest recovery in the Lib Dem vote, largely unnoticed by the media, the other news from the by-elections was the defeat of UKIP. They were overtaken by us in Copeland. In Stoke their high stakes decision to field Nuttall was a disaster. Not only was he beaten in the by-election, his credibility was shot to bits by his own claims. He will now never be taken seriously as a politician. Wherever he goes, there will always be a stream of joke videos of Nuttall popping up at different historical events, making him a figure of fun and amusement. As leader of UKIP, he heads the most divisive of Britain's political parties. His defeat was something to be savoured. Corbyn may be inept and his party a shambles, but at least they kept Nuttall from the doors of Parliament. It is too early to say whether or not UKIP is finished as a significant force in politics. Stoke isn't the final nail in their coffin but yesterday it felt as though the political undertakers were put on standby.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

An outbreak of foot-in-mouth at Cabinet

Malcolm Brain Feb 17

Gateshead Council cabinet experienced an outbreak of foot-in-mouth on Tuesday. The source was Cllr Malcolm Brain (photo above) who decided to launch a tub-thumping attack on the Lib Dems for not attending a presentation put on by officers a few weeks ago about changes to environmental services. If only Cllr Brain had engaged his namesake organ stored between his ears. I was able to respond by pointing out that when we found the presentation was at a time that was impossible for Lib Dem members to attend, we invited the officers to come to our group meeting and give us the presentation there. A useful presentation indeed!

And after all these years, I have now found a use for Cllr Brain as a floor wiping utility.

How will people cope if UKIP fail to stoke up trouble?

I probably won't be staying up late tonight for the results of the Copeland and Stoke by-elections. I have a reasonably early start tomorrow morning with a meeting of people from the Home Office about the Prevent Network. So I don't want to be going to bed at 3am.

My hopes for the outcomes (2 Lib Dem gains) are likely to differ from the actual outcomes. My guess is that Copeland will probably go Conservative. Stoke on Trent Central I guess will stay Labour. Nuttall and his Kippers have not exactly left a good impression. If this is the outcome, Labour's loss of Copeland will be outshone by their holding Stoke. As the expectations of a UKIP gain have been so high, Labour's holding of a formerly safe seat will count as a Corbyn-saving victory even if Copeland is lost. Whatever the outcome, the fact we are discussing the possibility of Labour in opposition losing seats they have held for decades shows how far Labour have sunk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Labour Deputy Leader slams her own Council's "politics of division"

Even by Gateshead Labour standards, this outburst was noteworthy. Corbyn-adoring Catherine Donovan is the Deputy Leader of Gateshead Council. She loves to shoot from the hip when it comes to leftwing posturing, especially when she has Labour trade unionists as an audience, as she had at Cabinet yesterday. Whether a single word she has ever uttered in one of her rants has ever had a positive impact, or indeed any impact, on events is a debatable point.

Yesterday Gateshead Cabinet debated and agreed plans to close 3 libraries in the borough, including the one at Whickham. Cllr Donovan decided to launch a pro-Corbyn rant during the debate which barely mentioned libraries at all. She had a go at me when she saw my amusement at her belief that the country just needs to wake up to the call of Corbyn and then sweep him into power in 2020. Everything will then be solved. I intervened to call her "deluded" if she thought Labour could win the next election with Corbyn as leader.

Though libraries were barely mentioned, Cllr Donovan did manage to have a rant about post-war housing conditions, the Coalition and Donald Trump. And then she launched a remarkable attack on her own council when she said, "The politics of division that this council and Trump put forward is something that’s total anathema to what we are trying to do in this borough."

The video captures all of this.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Handing in the Whickham Library Petition

Whickham Library petition Feb 17  (1)

Our petition calling on Gateshead Council to keep open Whickham Library was completed today. I met up with colleagues Councillors Peter Craig and Marilynn Ord at the library to count up the total signatures (1612) and I then took it to Gateshead Civic Centre to hand it in ready for Cabinet tomorrow. Sadly, it's not looking good. The officer recommendation is to close.

Whickham Library petition Feb 17  (2)

The Oldest Swinger in Town

On Saturday evening, I headed back to Sunderland for the Lib Dem thank you party for the Sandhill by-election. The ward had previously been safely Labour but Stephen O'Brien stormed from 4% to 45% for the Lib Dems on 12th January. The party was held in the flat of Cllr Niall Hodson. Before 12th January, he was the entire Lib Dem group on Sunderland Council. He won his seat from Labour in May last year, taking a modest 66% of the vote. Now he is Lib Dem group leader.

The very noticeable point about Sunderland Lib Dems is how young they are. I was the oldest person at the thank you party and I felt as though I was the oldest swinger in town when I arrived. Most of the people there were born after I was first elected to Gateshead Council in May 1987!

Lib Dem youthful ambitions were showing strongly. The party in Sunderland has great plans for growing over the next few years. The Conservatives could soon be displaced as the Official Opposition in the City. And Labour are completely clueless as to how to respond to the new kids on the block.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I was in Sweden last week.....

Stockholm Jonathan Wallace Feb 16 1

I was in Sweden last week, Stockholm to be precise, visiting museums and sampling Swedish food. There were some migrants there, working in the cafes, bars and restaurants. They were nearly all from the UK or Ireland - certainly the ones I spoke to were. There was also an ethnic minority community which appeared to be well-integrated. There were no signs of simmering discontent from anyone other than 3 protesters outside the royal palace who appeared to be from the far right.

So last night I was rather surprised to hear Trump's claim that Sweden had just suffered a major terrorist attack caused by migrants. Terrorist attack? What terrorist attack? There wasn't one. Trump had simply made the whole story up. It seems he is suffering from the political equivalent of Tourette's Syndrome, uncontrollably pouring out offensive claims without any thought as to whether or not they are true. It's worrying that he is now the most powerful person on the planet.

And this is all the more remarkable in that he attacked the media for "fake news" in the same speech.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Video news update: what's happening in Chase Park

As councillors in the Whickham area, we've been contacted by quite a few people who are concerned about the work taking place in Chase Park. Gateshead Council has a proposal to sell off the old stable block and depot area and those who have been in touch with us are concerned that the housing development is now taking place. We can assure you that that is not the case.

The proposal to declare the relevant parts of the park as surplus to requirement has not yet been agreed by the Council cabinet. We continue to fight the proposed sell off.

The work taking place is the restoration of the park as a result of the successful £1 million Heritage Lottery bid. In this video Cllr Peter Craig explains the improvements that are taking place.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Labour's backbone discovered in Great North Museum

Skeleton Secrets of the Animal World Feb 17 (8)

On Friday I was invited to the opening of the Skeleton Secrets of the Animal World display at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. Many of the exhibits have been in storage for years. I did however spot this backbone and was left wondering if it was Labour's spine, evidently missing during recent months. Labour and museum go well together.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Low Fell and Chowdene Action Day

Low Fell Chowdene Lib Dem Action Day Feb 17 (7)

Today, Low Fell and Chowdene wards in Gateshead hosted an action day. The main aim of the day was to deliver a Focus across both wards. I was sent off to deliver a patch in the morning that consisted of 200 houses built into a near-cliff face with each house having typically 20 steps to get to the front door. I think it would have been easier to walk to the top of the Empire State Building!

Low Fell Chowdene Lib Dem Action Day Feb 17 (6)

Low Fell Chowdene Lib Dem Action Day Feb 17 (4)

You can get an impression of how steep the ward is with the 2 photos above.

Low Fell Chowdene Lib Dem Action Day Feb 17 (3)

HQ for the day was Daniel Duggan's house. His mum put on a great lunch! I'm pleased to say the patch I delivered in Chowdene in the afternoon was a bit more level!

In the Independent and Daily Mail

Sage Gateshead Dec 16 1

Our motion to Gateshead Council calling for no council resources to be used on the Trump state visit has attracted a great deal of interest, including from both the Independent and Daily Mail. The Independent did the decent thing and phoned me. I did the interview from one of my goat houses. I was in the middle of cleaning it out when they called. The resulting coverage included material taken from the video of my speech to the council meeting. It is balanced and reasonable and can be read on this link.

The Daily Mail made no contact with me and chose to write instead a sneering article implying Gateshead was a place not to be visited and that nothing happens here. They claimed Gateshead was "mocked" for the refusal to support the Trump visit. And the evidence for this - a tweet from a resident. You can read the Mail article on this link.

And for the edification of the Daily Fail, I've included some photos I took recently of the Sage, one of the best live music centres in the UK, the neighbouring Baltic Art Gallery, one of the biggest modern art exhibition spaces in the UK and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, now one of the iconic modern bridges of the UK (the modernity may be what troubles the Daily Fail). There's plenty going on here. If the journalists responsible for the article want to visit us, I'll happily show them around.

Baltic Art Gallery Dec 16 1

Gateshead Millennium Bridge Dec 16 (4)

Tyne Bridges Dec 16 2

Baltic Exhibition: Disappearance at Sea - Mare Nostrum

Baltic Art Gallery Feb 17 (4)

Gateshead Councillors were invited to the Baltic Art Gallery on the Gateshead Quays on Wednesday for a viewing of the new exhibition, "Disappearance at Sea - Mare Nostrum", which was inspired by refugees making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. It is based on the experiences of the refugees themselves who have often been the victims of criminal gangs and the mafia. Worth a visit.

There was, of course, a short talk from the directors of the Baltic and the Sage about the importance of the two centres to the cultural economy of the North East. Budgets are currently being finalised for 2017/18.

Baltic Art Gallery Feb 17 (5)

Friday, February 03, 2017

Gateshead Labour Leader backs Lib Dem policy

A key Lib Dem Brexit demand is that the people should have their say in a referendum on the deal for leaving the EU. Yesterday, in the debate on our motion to Gateshead Council, calling on the borough's MPs to oppose the current Brexit bill until guarantees are given on membership of the Single Market, Labour Leader Cllr Martin Gannon called for such a referendum. Well done Martin. Amidst all the noise of the Corbynite revolution within the Labour Party, Martin does tend to be a voice of reason (though there are exceptions to that - for example, his call to reject our motion yesterday). Martin does, however, need to be reminded that a destination referendum is not Labour, but is Labour, policy. Well done Martin.

Meanwhile, discipline in the Gateshead Labour group may be breaking down. As well as Labour councillors disappearing from the council chamber during the Brexit debate, resulting in Labour being 20 short of their total. It was only last night at the Blaydon Lib Dem meeting that we realised a Labour councillor had voted with us on our motion. The vote was 34 against our motion, 9 for. But we had only 8 members in the chamber when the vote was taken.

Moving the motion calling on the Council to have nothing to do with Trump visit

This afternoon (Thursday 2nd Feb) I moved an emergency motion calling on Gateshead Council to have nothing to do with the Trump state visit. The motion also called on the LGA to encourage other councils to take no part in the visit and to refuse to offer help and assistance. The motion was agreed unanimously by Gateshead Council.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

My speech on pressing Labour MPs to support staying in Single Market

At Gateshead Council today I moved a motion calling on the borough's Labour MPs to vote against triggering Article 50 until Government assurances on membership of the Single Market are given. Labour voted against though a number of their members disappeared during the debate. In the end, 34 Labour councillors voted against the motion, none in favour. But they have 54 councillors in total.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Our emergency motion on the Trump State visit

New York Trump demonstration Aug 15 (9)

Tomorrow, the Gateshead Lib Dem group will move an emergency motion at full council about the Trump state visit:

This Council notes with concern the decision by the Government to invite US President Donald Trump on a state visit to the UK. This Council notes the extreme, discriminatory actions announced by the US President immediately after the visit of the Prime Minister to Washington DC. This Council notes that many residents of Gateshead are now barred from visiting the USA by these divisive measures.
This Council agrees to:
1)take no formal part in any state visit to the UK by the US President and to withhold any Council resources from being used to support any such state visit;
2)write to the LGA to encourage all councils to take a similar stand.

As this is an issue that came about after the deadline passed for submission of motions, standing orders will need to be suspended. I've discussed this with the Cllr Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council. Labour are willing to support our motion which means we will be able to suspend standing orders to allow the debate to go ahead.

The thinking behind the motion is that the state visit will go ahead (Prime Minister Appeaser May has made this clear) but Gateshead, as a public body, will play no part in it and will call on all other councils to play no part as well.

Council meets at 2.30pm on Thursday. The debate will be at the end of the agenda.