Thursday, March 30, 2017

Printing our next Focus

Printing Focuses Mar 17

I was in the Lib Dem office in Consett on Thursday afternoon. My mission was to print the front page of our next Whickham Focus. Cllr Chris Ord had already printed p2. 8000 copies went through the riso and I even managed to fold about 4000. That means they will start to go into circulation tomorrow.

The "Great Repeal" Bill

Thursday saw the publication of the so-called “Great Repeal” Bill which will transfer European law into British law, all 44 years’ worth, when the UK walks away from the EU and into isolation. “Great Repeal” is therefore a by rather ironic name. Parliament is then expected to spend the next decade unpicking all the European legislation incorporated into UK law and writing our own laws and regulations instead. 

It will be a rather pointless exercise. Assuming there will be a trade agreement, as the EU will be by far the senior partner, UK laws and regulations will need to reflect European decisions, laws and regulations so that UK businesses can continue to trade there. The idea that somehow we can get back our sovereignty by leaving the EU is nonsense. We will get it back in name only. And instead of being in a club of 28 equals, in which sovereignty over various issues is shared, we are now heading to a situation in which we are an isolated player versus a much, much larger united team which will set the rules for us even though we will have no say over them. This is not what I regard as being in the national interest.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Britain needs the Liberal Democratic values of Europe

Theresa May's announcement that "the world needs the Liberal Democratic values of Europe" today in her speech about the triggering of Article 50 was something of a surprise. She is of course right. The world does need those values. Given the dangers of Brexit signalling a return to the values of the 1950s, in which society was dominated by white, male conformity, it is clear that Britain more than ever needs the Liberal Democrat values of Europe.

So, Article 50 is triggered. Britain is abandoning Europe. History teaches us that we do that at our peril. The negotiations now begin on salvaging what we can from the wreckage of the Brexit car crash. The most we can hope for is a watered down version of what we have at the moment. The worst would be no agreement at all. Abandoning Europe however is not just about economics. It's about British influence in Europe. We have for centuries fought to ensure that Europe is not united against us. We have rightly regarded such a situation as being against our national interest. It's why we fought Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler. But after the 2nd World War, Europe emerged from the rubble with a determination to create the institutions that would allow differences between nations to be settled peacefully. Shared access to resources would be guaranteed.

Now we have a UK government led by Theresa May, allegedly a remainer but who relishes the language of the leavers. And her administration is packed full of Brexit extremists such as David Davis and Brexit opportunists such as Boris Johnson.

The first effects of Europe united against us already look to be ready to push Britain back. It is looking likely that May's hopes of parallel discussions on the divorce and post Brexit trade deal will be rejected. The divorce terms must come first.

And even if there were a free trade agreement with Europe, the EU, not Britain, will set the terms. All our trade with Europe will be conducted under EU directives and regulations. So much for taking back control.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Labour: catching the wrong bus

Labour's announcement today that they will vote against any deal that leaves the UK with fewer benefits than are currently enjoyed by being full members of the EU is frankly unbelievable! Labour had a choice weeks ago. Standing at the Brexit bus stop, they saw two buses approaching, one heading for Soft, the other for Hard, Brexit. They flagged down the Hard Brexit service. They weren't just passengers on this bus. They actively helped the driver to navigate the obstacles and road blocks. They put fuel in the tank. They had a choice of destination and they opted for the wrong one. With the bus speeding towards Hard Brexit, there are no bus stops left for them to get off before the final destination.

It's a bit late now for Labour to announce they don't like the destination. They are stuck on board the Hard Brexit bus and no amount of moaning about the destination will change that.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

UKIP: gradual disintegration rather than collapse

I got home yesterday afternoon from a bit of Lib Dem video filming in Teeside, switched on the news to watch any updates about the Unite for Europe march in London (I wasted my time with the BBC but Sky News covered it) and discovered that UKIP are no longer represented in the House of Commons. Their sole MP, the semi-detached Douglas Carswell, has taken too literally the meaning of "Independence" in "United Kingdom Independence Party" and has launched his own departure from the party of fruitcakes to sit as an independent.

I don't expect this independence to last. He's clearly heading back towards the Conservatives. Whether or not he is able to find some loophole in his past statements that will help him avoid a by-election is still to be seen, but I expect Carswell to be boosting the Conservatives' Commons majority in the not too distant future.

The defection leaves UKIP in a perilous state but they are not dead yet. Beware the dangers of writing death certificates for opposing parties. UKIP is disintegrating before our eyes but a rump will continue for the foreseeable future, despite the best efforts of Theresa May to ramraid UKIP and steel their worst right-wing policies. Though UKIP has no presence in the Commons, they continue to have a presence in opinion polls. In effect, they are a depository of right wing protest votes and that sustains their poll ratings.

So, enjoy the continued spectacle of UKIP infighting and disintegration as it will last for some time yet.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Back to Washingwell School

Washingwell Primary School Mar 17 (2)

I was back at Washingwell Primary School in Whickham yesterday, wearing both my councillor and local historian hats. The school was having a visit from the Mayor of Gateshead, Allison Thompson and she was also looking at Washingwell's involvement with the Fugar History Project, run by Sunniside History Society, of which I am deputy chairman.

I encountered one of the Snow Dogs when I arrived. These were sculptures placed around Tyneside during the winter which were later sold to raise funds for St Oswald's Children's Hospice.

Washingwell Primary School Mar 17 (3)

Washingwell Primary School Mar 17 (1)

The mayor chatted to a class of 9-year-olds (the same class to which I gave a talk about life in the medieval period earlier this month) about the role of the mayor. Alas, I had to leave early as I had a meeting of the Newcastle Gateshead Partnership to attend.

Flags at half mast

flags at half mast Gateshead Mar 17

Following the terror attacks in London, the flags were at half mast outside Gateshead Civic Centre yesterday. I'm still trying to comprehend what drives people to murder randomly selected innocent people as part of a political war. Or perhaps there is nothing to comprehend. ISIS is simply a cult of death, modern day Nazis.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pro-EU flag waving event in Gateshead

This event was held on Gateshead Quays on 14th March but I only got round to editing it today (conference got in the way). A display of EU flags to demonstrate people's support for Europe.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Extending the Kingsway Community Orchard

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (82)

Yesterday, our project to extend Kingsway Community Orchard in Sunniside took a big step forward. 20 volunteers from the Princes Trust, a couple of officers from Gateshead Council, Cllr Marilynn Ord and I planted 100 fruit trees, more than trebling the orchard from the 46 that were planted 5 years ago. The total cost of the project was £200 - I was able to negotiate a bargain price with Groundwork, the environmental charity that was selling the trees. Given that trees tend to cost about £25 each, we got 100 for the price of 8. There has been a great deal of rain today so the trees have had a good soaking.

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (50)

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (52)

Me in my best fur coat - my donkey jacket!

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (43)

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (41)

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (35)

Marking Labour's homework

Labour motion correction Mar 17

A Labour motion about cuts to school budgets was debated last Thursday. We supported it, despite the large number of grammatical and punctuation errors and unnecessary padding it contained. The mover of the motion was Cllr Chris McHugh who was, until recently, a teacher. As I believe he had a major role in writing the motion, I decided to mark and correct his homework and hand it back to him during the debate. He came back with quite a good riposte - he will consult me on punctuation in future but not on politics! I think that made it a score draw!

Sunday Conference Photos

Conference hall Sunday 19 Mar 17 (2)

These are a bit late as I've been rather busy this week but here are a few photos from Lib Dem conference on Sunday morning. The auditorium was the most crowded I have ever seen it for a leader's speech. And Tim Farron was at his best. I'm pleased he was prepared to talk about patriotism. I'm fed up with the way the Right has hijacked patriotism and it's time to reclaim it.

Conference hall Sunday 19 Mar 17 (15)

Conference hall Sunday 19 Mar 17 (30)

Conference hall Sunday 19 Mar 17 (24)

Conference hall Sunday 19 Mar 17 (28)

Party President Sal Brinton introduces everyone's favourite bit of conference: the appeal, led by Mike Germain, Jackie Pearcey and Liz Leffman.

And so to Tim's speech:

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (8)

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (24)

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (28)

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (50)

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (52)

Tim Farron speech Mar 17 (53)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Marking up the orchard

Kingsway Orchard Mar 17 (4)

Tomorrow (Tuesday) we shall be planting 100 trees in the Kingsway Community orchard in Sunniside. My job today was to plan the location for each tree and mark it in line paint. Work starts tomorrow with the delivery of the trees from Groundwork at 7.30am. Planting takes place through the morning.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saturday Pics from Conference

conference auditorium Mar 17 (5)

The Trident debate. I sat at the back of the hall and had a good view when the vote was taken. It was clear to me without a count that the unilateralist amendment was defeated.

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (11)

Tim Farron meets President Obama

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (13)

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (10)

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (7)

For some reason Lib Dems like cuddly animals.

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (2)

I love the gravestone. Very appropriate for Labour.

Tim Farron Q&A Mar 17 (11)

Tim Farron Q&A Mar 17 (7)

Tim Farron Q&A. A much better performance than Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs.

Jackie Pearcey Mar 17 (3)

Jackie Pearcey - taking on Labour's 24,000 majority in Manchester Gorton. Apparently Labour have a few local difficulties in the by-election, all to do with Labour fighting themselves. Thanks Labour comrades for  making life a little bit easier for us!

Conference exhibition Mar 17 (14)

Free on the Parliamentary Candidates Association stand, written by yours truly.

Union jacks, EU flags and lots of shouting at conference

Tim Farron Euro flag union jack Mar 17 (10)

I thought I had retired from doing formal photo ops at Lib Dem conferences but, it was not to be. I was asked to do the photos at a session late yesterday afternoon, with Tim Farron, lots of members, some EU flags and some union jacks. This meant lots of shouting by me at people to get them all into the shot. Herding cats and herding Lib Dems comes to mind.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Arguably the best conference rally yet

York Conference rally Mar 17 (1)

It's Lib Dem spring conference and for the second year running, we are in York. I arrived this afternoon, complete with cameras, tripod, laptop and 2 day's worth of underwear. As is always the case, conference rally is held on the Friday evening. Tonight's was by far the best attended I have experienced. That may be down to the fact that about a quarter of the people in the conference hall were new members. There were some great speeches but Nick Clegg stole the show with an absolute barnstorming performance. Europe was the theme but speaker after speaker made at least some reference to inept, useless Labour who have abdicated their role of official opposition.

So conference is starting well and will hopefully continue in the same vein.

Commonwealth Day flag-raising ceremony

I represented the Gateshead Lib Dem Council Group on Monday at the Commonwealth Day flag-raising ceremony at the Civic Centre. This is the video I filmed on the day.

9-year-olds hunt in packs

Washingwell School History Talk Mar 17 (1)

With my historian's hat on, I was invited as part of Sunniside History Society's Fugar history project to do a talk to a class of 28 nine year olds at Washingwell School about life as a peasant 800 years ago. The focus of the talk was food and I took in with me some of the foods eaten in 1217 (nettles, wild garlic, a fresh trout, 2 quail, pig's trotters and pig's head). I also took in a selection of foods used today and the children had to work out whether or not those same foods would have been available 800 years ago.

I was grilled for an hour and a half by the children. I was exhausted by the end of the lesson. I was sent a note afterwards by a friend via Facebook that in her experience as a mother, 9-year-olds hunt in packs and she congratulated me on getting out alive!

Sunniside History Society 25th Anniversary

Sunniside History Society 25th anniversary Mar 17 (8)

On Tuesday last week, Sunniside History Society celebrated its 25th anniversary. Founded in March 1992, it has been going strongly ever since. A celebration was held to mark the occasion with a birthday cake (cut by Eleanor Baty, one of the founders) and a quiz about events of 1992. My job was to write and present the quiz. It was a great evening and hopefully the Society will continue to be active in the next 25 years.

Sunniside History Society 25th anniversary Mar 17 (10)

In case you are interested, here are the questions. There were 2 sections. The first was about events of the year. My plan initially was to have one event from each month of 1992. I found that a few months had no outstanding events that would be remembered 25 years later so other months are over-represented. So how many of the following events can you remember? (Answers in brackets.):

1)February Which major sporting event took place this month and which country hosted it? Winter Olympics, France Albertville

2)February Who was caught with their pants down? Paddy Ashdown

3)February Which film won Oscars for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins? Silence of the Lambs

4)March Which North East MP was arrested on Hampstead Heath 2 days before the General Election was called and which constituency did this person represent? Alan Amos, Hexham

5)March Which royal couple announced they were separating? Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson

6)April John Major led the Conservatives to victory at the General Election. Which appropriately named horse won the Grand National a few days before? Party Politics

7)June The skeletons of which two people were found in Yekaterinburg in Russia? Tsar Nickolas and Tsarina Alexandra

8)June Which former Prime Minister entered the House of Lords? Baroness Thatcher

9)July The BBC launches which new soap opera? Eldorado

10)August Which city hosted the Olympics and how many gold medals did the UK win? Barcelona 5

11)September Britain suspended her membership of which international organisation? European Exchange Rate Mechanism

12)November Who won the US Presidential election, who was 2nd and who was 3rd? Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Ross Pero

13)November Which major decision was taken by the Church of England? Ordination of women priests

14)November Which famous building went up in flames? Windsor Castle

15)November Which tv station, a joint venture of BBC and Thames Television, was launched? UK Gold

The send round was about prices in 1992. Members had to guess what certain goods cost that year. I've shown both 1992 and 2017 typical prices. By the way, from 1992 to the end of 2016, prices rose by 90% while wages increased by 117%.

Box of 20 cigarettes £2.08/£8.88

Average house price £52,187/£205,937

Litre of petrol 40.3p/120.9p

Nokia 101 £149.99 plus £25 plus VAT month line rental

Mortgage rate in May 1992 10%/3-4%

First class stamp 24p/64p

Frozen chicken per kg £1.55/£2.43

White sliced loaf bread 800g 73p/£1

Tea bags 250g £1.40/£3.98

Sugar 1kg 65p/69p

Milk 34p/pint/25p

Eggs £1.24/dozen/£1.75

Draft bitter £1.31/pint/£2.99

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Video: taking Spotless to Whickham to meet the Bishop

On 4th March, I was invited to take a goat to Church Green where Planting Up Whickham were carrying out a maintenance day. The idea was that this would help to get the event noticed. The main guest at the event however was the Bishop of Carlisle. This is the video I shot on the day and includes an interview with Bishop James.

Spotless, the billy goat I took to the event, was remarkably well behaved on the day. Since the event I've had a number of people who have said they spotted me on the day with goat in tow. It's not what you expect to see often in the village!

Expanding Kingsway Community Orchard

Kingsway Community Orchard Mar 17 (2)

4 years ago, Cllr Marilynn Ord, Cllr John McClurey and I arranged for a community orchard to be planted on unused council land next to Kingsway, Sunniside. Gateshead Council's Local Community Fund (LCF) paid for 40 trees which were then planted by children from local schools. A year later, I was offered 6 fruit trees by a nursery if I gave them a free advert on my self-sufficiency blog ( The local police cadets helped to plant them.

Earlier this month I discovered Groundwork had a large number of fruit trees they were selling at bargain prices at the Central Nursery in Lobley Hill. I bought 10 at £3 each, four of which I gave to the Whinnies Community Garden (also in Sunniside), and six of which I planted in one of my allotments. I also negotiated a deal with Groundwork for 100 trees at a total cost of £200. The LCF will cover this.

With John and Marilynn, and officers from Gateshead Council, we are planning a planting event on Tuesday next week with local schools. My job to do in the meantime is to get a spraycan and mark up on the orchard site where each of the 100 trees will be planted. As I'm at Lib Dem conference this weekend, it looks like this will be a job for Friday morning and Sunday evening.

Once the trees are planted, we will still have less than half of the site used. The plan had always been to expand the orchard as and when we could lay our hands on some trees. So in the years ahead, we will continue to grow the project.

Kingsway Community Orchard Mar 17 (1)

Kingsway Community Orchard Mar 17 (3)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Flying the flag for Europe

Flying Flag for Europe March 2017

There was a pro-Europe event today on the Gateshead Quays. EU supporters were there to demonstrate their support of Europe by waving flags. I was there to do the photos which you can see above.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Continuous consultation as libraries handed to voluntary sector

Gateshead Council has continuously been reviewing libraries in the borough for the past few years. At cabinet last month, the latest review recommended the transfer of 3 libraries - Whickham, Rowlands Gill and Felling - to the voluntary sector. We know that in 2020, Gateshead Council will no longer receive any revenue support grant from the government. We know that the demands for adult social care are increasing rapidly and Gateshead is statutorily required to provide it. In other words, the amount of money available for libraries (and most other services) will be dramatically reduced. I therefore argued at cabinet that the next consultation must not be about which libraries are transferred in 2018. Instead, there should be a vision for the whole of the library service in the harsh world of zero revenue support and that the whole service should be reformed to fit in with the vision. My views are explained in the video of my comments at Cabinet.

Planting Up Whickham meets the Bishop

Planting Up Whickham March 2017

I missed the March for Europe in Newcastle today as I had been invited some time ago to two events today. The first was a beekeepers' meeting in Marley Hill, the second was a maintenance day with Planting Up Whickham on Church Green. I was asked to bring a goat to the maintenance day, and after completing the appropriate paperwork with DEFRA, I brought Spotless, our billy goat who was surprisingly well behaved. The event was joined by the Bishop of Carlisle who is visiting lots of local events as part of a programme of reconnecting with communities. I don't follow any religion myself but I'm always happy to help religious groups engage with communities.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

UKIP: politically and financially squeezed

It seems as though UKIP aren't just being squeezed politically. The Electoral Commission are reporting that in the final quarter of 2016, they received only £33,000 in donations. It's interesting to note that the Lib Dems' donations were £1.973 million, £3K ahead of Labour.

If this minimal level of funding continues, UKIP's struggles will get worse. They will lack the funds to mount national campaigns and by-elections could prove financially impossible. So, not only are UKIP bankrupt politically (Theresa May has done a great job of attracting back the fruitcakes), their viability is looking decidedly dodgy.

And they can't sell any knighthoods either to boost funds!

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

"An audience with Jonathan Wallace"

Audience with Jonathan Wallace Feb 17

I was rather amused and also slightly taken aback when the agenda for the March meeting of Sunniside History Society was advertised at the February meeting. I noticed the last item was "An audience with Jonathan Wallace"! Fortunately for the good people of Sunniside, the Secretary had put it on the agenda as a joke! After all, I can't think of something more likely to scare away the punters!

The next meeting will actually be used to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the History Society back in March 1992. That month certainly brings back memories for me, not necessarily happy ones. I was Lib Dem candidate for Hexham and 2 days before John Major called the election, my Conservative opponent Alan Amos MP, was arrested on Hampstead Heath. Two days later, Amos was gone, there was a media field day on my private life (Shock as Lib Dem Candidate comes out as GAY in Sex Scandal Hexham type headlines) and Labour ran a scurrilous homophobic campaign against me. (Don't anyone try to tell me the North East Labour Party is progressive.) Having spent nearly 3 years as candidate, I saw my dreams of being elected to Parliament crumble in front of me.

So March 1992 was quite an eventful month for me. But at the society meeting next week, I won't be talking about my experiences. Instead, I'll be running a quiz about the events of 1992. There will also be a "Name that Price" competition in which people will have to guess the price of various goods on sale in 1992. The research I've been doing on it is rather interesting and I will write about this after the society event.

So, no "Audience with Jonathan Wallace" but an interesting evening in store for anyone who lived through 1992.

Is Nissan planning to leave?

Journal Nissan article Mar 17

The Newcastle Journal carries a report today that sends a shudder down the back of the North East. The cost of Brexit to Nissan, without a trade deal when the UK leaves, could be as high as £500 million. No matter how that is spun by the Brexit extremists, it means there is a huge doubt over the future of the Nissan plant in the North East. And if Nissan goes, our region will be left with a gaping hole at the centre of its economy. Because of all those foreigners coming here setting up businesses and employing Brits to make foreign branded cars to sell to foreigners, the North East is the only region in the UK with a positive balance of trade in manufactured goods. Nissan are only here in the first place because of our place in Europe.

Britain taking back control? Only over Britain's power to create her own poverty.