Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our recent Focus in Dunston Hill and Whickham East

GE 2017 May -a3 (1)-page-0

This is what we delivered in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward in the past week, the next edition of Focus. The lead story was the planning application for up to 582 executive homes on former greenbelt land at Dunston Hill. My Labour opponent, Liz Twist, is the council cabinet member for building houses on the countryside. I wonder if she will care to touch on this matter if she visits the ward.

GE 2017 May -a3 (1)-page-1

The true blue cost of voting for the Blues

Nestle have announced 300 job losses and the moving of the production of Blue Riband from the UK to Poland. The Blue Conservatives, far from strengthening our hand in negotiations with Europe, are exporting our jobs there even before the Brexit negotiations have not begun. The decision to take the UK out of the Single Market was a calamitous mistake and the Tory chickens are coming home to roost with Nestle workers paying the price. Other jobs will follow their way to the EU as well if the decision to leave the Single Market stays in place. No wonder the Conservatives wanted to scrap the 2020 election. They knew that only a year after leaving the Single Market, holding an election in the middle of the uncertainties about the economic future of the nation would likely lead to the Conservatives' defeat.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Election campaign day 11: delivering Watergate

Dunston Hill Focuses Apr 17

BT were digging up my street this morning. They had 2 vehicles parked at the junction, on either sideof the road. No one could get in or out. I had a polite word with them about people needing to have access to the street. After a few minutes one of the vehicles was removed. I was able to drive down to the Watergate Estate in Whickham and deliver 370 focuses.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

On the other side of the camera

Lib Dem posters Gateshead Apr 17 (3)

I am going to have to get used to being on the other side of the camera. As a photographer, I am normally the person taking photos. Twice this week, I've had to give my camera to someone else as I needed to be in the picture myself. On Sunday photos were taken next to the Millennium Bridge. Tonight it was at the end of the Gateshead Local Party Executive. Fortunately I just happened to have a pile of corex posters to use as photo props.

Election campaign day 10: my opponent is appointed

Liz Twist Feb 16 cropped

After days of speculation (some of it quite wild) we now have an announcement on who is to be my Labour opponent. It is Liz Twist, Ryton Councillor and Gateshead Council Cabinet member with responsibility for building houses on land Labour took out of the greenbelt. The house-building plans are a key local issue and in one ward, Dunston Hill and Whickham East, a planning application has just been lodged with the council for up to 582 houses.

So let the battle commence.

Election campaign day 9: the election haircut

haircut Apr 17 1


haircut Apr 17 2


My one bit of luxury - my monthly haircut at Hogg and Osborne Hairdressers in Blaydon. From grey politician to brunette rinse in less than an hour!

Election campaign day 8: still no opposition candidate

Cabinet on Tuesday morning and some interesting conversations were had that threw some light on possible Labour candidates for Blaydon. The name of Mark Ferguson, former editor of Labour List, was mentioned. So were the names of a couple of Gateshead Labour councillors. And yet again, so was Tony Blair's name. The source for the person to whom I was talking was the BBC, not an internal Labour source. It just wasn't credible to think of Blair as a candidate.

A group member later sent me a link to a Huffington Post story about a Corbyn/Tom Watson/trade union carve up of the 12 seats vacated by Labour MPs. Mark Ferguson had been allocated to Blaydon, claimed the article. All this turned out to be guesswork and speculative forecasting. We ended up with a different result. More about that in a forthcoming post.

paper delivery Apr 17

Meanwhile, a quarter ton of paper arrived at Cllr John McClurey's shop. My land rover was requisitioned to move some of it to the Lib Dem office in Consett where it will be transformed into a huge number of Focus newsletters over the coming week.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Election campaign day 7: the ghost of Tony Blair

When I arrived at Lib Dem group meeting on Monday evening, I was told that the BBC had been interviewing people in Blaydon about what they thought about Tony Blair returning to Parliament as MP for the constituency! It seems Blair made a comment in which he expressed his worries about the state of the Labour Party and the moves towards Brexit. His despair at the current state of affairs led him to suggest he could be needed back in the world of politics. And so the rumours of a return began. Presumably the BBC had nothing better to do when they decided to interview people about something that will never happen.

Election campaign day 6: delivering in Dunston Hill

Frank Hindle Jonathan Wallace Peter Maughan Apr 17

On Sunday we headed to Dunston Hill to deliver a Focus and petition form. The lead article was about Labour's plans for hundreds of executive homes on land to the south of Whickham Highway. Though Labour had described the plans as a "myth", in 2015 they stripped the area of its greenbelt protection. Well, the planning application is now in. Labour originally allocated the site for 550 houses. The plans are for up to 582.

We got over 150 petition forms back, most signed by 2 or more people. We are still adding up the numbers and some are still coming in by post.

Once deliveries were done, I headed to Baltic Square in Gateshead for photos with Frank Hindle, our candidate for Gateshead, and Peter Maughan, who is standing for us in Jarrow (the constituency includes a couple of Gateshead wards, one of which is Pelaw which we won from Labour last year).

Gateshead Millennium Bridge Apr 17

Timing was spot on. The Millennium Bridge was raised when we were there.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Birtley Focus

Birtley Focus Apr 17-page-1

This is the Birtley Focus we delivered on Saturday. We led with the council tax rise but there are lots of news stories about what's happening in the town. We are planning to deliver some in Lamesley ward as well.

Birtley Focus Apr 17-page-2

Election campaign day 5: Birtley Action Day

Birtley action day Apr 17 4

Two months ago we planned an action day in Birtley for Saturday 22nd April. Arrangements were going well and then the announcement of the general election hit us. We decided to make Birtley the first action day and street stall of the general election campaign. We also had a Focus to deliver. I wrote it just before Easter and thankfully decided to leave printing until after the bank holidays. It meant that a small revision made this Focus into our first election leaflet.

Birtley action day Apr 17 6

Birtley action day Apr 17 2

12 members came to help on the day. The street stall was also our impromptu HQ for the morning. From it we sent the members to deliver the Focus. I had private hopes of getting about a quarter to a third of Birtley ward delivered. We actually achieved 90%.

Paul Elliott, one of our campaigners in Birtley, and I manned the street stall until midday. During that time I had a number of conversations with people, all positive and pleasant. I even had a chat with Eva, the wife of Dave Anderson, the MP for Blaydon who is retiring at the election. I wished them both all the best for the future and recommended a long holiday in the sun and warmth!

Barley Mow pub Apr 17 1

After packing up the street stall, Paul and I went off to deliver some Focuses and then met up with the rest of the team in the Barley Mow pub for lunch.  I recommend the chicken burger.

So a successful day and we certainly got noticed by local by residents.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Opening of Watergate Community Cafe

Watergate Cafe Apr 17 (3)

On the way to visiting Dad in hospital on Friday, I called into the new community cafe next to Watergate Park. It was its "trial day", opening for the first time to test the facilities. The official opening was on Saturday when I had to go to my action day in Birtley instead. A pleasant establishment. I recommend the cheese scones.

Where are my opponents?

The Liberal Democrats have been ready for a snap general election since summer last year. There was an interesting degree of brutal efficiency in the appointment of candidates, ensuring we had candidates in place in the overwhelming majority of seats. In terms of candidates, I'm rather surprised however that the other parties did little to prepare for a snap general election, especially the Conservatives who have inflicted it on the nation.

While there are extenuating circumstances for Labour here in Blaydon constituency being without a candidate (the sitting MP has announced his retirement), the vacancy does leave Labour weakened. They can't unite and campaign around an individual. There is no smoke coming out of the Labour NEC papal chimney yet and quite when they will have a candidate in place is a big unknown. I suspect a few individuals who have to have Blaydon pointed out to them on a map will be hoping the gods of the NEC will look favourably on them. I suspect however that a certain local front runner will get it.

At the election in 2015 in Blaydon, there were 5 candidates. UKIP came second but their organisation in the constituency barely exists. It would not surprise me if no UKIP candidate stood here this time. There are a handful of Green Party members but no activity. I suspect they will have a candidate but no campaign.

Finally, the Conservatives. Typically, Blaydon is among the last constituencies to have a Conservative candidate named, normally someone with few, if any, links to the area. They are here to earn their spurs before moving on to a plum seat that could send them to Westminster with the letters MP after their name. I can find no evidence of a Conservative candidate being appointed at this moment. They have no local organisation to speak of and I guess that the usual pattern of a last minute announcement will be followed this time.

So, at the moment in Blaydon constituency, I am the only candidate in place.

Election campaign day 4: yet another leaflet

Printing focus Apr 17 (2)

Friday saw yet another visit to the Lib Dem office in Consett. Yet more printing followed. This time, we were printing the Dunston Hill Focus which has been prepared by Kevin McClurey, one of our key campaigners in the ward. Also coming off the printer were 1000 petition forms. Gateshead Council has now received the planning application for housing on land to the south of Whickham Highway. We have been fighting the plans for 8 years. More about the application in another post but the petition calling on the application to be rejected will be delivered shortly to people in Dunston Hill.

Printing focus Apr 17 (1)

Printing focus Apr 17 (3)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Deputy Mayor, a goat and some bugs

Whinnies Community Garden Apr 17 (17)

On Sunday, the Deputy Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, visited the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside. The garden is home to my goats and they were the stars of Sunday's open day. The two babies in particular proved to be very popular. Cllr Dillon also cut the ribbon to officially open "Creepy Castle" - a wooden construction filled with different materials which are great for attracting bugs and insect life.

Whinnies Community Garden Apr 17 (5)

A good day had by all, only marred by the break in the garden suffered the night before when the petrol strimmer and the petrol lawn mower were stolen. The Whinnies Community Garden is mainly for people with disabilities so I hope those responsible for the thefts suffer great feelings of guilt keeping them awake all night, every night until they return the equipment. I'm not holding my breath.

Election campaign day 3: my opponent retires

focuses printed Apr 17

I was back in the office this morning to finish the printing of my first election leaflet. Then back home for an afternoon of visiting constituents about casework.

And then along came the news that Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Scotland, had announced he was retiring. Dave and I differ enormously in our politics but we have got on well together during his 12 years as our MP. Politics aside, he's been a good constituency MP and has done what he regarded as right for his constituents.

Part of Dave's reason for retiring is his health so I wish him all the best for his retirement and I hope his health recovers.

The question now is, who will replace him as Labour candidate? As I understand it, the decision is in the gift of the Labour National Executive Committee. Interesting times ahead.

Birtley Hustings Meeting Apr 15 1

This photo was taken at the 2015 general election campaign in Birtley in Blaydon constituency when Dave and I shared a hustings platform with the Conservative candidate Alison Griffiths.

Election campaign day 2: my first election leaflet

Focus printing Apr 17

Day 2 of the election campaign yesterday: time to print my first leaflet. It was written last week but Tuesday's snap poll announcement meant it required a small number of updates. I was in the office last night printing it. It is a Focus for a particular ward in Blaydon constituency. The avid Labour readers of this blog who want to know which ward will have to wait a bit longer. Delivery will start on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

eFocus Whickham no. 104

Our latest eFocus for the Whickham area was published last Friday. The main issues covered include Whickham Library recruiting volunteers, Chase Park renovation taking place but Labour planning to sell part of the park, proposals for off-road driving near Marley Hill and Byermoor and the planting of more trees at Kingsway community orchard.

You can read it on this link.

Election campaign day 1: from chicken coop to Tory coup

White leghorn hens Apr 17 (1)

Where were you when you first heard the news that Theresa May had decided to rip up the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and sent the wrecking ball hurtling towards the Labour Party? I was at Durham Hens at the time, buying a couple of white leghorns and 18 hatching eggs.

Claims by May that the country is somehow uniting behind her are rubbish. Her demand that Parliament should unite behind her, and that opposition still exists towards her Brexit plans, throw light on the real reasons for the snap election. She is grabbing the opportunity to create a one-party state, at least in England. Had there been no announcement of an election, the country would have woken up on Friday 5th May to a gigantic Labour meltdown in the local elections and a likely loss of the formerly rock solid Manchester Gorton seat to the Lib Dems. May probably calculated that even the limpet Corbyn could not have survived such an electoral calamity. The Tories know that Labour led by Corbyn will mean a rerun of the 1983 general election in which Labour were led by Michael Foot. May had to act to save Corbyn and she has now effectively locked him in as Labour leader until the general election. This all reads more like a Tory coup to prop up a failing Labour leader and keep themselves in power for years to come.

Old Fox, Felling Apr 17

Back home after my chicken run and I arranged to meet Frank Hindle, Gateshead Lib Dem chair and candidate for Gateshead. We went through plans for the campaign and checked on the resources we had available, which was more than I expected. Then back home to feed my livestock followed by another visit to Gateshead, this time to the Old Fox pub in Felling. It was a Lib Dem Pint event so it was filled with Lib Dem members. Even the quiz master was aware of our presence. He had produced a whole round of questions just about the Lib Dems on which, sadly, my team (the Blaydon Racers) got full points. As we played our joker in this round, we ended up with double points which took us first past the winning post for the quiz. This led to a number of people making jokes about having to take the goats to London each week to graze on Parliament Green while I represented the good people of Blaydon in the Commons!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My last Whickham patch done

Focuses for Whickham North Apr 17

Hooray! Yesterday I finished delivering Focus in the last patch I had to do in Whickham. It was in Whickham North ward. A check of our deliverers revealed that delivery of this edition is now completed. Job done...until the next edition, on which I happen to be working now.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Whinnies Community Garden Open Day

I made this short video for the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside (I keep my goats and chickens there) to advertise the open day that is being held on Sunday 16th April, from 11am to 3pm. The Deputy Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, is the special guest.

The sun shines on Watergate

Watergate delivering Focus Apr 17

Delivery of our Whickham Focus continued yesterday. I headed down to Watergate to deliver the whole estate - 370 houses in total. The sun shone for the whole of the time I was there. Who needs sun beds when Focus delivery can give you a tan for free!

Watergate Estate Whickham Apr 17 (2)

Watergate Estate Whickham Apr 17 (1)

Friday, April 07, 2017

Delivering in Whickham

Whickham South Focus delivery Apr 17

Hooray! Today I finished delivering the 3 patches I do in the Whickham part of my ward. The latest edition of Focus leads on the transfer of Whickham Library from the Council to a group of volunteers. There's also a couple of stories about Chase Park - the Lottery funded improvements and Labour's attempts to sell part of the park for housing.

The Focus is going out across the whole of Whickham and is therefore being delivered in 3 wards. Once the deliveries are finished, I'll crack on with writing the next eFocus.

Whickham Church Green looking great

Whickham Church Green Apr 17 3

Planting Up Whickham's volunteers had been out on Wednesday to weed the flower beds on Church Green. I was asked to go down in the evening to move all the waste in my land rover to the compost heap in Chase Park. I had previously seen some photos of the floral display but it was quite something to see it for myself. A superb display planted by the volunteers. Well done to everyone involved.

Whickham Church Green Apr 17 2

Whickham Church Green Apr 17 1

Whickham Church Green Apr 17 4

Another tree for Sunniside

Sunhill Sunniside Apr 17

Last month we planted 100 trees on the Kingsway community orchard in Sunniside in my council ward. On Wednesday, we were investigating more tree planting. Or more specifically, we were looking at planting one tree on Sunniside Front Street, near to the new Sunhill Court. Residents have told us that they are keen to have a Christmas tree in the village. Sunniside has never before had a public Christmas tree but in neighbouring Whickham, the model of how volunteers can raise funds for a tree has been set and could possibly be followed in Sunniside.

We checked out the site with a couple of officers from Gateshead Council (owners of the open, grassed area on Sunniside Front Street) to look at where the tree and the power supply could go. I argued that we should plant a living tree rather than putting up one chopped down elsewhere and then thrown away after Christmas.

The tree plan is dependent on our raising the necessary funds and to do this we will be setting up a group of volunteers. We'll be calling for people to step up to the plate in our forthcoming Sunniside Focus.

Sunniside Front Street Apr 17 1

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Ryton, Crawcrook, Winlaton Blaydon and Rowlands Gill eFocus

Our next efocus has just been sent to residents in Ryton, Crawcrook, Winlaton Blaydon and Rowlands Gill. Issues covered include council tax rise, housing in Ryton and Crawcrook, GP surgery mergers, planning applications and the future of local library branches. You can view it on this link.

Selling the old town hall

There seems to me to be little point in Gateshead Council holding on to buildings and land it no longer uses or needs for another purpose. That is not a reason for selling off important local assets still in use, or which could have an important community use in the near future, as Labour are attempting to do with part of Chase Park in Whickham. Nevertheless, an asset such as the old Gateshead Town Hall needs a new owner to develop it into a positive asset to the local economy. By 2020/21, the Council will receive no money from the government to support the costs of local services. We therefore need to help businesses to become established in Gateshead and to grow, not just for the jobs and wealth they create, but for the business rates they will pay to the council once they are denationalised.

So it was good news last week that the old Town Hall is going on the market, along with some of the surrounding land. It is no longer needed by Gateshead Council and a sale will give us a capital receipt as well as lever in private investment in the area.

The old Town Hall stopped being the headquarters of Gateshead Council at the start of 1987, just months before I was first elected. Sadly, Labour chose to invite Neil Kinnock, then leader of the Labour Party, to officially open the new Civic Centre. It was a gesture that suggested Labour thought of the new building not as a public building belonging to the people, but rather as an extension to their own fiefdom. We are, of course, doing everything we can to disrupt that point of view.

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Empire bites back

Rock of Gibraltar Sept 10 30

Michael Howard's lunatic hint that Britain could go to war with "Spanish-speaking" Spain over Gibraltar shows just how far the Brexit extremists have got so carried away with their referendum victory. The absurdity of talking about a friend and ally as a possible target for military action in defense of a British colony shows that in 2005, Britain was right to reject the Howard-led Conservative party in the general election of that year. Remember his campaign slogan: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" To which the answer hopefully is "Definitely Not!"

The serious point is that many on the extreme Brexit side live in the same nightmare fantasy world of Michael Howard in which the model for the future is some kind of imaginary superpower status. It is a fantasy in which Britain extends her influence throughout the world free of European commitments, recreating some sort of 21st century British imperial role. And then the reality of commitments in Europe bits back. Gibraltar flourishes on free movement of labour and open borders, the direct opposite of what Theresa May is determined to impose. Being in the EU means sharing sovereignty on a number of issues and agreeing to accept borders and drop territorial claims. Spain suspended its claim to Gibraltar when she joined the EU. Now it is back on the agenda through no fault of the people of the Rock. They did, after all, vote 95% remain.

If we go through with a hard Brexit, we will then be in the absurd situation in which French Guiana in South America is part of the EU and Single Market, while Gibraltar, on the edge of Europe, is excluded. That may be the desired outcome for the Brexit extremists. For the people of Gibraltar, it is an absurdly expensive price to pay for Britain (but not Gibraltar) to "take back control."

Rock of Gibraltar Sept 10 2

Campaigning off-road

Marley Hill no motorbikes sign Apr 17

In the southern part of my council ward in Gateshead, an application for a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use has been submitted to the Council. The applicant aims to have the land used for 4X4 and motorbike off-road driving.

This is not a normal planning application which seeks permission for a new use or activity on a specified site. Instead, it is an application for the continued use of a site for an activity not previously granted planning permission but where the applicant claims the site has been consistently used for this purpose over the previous 10 years.

The applicant, in this case, is arguing that the land has been used by up to 70 vehicles a day for off-road activity, up to 365 days a year, for the past 10 years.

My ward colleague Councillor Marilynn Ord and I have opposed the application for reasons outlined as follows:

1)As long standing councillors for the area (30 years for me and 19 for Marilynn), we have never come across any incidents of the use of the site by people off-road driving 4X4 vehicles.

2)Use of the site by those engaged in motorbike scrambling has been occasional buy not consistent.

3)Previous owners of the site maintained a policy of no use of the site for off-road use for motorbikes and displayed signs to that effect (at least one of which is still in place - see photo above.)

4)While campaigning against the application for opencast mining on the site in 2014, residents approached us about a number of activities that would be curtained or prevented (eg walking, enjoyment of open spaces, use of bridalways for horse riding etc) if it were granted. At no point did anyone raise with us the impact on off-road driving activities.

Marilynn and I have written to residents of Marley Hill and Byermoor about the application and we delivered the letters this afternoon. We don't know yet the date of the committee which will consider it but we'll let residents know once it has been set.

She's kidding

goat kids Apr 17 (26)

My plans for Sunday were to help out at the Whinnies Community Garden volunteers' day in the morning and then go to a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in the afternoon. Alas, the best laid plans often fall apart from the impact of real events. In this case, the event was one of my goats having 2 babies. I keep my goats on land rented from the Whinnies so when we were helping to reassemble the garden's outdoor furniture, we heard our goat Georgina calling out. Moments later I found her cleaning up a kid. 10 minutes later, the second arrived. So I didn't get much voluntary work done and I had to send my apologies to the people who invited me to the Jewish community event.

We do however have two additions to the animals at the Whinnies and the kids will be taking a starring role when the community garden has an open day on Easter Sunday, 16th April.

goat kids Apr 17 (22)

goat kids Apr 17 (23)