Monday, July 31, 2017

Vince's speech in Newcastle - video

This is Vince's speech to Lib Dem members at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle on 30th July 2017.

Electrifying contraditions

The government recently announced plans to end the production and sale of petrol and diesel powered cars in the UK by 2040. We are going electric. Good news, even if it is just a catch up by the UK on other European countries. The next 23 years will need to be spent shifting the country from the internal combustion engine to electric powered vehicles. Whether or not the Tory DUP government actually ensures that happens is still to be seen. I still have memories of the Tories attacking the Lib Dems in the Coalition for pushing "green crap".

Then along came news that the government has, in effect abandoned plans to electrify the whole of the rail route from Newcastle to Liverpool. Apparently, there are trains, they claim, that will be able to run on both electrified tracks and those carrying diesel trains. This is something of a contradiction. The Tories are suggesting electric cars are better for the environment but that trains that pollute because they are powered by diesel can continue. Where is the consistency in that?

Having their cake

chocolate and banana cake July 17

For the past month I have been visiting my friend Richard who was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead on 7th July but is now making a good recovery (despite my daily - and sometimes twice daily - visits to see him!) He has a fantastic team of doctors, nurses, care and support staff looking after him. As a thank you, David made them a chocolate and banana cake which I took with me yesterday. The next I knew was that one of the nurses had taken a photo of the cake which was then posted on "staffchat" - I guess a staff version of Facebook. I'm not sure how much of the cake was left by the time I went home.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vince in Newcastle

Vince Cable in Newcastle July 17 (35)

New Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable was in Newcastle this evening. About 300 members attended the event in the Royal Station Hotel, next to the Central Station. As usual, Vince was on good form and his speech was littered with his dry witticisms, poignant comments and positive thoughts about the future.

I filmed Vince's speech and I will post the video shortly. You can view my photos of the event on this link.

"Triviality threshold"

I had a meeting of Gateshead Council's accounts committee on Friday. There are three members: myself as Leader of the Opposition, Martin Gannon as Leader of the Council, and Catherine Donovan, Deputy Leader of the Council. Martin rang me before the meeting to tell me he was under the weather with dose of flu and wasn't attending the committee and was checking to see if I was going. As I was, the meeting would be quorate and therefore able to go ahead.

The meeting was to receive the report of the council's auditors for the 2016-17 accounts. I combed through the report looking for anything of interest or which I did not understand. I spotted a note about the "triviality threshold". I had never come across the term before. I could imagine lots of things that it could apply to: most UK tv, speeches by Labour councillors, Tory cabinet members on their own colleagues. But what did it mean for the council's finances. I asked the question. It turns out that it is a threshold of £325,000 under which the auditors report issues of interest to officers. Anything above that are reported to us as councillors.

You learn something new everyday! Usefully, there was nothing over £325K in the accounts that needed to be reported to us.

New cabinet member in Gateshead

The election of Liz Twist as MP for Blaydon created a vacancy on Gateshead Council's cabinet. It has now been filled by the appointment of John Adams, Labour Councillor for Saltwell. I have to confess that I know little about Cllr Adams. He has barely been on my radar screen since his election to Gateshead Council in 2014. I have a vague recollection of one speech made by him at full council, sometime recently, on an issue I can't recall, and with no memorable content. Nevertheless, it is a significant promotion for John. Congratulations and, as Leader of the Opposition, I look forward to working with you in the best interests of the residents of Gateshead, and, where appropriate, giving you a political grilling through the council's scrutiny process.

New mascot for the Whinnies

kids disbudded Apr 17 (3)

Following the death of Whinnie, my baby goat that was adopted by the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside as their mascot, we now have a new one. Coal, our 4 month old black nanny goat is the new mascot. She will be appearing at future events at the Whinnies. Watch this space or visit the garden's Facebook site for further information.

goats eating ash July 17 2

Above: Coal with her brother Snow and mother Georgina.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Goodbye Whinnie

Whinnie the goat kid July 17

I'm saddened to report that Whinnie, the little goat kid born at the end of April which we were hand-raising, had to be put to sleep recently. He had been too weak to leave with his mother, hence the reason for becoming surrogate mother for him. We were amazed he had lived so long and during his 10 weeks, he had been adopted by the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside as their mascot.

He had however developed an infection and as he was hand-raised, the milk we were feeding him did not contain the anti-bodies he needed to fight off the illness. We took Whinnie to the vet who later the same day phoned us with the bad news: he was highlighly unlikely to survive and if was better for him that he be put to sleep immediately.

The organisers of the Whinnies Community Garden arranged for us to have a corner where we could bury him. They are keen for a small memorial to be installed and I'll sort that out later this year. In the meantime, the Garden is without a mascot. I'm planning something on that front.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Insurance coughs up for replaced Blaydon Bridge

Last week at full council in Gateshead, I raised the issue of who paid for the repairs to the Blaydon Footbridge. Last August, a lorry driver drove into the bridge causing considerable damage. A section of the bridge had to be removed. The repairs and replacement of the missing section took place earlier this month. I had previously raised concerns that the costs would fall on local council taxpayers but I'm pleased to report that the driver's insurance has paid for the repairs. Well done to the officers of the council who ensured the insurance of the responsible driver paid for the work.

The start of the video above was shot by me in December 2016 when the central section was still missing with the 2nd half of the video being shot earlier this month when the missing section was installed.

Sickly growth

Figures out this week show a continuing sickly GDP growth. The economy grew by 0.2% in the first quarter. We learnt earlier this week that growth was 0.3% in the second quarter. It's better than a contraction but it is still poor. The UK has gone from having the highest growth rate in the G7 under the Coalition to having among the poorest under the Conservatives. The IMF have also downgraded UK growth estimates for the year from 2% to 1.7%. I would have thought that was a bit optimistic given the sickly figures for the first half of the year. An announcement that the UK will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union would help reassure the business and help restore confidence. Sadly, with both the Conservatives and the Corbynistas pressing an almost identical Hard Brexit, such an announcement is unlikely to be making an appearance soon.

RIP Phyllis Callender

Phyllis Callender July 17

I have been visiting a friend in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital every day this month and a couple of weeks ago, when I was arriving there, I bumped into Norman Callender and his daughter Jean. Norman retired as a Lib Dem councillor a few years ago. Jean is Gateshead Lib Dem treasurer. They were visiting Phyllis, Norman's wife, who had been taken seriously ill. Sadly, she passed away the next day.

I went to the funeral at St Agnes RC Church in Crawcrook on Tuesday. Phyllis was given a great send off. Everyone gathered in the Buffs Club in Crawcrook afterwards and it was good to meet up with old friends I hadn't seen for a few years.

Phyllis was always a great support for Norman when he was a councillor and she will be greatly missed. RIP Phyllis Callender.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A1 upgrade

A1 Mar 15 2

A bit of good news this week: the Highways Agency have announced the preferred route for the upgrade to the A1 between the Coalhouse junction at the south end of the Team Valley (junction 67) to Birtley (junction 65). The upgrade comes with a significant challenge: crossing the main East Coast railway. A new bridge is to be built to the south of the existing Allerdene Railway Bridge and the A1 will be realigned to accommodate this change. The road will be upgraded to 3 lanes in each direction. The Smithy Lane Bridge (I'm on it in the photo above) will be replaced.

This work is not going to be cheap. The improvements will cost £250-£350 million. Work is expected to start in 2020. We've got three years before the roadworks start!

Sunderland MP's election claim that Labour backs cancelling student debt

Sharon Hodgson tuition fees claim June 17

This tweet by Sunderland Labour MP Sharon Hodgson crossed my desk this morning. Ignore the totally ignorant use of the apostrophe in "MP's" (she's turned a plural into a singular possessive). Concentrate on the message. This was a tweet from 2nd June, with days to go before the general election and Jeremy Corbyn claiming he would cancel student debt. Labour are now squealing that Comrade Leader Corbyn's proposal was never made and that any claims otherwise are capitalist conspiracies against the proletariat.

So how was it that Sharon Hodgson MP, during the election, was able to make the call in the tweet above? Answer: because Corbyn did make the call to clear student debt and Labour MPs campaigned on it. Once they had the votes of students and those with student loans, they abandoned them.

Monday, July 24, 2017

On BBC Radio Newcastle

Jonathan Wallace at BBC July 17

I was asked by Radio Newcastle to go into the studio last Wednesday to be interviewed about bus lane camera enforcement. I agreed - and was then told they needed me in the studio at 7am! Gateshead Council are introducing cameras on 6 lanes. I have no problem with the cameras being installed but I have concerns that two lanes will not be open for taxis to use (any using the two lanes will be caught on camera and fined). I also think the council needs to be more honest and open about the cameras. When we were looking at the budget last year, proposals for the cameras were included which also talked about how the fines would be accounted for. In other words, this is a revenue stream. So call it a charge, not a fine.

You can hear my interview on this link which starts 21 minutes into the programme.

Locomotion to return to Newcastle

Journal Locomotion July 17

Before Labour turned Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums into a one-party state, I was a member of the joint committee that ran the service. So I was made aware then that Stephenson's Rocket is to return for a temporary stay in Newcastle, where the locomotive was built. It will arrive in 2018 for the Great Exhibition of the North but will then be returned to the Science Museum in London, the guardians of the Rocket. News of the forthcoming arrival hit the front page of the Journal last week. I'm delighted the Rocket is coming home, even though it's just for a temporary period. It's a pity the government couldn't also agree to ensure HS2 is coming to the North East. That really would be a boost for the regional economy.

Science Museum London Jan 17 (7)

I saw the Rocket in January when I paid a visit to the Science Museum. I'll be joining the queues again next year to see it on Tyneside.

Plan B: Follow the Glitter

Northern Pride July 17 (1)

On Saturday I was meant to be running a stall at the Whickham Community Festival. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled at the last moment because of the weather. I needed to put Plan B into operation: I attended the Northern Pride parade through Newcastle. I joined other Lib Dems to help carry the Lib Dem banner. The parade started at Newcastle Civic Centre and ended at the Exhibition Park area of the Town Moor. If we happened to get lost along the route, all we had to do was follow the trail of glitter on the ground!

A good event attended by tens of thousands of people and the rain held off during the parade. Sadly, I couldn't stay once the parade was over. My friend Richard was still at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and visiting hours were 2-4pm.

Northern Pride July 17 (2)

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Mayor meets Pinkie

Pinkie meets the Mayor of Gateshead July 17 1

During the general election, Labour Councillor Chris McHugh spat out some pretty nasty and venomous comments on residents' Facebook sites about me and my self-sufficiency activities. According to Cardboard Cutout Chris, I "can't be taken seriously" because I have an allotment, keep goats and grow my own food. Quite how his attack on me can be squared with his beloved Leader's own allotment activities is still an outstanding issue though Labour never let hypocrisy get in the way of a good story!

So I am pleased to announce that the Labour Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, ignored her colleague's comments to join us on the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside on Sunday where I keep my livestock. And among those she met was Pinkie, my milking goat. Pauline has already visited my livestock allotment. She was there a couple of months ago to tour the garden, which aims to give people with physical and mental health issues the opportunity to do some gardening and for residents generally to enjoy the great outdoors.

The invite is now opened to Cllr McHugh to visit my allotment and see my goats and chickens. I'm always ready to help out those who need to get a life!

Blaydon Food Festival

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (7)

I am a keen advocate of local food production. Shipping food over long distances is wasteful and causes pollution. Producing as much as we can as close as possible to where it is consumed helps to reduce our impact on the environment. As well as preaching the message, I also practice it - I am a food producer myself, growing most of my own food and trading the surplus at events such as the Transition Towns West Gateshead Food Festival at Blaydon Burn Farm on Saturday 15th July. It was quite a successful day and I was cleared out of a number of products. It was good to see one former (Labour) member of Gateshead Council there who was keen to buy my jam (I'll avoid jokes about jam today from the Lib Dems!)

We need more events like this and I would encourage everyone to have a go at growing some food, even if it's just in the corner of a garden or in pots on a windowsill. If we all did this, we will all benefit.

And now for some photos of the event. All food sold there was locally produced:

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (2)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (6)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (1)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (4)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (3)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (10)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (8)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (11)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (9)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Our new leader - Vince Cable

Jonathan Wallace Vince Cable Mar 15

As expected, Vince Cable has been elected as new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Actually, "elected" is a bit misleading. The party managed to avoid a contested election after possible candidates Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb decided not to throw their hats into the ring. So congratulations Vince. We look forward to working with you.

You can read Vince's ambitions for the country and the party on this link.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Woodfest at Chopwell Woods

Yesterday, I headed over to Chopwell Woods for the Woodfest hosted by Land of Oak and Iron. Lots of woodland skills on display, especially for those like me who are aiming to be self-sufficient.

Marley Hill Funday

Marley Hill Community Centre July 17

In between two visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Saturday to visit my friend who was on the emergency assessment ward, I managed to get up to Marley Hill Community Centre to call in on the funday. The centre has been transferred to the Vineyard Church. They will continue to run it as a community centre but they will also invest in the building and use it as a base for their own activities. They already appear to be making a good job of it.

The funday had been organised to bring people into the centre and introduce residents to the people now running the centre. There seemed to be a large number of bouncy castles at the event. I resisted the temptation to try one out!

Blue light and siren

I thought when Dad died in May, I wouldn't be visiting the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead for a while to come. How wrong I was. A friend who has been in poor health has been staying with us recently to help him recover. Last week he deteriorated significantly. On Friday, I called the 111 service and by the end of the call, an ambulance had been ordered. I went with the ambulance to the QE Hospital, blue lights flashing and siren sounding. I spent four hours supporting my friend on the emergency assessment ward but at 10.30pm I returned home. It now looks like I will be visiting the QE every day for some time to come.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Getting ready to reopen Whickham Library

Jonathan Wallace Whickham Library July 17

Whickham Library has been closed as a facility directly provided by Gateshead Council. It is to open instead as a volunteer library on Monday. I have joined the volunteers and have become a trustee as well. We had a meeting of the volunteers last week. Today, we met up to look at some of the practicalities of the building. We are all set for the launch on Monday morning (doors open at 10am).

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Renovated in time to be demolished

Chase Park entrance renovation Jul 17

It was good to see renovation work taking place on the entrance to Whickham's Chase Park yesterday. The Heritage Lottery Fund is investing £1 million to bring the historic park back up to scratch. The renovation work includes restoration of the entrance and stone gateposts on Rectory Lane. All great stuff. But.......

Some of this renovation work could be in vain. Labour in Gateshead are eager to sell part of Chase Park for housing. They have declared the former depot and stable blocks as surplus to requirements. They've thrown into the deal the entrance to the park as well.

This is a prime location in the heart of Whickham and it is unlikely that there will be a lack of interest from developers. The key to any development is the entrance. Without that, the development will never happen. The entrance is a single lane so it will have to be widened. That's why Labour are flogging off the verge to the right of the lane, right up to the high boundary wall on the right of the entrance - see photo above.

That means the lovingly restored gatepost on the right will need to be demolished. This is a conservation zone as well and the gateway is an historic part of the area.

Lib Dem councillors are fighting the plans to sell off the people's park and stop Labour's heritage vandalism. The issue is relevant across the whole Gateshead. If Labour get away with selling Chase Park for housing, other parks will come into their sights as well.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Don't pour water on a burning chip pan!

When I visited the Swalwell Fire Station open day yesterday, there was a demonstration about what not to do with a burning chip pan - never pour water on it! I filmed the demonstration which rather brings home the message.

Blaydon Bridge repaired

Blaydon Bridge replacement Jul 17 (2)

Last year a lorry hit the Blaydon Footbridge. A section of it had to be removed. Yesterday, the replacement section was installed, resulting in the eastbound A695 being closed for much of the day. I had a look at the site in the early afternoon. Work was coming along well. Fingers crossed that the bridge will be open for use in the near future.

Dunston Festival

Dunston fair July 17 (2)

My second visit yesterday was to the Dunston Festival at Dunston UTS football ground. Richard, my friend who accompanied me, won 2 prizes on the tombola - both makeup remover. Not the most useful of things! Nice to bump into the mayor, Pauline Dillon (in whose ward Dunston football ground is based).

Dunston fair July 17 (3)

Swalwell Fire Station open day

Swalwell Fire Station open day Jul 17 (1)

Yesterday, Swalwell Fire Station had an open day so I popped down to have a chat with people and watch some fire safety demonstrations. The most shocking one was the effect of pouring water on a burning chip pan. Fortunately that was carried out at a distance!

I also bumped into Liz Twist, the Labour MP for Blaydon who expressed her condolences about the loss of my Dad during the election campaign. We had a chat about offices in Westminster and the joy of not having to be based in the actual Houses of Parliament building. It brought back all my memories of working in Westminster a decade ago.

Swalwell Fire Station open day Jul 17 (2)

Saturday, July 01, 2017

From EU fans to Hard Brexiteers in just over a year

In February last year, Labour on Gateshead Council moved the following motion:

“Council notes the upcoming referendum on our membership of the European Union, which will occur before 2017 but which could be as early as June 2016.

Council welcomes the benefits that Gateshead residents receive from UK membership of the European Union, in particular:
  •          Job creation
  •          Investment in the North East
  •          Protecting consumer and workers’ rights
  •          Supporting peace and security in Europe
  •          Improvements to the environment

Council notes, with concern, the risks involved in leaving the European Union and the impact that leaving would have on jobs and investment, as well as social and consumer rights.

Council requests that the Chief Executive explores ways in which the Council, working with partners, can further promote European investment in local projects, organisations and businesses.”

The Lib Dem group supported the motion. Then came the Brexit referendum result in June 2016. Move forward to February 2017 and Gateshead debated the following Lib Dem motion:

“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.”

Labour voted against. The journey towards hard Brexit was underway. And then last week, new Labour MP for Blaydon and still a councillor in Gateshead, Liz Twist, abstained on the amendment to the Queen's Speech. Her literature had avoided any mention of Brexit during the election. The only mention of Brexit that I am aware of made by her during the campaign was at the Rowlands Gill hustings when I actually put the point to her that she had said nothing on the issue. Her answer still threw no light on her position. It was a clear as mud.

Nevertheless, no matter how much mud under which Liz, and indeed the rest of the Labour Party in Gateshead, attempts to their obscure views on Brexit, it is clear that the positions held by Labour and Conservatives nationally are almost identical. And the local Labour party appears now to be following this hard Brexit lead.