Thursday, September 28, 2017

Just what will Corbyn nationalise?

Corbyn's call in his Leader's speech at the Labour conference for the nationalisation of utilities raises all sorts of questions about how, if at all, this is going to be financed but also begs the question of which utilities would be brought into public ownership. The simplistic claim that life will be so wonderful if companies providing public services were nationalised is not something I support. And nationalisation itself will be hugely complicated. It is not simply a case of returning to state ownership a privatised monopoly. The old monolithic giants have been broken up and their markets opened up to competitors. When Corbyn talks of renationalising, for example, the electricity industry, there are now a multitude of generators and retailers.

When he talks of public control returning to the postal delivery business, the Royal Mail now operates in a competitive market, especially in the area of sorting letters. Does a "socialist" Labour government nationalise the competitors as well, companies that have never been in the public sector previously? If renationalisation is carries out for ideological reasons, which seems to be the case with Corbyn, there seems little point in nationalising one player in the market while letting the others operate in competition. It would seem therefore that a Corbyn government would have to nationalise all the operators in the industry.

In the electricity generating sector, therefore, what happens with small generators such as small scale wind farms or, in the case of Gateshead, the Council's electricity generating plant which was set up to supply, at a profit, electricity and hot water to residents and businesses? And what happens to all those with solar panels on domestic roofs pumping green electricity into the National Grid?

And then there is the question of how all this is paid for. The 2017 Labour manifesto was unclear on this. Corbyn is unclear on it. If public ownership is not sufficiently financed, there is a danger of compulsory nationalisation with insufficient or even no compensation. Given that many companies providing public and utility services are foreign owned, no compensation could lead to retaliation by foreign governments and it would certainly mean a dramatic run on the pound. And as businesses would fear nationalisation, there would be little incentive for either domestic or foreign investment in them.

I've also heard Labour attack the concept of customers' bills being pushed higher to pay for profits to shareholders while these businesses are in the private sector. Don't forget that the biggest shareholders will be pension funds, and the profits pay for the pensions of millions of people, including those in the public sector. Labour suggest that public ownership of, for example, the water companies, will allow bills to come down as the element that is profit is abolished. This may be appealing but it also means that there is no profit to reinvest in the business. The only source of investment (the water industry drinks needs vast amounts of capital) would be the government as the water company, as a publicly owned body, would no longer be able to raise funds on the private capital markets or through share issues.

Labour's current policy of nationalisation may have been a workable response in the early 1980s to the privatisations but the world has moved on massively since then. The problem however is that Labour have not moved on at all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Whickham Library Volunteers' Meeting

I had a meeting tonight of the Whickham Library volunteers. The library closed as a council facility earlier this year but then reopened as a voluntary library in July. I am one of the trustees but I am also helping with communications. Tonight I outlined my proposals for an email newsletter for library users to help promote the library and its activities. The proposals were accepted and I will be starting work on putting together the first newsletter soon.

Speaking about Corbyn on BBC Radio Newcastle

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle yesterday about Jeremy Corbyn. It was broadcast this morning. The article is 19 min 30 sec into the programme, after the feature on speedos and tight lycra!

Only a small part of the interview was used but generally, my points were that Corbyn can't win from the left and needs to capture the centre ground; while he had a record increase in the number of votes, this translated into only a small increase in seats (30) because he was stacking up vast majorities in already strong Labour constituencies while getting a much lower share in areas such as the South East and his views on issues such as Europe are not supported by many of his new, younger supporters who could begin to drift away.

You can listen to the interview on this link.

A glimpse of Trump's "beautiful" trade deal

Anyone from the Brexit side who had put their faith in a free trade deal with the USA must now be re-examining their position following the decision by Trump's government to bring in a massive tariff on Bombardier aircraft exports. Trump is a protectionist. When he talks of a "beautiful" trade deal with the UK following Brexit, he means it will be "beautiful" for the USA. After all, his campaign protectionist slogan is "Make America great again", not "Make America and Britain" great again. And what about the "special relationship" and Theresa May's hand-in-hand love-in with Trump? A fat lot of use that turned out to be.

The EU and US economies are vast. While the Brexiteers view Britain's position through Victorian glasses in which they see Britain as a gigantic, imperial power able to get its way simply by lifting a finger, the reality is that Britain is a medium power relative to the rest of the world and if we are not part of something bigger and stronger, we are going to be buffeted and knocked about. The Bombardier decision is just a glimpse of lots more to come outside the EU.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Brexit nettle sting

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (29)

I paid a visit to the Northumberland Cheese Company today and had a tour around the premises. It was a fascinating experience, especially as I am a cheese-producer myself, though on a tiny scale compared to this company (I have only one milking goat!) What rapidly became obvious however was how much this food manufacturer relied on easy trade with the EU, and especially with Holland, to produce their award winning cheeses. Most of the equipment came from Holland, as did the dried nettles which are used in one of their biggest selling cheeses. They are unable to source the nettles of the required quality in the UK. A hard Brexit could be more than hard cheese for similar small businesses that need to access the Single Market to buy the equipment they need, little or none of which is produced in the UK.

Looks like another victory for the mad, mad world of the Brexit extremists.

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (14)

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (13)

Email to Gateshead Lib Dem members

The latest email to Gateshead Lib Dem members was sent out this evening. Issues covered include conference, the forthcoming local elections, the North East regional conference in November, the local party AGM and North East for Europe. You can read the email on this link.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lighting Up Whickham Meeting

I had a meeting tonight of Lighting Up Whickham, the group of volunteers who raise money for the village's Christmas tree and lights. We have three events coming up which were agreed by the meeting tonight:

  • Saturday 11th November, Race Night at the Glebe Sports Ground
  • Tuesday 28th November, switching on of the Christmas lights
  • Saturday 9th December, Christmas fair in St Mary's Green.
All the events will raise funds for future Christmas lights. And finally, I received a request to bring along my goat Pinkie to the event on 28th November, suitably decorated with tinsel. I'm actively considering it!

Conference management that would have made Blair proud

If you thought Labour under Corbyn would give people a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal, think again! Not only have Labour rejected a signing-off referendum to accept the deal or remain in the EU, they won't even allow a vote at their party conference for their own members on Brexit. The Labour leadership, using what is effectively a Momentum bloc vote, have prevented a vote from taking place. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were masters of conference and party management. The tools may have been different back then - pagers to instruct MPs and members on what to do and think whereas the Corbynistas employ email to crush democracy - but the outcome was always the same: a stage managed conference that eliminated any embarrassing votes for the leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn - the new Tony Blair.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Now that May and Corbyn share the same policy on Brexit, what next?

It was a move in the right direction when Labour recently shifted their position from complete confusion on Brexit to one in which they support an undefined transition period during which the UK would continued to be in the Single Market. Once the transition was over, Labour policy was to continue with their demands for a hard Brexit. It wasn't much of a move forward, but it was at least a shuffle in the right direction. Then along came Theresa May who knocked up a few air miles to whiz off to Florence to give a speech which announced that the UK would in effect remain in the Single Market for a two year "implementation" period. So now that Labour and the Conservatives are, yet again, hand in hand on the key issue of the day, where next for those who think the UK's national interest is going to be hugely damaged by cutting ourselves off from Europe?

It's time for the sensible wing of the Labour Party to make a stand. They have clearly had a modest success recently by being able to make a small change in the Labour Brexit approach but they need to press harder. It is interesting to note that some MPs and council leaders have backed calls today for Labour to support a policy of staying permanently in the Single Market, something on which the Lib Dems fought the last election. We need to work with like minded people in the Labour party on this issue, just as we have to work with like minded Conservatives.

The response of Corbyn however was both disappointing and expected. Let's face it, he's a Leaver, he always has been and he has not changed his spots now. He views the EU as a capitalist conspiracy against the proletariat which stands in the way of his grand plans to nationalise everything. Corbyn is, of course, wrong. Failing banks were nationalised under the last Labour government. The claim that the EU is forcing privatisation is farcical. The Corbynistas claim for example that the EU would stop them nationalising rail. Such an inaccurate claim is already undermined by previous Labour propaganda which pointed out that many of the companies bidding to run rail services in the UK were nationalised rail operators in other EU countries. Furthermore, the EU did not stand in the way of nationalising the East Coast rail service when National Express handed back the franchise. Labour should at least make their attacks consistent.

The reality is however that Labour are led by a Leaver and getting him to shift from this position will be very difficult. Corbyn has the chance to make a real difference. All he will end up doing is to prop up a Hard Brexit Conservative government.

Bottling up my irritation

I arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead this afternoon to visit my friend Richard. He had asked me to get him a copy of the Daily Mirror so I called into the Amigo shop on level 2 of the hospital (in the super-swanky extension built by the Coalition) and bought the required publication. At the till I was offered an unmissable opportunity to buy a bottle of water at a greatly reduced price, thus "saving" me lots of money. Spending money on a completely unnecessary item does not strike me as a way to "save" money. Moving on from the adaptation of our language so that it means the opposite of what is said, why on earth would I want to buy water in a bottle when we can get top quality water for nowt from a tap?

Furthermore, bottled water comes with an obscene cost to the environment. Huge resources are put into the single-use plastic bottles and vast amounts of fuel are used to move, unnecessarily, this enormous tonnage of water around the country (and often around the globe). Then, large resources are used to collect the waste bottles and dispose of them, though lots of them escape into the environment causing untold damage to ecological systems, all so that people can drink something from a bottle that is already freely available from a tap (or if you are on a meter very cheaply available).

No wonder the health of planet Earth is in such a poor state.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pinkie a success at Chase Park re-opening

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 1

Whickham's Chase Park was officially re-opened today after its £1 million refurbishment, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Find and the Big Lottery Fund. I brought along Pinkie, one of my goats, who is always a hit with people of all ages. She certainly was today. I think she must have been in more photos than anything else in the park today.

I came away from the event today with lots of casework and visits lined up to meet a couple of local organisations.

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 3

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chase Park reopening this weekend

Whickham windmill Mar 17

Major renovation work on Whickham's historic Chase Park has now been completed. To celebrate the £1 million refurbishment, Friends of Chase Park are holding a re-opening event on Saturday, 23rd September, from 11am to 3pm.

The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, will lead the re-opening ceremony. There will be lot of entertainment, activities and a fair.

Everyone is welcome to join in the celebrations.

Chase Park entrance renovation Jul 17

The renovation of the Park was the result of the Friends of Chase Park's campaign to restore it to its former glory. A partnership of the Friends and Gateshead Council saw a successful bid for £1 million made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. The work was carried out during 2017 and includes:
•​Restoration of the listed windmill, entrance gates, paths and ornamental garden
•​Replanting of flower beds and trees
•​Remodelling and enhancement of the toddler play area
•​Resurfacing of the tennis courts and new table tennis installed 
•​New junior play area and skateboard park
•​Outdoor gym/trim trail 
•​Development of community garden 
•​New benches, signs and interpretations of heritage points of interest.
I'll be there with a couple of my goats (Pinkie and Coal) to promote my self-sufficiency project and to sell preserves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hooray - home at last!

After leaving Bournemouth yesterday, I headed to London where I stayed overnight. This morning I struggled through the rush hour crowds (I am so pleased I gave up the rat race 8 years ago) to get to Kings Cross and caught a train back to the North East. I couldn't return home immediately. On leaving Newcastle Central Station, I got a taxi to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to visit my friend Richard whose condition deteriorated last week. I remained there until 7pm. I'm back home now! Hooray! And it's not long to go before my first council meeting. It's tomorrow, so I'm straight back into activities.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Photos from Vince's speech

Vince Cable arrives for conference speech Sept 17 (2)

In years gone by, I used to take photos for use by the party of conference. That normally meant being part of the photographers' scrum in front of the leader during the speech. I couldn't resist the temptation so I joined the scrum again. Here are a handful of the photos from Vince's arrival and then his speech.

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (12)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (19)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (21)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (22)

The best lunch at conference

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (4)

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation normally, in my humble opinion, put on the best lunch at conference, and this year was no different. My reason for attending, should you choose to believe me, is that I have an interest in shooting. I don't take part in the activity myself, but in my world of self-sufficiency, I trade with people who do go shooting and fishing. They provide me with game which I pay for with jars of preserves, eggs etc.

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (5)

So it seemed perfectly reasonable that I should attend the BASC meeting.And of course the good food was appreciated!

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (1)

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (2)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Another What's-the-point-of-Brexit moment

I see Theresa May is off to Canada for talks on, among other issues, post-Brexit trade. The Canada-EU trade deal (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - CETA), 7 years in the making, comes into effect shortly. According to the BBC, May wants to use CETA as the model for a UK/Canada trade deal.

But wasn't Brexit meant to give us the freedom to arrange bigger, better trade deals? Instead, we have May announcing that one of the benefits from which we are walking away is to be copied and applied to Britain. Nothing bigger, nothing better, just the same, except for the added costs of negotiating something we already have. So what is the point of that?

Lib Dem mugs - new and recyled!

Lib Dem mugs (2)

Get them while they are still in stock! Lib Dem Image are selling an extended range of Lib Dem mugs thanks to Theresa May's decision to call a snap election. With 4 more MPs than this time last year, it now costs 50% more to have a full set of Lib Dem MP mugs! In a move that will please the environmental movement, mugs of former MPs from before the 2015 general election can now be recycled - mugs of Ed Davey, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have made a reappearance after 2 years of storage in the Lib Dem Image stock room.

So buy while stocks last and take your mug home - the tea there will be a heck of a lot cheaper than what's on sale at the conference centre!

Lib Dem mugs (1)

Foodie photo op for Vince

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (3)

The Bournemouth Food Bank has a stand at the Lib Dem conference and people can bring donations of food. So yesterday, Vince Cable, at the start of the leader's tour of the exhibition area, handed over 2 shopping bags of groceries. It struck me that the contents of those two bags would have been cheaper than a round of teas, coffees and sandwiches at the Bournemouth Conference Centre tea room where prices are eye-wateringly steep.

Anyway, well done to Vince for his donation and it reminds me that when I get back to Gateshead, I need to sort out a session with a group that helps supply food to low income households. The plan is to use allotment and garden surpluses that would otherwise go into the waste system. More on this on another day.

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (6)

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (9)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Labradors for Lib Dems meet Vince Cable

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (10)

Glad to see Vince Cable was the guest at the Labradors for Lib Dems meeting today. I hope they didn't give him a rough time when he took himself for a walk around the exhibition area. It was a stroke of luck that I got this photo. I had to paws to take it. etc

I think that's enough........

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (1)

Vince Cable and guide dog Sept 17 (9)

Admiring my handiwork

Vince Cable at PCA stand Bournemouth Sept 17 (13)

Vince Cable did his obligatory leader's tour of the exhibition area this afternoon. What an ideal opportunity to get a pic of Vince admiring a copy of Parliamentary Campaigner! (Editor is.....ahem....a certain Jonathan Wallace who produces it for the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates Association.)

Going to Conference stage 2

History magazine Sept 17

So much for planning to leave early this morning. Without the need to get up to deal with my livestock, I ended up sleeping in. It meant I only got on the train at Clapham Junction at 10.40am. The good news was that I found a cafe that served breakfast for only £3 - a bacon role and a cup of tea. That must be a record for London. Two hours to Bournemouth - a good chance to catch up with reading my BBC History magazines which often get neglected as I'm tied up doing lots of other things.

I'm at conference now. Having won the battle to work out how to get on to the BIC's wifi, I will be posting up photos from around the centre. First up is Vince Cable's tour of the exhibition area, at 4pm.

receipt Sept 17

Above - the breakfast receipt proving that breakfasts can be unexpectedly cheap in London. However, back home, breakfast normally costs us nothing - one of the joys of self-sufficiency!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Going to conference - stage 1

luggage Sept 17

Lib Dem conference started this morning in Bournemouth but I'm not there yet. I am staging my journey. I left Newcastle by train this aftrnoon and am now at my flat at Crystal Palace. It has been unoccupied for 3 months as my friend, who normally lives there, is seriously ill and since June has been either living with us where we can care for him, or is in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead where he is getting medical treatment. Apart from the appearance of some cobwebs and a large pile of post, the flat is in good order.

I travel lightly: a rucksack containing cameras, rechargers, underwear and shirts plus my laptop case. I always keep what I travel with to a minimum. I can never understand why some people going away for a few days need to take the contents of an entire walk-in wardrobe with them! Anyway, I'm leaving behind the world of self-sufficiency for a few days to be beside the seaside for sun, sea and politics in Bournemouth. I should arrive there early Sunday afternoon.

Lib Dem Conference live on YouTube

Lib Dem conference is live on YouTube. If you can't make it to Bournemouth, you can still follow what's happening.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Email to Gateshead members

I will be heading off to conference at Bournemouth tomorrow, Saturday, though I don't get there until Sunday (I'm staying overnight in London). I've just emailed Gateshead members about conference and some of the key debates that are taking place. You can read the email on this link.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A decade ago

It is hard to believe that the news of the death struggles of Northern Rock first surfaced a decade ago. I remember the time well. Gordon Brown had recently undergone his coronation as Labour Leader and PM. He was deliberately dropping hints of a snap general election and then backed off. His ratings nosedived and his twisting and turning led to Vince Cable's "Stalin to Mr Bean" quip. Northern Rock however began to steal the headlines and for the first time in the lives of all of us, we saw a run on a bank with queues of people waiting to take out their money.

Vince Cable had warned of problems in the financial sector and had been attacked by Labour as a party pooper. The debt-fuelled boom was set to burst and when it did, a decade ago, the consequences were horrendous and we have still not recovered from them now.

And do you remember the money lending adverts? If anything sums up the madness of stupidly easy access to "credit" (ie debt) it was the "Picture The Loan" advert with the Geordie woman who casually borrows £25,000. As someone who leans much more towards the importance of having savings rather than constant consumer spending, I detested that advert and I made my feelings clear every time it was on the tv. Like so many other financial companies, they encouraged people to take up large amounts of debt. Then they encouraged people to take out a single loan to "consolidate" all the other loans they had hanging around their necks, with "cheaper monthly repayments" (forgetting to mention the debt will run for more years). There was always the suggestion that when taking out a consolidated loan, people should borrow even more so they can have the expensive holiday in the sun (and spend the next decade paying for it).

The question is, has Britain as a nation learnt from the serious mistakes of that period? One look at tv advertising would suggest we haven't. Adverts for payday loans at 1300% interest and equity release (ie long term debt for the elderly to pay for round-the-world cruises) would suggest we have not. People's desire to have more and more consumer products and to buy them before they have earned the money to pay for them say to me that old habits are still alive and kicking. Will the banking reforms of the past decade be enough to save us from another financial crisis? The answer is likely to be "No" if personal debt levels continue to grow.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The cost of clean electricity falls

A system of auctions for low carbon electricity generation, introduced by the Liberal Democrats as part of the Coalition, has helped to bring the cost of offshore wind energy down to below that of nuclear. In the auctions, low carbon power generators bid for a price to be paid them for each megawatt of electricity. The company bidding the lowest price wins.

The system has reduced the bid price from £120 in 2015 to £57.50 in the recent auction. This compares with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant securing a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour.

The bid price is paid by electricity distribution companies which pass on the costs to customers. The higher the bid price, the higher the retail price of electricity. The auction system has helped drive down costs by forcing the pace of innovation to save costs for example through bigger turbines, higher voltage cables and lower cost foundations.

Remember - this is what the Conservatives in the Coalition called the Lib Dems' "green crap".

Hurricane Brexit heads for Britain

There is a severe weather warning as Hurricane Brexit heads for the UK's shores. Landfall is expected in March 2019 and there are fears of widespread damage. The effects of the hurricane can already be felt with stormy economic seas resulting in the sinking of the pound. While Brexit is tearing up the country, Britain is expected to be cut off from Europe. In expectation of the arrival of the hurricane, many skilled workers have already evacuated themselves to the safety of Europe, putting a severe strain on public services, especially the NHS which is yet to receive its promised £350 million a week. Severe damage to the economy is anticipated and battered Britons are strongly advised to batten down the hatches. The bad news doesn't end there as those emerging from the wreckage after the storm could be subjected to a "fact-finding" tour of disaster-hit areas by Boris Johnson.

You've been warned: be prepared for the dangers ahead.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Plain packaging and illegal cigarette sales

cigarette packaging Sept 17

I attended a meeting of Gateshead's Health Scrutiny Committee this afternoon. One of the main presentations was about smoking in the borough. Figures showed that 17.9% of adults in Gateshead smoke, a fall from the previous year when 18.3% smoked. It's a move in the right direction but it still leaves Gateshead with one of the highest smoking rates in the country.

The decision to impose plain packaging on cigarettes appears to have had a positive impact. There are now fewer varieties and the visual appeal is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, there are still too many illegal cigarettes coming into the country in their bright, attractively designed boxes. Some of these boxes, which had been seized by Trading Standards, were shown to the meeting. Also considered were the figures showing a significant drop in the number of admissions to hospital for illnesses caused by secondary smoking after the ban on smoking in public places was brought in.

In a sense, the easier actions have been carried out, such as plain packaging, the ban in public places, higher taxes and so on. Reducing the 17.9% rate to a minimal level of 5% is going to be a much bigger challenge. The main focus needs to be on children and young people. The smoking industry kills off lots of its customers so constantly needs to replace them. Quite how we stop young people being attracted into taking up smoking is the big challenge for which no one yet has any real solutions.

A late sign

roadwork signs in Sunniside Sept 17

I was phoned by a constituent over the weekend to ask if I could arrange for roadwork signs to be removed from Sunniside Front Street. The roadworks were completed weeks ago and the continued appearance of the signs is just plain annoying. I've passed on the concerns to Highways officers. The Council needs to be a bit more proactive when it comes to leaving public property needlessly scattered about the borough.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Farewell Mike

I was saddened this week to learn of the death of Mike Neville, one of the greats of North East broadcasting. I was brought up watching him present BBC Look North before his move to Tyne Tees. He was a constituent of mine until boundary changes moved his house into Whickham North ward. He will be greatly missed.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Discussing rail

There was a rather useful seminar yesterday at Gateshead Council for members about rail services in the North East. One of the senior officers from Nexus was there to talk us through rail issues and how they are likely to impact on the North East economy. I think it is fair to say that rail systems in the North East are at the limit of their capacity and without investment, they will deteriorate and be unable to operate fully. This could have a major effect on business activity as it will be harder to move good and people around the region.

There are a number of pinch points but the 2 most significant ones are the state of the Metro in Tyne and Wear and the East Coast Mainline being dependent on only two tracks.

It is estimated that by 2025, there will only be 66 Metrocars left running on the Metro. That would require a peak service reduction of up to 30%. The rolling stock, now nearly 40 years old, is already causing problems with frequent breakdowns. The government has accepted the case for replacing the fleet. The issue is how this should be paid for. A decision is needed soon. It turns out that off-the-shelf trains cannot be used on the Metro as the tunnels are smaller than most other equivalent systems. The new fleet will have to be specially designed and built for the Metro. That means getting the contract sorted soon or else we wont have the new fleet in time for 2025.

The East Coast Mainline suffers from having only two tracks through the region. It means Intercity high speed trains have to share the tracks with slower commuter and freight trains. The line is at capacity now so cannot accept extra services. New capacity is needed but the government has only agreed to take HS2 as far as Leeds. High speed trains travelling further north will have to use existing track. There will be no additional capacity in the region. This is likely to restrict future economic development.

There is much to ponder but had Labour not mucked up devolution in the North East, we would at least have a strong political voice to put the regions concerns and needs to ministers.

Labour's tax haven fireside sale

This story caught my attention in the Newcastle Journal on 31st August: the grade II listed building on Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, which is the former home to the HQs of both Northumbria Police and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, has been sold to the British Virgin Islands based arm of Motcomb Estates, owned by billionaire brothers Simon and David Reuben. The sale was made possible by the relocation from the building of the Newcastle Civil and Family Court to Newcastle Civic Centre and the magistrates courts to the Quayside.

Labour are the political bosses of both the police and fire service here. Given Labour's current contempt for the super rich and offshore tax havens, such a sale certainly raises a few questioning eyebrows. So the next time a Labour MP, candidate or councillor makes a noise about cracking down on tax havens or attacking the super rich, just remind them Labour are happy to sell the family silver to a couple of billionaires based in a tax haven.

According to the article, the Reubens already owned the derelict buildings next to the Pilgrim Street police station. They are planning a hotel, bars and a restaurant on the site.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The North East goes AWOL

One of my arguments for accepting the government's devolution offer to the North East was to ensure the region had a strong political voice that could speak for our area. I am no fan of elected mayors but I like my home area being emasculated even less. Thanks to Labour's tantrum and dummy-spitting activities that resulted in the North East being left behind with no devolution settlement, our region had no representation at all at a meeting last week of northern mayors and the Chancellor. To be at the top table, a region needed a mayor. Labour in the North East has ensured that not only were we not at the top table, we weren't even in the building. Well done Labur, that's another fine mess you've gotten us into.

How to strangle the economy the Brexit way

We now have a glimpse of Brexit Britain following the leaking of a government paper on immigration in the brave new world after March 2019. The Brexit extremists have clearly put a great deal of work into this report, looking at all sorts of ways to strangle the economy by making the UK as unwelcoming as possible to anyone from abroad (except for Australian media tycoons and PR bosses) who want to pay taxes here and contribute to the economy. We are told that there are too many unskilled workers coming here but we have an unemployment rate of less than 5% and a crying need for unskilled Labour which the Brits are not filling.

The extremist Brexiteers, according to this report, will put up as many barriers as possible to both skilled and unskilled foreign workers. Unskilled workers will be kicked out of the country after either one or two years, leaving the soft fruit in Lincolnshire to rot on the shrubs, hotels to close due to staff shortages and elderly patients to be stuck in hospital, bed-blocking, because care homes can't recruit sufficient staff. And even skilled staff are going to be kicked out after five years. Maybe to fill the resulting gap in the NHS, the Brexit extremists can get the bed-blocking elderly patients to retrain as GPs and nurses (as long as they are British patients - none of these health tourists please though trying to be any kind of tourist in the UK will be a bit of a challenge if the hotels can't recruit the staff needed.)

The direction of travel is clear under the Brexit extremists: keeping out foreigners is far more important than the economy, wealth creation and prosperity. Let's hope this report ends up being shredded.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

5 million YouTube viewings

A new milestone reached on my YouTube account: my videos have now been viewed 5 million times (5,025,276 to be precise). Over the past 11 years of making videos, I've posted 1,128 to YouTube. The most viewed is "Inside a former Soviet Secret submarine base", filmed in Balaklava in the Crimea, then part of the Ukraine and since stolen by the Russians. Viewing figures are 291,246. "View from the London Eye" is 2nd on 249,677. 3rd is my top performing foodie video, "How to dry tomatoes" at 223,938.

People have spent 6,281,088 minutes viewing my videos since mid 2012 when this statistic was first recorded. This works out at approximately 6,250 days. Not bad!

New chairman of Sunniside History Society

Tonight I was elected as the new chairman of Sunniside History Society at the AGM in Sunniside Club. About 70 members were present. I am taking over from Colin Douglas who held the position for the past 15 years but stood down due to health reasons. It will be a challenge to keep up the momentum that Colin gave the society but I am ready for it.

The society meets at 7.30pm on the first Tuesday of every month. Our next will be on 3rd October when the speaker will be from Beamish Museum talking about the new developments at Beamish Museum.

Tackling food waste

produce surplus at Comfrey Project Sept 17 (2)

On Sunday I collected more surplus fruit from local residents who would otherwise have put most of this bounty into the waste disposal system. It's appalling to think of all this fresh, wonderful food being dumped. I therefore put quite a bit of effort into encouraging people to swap surpluses for my preserves.

The problem I have had recently is that we have had more plums given to us that we can possibly use ourselves, even taking into account all the jam we make for own use, for swapping and for sale. On the other hand, the vast amount of apples I have received don't need to be traded on. Instead they can be stored for later use by ourselves and the goats.

Anyway, to shift the surplus plums I donated them to the Comfrey Project, the charity in Bensham, Gateshead, which helps low income families and refugees access affordable food and which I first visited in August. As part of the donation, I also gave them a box of apples, a load of rhubarb from my allotment and about 6-7 kg of runner beans (see photo) given to me by one of the allotments on the Whinnies Community Garden. They had more than they could handle.

As a society we need to avoid waste but we also need to set up systems that ensure garden produce surpluses go into the food chain rather than the waste disposal system. I discussed this with Tony Alder, who heads up Gateshead's waste collection and disposal system, on Monday. He is going to see if an analysis can be made of the amount of usable garden produce going into the garden waste bins or taken to waste tips. If the amount is significant, we then need to look at ways of collecting separately this food and getting it into the food chain without costing the council anything. That's the challenge we need local charities to take up.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labour's one-party state just got bigger

The Labour Party on Tyneside has, for decades, had a one-party state mentality. Recently, the four constituent authorities that make up Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, all Labour run, decided to scrap the joint committee, made up of three councillors from each council, and replace it with a "strategic board". This will consist of one member from each authority, along with a small number of "independent" members and an "independent" chairman. At one fell swoop, the change abolished opposition representation.

Now, the announcement has been made that the new "independent" chairman has been appointed. She is Joyce Quin, former Labour MEP for Tyne and Wear and MP for Gateshead East and now a member of the House of Lords, sitting on the Labour benches.

I don't doubt Joyce will do a good job. She is one of those Labour politicians from the North East who can actually be counted as among the ranks of the capable. But as far as an exercise in democracy is concerned, it is not!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Thank you Colin

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (8)

Colin Douglas is to stand down as chairman of the Sunniside History Society at the AGM this Tuesday. He has been chairman of the Society for 15 years and has steered it to be one of the most successful local history organisations in the area. Sadly, Colin's health has not been too good recently, therefore contributing to his decision to retire. We had our last executive with him in the chair on Thursday. The new chairman will be announced at the AGM, Sunniside Club, Tuesday 5th September.

I wish Colin all the best in his retirement and for a speedy recovery and thank him for his many years of hard work.