Monday, December 31, 2018

Buying the 2nd Channel Tunnel

So the government has committed £14 million to Seaborne Freight to provide ferry services after 29th March in the world of Hard Brexit. This is a significant amount of money just so that the Conservatives can claim that not all ferry contracts for the Hard Brexit crisis have gone to EU companies. Seaborne Freight now have to spend the next few weeks desperately racing around to find some ferries to operate some services. Good luck to them!

The government say they did all the checks needed on Seaborne Freight before awarding them the contract. How very reassuring. Hopefully they will be equally as diligent when letting the contract to operate the 2nd Channel Tunnel from 29th March onwards!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Diary: 20th December 2018 - NECA Scrutiny

Labour have made a complete mess of devolution in the North East with half the region, north of the Tyne, going off to do their own thing, and what's left (a glorified Co Durham) having to reconstitute its own scrutiny committee. As a result of this, I am now on the NECA (North East Combined Authority) scrutiny committee. The NECA name will continue to be in use for the now truncated region.

On Thursday last week, I attended my first meeting, at South Shields Tow Hall. I rapidly discovered that I am dealing with something of a bureaucratic body. My thoughts are in the video above.

eFocus Whickham no. 111

Published today, just in time for the seasonal break, eFocus for the Whickham area, no. 111. We led with the issue of Labour's plans to build houses on the historic Whickham Chase Park. We also had articles about Jim Robson, the waving lollipop man who sadly passed away recently, and the extension by two weeks of the consultation on fire service changes. You can read eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Diary Tuesday 18th December 2018 - allotments

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Gateshead Council Cabinet. There wasn't a great deal on the agenda but I was interested in the review of allotment rents (I don't rent from the council). The recommended rise matched inflation so was not in any way controversial. I did however raise the issue of the need to carry out community asset transfers of the allotment sites. I have been arguing for this for years as it will mean the sites are managed by their own allotment holders and they will have access to funding from charitable organisations which do not invest in Council facilities.

I'm not sure the council has significant spare capacity at the moment to do a review of the sites but it is something we are going to have to do soon to ensure the allotment sector in Gateshead prospers.

Diary Saturday 15th December 2018 - delivering in Whickham

Delivery of our Whickham Focus newsletter is underway and on Saturday, I delivered a patch in my own ward. My plans to deliver three patches however was shelved. I whimped out after doing one patch to to home, warm up and have lunch! The two remaining patches will be done shortly.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Diary: Friday 14th December 2018 - Woodmans and eFocus

This morning I visited the Woodmans Arms on Fellside Road, not to have a drink(!) but to speak to the owner about a planning application he has to extend the pub. I am helping him with the application as I think it is appropriate for the site and will create 9 new jobs. Currently the planners are recommending refusal. We had a good luck around the site and discussed options. No date has yet been set for the planning committee decision.

Then back home to start work on the next efocus. The latest edition was published yesterday but I had material I had to leave out because of lack of space (I'm aiming to keep efocus relatively short but produce it more regularly). This spare material will be going into the next edition which will go out just before Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

eFocus Whickham area no. 110

Just published - eFocus email newsletter from the Whickham area Lib Dem Focus Team. Key stories in this edition are the granting of planning permission for executive homes on Whickham Highway, Woodmans pub in line for award, Whickham School turf cutting ceremony, Sunniside Methodist fair, Christmas lights switch on and consultation on fire service cuts.

You can see edition 110 on this link.

Diary: Wednesday 12th December 2018 - the confidence vote

Yesterday, in between delivering Focuses and attending a meeting of the Whickham Library volunteers, I turned my hand to predictions about the Theresa May confidence vote, knowing that my political projections of the past couple of years have been rather wide of the mark. I suggested she would be fine if she had less than 70 MPs voting against her, she was in a grey zone with 70-100 voting against, and if over 100 voted against, she was in deep trouble. My expectation was that she would be in comfortably (ie in the less-than-70 zone). How wrong I was.

Watergate delivery

Whickham Focus Dec 18

While the Conservatives were tearing themselves apart yesterday I headed out to the Watergate Estate in Whickham to deliver 370 Focuses. The newsletter is currently going out across the Whickham area of the three Whickham wards. I have lots more to deliver in my own ward!

The lead story is Labour's decision to build hundreds of executive homes on Whickham Highway. Other stories include news about the Whickham branch of Lloyds Bank, Whickham Post Office closure and Remembrance Day parade.

Goodbye Andrew

On Tuesday I attended the funeral of Andrew Friend at Durham Crematorium. Andrew had been a presenter at Tyne Tees TV, a constituent of mine (before boundary changes) and a friend. He and his then partner Jonathan had experienced one of our self-sufficient dinners at our house. I last saw Andrew in March when I took Richard to an appointment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. We had a quick chat but I had not appreciated how ill Andrew was at the time.

It was standing room only for the funeral. A fitting send off. RIP Andrew.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunniside Focus

Sunniside Focus autumn 2018-page-0

Delivery of our latest Focus for Sunniside, Streetgate, Marley Hill and Byermoor is now completed. Key issues covered included:

  • approval of house-building in Sunniside and Streetgate;
  • arson attack on Marley Hill bowling club pavilion;
  • birds of prey at the Whinnies in Sunniside;
  • repairs to Ravensworth Castle;
  • improvements to Sunniside Methodist Hall;
  • flytipping removed from Byermoor
  • Sunniside Christmas tree lights switch on.
We now have in our possession the Focus on Whickham which we will be delivering over the next few days.

Sunniside Focus autumn 2018-page-1

Diary: Saturday 8th December 2018 - Whickham Library Fair

Yesterday, I was at the Whickham Volunteer Library for their Christmas fair. I was there to sell my preserves. Around £200 was raised for the library's funds.

Diary: Thursday 6th December 2018 - Sunniside lights switch on

On Thursday evening the switch on ceremony for the Sunniside Christmas tree lights took place. Two of my goats - Coal and Perky - were there, cunningly disguised as reindeer. They overdosed on Christmas carrots!

Sunniside Christmas lights switch on Dec 18 (10)

Sunniside Christmas lights switch on Dec 18 (6)

Sunniside Christmas lights switch on Dec 18 (4)

Sunniside Christmas lights switch on Dec 18 (1)

Diary: Thursday 6th December 2018 - printing

Thursday morning required my presence in the Lib Dem office in Consett to do some printing - but not for the Lib Dems. I am helping the Lighting Up Sunniside group to raise the money for the village's Christmas tree. The switch on event was in the evening but I agreed to produce a leaflet that could be handed out to people to drum up support for the organisation. 200 A4 leaflets produced - probably my quickest print run in years!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Diary: 4th December 2018 - ipads, Focus deliveries and food

My council ipad needed to be "migrated" so I lost half the morning going into the civic centre to sort this out. From there I headed to Marley Hill to deliver the last of the Focus newsletters I had. And in the evening, I headed to Sunniside Club where, as Chairman of the Sunniside History Society, I ran the meeting (which included our Christmas buffet - 54 people attended). I used my chairman's prerogative to not do the quiz (name the musical). This was a good move as I would have crashed and burned had I taken up the challenge.

Diary: Monday 3rd December 2018 - carbon footprints, trees and plan B

Wall to wall meetings starting with corporate scrutiny (I asked questions about Gateshead Council's carbon footprint), then a seminar on Universal Credit, then a meeting with the director who deals with waste collection and cutting back trees and finally off to Sunniside Club to test the projector for the History Society meeting the next day. Last month the projector would not work so instead of playing a DVD, I had to improvise for an hour by giving a totally unplanned talk and Q&A on local history. I don't want to do that again!

Visiting Lobley Hill fair

There was a Christmas fair at Lobley Hill Community Centre on Saturday afternoon which was run by Groundwork, the environmental charity. They invited me to bring a couple of our goats to the fair. Sadly, the rain discouraged many people from attending but the goats were popular with those who did come. Alas, we were outdoors for the whole of the afternoon! We were a bit wet!

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Dunston Hill and Whickham East Action Day

Gateshead Lib Dems held another action day on Saturday, this time in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward. We won the seat up for election in this ward from Labour in May and Labour's last seat here is being contested in May 2019. Alas, I was only able to get along in the morning as I had been invited by Groundwork, the environmental charity, to take some of my goats to a fair they were holding in Lobley Hill in the afternoon.

Despite the rain, I was sent out to deliver target mail. I ended up with a patch that had lots of long drives and steps! Members also carried out a survey of residents and got a positive response. A productive day.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Whickham Christmas lights switch on - photos

Whickham Christmas lights switch on Nov 18

On Tuesday, the Christmas lights in Whickham were switched on. The funds were raised by Lighting Up Whickham and they organised the event which started at Rose Villa Nursery and then along to St Mary's Green. The photos I took are on the above link.

Whickham School turf-cutting ceremony

On Thursday last week, I attended the turf-cutting ceremony at Whickham School where work is now beginning on replacing the old buildings. I was a pupil at the school some years (decades) ago. It's a small world however - one of the 6th formers told me that his grandfather was a Whickham policeman in the 1970s and remembers dealing with a road accident in which I was seriously injured and ended up in hospital for 50 days. That was over 40 years ago, proving some people have good memories!

Meanwhile, the turf-cutting ceremony was performed by Sir John Hall, who built the nearby Metrocentre.

Dunston Hill - the final battle

On Wednesday last week, the final battle to stop Labour's plans for 582 executive homes on former greenbelt land at Dunston Hill took place when the planning application for the development came before Gateshead Council's planning committee. Labour have battled hard to have the houses built though at election time they try to claim they were against them (and therefore against the own plans which they voted through).

Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward has 2 Lib Dem councillors (Kevin McClurey and Peter Maughan) and one Labour. On the planning committee, Labour have 18 members to our 4. Defeating the house-building plans was a long shot and we would need to change the minds of some Labour members. The final voting figures were 10 in favour of the plans, 9 against. It was closer than we expected and one more Labour member switching sides would have given us victory. It was noticeable that Eileen McMaster, Labour Councillor for Lobley Hill, which will be heavily impacted by the new housing, voted in favour. The next Lobley Hill Focus will write itself!

After the decision, the team headed to Dunston Hill and delivered a Focus Special to the 2400 houses there to inform people of the news.

Interestingly, after they voted for the executive homes to be built, Labour announced they were launching a campaign for the houses to be affordable! Too late for that.

Above: Lib Dem Cllr Kevin McClurey speaking to the planning committee asking for the Dunston Hill plans for 582 executive homes to be defeated. Below, Cllr Peter Maughan's speech to the meeting, also calling for the plans to be thrown out.

Pelaw and Heworth Action Day

On Saturday 17th November, Gateshead Lib Dems had another action day, this time in Pelaw and Heworth ward, where Labour are defending a majority of about 100 over us. Lots of activities took place including a street stall, litter pick, survey and Focus delivery. We were spotted by a Labour councillor!

Pelaw Heworth action day Nov 18 (9)

Pelaw Heworth action day Nov 18 (7)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Low Fell eFocus

Gateshead Lib Dems have now published their next eFocus. Low Fell edition 23 was published a few days ago and leads on the Gateshead Council budget proposals. You can read eFocus on this link.

Edition 110 for the Whickham area is currently being written.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Gateshead Lib Dem members' newsletter

Our latest email newsletter for Lib Dem members in Gateshead was published recently. Issues covered included the action day in Pelaw and Heworth, the recent regional conference in Darlington and the Gateshead AGM. You can view the newsletter on this link.

eFocus Whickham 109

Our latest eFocus for the Whickham area, no. 109, has just been published. Issues covered include:
  • D-Day decision on greenbelt executive house-building plans
  • Lest we forget - residents turn out in force for Remembrance Day parade and services
  • Post office provision in Whickham under threat
  • Arson at Marley Hill bowling club
  • Christmas market at the Whinnies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Remembrance Day Parade

On Sunday I took part in the Remembrance Day parade and service in Whickham. For some years, the Whickham event has been the biggest in Gateshead and this year 50 wreaths were laid and over 1000 attended. I laid a wreath on behalf of my constituents.

Opening Sunniside Fair

I was invited to open the Sunniside Methodist Hall fair on Saturday. The chapel are keen to carry out renovation work of the hall and to make it more accessible as a community asset and venue for meetings for local groups and organisations. I was quite chuffed to be asked to perform the opening.

Printing the next Focus

I was in the office last week to print our latest Focus. This is the edition for the four villages of Sunniside, Streetgate, Marley Hill and Byermoor. Issues covered include housing plans being granted in Sunniside and Streetgate, arson attack at Marley Hill bowling club, Whinnies garden bird of prey day, repairs to Ravensworth Castle, improvements to Sunniside Methodist hall , Sunniside Christmas tree switch on and flytipping at Byermoor.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Gateshead's Millennium Study

I filmed this video just before and just after a seminar for Gateshead councillors about the Gateshead Millennium Study, a research project that followed 1000 people born in 1999/2000 until they turned 18. There was quite a concentration during the presentation on the issue of obesity, which affected children from all income groups, though it was higher among children from the lowest income households. There are no single solution to tackling obesity and, as I pointed at at the meeting, ready-made meals and takeaways taste great and are packed full of things the body craves and which, naturally, are in short supply - salt, fats and sugars for example. However we don't live naturally. Anyway, my views on this are all in the above video.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Blaydon branch meeting

Last Thursday the Blaydon Lib Dem constituency meeting was held. I was there to give my report as group leader for the year as a whole as this was the AGM. I talked about our "6 to fix" which we used in the local elections but also raised Gateshead Council's late housing strategy

Officers were elected for the year ahead and we concluded with a report on preparations for the local elections, especially as they relate to the five wards in the constituency in which we have an active interest and the one ward in Gateshead constituency in which Blaydon constituency assists the campaigning to build up to a gain from Labour in the future.

Why I don't think there will be an election

I recorded my thoughts on why I don't think there will be an election last week when I arrived at Gateshead Civic Centre for a meeting. It could be my famous last words but talk of a snap election is, I feel, misplaced. The Conservatives are ahead in the polls but their fingers were badly burnt last year when May lost her majority in an unnecessary snap election. Their poll leads are modest but not enough to risk a run to the country. Furthermore, the Conservatives will want the boundary changes approved before a general election.

I could, of course, be completely wrong! We could end up, if not a snap election, with one in May next year, coinciding with the local elections. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Arson, budget and elections

On Monday I paid a visit to Marley Hill bowling green. I have been helping the club with publicity and advice on a community asset transfer. The reason I was visiting however was an arson attack on the club house last week. Someone broke in and set fire to the rubber mats used by the bowlers. The result is that everything inside has been destroyed by smoke damage. Fortunately the building is structurally sound. We are looking at how the club can be helped to get over this setback.

Afterwards I headed to a meeting with Gateshead's chief exec and director of finance to discuss the council's budget for next year. There is a £29 million funding gap to bridge which rather undermines the claim by the Conservatives that austerity has ended.

And in the evening I headed to felling for a Lib Dem meeting to work up more details of the campaign plan for next year's local elections. I left with a rather large to-do list!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lib Dem action day in Low Fell

Yesterday we had an action day in Low Fell, Gateshead. It went ahead despite the snow and the cold wind. Fortunately by the afternoon the snow had gone. Our aim was to carry out a survey of a particular target group. I'm pleased to say we got through the whole group, though admittedly there were lots of people who were out when we called. The response was positive though I did come across someone who confessed to being a Labour member though we was rather apologetic about it! The video above follows us through the day.

Could Labour MPs save May's Brexit plans?

This is another of my thoughts set to video while I am stuck at the wheel of my car: could Theresa May be saved by Labour MPs? There is constant talk of her being gone within days. Ever since her shoot-her-own-foot decision to go for an early election, headlines of her being deposed have never been far from the front pages. Yet, a year and a half since then, she is still there. Her ability to cling to power is really quite something.

So, can she get her Chequers Brexit plan through Parliament. Under the current Parliamentary arithmetic and taking into account rebellious Tory Brexit MPs (and possibly rebellious Remainers as well) it is looking like she is toast. But there are two matters to consider. Firstly, there is always a great deal of noise about rebellions before they happen and there is a tendency for the figures of government MPs going through the opposition lobby to be somewhat inflated. Nevertheless, if there is a vote on Chequers, any Conservative rebellion could bring it crashing down.

Secondly, what about the Labour rebels. The dinosaur tendency has already saved May on Brexit legislation votes. They have not been punished by the Labour whips. There could now be a further Labour rebellion, but not just by the dinosaurs such as Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell. There is another group in Labour to consider - the looking-over-their-shoulder wing of the party, the Caroline Flints of the world. They claim to be Remainers but like May, they are now pushing the Brexit side of the debate. I suspect they could be sufficient enough in numbers to swing a Parliamentary vote.

And I suspect any actions in supporting the Chequers deal may not put them into conflict with Corbyn. He knows that were there to be an election and he were to win (not a done deal by any means given Labour are behind in most polls), he would have to negotiate a deal with virtually no time left and with no other weapons in the armory than the Tories have. Surely it's better for Corbyn to let the Tories do the hard work, get a Brexit package passed on which he could never make any improvements while he makes a noise about how bad things are but never puts forward a serious alternative.

This scenario relies on Labour MPs rebelling to support the Conservatives. Given the lack of activity by Corbyn on the People' Vote issue, his turning a blind eye to a Labour rebellion could save May's skin again (and saves his own from having to lead a disastrous government with no Brexit alternative.)

Delivering in Dunston

On Friday, I delivered 220 Focuses in Dunston Hill, one of our target wards which Labour are defending in May 2019 (in May this year we won with a majority of around 600). The Focus led on the issue of Labour's plans for 582 executive homes on Whickham Highway. Other stories included the closure of Dunston Hill Hospital and the Dunston health centre.

The Focus included the petition we are running against the housing plans. Yesterday morning we received the first of the replies by post.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Gateshead Lib Dem members' email newsletter

Earlier this week I published the latest Lib Dem members' email newsletter. It covered the People's Vote rally and the action day we have in Low Fell on Saturday. You can view it on this link.

Planning and printing

Yesterday I headed to the Woodmans pub in my ward for a meeting with the owner about a planning application for an extension of the premises. The plans look good and, if given the go ahead, will lead to eight new jobs being created. The aim is to create a venue suitable for wedding receptions. The issue however is that the location is in the greenbelt. My view is that the countryside cannot be pickled. Businesses need to be able to operate and expand within reasonable limits. I will be making this point to the planners.

Following the meeting, I headed up to the Lib Dem office in Consett where, with Cllr Kevin McClurey, we printed a focus, a petition and three surveys. It looks like we will be burning shoe leather over the coming days.

The small issues are the biggest part of the role

On Tuesday I had a meeting with Gateshead Council officers who deal with community matters. It is the latest in a series of meetings where we discuss ward matters and how to take them forward. Dealing with such matters actually forms the bulk of the work I do as a councillor. The meeting covered a range of local matters but key was the need to set up a partnership between local organisations to help community groups work together. This will be a major activity for us in the new year.

Later in the day I headed back to the civic centre for a training session on the PREVENT strategy and how to spot those more likely to be drawn into extremist and violent behaviour and terrorism. It was quite an eye-opener.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Conspiracy theories and the problem of thriving bees

In Gateshead a bunch of conspiracy theorists are convinced that non-existent 5G technology allegedly installed in lampposts are exterminating all insects and small birds while causing mass nosebleeds, cancer and death. They allege that the 5G technology (which does not exist in Gateshead) has been installed as part of a secret deal between Labour run Gateshead Council and the Conservative government to test a weapon system on the people of the area. And for good measure they argue that the Council has set up a funeral business to cash in on the extra deaths they claim will result from the alleged 5G technology. As far as conspiracy theories goes, this one has to be there near the top.

However, the conspiracy theorists claim that all my bees have died! They even tried to make this part of their case against an injunction sought by the Council against one of their ring leaders who has intimidated and harassed councillors (myself included) and council staff in their campaign against 5G. So, to help them in their journey back to the real world, I filmed the video above which shows my bees thriving, even in the middle of October, a month not well known for ideal foraging for bees.

And while I have had quite a few abusive message from the conspiracy theorists, none of them have yet responded to this video. I wonder why.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report that Sunny, the goat that appeared in the video, is back in excellent health.

People's Vote rally - video

I attended the People's Vote rally on Saturday in London, along with thousands of other Lib Dem members. This is the video I made of the event. It was attended by members of all mainstream parties and by those with no political allegiance. Noticeable for his absence was Jeremy Corbyn.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Sunderland People's Vote Rally (and attempted incursions by the Brexiteers)

Yesterday I headed to Sunderland to attend the People's Vote march and rally. Interesting time! The rally was pursued by Brexiteers who attempted to drown out the speeches and invade the rally. They looked like a bunch of heavies you would expect to see at a Far Right gathering.

There was a good speech by Anna Soubry, the key speaker. Once Brexit has been sorted (if it ever will be), she needs to decide whether or not she feels at home in the Conservative Party. If she stays with them, she certainly has street battle skills for putting down the Right. They were employed to good effect yesterday!

Visiting Health Facilities in Gateshead

On Friday, Gateshead's Health Scrutiny Committee (I am a member), visited Dunston Hill Hospital which the local health trust wants to close. The services there have been gradually reduced over the decades with the result that only two functions are carried out there in one unit, with the rest of the site now derelict. My annoyance with the closure process is that a new home has not been found for one of the services but closure is to go ahead as the need to sell the site for new housing is driving the need to shut down the site. I raised this point at the last meeting of the committee and we will be returning to this issue at the next meeting on 15th October.

The tour on Friday was rounded off with a visit to the St Bede's palliative care unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This is a facility with which I am familiar. Dad was in there for three weeks last year and it was where he passed away.

The Battle of Starling Walk

On Thursday a site visit was held by Gateshead's planning committee to the Starling Walk in Sunniside. I am battling a planning application for the site there to be used for 8 houses and 10 bungalows. My argument is that this site should be used for housing for older people. There should be 10 bungalows there, not 8 houses. The houses will also be facing into the apartments in Sun Hill Court, leading to a loss of privacy. And furthermore, the proposed houses are not in keeping with the bungalows already on Starling Walk.

At the last planning committee I persuaded the members to carry out the site visit. The members arrived on Thursday, looked around, considered the issues and then left. The decision will be taken on Wednesday.

Friday, October 05, 2018

More pie and peas!

Last Saturday I attended the Lighting Up Whickham pie and pea supper. A large amount of peas and pies were left over so some of this came back to my house. Another two days of pie and pea suppers followed. On Tuesday evening, I attended the meeting of Sunniside History Society where there was, ahem, a pie a pea supper. I feel I have overdosed on them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Brexit again

I recorded this on Sunday morning while driving to the home of one of our local election candidates in Gateshead. Yet more thoughts on Brexit. The Tories, starting their conference, are divided. Labour could not give a straight answer on a further referendum which is increasingly looking like the only realistic way forward to break the logjam. Theresa May however may end up surviving on the votes of Labour MPs, given Labour hints at their conference that they could back May's deal.

3 events: Ryton, Sunniside and Whickham

On Saturday I had three events to attend. The first was the Lib Dem action day in Ryton where we delivered our latest Focus newsletter across the ward. As usual, I was given the Riverside Estate patch to do.

Ryton Focus delivery Sept 18

After completing my Ryton delivery, I headed to Sunniside where the Whinnies Community Garden were holding a bird of prey day. Top of the billing was a Bengali eagle owl.

Eagle Owl JW Sept 18

In the evening I headed down to the Glebe Sports Club for the Lighting Up Whickham race night. I ended up winning only one race but parted with a modest amount of cash in support of a good cause.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Sept 18 (2)

Monday, October 01, 2018

Sunniside Methodist Hall revamp

Sunniside Methodist Hall has been undergoing a revamp recently and more work is due over the coming months. I was invited to the hall on Friday to look over the improvements but also talk about possible uses by the local community. I had already had some discussions in the summer about possible uses of  the hall and had raised this issue in our ward meeting with the Leader of the Council. This resulted in the Older People's Assembly agreeing to put on some activities in the hall.

We have agreed to include information about the hall in our next Focus, due shortly, so hopefully this will result in some increased interest in using the hall.

Getting ready for the big print runs

We took delivery of half a tonne of A3 paper last week. The Gateshead Lib Dem land rover fleet (2 vehicles!) was put into action to transfer the paper from Cllr John McClurey's shop in Newcastle to the Lib Dem office in Consett. Excellent exercise as there were also 24 steps to climb to get to the office door!

With all that paper, expect lots of Focuses over the next few months. The first was printed and delivered in Ryton on Saturday.

Sunniside History Society plans

Last week I had a meeting of Sunniside History Society executive to map out our plans for the year ahead. I went along with a number  of ideas:

  • creating a map of the area before man - in other words, what the natural landscape looked like before man arrived in the area thousands of years ago.
  • setting up some walks in the area with supporting literature highlighting the historical assets of the area.
  • collecting people's memories of the area to produce a dvd.
All the plans were adopted and we hope to be working with local schools on these projects.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Labour should be careful what they wish for

Labour have made it clear: they want a general election. They claim that is the way to break the logjam if Parliament rejects whatever final Brexit deal is on offer. A general election however will solve nothing. Labour are simply putting forward the same basic approach as the Conservatives (keep the benefits of membership while leaving the club). So there will be nothing significant to differentiate between Conservatives and Labour in a general election in terms of Brexit. A change in government from Conservative to Labour will produce nothing new in terms of negotiations. And if the Conservative Brexit rebels reject the Brexit deal as well, Conservative voters will understandably be confused as to what they would be voting for in a general election. And those Labour voters in constituencies represented by Labour dinosaur MPs (Ronnie Campbell in Blyth Valley instantly springs to mind) will also face a significant degree of confusion as to what exactly they will be voting for. A general election will never clarify the will of the people on a single issue when parties are divided and a vast range of other political issues which are nothing to do with Brexit are also being considered by voters. A referendum got us into this situation. A referendum is the only way to settle on a final decision.

Labour however should be careful what they wish for. A poll out today shows that only one in five voters believed Corbyn is capable of negotiating a Brexit settlement. That's barely half of Labour voters have confidence in their own leader to do a deal. And currently, most opinion polls show the Conservatives ahead of Labour. The lead is not big, but is typically around 2-3%. At a time when Labour should be well ahead in the polls, they are actually behind. If the Conservatives fail to get a Brexit deal through Parliament, there is still time for the government to get the new boundaries through Parliament. The unfair advantage in terms of constituency sizes enjoyed by Labour will be wiped out. A general election in November (unlikely) or spring 2019 (possible but I'll believe it when it happens) is more likely to result in a Conservative majority rather than a Corby government.

Monday, September 24, 2018

On the Home Front

I visited the Tanfield Steam Railway yesterday where a Home Front event was being held. This was an ideal opportunity to mix my role as local councillor with my interest in social history. Lots of activities based on the Second World War took place. Watch out for me with an enormous weapon!

Lighting Up Sunniside Race Night

On Saturday I attended the race night being hosted by Lighting up Sunniside at the Travellers Rest. The group has been set up to raise funds for the village's Christmas tree. Over £500 was raised from the event.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Labour taking the biscuit

On Thursday Gateshead's first full council after the recess was held. One of the issues on the cabinet report was the need to address how to reduce the use of single-use plastics. I pointed out that while this is a welcome move (I was attacking single use plastics on this blog a decade ago) there is an element of hypocrisy. Biscuits are served up at the start of all council meetings. Not just any old biscuits, but individually plastic wrapped ones. Frankly, councillors taking the biscuit at the start of meetings is not a good use of our resources. About 5 years ago, I successfully got an end to biscuits at meetings. It made me even less popular with councillors than normal. And then a year or so later biscuits made a reappearance, but this time they were individually wrapped. The amount of unnecessary waste from this is substantial. And as council taxpayers, we have to pay for its disposal.

So it's time to axe the biscuits at Gateshead. More on this in my Thursday diary above.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Planning, poverty and planting

On Wednesday I had three meetings: planning in the morning where I was speaking against an application for housing at Starling Walk (see my previous post); a seminar on tackling poverty in the afternoon and Planting Up Whickham in the evening.

At the poverty meeting, I discovered that the council is now setting up a scheme to collect fresh produce from wholesalers on the Team Valley which is still within date use but only just (resulting in retailers not wanting to buy it). There are no specific plans yet on what to do with the produce but I did suggest contacting groups that could convert it into meals in community cafes or preserves - I even recommended the WI.

More details of my day in the above video diary.

The wrong housing

One of my reasons for leaving conference early was to attend Gateshead Council planning committee meeting on Wednesday morning to speak against an application for 8 houses and 2 bungalows on land between Sun Hill Court and Starling Walk in Sunniside. I have no problem with this vacant site being used for housing but in a number of discussions with officers and the political leadership of the council, the ward councillors identified this site for housing for older people, a view generally accepted by the Leader and officers. The planning application in question did not fit into the aspiration for the site.

Furthermore, it is out of keeping with the bungalows on Starling Walk and could lead to the loss of privacy for residents of Sun Hill and potential residents of the new development.

The video above is my speech to the committee. The end result is that a site visit will take place before the final decision is taken.

Dunston Hill Hospital Closure

On Tuesday I attended a meeting of Gateshead Council's health scrutiny committee to discuss the proposed closure of Dunston Hill Hospital. Sites for health facilities can come and go. Sometimes old sites need to be closed and services moved elsewhere. That is all part and parcel of a health service that has to evolve constantly to reflect current and changing health needs. So no individual site can be regarded as sacrosanct. However, when a site is proposed for closure, it is reasonable for the consultation exercise to demonstrate what will happen to the services that are affected, particularly which new sites from which they will operate or what will be put in their place if the actual services are not to continue.

But this does not appear to be happening with the consultation over the closure of Dunston Hill Hospital. Instead, some of  the services may be transferred to Bensham Hospital, but there were lots of "could" and "maybe" descriptions in explaining the move and it was unclear as to whether any premises are available in Bensham. Other services will be "temporarily suspended" while the NHS Trust works out what on earth to do with them.

This is just not good enough. We need a clear picture of what is to happen to the services. We are not getting that from the consultation.

But why the rush to close Dunston Hill? It turns out there is interest in buying the site from a house builder and they want access to it by 1st November. So for the first time in my life, I've seen a health consultation driven by the needs of a house builder rather than those of patients. This is simpy unacceptable.

The above video is my contribution to the health committees deliberations.

Returning from Conference

On Tuesday I missed the last day of conference so that I could return home to Gateshead. I had a meeting in the afternoon of the health scrutiny committee which was discussing the proposed closure of Dunston Hill Hospital. I had already been in touch with one of the staff members from the hospital and I was determined to be at the meeting to raise concerns about the consultation process being driven by the need to sell off the site for housing, rather than the needs of patients.

Brighton Conference Day 3

Monday was my last day at Brighton conference. I returned home on Tuesday morning as I had commitments back in Gateshead and Newcastle. In this video I show you what you can expect if you go to Lib Dem conference.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Brighton Conference Day 2

Yesterday I was back to Brighton for day 2 of Lib Dem conference. Useful meeting in the morning about how all constituencies are being graded for targeting and a list of what needs to be done if a constituency wants to be in the top target group. I suspect Gateshead's constituencies will struggle to fulfill the criteria!

Brighton Conference Day 1

My first day at Brighton Lib Dem conference and I commuted down from London in the morning. Various meetings attended and the exhibition area visited. I returned to London in the late afternoon.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Heading to conference

Yesterday I headed down to London from Gateshead on another LNER service that wasn't performing well (no ticket machines working and only one member of staff to deal with the resulting long queue of people wanting to purchase tickets followed by the cancellation of the 11.59am train to London). The purpose of the trip is to go to Brighton Lib Dem conference. I am staying in my flat in London so will be commuting down to Brighton each day. It's a great deal cheaper than getting a hotel room though the early morning starts are not ideal.

I am now in Brighton having attended Layla Moran's speech and the consultation session on the party's development. I'll post up today's video tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Sunniside History Society excursion to Bowes Museum

The annual excursion of the Sunniside History Society (of which I am chairman) was held on Saturday and this time the destination was the Bowes Museum. In addition, we made a short visit to Barnard Castle. I had been to neither of these places previously. A good day was had by all.

Bowes Museum Sept 18 (7)

Bowes Museum Sept 18 (2)

Bowes Museum Sept 18 (16)

Bowes Museum Sept 18 (20)

Friday, August 31, 2018

My Wednesday meetings - library and history

On Wednesday, I had two meetings to attend, both in the evening. The first was the trustees of Whickham Voluntary Library where we discussed ambitions and aspirations for the building. The second was the executive of Sunniside History Society to put final preparations in place for the AGM next week. We also drew up some provisional plans for the year ahead.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Vince Cable in Newcastle

Vince Cable was in Newcastle on Saturday to speak at the People's Vote rally. I was part of the delegation to meet and greet him on his arrival.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Protect and Survive - government advice on how to survive the Brexit nuclear bomb

There is something awfully familiar about the government's Brexit No-Deal advice. Those of use who are old enough to remember the 1970s and 80s will recall the "Protect and Survive" advice in which we were told how to sit out a nuclear war by taking shelter under the dining room table. After a few days, it would be safe to go out into the fallout (provided you were over 30 years of age). Always remember to wear rubber gloves and clean wellies if you needed to pop outside to see whether any of your neighbours had survived the nuclear blast.

Somehow, the new Brexit advice looks horribly like a recycling of the 1970s. I hope they don't bring back flares.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Visiting the Tanfield Railway

The Tanfield Steam Railway is partly in my council ward in Gateshead and over the weekend they held a heritage event. I went along to enjoy some history and lend a hand at the Sunniside History Society stall.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Swalwell Community Fair

I was in Swalwell yesterday with two of my goats (Coal and Perky) to promote the community fair where I also was selling our preserves and eggs. The goats are always popular with the (human) kids! A good, steady flow of customers and lots of chats with residents about a whole range of local issues.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Visiting Marley Hill Bowling Club

Marley Hill Bowling Club are preparing for a community asset transfer of their bowling green. Members will take on the running of the facility from Gateshead Council in the near future. I visited the club last night at members' request to take some photos for our next Focus newsletter. I agreed some time ago to help the club promote their activities so the photos will be used for that purpose.

Monday, August 13, 2018

House-building survey

A planning application has been submitted to Gateshead Council for housing on land between Starling Walk and Sun Hill in Sunniside. I have no problem with housing going onto this site but as ward councillors we had always made it clear to officers that this site should be used for housing for older people. 4 years ago, the old Sun Hill residential accommodation was replaced by the new Sun Hill. Much of the unused land was part of the footprint of the old building. New accommodation for older people in Sunniside tends to free up existing family homes occupied by single older people and by older couples.

Unfortunately, the planning application for this site is for 8 houses and 2 bungalows. The bungalows fit the vision we have for the site. The houses don't.

Yesterday I delivered a survey about the application to the 50 households in the immediate vicinity of the site. I got about 25 replies. I will be sorting through them shortly and passing on the results to the planning officers in Gateshead.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Birtley Action Day

On Saturday we held our latest action day in Gateshead. This time it was in Birtley ward. It is Labour held with a comfortable share of the vote but where the turnout is only 31%. It is a ward Labour tends to take for granted.

The aim of the action day was to deliver the latest Birtley Focus across the ward. I'm pleased to report that, other than patches taken by some helpers to deliver through the week, we completed the delivery.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Scanning historic photos

I have been a local councillor in Gateshead for 31 years and in that time I have built up a substantial collection of photos which should major changes in the area. I am doing a talk on these changes to Sunniside History Society shortly, using the photos. Alas, most of them are from the pre-digital age, so I have had to spend quite some time scanning them.

Lighting Up Sunniside meeting

I attended a meeting of Lighting Up Sunniside last week. The group has been set up to raise the funds for the village's Christmas tree. We are now just over half way to our target. The meeting on Wednesday agreed to hold a race night on 22nd September at the Travellers pub. Preparations are now underway. I need to find a sponsor (£20), 8 jockeys and 8 owners (£5 each) for race one. Get in touch if you want to splash the cash for a good cause.

Having your cake and eating it

I put my thoughts on Brexit to camera recently while I had a few minutes spare. I am a remainer mainly because I believe it is in the national interest to be in the EU, arguing our case. I do not believe sovereignty can be restored simply by going "independent" as the EU, even without the UK, is an economic superpower. What happens there, affects us here, whether we are in or out. So we should be in, fighting for the UK's interest, as well as enjoying the benefit of membership.

I also believe that people have to accept the consequences of their own actions. The UK voted leave, and that means giving up on the benefits and costs of membership. There can be no half way house in which we have the benefit of membership without the costs. The analogy I use is that if you resign from membership of the local golf club, you can hardly demand the right to enjoy the benefits of still being a member.

However, in 2016 the UK was sold a pup. The people were told we could have the best of both worlds with continued access to the Single Market without any of the costs. Lots of people bought into that message. The reality of no-deal, of hard Brexit, is starting to become clear. The vision of the UK striding the world as an independent economic superpower with the EU "needing us more than we need them" has been revealed as a sham. Had the government produced a realistic plan to leave and passed the appropriate legislation with a Leave referendum result acting as the trigger to enact the legislation, there would be no need for a 2nd referendum. People would have known exactly what they were voting for. This was not what happened in 2016 so the people should have a further referendum to decide whether or not we as a nation should jump off the cliff.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Have you stockpiled your food yet?

Image may contain: 1 person, food

Are you ready for Brexit? Got your food stockpiled? A few tins of baked beans stashed away under the settee for the day Britain regains it's sovereignty and rediscovers hunger? I find it remarkable that the government can casually talk about preparing for hard Brexit by stockpiling food and drugs. No doubt this is part of the explanation for  the significant rise in support in today's Sky poll for a referendum on the withdrawal agreement and the comfortable lead for those believing we should now remain.

While some may be excited at the thought of reliving the Dunkirk spirit, the idea that negotiating a deal with the EU will be the "easiest" thing ever to do is dead in the water. The British people in 2016 were sold a best-of-both-worlds, have-your-cake-and-eat-it future which no government was ever in a position realistically to give. The UK cannot choose to have the benefits of EU membership while dumping the responsibilities. We can't keep the bits we like while refusing to abide by the bits we don't. If you are in the club enjoying the benefits, you have to abide by the rules.

So the only choice for the UK is between the poverty of hard Brexit and the shared sovereignty and security of EU membership. There is very little middle ground.

Meanwhile, as someone who grows most of my own food, my stockpiles will keep me going for years! I hope the Brexiteer extremists are equally as prepared. I doubt it though given that their  world of having cake and eating it is now shown to be a fantasy.

Congratulations Kevin and Vicky

Kevin and Vicky McClurey wedding reception Jul 18

Congratulations to Kevin and Vicky McClurey on their wedding on Friday last week. Kevin is the newly elected Councillor for Dunston Hill and Whickham East. He took the seat from Labour in May. The reception, which I attended on Friday evening, was held at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle. In keeping with the local council spirit of the occasion, the building is the former HQ of Northumberland County Council.

Pelaw and Heworth Action Day

On Saturday we had an action day in Pelaw and Heworth ward. Alas, we also had our first serious bit of rain in two months. That rather curtailed activities. I arrived, took three bundles of Focuses to deliver and returned home. I will head back there on a day when the weather is better, some time this week.

Great Exhibition of the North - Baltic

On Friday afternoon, I took a bit of time away from politics and self-sufficiency to visit the Baltic Art Gallery on the Gateshead Quays. It was my first opportunity to attend any of the exhibitions. An interesting time with some exhibits of interest to me, others of no interest at all and others I'm still thinking about.

My first experience of LNER

I was in London last weekend and it was my first opportunity to use LNER. We were 40 minutes late into Kings Cross so my first impressions weren't good. I was hoping for an improvement on the return journey. It wasn't to be. The train was 10 minutes late leaving Kings Cross as the driver was late. It was not a good omen. By the time we got into Newcastle, I had been travelling for 7 hours on a journey that was supposed to take only 3 and a half. I'm not impressed.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Whickham Community Festival

The Whickham Community Festival was held earlier this month. I was there with goats, ducklings and jam and to help set up the marquee.

Whickham Fair 2018 jw 3

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lighting Up Sunniside Fayre

Lighting Up Sunniside, a group I helped set up to raise the funds for a Christmas tree in the village, held its first community fayre recently in the Whinnies Community Garden. Alas, I had a group meeting in the morning but I was able to make it to the fayre for the opening at 1pm. The event raised a third of the money we need to pay for the tree. Other events will be held soon.

Visiting Hill Top School

Following our recent visit to Whickham School with our goats, we got a call from Hill Top School in Gateshead asking if we would take them there as well. So on Monday last week, we made a journey across the borough with 2 goats in the back of the land rover. The event was a success.

Since then, I've had a further request to take the goats to a community centre later this year!

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Dachshunds at the BBC

Having spent a morning recently printing Focuses, I went to a BBC presentation and reception at the Sage, Gateshead, about the Great North Exhibition. There seemed to be a large number of dachshunds among the guests. The video explains why.

I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky

I have been attacked by Labour for having a life outside politics in the past. I make no apologies for that! I enjoy what other people enjoy. So when the opportunity for Kylie Minogue concert tickets comes along, I grabbed the opportunity, even if it meant missing the last day of party conference. The concert is in Newcastle on 18th September.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Back to printing Focuses

It may be June but the task of producing and printing Focuses and surveys goes on. I was in the office last week to print the Focus which is currently going out in Whickham as well as the survey that is being delivered in Lobley Hill. Delivery of both should be finished soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Great Exhibition of the North launch - photos

Great North Exhibition Summer 2018

The Great Exhibition of the North was launched on Friday evening. I attended the launch event. A brilliant summer evening with a lovely sunset over Tyneside, what a great backdrop to the concert, fireworks and drone display. My video of the event will be ready shortly but you can view a few of my photos on the above link.

Action Day in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and an incursion in Lobley Hill

Lib Dem action day DHWE June 18

Gateshead Lib Dems had an action day in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward yesterday. The aim was to deliver our local Focus. As a back up in case we completed that job was to make an incursion into Labour held Lobley Hill and Bensham ward to deliver a survey form. Job done on the Focus delivery though some members took patches for delivery over the next couple of days. So we managed to get a few hundred surveys delivered in Lobley Hill. We have about 700 left to do which will go out over the next few days.

It was good to see new members helping as well as established ones (such as our "delivery machine" of Paul Gibson, Robin Stanaway and Ian Patterson).

Lib Dem Lobley Hill survey June 18

Pictured above: Nick Smeaton from Bensham, Peter Maughan, Lib Dem candidate for Gateshead and Cllr Kevin McClurey who joined me for an incursion into Labour held Lobley Hill. Sadly I wasn't in the photo as I had to operate the camera!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Church Green looking fantastic

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (3)

When I was in Whickham on Wednesday, I took the opportunity to look at the flowerbeds we planted up recently. They are looking great! An excellent job by the volunteers of Planting Up Whickham. I was pleased to play my part.

If you are in Whickham soon, take a look.

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (4)

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (5)

Flying high with Brexit (not)

Airbus is one of our most important high tech businesses and is a great example of how international cooperation leads to prosperity back home. As a medium size nation, we do not have the resources or capacity to have a UK-only Airbus. If we want to be in the industry, we need to be working with others.

And then along comes Brexit and the "will of the people" means cooperation and joint working has to end. So Airbus is considering pulling out of the UK. Given that the brave new world of Brexit Britain will mean a rerun of Victorian Splendid Isolation, we probably won't need many new planes anyway.

And congratulations to the leaders of the Brexit movement. Your campaigning looks set to be a great boost to jobs - but only those outside the UK. We are of course a great trading nation but we need to export more. So no doubt, the Brexiteers must be cheering the export of so many manufacturing jobs to the EU. And they must be pleased about the number of skilled workers who will soon be cured of their addiction to going out and earning a living.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Whickham School planning application

Whickham School June 18 (3)

As a former pupil, and a councillor whose teenage constituents largely attend Whickham School, I was interested to see that the planning application for the replacement buildings are now lodged with Gateshead Planning Department. A decision will come before the planning committee in the near future.

The proposals include a new, three to four storey ‘superblock’ to the north of the current site site on Burnthouse Lane. The new building will include a wide range of facilities zoned around a central main hall and activity studio, as well as a new sports hall and various specialist teaching spaces.

The building and site have been planned to ensure the existing school can remain fully operational throughout construction. There will be a clear separation between the building works and the operational school.  The site’s existing car parking arrangements will remain undisturbed both during and after construction.

The new school building would be situated at the entrance to the current school site alongside the existing main entrance block.

The application number is DC/18/00565/FUL. To view the plans online go to and enter the application number. Comments need to be submitted by 2nd July.

Whickham School June 18 (1)

Tanfield Railway Steam Gala Weekend

The Tanfield Railway is partly in my ward in Gateshead and on Sunday, they hosted a steam gala. Of particular interest to me was the Dunston No. 15, a steam locomotive that was built in Newcastle in 1942 and was used at the Dunston power station until 1972 when it was retired and moved out of the North East. This was its first return visit to the region.

There was also a vintage car rally at the Tanfield Railway which brought back memories of the 1970s!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two fairs

Sunniside Methodist Hall and St Mary's Church Hall, Whickham, were hosting summer fairs on Saturday so I visited both. At the Methodist Hall I was asked if I would open their next fair in November and also had quite a long chat about the chapels plans for the hall and how the hall can be used in social care projects. One of the issues I am keen on is tackling loneliness in old age and this is something with which the organisers of the hall are keen to be involved.

Down the road at St Mary's I chatted to quite a few people including some who still remembered that I had helped them years ago on local issues. I calculated that one of these was 15 years ago. It's nice still to be remembered!

I came away from both fairs with lots of cakes - and casework!

There is no Brexit dividend

For cynical timing and political manoeuvring, Theresa May must get a gold medal. Her entire premiership has been based on half-baked promises to one group which directly contradict promises made to others, just so that she can live on to fight another day. So far she has been a dab hand at political survival. Today's announcement of zillions of pounds for the NHS at some point in the future, paid for by the alleged "Brexit dividend" is all part of this survival strategy. The reality is that there is no dividend. The sluggish growth in the economy caused by Brexit uncertainty has already cost the UK economy £400 million a week, according to the Bank of England. Then there are all the costs of going it alone - setting up our own drugs, chemicals and nuclear agencies for example or building our own Gallileo project. Then there are the costs of all those extra civil servants the government has taken on to carry out Brexit. Throw in the thousands of new customs officers and the cost of a completely new department - International Trade (which so far has produced nil points in terms of future trade agreements) and once all these new penpushers have been paid, there ain't going to be much left over for more doctors and nurses.

The government could, of course, be much more honest about this and openly admit that any increase in funding to the NHS will come from additional taxation. But don't hold your breath.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dunston Station damage

Dunston rail station sign June 18

I was in Dunston yesterday with Councillors Kevin McClurey and Peter Maughan to look at the state of the ticket machine in Dunston station at the request of residents living near Ravensworth Road. Sadly the front of the machine has been badly damaged. We have reported the damage to Northern Rail and hope to see repairs done shortly.

Dunston rail station damaged ticket machine June 18

Well done Lucy and team

Well done Lucy Salek, Lib Dem candidate in the Lewisham East by-election yesterday. And well done to the team around her for delivering a very creditable 19% swing from Labour and a comfortable increase in actual and share of the vote. The result is as follows (and I've included all the candidates due to the novel situation in which there are nearly as many of them as there are electors!):

Janet Daby (Lab) 11,033 (50.20%, -17.75%) 
Lucy Salek (LD) 5,404 (24.59%, +20.17%) 
Ross Archer (C) 3,161 (14.38%, -8.62%) 
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah (Green) 788 (3.59%, +1.88%)
Mandu Reid (Women) 506 (2.30%)
David Kurten (UKIP) 380 (1.73%, +0.04%)
Anne Marie Waters (FBM) 266 (1.21%)
Maureen Martin (CPA) 168 (0.76%, +0.28%)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 93 (0.42%)
Massimo DiMambro (DVP) 67 (0.30%)
Sean Finch (Libertarian) 38 (0.17%)
Charles Carey (ND) 37 (0.17%)
Patrick Gray (Radical) 20 (0.09%)
Thomas Hall (YPP) 18 (0.08%)
Lab maj 5,629 (25.61%)
18.96% swing Lab to LD
Electorate 66,140; turnout 21,979 (33.23%, -36.05%)

It is usual for the main opposition to be the beneficiary of any swing in a midterm by-election. While it is hard for a party on 68% to improve on their share of the vote in a particular constituency, an 18% drop is noteworthy. With the Conservatives widely acknowledged as making a mess of Brexit, the economy suffering a withering dose of flu and Tory MPs revolting, Corbyn should be romping ahead. He is not even moving forward. Polls are giving the Tories a slight edge when typically the main opposition should be leading by a significant margin at this stage. Clearly something is going wrong for Labour.

No doubt the Corbynistas will blame a BBC conspiracy against the proletariat or a Murdoch campaign to brainwash the "working class" for Labour's lacklustre performance. At some point however, Labour are going to have to wake up to the fact they have a waste of space as leader.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Isn't that against the will of the people?

So, after Theresa May spent 6 years as Home Secretary politically beating up migrants and making life very difficult for them, now we are told, her government has backed proposals to relax immigration rules as they affect skilled health workers. Having spent years trying to keep them out, and adding to an already severe shortage of key NHS staff, May has performed another u-turn. But we are constantly being told that the "will of the people", expressed through the referendum in 2016, is hostile to immigration. Surely therefore the government, to be consistent, needs to stick to its anti-immigration stance. But consistency and the Theresa May government are two very different conditions so perhaps we should not be surprised that she has abandoned another unworkable policy.

I wonder if she will approve relaxation of the rules on immigrant fruit pickers. The fruit is currently left rotting in the field due to labour shortages and a refusal of the Brits to do fruit picking jobs. EU workers are now coming over here only in small numbers as the UK did not exactly role out the welcome wagon for them. Does Mrs May look to bring in workers from non EU countries instead or do we just accept that under her, there will be no jam today, or indeed tomorrow either.

Labour MPs are revolting

It seems that some Labour MPs don't want to share the bed with the Conservatives over their Brexit plans (I use the word "plans" loosely as it is difficult to work out whether or not the government has any plans at all). 75 Labour MPs rebelled and voted to keep us in the EEA and effectively in the Single Market. The Labour line was for Labour MPs to help the Tories by sitting on the fence. 15 however joined up with the Tories in the division lobby. They clearly know who their friends are.

I've said it before and I say it again now: this country needs to accept the consequences of its own actions and decision. As a nation, the "will of the people" is that we leave the EU. I totally and fundamentally disagree with that decision and will continue to argue that it was the wrong one. After all, we live in a democracy. But a referendum was held and a decision made. We are leaving. That means we are leaving all the benefits as well. It means departing from the drug, science, environmental agencies and all the other bodies that will now have to be expensively replicated back in the UK. It means we do not have the benefits of being in the Single Market and therefore our exports will have barriers in the way. But that is the will of the people. We can't claim all the benefits of membership without paying the costs or operating by the rules. If you are a member of the club, you enjoy the benefits. If you walk away from the club, you are no longer entitled to the advantages that come with membership.

So both the Brexiteers and the Labour party need to stop pushing this claim that we can be outside at the same time as claiming the benefits of being inside.

But at the same time, we need to remember we live in a democracy. That means people have the right to change their mind. The will of the people is not set in stone. Once the actual Brexit package is clear, the people need to have the final say on whether it lives up to what was offered in 2016 or it is better to stick with current EU membership. Such a referendum would be held in the light of the agreed Brexit package rather than the fog of an unknown system of doing business. I would certainly accept the outcome of that vote.

What to do if there are bees in your garden

At this time of year, as both a councillor and beekeeper, I get lots of messages from residents worried about bees in their garden. Last year I put together this video but I'm posting it again. The basic point is that bumble bee colonies have a short lifespan and there is nothing to be gained and a great deal of money to be lost in calling out pest control to destroy any colonies. The bees won't harm you unless you try to harm them. Leave them alone and they will do the same to you. Live and let live. Don't destroy something that is wild, beautiful, beneficial and harmless.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Labour's bid to beat the Tories as the most chaotically divided party

Two years ago, when the UK, by a slender majority, voted to leave the EU, I thought the Tories would end up as the most united of the two larger parties while Labour would end up with the divisions. Instead, both have ended up divided but the shambles that are Labour under Corbyn were on full view today. And about bloody time too. Corbyn the Leaver has had an easy ride over the past year. He comes up with unworkable solutions to the customs union and the single market. Like the Brexiteers during the referendum, he is offering all the advantages of being in the club without having to be a member. I often feel that the differences between the extremists on the left and right are not that much different from each other.

6 front bench resignations, a rebellion by 90 MPs (a third of his Parliamentary party), a chance to defeat the government thrown away - all in a day's work for Corbyn. For his next trick, he will attempt to deflect more attention away from the bitter war in the Conservative Party and onto the chaos of Labour. It makes me wonder just what the Corbyn fan club see in him.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Not a good day for the economy

The expected collapse of Poundworld is now official.. But that's not the end of the bad economic news today. The run of closures and downsizing in the retail sector can in part be blamed on a failure of companies to keep up with the changes in how people shop. But how is the significant drop in UK industrial output of 0.8% in April, compared to March, announced today, to be explained? Even more worrying is that within this figure is a 1.4% drop in manufacturing output. Given that the weather in March caused a modest drop in manufacturing that month, output in April should have bounced back. It didn't. Output continued to fall. The recent drop in the value of the pound has failed to help UK manufacturers to produce more for export. Indeed, trade figures today show that the deficit in goods and services widened to £5.28bn in April from £3.22bn in March. The goods trade deficit widened to £14.04bn in April.

The pound experienced a sharp drop this morning when the figures were released. Let's hope the economy is not going the same way as Poundworld. But with Brexit impacting on investment and the government completely immersed in tearing the UK out of our single biggest market, don't expect any improvements soon.