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)