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.