Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sleeping satellite

Just how have we, as a nation, managed to do this? The UK has turned itself into a satellite state of the EU. We were promised the country would "take back control" but the reality is somewhat different. Indeed, far from taking back control, we've handed over control. Previously, when we were in the EU, we had a say on the issues over which the member states shared their sovereignty. Now we are in a position where we will have to live under the rules set by the EU (without the UK being a member and therefore having no say). Britain has agreed to maintain standards set by the EU on social and employment issues and on environmental measures. Don't get me wrong - I don't want to see a lessening of these measures but agreeing to set them in stone does not strike me as "taking back control" or the UK exercising sovereignty. 

And what happens if the EU decides to ratchet up social and environmental policies? The supporters of Johnson's Brexit trade deal tell us that the UK is not tied to doing the same. That's true, but it comes at a price - access to the single market could be threatened. The price of exercising sovereignty could simply be too high. But, the trade deal supporters tell us, there will be arbitration to settle differences. But the arbitrators will not be from the UK. How long will it be before the Brexiteers start shouting about foreign interference in our affairs? After all, that's why the European Court of Justice was hated by those leading the battle to leave the EU. It seems we have simply replaced the ECJ with another body that will exercise powers to direct what happens in the UK.

But, say the Leavers, we've taken back control of our borders. It's a rather interesting claim given Dover was out of control for some time when France exercised their sovereign right to close their borders. Yet we have an EU border across our own country - between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. I am trying to find another example of a sovereign body controlling internal borders within another sovereign country, but have so far drawn a blank.

But, say the Leavers, we've taken back control of our waters and our fish. True, but only if you are prepared to wait until 2026. And closing maritime borders in 5 years, as we will be entitled to do, could come with a huge price tag attached to it. Stop foreign fishing in our territorial waters and you risk tariffs being imposed on fish exports to the EU, therefore reducing demand. And don't forget such actions could end UK access to EU waters.

Interestingly, the trade deal allows for a review of the electricity market at exactly the same time in 2026 as the negotiations on fishing will take place. 8% of UK electricity is imported from the EU. The British will be reminded of this dependency when parallel talks on fishing are underway.

There are lots of other issues I could raise where Leavers have made claims on sovereignty which do not stand up to investigation. This trade deal however does not deliver the demands of the Leavers. Indeed, if I were a Leaver - and I am not - I would feel cheated. While the deal gives the appearance of UK sovereignty being reclaimed, the reality is our country has sleepwalked into a satellite status. What went so wrong for this to happen?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

What was the point of Brexit?

News is filtering out that a post Brexit trade deal is close to being agreed. On the level playing field it appears the UK will continue to follow EU rules on social policy, environment etc and any further changes in these areas will in effect have to be agreed by the UK or else face some kind of penalty. Any possibility of the UK exercising sovereignty in these areas looks like a nuclear weapon - having the bomb makes you look big and tough but it can never be used as to do so would invite massive retaliation. So, if the rumours of a trade deal are correct, what was the point of Brexit in the first place? Do the 52% feel let down?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

eFocus on NE16 and NE11

Our latest edition of our email newsletter, eFocus, for the Whickham and Dunston/Lobley Hill area was published tonight. Issues covered include:

1)Bridge the gap - help us get a new bridge in Watergate Park;
2)Helping children smile;
3)Swimming pool plan at Axwell Hall;
4)Angels and Santa visit Sunniside;
5)Whickham Library Garden needs your help;
6)Gateshead flyover lane closure;
7)Bin collection dates;
8)Blaydon Urgent Treatment Centre open.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Recent efocuses

I've not been up to speed on posting about our recent eFocuses in Gateshead so below are the links to our two most recent editions.

Low Fell edition 78 key issues covered include:

  • Merry Christmas from the Focus Team
  • Thank you to the sponsors who made the Christmas tree and lights possible
  • Rats in Saltwell Park
  • Calls for leisure centres and swimming pools to re-open - sign the petition
  • Gateshead Council condemned for charging homeless and vulnerable to phone Council
  • Consultation on transport plan
  • Gas works planned for parts of Low Fell

You can read Low Fell eFocus on this link.

Whickham area edition 148 key issues covered include:

  • South Byermoor motorbike and 4X4 proposal rejected;
  • Whickham Voluntary Library opens again;
  • Call to reopen pools and gyms - sign the petition!
  • Sunniside Christmas tree switched on;
  • Help a child smile;
  • Work to remove diseased trees;
  • Singing on your doorsteps:
  • Poultry lockdown;
  • Transport survey.

You can read Whickham area eFocus on this link.

Angels in Sunniside

Residents attending Sunniside Chapel have been knitting angels recently. The angels have quietly been placed in various locations throughout the village. One appeared in my hedge! I have 5 sheep on my smallholding so next year, once they are shorn, I think I have found some people who could make use of some of the wool!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Crowd control

On Saturday I volunteered at the Whinnies Community Garden where a pop up shop was being held, selling takeaway cakes, jam and honey (from my hives). I was on crowd control (again!) The queue, suitably socially distanced, snaked right through the garden. The shop was a success, taking over £1300. Profits go to helping to run the garden.


Friday, November 13, 2020

More eFocuses

 We have had 2 more eFocuses published in Gateshead this week. The first was for Low Fell, bringing the total number of editions to 76. Issues covered include:

  • Call for plan to remove barriers
  • Remembrance in Low Fell 
  • Progress on getting a new free cash machine on the Fell
  • Covid testing centre opens at Central Library
  • Low Fell library's Ring and Read Service

The second, published tonight, was edition 146 for the Whickham area. Issues covered include:
  • Remembrance wreaths laid in Whickham, Dunston, Swalwell and Marley Hill;
  • Award for Chase Park;
  • Covid testing centre opens next to the Central Library;
  • Dentists are still open;
  • Ring and Read at Whickham Library;
  • Whinnies pop up shop;
  • Whickham Christmas tree in place;
  • 70s quiz - all welcome to join in;
  • Next virtual coffee morning;
  • Whickham Rotary backs local communities.

Why keep the region split?

I am in a joint NECA/North of Tyne scrutiny Committee meeting looking at the region's response to covid and how we deal with the government. Most of what has been discussed is about what has happened at a regional level. Indeed, most of the work done to tackle covid has taken place jointly across the 2 combined authorities. This rather begs the question, what is the point of having 2 separate authorities when the region is the natural area for carrying out governance? I did raise precisely this point in the meeting. We know the reason however. Labour fell apart over devolution in the North East. That's why it's a dog's breakfast. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Gateshead covid cases increasing

I'm sitting in my dining room at home in another meeting, courtesy of Microsoft Teams. This meeting is a Gateshead Council advisory group and today, we are looking at the latest information about the impact of, you guessed it (!) covid. Worryingly, Gateshead's figures continue to rise, with a rate greater than elsewhere in the North East. There is no information yet as to why Gateshead is doing worse than out neighbours. An interesting map we have just seen shows that the infection is spread out across the borough, not concentrated in any particular area. So we have community spread of the illness. So please everyone, wear a mask, wash hands regularly, stay away from busy areas, mix only with your own household. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Remembrance Sunday

 No Remembrance Sunday parades today in the Whickham area. Instead, local groups and organisations laid wreaths throughout the day at the various war memorials in the area. I took part in the 2 minutes silence at 11am. A few others in our street did so as well.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Wendy's photo

Apologies to Wendy Chamberlain. I managed to hit the send button before adding her photo to the last post. So here she is. 

Photos from today's conference

Normally at conferences I would be armed with an array of cameras, snapping away at anything that moved. Today, I simply sat in front of the laptop to attend North East Lib Dem regional conference with my phone, taking an occasional photo of our speakers. It rather takes the fun out of taking conference photos but here they are for today - Wendy Chamberlain, party president Mark Pack and Leader Ed Davey. 

Regional conference

Another day and another online meeting. This one is the North East regional conference. We are in training sessions at the moment. Later we will have speeches from Wendy Chamberlain MP and Ed Davey MP.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

As close as it gets

I was right to dismiss polls suggesting an easy win for Biden. My approach of "believe it when it happens" when it comes to getting rid of Trump has served me well. I stayed up til 2am to watch the presidential results come in and went to bed not knowing which way the election would go. It is fortunately looking better for Biden this evening though it is not yet in the bag.

Of course, Biden could be derailed by Trump undermining the legitimacy of the election. If any case is taken to the supreme Court, we could be in for an interesting time with the now built in Republican majority potentially blocking thee election of Biden. We're that to happen, it could look something like aa coup. The US would then be in danger of looking more like Belarus than the greatest democracy on the planet. 

Anyway, time to go to bed so I can wake up tomorrow in lockdown. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

I will believe it when I see it

Tomorrow is polling day, not for us but for the USA. Biden is ahead in the polls. Lots of early and postal voting has taken place and it is believed this will benefit the Democrats. But there is that nagging doubt at the back of my mind . Could Trump win again? After all, he wasn't supposed to win last time. The polls had Hilary Clinton ahead. Indeed, she was ahead in the popular vote by 3 million. The electoral college however is the child of the first past the post voting system which declared as winner the person who was 2nd past the post. So, I will believe Trump is beaten only when I have actually seen it happen.

Good luck Democrats tomorrow.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

No knock on the door

Halloween yesterday and we were ready for the local kids to knock on the door for trick or treat. Given the pandemic situation, we didn't expect many. Indeed, we didn't expect any but we were prepared. Sadly, there was no knock on the door, leaving us to eat all the sweets ourselves. Perhaps everyone was at home watching the Halloween horror show off Boris Johnson announcing another lockdown. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Low Fell eFocus no. 74

The Low Fell Focus Team yesterday published their latest eFocus newsletter. Issues covered include:

  • Anderson Green housing application: the latest information 
  • Reports of dog mess increasing
  • Tougher Covid restrictions for Gateshead
  • Police issue warning about vehicle break in's
  • Improving the area around Grace College, Saltwell Road South
  • A new secondary school for Gateshead
  • New bin at Cross Keys Lane
  • Cornavirus survey - your views wanted

Your can read eFocus on this link.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Attending conference online

Lib Dem conference opened yesterday but this time with a fundamental difference. It is entirely online, a result of the covid pandemic. As a fan of online meetings for Gateshead Council, the fact we are online is something I welcome for conference. There are, of course, some things I miss about not being able to attend physically - such as meeting friends, looking around the exhibition stands, mixing with like minded people. There are of course some things I am happy to miss - long and expensive train journeys to get to conference, hotel bills and the need to take 5 days away from home!

I've dipped into some of the debates and I was pleased to see conference yesterday backed proposals for a universal basic income. Currently, the debate taking place is on a federal UK. Alas, the joy of not being away from home for 5 days is also a drawback. I have half a tonne of winter fodder for the goats to sort. I don't have the excuse of being a few hundred kilometres away. So I have to leave the federalism debate and get on with some manual labour, though I did get a chance to vote against referring back the federalism motion.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Goodbye Elaine

Today we said goodbye to Elaine Earl, councillor for Winlaton and High Spen 2008-2012. Elaine passed away earlier this month. Due to covid restrictions we could not attend the funeral service but individual residents and friends lined the the route of the funeral procession so we could pay our respects. Sadly, with social distancing in action, we were unable to chat and share memories of Elaine but she will be remembered.

Gender Reform and Gateshead Labour

Gender recognition reform is urgently needed to end discrimination against transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, the Conservatives have abandoned reform. While Lib Dems and Labour support reform nationally, there is a significant number of Labour councillors in Gateshead who are with the Conservatives on this issue and oppose reform. They must be rubbing their hands with glee with what the government has done.

You can read all about how the parties view the issue on this link.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Do you feel you have been suitably buttered up?

I can see it coming in our direction - like an out-of-control juggernaut crashing through every obstacle on the road. The tougher pandemic restrictions are on their way and the nation has been subject to leaks, plans, proposals, warnings and so on about the rising incidents of positive coronavirus tests. We have less than an hour and a half to go before the actual restrictions are announced. We are already seeing the government calling on people to work from home wherever possible. I thought it was a mistake (from an environmental point of view) to encourage people to go back into the office and I miss no opportunity to raise the damage to the environment, the economy and people's mental and physical health of congestion and vehicle pollution. If we are able to cut out unnecessary travel, all the better.

Anyway, the announcements will be made shortly. So put on your facemasks and keep your social distance because things are about to get tougher.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The photocopier free trade achievement

At last, the UK has been able to negotiate a free trade agreement with a major economy. The government had previously clocked up agreements with the Faroe Islands and Papua New Guinea but anything large seemed to elude them. Now however, Japan can be added to the list of countries which will be free trading with the UK. A big achievement? Well, no actually. Membership of the EU gave us a free trade deal with Japan which came into operation in 2019. It was the world's biggest trade agreement. So, what has the government achieved in dealing with Japan themselves? Little more than a photocopy of the EU-Japan free trade agreement. In other words, the UK gained what it already had! Let's hope for the sake of the UK economy in the future that we can ensure all trade deals allow us to import photocopiers tariff free!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Low Fell eFocus no. 72

The Low Fell Lib Dem Focus Team have just published their latest email newsletter eFocus, edition no. 72. There is an update on Gateshead being moved tot he coronavirus "watch list" as well as news about the garden waste collection scheme (customers are to get a discount). There are also a number of Low Fell news stories.

You can read Low Fell eFocus on this link.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Local lockdown cliff edge

We are looking over the edge of the local lockdown cliff in Gateshead. We now have the highest rate forpositive infections in the North East and the 10th highest in England.

Please everyone, stay 2 metres apart others not in your household, but if you can't, wear a facemask. Wash your hands often and stay away from crowded areas. These are simple actions that could help save Gateshead from a local lockdown.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Corporate resources online

 I've just finished my first corporate resources scrutiny committee since January. It was held online and much of the discussion was about what we have learnt from the lockdown in terms of how the council operates. I strongly pushed for the council to offer as a right where appropriate the opportunity for council staff to work from home. I argued that it will help with mental and physical health and with protecting the environment (cutting congestion and emissions). Officers responded positively as indeed I'm pleased to say did the committee chair John Eagle.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Birtley eFocus no. 8

Our latest eFocus for Birtley has just been published. issues covered include local museums and galleries reopening, modest rise in coronavirus positive tests, Birtley gym reopens, full range of waste accepted at waste and recycling centres and Ed Davey chosen as new leader. 

You can read eFocus on this link.

Whickham eFocus 141 - coronavirus update

We brought forward the publication of our latest eFocus for the Whickham area so that we could update residents on the recent rise in the number of people in the area testing positive for coronavirus. At this point Gateshead is not on the list of areas likely to require a local lockdown. Nevertheless, the figures are a move in the wrong direction and we felt it important to ensure residents are kept informed.

You can read edition 141 of eFocus on this link.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

ALDC conference

 I am rather enjoying meeting on Zoom. In the past few weeks I've been able to attend more conferences and training events than I normally would because they have been online. I've been very busy with the smallholding so being able to pop back home for a meeting in between feeding the sheep and mucking out henhouses has been very helpful. Today, I attended the ALDC conference. It is raare for me to do so simply because it is often on the first day of autumn conference - and the first day for me is normally lost to travelling.

So hopefully, the party will continue to have Zoom meetings. Meanwhile, I also hope that Gateshead Council will continue after November to hold meetings online.

Anyway, a good conference today and a good speech by new leader Ed Davey. He can drop the "Acting" bit from his previous title. He's the real thing now!

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Whickham School demolition underway

Whickham School's replacement building is now complete. The old school buildings are now starting to be demolished. I have happy memories of the being a pupil there in the later 70s and early 80s. Some of the buildings that are now being demolished were built when I was a pupil and we were among the first to use them!

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Meeting cancelled in Sunniside

Tonight I should have been at Sunniside Club helping to broadcast via Zoom a presentation by Sunniside History Society about local train journeys that are no longer possible due to rail closures, mainly in the 1960s. Alas, we learnt last night that the Club has suddenly had to close for a deep clean following a positive test for covid for a Club member. We therefore pulled the plug on the meeting though we are looking to record the presentation and put it onto YouTube.

eFocus edition 140

We published another edition of eFocus for the NE16 and NE11 area over the weekend. It covers:
  • Chase Park survey
  • museums and galleries starting to reopen
  • modest rise in Gateshead coronavirus positive cases
  • Whickham Library 2nd hand book sale
  • Dunston gym reopens
  • Ed Davey chosen as new Leader
  • 3 billy goats gruff

Ed Davey elected leader


A rather busy week doing farming and self-sufficiency activities for this is a bit late - I am very pleased to see Ed Davey elected as new Lib Dem leader. I've known Ed since 2002 when I was working for the party on policy and I was allocated to the Parliamentary team around him. Key for me, then and now, is the green agenda and I am confident Ed's experience will be put to great use to move forward the environment debate. 

In the short to medium term, times will be challenging for the Lib Dems nationally. There will be no quick fixes and the road ahead is bumpy and full of potholes and delays, Nevertheless, we need to take the journey to recovery and with Ed at the driving wheel, I am optimistic about our Lib Dem future.

The photo above was taken at the March 2019 Lib Dem spring conference.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Where Eagles dare to moan

 Gateshead Labour Councillor and former mayor John Eagle is never far from controversy when sitting at a keyboard. Sadly, no action was taken against Cllr Eagle by the Gateshead Labour group when he backed a Facebook site calling for the violent murder of Margaret Thatcher. Another Labour councillor in Sunderland who backed the same site was suspended.

Moving on from that, Cllr Eagle has now decided to take aim at the residents of Gateshead themselves, more specifically, those who live in Low Fell. A council plan that reduced car parking on Durham Road next to the shops to increase the space available for socially-distancing shoppers sparked a public debate. Alas, John decided join in the debate on a Low Fell residents Facebook page. His contribution to the debate was to attack residents who raised concerns as "whingers and moaners". Apparently, according to Jaguar-driving "socialist" John, some people believe the "world begins and ends in Low Fell."

Fortunately for the residents of Low Fell, they aren't represented by Cllr Eagle on Gateshead Council. That privilege falls to Lib Dem Councillors Susan Craig, Ron Beadle and Daniel Duggan. John is actually the member for Bridges ward where he appears to have taken a vow of public silence over the gigantic changes to the road system that resulted in gridlock in the town centre and a high speed uturn by the council. I can find no public comments by Cllr Eagle regarding the biggest transport issue to hit his ward in many years. Perhaps Cllr Eagle's comments got lost in the Gateshead town centre traffic jams. Or maybe he's too busy taking potshots at residents elsewhere in the borough.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Whickham eFocus no.139

 Just published: edition 139 of eFocus for the Whickham area. Contents include:

1)How to find out which local businesses are taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme;
2)Plans to open leisure facilities, libraries and heritage centre in Gateshead;
3)Meet friend and family online;
4)Tanfield Steam Railway reopens;
5)Queen Elizabeth Hospital is national leader;
6)Recycling and waste centres accept full range of waste;
7)Sunniside History Society meets online.

If you want to receive eFocus directly to your inbox, email with the message "subscribe". Please include your name and home address.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Recent eFocuses

Our production of eFocuses - our email newsletters to residents - has been on overdrive recently. The Low Fell team has been the most productive. A few  be viewed of our recent editions can be viewed on the following links:

Meanwhile Whickham edition 139 is nearly ready to go. The circulation list has had a modest increase recently as people have contacted us directly to be included. Welcome if you are one of those recently added.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jack Charlton RIP

Jack Charlton at Simply Local Sunniside Dec 16

I'm not a follower of football but I was saddened to learn today of the death of Jack Charlton, one of the country's footballing national heroes and one of the great names of the North East. He came from an era when the English team enjoyed greater success than now. And it was an era when footballers' pay packets did not resemble phone numbers.

I met Jack Charlton once, at a promotional event in Sunniside. Quite a gentleman. RIP Jack

Friday, July 10, 2020

Is a u-turn on the cards for North East devolution?

The story of recent attempts to reach a deal on devolution for the North East is not a happy one. Labour councils in the region split and went to war over plans for an elected mayor for the North East. Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council at the time, was one of the casualties. He was replaced by Martin Gannon, a staunch opponent of the mayoral system, though he is a supporter of devolution.

From 2015-2018 the argument raged between Labour North of the Tyne who were prepared to accept the deal on offer, and others South of the Tyne, who rejected it. Ultimately, this Labour split led to a geographic split. The River Tyne became the new administrative boundary with a new mayoral led combined authority to the north and the bits left over to the south in a new combined authority of its own. So if you wanted a stronger voice for the North East big enough to give the strategic leadership needed, forget it.

My view then and now is that it was abundantly clear from the government that devolution with its extra powers and resources was only available with an elected mayor. It's not the system I like or would want but it is what's on offer and we are better off with it and worse off without it. The choice we have is between a devolution deal with a mayor or nothing. As I have argued for the past few years, we should not let ourselves fall behind. We should accept the elected mayor model and then improve it.

I got a great deal of stick from Martin Gannon over this at the time but now there are hints that Martin is changing his mind. With a screeching of brakes and the smell of burning rubber as a potential u-turn comes into sight, Martin has suggested to the Chronicle that we may have to accept the mayoral system as its all that is on offer and the split region could be reformed back into one. Just as I was saying over these past few years.

So come on Martin, get your act together and try to keep up.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Whickham eFocus no. 136

The second eFocus published by Gateshead Liberal Democrats this week was edition 136 for the Whickham area. Issues covered in this edition include:

  • survey on your views about the way forward after the lockdown;
  • Planting Up Whickham replants Church Green;
  • new garden planned for Sunniside Methodist Church;
  • Dunston phone mast approved;
  • Ring and Read service to be launched;
  • share your lockdown experiences;
  • Whinnies community cafe opens.

Low Fell eFocus no. 64

The latest round of eFocuses, the Lib Dem email newsletter in Gateshead, started with Low Fell ward. During the pandemic lockdown, we have been using eFocus to keep people informed about local issues and the impact of the lockdown. Edition no. 64 was published this week, covering the following issues:

· Council plans to remove on-street parking and loading bays from the Fell
· Virgin Money branch - September closure planned  
· Library services available
· Still time to complete our survey about coronavirus
· Share your experiences of lockdown
· Drainage on Durham Road - some improvements done but more needed

You can view Low Fell eFocus on this link.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Gateshead Cabinet's first online meeting

Gateshead cabinet online June 20

I have argued previously for some at least of Gateshead's meetings should be held online so during this lockdown crisis, I'm pleased to see that the council have indeed held meetings online. Yesterday was the first cabinet meeting to be conducted this way. I hope that this new way of meeting continues after the lockdown is gone. Before the pandemic, it was not unusual to spend more time travelling to and from a meeting than in the meeting itself. By meeting online instead of travelling, think of the reduced pollution and congestion and the improvements to people's health by having less traffic on the road (we've seen that during the lockdown). And think of the greater reach online meetings have for the people of Gateshead. That means improved democracy. So, let's hope, as an example to others, Gateshead continues to have not only online meetings for the politicians, but also the right for staff to work from home where it is appropriate to do so.

Recent eFocuses

We have published a number of eFocuses in the last couple of weeks in Gateshead. You can view them on the links below:

These editions continue to focus mainly on the impact of the pandemic lockdown on local services. Next editions are currently being written.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Planting up Church Green

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (11)

I am one of the volunteers with Planting Up Whickham and today we had a planting day on Church Green. All the circular beds were replanted. Social distancing rules applied at all times. The Green, as usual, is looking great!

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (10)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (9)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (8)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (7)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The passing of a hero

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things are the heroes of our country. As a social historian, I've studied and researched life during the Second World War. It was vital for success that the morale of the nation that spirits were kept up. Dame Vera Lynn played a significant role in doing that. Her passing this week sees the sad departure of one of my heroes. RIP Vera.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Wise advice

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health in Gateshead, has urged residents to maintain social distancing despite the relaxation of some of the lockdown restrictions.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Cummings and goings

Barnard Castle Sept18 (5)

I've not commented publicly so far on the actions of either the government or public bodies on the pandemic lockdown. We are after all living though a national emergency and the worst crisis since the Second World War. But two recent events have now made me feel that silence is no longer an option. Firstly, the decision to impose a 2 week quarantine on those coming from abroad at this stage of the pandemic is nuts. This should have been done much sooner in the timeline. This is definitely a case of shutting the stable door after the pandemic horse has well and truly bolted.

The other issue is Dominic Cummings, a man not sick enough to stop him jumping into his car and driving 400 km from London to Durham. It's a five hour journey. I've done it often enough so I should know! And this journey was carried out because Cummings could not stay at home in London. Are we really meant to believe that in a population of 8 million people, London contained no one who could deliver a bag of groceries to his front door while he self-isolated? Is he really that devoid of friends?

I don't doubt that Cummings was showing symptoms of coronavirus but they appear to be relatively mild. I can well understand his desire to get out of London but the rules and messages he helped bring in are clear: he should have stayed at home.

I've just watched Boris Johnson's press conference. His reinterpretation of previously unspotted loopholes and the emphasis on grossly exaggerated health and childcare problems treat the people of this country with contempt. Watching Johnson was like watching a Trump meltdown press conference.

We should continue to argue that people should stay at home except in clearly defined and unavoidable circumstances, such as going to work when it can't be done from home, shopping for essentials and exercise. The people of this country have made big sacrifices to beat this pandemic. Now they will look on the government and clearly see a bunch of people treating them as if they are stupid and applying rules to the people of the country which the rule makers themselves do not have to follow.

The government have just made fighting this virus a great deal more difficult.

Photo above: I took this in Barnard Castle nearly two years ago during a Sunniside History Society trip. No sign of Dominic Cummings on that day but newspapers report he's been seen there more recently!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Birtley eFocus edition 6

Just published tonight, Birtley eFocus edition no. 6. Issues covered include:
  • bulk waste collection and grass cutting restart;
  • a message from your Lib Dem councillors in Gateshead;
  • new service for patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
  • exact change please on local buses;
  • theft wrecks plans for restored loco at Tanfield Railway;
  • shop local.
You can read Birtley eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Goodbye Whickham Social Club, hello new specialist housing

Whickham Social Club Sept 19 (2)

I'm not a member of the Planning Committee in Gateshead but it met virtually today and one of the applications that was approved was the revised plans to demolish the derelict Whickham Social Club and replace it with 14 flats for older people. All the flats will be wheelchair accessible. It is hoped that the new flats will allow individuals or couples to move out of family homes in the area, thereby helping to increase the supply of family houses, something I've been banging on about for decades. The site which is in the heart of Whickham village and the old club was becoming an eyesore. This application will help to clear up the area as well as providing needed specialist housing.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Whickham area eFocus edition 134

Tonight we published the latest edition of our eFocus email newsletter to residents. It is the fifth since the lockdown began. In this edition we report on:
  • bulk waste collection and grass cutting restart;
  • huge fire as Dunston Staiths damage by arsonists again;
  • theft wrecks plans for restored loco at Tanfield Railway;
  • derelict club decision expected on Wednesday;
  • Whinnies Community Garden reopens;
  • Watergate car park back in use;
  • shop local;
  • 33 years!;
  • virtual surgery;
  • and now for something completely different.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Social distancing at the Whinnies

Whinnies Community Garden social distancing May 20

The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside has been closed since the start of the the pandemic lockdown. The garden survives entirely on the work of volunteers and local fundraising. Last month I came up with the idea of having a pop up shop in the Whinnies car park to sell plants grown in the garden and jams made by volunteers. We decided to go ahead with the shop on Saturday and I gave them my entire stock of eggs and half my rhubarb crop from my smallholding to sell (the farm shop to which they normally go is currently closed). The car park was measured out and marked up for social distancing and we opened the shop for only 2 hours on Saturday. I agreed to be in charge of crowd control though we had no idea whether anyone would turn up to buy the produce.15 minutes before we opened, the first customers arrived. And then the floods came!

People fully cooperated with the grid system we had marked up in the car park to ensure social distancing took place, and when that filled up, we ended up with queues along the access lane. Within half an hour of opening, the eggs had sold out. After an hour, all the rhubarb had sold so I had to pay a quick visit to the smallholding to pick another barrowful, which sold very quickly as well.

The pop up shop took over £800, a great boost to the funds for the garden. And Sunniside was able to enjoy rhubarb pies and crumbles this weekend!

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (1)

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (2)

Jonathan Wallace facemask May 20

How do we keep the benefits?

The pandemic lockdown has been a terrible experience for the world as a whole yet there have been a few unintended but positive benefits. Pollution levels have dropped, the roads are much quieter, congestion has been significantly cut, the environment is getting better. The issue is, when we return to "normal" (whatever that turns out to be), how do we keep the environmental benefits we have unexpectedly experienced? I speculated on this when I walked through the empty roads of our village at the end of April when I went to and from our smallholding to lock up the henhouses in the evening. I don't claim to have the answers but just as coronavirus kills, so does pollution. We need to build a world in which both are eradicated.

Friday, May 08, 2020

33 years!

On Thursday, the local elections were not held. The lockdown put an end to this year's local democratic process. We will do a catch up next year (assuming the lockdown process is, by then, lifted.) Thursday marked something of a milestone for me. It was 33 years to the day since I was first elected to Gateshead Council at the age of 23, gaining my seat from the Conservatives. I have been re-elected since then 9 times, each time with over half the votes cast. I had not necessarily planned to be on the council for nearly a third of a century back in 1987. I had aspirations for a career in politics, either as an MP or working for the party. I ended up doing the latter but decided to stay involved with local politics in Gateshead.

Quite how much longer I continue in local politics is a decision that is not yet taken, either by myself, or by the good people of Whickham South and Sunniside. I am next due to face re-election in 2023, when I will be 59. I would have done 36 years by then. I will have to ponder the question, do I want to do 40 years? Or will I end up keeping going and wondering in 20 years' time whether or not I should do another term to take me to 60 years! I wonder what the record for continuous service is in local government?

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Whickham area eFocus edition 133

We published our latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 133) earlier this week. Contents include:

  • Gateshead Lib Dem group video about the pandemic and lockdown;
  • Garden waste collection service returns;
  • New service for patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
  • VE Day 75th Anniversary celebrations;
  • Exact change on Go North East buses;
  • Councillors' surgery goes on-line;
  • Bird watching from home;
  • And now for something completely different.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The lockdown living room

front room under lockdown Apr 20

BBC News carried an article recently about an organisation aiming to collect photos of the inside of people's homes during lockdown. No posed photos are permitted. And if you tidy your house especially for the photo, it too will be rejected. So, here is my picture of the tip that I call home. My floor is my filing cabinet, covered with farming and history magazines, sudoku books, packets of seeds and feed in tariff statements! Sadly, this mess could easily pass for normailty in my house, pre-pandemic!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The on-line pub crawl

Lockdown has produced some interesting and unexpected consequences. The Gateshead Lib Dem Council group has started to go on pub crawls! Well, virtual pub crawls to be precise. Cllr Vicky Anderson set up our first session on Saturday and I bought along a bottle of elderberry vodka I made a couple of years ago. Sadly, I was unable to let others sample it but I'm sure colleagues appreciated my generosity in bringing such a handcrafted piece of my self-sufficiency to the party!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Applauding carers and key workers

Like so many of the residents of my home village of Sunniside last night, I applauded the work of the carers and key workers. We just need to remember that these people have always been essential to the functioning of society. That deserved applause as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Low Fell eFocus 58 (Coronavirus special edition no. 4)

The Low Fell Focus Team have now produced their 4th eFocus dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Issues covered include:
  • Gateshead Lib Dem Councillors produce video about coronavirus - watch below
  • Local Heroes
  • Focus Team phone hundreds of local residents to check on their welfare
  • Garden waste collection suspended
  • A warning from the police
  • Supporting businesses who don't pay rates
  • Ron joins Parliamentary Experts group
  • Not too late: You can still volunteer to help
You can ready eFocus on this link.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Gateshead Lib Dem Councillors' video: advice on what to do during the pandemic

Gateshead Lib Dem Council group has produced a video to advise residents on how to deal with the pandemic lockdown and how to get help if it is needed. We also warn about scams as well. All 12 group members appear in the video. It can be viewed on the link above.

My history quiz

Time to use some of your lockdown time! I first gave this quiz to the Sunniside History Society on 3rd September last year to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2. All the questions are about the late 1930s, the 1940s and early 1950s. Most of the 30 questions are about social history but if you want to give it a go, I will be posting the answers in a few days' time.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

The goats of Llandudno

The pandemic lockdown has had an unintended consequence: empty streets in towns and cities around the world are being reclaimed by wild animals. I've seen videos of wild boars, seals, antelope, lynxes and deer happily walking down streets that are normally congested and polluted with vehicles. The wild goats on the Great Orme at Llandudno have grabbed the headlines. I used to work in North Wales in the mid 1990s and I return there most years for a short holiday. I know Llandudno well and I was fascinated to see the goats wandering around the empty streets, helping themselves to privet hedges and generally enjoying the newly available space without, what must be for them, the terrifying racket of human activity.

When the pandemic is behind us, somehow we need to find ways of sharing our urban spaces with nature. We cannot go back to the way things used to be.

I was last in Llandudno in June last year and I went up the Great Orme especially to see the goats. After all, I am a goat farmer so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see the animals. I caught them on the video above, starting about 1 min 42 seconds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whickham eFocus No. 130

I finished the latest edition (no. 130) of eFocus for the Whickham area last night. The party politics have been stripped out. Most of the content is about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on services. The latest advice was included and we will be increasing the frequency of publication to help keep people informed.

You can ready eFocus on this link.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Delaying VE Day event

Sadly, I have just had to agree to the postponement of the events to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day, due to take place on 8th and 9th May, at Sunniside Methodist Hall. The events were to be run jointly by Sunniside History Society (of which I am chairman) and Sunniside Methodist Chapel (who have also cancelled the craft fair due to be held on 28th March). Hopefully we can rearrange the events but the coronavirus outbreak makes planning new dates rather difficult.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Disposing of the disposable

collecting donated materials Feb 20 (2)

I was called by a friend who works for M&S recently about a large quantity of disposable crockery and cutlery they had in store. The company no longer sells these products but they didn't want them to go to waste. As it turns out, the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside are in the middle of setting up a summer house that will also be a tea room. They were quite happy to take the crockery and cutlery so I went down to the Metrocentre M&S store and loaded up the land rover. There was so much that I ended up having to do two trips.

I hate the idea of single use products but it is better to have one use from them than no use. At least that way they have some value before entering the waste system. Let's just hope the days of single use disposable products are numbered.

collecting donated materials Feb 20 (3)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Delivering Focus

Whickham East Focus Feb 20

I was in Whickham this morning to deliver 370 Focuses. I managed to beat the rain but I had to cling to the newsletters in the gale that was blowing. 2 hours later and the job was done.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Low Fell eFocus 50 and 51

This is a bit of catch up as I am somewhat behind with updating the blog. Lots happening especially on the smallholding. Low Fell Lib Dem Focus team produced two eFocuses during January. Edition 50 covers:
  • Improving Low Fell's car parks - views wanted
  • Dealing with litter 
  • Council Tax expected to rise
  • Cllr Craig receives honour
  • Fallen panels on Station Road
You can view Low Fell eFocus no. 50 on this link.

Edition 51 covers:
  • Recycling trial to continue
  • Bishop of Durham renames Low Fell school
  • Council rejects school crossing
  • Lowrey's Lane car park resurfaced
  • Outrage over plans to rip up £700,000 car park that was built 2 years ago 
  • Fallen branches removed
  • A new NHS App has been launched
  • Labour Councillors force through Bus Tax 
  • Success! Plans for more woodland in Gateshead are passed

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Whickham eFocus no. 128

The latest edition of the eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 128) has just been published. Issues covered include:

  • proposals to begin work again on the unfinished house on Whickham Bank;
  • Lib Dem tree planting plans backed by Gateshead Council;
  • Cllr Peter Craig to be awarded British Empire Medal;
  • Knitting activities at Sunniside;
  • Fireworks clamp down call;
  • Polling stations moved from some local schools;
  • planning applications.

You can read eFocus on this link.