Tuesday, December 13, 2022

What's in a name?


Earlier this year, the Boundary Commission came up with a draft set of proposals for new parliamentary constituencies. In Gateshead there was a straightforward proposal for 2 constituencies, both wholly within Gateshead. The new constituencies would retain the names of the two existing constituencies - Blaydon and Gateshead. Under the existing boundaries, 2 Gateshead wards are in Jarrow constituency so the change to two constituencies wholly within the borough were accepted by both Labour and Lib Dems as administration would be easier both within the council for electoral purposes and within local political parties for candidate selection and local campaigning purposes.

Then in November came the revised proposals and they are radically different for Gateshead. We end up with one constituency wholly within Gateshead (called Gateshead and Whickham) and 3 partial constituencies: Consett and Blaydon, Jarrow and Washington.

Labour's response is rather telling. They are deeply hostile to the inclusion of Whickham in the name of the constituency that is wholly within Gateshead and they are deeply unhappy with the creation of this constituency though they accept that it is too late to change the proposed boundaries. I wonder whether or not the hostility to both the boundaries and the name have anything to do with Whickham being represented wholly by 9 Lib Dem councillors on Gateshead Council. The inclusion of Whickham in the constituency name draws voters' attention to the possibility that this new constituency could be winnable for the Lib Dem. We were only a few percent behind Labour in the votes cast last May in the local elections within the new constituency. To make matters worse for Labour, the new constituency also includes Low Fell, a strong Lib Dem ward, plus the neighbouring ward of Saltwell where we were close to taking the ward in May.

Having stated they want to axe Whickham, their alternative name was "Gateshead Central". We argued that Whickham should be retained as it is the biggest town in Gateshead borough outside the urban core.

Labour argued that "Gateshead" should appear in other constituency names as well. They called for the Jarrow constituency to be renamed Jarrow and Gateshead East. I agreed that the name needed to be changed but Labour were not willing to accept my alternative of Jarrow and Felling. As I pointed out at council cabinet, the 4 Gateshead wards going into the constituency were previously part of the Felling Urban District. Labour were having none of it!

Labour also proposed "Washington and Gateshead South" for the new Washington constituency as 2 wards from the borough will be joined to it. But I put forward "Washington and Birtley" as an alternative. After all, most of the voters in the 2 wards actually live in Birtley. I suggested that if you asked people from Birtley where they lived, the answer would be Birtley, not Gateshead South.

Interestingly, Labour did not apply the same thinking to the new Consett and Blaydon constituency. At the cabinet meeting where this was discussed, I pointed out the inconsistency in Labour's approach: why weren't they calling for this constituency to be called Consett and Gateshead West? I didn't get an answer but shortly afterwards they quietly changed their position and called for Blaydon to be stripped out and Gateshead West to be inserted instead. It would be interesting to know whether Liz Twist, Labour MP for the current Blaydon constituency, supports scrapping the historic name of her constituency.

There will be 28 constituencies in the North East once these changes have gone through. Somehow, Labour in Gateshead expect Gateshead to appear in the name of 4 constituencies, in effect, one in seven constituencies to be named after Gateshead. Labour argue that in the 50 years that Gateshead Council have existed, residents have developed a strong sense of unity towards Gateshead. Whether or not this is the case is irrelevant because the constituencies are to elect people to Parliament. And interestingly, there are 22 wards here each electing 3 councillors to Gateshead Council. Not a single one has the name of Gateshead in it.

Anyway, below is the recording of the debate at cabinet on the new constituencies and the names.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Low Fell eFocus no. 116

 The latest edition of Low Fell eFocus was published last week. Key issues covered include:

  • Consultation date extended on Leisure Centre
  • Low Fell's Service of Remembrance
  • Rosslyn Avenue bollard
  • Porky's/O'Malley's Licensing Application
  • Thanks to Team Digital Printers

You can read eFocus on this link.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Standing down

On Wednesday last week, I stood down as a trustee of Whickham Voluntary Library. I have been a trustee since the voluntary organisation was set up 5 years ago to take over the running of the Library from Gateshead Council. The reason for this retirement is simple: I need to rationalise what I am doing as I am spreading myself too thinly. I need to concentrate on fewer tasks. In addition, having purchased our new farm earlier this year, there is even more demand on my time. I have enjoyed being a Library trustee but I will continue to support their work (and provide goats for their Christmas and Easter craft markets!)

Taking Ramesses to the fair


Whickham Library fair was held yesterday and I brought Ramesses with me. He is one of our billy goats and he was there to be cunningly disguised as a reindeer and attract donations for the Library and visitors to the event. He certainly got a great deal of interest (and lots of carrots). The video shows it all.

All you can eat at history society meeting


On Wednesday, Sunniside History Society met for the last meeting of the year. We had a quiz on the historic buildings of Newcastle. 20 photos taken at least decades ago (some over 100 years ago) and members had to identify the buildings and share some memories. Meanwhile, the buffet went down well. I have passed on the comments to the caterer!

Let there be light


I was invited to switch on the Christmas tree lights at Sunniside Methodist Church recently. The church hall is an important facility for local residents and many groups meet there are activities take place there. So I was really honoured to be asked to do the switch-on.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Historic appointment

Gateshead Council are to appoint historian and former resident of the borough, David Olusoga, as a freeman. The ceremony will take place in February. He presented the tv series "Civilisations" and is the author of a number of books. You can read more on this link.

Cabinet debate on Gateshead's leisure facility proposed closures


I recorded the debate at the Gateshead Council cabinet meeting on 25th October. The cabinet took the decision to consult on the impact of closing Gateshead and Dunston Leisure Centres with the option to close Birtley Sports Hall as well. This was the meeting where it was revealed that Gateshead Council had not applied for levelling up funding from the government but instead has applied for funding for the Gateshead Quays conference centre.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Visiting St Mary's Church fair


On Saturday morning, after our street surgery, I popped into the fair at St Mary's Church, Whickham. It turned out to be a useful opportunity to catch up with Rev Barry Abbott. Sadly, the closure of both banks in Whickham has reduced the number of cash machines in the village. The remaining cash machine in St Mary's Green outside Tesco decided not to work on Saturday. The result was I had no access to money. I had enough to buy 2 cheese scones!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Whickham surgery


On Saturday the Lib Dem Councillors in Whickham held their monthly surgery. This time we decided to have it outdoors as well as on-line. It's a good way to meet more people. The key talking points with residents were building houses in Chase Park and the proposals to close Dunston and Gateshead Leisure Centres.

As the surgery in December clashes with Christmas, the next surgery will be held in January.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

I'm getting married in the morning...

On Tuesday last week, I proposed to David. He said yes! The wedding is likely to be in early summer next year, comfortably after the local elections and crop planting are out of the way. I guess I'd better buy a new suit!

History quiz night

Sunniside History Society will be holding their Christmas quiz and buffet at 7pm on Wednesday 7th December at Sunniside Social Club. The quiz this year will be about historical buildings in Newcastle. All welcome.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Goodbye Philip


I was sorry to learn earlier this month that Philip Latham had passed away just 10 days short of his 80th birthday. He was my agent in Hexham constituency way back in 1992, my first parliamentary election. It wasn't just through politics that I knew Philip. He was a beekeeper as well and when I started keeping bees back in 2011, he was there to advise us.

Philip was involved to the very end in a variety of community work and projects and there was a big turnout on Thursday for his funeral. It was the first Quaker funeral service I have attended.

RIP Philip Latham.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Visiting Norman McCord


Professor Norman McCord was one of my lecturers at Newcastle University nearly 40 years ago. We have kept in touch since I completed my PhD thesis 30 years ago. Back in the 1970s, Norman carried out a great deal of aerial photography. He discovered the Roman fort at Washingwell, near Whickham, in 1972 when he flew over the site heading to Corbridge to take photos before the A69 Corbridge bypass was built. Norman spotted the crop marks at Washingwell which revealed the existence of the previously unknown fort. The site is south of the Tyne and the discovery challenged the assumption that the first Roman border on Tyneside was north of the river, where the Roman Wall was subsequently built in AD122.

I visited Norman at his house earlier this month to show him some research I was doing on the Washingwell fort. I also showed him an RAF photo I had been given by a friend and Whickham resident which was taken in the immediate postwar years. The photo revealed crop marks showing the Washingwell fort. It meant the evidence for the fort had been there in plain sight for a generation before Norman's discovery but no one had spotted it.

I talked Norman through the work I have been doing on Washingwell and the talks I have given on the issue recently to local groups. He is now in his 90s but his mind is as sharp as ever.

The above photo (courtesy of Norman McCord) was taken in 1972 clearly showing the fort in the crop marks.

This photo (courtesy of Harry Shipley) was taken in the late 1940s by the RAF. You can see the crop marks in the top centre of the photo.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Back to the floods

I was in North Wales from Tuesday to Thursday. Lovely dry and sunny weather over there. While I was there, I started receiving reports about the heavy rain and, in some places, roads blocked by floods back home. Technology certainly helps me to keep in touch on the now rare occasions when I am away from home (I was even able to attend two council meetings while sitting in a house in Penmaenmawr!) I was back home on Thursday afternoon to experience the heavy rain first hand. Our farm had developed a couple of new streams and one of the henhouses was flooded. A great deal of mud and muck shoveling resolved the latter problem. Judging by the depth of water in our duck pond, we received about 10-14 cm of rainfall this week which is more than we received during the whole of the summer. I wonder if this level of rainfall in such a short space of time is likely to be something we will have to get used to.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Remembrance day photos


The photos we took at the Whickham Remembrance Sunday parade and wreath laying service are now uploaded to my Flickr site. You can view them all on this link.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Wreath laying in Swalwell


Before attending the Whickham wreath laying, I was in Swalwell to film the Remembrance Sunday service outside the Holy Trinity Church. This is the resulting video.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Remembrance Sunday parade


There was a big turnout for the Remembrance Sunday parade and service in Whickham. 46 wreaths were laid and the age range of those laying wreaths was from 3 to 97 years old. I filmed the above video, starting with the forming up of the parade, the parade heading along Front Street and the service at the War Memorial.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Remembrance Day arrangements


Remembrance Sunday is tomorrow and if you are joining the parade through Whickham, please meet up on School Lane. The parade will set off at 10.30am, heading along Front Street to the war memorial where the remembrance service and wreath laying will take place.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Whickham eFocus no. 176

 Published tonight, our latest eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 176). Key issues covered are:

  • How you can take part in consultation on closure proposals for Dunston Leisure Centre and Pool;
  • Arrangements for Remembrance Sunday;
  • Beggarswood allotment proposals knocked back;
  • Church Green flowerbeds planted up by volunteers;
  • "Flockdown" in place for all local poultry;
  • Warm spaces in our local communities;
  • Whickham Library Christmas opening times;
  • Local Christmas Fayres.

Low Fell eFocus 115

Another eFocus from Gateshead Lib Dems, this time from Low Fell ward. Ediiton 115 brings the following news:

  • Council launch consultation on Gateshead's leisure services
  • Low Fell's Service of Remembrance
  • Concerned about crime? Come and speak to the Police
  • Kells Lane Swing

Thursday, November 10, 2022

What Next?

The boss of Next, Lord Wolfson, (Tory peer and leading Brexiteer) is moaning that the Brexit we have is not the one he thought he was voting for in the referendum. Quite what he expected to happen when he campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and put up the barriers to free movement and the Single Market is not clear. He is however now unhappy with the way the immigration system is operating. He now argues that we need higher levels of unskilled labour to work in the hospitality and retail sector which has to come from abroad. "Taking back control" of immigration was the holy grail of Brexit. Ending free movement of labour was one of the big prizes of Brexit. Now that he has what he campaigned for in 2016, it is rather sickening to hear his bemoaning what he helped inflict on the country. Chickens coming home to roost spring to mind

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Planting up Whickham's flowerbeds


A delayed bit of video editing but here is the video I shot on 30th October in Whickham when I joined other volunteers from Planting Up Whickham to plant up the flower beds on Church Green.

Feeling better

I decided not to stay up all night to watch the US mid term election results come in. It felt like self-inflicted punishment. When I woke this morning I discovered the news was not as bad as many feared. The election results seem to be more of a ripple than a red Trump wave. It looks as though the Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives but with a much smaller majority than previously expected. The Senate is finely balanced but could stay Democrat following the Democrat gain of Pennsylvania from a Trump backed Republican.

My concerns about the Republicans still remain: they oppose support going to Ukraine, they deny women their basic human rights on access to abortion and too many of them are climate change deniers. Throw into that mix the claim that the 2020 election was "stolen" and it is not a pretty picture. The USA may be another country but what happens there affects all of us.

At least however I am feeling better about the situation this morning.

Talking the talk

Last week I gave my talk on the lost forts of Whickham to the Sunniside History Society. Double the number of people attended the meeting so it was clearly a subject of some interest. I'm pleased to report the talk went down well and I've had comments since from local residents that they attended and enjoyed the presentation. My next talk is to the U3A in February when I will be speaking about what history has taught me about self-sufficiency. In the meantime, I am planning to turn the Lost Forts talk into a number of history videos. Watch this space!

Tuesday, November 08, 2022



If you keep chickens or ducks on your property, even if they are kept as pets rather than egg producers, as of Monday 7th November you are required to keep them caged or in runs which are netted over to avoid domesticated and wild birds mixing. The restrictions have been brought in to tackle the spread of avian flu. They apply to all poultry keepers, not just farmers. 

In the video above we show what was needed to be done over the weekend to get our flock ready for the latest "flockdown".

Monday, November 07, 2022

I didn't get to London

I had planned to go to London this weekend for the Lib Dem rally and Ed Davey's speech. By early last week I was having doubts about getting there as I am rather busy at the moment. The final nail in the coffin of the plans was when DEFRA announced that there will be a poultry lockdown from this Tuesday. As I have over 100 chickens and ducks, their runs would have to be prepared. This all takes time. Thankfully I didn't book a hotel or a coach to London. And I wasn't looking forward to a 7 hour journey by National Express, travelling overnight from Newcastle. And even had I decided to go, the rally was over subscribed and some kind of lottery was held to dish out the tickets to the event. Alas, my name was not one of those drawn to attend. Such is life.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween in Sunniside


It is Halloween and this morning, while I was delivering Focus newsletters in Sunniside, I spotted this garden full of Halloween figures. Someone has certainly put in a big effort.

Meanwhile, heading home after feeding the livestock and I encounter a T-Rex on Gateshead Road!

eFocus Birtley edition 10

The latest edition of eFocus for Birtley was published tonight. The main issue covered is Gateshead Council's threat to Birtley Sports Hall. Other issues covered include the removal of the footbridge over the A1 and plans to build 22 new houses. You can ready eFocus on this link.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

New business in Sunniside


Simply Local in Sunniside closed earlier this year. I'm pleased to see that the shop did not remain closed for long. It is now the home of Walkers Xchange estate agents. They had an official opening a week ago so I popped in and had a chat with them. I've already seen two of their For Sale signs up in Sunniside while out delivering Focus newsletters. So good luck to them and hopefully they will be here for years to come.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

eFocus Low Fell no. 114

The next edition of eFocus for Low Fell was published this afternoon. Issues covered include:

  • Gateshead Leisure Centre threatened with closure by Council
  • Meanwhile, Newcastle plans to open new Leisure Centre!
  • Petition calling for locking Kells Lane park at night submitted
  • Organised displays for bonfire night
  • Gateshead Lib Dems lead call for tax fairness
  • Shop refused alcohol licence

You can read eFocus on this link.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Whickham eFocus 175

 The latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area was published this evening. Issues covered include:

  • Proposals to close Dunston Leisure Centre and Pool;
  • Flower beds at Church Green ready for planting;
  • Fun dog - great day had by all;
  • History talk about the Roman fort at Washingwell;
  • Whickham Bank house update;
  • Road repairs;
  • Sunniside Community Garden closing for winter;
  • Collecting the weight of a baby elephant!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

My Vindolanda trip


I went to Vindolanda Roman fort and settlement on Friday afternoon last week. I was doing a bit of filming for a history video I am making about the Washingwell Roman fort in Whickham. I needed some footage of the reconstructed timber gateway to give viewers an idea of what the Washingwell fort would have looked like. I also used the opportunity to look around the site. It's all in the video above.

Bye bye Fiesta

I am not particularly interested in cars. I have one small car for personal use and a pick up truck which is the workhorse of our farm. However, I did notice the story today that Ford will stop producing the Fiesta next year. It reminded me of my first election campaign back in 1982 in Whickham South ward in Gateshead. All out elections meant we had 3 candidates in the ward and one of them was a motoring journalist who got to try out vehicles before writing about them. At the start of the campaign he was driving a Lada. This was in the days when Lada as a brand was regarded as something of a joke. By the end of the campaign he was driving a Ford Fiesta with a Lotus engine. It could do 0 to 30 mph in a fraction of a second. I had never experienced the sensation of being sucked into a car seat under extreme acceleration before (or since). Alas, this motoring experience was not enough to win us any of the 3 seats in the ward. It was another 4 years before a Lib Dem won (in those days we were SDP). And it was another year after than before I was elected in 1987 (though I've been there since). Quite what happened to the Ford Fiesta and Lotus engine, I do not know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Lib Dems closer to Labour policy than the Labour party

At full council in Gateshead last week, the Lib Dem group submitted a motion for debate welcoming Labour's new found support for proportional representation (as agreed at their conference) and calling on the Labour group to support its use in both local and general elections. In the debate I pointed out that back in the 1980s, when both myself and Martin Gannon, current leader of the council, were first elected, Martin was a supporter of PR.  In his contribution to the debate, Martin said he now "sometimes" supports PR, but not for local elections (after all that would damage the near one-party state over which he presides.) Any progressives hoping that Labour in Gateshead would make the bold step of supporting their own party policy would have been disappointed with the result. Labour voted against the motion. I did point out however that Gateshead Labour's opposition to the motion actually puts the Lib Dems closer to Labour policy than the Gateshead Labour party themselves!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Planting Up Whickham


I was on Church Green in Whickham this morning helping the volunteers from Planting Up Whickham to strip the flowerbeds ready for replanting next week. My job was to take all the waste to my farm where it will be rotted down to make compost. The beds will be replanted next Sunday.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Don't mention Labour incompetence

Don't mention Labour incompetence. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it! (to paraphrase Fawlty Towers.)

For the second year running, Labour in Gateshead have failed to fill all their committee places on the Council. In October last year, 5 months after the Council's annual meeting, I raised this failure and questioned Labour's competence. This brought an angry response from the Labour Group secretary John Adams who claimed he had been too busy looking at covid infection figures!

This year, Labour have again failed to fill all their committee places. And again, I raised the issue of Labour incompetence, at full council last week. Yet again, there was an angry response from John Adams who claimed that I should not have raised this matter while the pound is falling! Yes, I kid you not! (As it was, on the same day, the pound had rather a good day!) He then went on to explain that because Labour had such a "massive majority", they didn't need to fill all their allocated places.

That's quite an interesting point as it basically means Labour believe the Council is too big. It is, after all, a rather pointless exercise to elect 66 members to the council if the ruling group don't feel the need to fill all their places. With places unfilled, the Council still operates smoothly. So what's the point of having 66 members when the Council is already demonstrating that it can function perfectly well on a smaller number?

John Adams' claims come just as the size of Gateshead Council and ward boundaries are about to be reviewed and revised. Lib Dem members in Gateshead have been putting the case for a smaller council. So thank you John, your suggestion that places remain unfilled will be added to the evidence we will submit to the Local Boundary Commission supporting a smaller council.

And another thank you to John Adams - the failure to fill all the Labour committee places leaves the Lib Dem group in effect slightly over-represented. If Labour incompetence continues and they continue to fail to fill the places, Lib Dem group members are happy to take them off Labour's hands.

You cannot be serious!

Did I hear this correctly? Boris Johnson is to make a bid to get his job back? It seems some Conservative MPs are backing him though they are fewer than those backing Rishi Sunak. But Bouncing-Back-Boris as PM? You cannot be serious!

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Did she order the new wallpaper?

Well, she's gone. Liz Truss will go down in history as the shortest ruling PM. 44 days will be be difficult to beat. Though I expected her to go in my blog this morning, I was expecting her to cling on for a few weeks more. I just hope Liz Truss hadn't ordered the new wallpaper!

Focus delivery underway


Autumn edition of Focus on Whickham South and Sunniside has arrived from the printers. Delivery is already underway. I'm about to head out to do another patch.

Getting rid of a PM - good luck with that one!

It feels like deja vu. A prime minister that the country wants removed from power and who is clinging on by their finger tips. It was the same in 2007-10 when Gordon Brown was appointed unopposed by Labour MPs  to the post of PM. No matter how many resignations, Brown clung on for 3 years. Similarly Theresa May clung on but at least had the decency to realise the game was up when her Brexit legislation was repeatedly defeated. And then we had Boris Johnson who could have remained the dominant figure in politics throughout the 2020s if he had managed to follow his own covid rules. But it took a mass resignation of his cabinet and ministers before he let go.

Prime ministers don't give up easily and quickly even when the writing is on the wall. Having got to the top of the greasy pole, they have a habit of not wanting to let go. So good luck everyone with getting rid of Truss. I think she will eventually go but it will take a bloody battle to crowbar her fingers off the prime ministership.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Chase Park dog show


On Saturday I visited the Fun Dog Show at Chase Park, Whickham. This is the video I made of the event.

Forthcoming history talk


There has been growing interest in the talk I gave last week on the lost forts of Whickham. I will be giving the talk again to Sunniside History Society on 2nd November. I will be talking about 5 forts: the Roman fort at Washingwell, Ravensworth Castle, Hollinside Manor House, a possible fort in Washingwell Woods and a possible fort at Lambing Hill, next to Clover Hill School. The video above was filmed recently next to the mound in Washingwell Woods which may be part of a motte and bailey Medieval castle.

The talk will take place at Sunniside Social Club at 7pm. Sunniside History Society members £1, visitors £2.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Whickham eFocus no. 174

 Efocus no 174 for the Whickham area has just been published. Issues covered include:

  • Chase Park house-building plans approved;
  • Whinnies Christmas market;
  • Fun dog show at Chase Park;
  • Free food at Kingsway community orchard;
  • Angela Lansbury's connection to Whickham;
  • Help needed to plant up Whickham;
  • Former Dunston Fed brewery could be developed soon;
  • Medieval fort discovered in Washingwell Woods;
  • Can you sponsor a Christmas tree?

You can read eFocus on this link.

One invite leads to another


On Monday I was the guest speaker at the Mothers' Union in Whickham. I was first booked to give a talk last year but covid delayed things for a year. I wasn't sure if I had on my history, self-sufficiency or local politics hat on when the invite was made but I offered to speak on a number of issues and they opted for history. I spoke about the Romans in Washingwell where a fort was discovered in the 1970s. And then I talked about my theory that there are the remains of a medieval fort in Washingwell Woods and a smaller one next to Clover Hill School.

The talk went down well with the result that my contact details were passed onto the Whickham U3A who have now invited me to speak to them in February. This time the talk will be about "Living the Good Life"

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Low Fell eFocus 113

 The latest edition of the Low Fell eFocus was published recently. Issues covered include:

  • Covid Booster delay ‘not good enough’ for people with allergies
  • Time running out to sign petition about Kells Lane Park
  • New arrangements for Council Elections
  • Remembrance Day Service
  • Pavement parking on Durham Road

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Standing charges are a rip off

I received my energy bill for August to September yesterday. The gas charge caught my attention. The standing charge cost me £8.04 and the actual amount of gas used cost me £8.88. In other words, the standing charge was nearly as much as the gas used.  Compared to most people our gas bill is low because we make sure we use as little as possible. Our house is heated by our wood fired stove and short showers are taken instead of baths. We have made every effort to bring down the amount of gas be use and the financial benefit is seen in lower gas bills. But we can do nothing to reduce the standing charge. 

This daily charge to be connected to the gas and electricity grid, regardless of how much energy someone uses, falls most heavily as a burden on lower income households. As it is a fixed charge, it does not reward those who go out of their way to save energy. So, not only does it clobber the poorest the most, it also discourages energy efficiency and damages the environment.

Personally, I feel standing charges are a rip off. The energy suppliers should at least offer a payment system that does not charge just to be connected to the grid while a compensating increase in the unit price of energy could offset the scrapping of standing charges. A reasonable price to pay to help the poorest and protect the environment.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Growing tall


Some years ago I bought a small Christmas tree in a pot. It was 50cm high and had a full, intact root system. After the festivities were over, we put the potted tree outside in the garden and watched it grow. After we repotted it, we watched it grow yet further. It was about 1.5m high when we planted it at Marley Hill community centre. As you can see, it is now flourishing and is continuing to grow. There will come a point soon when a cherry picker will be needed to put the Christmas fairy on the top!

The weight of a baby elephant


I donated 20 cans of baked beans to Sunniside Church's collection for Gateshead foodbank on Sunday. They told me that they had collected food equivalent to the weight of a baby elephant! So well done Sunniside Church and their interesting comparison of weights!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Is this a rerun of 1992?

Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the UK's crashing out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992 (yes it really was 30 years ago!) may find some similarities with the events of the last week. The Tories, in one single move, shredded their reputation for economic competence. It took them nearly a generation to recover from the collapse of their key economic policy of membership of the ERM. Despite the improvements in the economy that undoubtedly took place, the Tories were not able to recover and reap the rewards. Instead, they went down to their worst electoral defeat in nearly two centuries, ushering in a 13 year period of New Labour rule under Blair and then Brown.

So, are we living through a rerun of the events of 30 years ago? Does the disaster of the mini budget and the financial markets' response to it mean that the Tories have again shredded their economic credibility? Like shooting an asteroid, it will take some time before we know if the path down which events pass has changed but I can't help feeling I'm reliving the early 1990s.

It could, of course, be a rerun of the 1980s when the Thatcher government was right down in the polls and we all dreamt of Maggie going down to defeat on polling day, only for us to wake up to reality when the Conservatives were re-elected with massive majorities.

Time will tell......

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Chase Park back at planning

A planning application to demolish the historic stables at Chase Park, Whickham and build 4 executive homes on the site comes to planning committee tomorrow. The issue is controversial anyway without attempts by the local Labour Party to claim that the site is not in Chase Park! It is actually in the heart of the park. Indeed, Labour run Gateshead Council are selling the site and are flogging off the busiest entrance to the park to provide road access to the upmarket development. 78 objections have been received and I believe one letter of support. I will be at the meeting tomorrow to watch proceedings.

Photo above - the main entrance to the park which Labour in Gateshead are wanting to sell.

Labour's changing position on PR

Yesterday, the Labour conference voted to replace first past the post with proportional representation in general elections. Those of us who have argued for decades that this constitutional reform is one of the keys to creating a modern representative democracy should not get too excited. The Labour leadership under Starmer have indicated they won't back the introduction of PR, regardless of the conference vote. This is at least an improvement on what has gone before. Last year Labour members voted at conference for PR only to have their hopes crushed by union block votes which lined up behind the Tory-benefitting FPTP system. What has changed since is the mood in some of the big unions which are now coming out in favour of reform. Despite this, Starmer is not taking on the mantle of reformer.

Monday, September 26, 2022

My energy bill

I got a letter from my energy supplier last week. I opened it when it arrived and when I saw it was about the new energy prices I will be paying from October, I simply put it to one side and forgot about it until today. So when I read it this morning, I was surprised to learn that my estimated bill was only going up £180 a year for both gas and electricity. And once the £400 from the energy support scheme is paid, I will actually be paying less than we were before the price rises earlier this year. Our monthly dual fuel bills from October to March will be less than £40.

We generate most of our electricity from our solar panels and any surplus goes onto a battery that can often keep us going through much of the night. We heat our house from a wood burning stove the fuel for which we gather on our farm. The gas and electricity we buy in is back up.

Being as sustainable as possible on fuel is part our our plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. We aren't fully there yet, hence the need to be on grid for gas and electricity but we are getting closer to the goal of full self-sufficiency. A by-product of pursuing this course of action is that my cost of living is much lower than that of most other people. My self-sufficiency lifestyle is often sneered at by Labour opponents but what I've shown is that it is possible to live in a way that reduces our impact on the environment and slashes living costs.

If I am able to achieve this, just about anyone can. But it does rather throw into the spotlight the way the government's energy support system operates. The fact I will be paying for the next six months less for what energy I need to buy in than I was before the cost of living crisis started suggests the support is poorly targeted and not going to those who most need it. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

eFocus no. 172

Our latest eFocus for the Whickham area was published last night. Issues covered include:

  • Charles proclaimed King in Gateshead;
  • Dunston Hill School to be replaced by housing;
  • Harvest tin can challenge in Sunniside;
  • Chase Park fair;
  • Sunniside Leek Show
  • Book sale at Whickham Library;
  • Warm spaces;
  • Long to reign over us;
  • Budgies in Swalwell;
  • Can you sponsor a Christmas tree?

You can read eFocus on this link.

Chase Park fair


Chase Park fair was held today. I went along around midday and chatted to lots of people. I couldn't stay long however. I had my ward Focus newsletter to finish writing!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Long to reign over us - 2010-22

This post covers the key events from 2010 to 2022 which I included in my presentation on the 70 years of HM The Queen's reign to the Sunniside History Society earlier this month.


General election is held in which for the first time there were leader debates

Election result – Conservatives are 20 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.

Coalition government is formed with David Cameron as Prime MInister and NIck Clegg as deputy Prime minister

Gordon Brown steps down as Labour leader, succeeded by Ed Miliband (beating his brother David in the contest)

Austerity is underway

The engagement of Prince William and Catherine Middleton is announced


Prince William and Catherine Middleton are married in Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth II become the 2nd longest reigning British monarch

Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to Ireland, the first by a reigning monarch to Dublin since 1911 

The cheque guarantee card – which ensures some cheques are honoured even if the account holder does not have sufficient funds in their account – was withdrawn after operating for over 40 years

Rioting in various cities throughout the UK


The year it rained constantly, and Gateshead suffered Thunder Thursday

THE nation celebrates the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

Government debt rises to £1 trillion

London hosts the Olympics and opening ceremony includes the film of the Queen and James Bond jumping from a helicopter

Allegations about Jimmy Saville are published by ITV


Margaret Thatcher dies

Same sex marriage is legalised

Prince George is born

Sewage workers remove a fifteen ton bus-sized "fatberg" – thought to be Britain's largest – from a sewer beneath London

Wartime computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing, who had been chemically castrated in 1952 following his conviction for homosexuality, is given a posthumous royal pardon 


Winter storms sweep away the main rail line through  Devon

Scottish referendum – the majority vote to stay in UK

11 November – the last ceramic poppy is laid at the Tower of London and joins the 888,245 flowers commemorating the armistace and centenary of World War 1


Gary Glitter is sentenced to 16 years in prison for child sex abuse

Last of UK government debt from WW1 is repaid

In March inflation fell to zero percent in February, the lowest level since records began

Male precedent in order of succession to the throne is ended

Conservatives win the general election, putting an end to the coalition government with the Lib Dems

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg resign as party leaders to be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron respectively

The Prince of Wales begins his official four-day tour of the Republic of Ireland having a controversial meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams 

Cashless payments now exceed the use of notes and coins


Elizabeth II marks her 90th birthday.

UK votes in the referendum to leave the EU

Cameron resigns as Prime Minister and is replaced by Theresa May


Article 50 implemented - this is the start of the legal process to withdraw from the EU

Buckingham Palace announces that the Duke of Edinburgh is to step down from carrying out royal engagements in the autumn

Snap election results in the Conservatives losing their majority but stay in office with support from DUP

Solar, wind and nuclear power each provide more electricity than gas and coal combined for the first time in the UK


The UK's largest toy retailer, Toys "R" Us, goes into administration 

One of the UK's biggest electronics retailers, Maplin, goes into administration

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury

The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle takes place 

British retailer Marks & Spencer confirms the closure of 100 stores


Repeated attempts to get Brexit legislation through Parliament all failed.

Theresa May resigns and is replaced as PM by Boris Johnson

Johnson calls a general election in December and wins with the biggest Conservative majority since 1987.

Jeremy Corbyn resigns and is replaced by Kier Starmer in April the following year

Travel company Thomas Cook collapses


Boris Johnson's EU withdrawal deal completes its passage through parliament

British AIrways suspend all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect, due to the ongoing COVID - 19 outbreak in China

30 January 1st cases of covid in UK

600 flood warnings are in place in UK in February, This month is the wettest February in the UK since records began in 1862 with an average of 209.1mm of rainfall

FTSE plunges 8% as fears of pandemic grow

Football matches cancelled because of the pandemic

All elections are cancelled

23 March UK-wide lockdown begins 

29 March Prince Charles tests positive for COVID-19

Queen Elizabeth broadcasts to the UK and the wider Commonwealth


Covid vaccine becomes available for everyone in UK

Many events continue to be cancelled

Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip

The final Debenhams store is closed


Most covid restrictions are removed by the spring

The nation celebrates Platinum Jubilee though Prince Charles now fronts many of the events

The Queen stars alongside Paddington Bear in a short film to celebrate the Jubilee

2 days after appointing Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister, the Queen passes away at Balmoral bringing to an end the longest reign by any monarch in Britain


Long to reign over us - 2000s

This post covers the key events in the 2000s which I included in my presentation on the 70 years of HM The Queen's reign to the Sunniside History Society earlier this month.


The Millennium Bug failed to happen

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother celebrates her 100th birthday

David Copeland is found guilty of causing the three nail bomb attacks in London last year. He is sentenced to life imprisonment and the trial judge recommends that he should serve at least thirty years before being considered for parole


Foot and Mouth disease outbreak occurs

Tony Blair leads Labour to 2nd landslide general election win. William Hague resigns as Conservative Leader and is replaced by Iain Duncan Smith

On 13th September The Queen orders the Changing of the Guard ceremony to be paused for a two-minute silence, followed by the playing of the American national anthem in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks two days earlier in the USA

UK takes part in the invasion of Afghanistan


Princess Margaret dies

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother dies aged 101

The Queen's Golden Jubilee is celebrated across the country 


UK takes part in invasion of Iraq after claims of weapons of mass destruction in the country.

President Vladimir Putin becomes the first Russian head of state to make a state visit to Britain since Tsar Alexander II in 1874

Iain Duncan Smith resigns as Conservative leader, replaced by Michael Howard


The government announces plans to prohibit smoking in most enclosed public places (including workplaces) within the next three years 

150 UK citizens are among thousands killed by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami 


Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles

Labour under Blair win a 3rd election in a row but with majority cut to 66

Michael Howard resigns as Conservative leader and is replaced by David Cameron

Terror attacks take place on the London Underground


Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 80th birthday

The BBC announces that Grandstand, its flagship sports TV programme, will be phased out within the next year after nearly 50 years on air

Home Secretary John Reid attacks the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for being 'presumptuous' and 'disloyal' for openly campaigning to replace Tony Blair as Prime Minister

The British government pays off the Anglo-American loan made in 1946


Tony Blair resigns as Labour leader, replaced by Gordon Brown who becomes PM

London announced as venue for the 2012 Olympics

smoking ban came into effect in all enclosed public places in England

Northern Rock bank obtains an emergency loan from the Bank of England 

Gordon Brown confirms that there will be no early General Election, prompting the media to call him 'Bottler Brown'

Final switching off of the analogue signal for UK terrestrial tv


Northern Rock bank was nationalised by the government at the start of the financial crisis

The inquest into the death of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, hears that there is "not a shred of evidence" that The Duke of Edinburgh or MI6 ordered her death

Boris Johnson defeated Ken Livingstone in the election for London Mayor

Economy contracts as the financial crisis expands

The government announced a bank rescue package worth some £500 billion as a response to the financial crisis 

Woolworths announced their 807 UK stores will close

MFI closed all 111 of its stores


Lloyds completes takeover of HBOS which was later found to have made a loss of £11 billion in 2008

Share price of RBS collapses 67% in one day. The company then had to be nationalised

MP expenses scandal breaks

Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest onshore wind farm in Europe, officially opens in Scotland

November was the wettest month on record with average rainfall of 21cm