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.