Monday, December 18, 2023

You're nicked!

Labour's former whip and cabinet minister Nick Brown MP has announced he has resigned from the Labour Party and will not be standing at the general election next year. A complaint against him had been submitted to the Labour Party in September last year though there is no explanation as to what was at the centre of it. Whatever the basis of the complaint happens to be, the fact it is unresolved 15 months later does strike me as contrary to natural justice. Brown was suspended from Labour last year and with the complaint dragging on, it was looking likely that he would have been blocked from standing for Labour at the general election. After 40 years as MP for Newcastle East, he has thrown in the towel and announced his retirement.

There will of course be a stampede of hopeful Labour candidates aiming to fill the vacancy in the redrawn constituency. It would not surprise me if the powers-that-be in the Labour Party parachute in Nick Forbes, former Leader of Newcastle Council. His political career was cut short after a Labour selection meeting, attended by 13 members, chose a different council candidate, leaving poor Nick without a seat on the council. So could Nick Forbes be about to step out of the political graveyard? We shall see!

Friday, December 15, 2023

40 years of Focus photos

Sunniside History Society had their monthly meeting last week. With Christmas around the corner, there was a buffet which included an edible Christmas wreath (see above). We also had the annual quiz, which I put together. I have been writing and editing Focuses for nearly 40 years and as a result I have built up a big collection of photos around Gateshead. So this formed the basis of the quiz - 40 photos taken over the past 40 years of places in Gateshead before they were restored, demolished or changed in some way. People had to identify them. The winner got 31 points. The prize was a bottle of prosecco which admittedly has left over from my wedding reception in July.

The next meeting is on Wednesday 3rd January at Sunniside Social Club.

Ron selected for Gateshead Central and Whickham

I am delighted to announce that Ron Beadle has been selected as the Lib Dem candidate for the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency at the general election. The constituency includes two strong Lib Dem areas - Whickham (3 wards) and Low Fell (one ward) - as well as Saltwell, won by the Lib Dems from Labour in the May local elections this year. It means nearly half the residents of the constituency are represented by Liberal Democrats on Gateshead Council. The overall votes cast in May in wards in the new constituency are:

So, it's a good base from which to work. Ron could easily take on any MP currently representing all or part of a Gateshead constituency. So watch this battle for an interesting result.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Mick Henry appointed freeman of the borough


Former Gateshead Council Leader Mick Henry was appointed as a freeman of the borough last week. Mick presided over the regeneration of Gateshead Quays as a cultural centre. During his time as Leader, the Millennium Bridge was opened and the Sage (now the Glasshouse) and the Baltic Art Gallery opened. A record to be proud of. 

The video above is of Mick signing the register of freemen. Below is his acceptance speech.

Gateshead freeman ceremony - speech by David Olusaga


David Olusaga, one of Britain's top historians, was appointed a freeman of Gateshead on 4th December. You can view his acceptance speech above. David was raised in Gateshead and he spoke about his memories during his speech.

Gateshead freeman ceremony - David Olusaga signed the register


David Olusaga is one of Britain's top historians and he was raised in Gateshead. I am delighted to say that he was appointed as a freeman of the borough on 4th December. In this video he signed the register of freeman in the presence of the mayor.

The birthday party


It was my 60th birthday recently, and David's 66th. So we decided to have a party at Sunniside Social Club. I had a big fear in the morning that few would turn up. In the end, as the video I shot on the day shows (see above) there was a good turnout. The cakes were demolished in minutes!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Blame the Liberal Democrats!

It's Labour's favourite tradition in Gateshead - blame the Liberal Democrats for everything. War, famine, plague, climate change. Just blame the Liberal Democrats! At full council last week, Angela Douglas, cabinet member for leisure, took the opportunity to blame everything that has happened since 2015 on the Lib Dems. We don't often hear from Angela. In January, cabinet debated the future of leisure services in Gateshead. The debate took about 2 hours. Angela, whose portfolio was being debated, said nothing. She sat silently through the meeting. Quite what Gateshead gets for the £16K paid to her for being the cabinet member for leisure services is not clear. But it was a pleasant change to hear from Angela at the council meeting last week.

Labour nationally have committed to continuing the current regime of tax and spending. That means onging cuts to local government. Indeed, Labour Gateshead are preparing not for a government that will splash the cash as they have demanded over the past 13 years. Instead, they are planning on the basis of the next government continuing the cuts. Quite how Angela and her "socialist" chums will explain their party's support for Conservative cuts would be interesting to hear. What is the probability of her blaming the Liberal Democrats!?

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

One million viewings but here comes the competition!

A milestone in my blogging world - my blog has now had one million viewings! It only took me 17 years to get to that figure, aided kindly by lots of Labour members who are drawn to its contents and then criticise me in council meetings! But the crown of Gateshead's blogger of the year may be about to slip from my grasp. None other than Labour Leader Martin Gannon has launched a blog, via Gateshead Council website.

So what essay length posts can we hope to read as we all sit huddled around our ipads waiting for the next thrilling episode of "The Leader's thoughts"? To make his blog even more interesting, Martin has filmed a 5 minute video in which he talks about the big issues of the day. Three days after uploading the video, viewing figures have already reached a whopping total of 5 (and one of them was me!) If you don't want to view the video, a transcript is on the blog with all the "errs" and "ummms" carefully edited out!

So everyone, give Martin's blog a fighting chance and visit it now. Get those viewing figures up! After all, Martin only needs a million more visits to catch up with me!

Sandwiches in Saltwell


I was in Saltwell on Sunday, helping to deliver the latest edition of Focus. Saltwell is a very compact ward with a significant number of terraces, often with up to 300 homes in a street. Delivery rounds often consist of one street. Delivery times however are short. It took me only 25 minutes to deliver one street, which was about 8% of the total ward! Over in my ward, the delivery patches contain fewer delivery points but take much longer to do because of the gardens around which we have to walk.

I did however cross paths with Saltwell Labour Councillor John Adams. He arrived in his car and hung around the end of the street I was delivering. I assume he had not driven from his home which was only about a 5 minute walk away, if that. Surely, anyone wanting to save the planet would have walked such a short journey? So, wherever he had been previously, I hope he was having a productive day.

Meanwhile, back at Cllr Leanne Brand's flat, which was HQ for the day, sandwiches left over from my birthday party at Sunniside Social Club on Saturday were being consumed by a small army of Lib Dem helpers. Then it was time again to deliver another patch before heading home.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Let them eat cake


I turned 60 recently. Meanwhile David turned 66 a few weeks ago. Both milestone life events so we decided to have a joint 126th birthday party at Sunniside Club. My sister Esther made the cakes. There were only crumbs left by the end. We did however manage to use up the 8 bottles of Prosecco left over from our wedding. 

So thank you to the 50 people who joined the celebration.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Whickham Christmas tree lights switch-on


Father Barry Abbott switched on the Whickham Christmas tree lights yesterday. I was inevitably there with my video camera - see video about.

Me, Cllr Sonya Hawkins, Cllr Peter Craig and Father Barry Abbott join local police next to the tree on Church Green.

One of me next to the tree.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 129

 The Lib Dem team in Low Fell today published their latest edition of eFocus. Issues covered include:

  • Christmas lights switch on;
  • Armistice day;
  • Dryden Road tree pruning;
  • Looking for a child's Christmas present?;
  • Recycling in Gateshead.

A parallel universe!

Back from feeding my livestock this morning and I struggled to believe what I heard when I put the tv on to watch the news. Braverman gone (less of a surprise) but Cameron back in government with a life peerage as well! I felt like I was living in a strange parallel universe. Is this for real? From memory, this is the first time in 50 years a former prime minister has returned to government to serve another PM. This may need checking but I think Alec Douglas-Home, PM 1963-64, returned to government as Foreign Secretary in the Heath government of the early 70s.

The question now is what will the right of the Conservative party do now that their standard bearer (Braverman) got herself booted out of the cabinet? And how long will it take the Conservative right to realise that elections are won in the centre ground. It took Labour a number of election defeats, especially 2019, before the "comrades" abandoned all their crackpot rubbish of the Corbyn period of lunacy to return to the middle ground. Will the Conservative right try to drag their party further away from the centre ground now that Braverman is free to cause even more chaos.

Remembrance Sunday Day in Whickham


Yesterday I attended the Remembrance Sunday parade and wreath-laying service in Whickham. Over 40 organisations took part, making it the biggest parade and service in Gateshead. Cllr Jonathan Mohammed laid the wreath on behalf of residents of Whickham South and Sunniside. The video above covers the service and the wreath-laying.

Councillors Sonya Hawkins, Peter Maughan and Jonathan Mohammed at the Whickham war memorial after the wreaths were laid.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Local Remembrance parades and services

It is Remembrance Sunday on 12th November. I will be attending the parade and service in Whickham though Cllr Jonathan Mohammed will be laying the wreath on behalf of our Whickham South and Sunniside residents. Below are some details about the various local events.


Whickham now hosts the biggest Remembrance Parade and wreath-laying service in Gateshead. For those wishing to see the parade, this will move off from the eastern point of Back Row at 10:30 am, arriving at Whickham cenotaph at approximately 10:40 am.

A Remembrance service and wreath-laying ceremony will commence at the cenotaph at 10:45 am. Cllrs Peter Maughan, Sonya Hawkins and Jonathan Mohammed will lay wreaths on behalf of Whickham residents.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant will be in attendance and the ceremony will be followed by a march past and then a short service in St. Mary’s Church.

Road Closures
To accommodate the parade, School Street and Back Row will be closed from 10:00am until approximately 10:45 am - and Front Street from Rectory Lane to Fellside Road will be closed from around 10:30 am until approximately 10:45 am.

Road closures will be also in place for the Remembrance service and wreath-laying ceremony - Front Street between Rectory Lane and Broom Lane will be closed from approximately 10:30 am until 11:30 am.

If there are any queries or any wreath layers who have previously not been in touch, could they please contact; Cllr. Peter Craig before Sunday.


Assemble at St Nicholas Church at 10am for a service followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial, Dunston at 11am. 

Marley Hill

Assemble at St Cuthbert's Church, Marley Hill, a Remembrance Service combined with Methodists, at 10.15am for an Act of Remembrance and wreath-laying.


Service at the Holy Trinity Church, Hexham Old Road at 9am. This will be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at 10am.

eFocus edition 184

 We recently published our latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 184). Issues covered include:

  • Gateshead Council not to be cut in size;
  • King Arthur Garden at Whinnies Community Garden opened;
  • Tyne Bridge repairs taking place;
  • Central Nursery arson and demolition;
  • Leven House plan withdrawn;
  • Planning applications;
  • Sunniside leek show;
  • Musical Comedy comes to Swalwell;
  • What happens to your waste for recycling;
  • Rained off - but Whickham flowerbeds will be replanted.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Delivering in Swalwell


Last week I was in the unusual situation of having no Focuses to delivery. It was a situation that changed rapidly thanks to the Lib Dem team in Whickham North. They discovered I had no leaflets and decided to help me out of my urgent need to put newsletters through people's doors by giving me 200 to deliver. Two streets in Swalwell enjoyed my company - Park Terrace and Napier Road, the latter being where I lived for 15 years. Though I am a great fan of gardens, I rather liked the fact that three quarters of the houses to which I delivered had no garden space at all. I delivered all 200 in 25 minutes.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Regional conference in Gateshead


North East Lib Dem regional conference took place today and Gateshead were the hosts. The gathering took place in the Little Theatre in Saltwell.

The main session in the morning was a Q&A with Ed Davey online. He also talked about the forthcoming general election campaign and the success of the Lib Dems in the region in the local elections this year.

In the afternoon, there was an awards ceremony. Gateshead won the Alistair Wardlaw trophy for our progress in the local elections and developing the local party over the past year.

The biggest challenge of the day was the raffle! With 28 prizes and too many Lib Dems being far too nice by refusing to claim more than one prize, the end of conference had to be delayed!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

A lovely touch


On Friday 27th October, the funeral of Doreen Boyes took place at Mountsett Crematorium. Doreen had been Lib Dem councillor for Pelaw and Heworth in Gateshead from 2001 to 2011. This was our opportunity to say thank you for her work for both her constituents and the party. I particularly liked the bell and the card handed out to each of us. "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." It's a quote from one of my favourite films: It's a wonderful life.

RIP Doreen.

Visiting the waste resource extraction plant

In Gateshead, cardboard, plastic, bottles and cans are collected fortnightly. This waste goes mixed into a wheelie bin. But the waste then needs to be separated out. This is done at a resource extraction plant in Middlesbrough. I visited the plant recently and filmed the process of separating out and baling the different materials.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Poppies popping up in Sunniside


A big thank you to the volunteers from Planting Up Sunniside who recently placed the poppies on the street signs and lamp posts along the main road through Sunniside and Streetgate. They are certainly getting noticed!

Bridges on the Greens' target list


The Greens in Gateshead hope to emulate the "success" of their party nationally by winning council seats here. Up to now they have had one target seat (Crawcrook and Greenside) but have failed to win it (though they were modestly close to victory in May this year. The Greens' attention however may be expanding from their not-quite-a-toe-hold single target ward. They have just put out a leaflet in Bridges ward. 

Bridges is an example of a ward taken for granted for decades by Labour. Their councillors there are re-elected on a low turnout. Typically, the Labour vote in the ward is a fraction of the majority I would expect in my own ward. Any party moving into Bridges could, with the right campaign and level of intensity, snatch the ward from Labour. There is an interesting difference with Crawcrook and Greenside. The turnout there is much higher and therefore the hurdle to overcome is all the greater. In May, Labour got 1374 votes in C&G. In Bridges ward, Labour got 904. Indeed, the Greens' losing candidate in C&G got 1017 votes. That would have won them Bridges ward.

One of the Labour councillors in Bridges is Angela Douglas, cabinet member for leisure and culture and whose disastrous leadership (or lack of) on the future of leisure services was a key issue in the local elections this year. She famously turned up for cabinet in January and despite a nearly two hour discussion on proposals to close two leisure centres, she sat silently throughout the entire meeting. The Greens' leaflets about this issue could write themselves!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Guests at the annual dinner

I filmed this at the Gateshead Lib Dem annual dinner last week - members and guests assembling at the Rosa 12 restaurant in Low Fell. A good turnout for our first annual dinner. Sorting the dinner for autumn next year may be a bit more challenging. It is looking increasingly likely that the general election will be held then!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Planting Up Whickham


On Sunday, I joined volunteers from Planting Up Whickham to strip out the flowerbeds on Church Green. My job was to load all the garden waste into my pickup and take it down to my farm where I will turn it into compost. I filmed this video while the work was taking place.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Simon speaks at Gateshead Lib Dem annual dinner


Our first annual Gateshead Lib Dem dinner was held last night and the guest speaker was Simon Hughes, former MP for Bermondsey. The dinner was held at Rosa Twelve in Low Fell. About 50 people there but I had been put on the same table as Simon. I've known him for over 20 years, since I first worked for the party. During his speech he talked about the need to appear to Labour voters as well ac Conservatives. He also talked about his hopes that the Lib Dems will move back into the position as the 3rd largest party in the Commons after the general election, moving ahead of a retreating SNP.

So, now that the idea of an annual Gateshead dinner has been established, we need to start thinking about who to invite next year. The spanner in the works will be the timing of the general election.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Buying litter


I spotted this litter on my farm on Sunday. Indeed, I spotted it from a distance of about 200 metres. It is a balloon that had lost most of its helium gas, therefore causing it to fall to the ground. These balloons are killers. They drift out to sea where they can be ingested by marine life such as dolphins and seals. When that happens, the animal can choke to death. On land they can be ingested by livestock or by large wild animals such as deer, again resulting in death. If they are not ingested, they remain as litter taking hundreds of years to decompose.

The balloons are the only product I can think of that can be described as litter the moment they are bought. They are bought on the expectation that they will be released into the environment. In effect, they serve no purpose other than to be thrown away as litter.

The balloon above was clearly released to celebrate a forthcoming wedding. Do you really need to mark the occasion by paying for and then dumping a load of litter on the environment? "Your wedding is so great that we are celebrating it by scattering rubbish over a large area."

Please everyone, avoid ever releasing this sort of rubbish onto local communities. Spend your money on something much more worthwhile than litter. Celebrate people's special days in a sustainable way.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Back to the Mothers' Union

Last year I gave a history talk to the Whickham Mothers' Union about the lost forts of Whickham. They decided to invite me back to give them another talk so today I gave them a talk about self-sufficiency. It was a whirlwind look at the last 14 years from when I first gave up paid employment to live the good life. A mark of the success of a talk is the number of questions at the end, of which there were plenty! And they have invited me again to come back and give another talk next year.

Windy Nook talk

I was invited by St Albans Church in Windy Nook, Gateshead, to speak to them about how to improve their environmental credentials. They are aiming to be an "ecochurch" so I accepted the invite and went along to their harvest supper yesterday. They asked me to speak for about 20 minutes though I ended up speaking for at least double that! There was a good interaction with audience members as I advised them on bird and bee boxes, keeping some bee hives, avoiding cutting the grass during April and May, setting up small ponds (they have one already), not cutting privet hedges in August to allow them to flower (pollinators love the flowers) and planting pollinator friendly flowers, among many other issues. Hopefully some of the suggestions will be taken up and I hope to put them in touch with people who can direct them to various funding organisations.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

RIP Doreen Boyes

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death last week of Doreen Boyes. Doreen was Lib Dem Councillor for Pelaw and Heworth in Gateshead, serving her constituents from 2002 to 2011. After her retirement from the council, she was appointed an honorary alderman. Doreen was a great friend of the group both during her time as councillor and afterwards. She could always be counted on to give a sensible and level-headed judgement on whatever we were considering.

RIP Doreen.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Staying at home

 So, the expected happened in the Rutherglen by-election. Labour won, and did so comfortably. What was unexpected was the size of the swing - 20% from SNP to Labour. There's nothing like a by-election victory to make a conference go with a bang. I speak from experience. There was a great feeling seeing our new by-election victors around the conference centre. Labour members will have a spring in their step when they arrive in Liverpool. But let's not get carried away....

While it was clear that Labour were able to pull off a significant gain, take a look at the votes cast. There was a big collapse in the SNP vote but Labour's vote, compared to the general election, was largely unchanged, indeed it was down a smidgen, from 18,545 to 17,845. Remember - the last general election saw Labour's vote down to its lowest level since 1983. What has happened is that SNP voters are staying at home. They are currently sitting out election contests, unsure on what to do. Unlike 1997 when the Blair government was able to reach out and soak up some of the undecided votes of other parties, Rutherglen is an illustration of the limited appeal of Labour. Dig a bit further back in time and the total Labour vote in the byelection is their lowest since the constituency was created in 2005. Indeed, in 2010, Labour's winning candidate in the constituency notched up over 28,000 votes in a general election in which Labour went down to defeat.

The appeal of opposition parties to voters who had previously supported the government (SNP in Scotland and Conservatives in England) is what will decide the outcome of the next general election. Both Labour and the Lib Dems aim to appeal to Conservatives who are currently staying at home. But how successful has that appeal been? Take a look at the Somerton and Frome by-election. The Lib Dem vote increased by about 4,000. But how much of that was the result of a successful squeeze on the Labour vote?  The Conservative vote meanwhile dropped from 36,000 to 10,000. Clearly, most of that stayed at home though the figures suggest a modest inroad by the Lib Dems into the Conservative total.

On the same day, the Selby by-election produced a similar result in terms of vote changes: a collapse in the Conservative vote and a modest increase in the vote of Labour with the Lib Dem vote squeezed. But the biggest group of voters across the constituency, as in Somerton and Frome, is likely to be stay-at-home Conservatives unhappy with their party's performance.

As we get closer to the general election, this group of undecided Conservatives will start to move. Some will go back to the Conservatives, others to the opposition parties (at a constituency level they will move to the party most likely to defeat the Conservatives - likely to be Labour in Red Wall seats and Lib Dems in Blue Wall). The killer question is, what proportion of the undecided Conservatives will turn out to vote Conservative?

Back to Rutherglen. The bloated representation of the SNP in the UK parliament annoys me. While the SNP has most seats, their vote share in Scotland is in a minority - in other words, most people in Scotland didn't vote SNP in the last general election. Yet, because of Parliamentary arithmetic, they are the UK's third party in the Commons. This results in media coverage going to the SNP that is unmerited while stripping it from the Lib Dems. We have the daft situation of the SNP being invited on to UK wide news programmes to explain SNP policy on issues that in Scotland are devolved. The SNP leader in Scotland gets 2 questions at PMQ while Ed Davey gets pot luck.

So Labour may have done us a favour in Rutherglen. If they are able to take seats in the Tartan Wall from the SNP, we could see the Lib Dems overtaking the SNP in Parliament, and returning to third party status in the House of Commons.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Ed speaking to Lib Dem local councillors


Last week at Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, I attended the Association of Lib Dem Councillors and the Local Government Association joint reception. Ed Davey was the guest speaker and he spoke about the importance of local councillors to the party and the electoral successes of the past year. The video above covers the whole of his speech.

The Bournemouth West Cliff goats


This made me feel at home at Bournemouth conference last week! Goats are kept on the cliff in front of the Highcliff Hotel. I assume they are there to keep the vegetation under control. I counted 6 in total, all Boer billies. It looks as though they are doing a good job!

Conference video diary - day 4


It's the final day of Lib Dem conference at Bournemouth. I attend the debate on biodiversity and was in the main hall for Ed Davey's speech. Once Ed had finished speaking, it was a rush to the train station to catch my train for the start of the journey home. I go there with a minute to spare!

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Conference video diary, day 3


Day 3 of the Lib Dem conference at Bournemouth. I started at the food and farming debate, then took my seat for a speech by Kira Rudik, Leader of the Ukrainian Liberal Party. Lunch was at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and after this I went to the National Farmers' Union where Tim Farron and Ed Davey were the guest speakers. The day finished at the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates Association dinner.

Monday, October 02, 2023

Conference Video Diary day 2


My video diary of the 2nd day at Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. Health and education debates took place, Daisy Cooper gave a great speech, I checked out by-election cheesy props, I popped in to the Liberty Network fringe, in the afternoon I went to Ed Davey's Q&A and in the evening I rounded off my day by going to an LGBT meeting followed by the ALDC/LGA reception.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Conference video day 1


Last week we were back at Lib Dem autumn conference for the first time in 4 years. This video was filmed across day one of the gathering in Bournemouth and includes:

  • a look at the exhibition area;
  • the general election briefing;
  • lessons from the Somerton and Frome by-election;
  • Countryside Alliance fringe meeting;
  • and the rally which included videos of Steve Coogan and Carol Vorderman backing fair votes.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Let them eat cake


Sunniside Club hosted a Macmillan coffee morning yesterday so after feeding my livestock, having breakfast and doing some casework, I took the 5 minute walk to the Club for coffee and cake. Well done to all those who helped out, and to those who arrived to eat cake and part with their money!

A bird in the hand....


I visited the Material Recovery Facility at Teeside on Thursday. This is the plant where the the waste for recycling from Gateshead is sent for separation, processing and onward sale to companies for whom the material is a resource. The plant occasionally has a problem with sea gulls so the help of birds of prey is regularly sought. An old fashioned solution to a modern problem!

I filmed a short video when I was there but it is yet to be edited. I will post it once it is ready.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Anyone try the West Cliff Lift?


Did any of you who were in Bournemouth earlier this week had a ride on the West Cliff Lift? For £2, it was worth it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

MP and farmer

I went to the National Farmers Union meeting last night and bumped into fellow farmer Sarah Dyke, newly elected MP for Somerton and Frome. We had a useful conversation about which breeds of sheep we keep and which are the easiest to handle! (For me it's the Hebrideans as they have horns, just what you need to hold onto while shearing them!)

Good speech by my old university friend Tim Farron on why the farming community's tendency to vote Conservative is misplaced, especially following the trade agreements that have knifed farmers. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Kira Rudik

Lib Dem conference had a guest speaker today. Kira Rudik is a Ukrainian MP and leader of the Ukrainian Liberal party. She gave a moving speech about the horrors inflicted on her country and on the Ukrainian people. It is vital that Ukraine wins the war. A world in which Putin and fellow dictators and international bullies are free to do as they wish would bee a terrible place.

Look who I bumped into

The Lib Dem ALDC local government reception last night was a rather crowded affair. I'm not sure whether that was down to people not seeing each other for 4 years, hundreds more councillors being elected since we last met or the wine being free (but limited in supply!) Ed Davey was guest speaker and I had a chat with him. We've known each other for 20 years, since he was local government spokesman in the Commons and I was responsible for all things local government in the policy unit in HQ. Last night Ed quizzed me on our gains in Gateshead, Newcastle and Sunderland in May. He was particularly pleased about our ending Labour's 90 year hold on Saltwell. 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

On the cliff top

Here's the pic of one of the goats. The cliff is quite steep so it makes sense that goats, which have evolved to climb vertical cliffs, rather than people take on the job of vegetation control. 

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd...

A number of people mentioned to me today that they had seen goats on the cliff in front of the Highcliff Hotel here in Bournemouth. So I had a look and there they were: three billy goats presumably there to clear the vegetation. If made me feel right at home! 

I've arrived!

 Well, here I am, in Bournemouth, enjoying the sunny weather and meeting people I haven't seen for ages. There are however lots of people here at Lib Dem conference I don't recognise. Assuming I can get the hotel WiFi to work (don't count on it) I will keep posting from Bournemouth throughout conference. In the meantime I need to head to the rally. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Heading to conference

It's that time of year when bags are packed, train tickets are booked and we head to a town or city with a large conference centre. Yes, it's Lib Dem autumn conference and this year it is back in Bournemouth. It is however the first in person autumn conference since 2019 with covid and the passing of the Queen having cancelled the recent annual gatherings . So it will feel a bit strange meeting up with people we haven't seen for 4 years. Meanwhile, I have a 6 hour train journey ahead of me so I am armed with lots of BBC History magazines and a book on medicines in the Roman Empire to keep me occupied. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

2 motions for debate

 Full council tomorrow in Gateshead and there are two motions from the Lib Dem group. 

The first is about flytipping and reads:

Gateshead Council congratulates Durham County Council on their tough stance on fly tipping by issuing nearly one thousand fines in 2021/22. Council notes that in the same period Gateshead Council issued one fine. Council calls on the Chief Executive to write to the Chief Executive of Durham County Council to invite him to send an appropriate officer to conduct a Gateshead members’ seminar to explain to members and officers how their success was achieved.

The second (which will be moved by me) reads:

This Council calls on the Chief Executive to draw up a proposed amendment to the Council constitution that would allow the submission of amendments and motions to full Council by email. This change should be ready to be incorporated into the next review of the Constitution.

Labour have submitted a wrecking amendment to the first motion but a not-unfriendly amendment to the second. Should mean an interesting debate.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Booked for regional conference

I've just signed up for the 2nd conference of the autumn. Northern Region Liberal Democrats will be meeting for the AGM on Saturday 4th November at the Little Theatre in Saltwell, Gateshead. It's four years since we last met in person, having switched to online conferences because of covid. No motions are on the agenda yet as the period for submitting them has just opened. The Little Theatre is in Saltwell, scene of one of our gains from Labour in the local elections in May. That on its own is worth attending conference to celebrate.

The other conference is the party's national conference in Bournemouth starting in 8 days. This time next week I shall be on a train heading south, hopefully in better weather than we have at the moment.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Rejoining by stealth?

I thought one of the main reasons for Brexit was to free ourselves from all those European institutions, whatever the cost. The announcement by the current Brexit government that the UK will rejoin the Horizon Europe programme must be a source of concern for those who thought withdrawing from the EU was a great idea. All those Brexiteers must be fuming that a fundamental plank of Leave has been tossed onto the fire. Being part of Horizon is strategically crucial for UK science and it is clearly in the national interest to be part of it. So, for once, let me congratulate Brexit-backing Prime Minister Sunak on his U-turn.

Other government decisions must also be upsetting Leavers. We were promised control of our borders but we have an internal border between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland. No matter how much the Windsor Agreement improves the flow of goods and people, Brexiteers must feel a sense of betrayal that control of our border with Ireland rests with the EU. And don't forget the government's failure to take control of all of our borders in relation to goods coming into the country from the EU. While Europe has implemented border checks, the UK still enjoys the free movement of goods into the country, very much against what was promised in the referendum.

We await, of course, the benefits of Brexit to arrive. In their current absence, Leavers must be worrying that Horizon, Windsor and movement of goods without checks show Britain is rejoining the EU by stealth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 128

 Team Low Fell are still hard at it with their latest eFocus. In edition 128, they cover the following issues:

  • Sunday's flooding
  • Bus shelter on Durham Road replaced
  • Ward boundary changes - have your say
  • Lorton Road trees

You can read eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Dinner time

Gateshead Liberal Democrats have never before had an annual dinner. That is now changing. On Monday 16th October, we will be sitting down to dinner in Rosa Twelve in Low Fell. Guest speaker is Simon Hughes. I will be attending and I've just carried out the most significant job of today: choosing starter, main course and dessert!

In the olden days, when I worked for the Lib Dems, I once prepared a briefing for Simon for a meeting at conference. He got the briefing in the morning and attended the meeting in the evening, having completely memorised it. He missed nothing out and spoke without notes. Very impressive!

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Back up plan


Last week, someone managed to back their car into the frontage of Stewart Eyecare in Whickham. Fortunately no one was injured and the business continues to operate, despite the boarded up windows. I had my eyes tested there yesterday. New glasses should be with me shortly. In the meantime, hopefully the glass panels will be replacing the chipboard soon.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

I think you are forgetting your past, Martin

On Monday, a post from Martin Gannon, Labour leader of Gateshead Council, dropped into my Facebook feed. He asked:

"Got to ask the question. What part does ATC privatisation play here? Just wondering."

It's an interesting question, given the airline chaos of the day caused by a faulty system that came close to grounding the nation's entire air transport. Martin's reference to ATC (Air Traffic Control) is actually a reference to National Air Traffic Services wholly owned by NATS Holdings. This is a public-private partnership and was proposed by Labour in government in 1998 and implemented in 2001. The public sector retains 49% of the ownership. Though a minority, it is the biggest individual shareholder and the government retains a golden share.

Martin has had a number of political incarnations over the past 40 years I have known him. In the 1980s, he was militant Martin. In the 1990s he could out-Blair Tony Blair. From 2010 to 2015, he at least on the surface was comfortable with Ed Miliband. From 2015, his views on Corbyn were difficult to pin down (in public at least). 

Martin's FB post seems to hint at privatisation being the cause of the problems that blew up on Monday. Given that NATS has been in the private sector for 20 years, privatisation as the cause seems very unlikely. He also overlooks who was responsible for the sell off - his Blairite government of which he was a super fan.

Maybe Martin has a need to shore up his support on Gateshead Council with the left of the Labour party. Attacking privatistion, or at least raising questions about its suitability to operate important infrastrucutre, could bolster his support among those Labour councillors who still pine after Corbyn. Quite what those same councillors think about Martin's pursuit of the privatisation of the management of Gateshead Council's leisure facilities would be interesting to know.


I see the government have announced that, for the fifth time, they have postponed the introduction of border checks on EU goods entering the country. If I were a Brexit supporter (I am not) I would be furious at the government's inaction on the borders. After all, taking control of our borders and Britain deciding what comes into the country was a key promise of Brexit. It is yet another promise of beauties of Brexit that have not materialised since we left the EU.

Sunniside leek show


On Tuesday, Sunniside Social Club held their annual leek show. I didn't enter any of the competitions myself (I don't grow show leeks) though some of the people there suggested to me I should give it a go next year!

Well done to all those who did enter the competitions and especially to those who won.

Let me eat cake


A craft fair was held at Marley Hill Community Centre on Saturday and I popped in, hoping that there would be plenty of cake makers. I found only one as I toured the stalls. But that was sufficient. A large piece of lemon drizzle cake was purchased. Obviously I wasn't being self-sufficient when I bought the cake but we are happy to support local bakers and crafts people.

On a general point, I try to visit as many of the community events in my ward as possible. It is a useful way to keep in touch with people, and pick up issues - as I did on Saturday!

Friday, August 25, 2023

A familiar style


Beamish, only a few km from my house, opened the police houses in the 1950s area of the museum in June. During our honeymoon week, David and I visited the new attractions at Beamish. The police houses are built in a very familiar. There are thousands of council houses in Gateshead built to a similar architectural appearance. Police houses have largely disappeared over the past few years though I do remember them in Lobley Hill and Streetgate.

There's much more to come in the 1950s section of the museum. I'm particularly looking forward to the cinema and the rebuilding of the postwar prefabricated houses that were carefully removed from Kibblesworth a decade ago.

The video takes you on a journey through the police houses and you get to see what for some of us is familiar postwar and 1950s furniture, some of which I was still using until about 20 years ago.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

What history taught me about self-sufficiency


I have another speaking engagement, this time in September. I will be speaking about what history taught me about self-sufficiency to Sunniside History Society. A combination of two interests close to my heart - history and sustainable living, Come along if you are interested.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Booked for conference


A few weeks ago I took the decision to attend Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. Last year I had my conference pass, transport and hotel booked when the passing of the Queen put an end to the annual gathering (it was meant to be in Brighton). Before that, covid had ensured conference didn't happen in 2020 and 2021. So I am now booked up for Bournemouth. Travelling there will be something of a drag as it will take hours to get from Newcastle to the south coast. I may split the journey by travelling to London, fit in a museum visit, and then head on to Bournemouth. The hotel cost came as something of a shock! However, since we haven't been on holiday for 8 years (try finding someone to look after a farm for a week!) the holiday budget is in something of a surplus, so I won't be sleeping out on a camp bed on the beach!

I've had a quick look through the agenda and found a motion on food and farming. I may put in to speak! I haven't read the other motions yet. That's something to do over the next 4 weeks.

So, I'm looking forward to meeting up in person with friends I haven't seen for a few years. Let's hope they still remember who I am!

Tell Keir

I spotted an article this morning on the Journal website about the deficit that councils are facing. The national figure was a shortfall of £5 billion by 2025/26. The figure for Gateshead was £45.9 million. This is not an unfamiliar figure on the council as the state of the finances of the authority are regularly discussed by councillors. The ruling Labour side blame the Lib Dems in coalition for every problem the borough endures but the Labour blame game could unravel if Labour win the next general election. They have already made clear there will be no additional spending. As with so many issues, a Labour government after the next general election will be a change in management, but not a change is direction. Perhaps Labour in Gateshead need to tell Keir that the country needs more than a watered down Conservative party in power.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Opening King Arthur's garden


The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside has a new area - King Arthur's garden. It was opened by the Mayor, Cllr Eileen McMaster, on 29th July. The video covered the opening ceremony.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Wilko worries


We have 2 Wilko stores in Gateshead, one at the Interchange, the other at the Metrocentre. Both are substantial in size and lots of residents work in them. The announcement yesterday that Wilko have gone into administration is worrying for both the staff and the local economy. Let's hope the company is able to find a buyer though that does not guarantee stores will remain open.

Wilko's store is the biggest in the Interchange Centre and its closure will be a significant blow to the viability of this location. I am not someone who visits any shops regularly but I did sometime use Gateshead Wilko to buy an eclectic mix of goods, from hardware to beer making kits. The loppers pictured above came from that store a few years ago. Ironically, as the news of the company going into administration was released yesterday, my trusty Wilko loppers disintegrated while chopping fuel for our stove.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

History Society meeting

 Last night I chaired the monthly meeting of Sunniside History Society in Sunniside Social Club. An interesting meeting that included a video produced about 20 years ago by the Society of Bronte country. The next meeting on 6th September is the AGM followed by a talk by me about what history taught me about self-sufficiency. The meeting starts at 7pm. £1 for members, £2 for non-members.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 127

 Team Low Fell have just published their latest eFocus, no. 127. Issues covered include:

  • Council backs down on Valley Drive;
  • Trees on Dryden Road;
  • New bus shelter on Durham Road;
  • Chowdene Bank cut back
  • Albert Drive lighting.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

I do


On Saturday 15th July David and I got married. Thanks to the change is the law that was guided through Parliament by the then Lib Dem Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone, same sex marriage could take place from 2014. After 38 years of knowing each other, we decided to tie the knot. Apart from the rain just before the wedding, everything went to plan. Gateshead Registry Office did a great job and Sunniside Social Club did a grand job of hosting the reception. Samantha Cheeseman of Saltmarsh Catering in Dunston did a fantastic job of putting together a buffet that included produce from our farm.

We had a "honeymoon at home" over the past week. We are took busy on the farm to go away, especially with the recent birth of 5 goat kids, all of which we are hand feeding. We did however have some day trips, going to Beamish, Newcastle keep, the Baltic Art Gallery and Marsden.

Thanks for all the good wishes people have sent and thanks to the 100 guests who came along to the reception.

Northern Pride


I was in Newcastle yesterday for the Northern Pride parade. Gateshead Lib Dem councillors on the parade in addition to myself were Leanne Brand, Amanda Wintcher, Ron Beadle and Vicky Anderson. Sadly the rain also joined the procession which led to the event on the Town Moor being cancelled. Nevertheless, Pride is something we continue to need. Look at some countries such as Uganda, Malaysia and Russia and the repression and hostility to the LGBT community is horrifying.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Regional conference

In my in box yesterday was an email from the North East Lib Dems. I've just got round to opening it now. It's about the forthcoming North East Lib Dem regional conference and it is being held in Gateshead on 4th November. More specifically, it is to be held in the Little Theatre (hopefully not too small!) which is on the border between Lib Dem held Low Fell and Saltwell, gained by the Lib Dems from Labour in May. A good venue to celebrate! The agenda is not ready yet so we await the motions that will be debated.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 126

 The Low Fell Focus Team have been hard at work as usual and their latest eFocus newsletter was published last week. Issues covered include:

  • Gateshead Leisure Centre to close on July 21st;
  • Consultation on walking and cycling lanes;
  • St Helen's Church Fayre;
  • Shoplifting in Low Fell;
  • Lyndhurst Bowling Club grant success;
  • Low Fell Volunteer Gardeners thank Sainsbury's.

You can read eFocus on this link.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

The icing on the cake


David and I will get married on Saturday. My sister Esther has made the cake. She sent me this photo of it. The icing is on but the decoration is still to be done. I am banned from seeing it until we get to the reception!

Suits you, Sir


It has been nearly 15 years since I last bought a suit. I had 6 months' wear out of it before I moved on from my office based job in Lib Dem HQ to the world of self-sufficiency. Since then, the suit only came out of the wardrobe when there is a full council meeting in Gateshead or I have to attend a funeral or wedding. The suit is now showing 15 years of wear and tear and a modestly expanded waistline has not helped! So off to Marks and Spencer I went. A new shirt and a suit were acquired.

36 years ago, at the age of 23, I was elected to Gateshead for the first time. I remember fitting into my shirts which were all 15 inch collars. I then took up swimming as a hobby and had to replace all my shirts as my collar size had grown to 18 inches! It has stayed at that size for the past 30 years. Alas, my waistline has gone from 30 inches in 1987 to 36 inches now. 

The point about this is that a new suit was needed not just to replace my Worzel Gummidge style tatters of a suit, but because my wedding is coming up and I guess I need to look presentable rather than having the appearance of a sack of potatoes! Hopefully, this new suit will last me another decade and a half.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The History of Chase Park


Tonight the Suniside History Society will enjoy a talk about the history of Chase Park in Whickham. The speaker is Richard Pears who has spoken to the Society on a number of occasions. The talk kicks off at 7pm in Sunniside Club.

The park has seen some controversy recently when Gateshead Labour Council decided to flog off the stable block and the main park entrance to developers. Labour cabinet member for housing, John Adams, claimed the areas to be used for new executive housing are not in the park but are "adjacent" to it! Labour Leader Martin Gannon repeated the same absurd claim. 

Perhaps both would care to come along to the talk tonight. It would be an opportunity for each to learn something about the park before they each next open their mouth on the issue.

Friday, June 30, 2023

The mini Margaret Thatcher of Gateshead Council


The future of leisure centres in Gateshead has been a hot topic for over a year. A consultation was launched in October 2022 which included proposed closures and plans to privatise the management of any remaining facilities. The two most threatened centres also happened to be in the most marginal Labour held wards in Gateshead (Birtley and Saltwell). I think it is fair to say that Labour went into panic mode as the end of the consultation approached in January. The result of this was a last minute change of plan at the all-Labour cabinet which delayed the end of the consultation to 8th May, 3 days after the local elections! The cost of that was £600,000.

If Labour thought they could avoid defeat by delay, they were mistaken. They lost both Birtley and Saltwell to the Lib Dems.

The cabinet member responsible for leisure services is Angela Douglas. The plans for closures and privatisation belong to her. She has presided over a failure to make the facilities self-financing. Cllr Douglas has been rather quiet about the leisure facilities. When the report came to the cabinet in January she had nothing to say, despite the two hour debate that took place. At the budget meeting there was an amendment from the Lib Dems calling for reserves to be used to keep the facilities open while their future was sorted. She made no contribution to the debate despite being the responsible portfolio holder.

The people of Gateshead have every right to ask, "What is the point of Cllr Douglas and what do the people get for the £16K she is paid in addition to her councillor allowance?"

Fortunately her vow of silence came to an end in June at the cabinet meeting that considered again the closure of two facilities and to seek private sector providers to take on the running of what's left. Cllr Douglas in her speech to cabinet decided to blame the Liberal Democrats for the closures and the current state of the centres!

This is somewhat rich coming from Gateshead Labour - they have run the council for nearly 50 years (or should that be "they have run the council into the ground for nearly 50 years?") Given  the privatisation agenda of Cllr Douglas, the mini-Margaret Thatcher of Gateshead Council, she should be the last person making such comments!

There is one hopeful element to this saga. There are possible community asset transfers that could result in the voluntary sector taking on Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre. Nevertheless, the two centres will have to close on the day the school summer holidays begin, stripping Birtley and Gateshead Centres of vital income as well as denying local communities access to important leisure facilities when the kids are out of school. If they were to reopen in the voluntary sector, much of their customer base is likely to have gone elsewhere, helping to fatten up the facilities where Cllr Douglas is looking to privatise the management. But that's market forces for you. Margaret Thatcher would have been proud of her mini.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Second fire


I took this photo on my farm yesterday afternoon. Note the plume of smoke on the horizon. The second big fire in a disused building in Newcastle in a month, both times visible from my farm. From what I understand, there is still some disruption to anyone using the central motorway or wanting to travel into central Newcastle.

Name that constituency!

Here's the good news. The Boundary Commission have announced their final boundaries and names for new Parliamentary constituencies and the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency has survived attempts by Gateshead Labour to remove "Whickham" from the name. The new constituency contains 4 strong Lib Dem wards (Whickham North, Whickham South and Sunniside, Dunston Hill and Whickham East and Low Fell). In addition, it contains Saltwell, won by the Lib Dems from Labour in May though the majority is narrow. The inclusion of the name "Whickham" recognises the importance of the biggest town in Gateshead outside the inner core. It also puts into play the notion that the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency is one in which Labour are the lead party but the Lib Dems are the challengers. No wonder Labour wanted to expunge "Whickham" from the name! An interesting battle lies ahead.

It wasn't all good news however. Labour won the battle to keep the name of Birtley out of the new constituency covering the town. Instead of Washington and Birtley, which we argued for, Labour won the battle to ban Birtley from the name. Instead, it will be called Washington and Gateshead South. It was a similar story with Jarrow and Gateshead East. We argued that the Gateshead East area was effectively Felling town and this should be recognised in the name of the new constituency. Labour's anti-Felling campaign worked, and the initial name of Jarrow and Gateshead East remains in place.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Almost done


Our current Focus for Whickham South and Sunniside is now delivered to 80% of the households in the ward. Yesterday I headed out to do a mopping up operation - finishing a couple of patches in Sunniside. Good weather for it - sunny but with a refreshing breeze. Not so today. Cooler and a bit of rain. Looks like delivery will be tomorrow instead.

Village surgeries


My two ward colleagues - Councillors Jonathan Mohammed and Marilynn Ord - recently held two village surgeries in Byermoor and Marley Hill. This is an alternative to the usual surgeries normally held in a publicly accessible building. The aim is to had a series of village surgeries throughout the ward. So we set up in the circle in Byermoor (see above photo) and afterwards moved on to the bottom of Cuthberts Street in Marley Hill (see photo below).

The surgeries also gave us the opportunity to check out the state of the play equipment in Byermoor and Marley Hill parks. We are awaiting a final decision on the replacement equipment in Byermoor as all the equipment there is condemned.