Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Waldorf and Statler of Gateshead Council


Now that I am retired from the role of Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead, I thought I would invite Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon to join me on the backbenches. I am reliably informed that he had quite a torrid time at Labour group last week, which was accompanied by lots of shouting and defeat for the plans to close leisure centres. Martin became Leader in 2016 after a palace coup that saw former Leader Mick Henry sent into the political desert. Martin led the rebellion against the proposed devolution plans back then, plans to which Mick had put his signature. Oddly enough, the 7 councils in the North East, including Gateshead, are backing new devolution plans which look like a clone of what Martin defeated back in 2016.

We are hearing murmurings of dissatisfaction from within Labour and suggestions that rivals are circling. Time to go Martin? Come and join me on the backbenches where we could both become grumpy old men heckling the front benches. We could be the Waldorf and Statler of Gateshead Council!

17th Century Newcastle


Sunniside History Society will be meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 1st February at Sunniside Club. Jo Bath will be talking about 17th Century Newcastle. Members £1, visitors £2. All welcome.

eFocus Whickham edition 179

 Just published tonight - edition 179 of eFocus for the Whickham area. Issues covered include the delayed decision on leisure centre closures, council budget, Metro service suspension and my retirement as Lib Dem group leader. You can read eFocus on this link.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Carbon copy?


Earlier this month, Gateshead Council's all-Labour cabinet debated the recently announced devolution proposals for the North East at a specially convened meeting. Actually, "debated" is probably too strong a word to use. Leader of the Council Martin Gannon said a few words and Cllr John McElroy asked a question about consultation. But all the other Cabinet members remained silent.

Seven years ago the North East looked set to go ahead with a devolution settlement.  The seven council leaders accepted it but before long, Gateshead was walking away. For a while, it looked as though Gateshead was going to be the hole in the North East devolution Polo mint. A palace coup by Labour saw the then Gateshead Leader Mick Henry leaving his post and his old rival Martin Gannon seizing the position for himself. The devolution settlement fell apart completely when the Labour run authorities in Sunderland, South Tyneside and Co Durham joined Gateshead is withdrawing from the agreement. Labour divisions and bitter infighting in the North East meant the region went to the back of the queue for devolution and whatever resources go with it. Meanwhile, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland went for a Mini-Me version of devolution and had the misfortune of seeing Jamie Driscoll elected as the first mayor.

Back to the recent cabinet meeting and I asked what the difference was between the 2016 and 2023 versions of devolution. In my view the current version is a near carbon copy of what was previously on offer. A rather rambling reply came from Martin Gannon who mentioned something about transport funding in 2019. I called it 7 wasted years, a point reported by the local media.

I caught the whole of the meeting on video. Judge for yourself whether what's on offer is what we were previously offered or is something new.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

London trip cancelled

I had planned to be in London today (Sunday), returning on Tuesday. The intention was to go to the Lib Dem History Group at the National Liberal Club on Monday and visit a few museums as well. Alas, the best laid plans have a tendency to crash and burn. My time is needed on the farm. We are planning to buy some new milking goats in February and we need to build a milking shed. None of our other goats are milking at the moment and in the autumn we converted our milking shed into a henhouse as avian flu restrictions require all poultry to be caged. The new milking goats are a bit unplanned but the need to build a new shed outbids the desire to get to London, sadly.

New at the Whinnies


The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside are building a new meeting room and I was given an exclusive view of it recently. It's not finished yet but it will be ready for the reopening of the garden in April. Community groups wanting to use the room can contact the Whinnies via their Facebook page.

Thursday, January 26, 2023


It was my last meeting as Leader of the Lib Dem group and Opposition in Gateshead today. Full council and my last duty was to move a Lib Dem motion on aiming to use surplus fruit from old orchards and people's gardens. The new Leader is Low Fell Councillor Ron Beadle. Taking over from Ron as Deputy Leader is Whickham North Councillor Chris Ord. I am of course remaining as Councillor subject of course to my constituents continuing to vote for me.

I'm not retiring as such. I gave up the leadership so that I can refocus on my farm, spend more time on ward issues and get more involved in local history. So, lots to do. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Don't keep us waiting!

There was an unusual incident at the last Gateshead Council cabinet meeting in December. Lib Dem Deputy Leader Ron Beadle put forward a proposal for council tenants to have more control over housing repairs. My experience of Labour in Gateshead is that they normally reject any ideas or proposals we put forward. This time however, Cabinet member for housing, and former special adviser to the Blair government, John Adams, welcomed Ron's proposal as a good idea worth exploring further. The Lib Dems are ready to return the compliment. All we need to do is wait for Cllr Adams to put forward a good idea himself. So come on John, don't keep us waiting!

Monday, January 09, 2023

That's me, over and out

Today I announced my retirement as Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council. It will take effect from the end of the full council meeting on Thursday 26th January. The group will choose our new leader on Monday 23rd January. I have been leader for 8 years but following the deaths of my brother Andrew and my closest friend Richard, I have had to look afresh at where I am with my own life. Andrew was 59 when he died. Richard was only 49. I had been Richard's carer for many years. Both passed away at relatively young ages.

I was first elected to Gateshead Council 36 years ago and many plans I had for my life were shelved. While some of them have since been dusted down and put into operation - especially our self-sufficiency project - many of our projects either still sit on the shelf or are running at half speed. Andrew and Richard have shown me that time is running out for me to clear the shelf and get all the things I wanted done. So, I am retiring as group leader though I intend remaining as councillor for Whickham South and Sunniside until such time as my constituents don't want me any more.

Last year we added another 15 acres to our farm. It requires a great deal of work to make it productive. I also have numerous speaking engagements with local organisations about local history, and a long list of local history videos I am planning to produce. And of course, sometime this year I will be getting married. I may be retiring as Leader, but 2023 will still be a very busy year for me.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Invited back


On Friday I was the speaker at Sunniside Church's group to tackle loneliness. I gave my talk about the Roman fort at Washingwell, near Whickham. They liked it so much that they are going to invite me back to do another of my history talks. Meanwhile, my next talk will be given to the Whickham U3A. I will be speaking about how history helped me in my bid to become self-sufficient.

Ringing the bell


Lib Dem Deputy Leader in Gateshead, Ron Beadle (pictured above with his wife Shakun), was yesterday declared cancer free. He was able to ring the bell at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to celebrate the fantastic news. Well done Ron.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Another history talk

My 2nd history talk of the week will be taking place this afternoon, 2.30pm at Sunniside Church. The meeting is for residents who are suffering from loneliness. I will be speaking about the Roman fort at Washingwell, Whickham. I first gave a talk on this issue in October to the Mothers' Union and then a couple of weeks later to Sunniside History Society. Next month I will be speaking to the U3A in Whickham about what history taught me about becoming self-sufficient. Busy times!

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 118

 The latest eFocus from the Low Fell Lib Dem team was published today. Issues covered include:

  • Lib Dems demand budget action to save leisure facilities;
  • Council budget plans target the environment;
  • Tech for beginners;
  • Low Fell Community Pre-School;
  • Dental scans;
  • Lights left on at Dryden Centre.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Another history talk

I have just finished putting together a talk on the Tanfield bridlepath which runs from the Tanfield Steam Railway in Sunniside to the Dunston Staiths. The railway which ran along it serving the local mines closed in 1962. The route however is peppered with history. The railway used a gravity incline system for moving the full coat wagons to the Teams where it was loaded onto ships. The same gravity system returned the empty wagons to the mines.

The talk is at 7pm at Sunniside Club, £1 for Sunniside History Society members, £2 for non members.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Spare change

Happy new year everyone. For Croatia, it is goodbye to the Kuna and hello Euro. Go back a decade and those hostile to the EU and the Euro were predicting the collapse of the Euro because of the Greek crisis. A decade on and the Euro has grown to be a currency in even wider use. No collapse to make the sceptics smile. The pound however has not fared well. We may not be at the historically low level of September when the markets responded to the mad, unfunded tax cuts of the short lived Truss government, but we came close to the event horizon that could have sucked the pound and the economy into a black hole. Back in 2015 when I last visited the USA, the pound bought $1.50. It is now worth $1.20. We are within a zone which could see parity between the pound and dollar. This is hardly an endorsement of British exceptionalism. If the government can't fix the economy, there is a serious danger the pound will be worth less than the dollar. And that will not be good news for the UK.