Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The big day is getting closer

Our big day is approaching. Saturday 15th July is the day of our wedding, when David and I get hitched. The registry office in Gateshead is booked, my sister Esther is doing the cake, my brother Matthew is doing the photos, Sunniside Social Club is booked for the reception, the caterers are booked. There will be no stag do or honeymoon (unless we can take all our animals with us!) The biggest expense was the rings. They are now ready and at some point will be passed on to the best man - Ron Beadle. All we have to wait for now are responses to the invites. So if you have been invited and you are yet to RSVP, you are about to be sent a reminder!

Finally, this will be the first same sex marriage ever for a Gateshead Councillor. Something to celebrate!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Jump before he is pushed

I'm not sure many people will be shedding a tear over the announcement by Dominic Raab that he will be retiring as an MP at the next general election. His conduct in government has not been above reproach. His recent forced resignation from government is a good example of this. Yet I can't help but think that the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Lib Dems at the forthcoming general election has been a deciding factor in Raab's decision to jump overboard from the sinking Tory ship. He has a majority of only 2743, (4.4%). It is a top target for the Lib Dems. I guess Lib Dem campaigners will currently be saying. "General election? Bring it on!"

Taking their seats


Annual council meeting last Thursday and I was delighted to see Leanne Brand and Paul Elliott taking their seats on the Council. Leanne took Saltwell from Labour with a majority of 58 votes, making it the most marginal ward in Gateshead. Saltwell, as far as we know, has been Labour since the 1930s. Paul gained Birtley with a more comfortable majority of 456. The ward has been mainly Labour for decades but with the occasional appearance of an independent "Liberal".

Photo above: Leanne and Paul in their seats in the council chamber. Below, Lib Dem Leader Cllr Ron Beadle welcomes Leanne and Paul to Gateshead Civic Centre.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Going down!

Gateshead Council tenants' satisfaction rating has gone over the cliff, according to a report considered at the recent scrutiny committee that covers housing. The drop is staggering. In 2015, the rating stood at 88.5%. Now it has crashed to just 44%. The survey of 1086 tenants reveals that people are not happy with repairs, anti-social behaviour, street repairs and cleaning.

Gateshead Labour are normally quick off the blocks to blame everyone but themselves for anything that is not good news, despite their 50 years continuously in office in the borough. Expect the usual - blame the Lib Dems in Coalition for everything that is bad. They may have a problem however. The satisfaction rating at the end of the Coalition was stratospheric. Clearly tenants were happier then than now.

Oddly, however, Labour have been rather quiet about this bad news story. Maybe they are busy licking their wounds after their poor performance in the local elections in Gateshead earlier this month. So I thought I would do a hunt around to see if there has been any response from Gateshead Labour to their poor performance on tenant satisfaction. Where better to start than Cllr John Adams? He is, after all, cabinet member for housing!

I looked at his Twitter account and discovered Cllr Adams had time to tell the world his views, hopes and ambitions for the Eurovision Song Contest. Alas, nothing about the poor tenant satisfaction rating, even though he is responsible for housing in the cabinet.

Perhaps Cllr Adams, who was a former special adviser to the Blair government, may wish to enlighten us to his views as to why, under his management, tenants are much less happy with the service than when the Coalition was in power!

Friday, May 12, 2023

The record breakers of Gateshead

 So, the local elections in Gateshead are over and we've all had time to compare the size of our votes/majorities etc. So here are a few of the record breakers:

  • Labour's biggest vote was in Ryton, Crookhill and Stella where Alex Geddes took 1545 votes.
  • The Conservatives' biggest vote was in Winlaton and High Spen with Lewis Ormston on 642 votes. (In some wards that would have put them within shouting distance of victory but not here. Labour held on with 1441 votes.)
  • The biggest Lib Dem vote (and biggest vote for any candidate) was in Low Fell where Ron Beadle was re-elected with 1836 votes (beating me by 7 votes!)
  • The largest share of the vote went to Labour in High Fell with 72.9% and for good measure, the winning candidate, Kathryn Walker, got the biggest majority - 1309.
  • The biggest Lib Dem majority went to, ahem, Jonathan Wallace in Whickham South and Sunniside, where the lead over Labour was 1167.
  • The Greens got their biggest vote in their one target seat of Crawcrook and Greenside where Jack Philipson notched up 1017 votes. He was just 357 votes behind Labour so the ward remains in contention for a Green gain in the future if they maintain their activity in the ward.

Re-elected: group elections

We had our group annual meeting on Tuesday. Attendance was modestly bigger than previously, following the election of Leanne Brand in Saltwell and Paul Elliott in Birtley (both gains from Labour). Ron Beadle was re-elected Leader and therefore Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council. Chris Ord was re-elected Deputy Leader. Sonya Hawkins was re-elected Secretary and Daniel Duggan was re-elected Group Chair. I was re-elected media officer.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Video - election eve, polling day, the count and a hospital visit


I filmed this last week on Wednesday to Friday, from the last full day of campaigning in the local elections to the count on Friday. It also includes my failure to predict the Lib Dem gain in Saltwell and my visit to the A&E at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead at 2am, 4 hours after the polls closed! Most of the video is set in Birtley where I managed the campaign that saw a Lib Dem gain from Labour. There's a bit at the Sunderland count and then the Gateshead count.

2nd in the new Gateshead and Whickham Parliamentary constituency


There will be new constituencies at the next general election, whenever it comes. Gateshead Lib Dems have added up the votes cast for each party in the new Gateshead and Whickham constituency. The resulting graph is above. The new constituency has joined the three strongly Lib Dem Whickham wards to equally strongly Lib Dem Low Fell ward. We can now add into the melting pot Saltwell ward where we won for the first time last week. There are of course strong Labour wards in the new constituency but as we've shown with Saltwell, safe Labour wards can go Lib Dem.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Coronation event at the Whinnies


The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside held a coronation celebration day yesterday. I popped in for a few minutes. I'm pleased to report that despite the best efforts of the weather to drive people away, they were still turning up to enjoy the event.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Talking about coronations


Late last year I agreed to give a talk to Sunniside History Society about coronations from the past 1000 years. The offer was made before we knew the date of the coronation and the plan was that the talk would be given on the first Wednesday of the month immediately before the coronation itself was held. Alas, the coronation ended up being just after the local elections, and that meant I was out of circulation for campaigning on the eve of polling day!

Despite not having time to rehearse the talk, it was well received. The first coronation we looked at was that of William I. As Conqueror he led a brutal occupation. On the day of his coronation 25th December 1066 (he was declared King in the morning) while the ceremony was being held in Westminster Abbey, his guards outside the building thought there was an insurrection and burnt down nearby homes. The result was an Abbey full of smoke with many of those at the ceremony fleeing in fear. It was not a good start.

The coronation of Richard I (the Lionheart) was one of those dark spots in our nation's history when members of the Jewish community arrived to offer gifts to their king but ended up being beaten and flogged.

In 1216, with part of England under French occupation and a civil war underway, 9 year old Henry III was hurriedly crowned king on his father, King John's death. Neither the Archbishop of York or of Canterbury were available to carry out the service and the crown was missing (either lost in The Wash by John or sold off during the civil war). Instead, they crowned him with a gold corolla belonging to his mother Isabella. The Barons began to shift their support back to him and the French left.

We looked at a number of other coronations but the most interesting one was that of George IV. It was the most expensive and extravagant coronation ever (it cost 20 times that of his father 60 years previously) and the most noticeable event at it was the refusal to allow Caroline of Brunswick to attend. As George's wife she was Queen but George and the government were determined not to let her into the Abbey to be crowned. George and Caroline had been separated for years but the marriage was never annulled. Caroline died 2 weeks later.

The next talk I am giving is about photos from the Francis Newman collection. See the slide below for more information.

Low Fell eFocus no. 123

The Lib Dem Focus Team in Low Fell, Gateshead, have already published their first eFocus since the local elections last week. It is entirely about the result of the contest in Low Fell. You can read eFocus in this link.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The surprise win

In the local elections, we had 2 targets for gains in Gateshead - Birtley and Saltwell. I managed the Birtley campaign and Ron Beadle managed the Saltwell campaign. Ron had the more demanding job for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Labour majority was bigger (213); secondly  the Labour fightback began last year rather than being last minute, and thirdly Labour's candidate (and defending councillor) was an improvement on last year.

My involvement in the Saltwell campaign was limited because I was running Birtley (and my own ward campaign in Whickham South and Sunniside). I therefore had no feel for what was happening on the ground though in our campaign meetings we had regular updates on how campaigns were going on the ground. Given Labour's lead in the polls nationally, a presentable Labour candidate and a history of the ward never before returning anything other than Labour councillors, I was less optimistic about Saltwell. I arrived at the count expecting a Labour hold.

The 2nd last ward to complete its count was mine! Over half the electors in my ward are postal voters and we have a relatively high turnout. Even with 2 more staff to count the votes in my ward, it was 2nd last to declare. Only my ward colleagues Marilynn Ord and Jonathan Mohammed were there for the declaration. Everyone else in the hall was at the Saltwell count. With my result declared, I headed over to the chief exec to sign the necessary papers. As I was doing so I head a huge roar. I turned to see lots of people with yellow rosettes jumping up and down. I hurriedly finished signing the papers and hurried over to the Saltwell count. Lib Dem Leanne Brand had won with a majority of 58.

So 2 gains in Gateshead, bringing out total to 17, facing 49 Labour councillors.

Finally, I am saddened for the defeated Labour Councillor, Robert Waugh, who is the current deputy mayor. He has always treated me with courtesy and politeness. He is still in his 20s so there is time for a comeback, though possibly not in Saltwell.

Winning Birtley


Winning Birtley in the local elections last week was the culmination of a number of years of campaigning with our candidate - and now councillor - Paul Elliott. I was the campaign manager and we started the election campaign facing a Labour majority of 78 from last year. Birtley has been Labour for decades though there is a now distant history of the ward electing an independent Liberal. She lost her seat in 2012 and attempted come backs came to nothing.

As the most marginal ward last year, my concern was that the national poll ratings would boost Labour's local vote. All the feedback during the campaign however showed we were doing well. We were assisted by a rather lacklustre Labour campaign which woke up to the threat from us only after the postal votes had gone out (and typically about two thirds of those voting in local elections in Gateshead are postal voters). By then it was too late for Labour to turn around the situation.

So when we arrived at the count we were confident that Paul would win and my expectation was of a majority of about 150. So a majority of 456 was a pleasant surprise.

Labour's losing councillor was Catherine Davison. In many ways I'm sorry she is no longer a member of the council. While our politics may differ, she has always been friendly, pleasant and approachable. Sadly, when you have winners, you also have losers. I wish Catherine all the best for the future.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Bunting, invasion of the lambs and visiting A&E - photos from polling day


I was in Birtley for most of polling day. The bunting was already up for the coronation.

Some jobs still have to be done, elections or not. In the afternoon I returned to our farm to milk Penelope, one of our goats, only to have the milking area invaded by a ewe and 4 lambs.

Curly the ewe steals Penelope's lunch.

Back in my home village of Sunniside and I spotted that someone has decorated the lampposts.
Sunniside Church was joining in the bunting as well.

After returning to Birtley for more campaigning, I headed back home to lock up the poultry. Alas, Columbus, our Columbine cockerel objected to being picked up and put in the henhouse. In retaliating, he attacked me and sank one of his spurs into the back of my hand. After a shower to clean myself up, I headed to the Sunderland election counts but I stayed for less than an hour. My hand was swelling up and becoming very painful. I headed back home and when I got back, we decided I needed to go to the A&E at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

I was seen quite quickly by a doctor who said he had never had to deal with a cockerel injury before. He said that I was very sensible for coming in to have the wound treated. He described it as like being stabbed by a very dirty knife. He cleaned the wound and I got a tetanus injection and a course of antibiotics to take over the following few days. We were home by 3am, just in time to see the Tories in meltdown reported on Sky News.

The photo above was taken at the QEH when I was in pain!

I'm back

It seems the good people of Whickham South and Sunniside are not yet ready to ditch me as their councillor. On Thursday they re-elected me with 64% of the vote. Thank you to all 1829 people who voted for me and commiserations to my opposing candidates. This term of office is for only 3 years, not the usual 4, as we have boundary changes and all out elections in 2026, by which time I will have done 39 years on Gateshead Council.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Not happy

I have been reliably informed that the Conservatives used a commercial delivery company to distribute their election leaflet in Winlaton and High Spen ward of Gateshead Council. That's not the interesting point. Rather, the response the leafletters have been getting from residents has not been positive with many turned away from people's homes. It seems that the good people of the ward are not as happy with the Conservatives as they used to be. The ward is the only one in Gateshead where the Conservatives had put in any effort and in recent years stood a chance (not a big chance) of taking the seat from Labour, winning their first representation on the council in 31 years. It looks like the Conservatives' hopes have evaporated, leaving Gateshead to continue as a Tory free zone for another year.

Grist to the mill


I have been so busy over the past 4 weeks (lambing and political campaigning) that I haven't had a chance to write about the local elections here in Gateshead. So, with a few minutes to spare before I have to print another leaflet, here is a bit of catch up. And first up is the Labour candidate against me in Whickham South and Sunniside.

Sam Grist works for Liz Twist, MP for Blaydon. I am reminded of the Labour election attacks on me 20 years ago for working in politics! But we won't let a bit of Labour hypocrisy get in the way of wishing Sam all the best with the election campaign and I am looking forward to meeting him for the first time at the count on Friday.

Sam has something of an interesting background. A quick search of Linkedin reveals that Sam has a long history of working for Labour. This quote caught my attention:

"Having helped with bespoke correspondence for The Leader Of The Opposition, I went on to take a lead on several different correspondence based projects."

This was dated Feb 2016 to Dec 2018. And who was Leader of the Opposition at the time? None other than Jeremy Corbyn! I didn't see any reference to that in his leaflet!

Another quick search revealed Sam's history of standing in local elections goes beyond the borders of Gateshead. He was also a Labour candidate in the local elections in 2021 and 2022 in Newcastle. I haven't looked any further back in time but hopefully his record of standing and not winning continues south of the Tyne! 

See you on Friday Sam!