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.