Monday, July 22, 2024

More photos from Saturday's Northern Pride in Newcastle


Sunday, July 21, 2024

Northern Pride


Yesterday Newcastle hosted Northern Pride and the parade to celebrate diversity started off at Newcastle Civic Centre and ended there as well. I was pleased to see a good turnout from Gateshead Lib Dems. Alas, once the parade through the streets of the city was over, I had to return home - lots to do on the farm.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Poo delay as everything crashes

As I am now officially old, I get offered lots of tests by the NHS. When I arrived at the GP surgery this morning clutching my poo sample in a plastic container, I was told by the receptionist that no samples could be received because of the computer outage. No tests can be carried out. So my sample was deposited into the clinical waste bin and I was given a new kit. Bring a fresh sample next week I was told.

It seems as though we have become dangerously dependent on a small number of providers. When it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong and causes chaos. If there is ever another world war, this is what it will look like. IT collapses and everything grinds to a halt. 

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Our next Focus


The election may be over but we have picked up so many issues recently in Whickham South and Sunniside that we decided to produce an extra edition of Focus. I printed it on Thursday and we started delivery straight away. The lead story (which dictates the timing of this Focus) is the public meeting I am chairing on Thursday about the future of Sunniside Methodist Church. We therefore have until Wednesday to get all 1900 copies delivered.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Back to the 40s


The next meeting of Sunniside History Society will be on Wednesday 7th August at 7pm in Sunniside Club. We will be looking at Britain in the 1940s. So bring your ration book and your national identity card and enjoy an evening exploring the history of the era of Atlee and Churchill, shortages and conscription. All welcome.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Looks fantastic


Oli and Joe's Italian Restaurant took over the former Rising Sun pub in Sunniside, a stone's throw from my house, some years ago. They have recently gone through a refurbishment and the building is looking fantastic. Well done to all concerned. I have a particular fondness for Oli and Joe's in Sunniside. It was where I proposed to David two years ago!

Sunday, July 07, 2024

The blame game

One of the most frequently made claims by Labour in Gateshead Council chamber is that anything that has gone wrong is the fault of the Liberal Democrats. Labour have been in control of Gateshead for 50 years. Indeed, no other party has ever run the authority. Labour base their claim on the Lib Dems being in the coalition government from 2010-15. The coalition ended 9 years ago but "Blame the Lib Dems" is the mantra by which Labour operates.

Given the years of local government austerity that Labour are likely to impose on Gateshead, I can conjure up images of Labour Councillors continuing to claim that the Lib Dems are to blame. The allegation will be along the lines of "Labour have looked at the government accounts and there's no money left. Let's blame the Lib Dems who left office 9 years ago!"

I'm not a betting person but I could be tempted to put a bet on Labour in Gateshead blaming the Lib Dems for Labour austerity at a council meeting in the near future.

Name the lane


A new development in Streetgate, one of the villages in my ward in Gateshead, needed to be named and so last year officers from Highways at the Civic Centre got in touch with myself, Cllr Jonathan Mohammed and Cllr Marilynn Ord to ask for suggestions. We were not impressed by the developer's suggestion "Hornbeam Avenue". We felt this meant nothing to residents.

Instead we proposed a number of alternatives based on the history of Streetgate. Opposite the development is Sorella Sorella restaurant. The building started life in the Victorian period as the "Rose, Shamrock and Thistle" and continued to be called by the same name until the 1990s when it was renamed the "Rose". One of the names for the new development we suggested was "Shamrock Avenue". This was the name that was finaly agreed (though Avenue was dropped in favour of "Lane". The street sign is now in place.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Waiting for Jeremy Hunt

The last constituency result sailed into view this evening when Lib Dem Angus MacDonald took Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire from the SNP. The general election delivered a Lib Dem parliamentary party of 72. My expectation of 40-50 seats for the Lib Dems was way off the mark. My excuse is that we got such a beating in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 elections that we dared not to believe positive news from opinion polls.

My hopes for the Lib Dems in this election were:

  • a significant increase in the number of Lib Dem MPs;
  • recovering the position of the 3rd party in the House of Commons (I refused to entertain the suggestions that the Lib Dems could become the official opposition on the simple grounds that it was a fantasy in this election though the future could be different);
  • we achieve a creditable result in Gateshead Central and Whickham (compared to most other contests in the North East, it was creditable).
I went to the count for Gateshead Central and Whickham at the Gateshead International Stadium. It was quite a relaxed affair and unusually it finished by 1am, instead of the usual 3-4am. It meant I could be home in time to watch most of the results coming in. I made the mistake of deciding to stay up for the declaration of Jeremy Hunt's result. It wasn't until 5am and it was daylight outside when it arrived and it was one of the few disappointments of the night - he survived (just). Off to bed at that point for a 2 hour kip and then I was up again to feed the livestock.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Election campaign: voting for Ron


Seven parties are standing in Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency. As you can see Ron Beadle, Lib Dem group leader in Gateshead and best man to me and David at our wedding last year, is top of the list. He's got my vote which was posted yesterday.

A bit on the other candidates: Rachel Cabral, of the Greens, was their candidate in Bridges in the local elections last month. She managed to avoid any mention of her as a Green in her main leaflet in May, describing herself as "independent".

Labour's Mark Ferguson now has a full understanding of the art of parachuting. It was by this mode of transport that he was able to get the nomination from Labour's National Executive, of which he just happens to be a member. He lives in Chipping Barnet, only 300 miles away. I hope he brought a map with him.

Normal Hall, TUSC, performed creditably at the public meeting last week hosted by the National Association of Headteachers. He is, of course, he only socialist on the ballot paper.

Damian Heslop of Reform was the only Reform candidate in May's local elections in Gateshead. He wasn't invited to the Headteachers' meeting as no one was able to find any contact details.

Nicholas Oliver of the Conservatives deserves credit for flying the Conservative flag in what is an electoral desert for his party. He performed relatively well at the Headteachers' meeting. It's normal for Conservative candidates to be tried and tested in a no hope seat before being offered a safe seat elsewhere. Whether or not any safe seats are left in Conservative hands after 4th July is an interesting talking point.

And finally, Graham Steele of "Save Us Now". This is a political party which claims lampposts are a secret weapon installed by Gateshead Council to kill off large numbers of people in Gateshead. I kid you not! This so-called party is also home to a variety of other conspiracy theories. If you want to see their ludicrous claims, go to their website.

Election campaign: taking the kid to school


Our newest goat, 2 month old Dandelion, joined the campaign trail on Friday when I took her to meet parents outside Clover Hill School in Whickham. Dandelion is already familiar to many residents. She was named by members of local Facebook sites and was seen by many at the recent Chase Park fair. She was quite a hit with both parents and children at Clover Hill. I'm wondering how we can fit her into an Ed Davey stunt!

Planted up


This is the junction of Kingsway and Sunniside Road, Sunniside. As you can see, the hard work of the Planting Up Sunniside volunteers is beginning to show. They have tidied up the site and installed planters. My job was to take all the weeds (a wheelbarrow full) to my compost heap on my allotment, a couple of minutes away.

Election campaign: keep your feet on the ground

I have been involved in 11 general elections since I first became involved with politics 43 years ago. But I have not before witnessed what is happening now. 1983, 1987, 1997, 2001 and 2019 were elections that were predictable landslides. The current election has the same smell to it. But the big difference is the split in the right. This is something I've not experienced before and it is driving the election to a point where extreme outcomes are possible.

Firstly, the likelihood is a record Labour majority and total number of seats but with a share of the vote that years ago would have lost a party a general election. Secondly, the collapse of the Conservative party and the shredding of the number of seats they hold could potentially strip them of their position of one of the two main parties in the Commons. While I think it is unlikely to happen, the fact we are talking about the Conservatives dropping to 3rd place in the Commons is remarkable. Thirdly, the projected outcome for the Lib Dems could see the party for the first time in a century get a share of seats in the Commons that is close to the share of the vote. Fourthly, Reform is to take the Lib Dem crown of the party most under-represented in Parliament because of the first-past-the-post voting system.

The election still has four days to run but time is running out for something to happen that can save the Conservatives. It is unlikely that the cavalry will come to their rescue. The danger for Lib Dems now is that members will turn up to counts of Thursday evening full of hope that seats previously thought beyond our reach will be won. We need to be cautious. To win a constituency, we do not need a high opinion poll rating (though it helps), Instead we need the campaign infrastructure on the ground to deliver election victory. At the start of 2024, I think it is fair to say that our expectations for the general election were less than they are now. With the polls showing we could be winning 70 seats, we may not necessarily have the fully honed grassroots infrastructure needed to deliver victory. So while I enjoy the idea that we could move ahead of the Conservatives and become the official opposition, my prediction is more modest. 40 seats seems to me to be realistic. It gives us a significantly enlarged parliamentary party and gets us back into third place in the Commons.

So, fellow Liberal Democrats, keep your feet on the ground rather than have your head in the clouds. (Though if you are in the clouds, say hello to Ed Davey as he zooms past doing a skydive as part of another stunt!)

Election campaign: backing from the dead

I was only half concentrating this morning when Trevor Phillips was interviewing Nigel Farage on Sky News. I thought I had misheard Farage when he said that Henry Kissinger backed his position on Putin. I was a bit surprised as I was sure Kissinger had died. Sure enough, when I checked, Kissinger had died last year. Is this a case of conscripting the dead to support Farage's admiration for Putin?

The Trumpesque tone of Farage continued when he tried to make out that the filming of a racist party activist was all a conspiracy by the media. When challenged for evidence by Trevor Phillips, Farage explained it was all down to the accent of the activist in question! I kid you not!

And challenged to explain why racists, homophobes and misogynists were attracted to the Reform party, he explained that his party's appeal to to such people was down to the disappearance of the BNP. People of the far right had no other home so were heading to Reform. In effect his party was the natural choice for those with far right views.

That's all the more reason for fearing the collapse of the Conservatives and their replacement by Reform as the main right wing party in Britain.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Election campaign: the impact of Reform UK

The 2024 general election campaign feels, smells and sounds like the election of 1997. Those of us politically active 27 years ago will recall how the campaign had a Labour landside built in to election expectations. The Conservatives were fighting a rearguard action based largely on their MPs trying to save their own skins and hoping the tsunami of anti-Conservative sentiment could be held back in their own constituency.

Other similarities included tactical voting which benefitted Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP.

But there are some significant differences. Firstly, back in 1997, Labour's poll ratings were stratospheric though they were never able to reproduce them fully at the general election. The SNP were beneficiaries of tactical voting but they weren't the dominant force in Scotland they have become. Blair was highly regarded and was a charismatic leader, unlike Starmer who is seen as a safe pair of hands but not a towering leader.

It is the state of the Conservatives that is the biggest difference however. They typically had poll ratings in the high twenties or low thirties. Currently the Conservatives can only dream of such poll ratings. No matter what the share of the Labour vote is in the opinion polls, the Conservatives now remain stubbornly 20% behind. The Conservatives can thank Reform UK for that.

I've been politically active for 43 years but this is the first time I have experienced fractures in the right win vote in the UK. The biggest losers are the Conservatives. A split vote will let in Labour and Lib Dems, depending on which party is the main challenger in the constituencies the Conservatives are defending.

The other loser will be Reform UK whose chances of winning seats is remote. They will be lucky to have 2 or 3. But their longer term plan is materialising: replace the Conservatives as the main right wing party. While the challenges faced by the Conservatives and Reform UK may bring some pleasure to the rest of us, the signs for the future are not good. While the Conservatives may be riddled with right wing rubbish, they remain closer to the centre ground than Reform UK. Imagine the impact on the UK if the Tories disappeared, Reform UK took over as the main party of the right, and won a general election. That would be horrifying.

So while the Conservatives show every sign of sinking out of sight in this election, the future of the UK with Reform as a main political party is very worrying.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Ron's adoption speech


Ron Beadle was adopted as Lib Dem candidate for Gateshead Central and Whickham recently. This is his adoption speech.

Election campaign: Chipping away at Labour


Chipping Barnett is a plush North London suburb. I can't think of any links between Chipping Barnett and Gateshead. Until now. Chipping Barnett is home to Labour's candidate for Gateshead Central and Whickham. Local Lib Dems have helpfully produced this map to show Labour's candidate living 300km away from the constituency into which he was parachuted by his chums on Labour's NEC.

The Conservatives have surprisingly not sent in a candidate from London. Instead he comes from Northumberland, slightly closer than Chipping Barnett!

Friday, June 07, 2024

Election campaign: not Holding on!

Richard Holden experienced one of the unexpected moments of the 2019 general election. He won the constituency of North West Durham, previously a Labour stronghold. Holden's career seemed to be on an upward trajectory and he was appointed Chair of the Conservative Party. But to keep his star in the ascendency, he needed to continue to be an MP. That was looking like a problem earlier this year for two reasons. Firstly, his constituency was torn apart by the boundary changes. And secondly, the chances of a Conservative MP surviving in the Red Wall were as wafer thin as you can get. And then the chicken run came to his rescue. Holden was imposed on the Conservatives in Basildon and Billericay as candidate for the constituency. The constituency counts as "safe" for the Conservatives though that may be put to the test in the general election. Apparently local Conservatives are rather unhappy. It also says a great deal about what the Conservatives think of their chances in the Red Wall. Whether or not Holden will be missed by his former constituents is for history to determine.

Talking about D-Day

On Wednesday evening, I was the speaker at the Sunniside History Society monthly meeting. The subject of my talk was "Preparations for D-Day". We looked at how the Allies broke Enigma, how troops were transferred across the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ocean liners, how the Nazis were fooled into thinking the invasion would be in the Pays de Calais and how an artificial harbour was shipped over to Normandy so that troops could be supplied.

On the latter point, I visited the Normandy beaches on the 68th anniversary of D-Day and filmed this video showing the beaches from 2km off shore and the remains of the artificial harbour.

Election campaign; the clock is ticking to find Tory candidates

Nominations for the general election close this afternoon. Here in Gateshead, we have one constituency fully within the area of the council and three that are partially within the borough. In three of these, the Conservatives are still to announce their candidates. I am assuming that they will announce them shortly. Surely, as the governing party, they are going to join the battle in these constituencies? Or has the rot gone too far within the Conservative party?

It was often the case in the past that a youngish Conservative from London would be given a map of the North East and told to head north for the 4 weeks of the campaign with their reward being a more winnable seat in the future. That no longer works as the collapse in Conservative support has made lots of their safe seats somewhat unsafe. So promises and payback are rather worthless now.

Meanwhile, Labour have obviously put in an order for new parachutes. Labour's NEC met recently to carve up the available winnable seats among themselves. The result is Starmer chum Mark Ferguson being parachuted into Gateshead Central and Whickham. The bulk of his campaigning activity in the constituency recently seems to amount to being here on local election polling day rushing around various wards taking photos of himself.

It was noteworthy that no local Labour candidate was in the running, or perhaps they were but their own party thought they weren't good enough for them!

Friday, May 31, 2024

Thank you Focus


As is usual, as soon as the local elections were over, we began work on our "Thank You Focuses". The first off the production line was for Whickham South and Sunniside. It contained an article about a general election having to be held by January 2025. The file was sent to the printer and 4000 Focuses landed on my doorstep some days later. In the afternoon, the general election was announced! So, with apologies for one slightly out of date article, the ward has now been delivered. The last patch was done yesterday.

Election campaign - the work continues...


The general election may be underway but our usual work in the community still goes ahead. So on Sunday I was at Church Green in Whickham helping out with Planting Up Whickham where they were stripping the flowerbeds ready for replanting. My job, as usual, was to bring my pickup and remove all the stripped out plants to take to my farm to be made into compost. The next planting session is 10am on Sunday 9th June.

Election campaign: Gateshead's four Lib Dem candidates

The constituency boundary changes in Gateshead have resulted in something of a complicated mess. Previously we had two constituencies fully in Gateshead (Blaydon constituency and Gateshead constituency). Now we have one fully in Gateshead (Gateshead Central and Whickham) and bits of three other constituencies (Jarrow and Gateshead East, Blaydon and Consett and Washington and Gateshead South). The most interesting from the Lib Dem point of view is Gateshead Central and Whickham as the constituency contains the three Whickham wards plus Low Fell, all strong Lib Dem areas as well as marginal Saltwell where we hold one of the three seats.

We have had our candidates in place since earlier this year, unlike the other parties (Labour only announced their Gateshead Central and Whickham candidate last night and the Conservatives are yet to arm twist an aspiring candidate to put their hat in the ring.)

So, here are our four candidates:

Promoted by Andy Coleman on behalf of Gateshead Liberal Democrats, c/o 5 Wealcroft Court, Gateshead, NE10 8NR.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Election campaign day 4: when is a spoof not a spoof?

On Saturday evening I saw a suggestion that the Conservatives were about to launch a policy of national service for 18 year olds. Someone had posted it on Facebook and my quick read of it led me to think it was a spoof. I knew the Conservatives were desperate but I didn't think they were that desperate. It was only after it appeared as a news story on Sky News that I realised it was not a spoof and was in fact a real story. 

By now, the jokes about reviving the Home Guard and reintroducing ration books have done the rounds so I won't mention them here. Nevertheless, there is an element of desperation in the Conservatives' announcement. While I strongly support the principle of volunteering for non-military organisations, I draw the line at the army. The UK needs a quality professional army, not one padded out with national service recruits. It is why we have one of the most effective armies in the world.

Not content with making a mess of the army, the Conservatives seem to have revised the meaning of "volunteering". Now it is to mean compulsion as 18 year olds will be required to take part in volunteering schemes.

So, be careful how you respond to social media posts about the Conservatives. If they appear ludicrous and absurd, it is probably true.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Election campaign day 3: could Corbyn hold on?

On Friday it was announced that Jeremy Corbyn would stand as an independent in Islington North, the constituency he has represented since 1983. Having been evicted from the Parliamentary Labour Party, Starmer was in no mood to let his predecessor back in. Corbyn was the centre of a personality cult up until he led Labour to its worst election performance since 1935. 

MPs who stand against their former party tend to go down to defeat at the subsequent general election. Is Corbyn likely to suffer the same fate? I have no time for Corbyn's politics and he was a disaster that boosted the Tories and ensured they had a significant majority in 2019. But he has a significant following in his constituency. I believe he got the largest vote of any candidate in 2019 and over half the electorate in Islington North voted for him. Despite his politics, he has been a hard working constituency MP and that must put him in a good position to hold on. So Islington North may be one of the ones to watch.

Tea is served

There was a motion on the agenda for last Thursday's council meeting in Gateshead, about the importance of policy for women and girls. It led to some reminiscences from Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon about the civic centre when it first opened in 1987. Many of the facilities were totally inadequate for women councillors. The locker room for example had room for about 10 women councillors, whereas there were over 50 lockers for the men councillors. The council in terms of gender is now much better balanced.

Martin's words did remind me of another civic centre incident. Back in the mid 1990s, I received a letter from the mayor's office inviting me to come to the "Mayoress at home" event where cups of tea and a buffet would be served. I then compared my letter to one that was received by my mother who had just been elected to the council. There was a fundamental difference between the two letters. Mine invited me to be served tea whereas my mother as a woman councillor was invited to attend the event to serve tea to the male councillors. This clearly was completely unacceptable so we kicked up a fuss in the hope that the event would either be called off or the sexist nature of it axed. Neither happened and the event (not attended by any Lib Dem councillors) went ahead in its original form.

There was a great deal of press interest. Myself and the then Council Leader George Gill did a live interview on BBC Radio Five. Cllr Gill argued that the event and women councillors serving tea to male councillors was a tradition. I responded by saying that this sort of sexist nonsense had no place in a modern council.

Following this, the Lib Dem group put a motion to Gateshead Council calling for events of a sexist nature to be scrapped and for all councillors, whatever their gender, to be treated equally. The Labour party voted against but in a sense we won as the "Mayoress at Home" event was never held again. It was quietly dropped.

As I told the council meeting last week, thankfully Gateshead Council has moved on a long way since then.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Election campaign day 2: no football tenancy

Yesterday, day 2 of the election campaign, was the first full council meeting in Gateshead since the council annual meeting, which happened to be last week! The highlight of the agenda was the Lib Dem motion calling for a secure tenancy for Gateshead Football Club at the Gateshead International Stadium. The council are looking to transfer the stadium to another operator and Labour made it clear that a secure ten year tenancy would get in the way of their plans to move the stadium out of the direct council management. To the disappointment of the many fans of Gateshead FC in the public gallery, the motion was defeated.

It was however another occasion for near silence from Cllr Angela Douglas, Cabinet member for sport and leisure. Having been largely silent during the controversy over her plans to close leisure centres - there was a 2 hour debate in cabinet about them during which she said nothing - now was the opportunity for Cllr Douglas to open up about her portfolio and give us an explanation of her thoughts on the stadium. And sure enough, Cllr Douglas grabbed the opportunity. She seconded a Labour wrecking amendment to the Lib Dem motion with a long speech of, errrr, 4 words - "I second the amendment". Many of us wonder what benefit there is to Gateshead by Cllr Douglas being in receipt of her £16K a year post of cabinet member for sport and culture.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Election campaign day 1 - Singing in the Rain

So, only 6 months before we expected it, Sunak yesterday called the election. Standing in Downing Street to announce the date, it rained, and rained, and rained. Poor Richi got an absolute soaking. Is it an omen for the rest of his campaign? Will it be a washout or will he close the gap on Labour? Still it was tempting to imagine Morecombe and Wise dancing across Downing Street with their rendition of "Singing in the Rain". Meanwhile, wrapped in the union jack, Starmer launched his campaign in front of what looked like a stripped pine kitchen.

Not all Tories are happy with the election announcement. There is talk of plots to evict Sunak from the leadership, replace him and call off the election. If anything sums up the febrile nature of the Conservatives at the moment, it is this. The very idea that Tory MPs, many of whom are about to be stripped of their next six months' pay, could believe such a plot was a good idea, just shows the Tories have descended into farce.

On a practical note, three very heavy boxes of leaflets arrived at my house yesterday, only 2 hours before Sunak made his announcement. Talk about good timing.....

Sunday, May 19, 2024

New at the annual meeting


Gateshead annual council meeting was held on Friday and new member Joe Sowerby took his seat in the chamber. Joe was elected as councillor for Birtley on 2nd May, taking the ward from Labour by a slender 5 votes. Joe is pictured with Paul Elliott who won Birtley from Labour last year.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

New at the group meeting


Gateshead Lib Dem group meeting last night and Joe Sowerby was there to take up his role as a Lib Dem Councillor. Joe won his seat from Labour last week in Birtley ward. It was the tightest of majorities (5 votes) but a win is a win whatever the majority. Birtley was the only seat to change hands in Gateshead on 2nd May. Well done Joe and welcome to the team.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Remembering D-Day


On 5th June I will be doing a talk about D-Day, a day before the 80th anniversary of Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings. I will be looking at some of the national coverage but much of the talk will be about how the news was received in the North East. The talk starts at 7pm in Sunniside Social Club. £1 for society members, £2 for non-members.

Worth a visit


The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside have yet more additions to entice more visitors through the gates. In an attempt to encourage children to eat vegetables, a series of wood carvings of vegetables has been created, using wood from a large ash tree that had to be felled last year. The carvings are proving to be quite popular with children.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

It's polling day but I voted ages ago


It is polling day for the local, police and regional mayoral elections. For the first time ever I had 3 ballot papers each helpfully a different colour. I cast my votes however about 10 days ago. Two thirds of the people voting in my ward will do so by post. So in effect the start of polling day was the day the postal votes were posted through people's doors. I signed up for postal voting last year. I enjoy going to the polling station but doing so means less time spent on the get-out-the-vote operation.

I have spent a good part of today in Saltwell. It is the ward with the tightest race. Last year the Lib Dems won the seat by 58 votes from Labour who had held it since the 1930s. It is too close to call. Lib Dems were out in force but Labour, knowing their previous stranglehold on the ward has crumbled, were out in force too.

Previous local government election counts in Gateshead have taken place on the Friday morning. Sadly, that is not the case this year. Counting starts at 10pm because of the multiple elections being held. That means today is going to be a very long day. Expect the first results in the early hours.

Could there be an upset in the North East?

A rather unexpected poll result caught the attention of the political world a few days ago. Jamie Driscoll was just 2 points behind Labour in the contest for the new Mayor of the North East. Driscoll is currently the North of Tyne elected Mayor and has been described by some as the last Corbynite still in power. The "Changed" Labour Party however attempted to end Driscoll's political career by blocking him from being candidate for the new North East Combined Authority Mayor, which will replace the much smaller North of Tyne authority. Current Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness was chosen by Labour instead of Driscoll.

Most people at that point assumed the election was cut and dried. McGuiness would have a relatively straightforward cruise to victory. But then Mayor Driscoll started to muddy the waters. Instead of going quietly, he decided not to go at all. Instead he resigned his Labour membership and announced he was standing as an Independent. 

Most thought this was just a political sideshow.  In the North East Labour heartland, Labour were simply expected to win, deserved or not. But Mayor Driscoll managed to get a bit of a bandwagon rolling and it may have picked up enough momentum (and indeed former members of Momentum) to pip Kim McGuinness to the post.

The evidence for this is an opinion poll. As far as I'm aware, there has been only the one poll done. An organisation called "More in Common" conducted the poll which produced the following:

  • Labour 35%
  • Driscoll 33%
  • Reform 14%
  • Conservatives 11%
  • Lib Dems 4%
  • Greens 4%
There are a large number of questions about this poll. Is it representative of the region? Were the participants self-selecting? Does it take into account what I call transfers (where people voting for a particular party vote the same way in other elections held on the same day but which they regard as of lesser importance).

But if this poll in any way reflects what is happening, and Driscoll is close to wining or even wins outright, this would be an enormous shock to the Labour Party and would knock the gloss off what is expected to be a successful set of elections for them.

I am rather cautious. I suspect Driscoll won't make it. We will find out in the next 24 hours.

Is she or isn't she?


I get the impression that the Greens are pushing hard in Bridges ward in Gateshead. Bridges is normally strongly Labour and they top the poll there with minimal effort (this year may be a bit different). So, Green election leaflets in Bridges are suddenly much more interesting than usual. A read of "Election News" however will leave you scratching your head. Other than the tiny imprint at the bottom of the page, there is no reference to the candidate, Rachel Cabral as being a Green Party candidate.

Indeed, residents could be forgiven for thinking that Rachel Cabral is an independent, not a Green. The opening paragraph claims she will "vote independently". Or how about "Rachel is the only truly independent candidate" on the 3rd paragraph?

So is this a new Green Party campaign tactic - claim to be an independent rather than a Green? If so, it doesn't say much for the honesty and integrity of the Green Party. Or are they simply embarrassed to be called Greens? Who knows?

Nevertheless, watch for an interesting change in votes received by the parties (or independents as appropriate) in Bridges in the local elections.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Microscope at the ready

This has to be one of the worst Labour leaflets I have seen for some years. It is Labour's election leaflet in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside. It is littered with meaningless statements and incomplete sentences. The photo however takes the biscuit. The candidate is a tiny figure against a huge monolith. You almost need a microscope to see him. 

This is the sort of photo that is used in training sessions on taking photos for leaflets. 

Vote for change by voting no change - Labour


It may be a late arrival but nevertheless, it's still funny! Yes, Labour have produced a leaflet in Low Fell for the local elections. For Labour, Low Fell is a place where they fly tip their failed candidates and rejects from elsewhere in Gateshead. Their current candidate is Robert Waugh who, until May last year was councillor for the neighbouring Saltwell ward. 

Saltwell had been solidly Labour since the dawn of time so Mr Waugh can lay claim to the title of "He who lost a rock solid Labour ward to the Lib Dems." So what nuggets of political though has Mr Waugh dreamt up during his enforced leave from Gateshead Council? Well, this one caught my attention. "Real change for the area can only be made by the party in power." In other words, the party in power remains the same and change only comes about within that party. Meanwhile, the rest of us hold the view that change requires one political party to be replaced as the governing party by another party (or parties).

The idea that voting Labour in Gateshead is a vote for change is ludicrous. Labour have been in power on the council for 50 years - the entire time Gateshead Council has existed.

But stick with Labour's logic for a moment. If they are arguing that people should vote for the party that is in power (as they do in Gateshead), to be consistent they are presumably arguing at the national level that people should vote Conservative. After all, "Real change for the area can only be made by the party in power."

Meanwhile, Mr Waugh states that the Lib Dems have been in power for the past 14 years. History is clearly not his strong point.

And finally, Mr Waugh claims that if elected he would be the "loudest" of the Low Fell members. Sadly, many other people are yet to experience even a fraction of a decibel from him. Last year when the council debated the Lib Dem amendment calling for funding to be made available to keep leisure centres open in Gateshead, then Councillor Waugh had nothing to say on the matter. Rather than being the loudest, if appears he took a vow of silence.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Take a "Chanse" on me

The Green Party have changed their candidate in Crawcrook and Greenside in Gateshead. Ordinarily, that is not a significant issue....except Crawcrook and Greenside is their target seat in Gateshead....or so it was. The change of candidate hampers the ability to win, for any party in a ward that is of interest to them. I hear from people on the ground that there is less activity from the Greens in the ward this year, compared to previous elections. Labour are defending the ward. Before the Coalition, it was a Lib Dem held ward. And before that, it was Labour.

The new Green candidate is called Pat Chanse. The Greens' chances of winning anywhere in Gateshead are remote. The non-continuity of their candidate in Crawcrook and Greenside simply makes the Greens' task that much more difficult.

However, the Greens' focus may have moved. They are putting in some effort into Bridges ward, where Labour hold all 3 seats but their reach into the ward is limited. Typically they get amongst the lowest vote of any winning candidate in Gateshead. There is no such thing as a safe seat.

Ione on the campaign trail


I was in Ryton again yesterday, campaigning for Steve Kelly. I was delighted we were joined by Ione Rippeth who retired as Councillor for Ryton in 2012. She is still remembered fondly by local residents after 12 years. This ward will be one of the ones to watch in the early hours of Friday morning.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Where are the Green policies?


The Green Party in Gateshead have added Bridges ward to their list of hopefuls in the local elections on 2nd May. The hopeful list is rather short however - the only other seat they are targeting is Crawcrook and Greenside. (But it is better than the Tories who have no target seats here) I was sent the Greens' Bridges ward leaflet recently. Presentationally, it is an improvement on other Green leaflets I've seen. What is more interesting however is the almost complete lack of any Green policies. The candidate is seen out and about in the ward but, apart from a passing reference to cheap public transport, there is nothing else Green in their leaflet. Nor is there any use of the word "environment".

Perhaps the Greens have taken a leaf out of Labour's campaign manual - don't mention any policy. Starmer would be proud of them!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

This is like gold dust


This is like gold dust - a Conservative local election leaflet in Gateshead! I haven't seen one of these for about 30 years. I picked this one up in Ryton last week. I don't reckon for a moment that this is evidence of the Conservatives taking an interest in elections to Gateshead Council. Instead, this is everything to do with the general election and changed constituency boundaries. Blaydon constituency (Labour held) has been broken up with the western part (including Ryton) being merged with a neighbouring County Durham seat (won by the Conservatives from Labour in 2019) to make the new constituency of Consett and Blaydon. So, territory won by the Conservatives in 2019 is being defended by them with new territory added to it.

The chances of the Conservatives winning Consett and Blaydon are microscopically thin but they clearly want to go down fighting. Hence the local election leaflet.

The Liz Truss car crash interview


Not one for the squeamish! Liz Truss, briefly Prime Minister in 2022, was interviewed by Sky News this morning. Her explanation for why things went wrong was because everyone else messed up, but not her. She then went on to attack Net Zero. And finally, asked who she wanted to win the US Presidental election, she immediately said Trump, whereas the answer should have been, "That's for the American people to decide." The whole interview was a car crash. Please please please everyone, contact the broadcasters and demand more of Liz Truss on prime time tv! The entertainment value alone is worth her weight in gold, regardless of the damage she does to the Conservative party!

Campaigning in Ryton


I was in Ryton yesterday campaigning in the local elections for the Lib Dem candidate Steve Kelly. We were on the main road and used a couple of our newly arrived large diamond posters. We certainly got noticed by passing motorists. Thumbs up from lots of people plus two fingers from one person and another who shouted "vote Reform" at us! This latter person may have difficulty trying to cast his vote for Reform. They have only one candidate in Gateshead (there are 22 wards),  in Chowdene, some considerable distance from Ryton.

We also had a team out doing what I call the mop up. In other words people were delivering the final few patches of leaflets. Response from people they spoke to was that many of them had already voted by post for Steve.

So anecdotally, the feeling is positive. We are certainly expecting a significantly improved performance in the ward.

Published and promoted by Andy Coleman on behalf of Steve Kelly (Liberal Democrats), all at 5 Wealcroft Court, Gateshead, NE10 8NR

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Low Fell eFocus no. 133

 Low Fell Lib Dems have just published edition 133 of their email newsletter - eFocus. Issues covered include:

  • Sewage on Durham Road;
  • Daniel and the Focus Team need your support;
  • Clean up on Kells Lane/Home Avenue cut;
  • Call to scrap "snails pace" Gateshead High Street plans.

You can read Low Fell eFocus on this link.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Candidates in Gateshead

With postal votes starting to arrive in Gateshead, I thought I would look at the candidates on offer. Polling day is Thursday 2nd May, and one third of the council is up for grabs. This is the last local election under the current boundaries. In 2026, the new ones will come into use though the changes are relatively small.

There are 22 seats on the council up for election. Labour, Lib Dems and the Conservatives are fielding 22 candidates each. There are 18 Greens, 5 Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and 2 independents. That is not the whole story however. There are a splattering of other parties. Firstly, Reform UK are fielding one candidate in Chowdene and none elsewhere. Given their current opinion poll ratings, the lack of any Reform candidates in the other 21 seats suggests Reform UK have failed to grow any grassroots. The party may just be a creation of the opinion polls and has no party machine to speak of. Yet this is crucial for delivering winning council and general election campaigns.

The North East Party is fielding one candidate. I have no idea what they stand for. Perhaps they want independence for the North East. My prediction is that they are facing a an uphill struggle.

Another party that has only one candidate is "Save Us Now", standing in Dunston Hill and Whickham East, The key message of this "party" is that they believe that lamp posts are killing people through some kind of radiation. They have stood previously and got nowhere. I can't throw any light onto what else they believe in.

And finally, what is it about the Conservatives and "Ventnor"? There are 4 candidates with addresses in Ventnor Crescent and Ventnor Gardens in Saltwell. Interestingly, Saltwell was the most marginal ward in Gateshead last year when the Lib Dems won the seat from Labour by just 58 votes. In the consultation on new ward boundaries Labour lobbied for Ventnor Crescent and Ventnor Gardens to be moved to neighbouring Low Fell ward, a strong Lib Dem area. The Lib Dems in Gateshead have developed significant skills for squeezing the 3rd party. Labour would have had a better chance of winning in Saltwell in 2026 without the Ventnors. Sadly for Labour, the local government boundary commissioners decided to keep the streets in Saltwell!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

What's the point of privatisation of Thames Water?

The recent default of Thames Water on loans in the past few days has highlighted how the funding of the water industry and infrastructure has fallen apart. There is talk now of renationalisation or some degree of government intervention.

Privatisation of water back in the late 1980s was done because of the need to raise capital to invest in and modernise the water supply service. After decades of neglect in the public sector, starved of money by governments which had other priorities, the transfer to the private sector relieved the government of the need to stump up the capital needed to move the industry on from its decrepit state. Private companies could raise the capital needed by borrowing at commercial rates or issuing new shares or a combination of both. Pension funds in particular were interested in becoming shareholders as water was regarded as a good long term investment. But of course, in the case of Thames Water, it has all gone horribly wrong.

Add to the financial crisis the impact of climate change and the company is facing a battering. Climate change with increased rainfall will lead to a drainage system that is already unable to cope becoming an even bigger problem. The country has made the mistake of draining rainwater into the sewers so the risk of sewage pouring into overflows and water courses is now a national scandal.

There are no easy solutions to this. One of the most touted is full nationlisation. I believe this is a non-starter. It would mean public money would be used to buy out the other shareholders leaving little if anything to invest in the infrastructure. And nationalisation without compensation would mean stripping the pension funds that have invested in the company of their capital - remember that is cash that belongs to you and me, future or current pensioners.

Do nothing is also an option but is not realistic. It seems to me the only realistic option is a part nationalisation of Thames Water. The government would need to stump up the cash but it will be in the form of new shares in the company. There would be no dividend for years but a recovery by the company could lead to the sale of the publicly owned shares.

It is not ideal and would require public sector investment. At least it keeps the water supply service on its feet rather than crashing and sinking under a flood of debt and sewage.

Monday, April 08, 2024

What if the Entente Cordial was never signed?

Changing of the guard today at Buckingham Palace was different from usual - French soldiers were taking part as part of the celebration of the Entente Cordial which was signed back in 1904. The decision to commit the UK to involvement in the affairs of Europe by aligning ourselves with France in the face of a growing German threat to the stability of the Continent was strengthened over the following years both militarily and diplomatically. 

It was not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the UK was ready to make a Continental commitment before 1904 but gradually British governments (both Conservative and Liberal) realised that what happened in Europe directly impacted on Britain. Far better to be involved in the affairs of Europe to shape outcomes that were more favourable to Britain.

Imagine however if Balfour's Conservative government decided not to sign the Entente Cordial in 1904, and that policy continued by the following Liberal government. If we washed our hands of Europe, German power would have grown to the point where France would have fallen into the orbit of Germany and become a satellite state. Any confrontation between Germany and Russia would have gone in the former's favour as the Tsar would have been without allies. Italy would have continued as a Central Power, adding further to German hegemony of the Continent.

Across the Channel Britain would have bobbed along in the wake of a militaristic and wealthy Germany, isolated and buffeted, gradually dropping in power and status to something similar to France. We may have avoided the First World War but the cost to Britain would have been even more tremendous.

Let's hope that we don't make the mistake that we avoided in 1904. As a European nation we need to influence what happens there. Europe united without Britain  is a danger to Britain. Let's just hope we are not too late to learn that lesson - or are we?

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Take your seat


There has been a bench next to the Kingsway/Sunniside Road junction in Sunniside for as long as I can remember. It wasn't in a great state but that problem has been resolved. Planting Up Whickham, the new group of volunteers aiming to plant up areas in Sunniside and keep the village looking good, has paid for the bench to be replaced. The work is now done.

Letters and leaflets

We are now well into our next cycle of literature in Birtley ward. I was part of the team out in the ward yesterday. We shifted a significant quantity of both Focuses and letters. I was keeping my eyes peeled for literature from the other parties. I spotted nothing.

I will be back on Tuesday as I still have 2 patches left to deliver. My shoes have not yet been worn out but I suspect I will need a new pair by May.

History Society meeting on Wednesday


The next meeting of Sunniside History Society will be on Wednesday 3rd April at Sunniside Social Club (7pm). The speaker will be Geoff Purcell-Smith who will be speaking on Victorian social reformer Josephine Butler. All welcome.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Late arrival


I had planned to go to Lib Dem conference on Friday last week but a request for a goat meant a change of plan! I am often invited by Whickham Library to bring animals to their fairs. Unfortunately the Library's Easter fair coincided with Lib Dem spring conference so I took the decision to take a couple of goats to the fair on Saturday morning and then head down to York. Ant and Dec, our two young billy goats, were chosen as the animals going to the Library. 

Fortunately the rail journey from Newcastle to York is only an hour so I was at the conference by about 2pm. Now that I am officially old, I have a seniors' railcard, knocking a third off the price of a ticket. As the return fare was only £25, I didn't bother to book a hotel. I simply headed back home in the evening, saving me a ton of cash on hotel bills. It also meant I wasn't forking out on overpriced booze at the conference hotel!

I was back in York on Sunday morning, in time for Alistair Carmichael's speech which was quite entertaining. And of course there was Ed Davey's speech which was notable for a couple of issues which tend to be ignored by politicians generally: proportional representation and Europe. I was back home by 3pm.

Friday, March 15, 2024



This morning I was in the Lib Dem office printing hundreds of letters for Whickham South and Sunniside. Fortunately the folding machine was working, something of a new experience for me! The big job now is to get the letters stuffed into envelopes and then delivered. Expect some shoe leather to be burnt this coming week.

Missing conference

I had booked up for Lib Dem spring conference a few weeks ago with the expectation that I would be attending for the full three days (starting today). And then I got a message from Whickham Voluntary Library asking me if I would bring some animals to their Easter fair tomorrow. I didn't want to let them down and the appearance of lambs and goat kids outside the fair is always popular. So I told them I would bring a couple of our billy goat kids but would leave the fair at 12pm so I could catch the train to York for conference. It was useful that I hadn't got round to booking a hotel for my conference stay. Instead, I will travel down on Saturday afternoon, return home in the evening, then head back down to York first thing on Sunday morning, returning again in the afternoon. The train journey only takes an hour. It works out much cheaper than getting a hotel!

Is this news?

I'm not sure this merits the title of "news" but the PM today announced that there will not be a general election on 2nd May, the same day as the local elections. Is this a case of stating the bleedin' obvious? No PM is likely to voluntarily go early when his/her party is experiencing the loss of over half of their vote share. So, summer, autumn or winter it will be. I believe the latest date for the general election is 25th January. My money, were I a gambling person (I'm not!) would be on late October. That way the UK gets the election over before the US go to the polls. Imagine if we go after the US instead and all our worst nightmares come true and Trump wins. Imagine Labour and the Conservatives trying to explain what sort of relationship they would have with a Trump Whitehouse. That in itself could become a major election issue. 

Sadly, for the UK as a whole, we have months ahead of us of the Tories fighting themselves. While they are kick boxing themselves into potential oblivion Labour will be mouthing vacuous statements in a bid to tell voters nothing about their policies for fear of alienating the great British public. Looks like 2024 will be a year to forget!

Camera shy


We have become so used to online meetings over the past 4 years that in-person meetings now feel rather odd. So, on Tuesday, we had the odd situation of sitting with colleagues at the Gateshead Lib Dem exec at the Civic Centre. We even had sheets of paper rather than sharing something on a screen! The bulk of the meeting was about the local election campaign though Ron Beadle also gave quite a comprehensive report from the council group. That job used to be mine but I happily passed on the baton to Ron when I retired as Group Leader last year.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Dinner time


It seems Lib Dem local parties in the North East have developed a knack of organising fundraising dinners. Last autumn, Gateshead hosted Simon Hughes and Sunderland hosted Wendy Chamberlain MP. Coming shortly to Newcastle is Vince Cable but last week, Sunderland hosted another dinner with Jamie Stone MP as the guest speaker. Jamie is one of the Lib Dem MPs I barely know. He was elected many years after I stopped working for the Lib Dems so, other than his constituency (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) I knew next to nothing about him. He turned out to be quite an entertaining speaker. One of his claims to fame is that he was first elected in 2017, an unexpected victory for the Lib Dems. Given the drubbing we received, his gain of the constituency from the SNP must be regarded as something of a modest miracle!

On a brighter note, though the raffle seemed to go on for ever, I was one of the winners. The bad news is that the scented candle (not quite my thing) will be alighting at the next Sunniside History Society as a raffle prize!