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!

Sunday, February 25, 2024

At your convenience


The next meeting of Sunniside History Society will be held on Wednesday 6th March at 7pm at Sunniside Social Club. The speaker is Richard Pears and he will be talking about the history of "The British Toilet". So be ready to take your seat. This is not a crap subject. Hopefully the meeting will be flushed with success. Etc......

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Campaigning in Ryton


Ryton ward in Gateshead used to be Lib Dem held. Sadly, it went Labour in the Coalition years and before now we were not in a position to mount a strong campaign. But that is changing. We have a new candidate and a new determination to take on Labour in the ward. Steve Kelly has been adopted by the Lib Dems to take on Labour in the May local elections.

He had a meet-the-people event outside the Coop this morning so I went down to give him a hand. My job was to stand next to the main road holding one of our big diamond posters. I had five toots of support from passing drivers and one person shouted at me (I'm not sure it was complimentary!) All-in-all it was a good event and our profile in Ryton is starting to go back up. The challenging news for me is that in addition to managing election campaigns in Birtley and Whickham South and Sunniside, I am now looking after Ryton as well. Looks like a busy few months ahead.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Delivery complete in Sunniside


Focus on Sunniside has now been delivered. Hooray! The last patch went out over the weekend when one of our helpers took the Streetgate area. This patch has grown by 89 houses in recent years due to new house building. 

With my ward's Focus now fully delivered, I was able to spend some time in Saltwell over the weekend, helping to deliver our latest Focus there. I hear on the grapevine that Labour were out in Saltwell as well. There are hints of aspiring wannabee MPs hoping to get the selection for the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency. There are also hints that Labour may leave the selection of their candidate to the last minute, meaning the national party will parachute in one of their favourites. Given that nearly half the wards in this constituency are represented by Lib Dems, this one will be one to watch at the general election.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

More Focus deliveries

I was back in Birtley yesterday (Saturday 20th January) to deliver another patch of Focuses. And today I was delivering in my own ward. To be precise, I was delivering in Sunniside. We are aiming to get the village delivered by Friday though the weather may be a problem tomorrow.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Planning for our next meeting

I met up with Alan Guest, secretary of the Sunniside History Society, last night in Sunniside Club, to review some of the photos donated to the Society by Francis Newman. Many of the photos were taken in Sunniside 30 years ago though there were some which were much older. We made a selection of photos to present at the next meeting on 1st February. The aim is to get people to share their memories and possibly fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the events that caused the photos to be taken in the first place. Anyone interested in coming to the meeting is welcome. It starts in Sunniside Club at 7pm, £1 for Society members, £2 for visitors.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Happy birthday from the NHS


I turned 60 recently. As birthday presents from the nation, I was allowed free prescriptions, reduced rail fares and a poo kit!

The free prescriptions are no use to me, at least for the time being. I don't take any. The reduced rail fares are a bit more useful. Though the amount of travel I do is only a small fraction of what I did before 2017, I do have 3 short trips coming up. So a saving can be made by getting an older persons railcard. 

The poo kit however is the most important of the presents. I have seen 2 friends suffer from but also recover from bowel cancer. It's best not to take any risks. Ignoring the poo kit in the hope that I am good health continues is inviting problems. So, this present will be put to use shortly.

Delivering in Birtley


I was in Birtley on Monday helping to deliver our latest Lib Dem Focus. Somehow Birtley had avoided the snow. Not so in Sunniside though we had only about 1 cm. I will be back in Birtley later this week as I have one more patch to deliver. Hopefully Birtley will continue to be a snow free zone!

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Bridge over troubled waters


It seems as though the Green Party in Gateshead are continuing to target Bridges ward. Another leaflet was popped through people's doors in December. Labour hold the ward and had previously won with comfortable majorities with opposition campaigns aimed at flying the flag. Labour's hold however is based on a low turnout. Any party that could mount a good campaign could run Labour close in the ward. Labour could well be on a bridge over troubled waters here.

The person featured in the leaflet is Rachel Cabral. This is an interesting choice as it appears that she has abandoned Saltwell. She had stood there in 2021, taking 185 votes and 4th place. In 2022 however, disaster struck when the Greens messed up their Saltwell nomination. Rachel Cabral stood in the ward, but without a political description. She recorded only 60 votes. She did not stand in Saltwell in 2023, the year the Lib Dems won the ward from Labour for the first time since the 1930s.

Perhaps her abandonment of Saltwell says a great deal about the Greens realization that the battle in the ward is between Lib Dems and Labour. I hope for the Greens' sake that they don't repeat their mistake on the local election nomination this year as they did in 2022!

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Last delivery of 2023


I did my last Focus delivery of 2023 in my own ward of Whickham South and Sunniside between Christmas and new year. It was a good way of burning off some of those Christmas calories. The next edition of Focus for my ward is already partly written. More calorie burning is on its way!

Birtley eFocus no. 12

 Published tonight, the next eFocus for Birtley. Issues covered include:

  • Birtley pool re-opening delayed;
  • Security fencing at Birtley Swimming Centre;
  • Joe joins Focus Team;
  • Lloyds and Barclays branches closing on Team Valley;
  • Ciaran chosen for Washington and Gateshead South;
  • Have your say on Gateshead Council's budget.
You can read eFocus on this link.

Low Fell eFocus 130

The competition to be the first in 2024 to publish eFocus has been won by Low Fell. Edition 130 was sent to recipients a couple of days ago. Issues covered include:

·  Best wishes for 2024

·  Have your say on Gateshead Council's Budget plans

·  New salt bin at Eastwood Avenue

·  Meeting with the Police

·  Eastern Avenue

You can read Low Fell eFocus on this link.