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 So, with apologies for one slightly out of date article, the ward has now been delivered.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.