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!