Sunday, January 15, 2017
I promise this will be the last post about the Sandhill by-election in Sunderland. I saw this Labour leaflet on Tuesday when I was there to help deliver Lib Dem election letters. "Keep faith with Labour" was the bit that instantly jumped out to me. Having looked at the campaign and the Labour campaign messages, they offered very little reason for people to "keep the faith" in Labour. There was also a rather arrogant assumption by Labour that people had faith in them in the first place and that all they had to do was tap into that faith to get elected.
Like so many areas of the North East, Labour are the political masters who are remote and out-of-touch. They are seen only at election times and they take too many wards and constituencies for granted. Sunderland may be an extreme example of this but if Labour are to survive, they need to reconnect with communities and the people who live in them. I'm not convinced they are ready to do that.
A new year and a new set of Focuses to deliver in Gateshead. Today I was in the Stella Riverside development in Ryton ward. Nearly 500 Focuses to deliver. I did it in 2 hours. I was very impressed by the view of the River Tyne from this estate.
For the second time in a week, it was a joy to read the Journal, the North East's morning newspaper. At the start of the week, its front page was a story provided by the Lib Dems on the pressure on the NHS. Yesterday, the Journal reported on the Sandhill by-election result in Sunderland where, on Thursday, the Lib Dems went from 4% and 4th place to win the seat from Labour in a by-election with 45% of the vote.
The Journal could have been dismissive of the Lib Dems. The newspaper could have buried the result away with little comment. But in what could possibly be a sign of the times, the normally Labour-backing Journal has given us some stonking great lines in an editorial, in addition to a lead news article that focused heavily on the youthful Lib Dem campaigners winning over the people and giving Labour a serious mauling.
Here are a few of the quotes from the editorial:
"...the victory by Liberal Democrat Stephen O'Brien in Sunderland's Sandhill ward on Thursday was a stunner."
"...a protest vote against Labour was always possible. However, the scale of it was quite something."
"Only the Liberal Democrats are enjoying the voters' verdict right now."
And on UKIP (remember Sunderland is the Brexit capital of Britain and in the last election in Sandhill, the Kippers came a relatively good second) the Journal said:
"If there is going to be a protest vote in Sunderland....why did it not favour [UKIP]? More evidence that the Kippers just do not perform well enough in first-past-the-post elections."
So, time to enjoy the headlines and media coverage but the hard work continues. Talking of which, I'm about to head to Ryton ward in Gateshead to help deliver our next Focus.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Yesterday, after a Gateshead Council advisory group meeting, I went back to Sandhill in Sunderland to help with the Lib Dem polling day operation in the by-election. I was the voice of caution as members got excited about the figures coming through from the knock up. We knew we had done well on the postal votes which were the majority of ballots cast. The door knocking operation had the potential to push us over into first place. I kept telling people to keep calm and not get carried away.
Labour knew they had a problem holding on to what was normally a safe seat for them. We knew that because they put out a fake Focus leaflet and had been going around the ward on Wednesday with a loud speaker car shouting about "liberal lies".
Our wildest dreams included a Lib Dem win but only with a slender majority. The cold air of reality (and it was bitterly cold in Sunderland yesterday) told me we would get close but come second. But I just did not expect the final result which went way beyond our most vivid fantasies. The Lib Dem vote increased by nearly ten fold. The final votes with last year's in brackets were:
- Stephen O'Brien (Lib Dem) 824 (90)
- Labour 458 (1229)
- UKIP 343 (579)
- Conservatives 184 (277)
- Green 23 (59)
So, it wasn't even close. Clearly a large number of people have moved over from Labour directly to the Lib Dems. And UKIP have blown their chances in the Brexit Capital of Britain.
Anyway, feel free to enjoy Sandhill By-election - the Movie! I filmed it on Thursday evening during the get-out-the-vote operation. It also includes the declaration of the result and responses to it.
And finally, congratulations to new Lib Dem Councillor, Stephen O'Brien. Well done on a bloody fantastic result.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Yesterday I wrote about the possibility that Labour's dominance of Sunderland politics could be cracking. Their performance in the Sandhill by-election was somewhat lacklustre and I was hoping that the Lib Dem performance would show an improvement on the distant 4th place we got in the ward last year. I wasn't quite expecting any political earthquakes, but a few political earth tremors was a reasonable expectation.
I did say to other Lib Dem campaigners in the ward yesterday when I was helping to deliver election letters that what we needed was for Labour to slag us off in their last minute leaflet. That would give the voters the impression that the by-election was a battle between Labour and the Lib Dems with other parties simply playing the role of spectators. Always useful for squeezing the other parties and picking up soft Labour supporters.
Labour have very kindly done what I hoped and, indeed, have gone one step further. They have hit the panic button by producing a fake Focus full of all sorts of attacks on the Lib Dems, done in such a way that it is so utterly obvious that it is produced by Labour and not by us. It means they have laid their cards on the table regarding who they believe are the challengers (in a ward which last year saw Labour on 1200 votes and the Lib Dems on 90).
Labour need something positive to appeal to their own voters. Their previous election leaflets lack that in this by-election. They simply attack opposition candidates generally for not supporting their cuts. That doesn't strike me as the way to win, and it rather contradicts the contents of the fake Focus. So, Labour's manpower in the ward today has not been used to tell voters why they should vote Labour, it's been used to tell voters that the Lib Dems are a credible threat to them.
And that's going to make this an interesting battle tomorrow. I'll be there is give our candidate Stephen O'Brien a helping hand.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
There is some interesting material on the Carbon Brief website about electricity generation in the UK in 2016. During that year, wind generated 11.5% of the country's electricity and for the first time ever, it beat coal which produced 9%. Solar also generated more power than coal from April to September.
This is good news for the renewable energy sector and I am especially pleased that this milestone has been passed at a time when Donald Trump is getting ready to trash international agreements on climate change and emissions. I wonder what coal-loving Labour MPs make of Trumps call to burn more (American) coal. Perhaps they could enlighten us.
I spent today in Sunderland helping Stephen O'Brien, the Lib Dem candidate in the Sandhill by-election. We delivered letters to target voters (and had a pub lunch at the Hastings Hill).
The ward has returned Labour councillors for decades. We were 4th here in May 2016 when it was last contested. The result was:
Lib Dem 90
So at first sight, it looks like Mission Impossible for the Lib Dems. But I would hazard a guess that we will make some progress when the result is declared on Thursday. I suspect cracks are showing in Labour's hold on the area. Given the poor state of the roads, including the San Andreas style crack along one road in the ward that I snapped while delivering letters, it wouldn't surprise me if people were a bit fed up with the poor rate of return from Labour run Sunderland. Whether there is enough discontent to cause a political earthquake is yet to be seen.
We bumped into a group of ukippers outside the Hastings Hill. They said their postal vote was "so so" and hoped "not to be wiped out". It was hardly the talk of a party confident of success. Remember - this is Sunderland, the Capital of Brexit.
There may not be a political earthquake on Thursday in Sunderland, but expect a few more tremors and a few more cracks in Labour's dominance.
This was a bit of a surprise - the Journal, Tyneside and Northumberland's morning newspaper, carried a positive front page lead story about the Lib Dems and the A&E crisis at Cramlington Hospital. The Journal, owned by Trinity Mirror, is usually a slavish supporter of Labour. Is their commitment to them beginning to crack? The Journal backed the Remain campaign and with Corbyn today trying to turn the Labour Party into UKIP Lite, are we going to see a less Labour-supporting tone from this newspaper? Let's hope so.
Monday, January 09, 2017
House-builder Persimmon held a consultation this evening in Lobley Hill Community Centre about their plans for 550 executive houses on land to the south of Whickham Highway. I attended the event with Lib Dem campaigner Kevin McClurey and Cllr Peter Maughan. We fought the battle to keep the area in the greenbelt but Labour used their majority on Gateshead Council in 2015 to push through the change. With the protection against development stripped away, it was only a matter of time before the application for housing was submitted. The planning application is expected by the end of January. The consultation today was part of the build up to the application's submission.
The Charles Church division of Persimmon deals with the expensive end of the house-building market and they are handling this application. Labour's plan for this site was for expensive executive housing and it is noticeable that there was no mention of affordable homes here at the consultation. We hear much from Labour about the need for affordable housing. But that's not what we are going to get here.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
My first meeting of 2017 was on Tuesday evening. Sunniside History Society is held on the first Tuesday of the month. We had a speaker from Durham Cathedral to talk about the Open Treasure exhibition. It looks interesting and as I have a trip to Durham to do later this month, I will pop in and have a look.
Meanwhile, rather embarrassingly my ticket was the first to be drawn in the raffle. I won a bottle of beer. As the prize winner, I had to draw the next ticket, which, even more embarrassingly, was also mine! I suggested another ticket be drawn instead. But if winning first prize is a sign of the year ahead, it could be an interesting 2017.
I snapped this a couple of nights ago. My village of Sunniside is well named! A brilliant red sunset as I was returning home from feeding my goats. Whether the sun is setting on the red socialists of the Labour party in 2017 is still to be seen, though the initial evidence would suggest it is.
Environment Secretary Angela Loathsome Leadsom is great at planting crops of grass-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence. In this instance, her claims are that the farming industry is set to flourish in the sunny uplands once Brexit has taken place. Those of us with even a limited understanding of agriculture know that the uplands are tough and challenging places for crop production and what can be produced there is limited.
I spotted the claims made by Angela Leadsom in the Journal this morning. What caught my eye was the claim that cutting EU regulations will "free our farmers". What she failed to say was that many regulations come not from Europe but from Whitehall. I keep goats and have lots of DEFRA regulations to follow. The author of some of these regulations is London, some of them are from Brussels. They exist for good reason. Animal welfare, disease control and environmental protection regulations come at a cost but are necessary. Leadsom's suggestion that there could be a bonfire of regulations, "freeing farmers to produce food" may sound great but without an explanation of which regulations are to be incinerated, farmers are in the dark as to just how realistic her rather vague vision is. Given that many DEFRA regulations are additions to European regulations, if the latter are scrapped, we would lose the former as well.
The Single Market is where 75% of UK agriculture exports are sold. Brexit extremists dismiss this with a shrug of the shoulders and make a simplistic suggestion that we can "sell to China instead" (we already can do that). Removing ourselves from our biggest market could seriously undermine the health of the agricultural sector. And far from "taking control" of our country as the Brexit extremist claim, our food security could be put into the hands of nations such as China and India. Fruit growing areas could relocate to Europe if businesses aren't able to recruit European fruit pickers. The Brits simply don't want to do that job and despite efforts to recruit in the UK, fruit growing businesses have been forced to recruit in eastern Europe or face leaving the fruit to rot on the bushes and trees. Many extremist Brexiteers want us to import large quantities of cheap food from Asia where there are cheap labour and poorer environmental standards. That's not "taking back control" - instead it's handing over control to the Chinese Communist Party and to Putin's Russia while damaging the environment at the same time.
This Brexit extremists' vision of Britain dependent on cheap food imports from the other side of the planet could result in the bankruptcy of significant parts of the UK agricultural industry. Farms will lose the £3 billion of European subsidies (much of which pays for environmental protection schemes) and be unable to compete against the flood of cheap imports. Animal welfare standards (the UK arguably has some of the strongest in the world) would have to be significantly lowered to allow the industry to survive against foreign suppliers where such regulations barely exist.
According to Leadsom, farms will flourish once they no longer have to abide by the regulation that they must display signs that they are getting funding from Europe. This rather sums up Brexit: a small gain (in this instance no longer having to display a sign about European funding) which comes with a tremendous cost (losing the £3 billion European funding)! What a mad state of affairs.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Full Council in Gateshead last week: I asked Martin Gannon, leader of the Council, for an update on devolution to the North East. Our region entered negotiations through the all-Labour North East Combined Authority with the Government for a devolution package. Labour mishandled the whole issue and frankly they have been a shambles. The plans collapsed and Labour in the region are split over the issue with the three authorities north of the Tyne threatening to go their own way. In Gateshead, I moved a Lib Dem motion in September calling for a constitutional convention to be set up to take forward proposals that would be acceptable to the region and the Government. The Labour group accepted the proposals. Martin has raised the convention proposal with other Labour council leaders in the NECA area but we are awaiting news on responses. Hence my question at Council on 15th December.
There wasn't much light thrown on the issue but Martin did reveal that the business community is pressing for a meeting to move ahead with devolution.
This issue is now quite pressing as many other regions are going ahead with devolution. Thanks to the shambolic North East Labour Party, our region has been left, not in the slow lane, but the no lane.