Saturday, December 03, 2016

There's still a long way to go

Wetherspoon's breakfast Dec 16

I didn't expect to stay up into the early hours of Friday morning to watch the Richmond by-election result live. I decided to watch a bit of the coverage at midnight to get an indication of how things were going and then go to bed. But then I saw Sky News interview Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael who wasn't giving too much away verbally but whose smile suggested we were doing well. I decided to stay up until 1am. By then, the indications were that we could win. I decided therefore to stay up for the final result. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a fantastic result and it has been a great boost to the party in terms of profile and morale. We also won on a clear platform of being pro-Europe. In that sense, we have a result that is arguably different to previous Lib Dem by-election gains (it's a decade since we have had one). The key formula then was to hoover up protest votes in by-elections. (And before my legions of local Labour readers start sneering about that, let me just remind them that their own party employs exactly the same technique.) This time we are fighting on a clear, positive policy position. It may not be the policy supported by the majority of people and our message to hardline Brexiteers will be rejected by them, but the 48% who voted to remain now have a voice that will put the case for soft Brexit and continued cooperation with Europe.

One of the interesting suggestions from the Richmond result is that the Conservative Remain vote had collapsed. Without a strong Lib Dem presence on the political landscape, that vote has no home. Our job now is to rebuild that presence and win over the Soft Brexit voters from the Conservatives and Labour (who now seem to be totally at a loss on the Brexit issue). It is still a long road ahead of us, but the Richmond result has put a spring in our steps.

On Friday morning I went down to Whickham for a slap up celebratory breakfast at Wetherspoons. Walking along Whickham Front Street, I was stopped by 4 different people who wanted to chat to me. I got questioned about my Dad's recent operation, comments were made about my elder brother moving back to Whickham, I discovered a tv presenter friend had split up with his long time partner and, inevitably, I was quizzed about how the world of self-sufficiency is going. Alas, no one mentioned Richmond. As I said earlier, there is still a long road ahead of us.

(Photo: large, traditional breakfast from the Harry Clasper in Whickham.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whickham Christmas lights switch-on

The Christmas lights were switched on in Whickham by the Metro Gnomes. The event was organised by Lighting Up Whickham. Hundreds turned up for the event.

Museums at Cabinet

The title is not a reference to Labour! While Labour may be doing everything under Comrade Corbyn to consign themselves to being an exhibit in the Museum of the Self-Destructed and Deluded, this post is actually about the museums service in Tyne and Wear. I am one of Gateshead's three representatives on the joint committee that runs Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The committee is now to be abolished and the functions will be transferred to a board which will have no opposition members on it. Instead, there will be one representative from each council who will be the relevant cabinet portfolio holder. I've raised my concerns about this at a previous TWAM meeting but yesterday, at Cabinet, the report on the change over was considered.

I actually have no objections to the change to an executive board. TWAM need to increase their income from non-council sources and rely less on contributions from local councils. The new board will help to achieve that. The problem comes with the elimination of non-Labour voices. There are many of us who are not in the Labour party who can and do make a contribution to the running of the service. For example, I have advised officers on how to produce video material and gain an income from it (I am a YouTube partner and earn a modest income from advertising revenue). I warned at cabinet yesterday that the new arrangements will mean a reduced gene pool of  experience and expertise that could be brought to TWAM by restricting the political input to Labour only. I also said there needs to be a role for scrutiny that seems to be missing from the proposals. I suggested the council's corporate resources scrutiny committee takes on that function. I also suggested that the reports on the various establishments managed by TWAM which currently are reported to the joint committee are sent to all councillors.

To be fair to Gateshead Labour leader Martin Gannon, he was open to the proposals I had put forward and said that there would be a review in a year that could consider the issue of opposition representation. Sadly however I will have to cut my ties with TWAM in May next year when the joint committee is abolished.

Swalwell Quiz NIght

Poacher's Pocket quiz night Nov 16 (2)

I went to the pub quiz at the Poacher's Pocket in Swalwell on Monday night. The event was to raise funds for the memorial bench in Swalwell Park to Kaitlin Tremlett and Jennifer Fradgley who died in a road accident in August. Our team was called Pinkies, after one of my goats, and by the last round we were in 1st place....until the marks for the picture round came in. Alas, we finished 3rd though we did win various bonus prizes. David won the Christmas round.

Poacher's Pocket quiz night Nov 16 (1)

This was the picture round that sank us.

Lifting the lid on Sunderland

Niall Hodson and Jonathan Wallace Nov 16

Gateshead East branch had their AGM and annual lunch on Saturday. I'm not a member of the branch but I went along as Lib Dem leader of the opposition in Gateshead to give a report. The guest speaker was Niall Hodson who was elected as our first councillor in Sunderland since 2012. Niall had a barnstorming campaign in the run up to May and I visited the ward he won, Millfield, to help push him past the winning post. He won with over 60% of the vote.

Labour were not pleased and it seems, from Niall's speech, that the worst one-party state, authoritarian, bullying, silence-the-opposition traits have been to the fore in the Labour party since Niall's victory. Anyone who considers Labour a "progressive" party should pause for thought and take a look at Labour in Sunderland. They have a huge majority on the council and that control is not currently under threat though individual Labour held seats are. This is a council that needs a strong opposition. That doesn't come from the Conservatives in Sunderland but it is a good possibility that the role of opposition can be claimed by the Lib Dems in the borough over the next few years. It is clearly the case that Niall's team are not expecting to stop with just one seat in Millfield. They are clearly interested in expanding further.

Swalwell Christmas Fayre

Swalwell Christmas fayre Nov 16

Saturday morning was tightly packed with events for me to attend. After the red kite coffee morning in Whickham, I headed down to Swalwell Community Centre for the Christmas Fayre. Cake purchasing is a requirement, as is buying tombola tickets. This turned out to be a lucky purchase - I won 2 prizes - all chocolate!

winnings Nov 16

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Red kite coffee morning

Red kite coffee morning Nov 16 1

A constituent called at my house last week to invite me to the red kite coffee morning on Saturday at Fellside Methodist Hall. The red kites were reintroduced into the Derwent Valley over a decade ago and have now become established in the area. I sometimes see them flying over Sunniside. So I decided to call in to the coffee morning. It was packed. And the quantity of cakes would easily put Greggs to shame.

This was a useful visit. I got a useful briefing on the population of red kites in the area. Alas, I couldn't stay long. I was due in Swalwell for the community centre's Christmas fayre.

Red kite coffee morning Nov 16 2

Whickham lights switch-on

Poster Version 6 re Xmas Tree Switch on - 2016-page-0

I am just about to head down to Whickham for the switching on of the Christmas tree lights at Church Green. The event has been organised by Lighting Up Whickham who raised the funds for the tree and lights. Joining us for the switch-on are the Metro Gnomes - see photo below (taken at the Swalwell Community Centre Christmas Fayre on Saturday).

Metro Gnome Nov 16

Honorary aldermen

alderman ceremony Nov 16

As leader of the opposition in Gateshead, it fell to me to second the appointment of six honorary aldermen last Friday. The 6 were Brian Coates, John Hamilton, Yvonne McNicol, Ian Mearns MP, Joe Mitchinson and Pat Ronan. I calculated that between them they had jointly served 114 years as councillors. The honorary role is for former members of the council who have served 2 full terms and have given outstanding service to the authority. So, congratulations to the 6 new aldermen, and thank you for the 114 years of service you gave Gateshead.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Having my cake

Sunniside Club Christmas Fayre Nov 16 1

Sunniside Social Club held a Christmas Fayre yesterday. I decided to call in to have a look around but also to buy cakes. I found the cake stall, parted with my cash and ate the cakes when I got home (with help from David!)

Sunniside Club Christmas Fayre Nov 16 2

Jam today (again)

Lighting Up Whickham coffee morning Nov 16 2

On Saturday morning, Lighting Up Whickham held a coffee morning to raise money towards the village's Christmas tree. I was invited to have a table to sell my homemade jams. There was a reasonable flow of people into the library where we were holding the event. For me it was more like my councillor surgery as people spotted me and used the opportunity to raise local issues with me!

Hopefully, the coffee morning will become a regular event.

Lighting Up Whickham coffee morning Nov 16 1

Friday, November 18, 2016

Whickham eFocus 103

The latest edition of our email newsletter for the Whickham area, eFocus, was finished this evening and I sent it out to the 1500 people on the circulation list. It leads with the video of Sunday's Remembrance Day parade. Also included is the proposal to sell part of Chase Park, the Council budget, Derwentside in Swalwell to be converted to flats, deep clean at local swimming pools and various local events.

You can read it on this link.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rained on in Ryton

Ryton Riverside Nov 16

On Sunday afternoon, after attending the Remembrance Day Parade in Whickham, I headed down to Ryton to do a bit of campaigning. Alas, the rain came with me. I got rather wet on the new Riverside estate but at least I was able to have a look around one of the biggest recent new housing developments in Blaydon constituency.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Jam today

Jam on sale Nov 16

My self-sufficiency activities led to an interesting invitation last week: would I like to have a stall at Lib Dem regional conference on Saturday to sell my homemade jams? I took up the offer. A quite pleasing number of sales took place. Alas, the income was somewhat dwarfed by the vet bill I had on Friday when I had to call out a livestock vet for one of my goats, Pinkie. She had eaten something that disagreed with her. Fortunately she recovered quickly, unlike my bank balance!

Tim Farron's speech to North East Conference

Tim Farron MP was the guest speaker at the North East Lib Dem conference on Saturday in Gateshead. Most of the speech is covered in this video though annoyingly, the final few minutes were not captured as my camera decided the memory card was full (despite 800MB space left to use up).

Award for Frank at Gateshead Conference

My predecessor as Gateshead Council Group Leader, Frank Hindle, was awarded the Regional President's Award at North East Lib Dem Conference held in the Jurys Inn, Gateshead Quays, on Saturday. Well done Frank! He has put in a huge amount of work over the years for the party, not just as a councillor and group leader, but also as a Parliamentary candidate, agent in the European elections and more recently as our lead person co-ordinating the Lib Dem responses in the North East to the Boundary Commission's review of Parliamentary constituencies.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (16)

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (19)

The awards were presented by Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron MP. Wearside won the Alisdair Wardlow Cup following their spectacular gain of Millfield from Labour in this year's local elections.

North East Lib Dem conference Nov 16 (24)

And the winner of the Frances Foote Wood Award, for an individual who has put in effort well beyond the call of duty, went to Meg Crosby, from Sunderland.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (5)

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (3)

On Friday evening, Lighting Up Whickham held a race night at the Crown pub. As the only person in the organising group with a food handling certificate, I was tasked with being head chef for the evening. It was hardly an onerous task - reheating the pies, pasties and mushy peas. My catering pans and meat thermometers proved very useful on the evening.

I started the evening on a winning streak, betting successfully on the first 2 races. It was downhill after that as I blew my winnings on failed bets that helped boost the profit on the evening to £600, a great sum that will ensure Whickham village continues to have a Christmas tree.

I'm pleased to announce that my winning streak returned at the end of the evening. I won a bottle of prosecco, generously donated by Cllr Sonya Hawkins.

Lighting Up Whickham Race Night Nov 16 (1)