Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Wartime Farm

I was recently sent a review copy of "The Wartime Farm", a book to accompany the BBC series of the same name, by the publishers Octopus Books. Last year, wearing both my historian's and horticulturalist's hats, I spent 2 weeks living on a wartime diet. I made a series of videos about it and the local media took quite a bit of interest in what I did. It seems Octopus Publishing noticed it as well. So when they asked me if I wanted a copy of the book, I replied that I would love to receive one and review it for them. After all, I am a great fan of the previous programmes they have produced about farming in the Stuart, Victorian and Edwardian periods. The Wartime Farm itself is currently being broadcast on Thursday evenings on BBC2. After locking up my hen and duck houses and watering the greenhouse, my Thursday evenings are now spent watching the tv.

I've just finished reading the book. I loved it. The big joke in our house is that when we are watching a history programme, I will predict what is about to be said and, assuming I get it right (not always the case!) I end up saying, "I could have written it for them!" Whilst this can be applied to some of the history behind the Wartime Farm programme and book, there is plenty that is new to me. Farming and food production during the war years is something about which we as a nation have a vague collective consciousness but it is an area that is not extensively researched. There is much to be learnt and, frankly, the lessons of the war years can be applied to the modern world. Problems of poor diet, over-consumption of calories by some, under-consumption by others, waste, land use, health were all tackled successfully in the war years. Sadly, the UK as a whole has, for decades now, been forgetting much of what was learnt in the war years with terrible consequences: obesity in some, unhealthy lifestyles and lack of exercise, bad diets, to name but a few.

The book and the series covers a range of issues, not all directly to do with food. One of the most interesting was the revival of old skills that were dying out as the war began. For example, blacksmiths came out of retirement to help repair old farm machinery that had been left to rust for years in the corner of fields. Alex Langlands revived the art of making bee skeps. As a beekeeper myself, I found this fascinating. He even created the materials himself from straw available on the farm and from brambles.

"Make do and mend" is a familiar catchphrase from the war years. Its meaning is now something that is lost on modern Britain. There is a tendency now to throw something out if it is broken, rather than repair it for continued use. Indeed, some things are thrown out now that have years of life left in them. Look at the way clothes are bought and disposed of nowadays. The number of people who make their own clothes is, sadly, diminishing. I fear that we will lose those skills forever. Clothes are often thrown away because they are no longer fashionable. Such utter waste is killing the planet and would have been viewed with complete horror in the war years. Typically a person now would buy more clothes in a fashion season than someone living 70 years would have bought across the whole of the 14 years they had ration books. Then people knew how to make things last, how to reuse something, how to repair, how to get the best from something, how to make it into something else.

One of the unsung heros of the war was the Women's Institute. The book examines the tremendous voluntary work the WI put in during the war years to increase the country's food supply. Not only did they turn Britain's bounty of wild foods into the jams and preserves that are always associated with them, they also turned themselves into a mobile university and training organisation, teaching others the skills needed to preserve food and increase the food supply. In the war on the home front, they were the cavalry, charging in to do the job. Sadly, too many people now think of the WI as a small "c" conservative organisation, full of "Little Britain" ladies whose stomachs turn when confronted with people who do not follow a preconceived norm. The reality is totally different. The WI helped us get through the war. The book brings that out superbly.

Now that I have a copy of "The Wartime Farm", it is no longer on my Christmas present list. (The book has a section on making toys so if anyone wants to make me the Spitfire Alex Langlands made from tin cans, you know what to pop in my stocking this December.) The book however is a great read, even if you have no interest in history. So forget about asking for more clothes that will be unwearably unfashionable by this time next year. Get a copy of this book for Christmas (or even earlier) instead.

"The Wartime Farm" is published by Octopus Books, price £20.
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Thursday, September 20, 2012


When Gateshead Council decided to remove 100 allotments from its books nearly two years ago, the concerns about this sell-off were raised by me at the Cabinet meeting at which the decision was taken. This was a significant reduction at a time when the move should be in the other direction. In my ward there are no council owned allotments. They are all privately owned but as with other areas, there is a waiting list.

When I raised my concerns about the loss of so many allotments, the Leader of the Council. Mick Henry, did agree that a review would be carried out to look at ways of increasing the number of allotments in Gateshead. So I awaited the results of this review (whilst helping Lib Dem Councillors in the neighbouring ward to mine successfully stop the Council closing down the Horrocks allotments where around 60 plots were threatened with the axe.) After waiting nearly two years however, there has been now sign of an outcome to this review.

Today at full council, the Cabinet report referred to proposals for the greening of Gateshead. It contained a small section about allotments, specifically the improvement of their management. There is also a proposal that at some point soon, an "allotment conference" will be held. I had two issues I raised for the Leader of the Council to answer at the meeting. Firstly, what will be the aim of the conference and who will be invited? Secondly, what has happened to the review of allotments he promised?

I don't doubt Mick's commitment to the allotment cause. The conversations I have had with him in private and the debates in public lead me to believe his commitment is genuine. I was a bit disappointed that his response to my questions today was that he could have answered if I had given notice of them, without which he was unable to answer. To be fair to him, he is in charge of a large organisation so all issues are competing for his attention, though being unable to answer something about the contents of his own Cabinet report was a bit surprising. Nevertheless, he has made the commitment to write to me and I look forward to the reply. As I said earlier, I think he is genuinely committed and I see my role in this issue as someone who is pushing for the expansion but quite willing to help the Council achieve the goal of more allotments and locally produced foods.

I had a rather interesting end to the meeting. I found myself surrounded by Labour councillors wanting to discuss allotments and local food growing with me.
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Monday, September 17, 2012

General Strike!

I had to drive to Hexham last week to stock up on chicken feed and decided to listen to Radio Newcastle on the way. As I started listening, I was left with the impression I had tuned in to a comedy show. It was actually the morning show and guests were in the studio to talk about issues of topical interest. I didn't catch any of their names but one of them was a senior official from Unison and she spent much of the programme advocating the "benefits" as she saw them of a general strike. Quite which planet she lived on was not clear though I doubt she lived on Planet Earth, given the ridiculous comments she made.

The basis of her argument was that as she and her friends did not like the government, and what it is doing, a general strike should be called to get rid of them. Forget democracy, forget the rule of law, forget the fact the Coalition Government was the result of a general election. If she doesn't like the government, and if her like-minded friends don't like the government, it has to be brought down by trade unions with, presumably, union bosses choosing a new government to their own liking. She argued that the government had won all the battles so far with the unions but were all the unions to join together and take joint action, she believed the unions would win.

This nonsense clearly did not have the support of people listening to the programme. They sent in plenty of messages suggesting strikes were not the answer. It is understandable with posturing like this, why union membership is at its lowest for 60 years and is continuing to drop.

Unions can and do play a constructive role when their feet are on the ground and they behave in a responsible manner. Look at the benefits that have come to the car industry with the unions taking a responsible attitude to industrial relations. The sensible people in the union movement must cringe every time one of the extreme union fantasists starts speaking in public. For the rest of us, they provide light relief and entertainment.
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Monday, September 10, 2012

Restoration project

Fugar Bar is a historic area of my ward which was the crossroads of the Tanfield Railway, the oldest railway in the world, the turnpike road to Consett, now the A692, and a possible medieval road that connected various great houses in the area. One of those great houses was Fugar House which, alas, was demolished in the 1950s before serious consideration was given to protecting historic buildings. Fugar House's orchard is now all that remains.

I am aiming to get a restoration project off the ground. The aim is to have a community group take the lead and the Sunniside History Society has agreed to be that organisation. I am a member of it and at a recent meeting, I played the video above which I filmed one weekend in July. The orchard is in a poor state. The pear trees are over 100 years old and are probably a rare variety. I remember picking pears in the orchard with my Dad as a child but the site is so overgrown now that it is difficult to get any access. The orchard belongs to Gateshead Council and I've had meetings with officers and a site visit with them. There is interest in moving the project on.

The History Society's lead is welcomed as the site is packed with history. There is a 16th century culvet created for the waggonways of the time. The outline of an old pond can still be found - it was used to cool off the wooden waggonwheels which themselves ran on wooden rails. Fires were not uncommon at the time. The waggonway carried coal to the Tyne for export, mainly to London. So the site is important for the region's history as well. So hopefully we will be making progress with this project. The key is to put a case for funding to outside bodies as the Council itself has no money to put into it.

Tories in a spin on windfarms

wind turbines Oct 11 1

Tory Councillors in Northumberland last week attempted to get the council to adopt an anti-windfarm policy which, if implemented, would almost certainly have put the authority on the wrong side of the law and opened it up to expensive legal challenges in the courts. The Tories in the county, with ever more threadbare credentials on green policies, were however, not entirely united in their posturing. Absent from the vote was their own "leader" Councillor Peter Jackson. I wonder if this had anything to do with his previous calls for a hardline against wind turbines being built in Northumberland whilst planning permission was being sought to intall a wind turbine on, ahem, his own land!

Quite where he was at the time of the debate on the Tory motion is not clear. Maybe he had gone with the wind. It appears his lack of willingness to back his own party's calls was shared by two other Tory Councillors who are planning committee chairs. They failed to vote for their colleagues' motion.

Meanwhile, Labour broke with tradition and decided not to vote with the Tories against the Lib Dem minority run council. Labour are normally a complete shambles on the Council. Their recent call to boost the Northumberland economy by pouring cash into advertising the area as the booze-cruise destination for Scots (following the Scottish government's plans to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol) did not go down well in the North East. Perhaps a moment of sober thought by Labour made them realise that they needed to live in the real world when it comes to wind power.

Friday, September 07, 2012

2.5 million viewings

A milestone has been reached. My videos on YouTube have now been viewed 2.5 million times. There are over 700 videos on the channel, all made by me. The most viewed is "Inside a Former Secret Soviet Submarine Base", filmed in the Ukraine in 2006. The most popular over the past month is "How to dry tomatoes", with over 7,000 viewings. Total monthly viewing figures are around 60,000. Rather helpfully, I receive a monthly cheque for advertising revenue.

Most of the videos I put onto the channel are about self-sufficiency, allotments, gardening and cookery. The next largest category is travel but I also produce videos about local issues and, of course, politics. I'll be at conference with a collection of cameras filming all sorts of things.

If you feel you have nothing better to do, pay the site a visit:

Monday, August 13, 2012

I remember when...

Had there been an Olympic sport of beekeeing, yesterday I would have been in contention for a medal in the race to inspect as many hives as possible in one afternoon. We managed to check all 8 of ours in under two hours. Surely a record!

And so to the closing ceremony of the Olympics. The curtain came down on the games with an extravaganza of British music from the past 50 years. Alas, whilst I could get excited about Queen, ELO, John Lennon, Madness, Take That (minus Robbie) and even the Spice Girls, all from some part of my past, some of the younger musicians were leaving me scratching my head and asking, “Who are they?” A sure sign that I am getting old!
With a gold medal haul of 29, our best since 1908, and with music of the 70s and 80s ringing in my ears, I was able to reminisce about the bad old days at the Olympics. I remember when the Soviets and East Germans soaked up a lion’s share of the gold medals. For those two countries, it was all about attempting to show their system was the best. They had repressive regimes, paranoid governments and a socialist system that certainly did not provide according to need (other than the party hacks who lived a life a privilege) but at least they could cover their failure with sporting triumphs and a haul of medals that probably trebled their entire country’s gold reserves. For us now to beat Russia (admittedly stripped of the other Soviet republics) has to be seen as a triumph. We have one fifth the population of the USA and one twentieth that of China. We have therefore a smaller pool from which to choose our champions. That makes Team GB’s performance all the more remarkable. The question now is, where do we go from here as a sporting country and how to we get there?

A final point about the Olympics. Men’s football has vast resources poured into it. It’s a sport that has taken a disproportionate share of the money available for sport broadcasting rights. The top clubs pay their players unsustainably huge wages. Yet their performance at the Olympics was relatively poor. Why isn’t all that money buying the best?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Retail therapy, trade union style

I received a copy of the Gateshead Unison newsletter yesterday and have just read it now. As you would expect, there were various pages of attack, much of it directed at both Gateshead Council and the Government. On a more positive note there was a useful outline of the reforms to the pension scheme and an explanation that a ballot of members is underway on whether or not to accept the agreement that has now been signed off by ministers. It appears that having reached that agreement after a long and painful process, members are not being pushed to reject it and are being left to make a judgement themselves in the ballot. I hope they vote to accept, and indeed, I would be surprised if they didn’t.

There were two separate articles however that caught my eye. Both on their own would barely register on my own radar screen but both in the same document suggests that Unison needs to kick the habit of not practicing what they preach. One article attacked George Osborne’s regional pay proposals as, amongst other reasons, they would reduce “the amount of money we have to spend in local businesses which will be detrimental to the local economy.” Glad to see Unison is keen to back the local, small-scale, capitalist, private sector economy!

Then go to the back page and the list of social events. In a throwback to the disastrous, debt-fuelled consumerism and materialism of the Blair/Brown years, what is Unison’s idea of a great day out? – retail therapy! Unison are advertising two “shopping trips” as social events over the coming months. As one of those who finds it difficult to reconcile materialism with sustainable living, I find the thought of spending a day shopping as, at best a chore, at worst a day from my life that is permanently wasted and could have been better used.

But are these trips to local shopping centres to support the local shops and local economies about which they expressed so much concern earlier in the same newsletter? No! These are trips to Manchester and Leeds, a considerable distance from Gateshead (400 and 200 mile round trips respectively). Why not arrange a shopping trip to a local centre instead, such as to the Metrocentre, here in Gateshead, or across the Tyne to Eldon Square in Newcastle instead to boost the local economy? Even better, why not arrange a trip to Whickham, our local town centre that we are battling hard to retain as a centre for shops, businesses and leisure – over the past 25 years it has been squeezed heavily by the Metrocentre and Newcastle City Centre. We can give you a much warmer welcome than you can get in Leeds or Mancheser!

Elsewhere in the newsletter, an attack is made on the Council’s proposals to charge for an annual permit for staff to park in the Civic Centre car park. Yet again, this does not sit comfortably with the support Unison gave to Labour over recent local elections. Labour have driven through the introduction of parking charges in Whickham, we fought against them and Unison were urging people not to vote for us.

I am pleased to say however that Labour's campaign in Whickham this year seemed to be the model adopted by a certain couple of Chinese badminton players - their campaign tactics seemed to show they were determined to lose, something they did spectacularly!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Feel Good Factor

On Friday I was the guest speaker at the Whickham U3A. They have regular meetings called "feel good" sessions. Somehow I managed to get an invite to make 40 senior citizen ladies feel good.

I wasn't there with my politician's hat on but rather I was there to talk about self-sufficiency and how I am getting on growing my own food and generating my own electricity. Nevertheless, I was introduced as, "This is Jonathan, you all know him so he needs no introduction!"

I ploughed my way through a powerpoint presentation, complete with lots of photos and some of my videos, showing how we have gone from acquiring a derelict allotment in Sunniside to growing a large proportion of the food we consume. It was also peppered with a variety of jokes about politicians, including feel good factors, duck houses on council expenses (we are planning to get some ducks) and so on.

Last year when I was facing re-election in my own ward, the local newspapers had carried a number of feature articles on my food-growing activities. This created a great deal of interest amongst constituents. When going around my ward whipping up interest in the election, the question most people asked was, "How's the garden?" Needless to say, the Labour candidate was thoroughly beaten, though he did even worse this year.

So, the secret to electoral success in a local election seems to be, get a garden!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Even the sun managed to shine

Saturday saw the first Whickham Community Festival. I am a member of the organising group. It was set up to help boost the vitality of Whickham Village. The festival was run to bring more visitors to Whickham centre and it worked well. The theme for Saturday was the Olympics and we had a variety of events though the fun run for the kids in Chase Park had to be cancelled as a result of the ground conditions caused by the wet weather. Despite that, the festival was able to go ahead in St Mary's Green as, believe it or not, we actually had a sunny day on Saturday.

I was tasked with helping to promote the event, put up the bunting in the village (not just any old bunting, Marks and Spencer bunting - one of my colleagues works for M&S and persuaded the company to lend us the bunting used recently in one of their stores), and be the photographer for the day. So here are a few of my pics of the event:

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (212)

Paralympian Karen Lewis-Hamilton lit the Olympic flame, assisted by Cllr John McClurey and town cryer Tony Hewison.

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (202)

Councillors Sonya Hawkins and Susan Craig lead the Olympic procession.

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (228)

Street entertainment and music was provided all day long

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (181)

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (184)

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (190)

The biggest zumba ever attempted in Whickham. I had a go myself (not a pretty sight!)

Whickham Community Festival Jul 12 (159)

The Rev Barry Abbott beating me at the adults' hoolahoop competition!

Friday, July 06, 2012

The dizzy heights - up a ladder with bunting

Jonathan putting up bunting Jul 12 2

The rain held off long enough this morning for myself and Councillors John McClurey and Sonya Hawkins to put up the bunting for the Whickham Community Festival on Saturday. I was allocated the job of going up the ladder to wrap the bunting around lampposts and trees. Somehow there was no rush of people to climb the dizzy heights!

We kept an eye on the weather forecast today. It looks like we will escape much of the rain tomorrow. Not that I escaped it tonight. When I went out at 10pm to close up my henhouse, I get drenched.

Jonathan putting up bunting Jul 12 1

Petition handover - the history of a "myth"

Dunston Hill petition Jul 12 12

Gateshead Council is currently carrying out a strategic land review, one of the consequences of the Planning Act (2004) and subsequent planning regulations passed in 2008. A Local Development Framework, effectively the council's planning policies, is a statutory requirement and the results of the review will feed into it. As part of the review, Labour are proposing the end of greenbelt status in various parts of Gateshead and their use for house-building. One of these areas is at Dunston Hill. Local Lib Dem Councillors, myself included, have helped to get a residents' campaign group off the ground to fight the proposals. The group is now self-supporting so the councillors can step back and allow the residents to show that this is not a party political campaign.

We did however attend the handover of the petition  to the council today run by the residents which called on Dunston Hill's greenbelt status to be retained. The above photo is of Cllr John McClurey (Whickham South and Sunniside - one of my ward colleagues), Dave Fawcett from Lobley Hill and Bensham (who collected nearly 200 signatures on the petition over the weekend), Councillor Peter Maughan (Dunston Hill and Whickham East), Cllr Peter Craig (Whickham North) and myself holding the petition.

The photo below is of the residents' group.

Dunston Hill petition Jul 12 4

The person holding the petition on the left is Steve Potts, one of the residents who has taken a leading role in running the campaign. He became involved after we held a public meeting in Lobley Hill in February.

The greenbelt issue has had something of an interesting history, especially in recent months. Labour in the three Whickham wards, all being defended by Lib Dems in May, came up with the absurd claim that the house-building proposals we a "myth". This rather overlooked the fact that Gateshead Council had been working on developing the local development framework since 2008 and it has been before the cabinet a number of times. Quite how Labour thought they could get away with a claim that something which had occupied thousands of hours of officer time and had already been out to public consultation was a "myth" was beyond me. On our side, we made sure this preposterous claim was exposed.

People knew the claim was total rubbish. They had read enough about it in the local press, seen Gateshead Council's own publicity about consultation meetings and heard plenty about in from the Lib Dems. They knew Labour were attempting to pull the wool over their eyes, and people responded accordingly.

My ward was not a serious target for Labour in May but the other 2 Whickham wards were. All are affected to some degree by the house-building proposals and as a result, much of the election battle revolved around them. So, whoever came up with the "myth" claim in the Labour party certainly helped to boost our chances in what were very difficult defences in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and in Whickham North. In the former, Labour won with a majority of 630 last year. This year, we won with a majority of 220. In Whickham North, last year we held on by 24 votes. This year, our sitting councillor (my mother) retired, making the defence doubly difficult. Our new councillor, Sonya Hawkins, however, was elected with a majority of 100.

In our own ranks we joke that whoever came up with the "myth" claim in the Labour party is our very own secret weapon which we had managed to embed in the Labour organisation! We are looking forward to this person's influence continuing to grow amongst the "socialist" brothers and sisters.

I wonder what this person will come up with next.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

100,000 Flickr viewings

Hollinside Manor in snow Jan 10 no 17

A milestone reachd on my Flickr account today. My photos have now been viewed 100,000 times. In addition, there have been 20,000 viewing of my photo stream and 14,000 viewings of my sets.

The most viewed photo is the one above. It is Hollinside Manor in the snow, taken a couple of years ago. Someone seems to have linked to it or embedded it on a website but unfortunately the stats don't say who. If anyone stumbles across it, please tell me.

The Flickr site can be viewed at

My 2nd most viewed photo (1003 viewings)  is of this baobab tree I took on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Mayotte in December 2007:

Mayotte baobab tree Dec 07 no 4

3rd most viewed (641 viewings) is of this chameleon in the jungles of Madagascar, again from December 2007:

Madagascar chameleon Dec 07 No 1

4th most viewed (374 viewings) was taken in the Roman City of Jerash in Jordan in June 2008:

Jerash June 08 no 108

And 5th most viewed (358 viewings) was taken in October 2006 at the former Soviet secret nuclear submarine base in the Crimea in the Ukraine:

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 130

There are a further 4,393 photos but life is too short to list them!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Scaling the heights

It was something I didn't want to miss: Whickham Parochial School invited me to look at the garden they have created and take part in a fundraising wall-climbing session. Well, the garden is coming along well and it looks like the kids will make good use of a couple of trays of strawberry plants I donated. But what of this wall climb? Well, it turned out to be 12 metres high and I was due to climb it with the head teacher, Peter Armstrong. So, with both of us suitably kitted out with harnesses, helmets and ropes, and with a class of children cheering us on, we started the climb.

 Parochial School Wall Climb May 12 (3)

Me and Head Peter Armstrong, all kitted up and ready to climb.

Parochial School Wall Climb May 12 (8)

Peter takes an early lead in the race to the top.

 Parochial School Wall Climb May 12 (10)

But half way up, Peter decided it was time to head back to earth.

Parochial School Wall Climb May 12 (20)

I kept climbing but a couple of metres from the top, I decided it was time to let gravity kick in and bring me down to the ground. So, a fun day and hopefully lots of money raised for the school garden. And it was great to see kids taking an interest in how food is grown.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New Deputy Leader

As news stories go, it is not earthshattering but I have been elected as the new Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Gateshead Council. And that makes me the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Noel Rippeth, our previous Deputy, retired from the Council at the local elections.

This is not a new post for me. I was Deputy from 1998-2000 but then had to give up because my new job took me to London. That came to an end in 2009, since when I have been based back in Gateshead. I think this is a case of deja vu for me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Conference Democrat

Conference Democrat No 2 Mar 12

This is the newsletter I produce for people who have used my photo and video services at previous Lib Dem conferences. This edition looks at the main conference motions, contains information about forthcoming photo ops for campaigners and has a bit of info about places of interest near The Sage, the venue for Conference, which can be visited whilst in Gateshead and Newcastle.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Northern Democrat February 2012

Northern Democrat 61 Feb 12

This si the February edition of the Northern Democrat, edited by me for Lib Dems in the North of England.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Attacked by Labour for not reversing Labour policy

An interesting exchange took place at Gateshead Council's Cabinet yesterday. It happened during a discussion on rent rises for Gateshead's council housing. The rise is 8.5%. Labour Leader Mick Henry attacked the aim of the Coalition Government of achieving a convergence between council rents and those paid in the rest of the social rented sector. At this point, Lib Dem group leader Frank Hindle intervened to point out that the policy of convergence was actually introduced by the previous Labour Government, a point which Cllr Henry then admitted was true. It was, he argued however, still all our fault that rents have gone up because "two wrongs don't make a right."

If this challenging thought process wasn't enough, Labour Cllr Michael McNestry pitched in with his comments at this point. Michael is a pleasant enough and rather harmless guy. But he decided to attack the Lib Dems for not reversing the policy his own beloved Labour Government had introduced! "You've had two years to reverse the policy and that's easily long enough," he said. So there we have it, Cllr McNestry attacks us for not reversing Labour policy. The thing is Michael, if you are so opposed to this policy, you and your "socialist" chums had 13 years in power to stop these Labour policies from happening in the first place. It's all very well demanding that we Lib Dems reverse the policies of your Government of which you were a supporter, but where were you when people needed you to make a stand against Blair and Brown and their policies?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Unison demands end to NHS investment

The next time Lib Dems are incorrectly attacked for allowing capital investment to be ended in the NHS by the Labour movement, they may want to consider the following demand from Unison, the Labour supporting trade union. Here in Gateshead Unison are actually demanding the end to investment in new buildings and state of the art technology at one of our local hospitals.

Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust want to build a new centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to bring together accident and emergency, medical admissions, short stay, pediatrics assessment and surgical assessment units under one roof. The aim is to improve the care for patients and avoid the situation in which people have to be shuffled from one building to another, sometimes having to travel to other hospitals. This is a major improvement for the benefit of patients.

The only issue I would question is the plan to include a walk in centre in the same building. We would prefer the walk in centre to be in central Gateshead as, by its nature, it needs to be accessible. The Trust has put forward a logical case to include the walk in centre in the new building at the QE. There is a difference of opinion and the geographical location issues need to be balanced against the improvements that come about by having everything under the same roof.

Unison however have stepped forward with a demand that the investment be cancelled because it could affect their members' jobs. When I first saw this in our local newspaper, I had to read it a few times to be certain I had read it correctly. Unison branch secretary Maddy Nettleship explains, "During the current economic climate, everyone is very worried about their jobs and it seems an inappropriate time to build a new multi-million pound premises at the risk of losing highly-skilled staff.

"In our view, such a big investment could have a detrimental impact upon future services as cutbacks could have to be made - including jobs."

So let's look in detail at what this union boss is saying. Note the use of the word "could" rather than "will". In other words, they don't know for certain whether jobs will be lost or not. What an absurd stance for anyone to take, however: no investment in improvements for patients can take place for this investment may affect someone's job. Imagine that sort of attitude being around in 1948: stop the creation of the NHS because someone's job may be affected. Luddites are still around, it seems. Unison, it appears, are resistant to change even if the outcome is a significant improvement to patient care.

The union's claims about "cutbacks having to be made" merits consideration. Currently, the services currently planned to be moved into the new building are spread out over a large area. Patients have to make a judgement as to which service and site to go to. Often it is the wrong one. That's not the fault of the patient. They have to make a decision without the medical knowledge that ensures they go to the correct service. They get to the service they think they need, wait to be seen and then have to be sent to another establishment. This wastes staff time which could be better used on treating others and it wastes the time of the patient. NHS resources are then used to ship patients to another site. Cut this waste out of the system and there will be an improvement for patients and better use of staff. Having all the front line services under one roof means one reception and people being sent to the right service. They will therefore be seen quicker. And staff will have more time to see more patients. Unison however opposes this logical change.

And the implication that servicing the cost of the investment "could" lead to job losses ignores the fact that it will be cheaper to run the services together under one roof and saves money on not having to transport people around when they turn up to the wrong service.

The last Labour government privatised the supply of new hospital buildings. Their private finance initiative means private companies own and run many of our new hospitals, a massive burden on NHS budgets for years to come, diverting cash from patient care into the pockets of the private sector. The Gateshead investment is not PFI. Instead, the Trust will borrow the money from the government at a low interest rate. The new building will be owned by the Trust, not a PLC. No rent will be paid on it. There will be no obligation, common under PFI, to pay the owner for maintenance services. I would have thought Unison would have jumped at the chance of having such an investment. But no, they want nothing of the sort. No improved health care and no government investment. But at least, now we know what Unison's priorities are.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

My January stats

Here are a few of my more interesting stats for January 2012:

2,138,695 - total number of viewings of my videos on YouTube by the end of January
47,390 - number of viewings of my videos on YouTube during January
3,668 - largest number of viewings for an individual video during the month (How to pluck and gut a pheasant)!
2288 - number of visits to my self-sufficiency blog
1915 - number of viewings of my photos on Flickr
102 - number of eggs laid by my hens
5 - number of tonnes of manure delivered to my allotment
1 - number of times I hurt myself slipping over on the ice

Monday, January 30, 2012

Labour need bank bonuses to make their "policy" work

Labour's suddenly discovered hostility to bank bonuses, highlights the chaos into which Labour policy has descended. I am not referring to their 13 years in government in which they actively encouraged the bonus culture. Instead, I am referring to the so-called "Five Point Plan" to solve all the country's ills. I have blogged before about how feeble and back-of-an-envelope this "Plan" is. It is based on a £2 billion bank bonus tax which, Labour claims, will pay for a house building scheme with will solve the housing crisis (which they allowed to get worse in government), take 100,000 young people off the dole (after leaving nearly one million on the dole themselves) and generally will pay to reverse any cut they don't like, even though they are now supposed to be all in favour of these cuts.

None of Labour's figures stack up. The scheme would cost more than four times the money raised to pay for it. But at this moment, that's not the point. The reality is that if Labour is to stand any chance of making their scheme achieve even a fraction of what is claimed of it, bank bonuses will have to be paid big style so that they can be taxed. This £2 billion is a great deal of money but Labour can't have it both ways - arguing for lots of tax to be raised from the banks when bonuses are paid and then in the next tv interview, arguing for an end to bank bonuses. The reality is that Labour policy rests on big fat bonuses being paid by the banks. You can't kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs and then demand the corpse of the goose continues laying!
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

An interesting world when Lib Dem policy launch is the lead new story

Despite carelessly leaving my blackberry switched on overnight, the email to Lib Dems from Vince Cable at 6.19am didn't wake me. So an hour later when I was awake, I was even more awake after reading Vince's message. So, Nick Clegg was calling for an earlier implementation of the Lib Dem policy of raising the tax threshold to £10,000. Excellent stuff.

What was of most interest however was watching the BBC News 24 throughout the morning. Nick's tax call was for most of the time the lead story. Go back just a couple of years and the possibility of getting a positive story about Lib Dem policy as the lead news story was, at best, very slim. My experience of the media on policy was that the press would only take an interest in it if there was a possibility of a row at conference. Evan Harris would have his time in the tv limelight as he sought to be friendly to the leadership by moving a hostile amendment. Conference would debate the issue and then back it (unamended) by a healthy majority. And at that point, the media would lose interest and the policy would never appear again in the news.

Well, how things have changed. And my faith in the media has been partially restored with some great coverage today that highlighted that the policy of cutting income tax for those on low and middle incomes being pursued by the Coalition comes from the Lib Dems.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

My record year on YouTube

I have just done the stats for 2011 and have found that during the year, my videos were viewed 625,638 times on YouTube. And though my travel videos continue to have the most individual viewings (the one I shot in a former Soviet submarine base in the Ukraine has nearly 240,000 viewings though only 40,000 of these are from the past year), my gardening and cookery videos are now breaking into my top ten. For the past two months they have had the highest viewings. As it's shooting season, my video on how to pluck and gut a pheasant has been flying high with typically 250 viewings a day.

This is not just an interesting exercise in ego grooming. As a YouTube partner, I get paid advertising revenue so I need to work hard to produce a constant supply of new videos to encourage the viewers to keep returning.

The channel can be viewed at