Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Has my Labour opponent dumped the Labour manifesto?

Labour has made a tremendous fuss on social media in Blaydon about delivering their leaflet over the past few days. Dave Anderson, my Labour opponent, praises the "volunteers" who have been helping to deliver his literature. It's always good to thank people for volunteering their time. Perhaps Mr Anderson may wish to thank the staff of the delivery company which he forgot to mention who have been delivering his leaflet in the Whickham area of the constituency. As I was returning from feeding the goats and poultry yesterday morning, I watched a deliverer from a local delivery company, push the Labour leaflet, along with those for pizzas and gardening services, through my letter box. I understand from colleagues that the leaflet was still being delivered across the Whickham wards yesterday, though some did arrive in letter boxes at the end of last week. It seems however that a Twitter comment by Labour council candidate Chris McHugh last week was a bit premature. He announced that there had been "V positive feedback" from residents of the area to the leaflet, a comment made before it had arrived in the letter boxes of so many residents!

Anyway, I've read through the leaflet. It's stuffed full of the usual Lib-Dems-eat-your-babies-for-breakfast style allegations. But the lead story announces Dave Anderson is "delighted to wholeheartedly support the 38 Degrees campaign to repeal the Coalition's ... NHS reforms and to reinforce Labour's unwavering commitment." Commitment to what is not explained. Labour certainly aren't committed to a full repeal. Their policy is to cap the profits companies can make on NHS contracts, where the contract itself is valued at over £500,000. This is of course a gesture rather than a significant change. A company could easily pile up all sorts of overheads on the cost of a contract.

38 Degrees is demanding something different. They want an end to all private contracts. No NHS organisation would be able to buy in from the public sector. Quite how they will deal with contracts to buy drugs is left unanswered. Quite how the NHS will be able to provide dental services without buying them in from the thousands of private dental practices is an issue ignored by 38 Degrees. Who will build new hospital facilities without putting out contracts to private sector building companies is unexplained. Whatever the answers to these issues is, Labour do not support the end of NHS contracts going to the private sector. Mr Anderson is clearly at odds with his own party. Is he the Labour candidate in this election, or the 38 Degrees candidate?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mass injuries to Labour councillors after being impaled on fence?

Full Council in Gateshead on Thursday 26th March included taking a final decision on the Gateshead local plan. This document sets the planning policies for the years ahead. Liberal Democrat Councillors have been in battle with the Council over the greenbelt. We argue that no land needs to be taken out of the greenbelt for house building. Labour on the other hand are arguing the opposite - they support calls to build on land at places such as Dunston Hill, Crawcrook, Ryton and so on.

When the draft plan was debated by Council last year, a number of Labour councillors voted against it. This was the biggest rebellion I have seen in my 28 years on Gateshead Council. In the wards affected by greenbelt loss, there was an attempt by the Labour party to portray themselves as the guardians of the greenbelt and that they were dead against building on it, at the same time as they were defending the local plan and its contents. We saw that in their election literature last year.

Whilst this smacks of fence sitting with a foot in both camps, how would these Labour councillors vote last Thursday? The answer is they didn't. Whilst we would expect some absences for perfectly good reason, Labour numbers were down by 21 on Thursday. There will be a variety of genuine explanations for many of the absence but the no-show of the great majority of Labour councillors from affected wards was very, very noticeable. Even the deputy mayor Alex Geddes, who I am pleased to say was in good health in the morning at the freemen ceremony which I also attended, was absent. I fear there has been a sudden outbreak of injuries caused by sitting for too long on the fence. All that rusty barbed wire, jagged fence posts and thorny brambles must have taken their toll.

I wish them all a return to good health as soon as possible and look forward to their speedy return to Gateshead Council meetings.

Everything's coming up roses

My first job to do today was to take photos at another Planting Up Whickham event, this time on Coniston Avenue, on the Lakes Estate. There is a rose bed on the entrance to the Estate and the group has decided to take on the planting and maintenance of it. This morning a group of residents did the work.

Cllr Peter Maughan was raised on the Estate and he planted a rose in memory of his father who died recently.

The group are taking on the on-going maintenance of the rosebed and as it is at the entrance to the Estate, it will be noticed by many people.

Community pub at Marley Hill

Last night we ran another community pub at Marley Hill Community Centre. The aim is to get young families in the early evening, hence the reason for assembling the children's play equipment. David and I ran the kitchen. I also sold my hen and duck eggs to raise funds for the community centre.

Whilst the event was popular with young families, we still need to work out a way to attract visitors in the later part of the evening, though there were still some families in when we were closing at 11pm. These are early days for the community pub but as it becomes more established, we will be looking to open more often than the final Saturday of the month that we do at the moment.

More deliveries

We had a mini action day in my ward yesterday to deliver 2000 letters and an equal number of Focuses. All done though the second patch I had to deliver was done this morning. The Focus is entirely about volunteering possibilities in the Whickham area. It's already been delivered in Whickham North and Whickham East and has resulted in a number of people coming forward to help local organisations and events.

Whickham Street Surgery

We held our street surgery in Whickham, outside the Library, yesterday morning. We got noticed - hardly surprising given the huge diamond corex posters we had with us. And we had a good number of people speak to us as well. It seems that people have been watching the videos we made of recent council meetings. One of them was in the eFocus on Friday so that got noticed. Someone mentioned they had watched the video of Labour Councillor John Eagle speaking in the council budget debate in which he made a sickening attack on me. The constituent is pondering on lodging an official complaint against him!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Whickham eFocus no. 94

The latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area (number 94) has just been published and can be viewed on this link.

Freedom of the borough for cultural leaders

I had to be at the Sage yesterday morning to give a speech supporting the granting of the freedom of Gateshead to two people and an orchestra. It meant an earlier than usual feeding time for the livestock but the ceremony went well. Those being made freemen were Anthony Sargent, former director of the Sage through its early years, Lord (David) Puttnam, former film director and now leading figure in the North East's cultural renaissance, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia, represented by Bradley Creswick.

This was my first ceremonial event as Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead and thankfully, I made no gaffes or mistakes. I even had 5 Labour councillor and a Labour peer congratulate me on my speech! Inevitably, I had to get some photos to share with you:

Me and David Puttnam.

Me and Bradley Creswick.

Me and Anthony Sargent.

Our plans for Marley Hill

Marley Hill Community Centre, of which I am a trustee and member of the management committee, has a large amount of unused land on two sides of it. My plan is to turn it into a community garden and allotments. We have used some of the Local Community Fund, a small fund which councillors can use to support community activities, to draw up a feasibility study. There will be public consultation in the months ahead. There are restrictions on what we can do on the land as it is in greenbelt but we are working with the planners on this.

I took these photos on Tuesday after a meeting of the Marley Hill management committee where I explained to members where we are with the plans. There is still a long way to go but the wheels are starting to turn.

Envelope stuffing

Hooray! Over 3000 letters stuffed into envelopes recently and last night they were all bundled together in their delivery patches. They are all for my ward and delivery will take place in the next day or so. We are writing to a variety of people so the different letters had to be integrated together.

Visiting Dunston Staiths

On Tuesday, there was a ceremony to mark the opening of the Dunston Staiths after the completion of restoration work. I missed the speeches as I had to be at another meeting, but when I arrived, I managed to snap a few pictures, some of which I have included here. The Staiths are the biggest wooden structure in Europe though, sadly, it was damaged a few years ago by arsonists. Nevertheless, it's worth a visit.

Councillor Eagle's budget speech

Gateshead Labour Councillor John Eagle is a regular reader of this blog. Hardly a meeting goes by with his making a reference to it. He has supported some rather distasteful views in the past, backing a Facebook site that advocated the violent murder of Margaret Thatcher. I've put the whole of his speech that he made at last month's budget meeting onto YouTube. In it he employed a rather vile description of me. I'll leave it to readers to make their own judgement about this person.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My council tax speech to Gateshead Council

This is the video of my speech to Gateshead Council budget meeting on 26th February. I was still deputy leader then but was also leader elect. The election to replace Frank Hindle had taken place three days earlier. However, only we knew that! The leadership announcement was made the next day.

Gateshead decided to go for a 1.95% rise in council tax. We argued that there should be a freeze which would allow the council to claim a £900,000 grant from the government. A rise of 1.95% would bring in £1.4 million but lose the £900,000 grant. The net effect was to raise £500,000 and to reduce further the national taxes paid towards the cost of Gateshead's services.

Furthermore, over the past 2 years, Gateshead has spent an accumulated £5 million less than was agreed in the council budgets. £5 million more raised from council taxpayers than was needed. The money has been accumulated in reserves that now stand at £16 million. This rather goes against the grain of Labour's fake anger about the cuts. They set a budget which they claimed had too many cuts and then managed to spend less than the amount they already claimed was too low. And their crocodile tears shed over the loss of government grant shows just what a bunch of hypocrites they are. They were offered money and they turned it down. I bet that won't be appearing in their election leaflets.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Coming up this week

I am hurtling towards yet another busy week. As well as lots of election activities (I won't elaborate on them as I'm not going to give all those Labour gremlins who read my blog an advanced look at our plans, though we do have lots of letters to deliver in my ward), I have group on Monday (my second as leader), cabinet, Dunston Staiths renovation event and Marley Hill Community Centre management committee on Tuesday, scrutiny committee on Wednesday to look at landfill issues, a freeman ceremony, a primary school visit to the Civic Centre and full council on Thursday and a visit to Global News on Friday. Meanwhile, on Saturday, I will be helping to run the community pub at Marley Hill Community Centre.

Those being granted freeman of Gateshead on Thursday are David Putnam (film producer), Anthony Sargent (former director of the Sage Art Gallery) and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Gone have the days when I could turn up at these events and relax whilst others did the hard work. As Leader of the Opposition, I am giving a speech welcoming the honours. If anyone has any good lines I can include, please get in touch!

Gone with the wind

I headed to Blaydon on Saturday morning to meet up with Cllr Christine McHatton and Mark Groves from the local action group that tackles the on-going issue of the problem of landfill sites in the area. There has been a huge amount of windblown rubbish flying around local communities recently and people are quite rightly fed up with the problem. We had a look at 2 sites - Path Head and Blaydon Quarry.

On Gateshead Council we will shortly be having a scrutiny committee meeting with the Environment Agency to discuss the landfill issues. With more and more rubbish being diverted into recycling streams or converted to electricity, the question has to be asked, isn't it time to phase out landfill completely?

Lib Dems in Blaydon constituency have been fighting landfill for over 20 years. I remember helping Ione Rippeth, who retired 3 years ago as councillor for Ryton, to campaign against landfill back in the early 1990s. We simply cannot keep dumping waste into holes in the ground. We have to look at ways of converting waste into something useful. We can each play a role in reducing waste as well. We have successfully cut our waste to a low level in my house. Our general waste wheelie bin is put out for collection only once every one to two months. Our recycling wheelie bin is put out for collection once a month at most. We have decided not to take part in the garden waste collection scheme because all our garden waste will be composted. If we each do our bit, we can cut down on the damage we each do to the environment.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A delivery without me

A delivery with which I couldn't help. We had a team out in Dunston Hill this afternoon, led by Kevin McClurey. They were delivering a letter about Labour's decision to raise council tax in Gateshead. I was at home, dealing with print deadlines. Kevin helpfully sent me this photo of himself near the bottom of Dunston Bank. No doubt I'll have him more leaflets to delivery shortly.

Stuffed on a Friday night

What would you normally be doing on a Friday night? Sitting at home relaxing? Out with friends? Alas for us, we had 2000 envelopes to stuff.  A group of us invaded the conservatory at Cllr John McClurey's house tonight to get the letters into envelopes. And we have another 1000 to do on Monday, when we have finished printing them.

The letters are from me and are for constituents in my own ward of Whickham South and Sunniside. We are writing to a variety of people about a variety of issues. We then have to deliver them. It's so much easier sending them by email. Alas, in my ward, we only have 900 email addresses. I could do with having a few thousand more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The eclipse viewed from Sunniside

Here are a few photos I took of the eclipse this morning in Sunniside from my front garden and from Laburnum Grove.

The last photo didn't manage to catch the eclipse but it shows how the crows took to the air when the eclipse was happening.

A few recent photos from the campaign trail

Out and about in the constituency recently on the campaign trail. Above - over the A1 near the Coalhouse Roundabout to see the work on upgrading the A1. The Coalition are investing over £60 million in the improvement.

Outside the new Morrisons store in Blaydon. The council can claim some of the credit for the regeneration but at the end of the day, companies such as Morrisons will only invest in new stores if they are confident the economy is growing. And at the moment, the UK under the coalition has the fastest growing economy in the western world.

On the Team Valley - the Trading Estate is just outside of Blaydon constituency but is one of the great success stories, employing thousands of local people.

Outside my former school, Whickham. It was announced recently by Nick Clegg that the school is in the second wave of the school rebuilding programme.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Visiting Kibblesworth and Lamesley

Following on from my visit to Birtley last Friday, I returned again to the south of the constituency today. This time it was to visit Kibblesworth and Lamesley. The main reason for the trip was to get some photos for our forthcoming Birtley eFocus but also to chat to a few people as well.

While passing Lamesley Church, I called in to check on my grandfather and great grandfather's grave. They are both buried in the same plot, at the top northern corner. Having looked at press cuttings some years ago of my great grandfather Henry's funeral in 1901, I discovered that his was the first grave in what was then a new extension of the graveyard.

My grandfather John died in 1960 but at the time no inscription was made on the gravestone. Since then, the base of the gravestone had broken and the stone itself had fallen over. I had it turned over in 2002 so that the inscription face was showing and had added John's inscription.


Democracy Club has been in touch. I think it is run by the people who operate theyworkforyou.com. They have set up a site for candidate CVs so I've posted mine up. You can view it on this link. Sadly I am the only one of the 5 candidates in Blaydon so far to post up my CV. So come on Dave, Ali, Paul and Mark, get your stuff up there and let everyone in the constituency know what makes you tick.

Spot the animals at conference

There were various animals sighted at the Lib Dem Conference over the weekend. Here are some that I snapped on camera. Above - dog for the blind. Very cute.

Not very aerodynamic parrots - still alive and kicking.

Teddies - very cuddly.

Reptile - best avoided.

Goldfish at the Spice Island restaurant in Albert Dock. Not available with chips.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tabloid out in Whickham South

Progress continues with the delivery of our tabloid. As of Saturday, when I had escaped to conference, most of the remaining patches in the Whickham part of my ward, had been delivered. A team came in to finish off those areas where we don't already have a regular deliverer. I understand one patch is left to do. This is a much cheaper way to deliver leaflets than that employed by Labour. They have privatised leaflet delivery by buying in the service.

A few photos from Liverpool Conference

The Liberal Democrats'spring conference was held over the weekend and for the first time in two years I was attending for the whole of it. I did have an editorial meeting of Parliamentary Campaigner to attend and photos to take for candidates to use in their literature but I wasn't running photo ops. That activity has now been passed on to others and instead, I was one of the people having my photo taken  as above with Vince Cable.

So here are a few of the photos I've taken.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Our volunteering Focus

One of the unique selling points of the Lib Dems in the Whickham area is our involvement with voluntary organisations, some of which have been set up by local Lib Dem councillors to carry out work formally done by the council but which Gateshead no longer does. Examples include Lighting Up Whickham which raises funds for Christmas decorations in the village and Planting Up Whickham, which takes on the role of planting up flower beds to keep Whickham Village looking great.

We have produced a Focus entirely about the local voluntary organisations and in Whickham East, our local team was out last Thursday delivering them. Sadly, they delivered over one thousand houses without me. I was tied up on other things, including delivering our tabloid in our own ward.

Kevin McClurey, who organised the delivery, tells me that most of the leaflets were delivered in the one day.

The best question so far in the campaign

I went to Lord Lawson School on Friday at the invitation of some of the teachers to talk to year 7 pupils about the general election. Two classes came together to listen to what I had to say and quiz me on various issues. The questions were quite thought provoking. My short speech and the Q&A session were recorded on video and will go onto the school's website. The children will also be voting in their own general election. I understand that other parties will be invited as well.

After about an hour the children were divided back into their classes and I went with one class to a classroom where I discovered they had already viewed some of my self-sufficiency videos. We viewed a few more and I spent some time answering questions about raising goats and poultry and keeping bees.

By far the best question so far of the entire campaign came from one of the children: what would I do if my goat had her babies in 7th May!? Fortunately she is due to give birth in late May, but if she is early, it will no doubt cause untold problems on polling day!

Pinkie: not due to have babies on polling day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The famous wandering hen of Sunniside

On the Sunniside Residents' Facebook site there are regular photos of a hen that wanders around the streets of Sunniside. I hasten to add it is not one of mine. She seems to bring great enjoyment to local residents. I encountered her this morning when I was delivering some of my tabloids in the village. She was actually in the front garden of her owners, not wandering up the street! I snapped a picture of her - see above. She looks to me like a ginger nut ranger, one of the breeds I've got. An appropriate name, I think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Great Whickham Bake Off (and jam-making competition)

We had a meeting of the Lighting Up Whickham group last night to press on with arrangements for the Whickham Community Festival. This year it will be on Saturday 4th July and the theme is the 1960s and 70s - flower power and flares. This will be the 4th annual festival and this year we will be having an extra event - a baking and jam making competition. Inevitably (as it was my suggestion) I have been given the task of organising it. Sadly, that means I won't be able to enter it myself.

We are looking for an independent judge, preferably one with baking skills. We will not be charging people to enter the competition but they will have to make two over everything they enter as one of them will go into the raffle. All funds raised will go towards the Village's Christmas decorations.

The photo above is of an apple and marrow pie we made in January. Sadly, it was not entered in any competition as we ate it within a day of making it.

Labour's collapse in Whickham continues

Our latest tabloid continues to be delivered by our members and campaigners in the Whickham area. Most have now gone through doors though we have a few patches left to do in my ward. The photo above was taken last week - my ward's leaflets packaged into their delivery patches.

We have also experienced the arrival of Labour's election leaflets which they attempt to disguise as a "regular newsletter" (ie its regularity is equal to that of the local election cycle - one a year with every 4th year being time off to recover from their once a year delivery.) It seems that Labour aren't even bothering with a "local newsletter" in my ward. Whilst the two neighbouring Whickham wards are getting the "local" and David Anderson leaflets, Whickham South and Sunniside gets only the latter.

Actually, that's not quite an accurate reflection of what's happened. My opponent's leaflet which came through my door was not alone. It came with flyers for chips, pizzas and a variety of local services which most people would find far more useful than anything Labour could attempt to offer. I checked with colleagues in the other two wards and the story is the same. It appears that Labour have had to pay to get their leaflets delivered.

Labour collapsed in my ward in 2004 following a disastrous campaign they ran for the local elections that year. Whickham North however was Labour's top target last year in the North East and they poured in everything and the kitchen sink. They were devastated when our majority went from 100 to 300. There has been no Labour activity in the ward since then and their candidate has abandoned the ward. He has been chosen to replace Yvonne McNicol, their low profile councillor in Dunston Hill and Whickham East. Labour nearly lost the ward to us last year, scraping in by only 78 votes. As with the other wards, Labour there have been noticeable for their absence since polling day.

It is therefore interesting that Labour appear to be relying on a private company to deliver their literature. What's happened to their troops on the ground? Where have they gone? A look at their leaflet throws no further light on answers to these questions. In the Whickham North leaflet is a photo of what is supposed to be their local team. It doesn't even include their new candidate and nearly half the people in the photo are Labour councillors from outside the area!

Labour are now talking up on Twitter their "local newsletters". Let's hope they try to do this in the election as every time they claim to be active all year round, it goes strongly against the grain of people's experience. The more they try to make that claim, the less people will believe them. And making all-year-round action a key election issue means that local elections here will be fought on our agenda!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Labour's personal abuse has already started to be thrown at me

Labour has already started to throw personal abuse at me, two months away from the election. At the last full council meeting, I was called "Wallace and Vomit". The description was made by John Eagle who describes himself as a "socialist". He is a Labour councillor for Bridges ward in Gateshead and is a former mayor of the borough. Sticking with his descriptive theme, I don't know if Mr Eagle would turn heads if he walked into a room full of people. Whether or not he would turn stomachs is a different matter as Mr Eagle has a history of liking vile abusive comments. In April 2012 I exposed him as the supporter of a Facebook page that backed the violent murder of Margaret Thatcher. The site contained sickening comments such as "Maggie Thatcher needs a high-5. In the Face. With a baseball bat. Several times."

Mr Eagle will no doubt read this post himself. Few meetings go by without his mentioning my blog. Indeed, at the last council meeting, as well as hurling abuse at me, he attacked my blog, not for the first time. Yet, for some reason, he keeps revisiting it.

So, with less than 60 days to go, it will be interesting to see if more abuse is thrown at me by the "socialist" chums of Labour.

Photo above: John Eagle employs his considerable skills at colouring in children's pictures.

Not part of Labour's narrative

I arrived at Gateshead Civic Centre yesterday morning for a scruting meeting with DWP officers about the introduction of Universal Credit, open minded about how the new system will function. It was clear that Labour turned up with an expectation of a lecture on a system destined to failure. After all, that’s their narrative, at least locally. Any benefits reform has been attacked by them though they may have overlooked the absence of any commitment from Labour nationally to scrap Universal Credit. Last week, chair of the committee John Eagle had even warned us “not to shoot the messenger” at this meeting. Sadly for Labour their narrative was completely undermined by the solid presentation by the DWP officers who showed that many working people on low incomes are better off under the system if they get a job or take on more hours.

There were sensible questions from both sides but also some unhelpful interventions from the Labour. Martin Verbosity-Gannon rambled on for ages about how terrible it is that the benefits system subsidises employers to pay low wages but moved off this subject when he was asked to put a question by the chairman and was reminded by me that the huge number of in-work benefits were introduced by his beloved New Labour government (he was a major fan of Blair, something he prefers people not to be reminded about.)

Tommy Ultra-Verbosity-Graham rambled on for ages about, well goodness knows what. The only thing I remember from what he said was his announcement that he decided to spend his last 10 years of his working years as a civil servant as he wanted an easier life. I’m not sure what the civil servants he was addressing thought of his remarks.

And finally, Malcolm Brain swung into action with a comment that struck me as the result of the employment of a scraping device on the bottom of an empty liquid storage cntainer. Universal Credit was, according to him, terrible because people getting a job would be worse off because they would have to buy clothes and lunch. “Oh, so all unemployed people are naked and starving!?” I asked.

There are still rough edges with Universal Credit and some issues to resolve. Some changes will probably be needed as the system gets up and running. The overall system however is moving in the right direction, making sure people are better off in work. Labour in Gateshead simply hate the idea of another Coalition reform that is working. 

A look at our latest tabloid

Most of our tabloid newspapers have now been delivered in the Whickham North and the Dunston Hill and Whickham East wards. Delivery in my ward will be on going over the next three days. So far it's been getting a positive response.

Labour are currently putting out "newsletters" in WN and DHWE. They claim they are "regular" - what they don't explain is that their regularity is once a year in the run up to elections! It's not just the Lib Dems saying that. Residents say exactly the same thing. They know an election is approaching because Labour have come out of hibernation!

This one's right up my street

(Photo above - Pinkie, my pregnant golden guernsey goat is houses in conditions that conform to CIWF views.)

I've been getting lots of emails recently as Blaydon candidate about lots of issues but one in particular caught my attention. It was from supporters of Compassion in World Farming which draws attention to the need to improve animal welfare and to reduce the amount of meat in our diets to improve health and make our food production system more efficient in terms of calories produced. The argument is that a huge amount of calories are lost from the food supply system when fed to livestock. For every 100 calories grown and fed to livestock, we get less than a fifth of that back in calories from meat.

This was something I fully understood when I set out to be self-sufficient 6 years ago. As a historian who researches food history, reducing meat production and increasing the non-meat proportion of people's diets was a key aim during the war and post war years. It was a lesson I've applied to my own self-sufficient food production system.

As I said to respondents, we can't force people to reduce their meat intake, but we can motivate and inspire them to do so and we can point to the health and environmental benefits.

So tonight I emailed the people who have been in touch about this issue, and encouraged them to visit my allotment blog (www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.com.)

Anyway, here is my reply, along with the original message from correspondents:

As a result, I have reduced the amount of meat I eat and increased the proportion of my diet that is vegetarian. I do keep some livestock – goats, bees, chickens, ducks and quails – and I also swap some of my surplus, especially honey and eggs, for other people’s surplus fruit and vegetables. The aim is to build up a network of people involved in food production which is sustainable and requires few food miles.

The points you raise about the calorie loss caused by growing animal fodder crops is something I understand very well. I am also an historian and have researched food through the ages. It is noticeable that during the Second World War, when land needed to be used as efficiently as possible, the amount of meat in people’s diets was reduced so that land could be used for food for people rather than livestock. I have taken the lessons of that period and applied them to my lifestyle and self-sufficiency activities.

One thing I would add to your comments is the need to tackle food waste. In my household, we use everything we possibly can. From potato peelings and egg shells to apple cores and bones, we make use of what most people sadly now throw away to make further meals or to use as ingredients in preserves and so on.

I keep a blog about my food growing activities. You can visit it at www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.com. My aim in writing it is to encourage others to produce at least a small amount of their own food. We cannot force people to change lifestyles and diets but we can motivate others to do so by showing the personal as well as environmental benefits.

With regard to animal welfare, none of my animals are caged though I do keep my quails in an aviary. My chickens and ducks are free range and my goats have their own roaming area (often shared with the poultry).
Generally, a lower reliance on meat in people’s diet will help us to reduce the need for cages, help tackle obesity and reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

If I were elected MP for Blaydon, I would have a much bigger platform to promote the very issues on which you have contacted me. I will be able to do it not as a politician who tells others what they should do, but as a politician who genuinely believes in the cause AND lives it as well.

Please visit my blog and if there are any questions you wish to raise, feel free to get in touch.

Dr Jonathan Wallace
Liberal Democrat candidate, Blaydon

I am writing to you as one of my constituency’s candidates in the forthcoming general election to ask that you promote a humane and sustainable farming system in the new parliament.

We need to introduce high standards of farm animal welfare. It is time to phase out production that uses cages and crates as they thwart the basic instincts of many animals to roam, forage and explore.

Animals should be kept in outdoor systems or, if they are housed, they should be kept in large barns with ample space, plenty of straw, natural light and effective ventilation. Genetic selection for fast growth or high yields should be avoided if this results in compromised welfare and systems should not be used if they require mutilations.

We need to encourage the adoption of balanced diets with a lower proportion of meat. This would deliver health benefits by reducing the incidence of heart disease, obesity and certain cancers; it would also lower greenhouse gas emissions. Although more crops would be needed for direct human consumption, this would be outweighed by a reduction in demand for feed crops.

Farming provides valuable income to many rural communities. There should be a particular focus on higher welfare production that delivers a better quality of food and a higher income to those farmers at the farmgate, benefitting both the farmer and the wider community through added value.

Much livestock production in the UK is industrial in nature. 60% of EU cereal is used as animal feed. For every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk. We need to avoid excessive use of cereals and put more emphasis on restoring the link between animals and the land.

We need to promote diets that include less but higher welfare meat in order to deliver a farming system that is less intensive, with less reliance on fertilisers and pesticides. This would mean reduced degradation of water, soil and air and lower use of water, land and energy as well as biodiversity gains. It would also enable animals to be kept to higher welfare standards.

Across Europe, around 700 million farm animals (hens, sows, rabbits, ducks and quail) spend some or all of their life confined in cramped, often barren cages.  Cages should be consigned to the history books and food production should be developed using extensive, outdoor and cage free systems.

Sustainable farming that nourishes our health, the environment and promotes higher animal welfare must become the rule, not the exception.

For further information on these issues, Compassion in World Farming has produced a Charter which sets out a proposed future direction of travel. It can be found here 
http://www.ciwf.org.uk/charter and is supported by further details in briefing notes, which can be found here: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/charter-briefing-notes

I hope you will feel able to support these policy suggestions and work towards realising them – in the UK and by taking a lead in Europe.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Marley Hill now delivered

I can tick Marley Hill off the list - I delivered our tabloid in the village tonight. So in the past week, I've delivered 300 in Swalwell, 210 in Dunston Hill, 230 in Sunniside and 170 in Marley Hill. One of the main stories in it is directly relevant to Marley Hill - the final defeat of the opencast plans. So hopefully it will be a good read for residents, though a large number of them had already had the news about the opencast via our email newsletter.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Appearing on BBC School Report

I was invited recently by Whickham School (I was a pupil there from 1975 to 1982) to be interviewed as part of their involvement with BBC School Report. In it, the children run the whole programme from deciding the questions to filming, directing, and presenting the programme. The recording was this morning at the Media Centre in Sunderland University. I was asked a range of questions about why I like living in the North East, what makes an inspirational leader, what I have done on Red Nose Day in past years, why people should vote and to tackle childhood obesity. But the one issue they seemed most interested in was my goats!

Yet more tabloid delivery

Delivery of our latest tabloid in the Whickham area of Blaydon constituency is going well. Yesterday I lent a hand to get more out. In the morning I headed to Watergate Estate and delivered all 370 houses in and hour and a half. After lunch and a haircut in Blaydon, I headed to Dunston Hill to deliver 200. And that was where I saw one of those extremely rare sights - a Labour leaflet (there must be an election coming!). Actually, 2 Labour leaflets delivered together, one attempting unsuccessfully to try to be a local newsletter and the other from Dave Anderson MP.

The lack of any photos of the 2 sitting councillors in the one purporting to be a local newsletter is noteworthy. One of them is retiring in May and her decision to go (or was she pushed?) was mentioned only in passing. The postage stamp size photo of the Labour candidate with his "team" did not include them (I used a magnifying glass to check). There was a grudging welcome for the recently announced investment in Whickham School (though they fail to mention it is the Coalition Government making the investment). They report on plans for a new school for Front Street - we reported on this 2 years ago!

Labour's arrogant claim that they are "at the heart of our communities in Dunston and Whickham" may come as something of a surprise to the people who live in those communities. The low profile of Labour in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward is more a case of hole in the heart rather than at the heart!

Reporting on old news and padding this "newsletter" with stories from outside the ward says to me Labour have insufficient knowledge of what's happening on the ground. Nothing new there.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Mobbed at the History Society

The first Tuesday of the month is the night on which Sunniside History Society meets. In the past 4 years I've only missed 3 or 4. I was there last night and was almost mobbed by members as I walked through the doors! There were people wanting me to get street lights fixed, others wanted to know about the Marley Hill opencast plans, someone wanted to know when the next Focus is coming out and one lady handed to me empty egg boxes to use for my own eggs! I'm pleased to say that I won one of the raffle prizes - a box of truffles.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

New website

I have yet another bit of social media to operate. I've set up a website for the Blaydon constituency general election campaign. You can visit it on this link.

I was hoping by now that my opponents would have some interesting material out there on the internet about what they're doing in the election battle. Sadly, there ain't much there.

However, my spies in the Labour camp tell me that the Blaydon powers-that-be are looking for help to deliver a glossy leaflet that attacks the Lib Dems. We are keeping our ear to the ground to find out if it has started to appear.

Back home!

The on-going saga of Dad's gall stones has taken a turn for the better. He was released from the Queen El;izabeth Hospital today. I picked him up and took him home via the Co-op in Whickham where I did his food shopping (he's not quite as self-sufficient as me). He's back at his bungalow in Whickham now.

I'll be at the Sunniside History Society tonight where lots of his friends will, no doubt, be wanting to catch up on the latest news about how he's doing.

The photo above was taken in his bungalow this afternoon.

Delivering our tabloid

Our latest tabloid is now being delivered in the Whickham area. We've produced two editions - one for the three Whickham wards and one for Lobley Hill and Dunston and Teams. The large pile in the photo above belongs to Whickham South and Sunniside and a forthcoming job for me is to bundle them up into their delivery patches. I'll get the patch where I live in Sunniside delivered first. I also have two patches to deliver in Dunston Hill and Whickham East to do as well.

Most of the Lobley Hill patches have been delivered. My colleague Cllr Peter Craig was in Lobley Hill whilst delivery was underway and picked up very positive feedback.

Marley Hill's first community pub

On Saturday evening we held our first community pub at Marley Hill Community Centre. The aim was to get young families in from about 6pm to about 8.30pm, and then people without kids in the later hours. It was a tremendous success with the families. They were there 10 minutes before we officially opened until about 9pm. Dozens of kids running round the main hall where we had set up the play equipment. Parents loved it as they could go out locally without having to get baby sitters. They could meet up with friends and neighbours and relax with a drink.

The later part of the evening had only a small number of people coming along. We need to try to get this onto people’s radar screens to get the visitor numbers up. Nevertheless, as a first event, it seems to have worked reasonably well. The next is on 28th March – and then every final Saturday of the month until the end of the year.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Live streaming of council meetings

I had a meeting of Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee this morning. On the agenda we had an item about the council’s website. The officer giving the presentation said that a revamp was needed. He referred to the Newham Council site which had 70,000 residents signed up to it who receive an email newsletter. I pointed out that 10 years ago, I was “banging on” about needing to communicate directly with residents via an email newsletter in a similar way to the eFocus I produce. I also suggested council meetings could be streamed live via YouTube. We would not need to buy any new equipment and existing staff already attending the meeting could switch the ipad through which the recording takes place on and off. Whether or not Labour Councillors wish to have their words broadcast to the wider world is an interesting point. Whilst some of them clearly think they are incredible public speakers, people outside the council chamber may well have a different view after watching and listening to them speak.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rebuilding work starts on Front Street School

Work is now starting on the long awaited rebuilding of Whickham Front Street Primary School. The site, on North View, behind the Gibside Arms, has now been fenced off by the builders. Building equipment is about to arrive.

The school recently celebrated its centenary but has been in need of replacement for many years. The school site is split and buildings are getting old. The new building will create the 21st century environment needed for teaching kids in the modern world.

And now to Labour's Councillor Paul McNally, who launched an attack on the Lib Dems on Thursday in Gateshead Council, claiming that the last Labour government's school rebuilding plans were cancelled and replaced with nothing. Perhaps if Paul were to spend a bit less time in the Civic Centre wearing very large suits and were to get out a bit more, he would recognise the inaccuracy of his claim. But there again, Labour never let facts get in the way of their narrative.

The final action day of February

Yesterday we had our final Blaydon constituency action day of February, suitably on the last day of the month. 3500 letters were delivered, as were 1800 tabloids and 2000 Focuses. There were also clerical jobs in abundance to be done. It was Whickham North's turn to host the event so most of the deliveries took place there.

This was what I delivered in the morning. I was sent to do my old home patch in Swalwell (again!).

Some of the gang having a good read of our tabloid before heading off to deliver it.

In the afternoon we did some canvassing on what was meant to be the strongest area for Labour in the ward. Whickham North was Labour's top target for the whole of the Labour party in the North East in the local elections last year. Their campaign was a disaster, despite calling in help from across the whole of the North East. Our majority jumped from 100 to 300. Judging by yesterday's canvass, no recovery is in sight for Labour in the ward. This may explain why Labour's candidate from last year has abandoned the ward to attempt election in another ward (which has already rejected him once before when he turned a 600 Labour majority into a Lib Dem one of 200).