Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Videos from the North East Regional Conference

There were 2 guest speakers at the North East Liberal Democrats' Regional Conference in Gateshead on Saturday: Lord Shipley (former leader of Newcastle City Council) and Sal Brinton, President of the Party.

By all accounts, this was one of the most successful regional conferences in the North East. Lots of new members there, lots of members considerably younger than me as well. And some good debates, especially on the recently announced plans for elected mayors for the North East and Tees Valley Combined Authorities.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Award winning at the North East Conference

North East Lib Dem Conference Oct 15 (12)

Lib Dem North East Regional Conference was held in Gateshead today, at the Jurys Inn on the Gateshead Quays. It was the best attended for years and there were lots of new members there in addition to the familiar faces. I'll post about the key debate on devolution on another day. However, the annual awards were announced and I'm pleased to say for the second year running, Gateshead got the award for campaigning. We were presented with the Alisdair Wardlaw Memorial Cup by Lib Dem National President Baroness Sal Brinton.

North East Lib Dem Conference Oct 15 (27)

That's the award above, on the Gateshead stand - which we ran to encourage more people to come to Gateshead to help with our campaigning. And yes, that's Pinkie, one of my goats, in the photo frame. I had 2 photo frames on the stand, one showing pictures of our campaigning, the other showing pictures of Pinkie, one of my goats, who has a significant fan club following among North East Lib Dems. It did the trick of getting people to stop at the table and sign up to helping us.

North East Lib Dem Conference Oct 15 (13)

I'm pleased to report that Cath Smith and Tom Hancock, who used to work for us in Gateshead, got individual awards for campaigning. Cath is just back from Canada where she helped the Liberal Party campaign.

North East Lib Dem Conference Oct 15 (1)

At the end of conference, some of those attending were rounded up for a group photo. Sadly, I'm not in the picture. After all, someone had to operate the camera!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Local allotment show

I was invited last month to the New Sands Allotment Show in Swalwell, Gateshead, last month. I took along my cameras and have just got round to editing the video I filmed whilst there.

Allotmenteers have helped maintain flower beds in Swalwell and some work has been done this week.

I was the judge at the show last year. I was quite pleased that this year they had someone else to do the judging simply because one of the entries contained duck eggs. Only one person on the site has ducks, and they were hatched by me! As the judge is not meant to know whose entry is whose, I would have been in a difficult situation if I had been doing the judging!

Funds raised by the sale of produce went to the Swalwell Ciommunity Group.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Fiscal Charter is a 2-fingered gesture to democracy

The Labour mess over the Fiscal Charter has rather obscured any rational debate about its suitability in a democracy. I start from a position in which I believe that a budget surplus (on revenue and current expenditure) is a good thing. Debt financed current expenditure is, in my opinion, generally a bad thing. Anyone sitting in my house will probably have heard my rants at the television each time an advert is shown for loan companies offering cash to spend on the things people can't afford. Whether it's private or public current expenditure, debt in my opinion is a bad thing, surplus is a good thing.

Whilst the Fiscal Charter sets out to establish a system in which a budget surplus is the norm in years of growth, it is also an arrogant act by the Conservatives to expect all future governments to abide by their policy. Whilst I would be very unhappy with a government that engages in deficit financing during good times, it is for that government to decide its own policy. George Osborne is Chancellor until such time as he moves to another government role or is removed from his post due to Prime Ministerial discontent or loss at an election. He is not permanently the Chancellor. It is for future government's to decide their fiscal policy, not George Osborne.

In effect, the Fiscal Charter is a 2-fingered gesture to democracy. It is also a stunt that has needlessly tied up Parliamentary time. After all, a future government can legislate for its own budgets and simply dismiss the Fiscal Charter as and when they wish to. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Labour should have initially supported it. Whilst being a complete shambles following their u-turn is entertaining for some, it is hardly the springboard to electoral success that Corbyn and McConnell need. But it is possibly the basis on which the Conservatives can arrogantly presume they will be in power for some time to come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Inside the Swalwell Pipebridge

Northumbrian Water have been carrying out renovation work on the Victorian Pipebridge over the Derwent River in Swalwell, which still carries 25 million litres of water a day. I was given access to the bridge recently to film and photograph it.

Work is on-going to replace some of the pipe supports and brackets and some reinforcement work is taking place before the painting of the bridge is carried out.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Action Day in Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill

Dunston action day Oct 15 3

We had another action day today in Gateshead, this time in Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill, though a team also got sent into Whickham to deliver our latest Focus. I went door-knocking in both Lobley Hill and Dunston Hill. Quite a positive response from most people. Only one person was rude. Another said he didn't support us but was terribly nice about it. One person said we must be rubbing our hands with glee at the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Others in Dunston Hill expressed disappointment that we just missed taking the seat from Labour in May by 23 votes.

Dunston action day Oct 15 2

Action days in Gateshead always come with a good lunch.

Dunston action day Oct 15 1

Cllr Peter Maughan and I with copies of our residents' survey. According to Connect, the five of us who were door knocking called at over 300 houses throughout the day. Not bad.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Pizza and Politics at Marley Hill

Pizzas at supermarket Oct 15

Gateshead Lib Dems held a pizza and politics evening at Marley Hill Community Centre last night. In between attending a council seminar and milking the goat in the afternoon, I had to make a rare visit to a supermarket to buy 15 pizzas. An internet search identified Asda as a possible source for cheap pizzas. I got them at £1 each!

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (17)

John Shipley, former leader of Newcastle City Council and for the past 5 years a member of the House of Lords, was the guest speaker.

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (16)

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (20)

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (9)

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (8)

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (3)

Pizza and Politics Gateshead Lib Dems Oct 15 (7)

We had a good debate about a mayor for the North East, affordable housing and the House of Lords. Members were positive about the event and the general view is that we should hold pizza and politics evenings on a regular basis. Uncooked pizzas therefore went into the freezer for the next event, which I need to organise.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sunniside History Society Meeting

Sunniside History Society met last night, the first meeting since the trip to the Tanfield Railway on Sunday. It was an opportunity to show the video I filmed of the trip. The main speaker at the meeting gave a talk about Mary Eleanor Bowes , the co-founder of the Bowes-Lyon family with her husband George Lyon. There was also a video about the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The next meeting is on 3rd November. A couple more of my videos are being lined up to be played at it.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Backing the levy

Jonathan Wallace plastic bags Sept 08

One of the points about modern society that I totally hate is the disposable nature of so many products. Buy it, use it once, throw it away. It is an obscene waste of resources and it piles up mountains of waste for which even more resources are needed to accommodate. Something my friends joke about is the way I reuse everything in my self-sufficient lifestyle in which waste is regarded as a heinous crime. We simply cannot go on as a society plundering resources for single use activities. Single use disposable carrier bags are chief among the wasteful products that we should stop producing.

Back in 2008 at party conference in Bournemouth, when I was working for the party, I organised an anti carrier bag photo op for members. Party policy was to introduce the levy and the photo op promoted this. So, it is great to see the policy coming into operation today. Another positive legacy of Lib Dems in government as England catches up with the rest of the UK.

I don't actually want people to pay the levy, for the simple reason that I don't want them to use disposable carrier bags. As someone who rarely uses a supermarket, I no doubt missed the mayhem and chaos that some in the press predicted. Quite how using a proper shopping bag, brought with you from home, is chaos is beyond me. I remember when I was a kid being sent to the local corner shop - Moores Store on Rothbury Gardens, Lobley Hill - by my parents to do the shopping. We took a string bag with us. It lasted for most of my childhood. I can't recall any mayhem and chaos when putting the groceries into it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

A successful visit to the Tanfield Railway

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (24)

As deputy chairman of the Sunniside History Society, I helped organise today's visit by 85 people to the Tanfield Railway. It started with a bus ride in a classic London Routemaster from Sunniside Club to Tanfield though I took my car so seats were available on the bus. I was also staying there after the bus was due to come back.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (3)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (5)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (9)

We also got to see inside the workshops.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (8)

The £5 price also included a BBQ.

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (19)

Tanfield Railway Oct 15 (17)

So far, feedback from members has been positive.

Friday, October 02, 2015

A mayor for the North East

I was aware that Mick Henry, Labour Leader of Gateshead Council, had been in London earlier this week meeting government ministers, possibly even George Osborne, about devolution to the North East Combined Authority, a move which would require the establishment of an elected mayor. I had a meeting yesterday with Mick and he mentioned it in passing.

It was a hint that progress is being made on this issue. Whilst elected mayors may not necessarily be the Lib Dem solution to devolution, they are all that is on offer if we as a region are to have powers transferred from central government.

The headline in the Journal today said it all: "Mayor set to be a part of the region's devolution deal". Whilst there is a degree of annoyance that the package is the product of behind-closed-doors discussions between the 7 Labour council leaders and George Osborne, rather than involving the wider political family of the North East, there does appear to be some progress that previously looked in doubt. The 7 Labour council leaders are not renowned for speaking with one voice and there had been a growing concern that Labour squabbling was leaving the region in the slow lane to devolution. Over 10 years ago, the North East was at the forefront of the call for devolution to the regions, until the stunning defeat in the referendum in 2004. Since then, Greater Manchester has jumped ahead. They are the trailblazers, whilst Labour's warring North East leadership has meant the region is having to play catch up.

But catch up is now happening. There is still work to do. Police and fire services are not yet part of the deal. Within the Combined Authority area there are 2 police and crime commissioners and 3 fire authorities. This is nuts. There should be one regional emergency services authority and keeping it separate from an elected mayor makes no sense. Scrapping the Northumbria and Durham PCCs alone would more than pay for the office of a North East mayor.

There are those in the North East Labour party who seem to suggest that the devolution settlement and an elected mayor are a conspiracy to destroy the Labour party. Given that Labour would be favourite to win (or at least that was the case before they took complete leave of their senses and voted in Jeremy Corbyn) their argument doesn't stack up. Nick Brown, the uninspiring Labour MP for Newcastle East, slated the devolution plans in the Journal this morning as "rushed, ill-thought through proposals". Mr Brown represents a view that is quite strong in North East Labour. Current structures and systems have served well those Labour politicians in the region who are in positions of power. Many see change as a threat. Convincing Labour in the region that the likely devolution package should be supported could be one of the big political tasks of the year ahead in the North East.