Friday, October 20, 2017

Delivering Watergate Estate

Delivering Watergate Estate Oct 17

I delivered 370 Focuses this morning in Watergate Estate in Whickham. I have delivered this patch so often that I could do it with my eyes closed! Tomorrow I have another 3 patches to deliver in my own ward. Hopefully the rain will hold off.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Printing Focus

Focus printing Oct 17 (4)

I spent the morning in the Lib Dem office in Consett, printing my latest ward Focus. I returned to the office this evening to do the folding. Delivery starts tomorrow though the weather may not play ball. The lead story is the re-opening of Chase Park. Page 2 leads with the takeover of Whickham Library by volunteers. Fly-tipping and new powers to fine people is also covered. There's also a bit about Vince becoming leader of the Lib Dems.

Focus printing Oct 17 (3)

Focus printing Oct 17 (1)

Give us what we want or we'll kill ourselves

There is a strange negotiating position being proposed by the extreme Brexiteers: if the EU does not give Britain what the government demands, Britain should slash its wrists. In other words, Britain should have all the advantages of a membership of the club without having to pay the membership fee and without having to abide by any of the rules that go with being in the club. And if the EU should not acquiesce to these demands, Britain should walk away without a deal in some kind of peacetime Dunkirk. It's interesting to listen to the extreme Brexiteers explain their thinking. Apparently, the EU needs us more than the UK needs the EU. This argument is based simply on the fact that the EU sells more to us than the UK sells to the EU. Somehow, in the eyes of these people, the UK is an economic superpower rather than the middle ranking power that we are. These people in effect suffer from a political inferiority complex.

The EU has a population more than 7 times that of the UK. The EU economy, even without the UK, is the biggest in the world. As part of the EU, we magnify our national power but outside, we face an economic superpower, the EU, that can largely dictate the agenda. The extreme Brexiteers cannot explain why it is that the UK in the negotiations is having to answer to the EU, not the other way round. If their make-believe world were real, the EU would have to accept our terms, not the other way round.

So a no-deal Brexit is being touted by the extremists. Their inferiority complex is pushing the government to threaten an economic suicide for our nation. The danger now is that these extremist notions will start to get traction within this shambolic government.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Say hello, wave goodbye - the boundary proposals for Gateshead

I attended the Gateshead East Lib Dem branch meeting to give a report as Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council last night. An interesting discussion took place on the boundary proposals for the Gateshead constituencies. I have to confess, I had not had time to see them before going to the meeting so members there gave me the details. Given the Parliamentary arithmetic of the current House of Commons, it is not clear yet whether or not the DUP, or indeed many Conservatives, will allow the proposals to go through. It may be a case of saying hello to them and then waving them goodbye, just like the Soft Cell song that takes me back to the 1980s. Nevertheless, we need to proceed on the basis that they will be implemented.

The previous proposals of the Boundary Commission, which were put forward last year effectively took a wrecking ball to Blaydon constituency. Two towns in the constituency would have been split up, one ward was to be joined up with a gigantic Durham county constituency the size of a small country and a chunk of Newcastle was to be added in. A large part of Gateshead constituency was due to be merged with Jarrow but individual wards would have been flung off elsewhere. There would not be a single constituency that would have been wholly in Gateshead. Dog's dinner is a description that springs to mind.

The revised proposals show some improvement. There is now to be a Gateshead West constituency based geographically on Whickham and the Team Valley. Blaydon will be less fragmented but loses Birtley and Whickham to Gateshead West while picking up 5 wards in western Newcastle and Burnopfield from County Durham. The 5 wards in the Felling area becomes part of Jarrow (not that unusual a move as two of the wards are already in that constituency.)

There will now follow 6 weeks of shouting, grumbling, unhappiness and so on during the consultation on the proposals. Assuming they go forward to be implemented, and at the moment that's quite a big assumption, watch out for the bloodbath as Labour use the opportunity to cull their more sensible social democrat MPs in favour of those who are lovingly signed up to the Corbynistas' socialist revolution (Venezuela style).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saltwell Park in top ten

Gateshead's main park, Saltwell, has been voted into the top ten parks in the UK. "The People's Choice" competition was run by Keep Britain Tidy and 73,000 people nominated their favourite. Well done to the staff and to the Friends of Saltwell Park group which was, it is fair to say, the model for Friends of Chase Park in Whickham which was set up more recently. The existence of friends groups is often crucial when applying for funding for improvements and new facilities.

Labour however are planning to sell off part of Chase Park for housing, including one of the entrances. We are still fighting them on this.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Volunteering with Planting Up Whickham

This morning I headed down to Whickham to help Planting Up Whickham carry out a maintenance day on Church Green. The flower beds were stripped and my job was to transfer all the dumpy bags of garden waste to the compost heap in Chase Park. This job always falls to the person with the biggest land rover! I could not stay for long however. I had a meeting of the Whinnies Allotment Society at 11am where I was re-elected to the committee. I'm clearly living the high life!

North East for Europe Rally

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 11

Yesterday afternoon I attended the North East for Europe rally in Newcastle. 2 hours of speeches. Lord John Shipley was the Lib Dem speaker. Good speeches also by Natalie Bennett, former Green Leader, and North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling. Former Gateshead East MP Joyce Quinn was also a speaker as well. Labour speakers at pro-Europe rallies must be in a difficult position. Labour are split on Europe and their current show of unity is a mirage which they can only get away with because the Conservatives are making such a mess of Brexit negotiations.

Two hecklers added their thoughts to the proceedings. The first claimed that everything said at the rally was "all lies". (Don't mention £350 million for the NHS. I did, but I think I got away with it!) The second heckler shouted about how we beat all those Europeans in the Second World War. (I wasn't aware that we had been at war with all Europeans, especially the French.)

The rally ended with calls for a referendum on the Brexit terms (not something I heard the Labour speakers demand) ringing in our ears. Alas, it's not just the Conservative government that needs to be persuaded of this. Brexit supporting Corbyn needs to be persuaded. And at the moment he's not budging from the bed he is sharing with the Conservatives on this.

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 5

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 1

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 2

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 3

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ryton Focus delivery

Ryton Focus Oct 17

It has been a few weeks since I last delivered a Focus newsletter and I was feeling the withdrawal symptoms. Yesterday I got some significant relief when I went to Ryton and delivered 500 copies of our latest ward Focus. I now feel so much better!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"I know nothing"

Tyne Bridge Apr 16

"I know nothing" was one of the famous lines from "Fawlty Towers". Manuel tells everyone he knew nothing of Basil's winnings on a horse-racing bet. In what appears to be a repeat of the classic series, Gateshead Council's Labour leader Martin Gannon announced over the weekend that he "knows nothing" of the discussions that have been taking place between the government and the three north of the Tyne authorities about devolution. I have a lot of time for Martin (I appreciate that in Labour's ranks, that could be the kiss of death) but on the devolution issue, we are poles apart.

Martin led the opposition within Labour to the devolution settlement offered to the North East Combined Authority in 2015. At one point we were in the situation that the rest of the region would press ahead with devolution leaving Gateshead behind. Then the other 3 south of the Tyne councils backed away from devolution to general acclimation from sections of the Labour party which take more pleasure in kicking the government than they do with achieving anything positive for the North East. Yet there were sections of the Labour Party not happy with the dinosaur approach of their southern cousins. The three north authorities therefore opened up discussions with the government for a separate devolution settlement which would smash the region into two pieces. The bridges across the Tyne join the region up. If a split devolution settlement goes through, these bridges will form the border instead.

A split devolution settlement will leave the North East significantly weakened. Devolution is meant to take on functions such as transport and planning. North and south of the Tyne are fully integrated in terms of transport. Planning issues in Gateshead directly affect Newcastle and visa versa. The point of devolution is to bring functions together and away from government departmental silos. A split devolution settlement will be like an engine with 6 cylinders but only 3 of them working, therefore unable to drive forward the region.

It is worrying that Martin was telling the media over the weekend that he knows nothing of the contents of the north of Tyne proposals. He should get a grip and find out what's happening because what will be decided north of the Tyne will directly affect us here, more so than any other of the south councils. Labour have torn themselves apart unnecessarily over the devolution plans. Don't let them tear apart the region, with the help of the Tories, as well.

This really makes my blood boil!

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (5)

I discovered this heap of rubbish on the Sandy Lonnen, near Whickham, yesterday morning. Those who engage in the vile, selfish, anti-social, irresponsible, thoughtless, nasty, reckless, disgusting activity of fly-tipping deserve everything they get when they are caught and prosecuted. They really make my blood boil. I checked through some of the dumped packaging but couldn't find anything that identifies the culprit. I've reported the incident to the council and hopefully it will be removed soon.

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (3)

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (1)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have lost our balls

Theresa May tells us that on Brexit, "The ball is in their [EU's] court." Meanwhile, the EU Commission's Margaritis Schinas tells us, "The ball is entirely in the UK's court." Both can't be right. The missing balls highlight the overriding problem the UK faces in the negotiations. Forget the fantasy world in which the extreme Brexiteers believe we are a massively powerful nation on the world stage only held back from our superpower status by our membership of the EU. The reality is that we are a middle ranking power whose membership of the EU made us part of the most influential and powerful international organisation on the planet. Compared to the EU, we are small. Therefore, the negotiations are between a modest ranking power and a giant. Far from the EU begging us for a free trade deal and their needing us more that we need them, as claimed by the Brexit extremists, the reality is that the UK will have to make the vast majority of the concessions. Far from taking control, the UK will be under the direct influence of the EU and, thanks to our withdrawal from EU institutions, we will have no direct influence on the decisions of the EU.

The reality of this situation is dawning on the Tories. So far they have backed down on everything: payments to the EU, parallel discussion of the divorce settlement and future trading relations, a transition period and so on. The Conservatives (and Brexit loving people in Labour such as Corbyn) can whack their balls into the EU's court but the advantage lies largely with the EU.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Looking at the issues surrounding Universal Credit

We had a presentation this week at Gateshead Civic Centre about the role out of Universal Credit. Later this month, UC will arrive fully in Gateshead. The presentation looked at how UC has been created from the merger of 6 separate benefits and will be paid monthly in an attempt to reflect the circumstances of those in work who receive their pay and have to budget a month at a time. I have no particular problem with that but the key issues in my view are the 6 week delay in making the first payment and the rejection of most applications to have the housing benefit element paid directly to landlords (in many circumstances they are social landlords).

Whatever the reason for a household being on the breadline, failing to pay benefits for 6 weeks simply makes a bad situation worse and in no way reflects the typical circumstances of households in employment. While it is typical for someone's salary to be paid partly in arrears, there must be very few employers who pay two week after the end of the month.

Where pilot schemes for paying UC have already gone ahead, rent arrears have mounted. I did ask at the presentation what the outcomes of applications for direct payments to landlords were but the answer was that nearly all are rejected. Since the taxpayer is providing this money to cover a person's rent, it seems reasonable to require that the money is actually used for the rent payments rather than other purposes. Ideally, the recipient should be budgeting for this but if, for whatever reason, they don't, the taxpayer, footing the bill for this benefit, should have a realistic expectation that the money they pay for a recipient's rent is used for that purpose.

So, ending the 6 week delay and allowing more direct payment of rents are two key issues to solve before UC will work properly.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Urban garden in Gateshead

Gateshead Quays Dec 16 (2)

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the Gateshead Newcastle Partnership at the Civic Centre. One of the issues to consider was the proposal for a temporary urban garden at Hillgate, on the Gateshead Quays, which will coincide with the Great North Exhibition next year. Much of the garden will be built from disused shipping containers. There will be the inevitable shops, bars and cafes incorporated into the plans but it looks to be an interesting addition to what will be on offer during the Exhibition. No cost will fall on the taxpayer so Gateshead will not be footing the bill. I suggested the garden should become permanent rather than temporary. I live in hope!

Checking out the Chase Park improvements

Whickham windmill Chase Park Oct 17 (2)

I paid a visit to Chase Park in Whickham yesterday to have a look at the results of the renovation work that has now been completed. I was here a couple of weeks ago at the official re-opening event but as I had a stall to run and a goat to look after, I did not get to see the improvements. Yesterday I was able to walk around the park and see for myself what's been done. Everyone can be justly proud of what's been done, especially the Friends of Chase Park under whose management the work took place. So here are a few of the photos I took.

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (1)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (5)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (9)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (11)

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia summer edition

When I'm not doing politics, I spend my time living the good life, growing my own food and doing my bit to protect the environment by living more sustainably. During the general election, this was the issue on which Labour chose to attack me. As is so often the case with all those "socialists" from relatively well-heeled backgrounds, they talk the talk of living in a particular way, but don't walk the walk. 

Anyway, I want to motivate others to do their bit as well so I produce a regular video about our self-sufficiency activities called "Self-Sufficient in Suburbia". I finished editing this one yesterday, covering the summer months. It includes the arrival of our new bees, lots of recipes (pigeon burgers, fish pie, quail egg salads etc), surplus produce swaps, a visit to the Glendale Show and lambs to slaughter, plus lots more.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Monarch collapse shows UK flying too close to the sun

The collapse of the airline operator Monarch earlier this week cannot entirely be blamed on Brexit. The terror threats to Tunisia and Turkey effectively closed down the company's more profitable routes, leaving Monarch to try to earn a living on the highly competitive routes to places such as Spain and Portugal. However, the company also had to carry the increased costs of Brexit caused by the fall in the value of the pound after the referendum.

The future of the UK airline industry will be hit hard if the UK collapses out of the EU without a deal. The Open Skies policy will no longer apply to Britain and our carriers will have difficulty operating in the huge European market. Some companies have already started to shift their operations and HQ functions abroad (well done to the Brexit extremists for exporting our jobs). Air travel is a classic example of how nations need to cooperate and work together within international agreements and structures. The Brexit fantasists who believe we can simply leave the EU without a deal have not yet answered the question about how Britain will be able to continue functioning if we have been cut off from Europe. We may get the answer to that in March 2019 when it's too late to stop a slide over the cliff edge. The collapse of Monarch will simply be a bad bumpy landing in comparison.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Is this the beginning of the end?

I was one of those who, up to today, believed that Theresa May would stay on as Prime Minister at least until the UK had left the EU in March 2019. The Conservatives would then choose a new leader and then struggle on to the end of the Parliament, avoiding the risk of the election and hoping time would expose the Corbyn Labour Party for the unrealistic dreamers they have become. I am now changing my mind.

After today's speech by May to the Conservative conference, an event more akin to an episode of "The Thick Of It", the likelihood of an imminent Prime Ministerial resignation has grown. With her set falling apart around her, her choking on her words and a prankster whose fake P45 will probably be on most of the front pages of the press tomorrow morning, standing ovations from her cabinet colleagues may not be enough to save her. I almost feel sorry for her - almost but not quite. Her predicament was brought on by a serious miscalculation on her behalf. She sought to bounce the British public into giving her a greatly increased majority by crushing the opposition through an unnecessary snap election. She came out weaker. Sympathy is in very short supply.

The Boris Johnson vultures are circling. Perhaps she will soon be picking up her P45 after all.

Take pride in your roaring lion

lion Kenya Nov 07 no 2

Britain has been rather successful at adopting as our own, foreign symbols which in reality have origins that have nothing to do with our home islands. For example, St George, patron saint of England, was Turkish; Christianity, originating in the Middle Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, was brought to Britain by the Romans and again later by European missionaries; lions, native to Africa and a very few small areas of Asia, have become our national symbol. It was noticeable that UKIP over the weekend launched their new symbol, a lion, to replace the pound (presumably because of the slide in its value since the referendum!) There was a great deal of ribbing on social media about UKIP's decision to adopt a foreign animal rather than giving the role to our native fauna (hedgehogs were suggested as a British alternative).

So now we have Boris Johnson calling for the British lion to "roar" after Brexit. The lone British lion is a mighty beast, through Johnson's Brexit-tinted spectacles, able to live as a mighty independent animal free to wander and hunt at will, unshackled by the constraints of Europe. I wonder however whether Johnson is aware of how lions actually live. They live together in prides because being in a bigger group is more effective and gives a better chance of survival for each individual lion. Animals that leave the pride tend not to survive for long.

Looking at the plans for Beamish at Sunniside History Society

We had a great issue to consider last night at the monthly meeting of the Sunniside History Society in Sunniside Club. Nick Butterley, project manager at Beamish Museum, gave us a fascinating presentation about the new developments which are now moving on from the planning stage to the actual cutting of turf and laying of foundations. Over the next four years, a 1950s town, extensions to the mining village and a Georgian coaching inn will be built. The houses in the 1950s town are airey homes from Kibblesworth. The first building expected to be completed will be the community centre but there will also be a cinema. I am particularly looking forward to riding on the trolley bus. One of the worst decisions taken by local and central government a couple of generations ago was to scrap trolley buses in favour of the combustion engine.

The presentation resulted in a great many questions from the audience, not surprisingly. Role on next June when the first new exhibit is expected to be opened.

The second section of the meeting was a viewing of the DVD we have made about the Fugar Hidden History project which was well received. We will be making copies of the DVD for sale over the coming weeks.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The roundabout from hell - but not yet

Heworth roundabout Oct 17 (2)

I had a meeting this afternoon in Gateshead Civic Centre. My colleague Cllr Ian Patterson was there as well. So when the meeting was over, I gave him a lift back to Pelaw. Such car rides can often turn into useful catch-up sessions during which my group members can tell me all about what's happening in their ward. So Ian used the opportunity to update me on the plans for replacing the Heworth roundabout on the Felling by-pass. Work will not now begin until after Christmas. The roundabout will disappear and water proofing repairs will take place to the railway bridge.

When the work does begin, it will be the nightmare roundabout from hell, best avoided.

Heworth roundabout Oct 17 (1)

Calling time on tower blocks?

In Gateshead we are in the unusual situation of having council house rents that are higher than those in the private rented sector. There has also been a rise in the number of vacant council properties.  At the start of April, there were 502 vacant council properties compared to 441 at the start of April 2016. 124 of these empty homes (25% of all vacant properties) were located in four tower blocks: Eslington Court, Redheugh Court, Regent Court and Warwick Court. Meanwhile, demand remains strong for council owned bungalows and family homes.

With such a concentration of voids in four tower blocks, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we should retain them when they are so difficult to rent out. In effect, money is going into keeping empty properties which we have no realistic chance of filling with new tenants.

This was precisely the point I raised at full council on 28th September. I added to it the likely cost of additional work that will almost certainly result from the Grenfell inquiry. To be fair to Martin Gannon, leader of the council, he accepted that the future of difficult-to-let blocks needs to be reviewed and work is now underway on looking into this.

Demolition may or may not be the solution but my ideal scenario is that the blocks are retained as housing though the likelihood of retaining them in the social rented sector is remote. It may be that to retain housing stock in Gateshead (we lose government funding if we have a net loss of housing), we may have to look to transfer them to the private sector. One further possibility could be that the council continues to retain ownership but invests in a refurbishment that results in flats that are let at a market rate, therefore outside the social sector. This has a number of advantages: the rents will provide an income to the council and housing will definitely be retained in the borough. The drawback is that the council carries the risk if the venture is not a success. This scheme is not all that fanciful. The council is preparing to do exactly the same with the Derwentside former aged persons unit which is to be converted into apartments to be let at a market rent.

I returned to the issue of the future of council tower blocks this afternoon in a meeting about Gateshead's preparations for a Grenfell type event in the borough. The future of these buildings is yet to be decided but much thought needs to go into what is a difficult issue to tackle.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Learn about Beamish Museum's plans on Tuesday

Beamish Museum June 2017 (1)

Beamish Museum have great plans for new developments, including a 1950s town and a Georgian coaching inn. Find out more with the Museum's presentation to Sunniside History Society, 7 for 7.30pm on Tuesday 3rd October at Sunniside Club. £1/person. All welcome.

Launching the Fugar Project DVD

Sunniside History Society Fugar DVD launch Sept 17 (3)

As the new chairman of the Sunniside History Society, I attended an event yesterday morning to launch the DVD about the Fugar History Project, our biggest piece of work over the past 3 years. The society got a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the production of the DVD was the final part of the project.

The launch event went ahead at the Marquis of Granby, next door to Fugar. Those invited were the people directly involved with the project, plus the chairman of the Oak and Iron project John Rundle, and MP for Blaydon, Liz Twist: yes we do get on despite politics!

On Tuesday, at the society's monthly meeting, we will be showing the DVD again so that members will be able to view it.

Sunniside History Society Fugar DVD launch Sept 17 (2)

Meanwhile, I was able to present Colin Douglas, my predecessor as chairman, with a bouquet of flowers as a thank you for his 17 years in the role. He is going to be a hard act to follow!

Pie, peas and 3rd place in Swalwell quiz

Swalwell pie and pea supper Sept 17

Friday evening saw the latest quiz at the Swalwell Community Centre, complete with pie and peas. This is the third one we've done. At the first one we came out on top. In the 2nd, we were runners up. On Friday, you guessed it, we came third. At current rate of progress, we are expect to be in last place within a year!

Macmillan coffee and cakes at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 2

Two good reasons to visit ward 11 of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead on Friday. Firstly the nursing staff had organised a Macmillan coffee and cakes event. I used the opportunity to stock up with cakes. Secondly, my friend Richard (I am his carer) had been told he was being discharged and so I needed to collect him to take him home. So thanks to the staff for the cakes and for looking after Richard over the past month.

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 3

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 1

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Just what will Corbyn nationalise?

Corbyn's call in his Leader's speech at the Labour conference for the nationalisation of utilities raises all sorts of questions about how, if at all, this is going to be financed but also begs the question of which utilities would be brought into public ownership. The simplistic claim that life will be so wonderful if companies providing public services were nationalised is not something I support. And nationalisation itself will be hugely complicated. It is not simply a case of returning to state ownership a privatised monopoly. The old monolithic giants have been broken up and their markets opened up to competitors. When Corbyn talks of renationalising, for example, the electricity industry, there are now a multitude of generators and retailers.

When he talks of public control returning to the postal delivery business, the Royal Mail now operates in a competitive market, especially in the area of sorting letters. Does a "socialist" Labour government nationalise the competitors as well, companies that have never been in the public sector previously? If renationalisation is carries out for ideological reasons, which seems to be the case with Corbyn, there seems little point in nationalising one player in the market while letting the others operate in competition. It would seem therefore that a Corbyn government would have to nationalise all the operators in the industry.

In the electricity generating sector, therefore, what happens with small generators such as small scale wind farms or, in the case of Gateshead, the Council's electricity generating plant which was set up to supply, at a profit, electricity and hot water to residents and businesses? And what happens to all those with solar panels on domestic roofs pumping green electricity into the National Grid?

And then there is the question of how all this is paid for. The 2017 Labour manifesto was unclear on this. Corbyn is unclear on it. If public ownership is not sufficiently financed, there is a danger of compulsory nationalisation with insufficient or even no compensation. Given that many companies providing public and utility services are foreign owned, no compensation could lead to retaliation by foreign governments and it would certainly mean a dramatic run on the pound. And as businesses would fear nationalisation, there would be little incentive for either domestic or foreign investment in them.

I've also heard Labour attack the concept of customers' bills being pushed higher to pay for profits to shareholders while these businesses are in the private sector. Don't forget that the biggest shareholders will be pension funds, and the profits pay for the pensions of millions of people, including those in the public sector. Labour suggest that public ownership of, for example, the water companies, will allow bills to come down as the element that is profit is abolished. This may be appealing but it also means that there is no profit to reinvest in the business. The only source of investment (the water industry drinks needs vast amounts of capital) would be the government as the water company, as a publicly owned body, would no longer be able to raise funds on the private capital markets or through share issues.

Labour's current policy of nationalisation may have been a workable response in the early 1980s to the privatisations but the world has moved on massively since then. The problem however is that Labour have not moved on at all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Whickham Library Volunteers' Meeting

I had a meeting tonight of the Whickham Library volunteers. The library closed as a council facility earlier this year but then reopened as a voluntary library in July. I am one of the trustees but I am also helping with communications. Tonight I outlined my proposals for an email newsletter for library users to help promote the library and its activities. The proposals were accepted and I will be starting work on putting together the first newsletter soon.

Speaking about Corbyn on BBC Radio Newcastle

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle yesterday about Jeremy Corbyn. It was broadcast this morning. The article is 19 min 30 sec into the programme, after the feature on speedos and tight lycra!

Only a small part of the interview was used but generally, my points were that Corbyn can't win from the left and needs to capture the centre ground; while he had a record increase in the number of votes, this translated into only a small increase in seats (30) because he was stacking up vast majorities in already strong Labour constituencies while getting a much lower share in areas such as the South East and his views on issues such as Europe are not supported by many of his new, younger supporters who could begin to drift away.

You can listen to the interview on this link.

A glimpse of Trump's "beautiful" trade deal

Anyone from the Brexit side who had put their faith in a free trade deal with the USA must now be re-examining their position following the decision by Trump's government to bring in a massive tariff on Bombardier aircraft exports. Trump is a protectionist. When he talks of a "beautiful" trade deal with the UK following Brexit, he means it will be "beautiful" for the USA. After all, his campaign protectionist slogan is "Make America great again", not "Make America and Britain" great again. And what about the "special relationship" and Theresa May's hand-in-hand love-in with Trump? A fat lot of use that turned out to be.

The EU and US economies are vast. While the Brexiteers view Britain's position through Victorian glasses in which they see Britain as a gigantic, imperial power able to get its way simply by lifting a finger, the reality is that Britain is a medium power relative to the rest of the world and if we are not part of something bigger and stronger, we are going to be buffeted and knocked about. The Bombardier decision is just a glimpse of lots more to come outside the EU.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Brexit nettle sting

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (29)

I paid a visit to the Northumberland Cheese Company today and had a tour around the premises. It was a fascinating experience, especially as I am a cheese-producer myself, though on a tiny scale compared to this company (I have only one milking goat!) What rapidly became obvious however was how much this food manufacturer relied on easy trade with the EU, and especially with Holland, to produce their award winning cheeses. Most of the equipment came from Holland, as did the dried nettles which are used in one of their biggest selling cheeses. They are unable to source the nettles of the required quality in the UK. A hard Brexit could be more than hard cheese for similar small businesses that need to access the Single Market to buy the equipment they need, little or none of which is produced in the UK.

Looks like another victory for the mad, mad world of the Brexit extremists.

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (14)

Northumberland Cheese Company Sept 17 (13)

Email to Gateshead Lib Dem members

The latest email to Gateshead Lib Dem members was sent out this evening. Issues covered include conference, the forthcoming local elections, the North East regional conference in November, the local party AGM and North East for Europe. You can read the email on this link.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lighting Up Whickham Meeting

I had a meeting tonight of Lighting Up Whickham, the group of volunteers who raise money for the village's Christmas tree and lights. We have three events coming up which were agreed by the meeting tonight:

  • Saturday 11th November, Race Night at the Glebe Sports Ground
  • Tuesday 28th November, switching on of the Christmas lights
  • Saturday 9th December, Christmas fair in St Mary's Green.
All the events will raise funds for future Christmas lights. And finally, I received a request to bring along my goat Pinkie to the event on 28th November, suitably decorated with tinsel. I'm actively considering it!

Conference management that would have made Blair proud

If you thought Labour under Corbyn would give people a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal, think again! Not only have Labour rejected a signing-off referendum to accept the deal or remain in the EU, they won't even allow a vote at their party conference for their own members on Brexit. The Labour leadership, using what is effectively a Momentum bloc vote, have prevented a vote from taking place. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were masters of conference and party management. The tools may have been different back then - pagers to instruct MPs and members on what to do and think whereas the Corbynistas employ email to crush democracy - but the outcome was always the same: a stage managed conference that eliminated any embarrassing votes for the leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn - the new Tony Blair.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Now that May and Corbyn share the same policy on Brexit, what next?

It was a move in the right direction when Labour recently shifted their position from complete confusion on Brexit to one in which they support an undefined transition period during which the UK would continued to be in the Single Market. Once the transition was over, Labour policy was to continue with their demands for a hard Brexit. It wasn't much of a move forward, but it was at least a shuffle in the right direction. Then along came Theresa May who knocked up a few air miles to whiz off to Florence to give a speech which announced that the UK would in effect remain in the Single Market for a two year "implementation" period. So now that Labour and the Conservatives are, yet again, hand in hand on the key issue of the day, where next for those who think the UK's national interest is going to be hugely damaged by cutting ourselves off from Europe?

It's time for the sensible wing of the Labour Party to make a stand. They have clearly had a modest success recently by being able to make a small change in the Labour Brexit approach but they need to press harder. It is interesting to note that some MPs and council leaders have backed calls today for Labour to support a policy of staying permanently in the Single Market, something on which the Lib Dems fought the last election. We need to work with like minded people in the Labour party on this issue, just as we have to work with like minded Conservatives.

The response of Corbyn however was both disappointing and expected. Let's face it, he's a Leaver, he always has been and he has not changed his spots now. He views the EU as a capitalist conspiracy against the proletariat which stands in the way of his grand plans to nationalise everything. Corbyn is, of course, wrong. Failing banks were nationalised under the last Labour government. The claim that the EU is forcing privatisation is farcical. The Corbynistas claim for example that the EU would stop them nationalising rail. Such an inaccurate claim is already undermined by previous Labour propaganda which pointed out that many of the companies bidding to run rail services in the UK were nationalised rail operators in other EU countries. Furthermore, the EU did not stand in the way of nationalising the East Coast rail service when National Express handed back the franchise. Labour should at least make their attacks consistent.

The reality is however that Labour are led by a Leaver and getting him to shift from this position will be very difficult. Corbyn has the chance to make a real difference. All he will end up doing is to prop up a Hard Brexit Conservative government.

Bottling up my irritation

I arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead this afternoon to visit my friend Richard. He had asked me to get him a copy of the Daily Mirror so I called into the Amigo shop on level 2 of the hospital (in the super-swanky extension built by the Coalition) and bought the required publication. At the till I was offered an unmissable opportunity to buy a bottle of water at a greatly reduced price, thus "saving" me lots of money. Spending money on a completely unnecessary item does not strike me as a way to "save" money. Moving on from the adaptation of our language so that it means the opposite of what is said, why on earth would I want to buy water in a bottle when we can get top quality water for nowt from a tap?

Furthermore, bottled water comes with an obscene cost to the environment. Huge resources are put into the single-use plastic bottles and vast amounts of fuel are used to move, unnecessarily, this enormous tonnage of water around the country (and often around the globe). Then, large resources are used to collect the waste bottles and dispose of them, though lots of them escape into the environment causing untold damage to ecological systems, all so that people can drink something from a bottle that is already freely available from a tap (or if you are on a meter very cheaply available).

No wonder the health of planet Earth is in such a poor state.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pinkie a success at Chase Park re-opening

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 1

Whickham's Chase Park was officially re-opened today after its £1 million refurbishment, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Find and the Big Lottery Fund. I brought along Pinkie, one of my goats, who is always a hit with people of all ages. She certainly was today. I think she must have been in more photos than anything else in the park today.

I came away from the event today with lots of casework and visits lined up to meet a couple of local organisations.

Chase Park Fair Sept 17 3

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chase Park reopening this weekend

Whickham windmill Mar 17

Major renovation work on Whickham's historic Chase Park has now been completed. To celebrate the £1 million refurbishment, Friends of Chase Park are holding a re-opening event on Saturday, 23rd September, from 11am to 3pm.

The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, will lead the re-opening ceremony. There will be lot of entertainment, activities and a fair.

Everyone is welcome to join in the celebrations.

Chase Park entrance renovation Jul 17

The renovation of the Park was the result of the Friends of Chase Park's campaign to restore it to its former glory. A partnership of the Friends and Gateshead Council saw a successful bid for £1 million made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. The work was carried out during 2017 and includes:
•​Restoration of the listed windmill, entrance gates, paths and ornamental garden
•​Replanting of flower beds and trees
•​Remodelling and enhancement of the toddler play area
•​Resurfacing of the tennis courts and new table tennis installed 
•​New junior play area and skateboard park
•​Outdoor gym/trim trail 
•​Development of community garden 
•​New benches, signs and interpretations of heritage points of interest.
I'll be there with a couple of my goats (Pinkie and Coal) to promote my self-sufficiency project and to sell preserves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hooray - home at last!

After leaving Bournemouth yesterday, I headed to London where I stayed overnight. This morning I struggled through the rush hour crowds (I am so pleased I gave up the rat race 8 years ago) to get to Kings Cross and caught a train back to the North East. I couldn't return home immediately. On leaving Newcastle Central Station, I got a taxi to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to visit my friend Richard whose condition deteriorated last week. I remained there until 7pm. I'm back home now! Hooray! And it's not long to go before my first council meeting. It's tomorrow, so I'm straight back into activities.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Photos from Vince's speech

Vince Cable arrives for conference speech Sept 17 (2)

In years gone by, I used to take photos for use by the party of conference. That normally meant being part of the photographers' scrum in front of the leader during the speech. I couldn't resist the temptation so I joined the scrum again. Here are a handful of the photos from Vince's arrival and then his speech.

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (12)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (19)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (21)

Vince Cable speech Bournemouth conference Sept 17 (22)

The best lunch at conference

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (4)

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation normally, in my humble opinion, put on the best lunch at conference, and this year was no different. My reason for attending, should you choose to believe me, is that I have an interest in shooting. I don't take part in the activity myself, but in my world of self-sufficiency, I trade with people who do go shooting and fishing. They provide me with game which I pay for with jars of preserves, eggs etc.

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (5)

So it seemed perfectly reasonable that I should attend the BASC meeting.And of course the good food was appreciated!

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (1)

British Association for Shooting and Conservation Sept 17 (2)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Another What's-the-point-of-Brexit moment

I see Theresa May is off to Canada for talks on, among other issues, post-Brexit trade. The Canada-EU trade deal (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - CETA), 7 years in the making, comes into effect shortly. According to the BBC, May wants to use CETA as the model for a UK/Canada trade deal.

But wasn't Brexit meant to give us the freedom to arrange bigger, better trade deals? Instead, we have May announcing that one of the benefits from which we are walking away is to be copied and applied to Britain. Nothing bigger, nothing better, just the same, except for the added costs of negotiating something we already have. So what is the point of that?

Lib Dem mugs - new and recyled!

Lib Dem mugs (2)

Get them while they are still in stock! Lib Dem Image are selling an extended range of Lib Dem mugs thanks to Theresa May's decision to call a snap election. With 4 more MPs than this time last year, it now costs 50% more to have a full set of Lib Dem MP mugs! In a move that will please the environmental movement, mugs of former MPs from before the 2015 general election can now be recycled - mugs of Ed Davey, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have made a reappearance after 2 years of storage in the Lib Dem Image stock room.

So buy while stocks last and take your mug home - the tea there will be a heck of a lot cheaper than what's on sale at the conference centre!

Lib Dem mugs (1)

Foodie photo op for Vince

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (3)

The Bournemouth Food Bank has a stand at the Lib Dem conference and people can bring donations of food. So yesterday, Vince Cable, at the start of the leader's tour of the exhibition area, handed over 2 shopping bags of groceries. It struck me that the contents of those two bags would have been cheaper than a round of teas, coffees and sandwiches at the Bournemouth Conference Centre tea room where prices are eye-wateringly steep.

Anyway, well done to Vince for his donation and it reminds me that when I get back to Gateshead, I need to sort out a session with a group that helps supply food to low income households. The plan is to use allotment and garden surpluses that would otherwise go into the waste system. More on this on another day.

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (6)

Vince Cable at food bank Sept 17 (9)