Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What is the point of that?

The government today are suggesting that a temporary customs union be set up between the EU and UK. Since we already have a customs union across the EU, of which the UK is part, in effect the government are asking for a delay to the full implementation of Brexit to avoid the economy and business prosperity from being dragged over a cliff. All this raises the issue of what is the point of what the government are doing? The government want to demolish the customs arrangements with the EU and replace them with a new arrangement that aims to do  the same, the only difference being that a whole new, expensive bureaucracy has to be created to run the system. It would be so much easier to stay in the existing customs union.

And going into the future, the Brexiteers say they want a frictionless border where customs issues are not relevant. This must surely be the opposite of the UK being in control of its borders. In effect, the Brexiteers want a closed border that is open. "Having their cake and eating it" is something that springs to mind. Let's hope the cake doesn't get stuck for ages at the UK border. Brexiteers eating stale food would be most unfortunate!

Monday, August 14, 2017

It must be summer

The title is not a reference to the rainy weather. Instead, it is about how daft, unrealistic political stories make it into the headlines. August always sees a famine of real political issues so the nation's army of political journalists, rather than shutting up, puts fingers to keyboards to write rubbish (some would argue they do that all year round).

So what are the mad political stories doing the rounds this week? Apparently Jacob Rees-Mogg is a possible Tory leadership contender in the event of Theresa May crashing and burning (again). Quite how the Member of Parliament for the Eighteenth Century can be the saviour of the Tories is not explained but a scenario of Rees-Mogg as PM is more like a nightmare than a summer fantasy.

Then there is the story of calls for UKIP and Plaid Cymru to work together in Wales. Given my experience of working in politics in North Wales over 20 years ago, I'm not sure which of those parties is the worst.

But the biggest joke story of the summer season was the claim by Philip Hammond and Liam Fox that they are both working together in a show of forced unity to keep returning the returning Prime Minister happy. Given a bit of time, the rows will start again.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rained off at Swalwell

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 1

The great British summer - don't we just love them!? Well, no actually! I went along to the Swalwell Community Fayre yesterday along with 2 of my goats (Pinkie and Snow), set up our table to sell our preserves and then watched as the rain came down. We sheltered under trees to keep dry. The goats proved popular with the visitors to the fayre. They also chomped their way through brambles growing wild around the fringe of the park, thus saving Gateshead taxpayers a vast sum of money in clearing them!

I love local community fayres but this year I have experienced two that have been rained off. Alas, we cannot control the weather.

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 4

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 3

Swalwell Fayre Aug 17 5

Creating space at the Whinnies Community Garden

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (1)

On the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside, in the bottom end of one of the old allotments, was a huge pile of sticks, branches and tree trunks. It was a bit of a hindrance to get into our Farside allotment. Over the past week, I have been helping the volunteers to shred branches and chop logs. The end result is a large new space that can be used by the volunteers in the future and a heap of mulch.

Photos before (above) and after (below).

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (21)

And a few action shots:

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (9)

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (2)

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (16)

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (12)

shredding branches on Whinnies Aug 17 (3)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Swalwell Fayre

Swalwell Community Group are holding a summer fayre in Swalwell Park on Saturday 12th August from 12pm - 4pm. There will be fairground rides, animals, stalls and much more. All welcome. Funds raised will help pay for the Swalwell Christmas tree.

Look out for the stall selling jam!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Labour wrangling over Metro investment

It seems as though the Labour controlled NECA is intent on pulling out of investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro if the government pushes ahead with the option of a PFI deal for new trains. The aging fleet needs replacement as it is 40 years old and is approaching the end of its shelf-life. NECA has written to the government threatening to walk away from a PFI deal, even though it was the system of choice for the Labour government. I don't disagree with the sentiment. PFI deals have been expensive and have left the taxpayer with on-going bills. My preference is for the government to invest the capital directly in the system. But the world is what it is. Sometimes we have to live with decisions that aren't to our liking. The Metro is of crucial strategic importance to the region. If it grinds to a halt because the Tory government and Labour council leaders are wrangling over the form the investment should take, the travelling public in the North East will not be very forgiving.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Swalwell Focus

Swalwell A4 focus Aug 2017 (1)-page-0

The Whickham North Focus Team have produced their latest Focus on Swalwell which is currently being delivered. Issues covered include  fly tipping, anti-social behaviour, planning issues, Whickham Library update and the Swalwell Fayre (taking place is Saturday).

Swalwell A4 focus Aug 2017 (1)-page-1

Not out of the starting block for North East Commonwealth Games bid

In the contest to be the host of the Commonwealth Games in 2022, the North East England bid was nowhere to be seen. Nick Forbes, who splits his time between polishing his halo and leading Newcastle City Council, announced a possible bid to take on the Games in 2015 when he said, "I would like a devolution deal to look seriously at major investment in rural broadband and a big unifying project like bringing the Commonwealth Games to the region. That would be a great way of bringing us all together, putting us on the national and international stage and leaving a legacy of sporting facilities and tourism infrastructure for decades to come.”

There is little in that comment with which I can disagree. I am a strong advocate for tourism in the North East to boost the regional economy. I am also a strong advocate of devolution. A directly accountable regional political player could have led a bid for the Games and for other international events.

Alas, the North East has no devolution settlement because Labour fell apart over the issue. They have messed it up in an incompetent display of dummy spitting. No bid for the Commonwealth Games was made. The opportunity to bring lots of people to the North East, spending lots of money in our regional economy, is lost. And you can point the finger of blame at Labour's warring factions for this.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Cutting councillor numbers

Last year, in Gateshead, the Lib Dem group successfully proposed a motion calling on Gateshead Council to investigate the possibility of switching from annual to once-every-four-years elections and to cut the number of councillors by a third. Gateshead is one of a relatively small number of councils in which all wards are three member. One councillor is up for election each year after serving a four year term. It means elections to Gateshead take place three out of every four years. We recommended that council numbers could be cut by a third by retaining the existing boundaries but switching each ward from three to two councillors.

Labour backed the motion to investigate the proposals and an advisory group was held earlier this year to consider the issue. There was an unusually large Labour turnout for it and Labour councillors queued up to say how intensively pressurised they were and getting rid of some of them would result in the end of the world as we know it.

The thinking behind our proposals was that over the past decade, the budget and functions of the council have been reduced and the number of councillors should be reduced to reflect this. The power to reduce councillor numbers rests with the Boundary Commission, not the Council, but the Council is well within its power to press for a reduction. The power to change elections to once every four years rests with the Council.

After the advisory group, the proposals were considered by the all-Labour cabinet. Not surprisingly, typical comments focused on how western civilisation would implode if the changes were made. The most absurd point came from Gary Haley who claimed that business people would be put off investing in Gateshead if there were fewer councillors! Labour then officially rejected the proposed changes.

It is interesting to note however that reducing the Council from 66 to 44 members would save £250,000 a year. The cost of one set of council elections is £140,000. Over a 4 year cycle, total savings would be £1,280,000. Think of what you could do with that!

Checking the bees

bee hive Aug 17

The Whinnies Community Garden asked me recently if I would put a bee hive on their plot. I was happy to do so and the opportunity came along a few weeks ago when one of my hives swarmed. I rehoused the swarm in a spare hive which I then put in the orchard of the Whinnies. Yesterday I checked the hive with a constituent who is interested in getting bees. I'm pleased to report the colony is in good order and growing well.

Any resident wanting to join a bee inspection or just talk to me about bees is welcome to arrange to meet me on the Whinnies.

Monday, August 07, 2017

From Project Fear to Project Reality

Those who warned of the consequences of voting to leave the EU in the referendum last year were accused by the Brexit extremists of carrying out Project Fear. The world did not implode after the result (though the pound did), giving the extremists a chance to spin a message that we have nothing to fear from abandoning our links with Europe and floating off into mid-Atlantic isolation. But the claims by the Remainers was always about the long term consequences. And we have now had a long enough term since the referendum to see how the trends are going.

The most recent news does not make good reading.

  • The Bank of England has cut the forecast growth of the economy from 1.9% to 1.7% in 2017 (actual growth in the first six month was very sickly) and from 1.7% to 1.6% in 2018. 
  • The Halifax has released figures showing that house prices have fallen for 4 quarters in a row.
  • According to Visa, consumer spending has been stagnant or fallen since December.
  • The fall in the pound following the Brexit result now means prices are rising faster than wages.
Project Fear is becoming Project Reality.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Gateshead Council debate on legalising cannabis - video

At the last meeting on Gateshead Council in July, a report on tackling substance misuse was approved, but it did spark a debate about the legalisation and regulation of cannabis. Cllr Daniel Duggan led the debate on supporting such a move for the Lib Dems, arguing that the current law does not work and the only beneficiaries are the drug barons.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

An uncomfortable coincidence

The decision by Donald Trump to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Accord is, in my opinion, one of the worst actions by a US President in my lifetime. Today, the United Nations are officially informed of Trump's decision. Yet today, more evidence piles up that Trump has to ignore or over which he has to be in denial. Scientists are warning that by the end of this century, 150,000 people a year could be dying from extreme climate events. This is an uncomfortable coincidence which highlights the stupid selfishness of Trump's anti-environmental credentials.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Devolution in a split region

There was unity and division on the issue of devolution in the North East at the last full council meeting in Gateshead. When introducing the cabinet report, Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon informed members that it was too late for Parliament to pass any orders before the summer recess to take the necessary steps towards a separate devolution settlement for the three authorities north of the Tyne. Were such a proposal to go ahead - Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside are exploring it - it would mean the North East region would be split in two.

The reason for the separate path being considered by the authorities north of the Tyne is the bust up in the North East Labour party over devolution. When the government offered the North East Combined Authority (NECA) a devolution deal last year, it was rejected 4 (Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham) to 3 (Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland). But instead of the 7 local authorities (all then Labour controlled though Northumberland is now under minority Conservative control) trying to put together a revised deal, there was a chorus of Labour dummy spitting and the sound of Labour furniture being smashed up.

My view is that NECA should have accepted the deal last year I said so at the recent council meeting). It is far from perfect but once established, it can be improved. Instead, Labour have fallen apart and the North East region is splitting apart.

A separate north of Tyne settlement would not make any sense, as I pointed out in the recent council meeting. A key reason for devolution is to co-ordinate and integrate transport. This would be impossible under a split region. It would mean breaking up the Tyne and Wear Metro and having different policies for buses as they pass over the Tyne Bridge. My hope is that the separate north of Tyne proposals never get put into operation. Sadly, we can't count on the divided Labour Party in the region to sort out the devolution mess they have created. Meanwhile, other regions with new devolution settlements are powering ahead.

Something fishy

Brexit enthusiasts claimed during the referendum that the UK can take control of its fisheries if people voted to leave. All those British fish living in UK territorial waters must now be feeling a bit let down by Michael Gove's latest pronouncement. Instead of sacrificing themselves to the nets of fine, British fishermen, as promised, the Environment Secretary has suggested that all those fishy foreigners will be allowed to drop their nets in UK waters. So another Brexit promise is thrown overboard.

Appearing at the Swalwell Community Festival

Snow and Coal Aug 17

The Swalwell Community Festival will be taking place on Saturday 12th August. I will be taking some of our goats there for people to see. I'm not sure which ones will be going but Snow (the white billy in the photo above) will probably be one of them. So if you see a strange person walking around the festival with goats on leads, it will be me! Be ready to snap your photos!

Well done local schools

Two schools in Blaydon constituency have scored well in recent Ofsted inspections.

Well done Kibblesworth Academy. The primary school has improved from "Requires improvement" to "Good". Behaviour and personal development scored "Outstanding". Meanwhile, St Mary's RC School in Whickham has scored "Good" - a repeat of the rating gained in 2013.

Congratulations to all staff, children and parents.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Back in the office

Focuses Aug 17

I was back in the Lib Dem office in Consett this afternoon, for the first time since the general election. I was there to print a Focus. 1800 done in just over an hour. They are already in the hands of the team responsible for delivering them.

I will be back to the office soon.......

Out of hospital

Costa Coffee QE Hospital Gateshead Aug 17

My friend Richard was discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Tuesday. I went there for my last visit and to collect him at 2pm. We didn't get away until 5pm as medications needed to be sorted so in the meantime, we went to the hospital's Costa Coffee for our last cappuccino at this otherwise overpriced establishment.

Over the past 4 weeks I made 40 visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Given I was a regular visitor earlier this year to see Dad, perhaps I should have applied for a daily pass! Other than bringing Richard back for another check up, I am hoping not to see the inside of this hospital for a long time to come. With my diary shot to bits for July, I have a great deal of catching up to do in August.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The hypocrisy of the Brexit-loving Daily Mail

After years of calling for tougher passport and border controls, you would have thought that the Daily Mail would be praising EU Schengen countries for doing precisely what the Daily Mail has demanded. Alas, it is not to be. Instead, the Daily Fail is screaming as "Brussels imposes tough passport controls"! Such delays as Britain's borders become more heavily controlled are part of the future of Brexit Britain if the Brexit extremists get their way. Delays, queues, inspections, documentation: they're likely to be our future. Start getting used to it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Vince's speech in Newcastle - video

This is Vince's speech to Lib Dem members at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle on 30th July 2017.

Electrifying contraditions

The government recently announced plans to end the production and sale of petrol and diesel powered cars in the UK by 2040. We are going electric. Good news, even if it is just a catch up by the UK on other European countries. The next 23 years will need to be spent shifting the country from the internal combustion engine to electric powered vehicles. Whether or not the Tory DUP government actually ensures that happens is still to be seen. I still have memories of the Tories attacking the Lib Dems in the Coalition for pushing "green crap".

Then along came news that the government has, in effect abandoned plans to electrify the whole of the rail route from Newcastle to Liverpool. Apparently, there are trains, they claim, that will be able to run on both electrified tracks and those carrying diesel trains. This is something of a contradiction. The Tories are suggesting electric cars are better for the environment but that trains that pollute because they are powered by diesel can continue. Where is the consistency in that?

Having their cake

chocolate and banana cake July 17

For the past month I have been visiting my friend Richard who was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead on 7th July but is now making a good recovery (despite my daily - and sometimes twice daily - visits to see him!) He has a fantastic team of doctors, nurses, care and support staff looking after him. As a thank you, David made them a chocolate and banana cake which I took with me yesterday. The next I knew was that one of the nurses had taken a photo of the cake which was then posted on "staffchat" - I guess a staff version of Facebook. I'm not sure how much of the cake was left by the time I went home.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vince in Newcastle

Vince Cable in Newcastle July 17 (35)

New Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable was in Newcastle this evening. About 300 members attended the event in the Royal Station Hotel, next to the Central Station. As usual, Vince was on good form and his speech was littered with his dry witticisms, poignant comments and positive thoughts about the future.

I filmed Vince's speech and I will post the video shortly. You can view my photos of the event on this link.

"Triviality threshold"

I had a meeting of Gateshead Council's accounts committee on Friday. There are three members: myself as Leader of the Opposition, Martin Gannon as Leader of the Council, and Catherine Donovan, Deputy Leader of the Council. Martin rang me before the meeting to tell me he was under the weather with dose of flu and wasn't attending the committee and was checking to see if I was going. As I was, the meeting would be quorate and therefore able to go ahead.

The meeting was to receive the report of the council's auditors for the 2016-17 accounts. I combed through the report looking for anything of interest or which I did not understand. I spotted a note about the "triviality threshold". I had never come across the term before. I could imagine lots of things that it could apply to: most UK tv, speeches by Labour councillors, Tory cabinet members on their own colleagues. But what did it mean for the council's finances. I asked the question. It turns out that it is a threshold of £325,000 under which the auditors report issues of interest to officers. Anything above that are reported to us as councillors.

You learn something new everyday! Usefully, there was nothing over £325K in the accounts that needed to be reported to us.

New cabinet member in Gateshead

The election of Liz Twist as MP for Blaydon created a vacancy on Gateshead Council's cabinet. It has now been filled by the appointment of John Adams, Labour Councillor for Saltwell. I have to confess that I know little about Cllr Adams. He has barely been on my radar screen since his election to Gateshead Council in 2014. I have a vague recollection of one speech made by him at full council, sometime recently, on an issue I can't recall, and with no memorable content. Nevertheless, it is a significant promotion for John. Congratulations and, as Leader of the Opposition, I look forward to working with you in the best interests of the residents of Gateshead, and, where appropriate, giving you a political grilling through the council's scrutiny process.

New mascot for the Whinnies

kids disbudded Apr 17 (3)

Following the death of Whinnie, my baby goat that was adopted by the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside as their mascot, we now have a new one. Coal, our 4 month old black nanny goat is the new mascot. She will be appearing at future events at the Whinnies. Watch this space or visit the garden's Facebook site for further information.

goats eating ash July 17 2

Above: Coal with her brother Snow and mother Georgina.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Goodbye Whinnie

Whinnie the goat kid July 17

I'm saddened to report that Whinnie, the little goat kid born at the end of April which we were hand-raising, had to be put to sleep recently. He had been too weak to leave with his mother, hence the reason for becoming surrogate mother for him. We were amazed he had lived so long and during his 10 weeks, he had been adopted by the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside as their mascot.

He had however developed an infection and as he was hand-raised, the milk we were feeding him did not contain the anti-bodies he needed to fight off the illness. We took Whinnie to the vet who later the same day phoned us with the bad news: he was highlighly unlikely to survive and if was better for him that he be put to sleep immediately.

The organisers of the Whinnies Community Garden arranged for us to have a corner where we could bury him. They are keen for a small memorial to be installed and I'll sort that out later this year. In the meantime, the Garden is without a mascot. I'm planning something on that front.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Insurance coughs up for replaced Blaydon Bridge

Last week at full council in Gateshead, I raised the issue of who paid for the repairs to the Blaydon Footbridge. Last August, a lorry driver drove into the bridge causing considerable damage. A section of the bridge had to be removed. The repairs and replacement of the missing section took place earlier this month. I had previously raised concerns that the costs would fall on local council taxpayers but I'm pleased to report that the driver's insurance has paid for the repairs. Well done to the officers of the council who ensured the insurance of the responsible driver paid for the work.

The start of the video above was shot by me in December 2016 when the central section was still missing with the 2nd half of the video being shot earlier this month when the missing section was installed.

Sickly growth

Figures out this week show a continuing sickly GDP growth. The economy grew by 0.2% in the first quarter. We learnt earlier this week that growth was 0.3% in the second quarter. It's better than a contraction but it is still poor. The UK has gone from having the highest growth rate in the G7 under the Coalition to having among the poorest under the Conservatives. The IMF have also downgraded UK growth estimates for the year from 2% to 1.7%. I would have thought that was a bit optimistic given the sickly figures for the first half of the year. An announcement that the UK will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union would help reassure the business and help restore confidence. Sadly, with both the Conservatives and the Corbynistas pressing an almost identical Hard Brexit, such an announcement is unlikely to be making an appearance soon.

RIP Phyllis Callender

Phyllis Callender July 17

I have been visiting a friend in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital every day this month and a couple of weeks ago, when I was arriving there, I bumped into Norman Callender and his daughter Jean. Norman retired as a Lib Dem councillor a few years ago. Jean is Gateshead Lib Dem treasurer. They were visiting Phyllis, Norman's wife, who had been taken seriously ill. Sadly, she passed away the next day.

I went to the funeral at St Agnes RC Church in Crawcrook on Tuesday. Phyllis was given a great send off. Everyone gathered in the Buffs Club in Crawcrook afterwards and it was good to meet up with old friends I hadn't seen for a few years.

Phyllis was always a great support for Norman when he was a councillor and she will be greatly missed. RIP Phyllis Callender.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A1 upgrade

A1 Mar 15 2

A bit of good news this week: the Highways Agency have announced the preferred route for the upgrade to the A1 between the Coalhouse junction at the south end of the Team Valley (junction 67) to Birtley (junction 65). The upgrade comes with a significant challenge: crossing the main East Coast railway. A new bridge is to be built to the south of the existing Allerdene Railway Bridge and the A1 will be realigned to accommodate this change. The road will be upgraded to 3 lanes in each direction. The Smithy Lane Bridge (I'm on it in the photo above) will be replaced.

This work is not going to be cheap. The improvements will cost £250-£350 million. Work is expected to start in 2020. We've got three years before the roadworks start!

Sunderland MP's election claim that Labour backs cancelling student debt

Sharon Hodgson tuition fees claim June 17

This tweet by Sunderland Labour MP Sharon Hodgson crossed my desk this morning. Ignore the totally ignorant use of the apostrophe in "MP's" (she's turned a plural into a singular possessive). Concentrate on the message. This was a tweet from 2nd June, with days to go before the general election and Jeremy Corbyn claiming he would cancel student debt. Labour are now squealing that Comrade Leader Corbyn's proposal was never made and that any claims otherwise are capitalist conspiracies against the proletariat.

So how was it that Sharon Hodgson MP, during the election, was able to make the call in the tweet above? Answer: because Corbyn did make the call to clear student debt and Labour MPs campaigned on it. Once they had the votes of students and those with student loans, they abandoned them.

Monday, July 24, 2017

On BBC Radio Newcastle

Jonathan Wallace at BBC July 17

I was asked by Radio Newcastle to go into the studio last Wednesday to be interviewed about bus lane camera enforcement. I agreed - and was then told they needed me in the studio at 7am! Gateshead Council are introducing cameras on 6 lanes. I have no problem with the cameras being installed but I have concerns that two lanes will not be open for taxis to use (any using the two lanes will be caught on camera and fined). I also think the council needs to be more honest and open about the cameras. When we were looking at the budget last year, proposals for the cameras were included which also talked about how the fines would be accounted for. In other words, this is a revenue stream. So call it a charge, not a fine.

You can hear my interview on this link which starts 21 minutes into the programme.

Locomotion to return to Newcastle

Journal Locomotion July 17

Before Labour turned Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums into a one-party state, I was a member of the joint committee that ran the service. So I was made aware then that Stephenson's Rocket is to return for a temporary stay in Newcastle, where the locomotive was built. It will arrive in 2018 for the Great Exhibition of the North but will then be returned to the Science Museum in London, the guardians of the Rocket. News of the forthcoming arrival hit the front page of the Journal last week. I'm delighted the Rocket is coming home, even though it's just for a temporary period. It's a pity the government couldn't also agree to ensure HS2 is coming to the North East. That really would be a boost for the regional economy.

Science Museum London Jan 17 (7)

I saw the Rocket in January when I paid a visit to the Science Museum. I'll be joining the queues again next year to see it on Tyneside.

Plan B: Follow the Glitter

Northern Pride July 17 (1)

On Saturday I was meant to be running a stall at the Whickham Community Festival. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled at the last moment because of the weather. I needed to put Plan B into operation: I attended the Northern Pride parade through Newcastle. I joined other Lib Dems to help carry the Lib Dem banner. The parade started at Newcastle Civic Centre and ended at the Exhibition Park area of the Town Moor. If we happened to get lost along the route, all we had to do was follow the trail of glitter on the ground!

A good event attended by tens of thousands of people and the rain held off during the parade. Sadly, I couldn't stay once the parade was over. My friend Richard was still at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and visiting hours were 2-4pm.

Northern Pride July 17 (2)

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Mayor meets Pinkie

Pinkie meets the Mayor of Gateshead July 17 1

During the general election, Labour Councillor Chris McHugh spat out some pretty nasty and venomous comments on residents' Facebook sites about me and my self-sufficiency activities. According to Cardboard Cutout Chris, I "can't be taken seriously" because I have an allotment, keep goats and grow my own food. Quite how his attack on me can be squared with his beloved Leader's own allotment activities is still an outstanding issue though Labour never let hypocrisy get in the way of a good story!

So I am pleased to announce that the Labour Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, ignored her colleague's comments to join us on the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside on Sunday where I keep my livestock. And among those she met was Pinkie, my milking goat. Pauline has already visited my livestock allotment. She was there a couple of months ago to tour the garden, which aims to give people with physical and mental health issues the opportunity to do some gardening and for residents generally to enjoy the great outdoors.

The invite is now opened to Cllr McHugh to visit my allotment and see my goats and chickens. I'm always ready to help out those who need to get a life!

Blaydon Food Festival

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (7)

I am a keen advocate of local food production. Shipping food over long distances is wasteful and causes pollution. Producing as much as we can as close as possible to where it is consumed helps to reduce our impact on the environment. As well as preaching the message, I also practice it - I am a food producer myself, growing most of my own food and trading the surplus at events such as the Transition Towns West Gateshead Food Festival at Blaydon Burn Farm on Saturday 15th July. It was quite a successful day and I was cleared out of a number of products. It was good to see one former (Labour) member of Gateshead Council there who was keen to buy my jam (I'll avoid jokes about jam today from the Lib Dems!)

We need more events like this and I would encourage everyone to have a go at growing some food, even if it's just in the corner of a garden or in pots on a windowsill. If we all did this, we will all benefit.

And now for some photos of the event. All food sold there was locally produced:

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (2)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (6)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (1)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (4)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (3)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (10)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (8)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (11)

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (9)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Our new leader - Vince Cable

Jonathan Wallace Vince Cable Mar 15

As expected, Vince Cable has been elected as new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Actually, "elected" is a bit misleading. The party managed to avoid a contested election after possible candidates Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb decided not to throw their hats into the ring. So congratulations Vince. We look forward to working with you.

You can read Vince's ambitions for the country and the party on this link.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Woodfest at Chopwell Woods

Yesterday, I headed over to Chopwell Woods for the Woodfest hosted by Land of Oak and Iron. Lots of woodland skills on display, especially for those like me who are aiming to be self-sufficient.

Marley Hill Funday

Marley Hill Community Centre July 17

In between two visits to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Saturday to visit my friend who was on the emergency assessment ward, I managed to get up to Marley Hill Community Centre to call in on the funday. The centre has been transferred to the Vineyard Church. They will continue to run it as a community centre but they will also invest in the building and use it as a base for their own activities. They already appear to be making a good job of it.

The funday had been organised to bring people into the centre and introduce residents to the people now running the centre. There seemed to be a large number of bouncy castles at the event. I resisted the temptation to try one out!

Blue light and siren

I thought when Dad died in May, I wouldn't be visiting the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead for a while to come. How wrong I was. A friend who has been in poor health has been staying with us recently to help him recover. Last week he deteriorated significantly. On Friday, I called the 111 service and by the end of the call, an ambulance had been ordered. I went with the ambulance to the QE Hospital, blue lights flashing and siren sounding. I spent four hours supporting my friend on the emergency assessment ward but at 10.30pm I returned home. It now looks like I will be visiting the QE every day for some time to come.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Getting ready to reopen Whickham Library

Jonathan Wallace Whickham Library July 17

Whickham Library has been closed as a facility directly provided by Gateshead Council. It is to open instead as a volunteer library on Monday. I have joined the volunteers and have become a trustee as well. We had a meeting of the volunteers last week. Today, we met up to look at some of the practicalities of the building. We are all set for the launch on Monday morning (doors open at 10am).

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Renovated in time to be demolished

Chase Park entrance renovation Jul 17

It was good to see renovation work taking place on the entrance to Whickham's Chase Park yesterday. The Heritage Lottery Fund is investing £1 million to bring the historic park back up to scratch. The renovation work includes restoration of the entrance and stone gateposts on Rectory Lane. All great stuff. But.......

Some of this renovation work could be in vain. Labour in Gateshead are eager to sell part of Chase Park for housing. They have declared the former depot and stable blocks as surplus to requirements. They've thrown into the deal the entrance to the park as well.

This is a prime location in the heart of Whickham and it is unlikely that there will be a lack of interest from developers. The key to any development is the entrance. Without that, the development will never happen. The entrance is a single lane so it will have to be widened. That's why Labour are flogging off the verge to the right of the lane, right up to the high boundary wall on the right of the entrance - see photo above.

That means the lovingly restored gatepost on the right will need to be demolished. This is a conservation zone as well and the gateway is an historic part of the area.

Lib Dem councillors are fighting the plans to sell off the people's park and stop Labour's heritage vandalism. The issue is relevant across the whole Gateshead. If Labour get away with selling Chase Park for housing, other parks will come into their sights as well.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Don't pour water on a burning chip pan!

When I visited the Swalwell Fire Station open day yesterday, there was a demonstration about what not to do with a burning chip pan - never pour water on it! I filmed the demonstration which rather brings home the message.

Blaydon Bridge repaired

Blaydon Bridge replacement Jul 17 (2)

Last year a lorry hit the Blaydon Footbridge. A section of it had to be removed. Yesterday, the replacement section was installed, resulting in the eastbound A695 being closed for much of the day. I had a look at the site in the early afternoon. Work was coming along well. Fingers crossed that the bridge will be open for use in the near future.

Dunston Festival

Dunston fair July 17 (2)

My second visit yesterday was to the Dunston Festival at Dunston UTS football ground. Richard, my friend who accompanied me, won 2 prizes on the tombola - both makeup remover. Not the most useful of things! Nice to bump into the mayor, Pauline Dillon (in whose ward Dunston football ground is based).

Dunston fair July 17 (3)