Friday, August 18, 2017

The UK's Trump style wall

One of the key hopes of Brexit supporters is the imposition of extensive border controls. Leaving the EU, they told us, would give the UK the ability to control who comes in to the country. An impenetrable iron curtain of gleaming razor wire, pill boxes and border guards would keep out all those foreigners intent of coming to the UK to work, pay taxes and win medals for us at international sporting events.

Quite how the government's newly announced proposals for our only land border to be "seemless" and totally open squares with the top Brexit demand of taking control of our borders is almost impossible to answer. After March 2019, anyone wanting to enter the UK simply has to come via Ireland. Taking control of our borders? That only works with a Trump style wall and the government has already indicated that will not be built. This key demand of Brexit is therefore unworkable, as is the case with so many other hopes of the Brexit lobby.

Meeting Marley Hill Bowling Club

Jonathan Wallace at Marley Hill Bowls Club Aug 17

Gateshead are undertaking a review of bowling greens and the likelihood is that many will be mothballed if they are not taken over by the clubs currently using them. I strongly support the idea that organisations of local users are better placed to take on the running of local facilities. Gateshead is pursuing this course of action because of austerity. It is something I believe should be implemented regardless of whether or not the government is cutting our funding.

Yesterday therefore I had a meeting with Marley Hill Bowling Club to talk them through what they need to do to be able to take over the bowling green. It was a useful and at times entertaining meeting. Members of the club are keen to go ahead and I have promised to do all I can to help them. Sadly I had to turn down the offer of a game of bowls as I had other tasks to carry out after the meeting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Blaming the Allies for the Second World War

It seems that the saga of the Trump comments on Charlottesville's white supremacist parade is not going away and is indeed being fueled by Trump himself. His attempt to put some of the blame for the violence on anti-Nazi protesters reads more like an apology for the far right. 

Today he describes the statues of defeated Confederate generals as "beautiful". "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," he tweeted. I wonder whether he knows his own nation's history. The people represented in the statues actually wanted to rip up the USA. These statues are now regarded as symbols of white supremacy, racism and slavery. 

I wonder what comments he'll spew forth next? Perhaps he will blame the Allies (as well as Hitler) for the 2nd World War. 

Remembering Elvis

Those of us old enough to be around in 1977 will probably remember what we were doing when we heard the news that Elvis Presley had died (the 40th anniversary of his death was yesterday). It's our Kennedy moment (I missed the Kennedy assassination as I was born only a few hours after he died.) I remember sitting in the living room of our house at Lobley Hill,  Gateshead, and hearing the news on the radio that Elvis was no more. I had not been long out of hospital as I had been in the children's ward at the Queen Elizabeth for a couple of months after being hit by a car while crossing Consett Road.

As this was before the era of wall-to-wall 24 hour news coverage (even the 3 terrestrial channels then weren't 24 hour), I had to wait for the evening news at 5.45pm to see how it was reported. Sure enough, the news led on the death of Elvis. Interviews with upset fans outside Graceland were broadcast. Radio One (then only broadcasting on medium wave) played one Elvis hit after another.

It would be interesting to see how many of today's music stars will be able to rival Elvis's staying power forty years from now. I just hope I will be around to find out.

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.