Sunday, 13 December 2009

Is this the worst play area in the Constituency?


I was delivering leaflets in Birtley today and came across this Toddlers play area in Birtley. It has an expensive soft play surface, a picnic bench and, well, nothing else! One suspects that Gateshead council and the developers met the minimum standard of putting in a play area but neglected to put anything in it. Let me know if you have a worse play area.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pre Budget Report

The Pre Budget Report is increasingly like a mini budget. No more so than this year, when its a good excuse for a pre election rally. A shame for people that instead of a genuine attack on undeserved privilege, we have a bonus tax that is so easy to evade I can already think of a few ways to do it. From a work perspective, I was disappointed that the CAB funding stream was halved from £10m to £5m. This funding stream is producing excellent results, providing extra opening hours for clients affected by the recession. This will now suffer.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

OneNorth East

In an article in the Journal the other day, Blaydons outgoing Labour MP defended the role of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). One NorthEast is one of the best of these regional quangos, but that is not saying much. I agree that economically deprived regions such as the North East, need a body such as this but there is few arguments supporting them in other English regions, such as the East of England and the South East.

In addition, One NorthEast desperately needs local accountability. Councils are much derided but at least you can vote people out if they don't perform. There needs to be a stronger link with One NorthEast and the voters.

The Tories hate anything that resembles regionalism but after pledging to abolish RDAs now plan to "evolve" into more local bodies. So the plan is to abolish a Quango and replace it with more?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Sir Humphrey would be proud

Gordon Brown has announced that he is going to trim out Public Sector waste. Excessive pay will be scrutinised and unnecessary programmes and Quangos abolished. One does wonder what the Labour chancellor from 1997 to 2006, with his legendary reputation for Prudence and for being "the Iron Chancellor", was doing for all those years.

Meanwhile the Tories pledge to increase government efficiency seems to be moving on a pace. To do this they have set up an advisory board, which presumably if they are elected will mean they become a paid quango, containing a lot of the advisers Labour employed to recommend efficiency savings. Sir Peter Gershon and Martin Read both produced efficiency reviews of Government under Labour. Great to see the fresh broom that Cameron plans to bring in. No one could accuse the Labour Party and Conservatives of being too alike now could they?

The only way to make massive efficiency savings in government is to simplify out massively complicated tax and benefits system and to abolish whole bureaucracies. The bold thinking that drove Vince Cable to suggest abolishing whole government departments, is much needed now.

Dunston Hill and Christmas

I was out tonight doing a spot of late night leaflet delivery with my colleagues from Dunston Hill - I say late delivery but of course it was only 7pm, it gets dark so quickly at this time of year.

Returning home through Crawcrook I have to say it felt very unfestive, the council could really do with putting up christmas illuminations in places like this as well as in Gateshead town centre.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Manufacturing Matters

The terrible news from Redcar of the closing of the steel plant down there, with the loss of 1700 jobs directly and many more additional supply jobs, was a thoroughly depressing reminder of the many large factory closures in the North East.

Manufacturing accounts for a smaller and smaller amount of our GDP but still accounts for a lot of exports. A lot of people say that if we don't make things our economy is built on foundations of sand. I have to say I agree. Unfortunately the UK, one of the most centralised countries in the western world, is run for the benefit of the South East and London, where there is a much lower incidence of manufacturing than in the North East. The financial sector is a big employer there but up here it is mainly just call centre jobs. We urgently need to push for a more northern economic strategy that puts manufacturing business creation and support at the forefront of our economy. Germany and France have overtaken us in terms of national wealth and the UK will continue its slide down the economic prosperity table without a strong manufacturing sector.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Baking for Liberty

Last night was a long one as I baked cakes for the Whickham Lib Dem Christmas Fayre. Yes that's right for those of you who know me, I baked. An Apple and Cinnamon Cake and a Sultana and Orange traybake. And very nice they looked too in my opinion!

The Fayre was great - and all the local councillors chipped in. It was really busy and other charities and groups were there to raise funds. Special praise must go to Susan Craig for pulling it all together.

Then off to the Ryton Hirings

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Interview

Today I had the chance to chat with Mike Porritt, the editor of Village Views, a magazine for Whickham and Sunniside. We had a very long running chat about the state of politics, Afghanistan, my roots and lots of other things. Before I know it we had spent 2 hours discussing things!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Gateshead Labour Consults but not here!

I was looking yesterday to again read Labour controlled Gateshead Councils proposals for cuts. except of course it is very hard to find on their website. In fact a Mars bar to the first reader who tells me where it is - I can't find it on the website! Fortunately our Lib Dem councillors have seen it.

Gateshead Council is great at many things, its wonderful nurseries and flower show for example, but doesn't really get consultation. They have two sessions but both are in Gateshead Town Centre. No need to consult residents of Blaydon constituency and the south and west of Gateshead then!

In addition you have to register before coming. I'd contrast this with Lib Dem Northumberland, where we are also making horrible hard choices foisted on us by cuts from Browns government, but have open consultations in every major town in the area. And we listen to residents and sometimes change what we do. Is that too much to ask from Labour?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Blaydon and Whickham Petition

Had a great day today in Blaydon then Whickham shopping centres before the heavens opened. We got a great response to our help for our Troops petition. There is real anger at the way the government treats our troops and a lot of support about our call for troops to receive starting pay similar to that of a trainee policeman or fireman.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Gateshead Cuts

I was shocked, but not surprised, to see the scope of the cuts proposed by Gateshead Council for next years budgets. Not surprised because at Northumberland Council, where I am a councillor, we have already been taking action to make highly unpleasant but necessary cuts. It's because the central government, who councils depend on for two thirds of their income, is strapped for cash after bailing out the banks, unnecessarily cutting VAT and subsidising foreign car construction through the scrappage scheme.

Unfortunately its front line services that will suffer with big cuts projected in areas such as flower displays, street cleaning and even maintenance of bridges!

However, I would make the point that the Council can't point the finger at who's to blame for much of this. That's because its their own party, Labour. Blaydons Labour MP has been merrily voting for all the spending increases but this government is happy for councils to take the flak on cuts.

This will be Labour government cuts by a Labour council. If the Tories were to get in at the next election, I predict the local council will be much more vocal about where the blame lies for cuts but I would call on our Labour MP to try to relax his governments cuts on council budgets and cut the many wasteful schemes they have been squandering money on in the good times.

Monday, 16 November 2009

John McWilliam RIP

I've heard that former MP for Blaydon John McWilliam has passed away. I never met John but Lib Dem councillors tell me that he was always courteous to them despite being on the political opposite side of the fence. He had no problem liaising on casework with councillors when it was more appropriate for them to be leading on an issue and his experience of being a local councillor before being an MP will have helped him there.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Whickham leaflets

Was out and about with the team today delivering our latest local Focus leaflet. People are always really happy to get it as it as lots of local information and they get it all year round - not just at election time!

Friday, 13 November 2009

When are the Scottish not Scots?

When they are Geordie volunteers in the Tyneside Scottish Terriorial Army Artillery Battery! The Tyneside Scottish Association were kind enough to invite me to one of their monthly meetings today. The Tyneside Scottish is a unique battery unit with a fascinating history. At the meeting were veterans of all generations from the Second World War to the current campaign in Afghanistan.

The Territorial Army is a great asset to our armed forces. It only consumes 1.3% of the defence budget but about a quarter of the army's troops. Not a bad deal. People were understandably dismayed at the cuts that Browns government had proposed to TA training, that were quickly removed.

There was enthusiasm for the Lib Dems campaign for a fair wage for troops and I heard about how TA troops often had to wait before getting out into combat situations before they could get their hands on equipment that they would usually have had one at their training base to practice on. All in all the people were great, very patriotic and very kind. They even gave me a Tyneside Scottish Tie Clip to say thank you for coming!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Day

I would just like to commend the excellent remembrance day events today across the constituency. There has been a concern in the past that the young generation is not as interested but on seeing the events across the constituency and in my home town, I would have to say that does not seem to be the case. Let's never forget the price paid (and still being paid) by people to preserve our freedoms and way of life.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A big shock

A big shock today to hear that a 40 year old woman has been found unconscious in the area of Prudhoe I represent opposite Carnaby Close on Friday night and that she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Details have not yet been released but my heart goes out to her family and friends. The Police are appealing for anyone who was in the area between 10.50pm and 11.15pm on Friday to contact Northumbria Police on 03456 043 043 ext 69191 or to or ring the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

A living wage for our troops

With Remembrance Sunday tomorrow and with the price paid by our troops in Blood in Afghanistan rising by the day, it seemed an apt moment to talk to local residents about the Liberal Democrats campaign to get soldiers a living wage. Soldiers are paid a scandalously low wage considering the risks they take. The military predominately recruits from poorer communities, often from the North. As a result communities like Blaydon pay a higher price. The least they deserve is to be paid a decent wage.

We went to Crawcrook and Ryton high streets to collect signatures for our petition. A great response and real anger on the streets about both the situation in Afghanistan and also the way this government is treating the soldiers both with a lack of the proper equipment and the low levels of pay. A great day. I got chatting with a TA veteran who told me of the disgraceful way in which the TA was not getting paid for drill situations and how the TA feels undervalued under Brown when it is sending troops to Afghanistan on the front line.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Campaigning in Blaydon


Spent much of Saturday campaigning in Blaydon, talking to residents and shopkeepers. Our excellent local spokesperson, Kelly Todd, is a local shop manager and is in touch with local residents so a good person to have with you.

I had the pleasure of bumping into Dave Anderson who was in the area delivering his literature, which is paid for by the taxpayer of course! Pleased to report that mine is funded by myself and my colleagues in the Liberal Democrats so they're not quite as glossy but at least you're not paying for them!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Birtley visit


I joined local activists to deliver leaflets in Birtley yesterday. A great day and a lot of literature put out. Birtley is a great place but a lot of residents there don't realise they are in Blaydon constituency - clearly both my opponent and I need to do more work!

I don't do commercials for estate agents but I had to feel sorry for the guy who set up the firm on the pictured board. It's hard enough selling houses at the best of times but even harder when you might be confused with the architect of the current downturn!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Newcastle Brown campaign continues


We had a great constituency meeting today at which we discussed the situation about the closure of the Dunston Brewery. We resolved to make representations to take action on the moving of production of Newcastle Brown Ale to Yorkshire.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Website Launch

Well I am very pleased to announce the launch of the New Blaydon Lib Dem website, www.blaydonlibdems.org.uk. It's early days but I hope you keep coming back to check the site for the latest news from the campaign and to find out what your councillors and campaigners are doing.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Britain plays catch up with Vince


Last weekend Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable was up in the North East. Twice I listened to a call from him to separate banking into safe retail banking guaranteed by the UK government but closely regulated and Investment banks, free to pay large bonuses and take risks but not be bailed out by the government. He has been calling for this since well before I first heard this call at the Lib Dems spring conference and the launch of his acclaimed analysis of the financial crisis, The Storm.

Like his call for nationalisation of Northern Rock, it's been derided as impossible. Now Mervyn King has called for the functions of banks to be split. Apparently the Tories are now saying that it's an idea they are interested in. The government says its impossible. It does annoy me to see billions being poured into a dysfunctional banking system when reforms outlined by Vince almost a year ago would help minimise the chances of it happening again. Vince has been proved right time and time again. I wonder how long it will take the government to change their mind.

A third runner enters the 2 horse race!

I've received news that Blaydon has a new parliamentary candidate. The Tories have finally selected a candidate, Glenn Hall. The Conservatives have not yet put any information about him on their website but I welcome him to the race. I look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail. We don't see many Conservative politicians round here!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Out and about in Kibblesworth


Great day today getting the word out in Kibblesworth. A lovely village and got talking to a few residents about some anti social activity in the village. The Millennium centre in the village is a great facility and a great community venue.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Vince visit




Lib Dem Deputy Leader and all round economic guru was in Gateshead today for a packed North East Lib Dem regional conference. It was interesting to hear his opinions on the economy and what is needed to turn it around. It's clear that tough decisions will have to be made about taxes and spending over the coming years. Vinces proposed "mansion tax" has been criticised by the tax but I really do feel that a simple tax on owners of very expensive houses is not as controversial with the public as the media make out.

Vince was also keen to hear from us about the economic situation in the North East, in particular about the role the Regional Development Agency, One North East, plays and the future of Northern Rock. In respect of the Rock, he warned against plans to sell it back to the state too quickly at a cheap price, costing the taxpayer billions. Very thought provoking.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

MPs Expenses

The latest chapter in the expenses saga is a curious one. Much focus has been put on the latest letters saga. However, I back Nick Cleggs call for "flipping" to be thoroughly investigated. It is wrong to change your second home between your constituency and your London home constantly to benefit from expenses and capital gains taxation. MPs have profited much more from this than all the gardening bills combined. It needs to be investigated. Could it be that the fact that this appears to be a common behaviour at ministerial level be what is holding back the enquiry?

Tadcaster Brown Ale

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it does it? My Opponent at the next election has been busy signing Early Day Motions (EDMs) again. On Tuesday before turning his attention to a removal of seating in the MPs cafe (http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=39275&SESSION=899) he managed to sign an EDM deploring the closure of the Federation Brewery in Dunston and with it the moving of production of "broon" to Yorkshire.

It's really sad to see the loss of an iconic brand from the North East. Even more sad is the gradual closure of the Federation Brewery. Scottish and Newcastle brewery (they might want to review that name!) bought the Federation brewery some years ago from the federation of social clubs, a mutual body owned by local businesses. They also had a number of nice beers, which have been swept away. Now Newcastle Brown is a small brand in the wider Heineken multinational. A visit to their website confirms it at the bottom of the "other brands" section.

Multinational beer brands push one or two brands. History shows that Newcastle Brown Ale will become an increasingly peripheral brand, although it is apparently popular in the USA. The history of the Theakston brand perhaps shows whats in store. Theakstons was an iconic beer brand in the real ale market, famous for its "Old Peculiar" beer and for its brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire. It was bought by S&N and production moved to Tyneside. It was initially heavily promoted but gradually S&N rationalised its brands and John Smiths was promoted instead. In the end it was bought back by the Theakston family and production has gradually been brought back to Yorkshire, ironically reducing brewing activity at the Tyne. Beers local roots are important. The sadness is there is very unlikely to be a Tyneside brewery for Newcastle Brown to return to when Heineken grow tired of it.

I do wonder why after granting a special geographical restriction on Newcastle Brown, the EU allowed its production to be moved. In the short term I hope that alternative employment is found for the staff at Dunston, just down the Hill from Blaydon constituency. More widely, I think there is a case for the Brewing industry to be looked at to encourage local brands to flourish. I also am looking for reassurances about the future of the very popular Lancastrian function suite on the site.

Monday, 5 October 2009

High Speed Rail - additional benefits

Today I went down to Lamesley to have a look at the rail goods yard. Its a real shame that Birtley and Lamesley have big populations that commute to Newcastle and have to travel by bus or car though one of the most congested areas - south Gateshead and the Team Valley - when they have a mainline rail line running through their community. There was a station in Birtley for many years. So could we reopen it and provide a cost effective solution to reducing congestion? Yes but the East Coast main line is very busy and can't have more communter trains slowing down the main trains. The solution? Give the North East the high speed rail link it deserves and put more commuter trains on the old line. Some of the Beeching cuts need to be reversed.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Tomatoes, Ginger Cake and Coco


My earlier post prompted me to take the Liberal Democrat focus team to Blackhall Mill to conduct a residents survey. My colleague John McClury (councillor for Whickham South and Sunniside) had to bring his dog Coco, who went down well with the local youth.

Many residents told me this was the first time in their life that a politician had called in person! There are a number of issues that residents have raised with me that I will be pursuing. But it's not all hard work. I bought a great bag of greenhouse raised tomatoes from a guy opposite Fife Terrace and then was able to call into the Community Cafe, the first one for a while I believe. Its run by the community for the community and the Ginger Cake was excellent. The Community association do a great job and the building has numerous green innovations, including ground source heat pumps.

I was also able to indulge my guilty secret (I like cars!), by seeing a lovely Triumph 1960s convertible. Not a bad morning!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Blackhall Mill website

Blackhall Mill is a wonderful small village in the constituency on the border with County Durham. I spotted a wonderful website today run by the community:

http://www.blackhallmill.org.uk/

a great example of community spirit

Monday, 28 September 2009

Scrap the Scrappage

The government has announced that the Scrappage scheme is being extended with another £100m allocated for it. This government is so used to stealth taxes it appears to be introducing stealth subsidies. But this money could be used much more effectively to support green jobs and British jobs. The more I think through the scrappage scheme, the more I veer to the view that it is not a good thing.

If you have cashed in your old banger, and I know people who have, it is surely a good idea. But my friend used this to buy a Hyundai recently and traded in a car that was mechanically sound. As someone who is interested in encouraging more environmental motoring and reducing debt levels, it breaks my heart to see perfectly good cars being scrapped and UK government subsidy propping up overseas manufacturing.

How much better would it be to use the money to spend it on making our public buildings energy efficient, creating local jobs in environmental areas as well as saving the taxpayer money by reducing the amount of money thousands of public buildings waste year after year. Just a thought.

Friday, 25 September 2009

"Decent" Homes

Following on from yesterdays debate at conference about the Government Decent Homes programme, I attended a meeting of the DSD residents association in Crawcrook. The residents association covers a small estate of council and privately run houses. They formed a resident group, partly as they were disgusted with the estate being at the back of the queue for improvements.

The group are really well run by their chair Nora, who is a great community advocate. Residents explained to me how the sub contractors employed to do the work had been very sloppy in the work they were doing and had caused an awful lot of unnecessary misery.

The group is really well attended and is supported by Cllrs Derek Anderson and Noel Rippeth.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Last Day at conference


Well it's the last day at this years Lib Dem conference. Usually the leaders speech is about lunchtime and there is not much on in the morning. This year though the speech was pushed back which allowed more time to discuss more policies. Of particular interest was a motion on the governments "Decent Homes" programme. The scheme, much trumpeted by Labour but in reality a plan to bring council homes up for a minimum standard, has been cut back onto and there are real problems with its implementation, noth in Gateshead and Nationally.

Then Nicks speech. It was great and Nick emphasised the strength in his parliamentary team. He's right - he just needs some more people to join them!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Conference - Day 4

I am again in the conference hall after highlighting the need for a high speed rail link to the North East earlier by riding on a little train on the sea front today. Hopefully an mooted link will be a little quicker! Yesterday, I attended two important events. On very close to my heart was a fringe debate about the value of charities in society and the problem they are having in the current recession. A crucial service is offered by many of these groups and we must all try to ensure their services are valued.

In addition, I attended a great debate about recognising the obligation we have to soldiers. In particular rehabilitation and proper housing for returning soldiers was stressed. A busy day today so must dash!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Day 2 in the Conference Hot House

Well it's my second day at the Liberal Democrats annual conference here in Bournemouth and the weather is great, really hot. Yesterday was a quiet day at the conference and a chance to reacquaint myself with some old friends. It was enlivened by the Conference Rally, a traditional event to start the conference, which was enlivened by a great speech by Charles Kennedy as well as some very risque jokes from Sarah Teather MP, our spokesperson for Housing.

Floella Benjamin also spoke, which reminded me of bygone days watching Play School, it great to have such inspirational people supporting our cause. Nick Clegg continued to impress with a great speech. He is focusing on making hard choices, a responsible move. It is important that we are honest about which parts of our policy agenda is affordable immediately and which will have to wait a while. I sense conference will have some hard choices to make.

I have voted to have a debate on affordable housing, focusing on the scandal about the decent homes standard, an issue that is of importance to the constituency, especially Blaydon and Winlaton. Today the conference debates important issues about personal privacy and civil liberties as well as how Britain should position itself in a globalised economy. Important stuff and debates that will expose our differences as a party with the Conservative/Labour approach to things.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Lib Dem Conference

I'm afraid it's a few days off the Blaydon campaign trail as I go to Bournemouth for the annual Liberal Democrat conference. The country is facing up to hard times, a record budget deficit and there is a need for honesty about how to move the country forward whilst preserving essential public services. An important time and I believe the Lib Dems have a lot to contribute to the national debate. I will be putting forward the case for Blaydon and the North East and will try to endeavour to keep people updated.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Bookies agree - it's a two horse race

A betting friend of mine drew my attention to the latest betting odds on the Blaydon constituency at the next general election. Two bookies have now opened up accounts on the contest. The closeness of the likely race between myself and Labour is reflected in the odds but the Conservatives odds - 100-1 at Ladbrokes, illustrate what we've been saying for some time. The only way to vote Browns Labour party out in Blaydon is by voting Lib Dem.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Daily Mail and the Truth

The more you are involved in campaigning the more you realise how the press doesn't always get a story right. The other week in my job at a CAB, I got an email about managing spam from our national body. A bit oddly it had a sentence about calling things "blocklisting" rather than "blacklisting". It was a bit odd but the comment of one person.

The next thing I know the Daily Mail is running a story over the weekend about how the CAB service across the county has banned the use of the phrase "blacklisting" in another example of PC madness. The CAB service is a network of fiercely independent charities and that the thoughts of one person does not automatically make it policy across the network. The Mail also showed a lack of knowledge of the service in that it described it as a "government funded Quango", a description it changed on its website today. Cue lots of outraged comments from people on the Mails website automatically assuming that this was emblematic of a country going to the dogs and that this disgusting service should be scrapped. This is how the reputation of a charity helping the most needy in society is attacked needlessly for the sake of a headline. If this is how the CAB service is treated then it makes it hard to trust any articles in the paper.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

In the NHS QIPP is no joke

A busy weekend but not with the usual campaigning. Instead it was off to Bury in Lancashire to visit my in laws. My wife's grandma has been treated by the NHS and has received excellent care. It made me reflect. 10 years ago the NHS was on the ropes, a chronic lack of underinvestment made many to question the value of the service.

But now we have had many years of record spending in the NHS. Although not everything has been done right, most people would admit that the level of care has increased. It's done this on the back of massive increases in NHS spending over and above inflation. Post 2011, the NHS faces a return to the days of real terms stagnation, with settlements unlikely to go above inflation. That is the case under any potential government.

The NHS has been instructed by the government to look for efficiency savings and push money into prevention. It's little known QIPP programme (Quality, innovation, productivity and prevention) has instructed NHS Primary Care Organisations to look for savings in other areas to move money into Prevention. Essentially this means that some departments will have to make cuts. I hope for all our sakes that the NHS manages the leaner times better than the boom times.

As a non exec director of a Primary Care Organisation, I would say that it's important that politicians of all sides stop accusing the other of cutting the NHS and look carefully at how we can continue to increase patient care without it costing a lot more. A lot more difficult than throwing money at the problem. My preference and that of the Liberal Democrats is to decentralise the NHS and make it accountable to local people through local authority scrutiny. It is very top heavy at the moment, with the Strategic Health Authorities having a lot of power. That is a good idea in an NHS region with underperforming trusts but this is not the case in the NHS, where most of the hospitals and primary care organisations get good reports.

The policy I advocate opens up the potential for the NHS to be more responsive to local needs and to develop innovative solutions. But it does require local politicians to raise their game and for local people to hold them to account. It is infinitely superior in my view to the pseudo democracy of foundation trust boards. However, we must acknowledge that local choice means different service levels across areas and that fans of top down, lowest common denominator politics will start to scream "postcode lottery"!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Whickham campaigning

After yesterdays campaigning I decided to move into a different part of the constituency, well to the neighbouring estate on the Broadway in Whickham anyway! A good reception and a good response to our survey.

It was interesting to read two things in the newspapers, both about the (distant) third party in Blaydon - the Conservatives. It was interesting to see their solution to widespread discontent to the current league table system to schools, tweaking the league tables! (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8203673.stm). They intend to award more university points for "harder" subjects and less for "soft" subjects. It's easy for the Tories to pick on Media Studies but I think there will be a lot of subjects where this easy headline will be hard to translate into policy. The problem is not the relative merits of league tables but the fact that league tables do not give you a real picture of the schools performance. Neither will the new Tories league tables.

The other interesting article was in the Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/16/tory-mps-back-nhs-dismantling) , where senior Conservatives have been revealed to as signing up recently to a book which advocates removing much of the current NHS system. The NHS is not perfect but it delivers world class healthcare at a reasonable price. The recent spat with US right wingers over the NHS has highlighted the national support or the NHS. The Liberal Democrats support it. Despite David Cameron's support, it is clear there is a large percentage of the Conservative Party that does not.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Oakfields Road Shop Development

This morning I joined councillors Peter Craig and Jonathan Wallace for a street surgery on Oakfields Road in Whickham. There is a proposal to turn an unused shop into a NISA convenience store. Residents have two main objections. The first is about the light pollution from a proposed illuminated sign. The second is that the applicants have sought an alcohol licence until 9.30, after withdrawing an early application for even later hours.

We were there to listen to local residents, the first duty of politicians. The overwhelming view was that residents didn't object to the new shop but wanted it to close earlier in what is a very residential area. It goes shortly to Gateshead Council but there is still time for residents to give their views.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Government Decent Homes Programme is Indecent

I have been having a number of conversations with Brenda Osbourne (http://online.gateshead.gov.uk/Councillors/Councillor_info.aspx?CllrID=64) , our excellent councillor for Winlaton and High Spen, about the half hearted nature of the "Decent Homes" programme in Blaydon, which is due to be rolled out to Winlaton soon.

Government funding has been released to Councils/Almos/ in order to bring Council Housing up to decent standards. There is concern that in Blaydon and Winlaton, being at the end of the programme in Gateshead appear not to be receiving anything like the investment made in homes at the commencement of the programme several years ago.

Decent homes includes bathrooms, windows, kitchens, electrical wiring, and heating systems. Most of the properties in Gateshead were originally installed with back boilers many of which are now quite aged and inefficient but these will not be replaced with efficient combi boilers if spare parts can be located regardless of age. Insulation is also being carried out by Warm Zone. The windows are not to be replaced under 30 years as long as they are in a repairable condition. Many of these properties are in very exposed areas and the windows are extremely draughty which often results in huge fuel bills for some of our poorest citizens. We had reports that last winter several constituents in Barlow Village were obliged to pay approx £900 PER MONTH in order just to keep the chill off their homes. These properties are to be fitted with double glazed windows and have already been cavity wall and loft insulated but there is actually a cold breeze when a door is opened to the hallway.

It is apparent that many of the houses in the next phase with the same windows are not to receive double glazing or new boilers and that their heating bills are also high. It is simply unacceptable that the Labour government doesn't appear to be helping the most vulnerable and meeting their obligation to bring all housing stock up to the right standard. I suspect that this situation exists right across the region, not just in Blaydon. I will be raising this issue with our MEP, Fiona Hall, who leads on energy efficiency for the Lib Dems in the European Parliament. I will also be working with Brenda and other Lib Dem campaigners to campaign for improvements.
I would value feedback from residents on this issue.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

lovely day great response

Out campaigning in Whickham today and a great response from residents. There is still a lot of anger over expenses but a recognition that the Liberal Democrats are the challengers to Labour here and are the only party which has active local councillors working all year round for them.

I can't help but pay tribute to Gateshead Thunder's tremendous result in France last night. Despite having problems getting to Toulouse (http://www.thunderrugby.com/news_article.php?id=209), the team won convincingly 20-48. This gives our local Rugby League team a great chance of staying in the Championship. The "six pointer" next week against Leigh will be key!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

another full term assessment

Parliament is now in recess. The length of holidays our MPs take does somewhat beggar belief. Still an opportunity to review the performance of Blaydons current Labour MP. Has his record changed?

Here's the latest summary of ghis voting record on the nuetral website www.theyworkforyou.com

  • Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for introducing a smoking ban. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for replacing Trident. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for equal gay rights. votes, speeches
  • Voted for laws to stop climate change. votes, speeches

Read about how the voting record is decided.

More on well-known issues (from the Guardian) & their full record

That would appear to be a case of "no change"then

Monday, 13 July 2009

Friends of Chase Park

I attended the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Chase Park today. It was a good meeting with a lot of people having very radical ideas for the park, including taking community ownership. It was good to see so many people with an interest. It was good to see prominent local councillors so involved in community action, in particular councillors Peter Maughan, Peter Craig and Jonathan Wallace. It has been decided to call a public meeting where people can get involved in the life of the park. A great start to helping to protect a vital community asset.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Whickham increasingly not in bloom

I was out and about today collecting signatures for a petition against Gateshead Councils mean minded cut backs to flower beds and displays in Whickham. Many residents were telling me that this was the wrong thing to cut in the councils budget. A lot of signatures have been collected and we can only hope they help persuade the Labour run council to see the error of its ways.

I met a lot of ex Labour voters and people who have stopped voting today who are deciding that they will be backing the Liberal Democrats next time round.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Need for an end for childish ways in parliament

So John Bercow was elected speaker and immediately the talk is how Tory MPs hate him and want to get rid of him. We hear he has to perform or he will be out! How ridiculous. Whatever the speaker, the reforms are down to MPs. It does strike me that the pension package and other benefits for the speaker are amazing - perhaps this should be the first thing Mr Bercow changes?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Calman and Barnett: Fair funding for the North East

It's not often that I'll comment on Scottish, Welsh or indeed Northern Irish politics. This usually isn't of much interest to residents in Blaydon or the North East.

Some will remember the doomed referendum in the North East about a North East Assembly. The North East roundly rejected the idea of a regional assembly. Friends of mine said that they weren't voting for it because it didn't have enough powers. They were right. I argued at the time that an assembly could act as a voice for the region and gradually gain more powers.

If Scotland is anything to go by, I was right! The three main national parties are proposing a major increase in devolution through the Calman Commission, which proposes that Scotland has more control over its tax.

So Scotland has more control over its affairs with the increased costs of the parliament. But no Scottish body is proposing abolition of the Barnett Formula, the spending formula that allocates more to Scotland per head regardless of need.

I believe that money should be allocated by need and the North East is the area with some of the worst social problems and has been hardest hit by the recession. Billions of pounds more would have been allocated to the region, and lots more to Blaydon, if this formula had been flexible rather than set in stone over thirty years ago. Even Joel Barnett, the former Labour minister who invented it, agrees.

No Scottish MSP wants to lose it and Labour shows no signs of changing its rigid policy of sticking to an unfair allocation (as did its Tory predecessor). It strikes me that after 11 years under a Labour government with a large number of North East MPs in its ranks, we have a right to expect more. With no North East Assembly we have no one else to back our case. Labour has let us down in Blaydon. Again.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Blaydon dairy closure is a tragedy

The closure of the Blaydon site of Dairy Farmers of Great Britain, as announced today (http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/breaking-news/2009/06/12/almost-300-jobs-go-as-dairy-farmers-of-britain-collapes-61634-23865180/) is a sad end to a bad story.

It means milk will be driven further, there will be less choice and there is an increased chance milk will have to be imported. In addition lots of farmers are in problems and hundreds of workers are out of work at a terrible time. It's worth noting that this was a Co-op dairy until a year or two ago and has largely failed due to the withdrawal of the Co-op contract.

It seems like madness and it was a shame that local agencies couldn't have enough time to work with management. Much less seriously, it is also causing problems for local councils that provide school milk in traditional third pint bottles as this is the only local dairy that does them in this format.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Dairy Farmers Receivership Highlights Problems

The news from the Dairy Farmers of Great Britain base in Blaydon is grim and a worrying development. The organisation went into recievership last week, with 260 workers jobs at risk. The company puts the reasons for its problems on the decline in world milk prices and also because of the loss of the Co-op contract. DFOGB is a co-operative organisation and much of it was of course the Co-op dairy originally.

It is a great shame that the Co-op has shown no support for fellow co-op movement members as they move to being ultra commercial in their mentality. It is interesting to see that now if, as seems likely, the depot closes our milk will be from further away. Last year apparently the UK was a net importer of Milk as dairy farming was in retreat. It seems a shame that despite all the EU subsidy of farming, milk is not suitably profitable for UK farmers. The supermarkets have to bear a share of the blame as they push wholesale prices further and further. Purchasers need to buy British and be prepared to pay a small premium if they value reducing food miles.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Tremendous European Election result

Well done Fiona Hall and the European election team. The North East has re-elected a great MEP in Fiona and the result was a good one, in the face of a very euro sceptic media. Fiona beat off the challenge of UKIP and the BNP, whilst the Labour party saw a 9% fall in their vote. The local result in Gateshead was very encouraging, with Labours vote falling.

Blaydon Burn Festival


Well the important news - not the European elections but the Blaydon Burn Festival. A great event and well attended. I was dismayed to hear that it is to be the final event as funding has run out. A real shame and I hope that Labour can find the funds to continue it.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Thank You

I just wanted to thank everyone who got out and voted - espcially those who voted Liberal Democrat. The turnout was low in some areas, but not as bad as some aspects of the media would seem to like.

I also want to thank all of the people who were so friendly and welcoming - people are still angry about the expenses row but are still polite and receptive to politicians who bother to knock on their door and try to engage with them.

Britain needs fresh ideas - not more back stabbing

I couldn't leave my blog without mentioning the utter chaos that the current high level bickering in the Labour Party. Whether it happens now or in a year, Gordon Brown is finished. His government is made up of political pygmies and is in its violent death throws. His internal opponents are not worthy to serve either. They have shown more interest in back stabbing than in coming up with new ideas.

Now more than ever, Britian needs a government with a legitimate mandate and a fresh team at the helm. If Gordon Brown won't call an election, Labour MPs should resign to force a debate on the direction for Britian.

And to make this country even more of a laughing stock abroad we lose at cricket to the Netherlands!

The BNP must be challenged

The European elections saw a swing to minor parties, it is clear. ONe of the beneficiaries was the BNP. I spoke to a person who had voted for the BNP already. She voted for them because she wanted to "stop immigrants getting all the jobs". When I asked her if she was against her Asian neighbours she said that "they won't suffer, they were born here". How misguded. People are being fooled into thinking that the BNP are a respectable party for people to vent concerns about the economy and a feeling of alienation. They are not. They are a party of sexist, Holocaust denying racists. Most politicians are tempted to ignore the BNP. We all need to take them on and challenge every person who votes for them. Sometimes that will mean engaging them in debate. However unpleasant, it needs to be done.

An exciting campaign now we wait!

It's been an exciting Euro campaign, now we wait till the count on Sunday. I hope that the voters have rewarded Fiona Hall with another four year term in recognition of her hard work. She is without doubt the hardest working North East MEP, speaking more, asking more questions and with a great attendance record. In Blaydon constituency, she has had a local profile unusual for an MEP. She has fought against open cast plans supported by Labour and has got the petitions committee of the parliament to investigate the disgrace that is Pathhead landfill.

So I hope she wins! I was up at 5 am for a 6 am start. "Good morning" leaflets then normal leaflets urging people to vote until late. I got round much of Whickham and got a good reception. The ballot paper was very large and turnout was low. I had a great conversation with a lady who was walking to the station and was very confused about how the European election voting system works. I think she voted Liberal Democrat. An exciting day but we need to take nothing for granted. I had a call from a resident that the BNP were illegally hanging banners over road bridges on the A1. Apart from being distracting for motorists, this is symptomatic of a cynical BNP campaign, whcih has avoided talking to people and tried to achieve maximum exposure with minimum contact, as they know that the vast majority hate them.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The day before D-Day

Out again today in the constituency in the morning in Rowlands Gill. More hard slog getting our message across. A short lunch at the Golden Lion in Winlaton Mill (great food and lovely well kept real ale BTW!) then back onto the campaign trail. Off to Winlaton and Blackhall Mill. Blackhall Mill has a great community centre and it's a real shame that a ceramic mosaic in front has been vandalised some time ago.

It was great to leaflet the terrace at the end of River View. Lots of community activists live there and I was pleased to see a poster saying "no BNP leaflets here". Well done that person, it's absolutely vital that we all stand up to the fascist threat. I received a text from an Asian friend of mine telling me all her friends are voting for the first time - they see the threat of extremists to our British values of tolerance.

It's essential everyone votes - the BNP has much more chance on a low turn out.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Leafletting and a principled campaign

After work I was back on the campaign trail, delivering leaflets in the constituency. A lovely day for it. It has been a very unusual campaign with the Labour government losing credibility at a rapid rate. The expenses scandal has hurt all the mainstream parties but I get a feeling from the doorstep that the Liberal Democrats record of hard work in the constituency of Blaydon is helping people realise we are not all the same.

One thing that always makes me happy is when my party fights a campaign for what it believes in regardless of how it polls with a focus group. Our European campaign is a case in point. Britains press is undeniably euro sceptic but we believe as a party that its better to be a strong part of Europe, arguing for reform. Suddenly almost every party under the sun in the UK is arguing that we should pull out of the EU or not sign up to the Lisbon reform treaty - even though it reduces the democratic defecit in the EU.

So suddenly our principled stance means that if you support a prinicpled stance in Europe and if you agree with our stance "stronger together, poorer apart", we are the only party offering such a choice. As the Independent said yesterday, "the Liberal Democrats who have been the most consistently constructive British party on the European Union, a stance which has given their honest criticisms of Brussels' shortcomings all the more credibility."

I think and hope people are looking for a positive honest party. If so and that is you, please consider voting Lib Dem on Thursday. Our manifesto can be found here: http://europe.libdems.org.uk/

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Rowlands Gill Traffic

I was in Rowlands Gill today with our local campaigner Ray Callender. What Ray doesn't know about the village isn't worth knowing! We stopped all the time for Ray to introduce me to another aquaintance of his. It's great to have local campaigners on the ground who know their local community so well. On of the main reasons for my trip was to see the traffic on the main road for myself. Even though it was a Sunday, it was very congested and parking was a nightmare. Something needs to be done and we will be surveying local residents to find out their views. I later popped over to Chopwell to see some problems highlighted to me by local residents. There is an issue with parked cars on both sides of the road and kids playing. This is a problem in many areas and I support encouraging drivers to slow down in residential streets to avoid potential accidents.

Finally, I couldn't help but point regular readers in the direction of this excellent articles in the Observer. I am pleased all the parties work on Europe and parliamentary reform is getting recognition:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/31/european-elections-liberal-democrats
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/31/voting-reform-liberal-democrats

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Plants, Tea and Little Sympathy

What a lovely day! Iwas in Sunniside this morning for the Chapel plant Fair. Its a great event and I picked up some fuschias. After my plant purchasing I had a chance to sit down and have a cuppa with some local women. They were discussing the expenses scandal when I arrived! It was one of those occasions when its a good opportunity to guage the feelings of peoples. There was genuine anger about it all, with the feeling that MPs were claiming because they could rather than they needed to. There was also outrage about the "golden parachutes" that disgraced retiring MPs would recieve (often over £50,000) and support for Nick Cleggs proposals to axe this for those MPs jumping before they are pushed.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Victory for Common Sense in Sunniside

Just heard news from Sunniside Councillors (Liberal Democrats of course!) that they have succeeded in overturning proposals to put double yellow lines in front of the Methodist church. This would have caused a lot of problems for wedding cars and hearses and would have potentially caused a lot of issues. Its really good to see the council listening to local people and makes a pleasant change!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Euro Hustings mark 2

This night I was sent to Middlesborough to talk to the hardy individuals who preferred politics to football for another Euro hustings. I was joined by representatives from Labour, UKIP, the Jury Team and No2EU. I tried to answer genuine questions from members of the public with genuine answers, which are sometimes nuanced. The minor parties there disappointed me as they displayed a lack of knowledge on the issues and instead fell into a populist grab bag of rhetoric. UKIP were particularly incoherent and their representative was very angry when UKIP MEPs actual record was raised. Of course in this European parliament, one quarter of their representatives have been convicted or left the party. The UKIP rep was quite proud that one of their MEPs Ashley Mote was dismissed from UKIP on his first day. It doesn't say much for their candidate selection.

Again I felt proud to be speaking up for my parties distinctive pro European approach. I was also pleased to mention Open Europe (a generally euro sceptic think tanks) review of MEP performance. Fiona Hall, the Lib Dem MEP for the North East, of course comes out best of all the MEPs in the NE. Find out more at http://www.openeurope.org.uk/

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Euro Hustings

I has the pleasure of representing the Lib Dems at the PCS unions European election hustings at Durham. A small turnout and only three parties (out of 12 standing!) turned out to represent themselves to potential voters. Myself, a Labour party representative and eternal Communist Party of Britain candidate Martin Levy. He is standing for the new party "No2EU", which purports to represent a left wing anti EU view to give BNP voters another choice. Curiously, they don't necessarily want to leave the EU, curious given the name!

A good event and nice to talk about ideas and policies. At this election we are the only party advocating a positive, consistent view on the EU. See our manifesto here

http://europe.libdems.org.uk/sites/default/files/euromanifesto.pdf

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Ryton Hirings

Today I was off to the great Ryton Hirings fair, which takes place over the bank holiday weekend and is run by the Lions. It's a great event and I was there to help on the Tombola stall. I must confess to not being much help so went around to have a look. I bumped into hard working local councillor Noel Rippeth, who was giving tours of the church, whilst his wife and councillor Ione Rippeth, led the choir on the piano. I learnt a lot that I didn't know about this marvelous church, one of the oldest in the local area. The event is great and needs to be encouraged.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Whickham Parking Petition

In Whickham this morning to help man the Lib Dem Street Stall in the main shopping centre. The purpose today was to gather signatures for our petition against car parking charges being introduced in Whickham. With the Metro centre being so close, any imposition of parking charges would drive shoppers away. Traders are rightly concerned. All but one business on the high street signed our petition, bar one where the manager wasn't in. The newsagents have the petition to sign there too if you missed out. Get in touch if you want to register your opposition as well!

Whilst there I was told about a large accident on Whaggs lane, ironically next to a new "slow down" flashing sign installed at the urging of local Lib Dem councillors but which Gateshead council haven't managed to get working yet!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

NHS funding

A day off from campaigning in Blaydon to go and sit on the board of the NHS care trust for which I am a non executive director. A very interesting meeting, although the NHS has a language of its own, which I am still trying to decipher! A need for more plain speaking is always worth raising, as I do.

I have found an interesting fact out that rings alarm bells with me. NHS primary care trusts across all of the North East fund an organisation campaigning against smoking and tobacco consumption, Fresh North East. Find their website at www.freshne.com. This funding is large and is in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Much of the work of the organisation is commendable, especially its smoking cessation programmes. But a large part of its work is in lobbying MPs and government. This leaves me feeling a bit awkward as we are using government money to lobby government. This doesn't seem right to me so I am investigating it. It also makes me wonder how common government funding for government lobbying is. Let me know your views or if you know of other examples.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Rogue Traders

I have heard reports of a bunch of gardening contractors going door to door who are based in Birtley who do the job very badly and then demand payment in a threatening manner. They are known to the police and if you feel pressured into getting work done or work is not satisfactory tell the police (and your local Liberal Democrats!) .

The usual rule applies - don't buy from the doorstep and when you employ someone you don't know, ask for references!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Scrappage

Well today is the first day of the new scrappage scheme, giving £2,000 to a motorist as a trade in on their car - if its over 10 years old.

I have to say that I have my reservations about this scheme. Firstly, many cars over ten years are perfectly serviceable and do not need to be scrapped. My own car is 9 years old and in good nick. I understand that the government is trying to get the public to start spending again but we need to be careful to not encourage the same credit fuelled bubble we have experienced already. Another problem is that, sadly, an awful lot of cars sold today are not built in Britain, meaning a lot of subsidy is going straight to other countries.

A major concern is that of much older "classic" cars. There is a very active classic car scene in this country, employing many people including a number in the constituency. Many classics are worth less than £2,000 unrestored but are a valuable source of unobtainable spare parts and to scrap them would be bad for this sector. It would be nice if the chancellor had borne this in mind and put an upper age limit on cars that can be scrapped under the scheme, say 25 years. The number of these cars is small and the amount they are used (and their pollution) is minimal.

So another government scheme that is initially attractive but has unintended consequences.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Flowers, Rugby, Anniveraries and Whickham

Today I have largely had a day off from campaigning to concentrate on my two passions - my wife and Rugby League!

It's my wife and my anniversary today, so yesterday after going to Chase Park Fair, I popped into Flower Design in Whickham (http://www.flower-design.co.uk) to buy some flowers. I don't have much of an eye for these things but the shop is beautiful and the flowers impressed my long suffering wife today. Talking of flowers, yesterday I went to see the flower beds that the Labour run Gateshead council is proposing to cut back on. It's a real shame as they are a great asset for the area, especially as Whickham has a very active "in bloom" group hoping to pick up a prize this year. Needless to say our local Lib Dem councillors are trying to sort the problem out.

The traders in Whickham are also angry about proposals to impose parking charges. More on this another time.

Anyway, my wife was so impressed with the flowers she allowed me to go off to watch the Gateshead Thunder Rugby League play today. The club has a great community feel and is doing well in its first season in the Championship, the second division of Rugby League. We were up against Whitehaven and lost in an entertaining game 34-38. Very exasperating, but at £11 great value. I'd encourage people to get down to the International Stadium to support the team, all the games this year have been nail biting affairs!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Whickham Chase Park Fair


This afternoon I went to Whickham Chase park Fair, an annual event in the park organised by the scouts. It was great, with lots of charity stalls, fair rides, a stage with youth groups performing and lots of local people enjoying a sunny afternoon. The new Mayor of Gateshead arrived in his very expensive Audi and launched the fair but I preferred the steel drum band afterwards!

I was there to meet and help out the Friends of Chase Park, and intiative being set up by Whickham Lib Dem councillors to provide a user group for the park to enable more funding to be drawn in and events to take place. The group is still forming and despite having the most spartan stall in the marquee, and no raffle etc. to tempt people with, we got a lot of local residents to sign up for the group.

If you're interested, contact Cllr Peter Craig at cllr.ptcraig@Gateshead.gov.uk

Farmers Market


I was over to Gibside this morning to visit the farmers market run by the National Trust there. Its a really good event, on every month I think. It's a good thing to support these events, the produce is really tasty and fresh and we cut out the middle man, ie the supermarket, and get the profits direct to the producer. I snapped up some cold pressed rapeseed from Northumberland. Its a relatively new product but really good to cook with, like Olive Oil but more flexible. Being produced relatively locally is good too and if you come back you can get a refill at a knock down price!

Check out the Yellow fields website for more info:

http://www.rapeseedoil.co.uk/

Friday, 15 May 2009

The result is in!


Well, the Chopwell and Rowlands Gill council by-election is over and counted. The result was Labour 1,221 votes, Ray Callender (Liberal Democrat) 898 votes, Conservative 177 votes.

This is an increase in Rays share of the vote and a reduction in the Labour majority from 916 votes only 2 years ago to 323 now. Chopwell and Rowlands Gill certainly can't be taken for granted anymore by the Labour party.

Ray is an excellent candidate and well done to him and his local Focus team, who I know are encouraged by this result. And thanks to all the residents in the ward who got out and voted, ensuring that turnout wasn't too much lower than in a normal local election.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Times are changing

I was back on the by-election trail tonight, helping local lad Ray Callender in his campaign in Rowlands Gill and Chopwell. Whilst leafleting, I was stopped by a very articulate man who was pleased to see politicians around engaging with voters. He was a man involved with the trade union movement all his life and had even led a strike during world war 2, an action I can imagine was very controversial at the time.

But he had split with the Labour party when it pushed through the war in Iraq and had rarely voted since then. But he said he would be "gutted" if he didn't vote and Labour squeaked in. I think he may now vote and possibly for us! It's so important to vote and its important that there are no easy runs for Labour in Blaydon. The voters want a positive alternative and its important that we give it to them.

MPs expenses

Not much time for campaigning in the constituency today - had a council meeting. However, I have been looking at the "revelations" against our MPs by the Daily Telegraph. I agree with Jeremy Paxman that they are small beer compared to tales of expenses for moats and tales of "flipping" houses.

However, the public rightly expect very high levels of probity and MPs really do need to be transparent. Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson is a good example, publishing her own expenses on her website voluntarily every quarter. You can see them here. If I am elected to parliament I will do the same. However, I do hope it is all sorted out by then.

Although the Times poll shows Lib Dems benefitting from this crisis in politics, I still think it is a very bad thing that drags us all down and pushes voters into the arms of extremists like the BNP, whose share has also grown. That is why all mainstream politicians need to clean up their act ASAP.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Speeding in Chopwell

It's always great to talk to local residents. As always vehicle speeds are always an issue. A resident has pointed out that with cars down both sides of South Road, the speed limits are too high and something needs to be done about reducing speed. I am forwarding this to our candidate Ray Callender and will be seeing what local residents think.

Later today, whilst admiring the Red Kites in Rowlands Gill, I was walking past the speed camera on Dipwood Road, I observed a motorbike and a car slowing down but then instantly accelerating. Speed cameras have an important role to play but are not always the answer to getting more considerate driving. We need to change behaviour and win the heart and minds on this one!

By-election latest

You can tell its byelection time when the Conservatives pop up in your area. They've been out promoting their candidate with a website advertised in the leaflet heading. Like me he is a blogger! But makes sure you put a hyphen in between his first name and his surname or you'll get a blog by the same candidate urging you to vote Lib Dem, which he was until he lost his Newcastle council seat a few years ago! The leaflet is amusingly printed by Gateshead Conservatives, Dinnington, Newcastle.

I don't do by election predictions nor am I a betting man but if any Conservatives would like to put a small wager on their candidate winning the Chopwell and Rowlands Gill byelection on Thursday I will gladly take their money. They have no councillors on the council and have always come a very poor third in the ward.

Telegraph suddenly compulsive reading

This morning when I went to the newsagents, for the first time in a long time, I bought a copy of the Telegraph! My parents used to get this paper sometimes but I must confess it has probably been 15 years since I last picked one up. Just shows the benefits of a scoop to circulation. Now it is the Conservatives time to suffer under the spotlight.

Money to fix Oliver Letwins tennis court is todays expense that catches my eye. It is easy for people to fall into the trap of viewing expenses as an entitlement rather than just cover for the essentials. But those of us in public life have got to try not to enrich ourselves at the taxpayers expense. It's ironic that local councillors and public sector staff would not be allowed to get away with this. Something has to be done but I think we should all follow the lead of the Scottish Parliment where every receipt is immediately viewable. Only with total transparency can Parliament recover its prestige.

It was amusing to watch Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, on the telly yesterday. His call to transfer all sovereignty back to parliament seemed particularly badly timed. Its certainly true that my work as a candidate for the European Parliament has shown that some of the UKIP MEPs have, ironically, conformed the most to UKIPs message that MEPs have their snouts in the trough by behaving in a disgracefull fashion!

Anyway its off to Rowlands Gill again for more leafleting on behalf of Ray Callender in the forthcoming council by-election. Apparently Labour have put a very silly leaflet out that does a better job of promoting the Lib Dems than themselves. I will reserve judgement till I see it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Change in the air in Chopwell and the Gill

Day 2 of me being a candidate in Blaydon and there's no easy start as it's straight into the fray with a council By-election in the ward of Chopwell and Rowlands Gill. We have a great chance in what was a previously safe Labour seat.

We have a brilliant candidate in Ray Callender. He is a local lad and is the only candidate who lives in the ward. Seems that even in a village like "Little Moscow" (Chopwells nickname) Labour can't find a candidate.

I was canvassing in the ward a few days ago and people have got the message that we are putting up a strong fight against Labour and that we are the only party who can deliver change in Rowlands Gill and Chopwell.

Today has been a lovely day and I have been delivering our FOCUS newsletter to residents in Rowlands Gill. Great exercise and its been getting a great reception.

The election is on this Thursday, 14th May and I would encourage everyone to get out and vote - it is important and despite the cynicism about politicians it is really important that people ensure their vote counts.

An Honour to be selected


As a first post, let me say what an honour it was to be selected by local Liberal Democrat members on Saturday. Blaydon is a great constituency, with a strong team of local Liberal Democrat councillors and activists who have established the Liberal Democrats as a powerful voice for people in the constituency. As a candidate I inherit a strong team from the previous candidate Peter Maughan (Who I'm pictured here with) determined to build on previous general election results, where we have been established as the only party that can beat Browns Labour.

I hope this blog will help keep local residents informed of what I am up to. Please send me your comments or questions - I'd love to hear them.