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:

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

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

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 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


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 ( 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

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:

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.