Friday, 26 August 2016

Broadband rollout to the villages goes on - slowly but surely we are getting there

Work on the ground in Matfen has started and will hopefully be finished by mid October, barring any problems encountered during build. Planning and survey work has all be completed. Coverage is confined to the village and some of the immediate local area. Mat fen is the largest village that has not yet had its broadband upgraded. 
Of the other areas included in phase 2 we expect the following to be live by the end of 2016: 
- Slaley Hall and Slaley Park
- Blagdon 
- Longbyre, near Greenhead 
- West End Town on the end of Bardon Mill
- Dilston
- Gunnerton 
- Melkridge
- Oakwood 
- Sandhoe
- Tranwell and Tranwell Woods
- Medburn
- Horsley
There are some truly outlying houses and settlements that will not be included in Phase 2 +our campaign to get them better broadband goes on, not least as the County Council are now looking at phase 3.
As always if there are any areas of difficulty, if BT are not getting back to you or if there are innovative solutions like that which has been successfully trialled in Whittonstall then let me know. We are always happy to help.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Labour Party under Corbyn now so "pure" no security company good enough for its conferences - so it might not go ahead.

You genuinely could not make it up: Labour will probably have to cancel their party conference because they cannot get any company to provide the security at the conference.
The journalist Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, has the story:
He describes how under Corbyn the ruling National Executive Council of Labour has
- "brought it's strategic genius to bear on security arrangements for this year’s gathering in Liverpool; it really showed how tuned in and efficient Labour is.
Harris adds:
"G4S has managed security at Labour conferences for 20 years, efficiently, without complaint and within budget. Until earlier this year, however, they also had extensive interests in Israel. Now, as it happens, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where political activists can freely espouse the kind of democratic socialism favoured by Labour. LGBT events can be celebrated in Tel Aviv and the free press there would even accurately report delegates’ objections to Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
In none of the surrounding Arab countries could such activity be pursued freely without the threat of violence, intimidation or arrest.
Nevertheless, the NEC, emboldened by Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to the party’s leadership two months earlier, decided to relieve G4S of their conference duties as punishment for their audacity in seeking business in a liberal parliamentary democracy.
This decision was “strongly supported” by Unite the Union, it should be noted.
It was at this point that Labour’s carefully crafted strategy started to unravel. After a number of other security firms politely declined the chance to bid for the work, only Showsec, remains in the field. But they are embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the GMB – one of Labour’s biggest donors – over its refusal to recognise the union.
Now Len McCluskey, the head of rival union Unite, has made it clear publicly that all the blame for this lies not with the dullards and oafs who sacked G4S, but with Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary. McNicol is a sensible, clever and efficient apparatchik, and is therefore disliked by the current leadership, which includes McCluskey.
McCluskey’s criticism of McNicol was carefully leaked to the Guardian, and there can be little doubt that this represents a first step in the leadership’s campaign for a clear-out of “core hostile” opponents of Corbyn if, as expected, he is re-elected as party leader in September.
And in the meantime, almost incidental to this amateurish melodrama, no agreement has yet been reached on who should provide security for the conference. If this dispute between Showsec and the GMB can’t be resolved in the very near future, the nuclear option of cancellation may be required."
Like I said. You could not make it up. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether it is better not to hold any conference at all if it means dealing with professional companies who provide security.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Transport For The North Review + The Northern Powerhouse - the report worth a read

The bold plan to create a thriving Northern Powerhouse received some good news recently. An independent report, commissioned by Transport For The North, details a strategy which will allow the North to realise its fantastic potential.

For the past thirty years, there has been a persistent economic gap between the North and the national average. In 2015 the North generated an economic output of around £290bn in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA). Now this was around one fifth of the nation's total as a whole, but we have more to give.

Indeed, we need to bridge the gap between the North's economic potential and its current realities. This will of course be spurred on by private investment, something which will herald a greater number of highly skilled jobs for the people of the North.

'Business as usual' for the North would not mean zero growth or investment, but it would likely mean that the gap between the North and the rest of the country would continue to widen. The report therefore outlines a transformational approach to the Northern economy; one which capitalises on out key capabilities, but also seeks to improve our infrastructure.

The North is certainly more than capable. The report highlights our proficiency in advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital innovation. These will act as the cornerstone from which the Northern Powerhouse will undoubtedly thrive.

The report suggests that by 2050, a scheme of workable and sustained growth will result in the creation of 1.5 million jobs by 2050, a rise in our GVA and an increase in skilled work. These are all things that are obtainable.

If you would like to read about the report's overview in full, it can be found here -

What is palpably clear is that the North is growing. It's becoming more innovative and productive on a daily basis, and it is of the utmost importance that we continue these trends. We have all the tools at out disposal, so we now need strong leadership to bring these plans to fruition. I will endeavour to do all that I can to ensure that this is the case.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Former Labour MP Tom Harris on Labour Party travails in Scotland has lessons for the North East

If Scottish labour simply tries to imitate and be more left wing than the SNP, and does not want to defend the Union, what does it stand for and why should anyone vote for it? The article by former Scottish labour MP Tom Harris makes compelling reading. But I also see lessons for the Labour Party in the north east as the mayoral debate takes hold and the devolution deal of May 2017 comes ever closer.
Does the north east Labour Party actually want devolution?
How does the north east labour team compare to the labour teams in Greater Manchester who have so enthusiastically embraced devolution, the government deal and the greater powers on offer.
Does it welcome the chance to be the economic driver of the region?
What will it actually do with the powers?
Have a read of the article -all of us are going to have to change our views.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Working behind the bar on September 1st at the Black Bull in Matfen for charity

Make sure you come to the Black Bull in Matfen when are group of minor celebs - myself included as Z list - are working behind the bar pulling pints and pouring drinks, and asking you to make a small charitable donation with your drinks change. The beer is very good and the food excellent. It should be a fun night.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Judging the gardens of Slaggyford + Knarsdale - report of the 2015 garden odyssey way out west in the Northumberland

This is the report I wrote of my efforts to judge these beautiful gardens and my experiences meeting so many great characters in August 2015.

"On a sunny morning late last summer I travelled down to Slaggyford, nervous with anticipation at the responsibility of judging the gardens of the various houses around Knarsdale, Slaggyford and Eals. I would love to say that I am a prize winning gardener myself (I am not) and that I had spent some time preparing the evaluation of the relative merits of foxgloves and fuchsias, but this would be a lie. The garden competition was judged by an enthusiastic amateur gardener /Member of Parliament, aided by his local partner in crime, Miles, the chair of the local parish council. The decisions made were all mine and the mistakes made were all mine as well.

Our tour was random and occasionally interspersed by constituents rightfully upset at flooding, broadband, or generally wanting to raise issues local or national with their MP. We went to Eals first, and after noting both Tom's and Simon's beautiful gardens, we admired with wonder the amazing pear tree that towers above the 1760 holiday cottage of Stonecrop. Never have I seen a pear tree of such size. It is clearly well over a hundred years old, and possibly as old as the house. Go and see it.

Onwards to the Armstrongs we admired pots, the efforts of Holly, and huge prize winning leeks [pictured], and I was given the present of the most delicious lettuce I have tasted in my life. I promise this did not influence any award! At the Grahams we admired the amazing planted wheelbarrows, before seeing the huge effort that Chris Ashworth has put into transforming his garden. His neighbour Carol Grieves also has a beautiful small garden, packed with plants, and she it was who came up with the phrase of the day. Miles and I were admiring the garden and commenting on the forest of plants, when she explained by saying:
"I can't say no to them - I am an alcoholic - I mean a plantaholic!"

We all laughed. Anyone who has seen the profusion of plants and pots at Carols will understand. She is a worthy winner of best small garden, and phrase of the day!
We ventured on around the houses on or near the village green in Slaggyford itself and were able to solve the mystery of the rabbit that broke into Albert Ridleys garden. Without our forensic Sherlock Holmes examination I fear it would remain a mystery how Watership Down invaded. Albert was pipped on best large garden by the Aynsleys, whose back garden [pictured] beside the burn, sandwiched between wild meadowsweet, and delicate plants and fragrant honeysuckle, is a beautiful and wild garden that constantly surprises.
Our journey lasted 3 hours and we constantly failed to identify our plants; but the pleasure was all mine. If you have not been way out west to these delightful hamlets then you are missing something.

Guy Opperman MP  (Definitely not auditioning for the Chelsea flower show)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Falstone and Allendale Shows this Saturday - please try and go along to these special agricultural based shows if you are free

At opposite ends of the constituency the 2 shows this weekend are very special. Falstone also features a fell race and music from 3.30

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Interesting article by Alan Millburn - my constituent + chair of the Social Mobility Commission on the new zeal at the heart of the May Government

"The commission I chair has been warning for years that without a dramatic change in approach to how we tackle issues of poverty and mobility, Britain would become a divided nation.
Thankfully the new Prime Minister has recognised the risk. It is very welcome that she has made it her mission to heal the social and economic fissures the vote laid bare.
Theresa May’s pursuit of higher social mobility is what our country needs – but it will hard to achieve.
So a broader social reform agenda is needed, one that focuses on people who are not in extreme poverty, are in work and do the right thing but are struggling to progress. They are the majority in Britain. Their interests should be at the heart of a new government-wide drive to open up opportunities.
This is a far bigger and broader approach than previous governments have considered. It cannot all be done from Whitehall. It will need Mrs May to forge a new national coalition with employers, universities, colleges, schools, councils and communities with one core purpose: a more level playing field of opportunity in Britain.
Delivering higher social mobility – reducing the extent to which someone’s class or income is dependent on the class or income of their parents – can prove that modern capitalist economies like ours can create better, fairer and more inclusive societies. It should be the holy grail of public policy, the priority for government and the cause which unites the nation in action."
The full article is here: well worth a read -

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The new high school in Prudhoe is the end of 5 long years of campaigning - Prudhoe is on the up!

This is all part of the turnaround that is happening in Prudhoe, and at the high school. We are pictured on site this last winter with Deborah, the head teacher, and the site manager. Deborah tells me that the key handover is very soon, and the pupils start in September. It has been a long campaign to get the money for the new school and to turn Prudhoe High around but the children, parents and teachers are all really excited! 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Capability Brown 300th anniversary this month - come to Kirkharle in Northumberland to see his origins and inspiration

Born August 30th 1716 Brown was the fifth of six children and son of a yeoman farmer and houseservant. Brown went to school and church locally and then became the greatest landscape designer of his generation. He was baptised at St Wilfred's Church at Kirkharle. There are events a plenty coming up in the this the month of his 300th celebration, notably on the day itself 30/8

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Who will labour choose as their next leader? What does Hexham think of Corbyn?

Curious to see the views of the Hexham locals - notably the Labour + Momentum members. Are you Corbynites? Or are you persuaded by Owen Smith? It is clear from Westminster and locally to re elect Corbyn would be a big mistake but it does appear he is going to win.
This is a report from the Guardian of the recent Gateshead hustings:

Saturday, 13 August 2016

EU Regional Support and Funding for farmers and science guaranteed until 2020

I am delighted the government have made the long term decision to cover the funding for the regions, our farmers and scientists, notwithstanding the Brexit decision. This long term assurance is key.
Full story here:

Hexham Farmers Market - shop local and support your local farmers and producers 9-2pm

Friday, 12 August 2016

Fairs aplenty this weekend in Tynedale - Wark, Slaley, Horsley - lots for everyone to do + Bogstock!

Amongst many things happening this weekend the big event is the Slaley show but there is also a garden show at Horsley and jumble sale in Wark.
For those looking for a top ale or cider then look no further than Bogstcok at the Carts Bog in Langley this evening and tomorrow

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Prudhoe Community Allotments yesterday - great to support this amazing Prudhoe institution and pick up some veg!

I have 2 jobs: Member of Parliament, and president of the Prudhoe Community Allotments! It was a great privilege to go along and support the Allotments yesterday. This special oasis of gardening calm in the heart of south Prudhoe is beautiful, and a real credit to the community - and fully supported by an amazing lunch when you pop in to an open day and buy some veg as I did yesterday. My hope is to take this community spirit and organisation and harness it in the Walled Garden Project that I have been supporting for some time in the old hospital site. That has stalled a bit but I am still very hopeful that it will come to fruition; if it does we will have a truly special site. But for now, let us celebrate the success that has been achieved at the Prudhoe Allotments. If you are interested to know more then I suggest you go their website and consider joining. £3 a year is a small price to pay!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Meeting EA + Northumbria Water in Haydon Bridge as flood repair work has started

I was on site this last week to meet the team who are going to repair and improve the bank between the Anchor Hotel and the bridge, going along the bank to protect Rocksprings Crescent. The workmen contracted to do the job by the Environment Agency are staying in the Railway Hotel and have their diggers and machinery on site on the north side of the river for the work which will take some time. The plan is to extract the boulders and gravel from the centre of the river, put that gravel into gabions (these are steel cages of boulders and gravel), then encase the gabions in a steel protected wall where the old bank used to be. This will then be topped off with a stone and cement finish. The steel wall will go down into the river bed over 2 metres to ensure there is no wash away. This effect will reinstate the old bank, which had been eroding for years, change the nature and direction of the river flow, provide protection to the bridge and Rocksprings Crescent, and ensure the disaster of last winter does not reoccur. The centre of the river will look very different as well.
Why this is important and vitally urgent work is the potential compromising of the bridge, the properties on the south bank, and the sewer pipes that are beneath the surface in pipes on the river bank. Of all the works to be done on the river this is probably the key one.
In addition, Northumbria Water have cleared all the pipes, and sewers locally and are sorting some of the problems they have discovered.
In other parts of the village works are being done to protect the defences on the North Bank and there will be improvements to the path between Rocksprings and the sports fields and the walls around there. I have chased the County council about the state of the Langley Burn which remains very overgrown and blocked. On two occasions last week on Saturdays and Thursday I met with locals affected by the floods and went door to door addressing the issues but my door is always open / email is on, if anyone has any further questions. I am also shortly replying to the recent parish council letter I have received, although events have slightly taken over as the contractors are taking the boulders and gravel off the central river bed. Put simply we are getting there and my belief is that with a fair wind we shall see completed works sorted before the winter.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Guardian and many local voters praising the decision to get rid of annuities and allow early release of pensions

It’s not a line you’re likely to see often in the Guardian, but thank you George Osborne for the towering achievement of your reign as chancellor: you got rid of annuities and saved millions of pensioners-to-be from a spiral of catastrophically low payouts from their life savings. The full article is here:

Monday, 8 August 2016

Good evidence from fall in Job Seekers' Allowance & Universal credit Claims Down

The UK's economy is going from strength to strength. Full credit to the Job Centre Plus team, and a shout out to last years Jobs Fair.

People have more money in their back pockets, the unemployment rate is now 4.9% and in both Hexham and across the country, the number of JSA (Job Seekers' Allowance) and UC (Universal Credit) claimants has fallen.

In the UK as a whole, there have been 36,326 fewer JSA and UC claims in the year to June. According to a DWP report produced in July, this reflects a 4.7% drop nationally. But what is even more staggering is the 15.5% drop we've seen in our very own area. Times have been hard in the last few years, so it is heartening to see that Hexham, as well as the country as a whole, is bouncing back so exuberantly.

Fewer people are unemployed. Fewer of us are only just able to pull together the money required to pay the bills because the Conservative governments Living Wage has seen millions get a pay rise.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The reason Labour MPs / Corbyns former economic advisers oppose Jeremy Corbyn is his ineptitude - in their own words

Two former economic advisors to Jeremy Corbyn have dealt a major blow to the Labour leader by backing his rival, Owen Smith, in the party’s leadership contest. David Blanchflower, who used to be a member of the Bank of England’s MPC, said Corbyn was ‘absolutely, completely unelectable’. Whilst Simon Wren-Lewis told the Guardian the current Labour leader wouldn’t ‘even come close’ to winning a 2020 general election. The labour MPs see this - both in the Commons and on the doorsteps. The unavoidable truth is that Twitter + rallies do not translate into persuasion of the vast majority of the electorate that Corbyn needs to persuade.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Positive Economic News for the UK - income tracker stats show positive signs

Just last week, the Asda Income Tracker, a service which charts wages, taxes and household spending, delivered some positive news for us all. Here's a grab from their latest press release:

'The latest figures revealed families across the UK welcomed another rise in spending power in June, with average discretionary income once again reaching £201 a week, enjoying an extra £12 a week (6.2%) on average compared to the same period last year. The increase marks the 20th consecutive month of double-digit growth in spending power, with total average discretionary income remaining at a record level since the Income Tracker began in 2008.
  • The average UK household had a weekly disposable income of £201 a week last month, an average of £12 more than in June 2015
  • Annual growth in spending power has remained above £10 a week for 20 consecutive months
  • Wage growth across the UK remained relatively flat (2.2%) but stayed well above the level of essential item inflation (-0.1%)
  • The rate of unemployment across the UK fell to its lowest level (4.9%) in 11 years
  • Across the nation, families in the North East and Wales saw the largest rise in discretionary income over the last quarter, while the West Midlands saw a fall in the rate of spending power growth'
What all of this is proving is that the economy is on the up. Unemployment is down to 4.9%. There is still a way to go, but this is very good news indeed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Northern Powerhouse will go from strength to strength - the new government makes its commitment clear

The appointment of Andrew Percy and the efforts being made in Westminster to accommodate the Local Authorities of the North East is clear. I am certain that this devolution is good news for the North East. I am certain it is going to happen. More details of the progress here:

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Northumberland Tourism On The Up! Still time to book a staycation up north

We can all agree that Northumberland is a fantastic place to live and visit, and thankfully this is something that others are realising too. Visit Northumberland recently shared the area's tourism statistics for 2015, and there is some very positive news.
Last year we welcomed a total of 9.5 million visitors to Northumberland, an increase of 3% on 2014. These visitors spent 14.8m days with us, which is also up a healthy 4% from last year. What's more:
- 1.7m of our visitors stayed overnight, an increase of 2.8%
- Between them visitors spent a total of £816m, up by 5% on the previous year.
- 11,591 direct jobs were supported by tourism, also up by 4%.
What this all proves is that Northumberland is a county on the up, and one which welcomes visitors both old and new. Tourism is a vital part of the local economy, but should also be seen as a point of pride. Having so many people visit the area is heartening, and it merely reinforces what we already know: that Northumberland is the best county in the country!
For inspiration on where to take any friends or family who are up on a visit, then give the Visit Northumberland website a look - or send them this link, which really does showcase the stunning scenery on our doorstep -

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Thank you to so many for all your support during the #Ride100 #RideLondon

I cannot thank the organisers, staff, medics, the supporters, my sponsors and all my fellow cyclists who took part in the Ride 100 from the Olympic Oark in Stratford East London to Surrey and back down the Mall. A great experience. Climbed Box Hill. Got cheered down the Mall. Who could ask for more? There were delays due to accidents but medics did a great job in tricky circumstances. Was held up - but next to a barbecue in deepest Surrey and then next to the delicious deli in Dorking. Thanks to them for the delicious emergency sausage roll! My legs felt good throughout and I made it up all hills without stopping. Onwards and upwards to the next Sportive! You can still donate to the 2 Brain Tumour Research charities I supported by going here:

Monday, 1 August 2016

Working in Westminster this week before heading north

I have the task this week to review all correspondence from the 36,000 + letters and emails we get and ensure that everything has been responded to. I have a variety of other meetings in Westminster before I head north later in the week.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Lynx in Kielder Forest? What are your views? Local consultation meet August 11

There is a proposal to reintroduce lynx to Kielder forest and an engagement / consultation event with locals on the 11th August.
If you want me to make your representations through me then get in contact in the usual way 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Taste Tynedale this weekend - all day Saturday + Sunday - do not miss it!

The ultimate family day out with all the best food and drink, entertainment for all the family, demonstrations and so much more. There will be over 40 traders selling, a beer tent, produce market and great local acts performing.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

It is National Parks week - have you explored Northumberland = the nations best national park?

Still many opportunities to embrace the outdoors, appreciate Hadrians Wall or Vindolanda, or simply bike or hike across the greatest of all landscapes. Get out there this weekend!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Amazing speech by Michelle Obama to the DNC yesterday - worth a read
I, for one, will be supporting Hillary. You have to will the change you want and a world with Trump as President of the USA is not something I want.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cycling the London Ride 100 for Two Great Charities

On the 31st July, I will be taking part in the Prudential Ride 100.  The ride, set up to celebrate the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games, starts in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, then follows a 100-mile route on closed roads through the capital and into Surrey’s stunning countryside.
This year I’m riding in aid of two incredible charities; Brain Tumour Research, and the Brain Tumour Charity. Having suffered from a brain tumour myself I feel deeply indebted to both of these charities and have witnessed first-hand the incredible work they do. Brain Tumour Research strives to fund seven dedicated research centres while Brain Tumour Charity provides unparalleled support and information to anyone effected by a brain tumour. Both charities fund treatments and, essentially, raise awareness of the disease which now kills around 5,000 in the UK each year.
Any donations would be gratefully accepted, no matter how big or small – even a little can go a long way. I have set up a Virgin Money Giving page which can be found here:

Monday, 25 July 2016

Any assessment of Scottish education, or other key devolved public services show them getting worse under the SNP

Education used to be the marvel of Scotland. Not any more. A read of Tom Harris latest article is worthwhile:
Eventually more and more of the Scottish people will ask the question - how good are the SNP actually at running things? The evidence is not very good. Health and police are two services that appear to have got worse under their administration.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Congrats to Haveli! Fourth in the Tiffin Cup Final

Last Tuesday, 12th July, I had the pleasure of attending the Tiffin Cup Final in the kitchens of House of Commons. The Cup celebrates the best South Asian food that this country has to offer, and I was delighted to be supporting one of our own fantastic restaurants, Haveli, in the process.
The food was judged by celebrity chef Ainsley Harriot among other independent assessors on a blind tasting, and I must say that I also sampled a fair amount of the food, purely to make it a fair test! Haveli chose to produce their Goan Prawn Curry, which is probably my favourite dish on the whole menu. The dish was a hit with the judges, and ensured that Haveli secured a very respectable fourth-placed finish.
Haveli is one of the North East’s culinary high-points, and I was very pleased to see them do so well. Just to make it to the final was enough, but to come 4th out of the whole country is staggering. We should all be very proud of them.
Visit Haveli when you have the chance - it really does have great food.  

Saturday, 23 July 2016

1 month on from EU Referendum + our new PM very much in charge

"Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it" - so said our new Prime Minister on several occasions last week and I have no doubt she will. Her commitment to enacting the will of the British people is not in doubt. I wanted to remain, but the country has spoken, and we need to make this 2 1/2 year process of leaving happen - and do it in the best interests and outcome for Britain. 
Anyone who underestimates our new Prime Minister is unwise. She has rightly chosen a strong team of Leave campaigners to conduct the renegotiation and carve out our new role on the European and World stage. 
In addition, she has created her own government to address the issues she considers most important - the Union of the U.K., life chances, a better balanced economy and a more equal society. Our country is on a new journey, but we are being led by the right woman at the right time. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The new PM is already seen in the Commons as seriously impressive - the columnists + pollsters views are also interesting to read

The opinion polling done in the last week are clear that the country sees Mrs May as a serious politician for serious times.
1 in 3 labour voters - yes 33% of labour voters! - would vote for her rather than Mr Corbyn. This assessment from the left leaning Independent after recent polling:
The same can be said of the columnists: this from todays Telegraph is worth a read:

Monday, 18 July 2016

This is the Trident Motion I shall be voting in favour of tonight


That this House supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK's security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK's national security and way of life and that of the UK's allies; supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines; recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs; notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme; recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.

Westminster this week - big debates on higher education + Trident + PMQs with a new PM

Today we have a vote on the renewal of Trident. I shall be voting in favour. I have been persuaded that our nuclear deterrent has kept us safe for a long time and that we should not abrogate the responsibility for our defence to others. For a fuller debate tune in at around 3:30-10pm today. The BBC take on the issue is here:

The Labour Party are split 3 ways on trident - in favour, against and abstain. The snp oppose, as they do everything. Not sure where the liberals are on this.
Tomorrow we have the debate on the higher education bill, with further debates later in the week. The highlight of the week will be PMQs with the new Prime Minister, Wednesday at 12.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Theresa May sets out her stall as our new Prime Minister - her first speech

I have just been to Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to form a new government, and I accepted. In David Cameron, I follow in the footsteps of a great, modern Prime Minister. Under David’s leadership, the Government stabilised the economy, reduced the budget deficit, and helped more people into work than ever before. But David’s true legacy is not about the economy, but about social justice. From the introduction of same sex marriage, to taking people on low wages out of income tax altogether, David Cameron has led a one nation government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead. Because not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. And that word unionist is very important to me.
It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it means something else that is just as important, it means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from. That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.
But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices. If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.
We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know because we’re Great Britain that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold, new, positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.
That will be the mission of the Government I lead. And together, we will build a better Britain.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Very proud to have served David Cameron - a superb Prime Minister

I entered parliament when David Cameron became PM. I was there in Committee Room 14 in the Commons days after the election in 2010 when we discussed the Coalition and whether to go into it with the liberals to help turn the country around from the boom and bust.
He is British to his fingertips, and is passionate about all the United Kingdom. He is a 1 Nation Conservative, proud of modernising the Conservative Party, leading it back into power in 2010 as the head of a coalition, after 13 years in the wilderness and winning an outright victory in the 2015 election, that many thought he would lose.
He is proud of restoring the country to economic stability after the 2008 crash and fighting for unpopular causes in the party, including gay marriage and international development.
He is a wonderful combination of a kind family man who is immensely decent, and the robust ruthless leader of a party he has successfully dragged into the 21st Century. He has addressed long term unemployment, apprenticeships, improvements in education, schooling and welfare very successfully. He is a great man and I have been proud to serve him.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Tiffin Cup final tonight in Westminster - pleased to be supportingHaveli Restaurant from Ponteland

Tonight is an event I've been looking forward to for a long time, as I'll be cheering on Pontelands very own Haveli Restaurant at the final of The Tiffin Cup. Chaired by Keith Vaz MP, the Tiffin Club celebrates the best South Asian food that England has to offer. This evening's final in the House of Commons will undoubtedly be a showcase of exceptional culinary talent. I was able to showcase the restaurant to Keith when he came to Northumberland in June and we are seen with the expert chef, whose success has helped to propel Haveli into the national final. 

As I hope many of you are aware, Haveli certainly deserves its place at this top table! Having been on a few occasions now, I can attest to the quality of the service and the food itself - mine's the Goan King Prawn Curry, in case you were wondering. The fact that Haveli has made it onto the hugely competitive shortlist is both a testament to the restaurant itself and also to Hexham as a constituency.

If you haven't been already, then I highly recommend The Haveli restaurant.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Pleased that we can move on from who does / doesn't have children + onto who is the best person to be PM

Following Andreas apology I want to move on and assess who is the best of these two candidates to be the PM. I support Theresa but will also be setting out some of the case for Andrea.
Theresa May’s case to be a PM comes down to three things:

 ·      First, our country needs strong, proven leadership - to steer us through this time of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU. 

·      Second, we need to unite our country. 

·      Third, we need a bold, new, positive vision for the future of our country - a vision of a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.
This morning this is the BBC take on Theresa speech:

Westminster this coming week - debates on the Chilcot Report, Wales Bill and more

Wednesday and Thursday sees a 2 day debate on the Chilcot Report. Monday we debate day two of the Wales Bill, which gives greater devolution to Wales. I have a key prison reform conference on Wednesday. I have several constituents coming to Westminster and will be heading north late Wednesday night.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

No quotas, no discrimination, just merit. Conservative Party picks another female Prime Minister

I worked for Women2Win between 2013-2015 helping a large group of amazing female candidates as they sought to become an MP. In 2015 there were some amazing female candidates who then became an MP. Too many to name all but have a look at Suella Fernandez, Seema Kennedy, Victoria Atkins, Dr. Tania Matthias, Maria Caulfield, Lucy Frazer, all of whom I helped by way of mentoring and training. This is not an exhaustive list - it is just some of the women who Women2Win helped in the lead up to May 2015, and who I had particular contact with. All will have stellar careers. The key message from this blog is that there are future female MPs, councillors, and leaders out there who should contact Women2Win and who should embrace the challenge of contributing to Public Office.
Details of women2win found here:
The selection of 2 women to go to the membership of the party, and to become a prime minister is a great thing. The question any female readers have to ask is why have I not applied? What can I do to serve? Is there someone I know who would be good? How can I mentor and assist someone?

Friday, 8 July 2016

Bringing Local Venues Back to Life - The Dyvels Inn &The County Hotel both provide a fresh start to the local pub / hotel scene

The North East, and our own constituency in particular, has always been blessed with great ales and fantastic pubs. That's why I was so pleased to re-launch two brilliant pubs recently, both of which have been through hard times not so long ago.

The Dyvels Inn in Corbridge was devastated by the floods of last winter, making business impossible. The renovations that Chris Baxter and his team had done only months before were wasted, as both features and decorations were ruined by the water. Thankfully, due to the enthusiasm of Chris, and with the help of the people at Punch Taverns, the pub is now ready for business again.

The pub boasts one of the nicest beer gardens in Northumberland, and is always a friendly and welcoming environment for everyone. Worth noting also is the County Hotel, which also re-launched recently. Once again supported by Punch Taverns, this fine establishment is back doing what it should be doing; selling beer and providing good food..

It was heartening to see both of these establishments finding their feet again, and I implore all of you to go and have a pint (or two) at both when you get the chance. These pubs are at the heart of their respective communities, so we should all do as much as we can to ensure that they continue to thrive.
The wider point is that both provide much needed beds for tourists, business visitors and for weddings and events. Tynedale needs this. But use them or lose them - its your community. I have had pints in both and the beer is good!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Today the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War is published and preliminary debates start in the Commons

The report is independent, massive in scope and content, and has taken years to produce. It will take a long time to read but the parliamentary debates start today and will continue with a fuller debate next Wednesday. For a contrary view about the background, which is not all Blair, Bush and generals have a read of the Telegraph piece here:

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

William Hague article on the brave new world where there are no leavers or remainers now

You don't pick and choose the bits of democracy you like or dislike. The reality is that the country voted and we must abide by that. We are not leave or remain anymore. We are all together going to make this new arrangement work:

Monday, 4 July 2016

I am backing Theresa May for Prime Minister

So much has happened these past few weeks it is difficult to know where to begin. The key priority for my constituents now is ensuring economic stability, and getting the best deal for Britain. 

For me Theresa May stands head and shoulders above the others in being able to achieve that. Having worked first hand alongside Theresa I think she is the natural successor to lead our country through these difficult and uncertain times.

I worked for Theresa in the Home Office for nearly 3 years and I saw for myself, day in and day out, how hard she worked to keep our country safe and secure. No one gets up earlier. No one is a better master of her brief. Quite frankly, no one works harder. Everyday she has been working hard to keep our country safe.

Just look at her national security credentials - she has spent six years in charge at the Home Office running our police and security services and combating the threat from terror groups. Theresa clearly has the serious experience of high office to deliver the best deal in the EU negotiations. That kind of experience can not be underestimated.
Theresa also understands the challenges we face in the North East, having cut her political teeth fighting a Durham seat in the 1990's. She talked in her launch speech of understanding the concerns facing an ordinary, working-class family, setting out how life for many is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.
She talked about job security, the worry of rising mortgage rates, the cost of living and the quality of local schools. It was a speech about real issues, facing real people. Fundamentally she understands the issues that matter to the people of the North East.
Theresa understands that politics isn’t a game, it is serious, and has real consequences for people’s lives.
In truth, I thought long and hard about all of the candidates in the race, some of who are friends of mine, and are people I greatly admire. However I wanted to make a decision, not just on who I thought would be the best leader for the Conservative Party, but for the North East as a whole.

That is why I am supporting Theresa to become our next Prime Minister. 

I am backing Theresa because of her commitment to put the Government she will lead at the service of ordinary, working people and make Britain a country that works for everyone – regardless of who they are and regardless of where they’re from.

Theresa would make an excellent Prime Minister. She is the serious politician we need for these serious times.
Voting on the future Prime Minister will start Tuesday of this week. MPs will whittle down the list of candidates to two by the middle of next month. A ballot of the party’s 150,000 members will then follow, with a new leader named by September 2.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

If I was partisan Corbyn stays. This chart of the shadow ministerial team shows why he must go

This is the list of labour shadow ministers as of Thursday. There have been further resignations since. If I was partisan I would revel in a Labour Party utterly opposed to their leader, and a man who cannot lead. But the key point is that I as a government whip, and as an MP who wants to get stuff done openly acknowledge that the country needs a proper opposition, which acts as a critical friend of government policy and legislation, and works together for the common good. Hilary Benn is the obvious labour leader they should pick.

Westminster this coming week: hustings, votes, Chilcot Report, constituents in Westminster

A busy week ahead: the main parliamentary event is the publication and then assessment of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War. This has been a long time coming: more details here -
In other news there are hustings and then a vote on the future leader of the Conservative Party. I will be announcing my choice tomorrow morning, both in print, on the blog, and on BBC Radio Newcastle at 8.25.
I have constituents coming to Westminster this week both for the celebration of the Sill with Northumberland National Park, and some teachers from Hexham QEHS who are coming for the teachers institute reception. I am also meeting representatives of the Environment Agency, and regional business leaders in separate meetings.
There are clearly big issues happening this week but the day job goes on. We have multiple debates in the commons as well.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Policy North Northern Powerhouse conference today

Today is 100 years on from the Battle of the Somme - July 1st 2016 make sure you pause, reflect + say thank you to our forebears

My generation is lucky we have not to have had to fight a major conflict. The Somme saw the unprecedented loss of life of so many. It started today and saw tens of thousands of men die day by day. Pause a moment and reflect how lucky our generation has been not to have had to fight a major conflict.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Policy North Conference - This Friday 10-3.30 - with James Wharton, Northern Powerhouse Minister

In what has been a busy week for the country as a whole, we all need to think about the next steps we can take individually and collectively to make our futures as prosperous as possible.

Accordingly, there's still chance to secure your place at Friday's Policy North event in Newcastle. The day will question what is on the horizon for the Northern Powerhouse, and how local businesses can thrive.

Some of the North East's leading business figures will provide an engaging array of talks, panel discussions, and questions and answers. More so, James Wharton MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, will be providing us with a keynote speech detailing how the area will adapt in these uncertain post-'Brexit' times.

I've attached the poster below - if you would like to know more about the work Policy North does as a Think Tank, then they can be found here -

Equally, if you have any more questions, or would like to come along, then please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Why this MP has not decided who should be our next leader

Let me start with our Prime Minister David Cameron. In the febrile atmosphere of “The King is dead, long live the King” I do want to pause first, and write a few words about the man who I have been proud to serve for six years.

David is a great man and has been a great Prime Minister. I am genuinely very upset that he will not be our country’s leader going forward. His departure is only just beginning to sink in and I think many will come to miss his pragmatic leadership. No one in the House of Commons doubts that he is a decent man, who has done an almost impossible job incredibly well. He has practiced the fiscal robustness and social liberalism that I wholeheartedly endorse. Under his watch, we have recovered from a recession: we have more jobs, apprenticeships and new businesses than our competitors, and generally have slowly turned this country around. He has reformed welfare, schooling and apprenticeships, but also addressed social justice in so many ways: as he put it when he spoke in the Commons on Monday, he is very proud of-
“keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world, increasing people's life chances, building a bigger and stronger society, and enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality.”
In an abnormal world, he is a PM that remains very normal, and very human. He is a family man and has real empathy. I cannot tell you how many Labour MPs have made clear their individual sadness at his departure. Whatever your politics, in the House of Commons we all get behind our Prime Minister.
I serve in the government Whips Office and, until his departure, I continue to serve the PM; I will also get behind and support 110% whoever is our new Prime Minister. 
A decision has been made

I fought very hard to get the country to Remain in the EU, both in Hexham, and the wider the North. But the country decided differently, and by a decisive margin. I respect that decision and do not support a re-run. You cannot pick and choose your democratic decisions on the basis of whether you won or lost. But, as a result, we need to make momentous decisions in parliament about the way ahead for Great Britain’s future in the world.
The PM has put his approach to this dilemma in detail, as set out on my blog here:
I myself saw the issue of immigration as a key driver of why the campaign to Remain failed in the North East of England. And the PM addressed that on Monday, when he said:
"As I have said, I think that one of the most difficult decisions for a future Government will be how to balance access to the single market—the best we can get—with decisions about immigration. I do not know what exact answer can be found. The answer I found was welfare reform, which was bold and brave because it meant reducing welfare payments to newly arrived migrants. Those changes will now not go ahead, so that extra draw will continue for the next couple of years, but we have to find an answer to that problem. In a way, that is the puzzle we have now been set by the British people, which is, “We want access to the single market and we recognise the economic argument, but you’ve got to do better when it comes to immigration.”  
But the PM has set out his intention to go, so we must look to the future.
I stress that I have not decided who to support, but it is right that I set out my views in outline, along with the issues I will be raising in the next week or so. 

Selection procedure
Candidates must now put their names forward to Conservative MPs and they will be gradually whittled down over the next ten days to just two. The final decision then rests with Conservative Party members to choose a new leader by 9th September.

A strong field of experienced candidates
At this point we do not know who are going to be official candidates, but my understanding is that the following are likely to put their names into the ring when nominations close this Thursday; in alphabetical order:
John Baron, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Nicky Morgan. There may yet be others, but not that I am aware of.
All the candidates I know well, some of who I have worked with closely.
At this point I think it is fair to say the main contenders are Theresa May, Stephen Crabb and Boris Johnson. I think it is a very positive reflection on our party that we have such strong candidates.
Theresa May is the longest serving Home Secretary in 100 years. I worked for her as a PPS in the Home Office from 2012-2015. She has done a very tough job as Home Secretary very well. No one works harder, and no one is more dedicated. She is, unquestionably, a serious politician. When I became seriously ill in 2011 she was unbelievably kind to me, and she was a delight to work for, albeit a hard taskmaster. In addition, I worked with her at length as Chairman of Women2Win from 2013-2015, an organisation that Theresa can be proud to have founded.

Stephen Crabb is the recently appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; having arrived into parliament in 2005. Stephen was formerly the Secretary of State for Wales. I have also worked with him, as the DWP whip these last few months. He is clearly very able, and is a thoughtful, intelligent man. He also talks a language, and has a background and empathy, that both really matter right now, and will need to be addressed over the long years ahead.

Boris Johnson is the former two-time Mayor of London. He returned to parliament in May 2015. As Mayor, he was a real moderniser and did a good job running one of the most important and complex capital cities in the world. I campaigned with him extensively on support for the Living Wage from 2012-2015, and there is no doubt that our efforts eventually saw a change in government policy.  He clearly has an ability to connect with voters in a way few other politicians can.

The big issues ahead
Whoever is our next Prime Minister, they have a number of fundamental challenges to tackle:
  • They have to articulate what Brexit looks like?  Crucially, they are going to have to spell out their approach to the single market and future immigration control. Does this mean qualified or full access to the single market? This is the key issue identified by Lord William Hague in his recent article this week: what is the relationship with Europe we are now aiming for?
As William puts it: “It will be difficult to cut any new advantageous deal with the EU, but if we don’t know what we want it will be totally impossible. Are we open to joining the European Economic Area, along with Norway and Iceland, which would mean ditching the commitment to control immigration – or are we putting migration controls first, and taking the economic consequences of that? The time for avoiding this question is over.”
  • They are going to have to bring our country together given that the voting majority voted out, but there are 48 per cent who voted remain. 
  • And finally, notwithstanding the pre-existing Conservative Party manifesto, what are going to be their wider priorities for the country moving forward?

As I said at the beginning, I must stress that I have not decided who I will support, and I will be seeking answers to these questions from all candidates. It will then be for members to decide on who is the right man or woman, to lead the Conservative Party as the next Prime Minister.