Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Fire Station for Hexham

Detailed planning proposals for a new fire station in Hexham will be submitted to the County Council this week.

It follows a nine-week public consultation on plans to relocate Hexham Fire Station to a site at Hexham General Hospital. The Fire Station is currently based down at Tyne Mills Industrial Estate. The project will  involve altering and extending the existing buildings at the rear of the hospital site.

The consultation raised some concerns about fire engines leaving the site with blue lights and sirens on onto Maidens Walk which is a residential street. The County Council says it has taken these concerns on board and redesigned the plans to ensure that all fire engines will now exit the site onto Corbridge Road and only return to the Station via Maidens Walk.

Speaking about the plans Alex Bennett, chief fire officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: “These plans provide us with the opportunity to provide a dedicated community fire station on the hospital site which would bring a number of benefits for both the service and the local community. The consultation exercise has proved very useful and we thank everyone who got involved. It also allowed us to address some of their concerns by redesigning the plans and reversing the traffic flow to and from the site.”

The plans will be considered by the County Council’s planning committee early next year.

To see the final consultation report go to:

Greek economic meltdown and debt, Mrs Clooney and the Elgin Marbles

The Greek government continue to chirp about the injustice of the Elgin Marbles staying in the British Museum. Let us not forget the stones were rescued with permission from authorities in Athens to save them from destruction locally. You would never think there is an election brewing in Athens would you? I have no objection to the return of the marbles myself but I do object to the Greek government - horrendously in debt as it is - focusing its time on this of all issues. I am presuming that Mrs Clooney is not working for free - if she is doing this case pro bono then I am delighted and surprised.

The Spectator puts it well: 
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"In the name of European harmony, we would like to propose a compromise: we will return the Elgin Marbles once Greece has repaid the €240 billion of emergency loans made by EU states during the crisis, and honoured all its government bonds.

Until then, we suggest Greece recognises the role Lord Elgin played in rescuing its deteriorating heritage and accepts that the British Museum has done an excellent job in preserving the marbles and displaying them to scholars and the public alike.

To have a little bit of the glory of ancient Athens in London hardly seems out of line with the spirit of shared European culture."

Far be for me to be robust with a fellow former lawyer but Mrs Clooney is clearly the one being used here. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I will vote for the Recall of MPs Bill tonight after listening to todays debate, but not the proposed Goldsmith amendments next week

Today the Commons has been debating the Recall Bill and we will vote on the second reading of the Bill tonight at 7. The Bill then has various committee days in the Commons next week before it goes to the House of Lords for their Lordships to consider the matter over the winter. I tried to speak today but was not able to. So I will try and set out some points here on the blog.

I stood on a manifesto to bring in a Recall Bill in 2010 following the expenses scandal when several MPs were rightly sent to prison. The Coalition Agreement included a commitment to bring forward legislation to introduce a power of recall, and there has been a draft bill and white paper considered and then assessed by a cross party committee under pre legislative scrutiny. The Government identified recall as a means of restoring faith in the political process, by increasing the accountability of Members of Parliament to the electorate between elections. However, it believed that a recall petition should only be triggered following a finding of serious wrongdoing; it should not be triggered for political reasons – perhaps because MPs had voted in a particular way that constituents opposed. The evolution of the Coalition Government's Draft Recall Bill is well set out here:

The actual draft Bill is here:
I have also received a campaign email doing the rounds from 38 Degrees to say that the planned recall proposals do not go far enough; as 38 Degrees often do, they have decided to draft their own Bill. As always, in these matters, the devil is in the detail, and having researched the 38 Degrees Bill and listened to the debate today I am going to support the Coalition Governments Recall Bill tonight and will not be supporting the 38 Degrees version. As always, I will try and explain why.
The first issue to sort out is what is recall for? In my view it should be a facility to be used if an MP has behaved badly in ways which damage their work as an MP. I don't think it should be a chance to re-run the election in any given seat, simply because a group of people did not like the result.  
The Bill addresses bad behaviour at clause 2 and looks at criminal offences in particular. Where I disagree most strongly with the 38 Degrees approach is that it encourages recall where an MP makes a decision on a political issue, a matter of conscience, or a local issue with which some constituents do not agree. Many of the examples have been cited in the debate today, whether it is the Iraq War vote in 2003, the same sex marriage vote in 2012, the hunting ban, or issues concerning divorce, abortion or death penalty decisions.  I voted for the same sex marriage bill and then led the campaign against the Coalitions proposed Forestry Bill. Both were highly contentious issues.  
More difficult still is political behaviour. Some constituents think an MP should face recall for breaking his or her word, or reneging on promises made before an election. Tempting though this is, it could prove difficult to enforce and would probably lead to parties and candidates declining to make any promises at all that could later force their resignation. This would be the import of the 38 Degrees / Goldsmith Bill.
Let us take the case of the Lib Dem promise to oppose tuition fees in the 2010 election. It was a clear promise. In the circumstances of the coalition it was subsequently a Lib Dem Secretary of State who then presided over the development and implementation of the tuition fee system. Should there have been 50+ by elections immediately that happened, with a possible change of government and a period of instability? Or is the change of circumstance, a realisation that some promises were unaffordable, given the financial disaster left behind by Labour and Gordon Brown, and the formation of coalition, sufficient reason to change a party’s stance? I, for one, would not support recall in such circumstances, but am certain some would have tried to make it a recall matter under the 38 Degrees / Goldsmith arrangements. The reality is that the Liberals, never having been in government for a century, made a rash promise thinking it would never have to then implement it. None of us also realised how broke the country was going to be after Brown's Boom and Bust. As we have discovered the reality of running a balanced budget is very difficult and very tough decisions have had to be taken. I do not shirk from this, albeit it has been very difficult and not every decision has been got right. But the reckoning in such a case is the General Election, not 57 by elections. 
The issue also arises of what proportion is required to justify recall? the Goldsmith / 38 Degrees proposal seeks a 5% of the electorate as a trigger. I would campaign strongly against such a figure - not least as in a marginal seat there will be at least 40% of the electors who feel very partisan in favour of the main losing candidate. Should they have the right to demand a re-run at the worst time for the incumbent MP? One of the parts of this job I admire most is the fact that we represent everyone, without fear or favour. I have had strong proponents of the BNP - some of whose behaviour was fairly feisty, to say the least, at the last election - come to me seeking my help as their MP: they are treated the same as any Coalition supporter. MPs help all of their constituents whoever they are. This needs to be maintained.
38 Degrees no longer reply to my emails, or respond to my letters, even though I have gone to great lengths to engage with them, but I will happily set out their amendments to the Coalitions bill here:
It may be that the Goldsmith / 38 Degrees approach will be carried next week but again this is what a parliamentary debate is about. The Bill will be assessed on several occasions by both Houses of Parliament. That is what parliamentary debate is for.

For the final word do not take my word for it - read the Guardian. The Guardian is a fairly robust critic of the 38 Degrees / Goldsmith approach:

In a brilliant article Michael White, who cites the Andrew Mitchell MP example very powerfully and makes the wonderful point about the attempt to remove Winston Churchill as an MP in 1938:

"Unfashionable MPs and unpopular causes need to be defended from popular passions of the moment and from majoritarian bullying, orchestrated from tax havens. My favourite example remains Winston Churchill, who faced a campaign to remove him in his Epping constituency in 1938 because he was upsetting Neville Chamberlain's efforts to make lasting peace with Mr Hitler."
As always, on the blog comments are welcome. But, as usual, I will make the usual point that we in the Commons debate the Bill line by line twice, as does the House of Lords, and that the Bill always evolves with the parliamentary process. Given the Churchill example, and the reasons set out above, I shall be voting for the Coalitions version of the Bill tonight, but not the future amendments.

Labour make it clear: A1 dualling will never happen on their watch + Hexham is north of Newcastle
"there’s also the one north of Newcastle up to Hexham as well, the A1 - these were looked at in 2006, and rejected.”....Interesting geography....!
Miss Creagh obviously misspoke when she said Hexham was north of Newcastle on the A1 - but doubtless if she was Lord Freud she would be told she was unfit for her office - there is an irony here.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Westminster this week

Several key debates this week - starting with the social action and responsibility bill, and the vote on women bishops tonight; also debated this week are the fixed term parliaments act and the Recall Bill starts it's long journey through the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday. I have meetings galore with everyone from the Air Ambulance association and several constituents who are coming to London to discuss energy saving plans. This week is Big Energy Savings week and our 2014-2015 energy booklet is nearly finished and will be launched this week. Questions to departments this week include defence, health, wales, and transport and on Friday we have another Private members Bill day, which plays havoc with the diary.
On Wednesday we have the Labour Party's attempt to get rid of lord Freud. I will blog about this more later in the week, but I am certain he should not be dismissed.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

SNP struggling to accept they lost the referendum

Alex Massie writes well on how to hear the SNP talk you would have thought they had won the referendum:

On Wednesday I raised this exact point in Scottish Questions in the Commons: when discussing the Smith Commission and the Joint Committee that is meeting:
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
Surely the key question for the Committee to take to the Scottish National party of Government is that no means no?
Minister David Mundell MP:
I certainly hope that it is now clear that the decisive result of the referendum is respected and that we move forward on behalf of all of Scotland to deliver the new devolved Scotland that everyone wants to see.
One can but hope.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Weekend Read: Unemployment is falling across the North East

The most recent unemployment figures
show a fall in the North East jobless rate.

Our region added an extra 40,000 jobs in a year, which is impressive. 

The latest figures saw falls in seven of England’s nine regions. The North East was one of them. The latest statistics also show the North East now having the highest proportion of manufacturing jobs of any region.

Not only are we manufacturing more, we are also exporting more. Figures last month showed that Exporters in the North East are continuing to drive economic recovery with the total value of exports in the last year rising by 2.32% – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.

Since Labour's peak, unemployment in my constituency is now down almost 50%. Under Labour 1172 local people didn't have a job. That has now almost halved to 646. There are now 526 fewer local people unemployed in our area since Labour’s peak. 

Locally apprenticeships are up from around 400 in 2010 to over 800 apprenticeship starts last year. Youth unemployment is down by 32%.

On a national level:
  • Unemployment has now fallen below 2 million for the first time since Labour’s Great Recession.
  • Unemployment has fallen 538,000 in the last year alone. This is the biggest annual fall in unemployment on record.
  • Youth unemployment has also fallen at its fastest pace since records began – it is down 253,000 on the year.
  • JSA Claimant Count is below 1 million – down over half a million since the General Election. 
  • Full-time employment is up 592,000 on the year and up by 1.26 million since 2010.
  • Over the last year, we’ve seen to largest growth in jobs and biggest fall in unemployment in the G7. 
  • Record numbers of women are in work and jobs vacancies now stand at 674,000.
This summer it was reported the North East is the fastest growing region in the country. Lloyds Bank said its index of activity among UK companies – where anything above 50 represents growth was at a robust 58. Companies in the North East of England saw the strongest expansion last month, with the region clocking up a record score of 64.8. You can read more about that here: "The North East is the fastest growing region in the country"

As I always so, don't just listen to me. This is what the North East Chambers of Commerce had to say this month: "North East business confidence continues and growth is still incredibly strong by the standards set in the last five years."

Our economy, both locally and nationally, is healing. We really can't afford to risk it all with Labour again.

Boosting manufacturing, supporting our businesses, encouraging our exporters, training up our young people and increasing the number of private sector jobs is the best way to build ourselves a long term sustainable recovery here in the region. Slowly but surely that is exactly what is happening.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Join my campaign team - out in Prudhoe tomorrow at 11am meeting at the Dr Syntax pub car park

Across the Hexham Constituency, local people just like you are working together on my campaign team. Our team of volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it. This Saturday I will be out in Prudhoe - come along.

So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help me, you can sign up to help HERE in just 30 seconds

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Busy Friday Morning - breakfast at Number 10, BBC Radio Newcastle at 9 & Euro Referendum Bill from 9.45

On the radio I will be discussing Dementia and the huge strides we are making in tackling this disease, both nationally and locally, working in partnership with the Alzheimer's Society and innovative councils like the Corbridge Parish Council.
I recently took part in a dementia friend training day and an assisted walk in Corbridge. Details here:

Women Bishops are a big step to a modern church and long overdue - totally agree with Justin Welby
The long march for women Bishops is almost over and appointments will happen soon.
As anyone who goes to church knows one of the biggest improvements in the last few years has been the presence and leadership of some ground breaking and hardworking female vicars. Two outstanding local Christian examples I know very well spring readily to mind:
- Dagmar Winter is the new rector of Hexham Abbey:
- and Bellingham Deanery is led by the inspirational and hard working Susan Ramsaran - see her blog here:
And in the House of Commons we have the Speakers Chaplain, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who is wonderful:

This is a very welcome move.

The Guardian: "Labour has given up expecting to be inspired by Miliband" -ouch!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Will be at Falstone Church Service this Sunday at 11am to help dedicate new war memorial

I am looking forward to visiting and worshipping at the St Peters Church in Falstone, high up in the upper north Tyne valley, this Sunday. This is another of the dozens of local churches I am trying to make sure I visit during my 5 year term - I will fail, for sure. Aside from the service, to which many prominent church leaders are coming, and the dedication, there is a exhibition and pooled lunch in the village hall afterwards, along with book sales from my old friends at Cogito Books. Many congratulations to all the organisers and I would urge anyone interested to make the beautiful journey up the North Tyne on Sunday morning. I shall be spending much of the rest of the day in the local area, and hope to pop up the road to Kielder, but have a speaking engagement near Darlington on Sunday night.

It's time the North East apprentices' got a pay rise

Last week I wrote to the Low Pay Commission, which is responsible for setting the minimum wage, calling for a pay rise of apprentices.

There were 510,000 apprenticeship starts last year, 231,000 more than in the 2009/10 academic year.

In the North East there were 36,000 apprenticeship starts compared to just 19,000 in 2009/10.

The huge increase in the number of apprenticeship since 2010 is something everyone should welcome. In Northumberland alone we have seen the number of apprenticeship starts more than double from 2,100 in 2009/10 to 4,410 last year.

I was one of the first MPs in the United Kingdom to employ an apprentice. My apprentice, Jade Scott, from Prudhoe, completed her Business and Administration Apprenticeship in 2012 and has since secured a full-time position with my Hexham office.

I am asking the Low Pay Commission that the apprentice rate of the minimum wage and the 16/17-year-old rate be combined. The change would increase the apprenticeship minimum wage by £1.06 with the hourly rate going up from £2.73 to £3.79.

Whilst most apprentices already earn more than the minimum wage the move would benefit more than 31,000 young people. We have seen a enormous explosion in apprenticeships and a realisation that they are now a excellent route for young people into work. I have seen it first hand myself with my own apprentice.

An apprenticeship can make all the difference in ensuring our young people have the right skills and an opportunity to get themselves into a successful career. The time has now come to increase the basic rate of pay for apprenticeships so they are even more desirable for young people in the North East.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

North East Transport Debate in Parliament tomorrow at 9.30- I will be raising the A69, Tyne Valley Electrification and Gilsland

Bridget Phillipson, MP, has a debate tomorrow and I will try and speak and expand upon the debate I had on the 3rd September 2014 = “Transport Infrastructure in Northumberland”: the transcript is here:

There are essentially 2 connectivity projects and 1 economic regeneration / connectivity projects that I am hopeful of getting support from the North East and Cumbria LEPs, Network Rail, DFT, and the respective County Councils. At the moment we are doing very well. I will have limited time but will be raising:

  1. A69 dualling west of Hexham to Carlisle: our aim is to get this project into the 2016-2021 Funding round of upgrades. Both I and John Stevenson have met and made the case to the Secretary of State for Transport. I have a further Meeting with the Highways Agency plus Rory Stewart + John Stevenson – on the 4th November at 11am in the House of Commons.
  2. Tyne Valley Line: we are pressing for electrification to connect the electrified services of the East Coast and West Coast Mainlines. Again our concern is to get into the long term economic plan and its timetable as this will not happen for several years, but without getting into the plan it will never happen! I have the Minister Claire Perry coming to the North East and seeing the line in January. I have an Electrification Task Force meeting with Andrew Jones MP, its chair, on 27th October at 16.00 in the House of Commons.
  3. Gilsland Station rebuild: This is moving forward slowly but surely, and I have had recent discussions with key COGS leaders. They have a meeting with key Northumberland County Council leaders on Thursday October 16th. to ensure that the NCC are fully behind the project. I recently met Network Rail and they are supportive albeit they are making the case for further work on the project management process called GRIP. 
The benefits in terms of rural economic development and tourism and connectivity again are significant.  Gilsland Station starts in Northumberland but ends in Cumbria. The Connectivity issues are well addressed in the One North report:

The Devolution Journey of powers and finance to Scotland and the North East takes a big step today

Today in the House of Commons, MPs will debate the consequences of the Scottish devolution settlement agreed during the Scottish Referendum.
Along with those promises are the subsequent demands that England be treated equally. Within hours of the No vote being announced, David Cameron appeared in Downing Street to insist that English MPs alone should vote on English-only legislation. Now that the principle has been so firmly enunciated, there is no going back on it, just as there can be no retreat from what has been promised to Scotland. Where Labour are on this is still hard to see but I have met no one who does not agree it is mad to have devolution to the Scots but their MPs continue to vote on matters affecting Hexham and Halifax.
Indeed, the doctrine of English votes for English laws could well be reinforced in Parliament before Christmas, though in an ideal world Scots MPs would simply excuse themselves from voting on matters that did not concern them without being told to. All that is needed is a simple change in Parliamentary Standing Order 39 to make it clear that when designated English-only legislation is before the House then Scottish MPs would not be allowed to vote on it.
However, the House has acted swiftly and changed the government timetable so that the Scottish debate can get started and there is an airing of opinions as to the way ahead from lunchtime today.  The debate is from 1-7pm.

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Health Secretary will make a statement to Parliament on the UK response to Ebola

Jeremy Hunt will be making a statement to the Commons today on this issue, and I will update when I have heard it. The crucial point is that unlike some diseases or common killers this is not an air born infection.

All call handlers on the NHS 111 service will ask anyone reporting potential symptoms of Ebola about their recent travel history, so appropriate help can be given.  The NHS and Public Health England are well prepared for Ebola, and I know that they are determined to make sure that we continue to do everything we can to protect the public, based on the best medical advice.
The background to this terrible disease that is affecting Africa is set out here:

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Westminster this coming week

The Commons is very busy this week - starting with Home Office Questions on Monday, the start of the debate on the Recall Bill on Tuesday and a debate on North East Transport on Wednesday morning at 9.30, followed by Scotland Questions for the first time after the Scottish Referendum result. Thursday and Monday we have a number of backbench business committee debates - on cycling, the national pollinator strategy and Palestine / Israel and on Friday we have the Private Members Bill debates. I will be sprinting for the 4pm train on Friday in order to get home for the Ponteland Supper Club on Friday night.
We also have multiple constituents coming to the commons and a variety of meetings, including a reception to which Healthwatch Northumberland are coming on Tuesday.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Corbridge Memory Cafe to open Thursday October 16th - another Dementia first for Corbridge

Delighted that the amazing work of Councillor Melvyn Stone and the Corbridge Parish Council are getting the recognition they deserve with further coverage in last weeks Courant of this innovative idea; this is an another example of why Corbridge is leading the way in Dementia awareness.
The official opening is next Thursday October 16th from 10.30-12.30 in the Parish Hall.
I will also be taking part in a BBC Radio Newcastle Dementia Discussion at 9am on the Friday 17th October.
Sadly I cannot go to the Corbridge opening next Thursday as I have a 5 day week in parliament next week, before coming home late Friday night; the radio programme I will record from the BBC Radio "bunker" live in Millbank, on the river in London.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Academies improve children's education - the evidence is clear

Great article in the Journal with Labour MPs supporting academies.
The irony is that the Labour government invented them. We, in the coalition, are expanding them and giving head teachers and governors the freedom and opportunity to create the school they and their local community want. This transmits itself to the parents and, most importantly, the children who then have the opportunities denied them by some local authorities. Yet, the labour leadership and front bench in the commons are against the idea, as are most of the present set of North East labour MPs, with honourable exceptions. The evidence from academy organisations nationally like ARK = Absolute Return for Kids or the Excelsior Academy in west newcastle is overwhelming. Academies work. To all Northumberland locals who doubt this I urge them to go to the excelsior academy.  This from today's article in the Journal:

"Excelsior Academy, in the west end of Newcastle, has seen a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes since becoming an academy in 2008.
When it was Westgate Community College it was deemed to be a failing school by education watchdog, Ofsted.
Nearly 60% of children left the school without a single qualification and only 14% achieved five good GCSE grades.
However, pupils’ performance at GCSE and A-level is above the national average in English and maths and their progress is among the highest in Newcastle, according to the school’s head Phil Marshall.
She said: “We haven’t changed our community; we’re still taking the same children from the same houses, homes and families.
“You have to believe, that despite a lack of aspiration at home, these young people can do well."

New Train "For the Fallen" to be named next Tuesday at Newcastle Station

There is to be an event at Newcastle Central station on 14 October 2014 at 0920hrs to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One and the raising of the Tyneside Scottish Regiment. To mark these solemn anniversaries, East Coast is honoured to be naming a locomotive ‘For the Fallen’ and wrapping it with images portraying the lives of men from regiments across the East Coast route. 

750,000 people volunteered for service in Kitchener’s ‘New Army’. On 9 October 1914, the first Tyneside Scottish Battalion was raised and little more than a month later over 5,500 men from Tyneside volunteered for military service. Of these, many would pay the ultimate price in the pursuit of world peace. 100 years later, along with our stakeholders, East Coast is marking the sacrifice of these volunteers.

At the event on 14 October, we will be joined by soldiers from 101 Regiment – Royal Artillery, a Battery of which retains the name ‘Tyneside Scottish’ and other representatives of the military, civic, business communities in Tyneside. We would be very pleased if you could join us as we dedicate this train to The Fallen. I have been asked to go but cannot as I am in London in the Commons all next week.

Appearing on At the Races being interviewed about the future of racing 11.30 14th Ocotber

Long ago I recorded an interview with the racing channel At The Races and this is being aired on Tuesday 14th October at 11.30am - it is a programme called King for A Day and is all about the changes I, and other racing people, would like to see. Channel 415 on Sky, 534 on Virgin.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Apprenticeships should be paid more - my article in today's Journal

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un looks like he is on his way out

All North Korean Communists are equal but some have clearly been more equal than others for several generations. Officially the short, fat, violent, weird hair styled Dear Leader is resting a broken ankle but suspicions are raised that someone broke his ankles for him. Given his track record this is not surprising - as he was always going to go the way other dictators have gone in the past.

In any event the relationship between North and South Korea appears to be improving and this can only be a good thing. I have just finished reading the Orphan Masters Son, the Pulitzer Prize Winning assessment of life in North Korea by Adam Johnson. It makes fascinating but terrifying reading - clearly North Korea is like Animal Farm meets Brave New World - with a lot of violence, and the potential for nuclear weapons use thrown in for good measure. In addition, Wednesdays article in the Times by Roger Boyes spells out the problems we face with one of the last of the truly communist states very well.
All of our safety depends upon a peaceful resolution of a North Korean descent ... from dictatorship to a slow path one day to democracy; what is clear is that without a managed exit the world will be facing a much more serious North Korean problem.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Road Trip 2015 to Stockton South this Saturday

The success, fun and enthusiasm of The 2015 Road Trip teams is well known
See here in Great Yarmouth:
Or here in Enfield:
or many of the other locations they have been to all across the Country
This Saturday the team is going to STOCKTON SOUTH...
Well over a hundred activists will be going to help James Wharton MP get re-elected. The team have transport options from all around the country. There is always space for more.

The All Women final on Friday in South Cambridgeshire is good evidence that the Conservative party is changing on merit

4 Women chosen on merit in the final of a safe Conservative seat - things are definitely changing.
All 4 have had real jobs. All would be outstanding MPs, and all will be. Some I know very well; some I have coached as part of Women to Win. This assessment comes from the excellent Mark Wallace at Conservative Home:
Andrew Lansley MP announced recently that he intends to stand down from parliament in May and the local association will choose a candidate to succeed him on 11th October
The shortlist comprises:
  • Cllr Heidi Allen. A Councillor in St Alban’s, Allen is Managing Director of the family manufacturing business. Born in Yorkshire, she studied Astrophysics at University College London before going on to work as an operations manager in organisations as diverse as Royal Mail, Tubelines, Esso and Churchill Insurance Group. In December, she was runner-up in the selection race in South East Cambridgeshire.
  • Cllr Jo Churchill. A Lincolnshire County Councillor, where she represents a ward in Grantham, Churchill is the Finance Director of a scaffolding firm. A former school governor, she spends her spare time campaigning for Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
  • Charlotte Vere. Currently Executive Director of the Girls’ Schools Association, Vere has worked in the private sector for 25 years. She was the Conservative candidate in Brighton Pavilion, where she increased the Tory vote but saw Caroline Lucas turn the constituency Green. She was Finance Director of the victorious No2AV campaign in the 2011 referendum, and has campaigned for Conservative policies to be better targeted at women voters. Like Cllr Allen, she was a finalist in South East Cambridgeshire.
  • Helen Whately.  A management consultant working in the health sector, Whately stood against Ed Davey in Kingston and Surbiton in 2010, where she increased the Tory vote share by 3.5 percentage points. Having worked at PwC among other firms, she helped launch the first online film service int he UK for AOL, and advised the Conservatives in Opposition on Media policy. She was a finalist in Wealden and North East Hampshire, and was longlisted in South East Cambridgeshire.
Observant readers will note that all four finalists are female – the association included the following note in its announcement:
‘As it happens, it’s an all female shortlist – it definitely was NOT imposed upon us by anyone.  It’s simply that the Sifting Committee thought these four were the very best from a field of 102, mainly high class candidates.’
Full article here:

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Miliband reels as Prescott and now his own supporters website say "core vote" strategy is going nowhere

Last week John Prescott piled in now it’s the grassroots: LabourList have flipped out about the often denied, yet clearly obvious, 35% strategy that Labour seem hell bent on pursuing. Four polls in a row have them dipping well below 35%  with the Conservatives out in front: this from the Labour List criticism
“So is Labour pursuing a core vote strategy? Compared to what’s on offer at the moment I wish we had a core vote strategy. At the moment we have a “take much of our core vote for granted strategy.
Labour needs to prove that it’s on the side of Britain’s forgotten millions…
At the moment, those millions must still look at Labour and wonder what on earth – and who on earth – we are for.”
The full article is worth a read:

Delighted that Canon Dagmar Winter is to be the new Rector of Hexham Abbey

Religious leaders matter. Whatever the faith there is no doubt that the church, in its many forms, has a pivotal role to play in any society. This extends far beyond religious belief, faith and support. And the Tynedale faithful who go, in particular, to Hexham Abbey have been without a leader since Graham Usher was created the Bishop of Dudley. So the announcement of Dagmar's elevation is very good news. It is also a rare example of the Church promoting someone local from within the local clergy and they should be praised for this. I believe this is the right person in the right job at the right time.

Monday, 6 October 2014

On BBC Radio Newcastle tomorrow live at 8.05 discussing if Northumberland Council should spend £40 Million moving to Ashington?

Labour in Westminster now openly discussing replacing hopeless Miliband with Alan Johnson

No to Prescott's talking shop - Yes to more powers.

"The North East rejected the creation of a new regional assembly in a referendum in 2004.
What was on offer then was NOT devolved powers, but a talking shop with no authority.
Devolution is not about creating a new class of politician. It’s about bringing powers and control over funding to the region – so that we can set our own priorities for training, education, health services and more, and carry out vital infrastructure projects without going cap in hand to Whitehall."
Read the full piece here:

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Weekend Read: Time for a Rural Northumberland Council?

Last week I called on Northumberland County Council to provide "a fair and equal" settlement across Northumberland if it goes ahead with plans to divide up the Council's workforce and move its headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington.

In case you'd missed it Labour are seemingly determined to build themselves a new £40 million white elephant headquarters in Ashingston and it seems will say and do anything to get it. My view is that if Labour want to scrap County Hall at Morpeth then in that new settlement Tynedale deserves a fair and equal deal, not one that is in a different league to what they are planning for Ashington. The decision on moving to Ashington has already been called on to be deferred by the Council's own Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Scrutiny Committee.

Before Labour blow £40 million of Council tax payers money building a brand new headquarters in Ashington I think it's time for a public debate on the kind of Council we want and need.

One of the options which could be considered alongside the Council's proposed move to Ashington, is instead splitting the County Council into a Rural and Urban Authority.

The truth is when it comes to this Labour County Council, Ashington and Blyth come first and everywhere else gets what's left, if anything. Why should the new settlement for Hexham, Morpeth or Alnwick be so much less than what is being proposed for Ashington? Why should almost a thousand Council jobs and £72 million of investment be put into Ashington and only the promise of 200 jobs for Hexham?

We do not have to settle with what we've got or what Labour is offering us. By scrapping County Hall and moving the Council's power base to Ashington they are proposing to fundamentally change the way the County Council is run. I think we need a public debate on those changes.

Big changes to local government are now becoming a reality across the country. In Chorley, for example, they will soon be having a vote on whether to break away from County Council control and set up as a single Unitary Authority. There is no reason we can't do a similar thing here in Northumberland. Why should Hexham settle for just getting a few jobs back while the whole County Council moves lock stock and barrel to Ashington?

If Labour truly want to devolve power and jobs from the present arrangements then all proposals should be considered. I don't just want a few jobs back in my area I want them all back. Perhaps now that Labour are wanting dramatic change it is time to consider whether the current County Council should be made into two Unitary Authorities, one urban and one rural.

One suggestion is that a new unitary authority, perhaps using the old District Council boundaries, could take over services now provided by Northumberland County Council. Hexham certainly has a lot more in common with Morpeth or Alnwick than it does with Ashington or Blyth.

A Rural Northumberland Authority covering West and North Northumberland would give people back a Council which worked for them, listened to their concerns and didn't ignore them in favour of the urban South East. It's also worth noting it is what local people voted for in the 2004 referendum. The result was 51,560 in favour of a single Unitary Council and 66,140 in favour of a Rural Northumberland Council and a Urban South East Northumberland Council based on the old district boundaries. The Rural Northumberland Council would cover the former district areas of Alnwick, Berwick, Castle Morpeth and Tynedale and the Urban Northumberland Council would cover Blyth Valley and Wansbeck.

Size isn't an issue as there are similar small Unitary Authorities around the country, there are now many smaller Unitary Authorities represented by two MPs such as Blackburn Unitary Authority and Warrington Unitary Authority.

A good comparison is perhaps Bournemouth Council. Bournemouth Council is now a unitary authority in its own right, although up until 1997 it was an administrative district council within Dorset. The population of Dorset is 180,000. The population of a Rural Northumberland Council wouldn't be too dissimilar at around 140,000.

I passionately believe in localism and that the best possible decisions are those that are taken locally, with true local interest at heart. When people come up to me in the street and ask how on earth it is fair the Labour County Council can increase our Council Tax, move the Council to Ashington and then spend £74 million on Ashington Town Centre, I have no answer - because quite simply it isn't fair.

If Labour want to change the way the Council is run by shifting the Council to Ashington perhaps it is time for the rest of County to look at what serves our interests best too and how we can return as many local jobs as possible. I don't believe that needs is a £40 million move to Ashington.

The Chronicle have covered the story here:

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Conference Awards - The Winners and Losers

Best Conference Speech:
David Cameron. His speech really did highlight why he is twice the Prime Minister Ed Miliband could ever be. You can watch a 3 minute highlight HERE

Best Prop:
Boris's brick. Enough said.

Best Policy Announcement:
The Conservatives pledge to increase the tax-free personal allowance from £10,000 to £12,500 – taking a million more people out of income tax altogether.

Best Conference Joke:
Boris, as ever, wins the award for best Conference speech joke. He told the hall on Tuesday - “That’s our new fisheries policy folks, first chuck Salmond overboard, and then eat the kippers for breakfast!"

Best Beer: 
A nice cool refreshing bottle of "Ballsberg" - "Probably not the best economist in the world."

Worst Conference Speech:
Ed Miliband. A man who people don't trust to runt he economy - and he forgets to mention the deficit?! Quite surreal. It's hard not to agree with Dan Hodges, who said in the Telegraph "I’m struggling to recall a conference season – or two leaders' speeches – that have so starkly drawn the dividing line between the two men, and parties, who seek to lead their country."

Friday, 3 October 2014

Cutting your taxes! No tax on first £12,500 = more money in yr pocket

We want to make the tax system fairer so that people get to keep more of the money they earn. That is why a Conservative Government will cut tax for hardworking people.

A future Conservative Government will raise the tax-free personal allowance from £10,500 to £12,500. That will take 1 million more of the lowest paid workers out of income tax – and will give a tax cut to 30 million more. We will also raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate from £41,900 to £50,000. This will bring fairness back to the tax system. This will be paid for by taking difficult decisions on spending – we will cut taxes and cut the deficit, just like we have in this Parliament.

We believe that if you work hard and do the right thing, you should keep more of your own money to spend as you choose. That’s why cutting taxes is a key part of our long-term economic plan – securing a better future for Britain by making hardworking taxpayers and their families more financially secure.

"David Cameron's speech made Ed Miliband look utterly ridiculous"

The view of the Telegraph commentator Iain Martin - and I couldn't have put it better myself.
"Whereas Tony Blair or Gordon Brown facing an election would have tried to give a proper account of the challenges facing Britain – in terms of globalisation, technology, migration – Miliband burbled on like a student leader running a rent strike. I might not have bought what Blair or Brown prescribed, but at their best they told a proper story. They treated the challenges seriously.
Viewed from that perspective, the dire amateurishness of the Miliband approach is actually rather insulting. The man who seeks to be Prime Minister thinks that what he is offering is good enough when it is plainly not."

No spin zone: What would a Conservative government do for you?

After a busy week at conference and number of policy announcements forget the spin and read what the BBC says a Conservative government would do for you:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Join my campaign team

Across the Hexham Constituency, local people just like you are working together on my campaign team. Our team of volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it.

So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help me, you can sign up to help HERE in just 30 seconds

I owe my life to the NHS - pleased the NHS budget is to be protected again.

It is well known that I have had my life saved by the NHS ....twice ... Once as a jockey and once when I had a brain tumour. And I have spent a large part of my career before coming into parliament, and since becoming an MP, supporting and helping our health service in its many forms. Whether this is speaking up for our doctors and nurses in the House of Commons, fighting regional pay, visiting all our many care homes, hospitals and GPs, fundraising for the Tynedale Hospice at Home, or chairing the All Party Group for Air Ambulances, our health system is my number one concern.

During this last 4 years the NHS budget, international aid and 4-16 education are the only things that have been protected in this parliament - every other department has taken a serious hit. So it is rubbish to say that the Coalition are not supporting the NHS, during the worst recession in living history. Bear in mind that it was Labours Andy Burnham who was the health secretary who presided over the mid staffs disaster.

Yesterday, the PM set out debunking some of the Labour myths:
Displaying a flash of anger, he told the conference hall: “From Labour last week, we heard the same old rubbish about the Conservatives and the NHS. Spreading complete and utter lies.”
He added: “For me, this is personal. I am someone who has relied on the NHS – whose family knows more than most how important it is . . . how dare they frighten those who are relying on the NHS right now? It might be the only thing that gets a cheer at their Party conference but it is frankly pathetic.”
The PM pledged to protect the NHS budget if he won a second term in office - and “continue to invest more” on top.
In Northumberland we have outstanding medical care. For example, in Haltwhistle we have the country's first truly integrated NHS and local authority joined up hospital. Rest assured I will go on speaking up for,our NHS and fighting for more funding locally. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The PMs speech today

Support for the NHS, tax cuts, apprenticeships and a lot lot more. Worth listening to / reading here:

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Conference Diary in Birmingham over the next 2 days

Monday Morning: 
-8-9.30: Women To Win mock selection of MPs and 3 candidates tell candidates how they got selected, with Tim Montgomerie in the conservative home tent. 
- then meetings with candidates, and coffee with theNewcastle Airport representative, Graeme Mason re APD and devolution. 
 12.00Dementia meeting with Alzheimer's Society 
12.45 to 14.00 - Northumbrian Water event Novotel Hotel - I am speaking
- 16.00 - Meeting with Network Rail re Gilsland Station and rail crossings, station maintenance and bridgework
- 17.30 to 19.00 – 'Energy and Equity event' focusing on off grid - speaking with several key experts
Venue: Drawing Room, Hyatt Regency Hotel, 2 Bridge Street, B1 2JZ
19.00 to 21.00 - Common Vision event on local economic growth - 266a – 271 Broad Street, B1 2DS. 'Greater economic localism will answer the devolution question’. With several other MPs

 - 12.30 to 14.00 - ResPublica Roundtable: speaking on creation of local banks. Room 15/17, Jurys Inn, 245 Broad Street, B1 2HQ
14.00 – 14.30 - Meeting BT Public Affairs team re rural broadband 
14.30 - Meeting Ed Boyd, Deputy Policy Director, The Centre for Social Justice.
- 15.00 – Meet Victoria Raffe (FCA) re local banks
- 15.30 to 17.00 - Demos Banking event, Jury's Inn, 245 Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2HQ. Guy keynote speaker 'Community chest: Could local banks work in the UK'. 

Guest Blog Post - student Mark Loughridge talks of life doing work experience in both offices

"It has been a great privilege to work for Guy and his team this summer, both in Hexham and in Westminster. To have had a first-hand glimpse at the hard work both offices are putting in for the people of Northumberland has been a fantastic experience. Two Mondays ago I was able to attend the Let’s Stay Together rally in Trafalgar Square. Armed with ‘Hexham says: Please stay!’ posters, we joined a huge crowd of people from all over Britain and made a very vocal case for Scotland to stay in our shared Union. I was particularly moved by Sir Bob Geldof’s passionate speech in which he, an Irishman by birth, praised the success of our Union and explained how he thought creating yet another boundary in our world would do little to make it a safer or friendlier place.

Guy had repeatedly voiced concern about the future of the North and Scotland if there was to be a ‘Yes’ vote on Thursday 18 – I hope that the thousands of people in Trafalgar Square on Monday were able to make a heartfelt case for why we are better together. The stakes this summer couldn’t be much higher, so to be in Westminster at this seminal moment in the history of our nation has been brilliant.
Finally, I’d like to thank Guy and all of his staff who have been so friendly and accommodating during what has been a rollercoaster summer. I hope many other young people from the North East are able to work alongside Guy and his team for years to come. "

For my part as the MP I cannot stress enough that we try and make the parliamentary and Hexham offices open to all, so get in touch.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Ponteland Local Plan Meeting - try and go along this weekend to Pont Memorial Hall

Today from 10-7 and tomorrow from 9.30-1 continues the drop in sessions concerning the new neighbourhood plan being prepared by local councillors and volunteers on behalf of the Town Council. I went along last weekend and am seen with the inspirational Alma and Will Moses. There is so much to see and understand but the key message is get involved. This is your local community and your chance to shape it.
More details found here:

Iraq Motion today

That this House

Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;  further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this   campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;  offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Post Referendum we can have more local NE powers AND a fair deal for England

After the Scottish referendum, the UK is going to change; I see the future as being an opportunity for the North East; we are starting the end of top-down Westminster control as power and money is decentralised from London.

The new settlement on devolution should herald empowerment not just for nations but for our communities, cities, and counties. I believe we can do it all: make the settlement which all have agreed to Scotland, create more powers for our region and a fair settlement for England as a whole.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to set out plans to solve the English question. It is entirely wrong that Scottish MP's can vote on laws which only effect England. For example healthcare is entirely devolved to Scotland. Yet at the moment Scottish MPs can vote on English healthcare matters but I as an English MP cannot vote on Scottish healthcare matters. This problem is going to be even more acute as more powers are devolved to Scotland like finance, welfare, etc. There will be effectively no matters save foreign policy and defence that a Scottish MP would have any control over. It will all be devolved.  

But I want to make it clear that  as much as we must stick to the commitments made to the Scots we must also ensure a fair and equal settlement for England.

Labour's plan is simply to ignore the calls for fair representation of England in Parliament, and dust off John Prescott’s ill fated plans for a regional assembly.  I don't know anyone who thinks that creating another layer of politicians with no real power is the answer. The good people of the North East rejected Labour's plan for an expensive talking shop almost 10 years ago and rightly so – I see very few people except the dinosaurs like Labour MP Ronnie Campbell wanting to go down this route.

What our region needs isn't more politicians, it is more powers. Real powers to boost jobs, infrastructure and investment. The easiest way to do that is to build on the existing combined authority. The combined 7 Local authorities have already come together to make joint decisions on transport, skills and so much more. This is a body which is ripe for more power, and ready to accept it.  That excludes the need for many more new layers of bureaucracy. The combined authorities could be given more control over economic development. That would really put our region in the driving seat for growth, skills, transport links and jobs.

My personal view is that we need the leader of the Combined Authority being elected as a Mayor – as they have in London, New York and so many other great areas, rather than it being an appointed post as it is now. I think that is the simplest, cheapest and most sensible way to bring democracy and greater power to the combined authorities.

The end goal for this whole process of devolution in my view is relatively simple; more powers and democratic accountability for our region, and a fair settlement for England. That is a goal worth striving for in our new United Kingdom .

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Looking forward to speaking at tomorrow's Asian Business Connexions Curry Club in Newcastle

Asian Business Connexions will be holding their annual ABCurry Club at The Beacon, Newcastle tomorrow, the 25 September @ 6pm.

The Curry Club is a unique opportunity to meet with so many of the key people in the local Asian community - I am a massive fan of ABC  - this is a group of wonderful people who have one common vision - to Connect, Support, and Promote, one another. They also serve a mean curry!!
The promo says:
"Guest speakers attending include some of the biggest names in education, local politics, business and enterprise - Paul Woolston: Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, Carole Kitching: Principal of Newcastle College and Guy Opperman MP."

Tickets are strictly on a first come, first paid basis (£10 for members & £12 for non-members). To reserve your space email or call 0191 242 4892.

I would add - Come along: you will not be disappointed as the people are fascinating, and the curry is great!

Surely cutting the deficit & balancing the books is more important than memorising a speech?

I must be one of the few people who has actually watched Ed Miliband's speech yesterday as he tried to convince the Labour party faithful that he could tackle Britain's economy. The speech had its moments to be fair, but he totally forgot to talk about the deficit and immigration - although these are consistently the 2 biggest issues pollsters say voters are concerned with. Freud might have something to say about the unconscious erasing of past mistakes and the inability to deal with present problems, but lets not try and psycho analyse the Labour leader too much. But what you "forget" is also very indicative.  

For the real problem is the lack of candour from anyone in Labour about the scale of the financial challenges facing a Labour government, if it came to power next year, because the economy is not out of the woods and it is not sunlit uplands all the way from May 2015. Just ask French President Francois Hollande how his anti austerity super socialist measures are going in La Belle France: the reality is that socialism is a jobs and economic disaster. France is the sick man of Europe.

Ed Balls said on Monday that Labour was facing difficult, unpopular decisions, but then undermined his bad cop routine by failing to outline any meaningful cuts to any budgets. And this from an Opposition who has opposed every attempt at Budget Reduction between 2010-2014.

The truth is that Ed Miliband is simply not concerned by the economy, balancing the books and cutting the deficit. We have to remember that Ed Miliband is after all:
- a former Treasury Policy wonk under Tony Blair,
- an advisor to Gordon Brown [remember "no more boom and bust"]
- and now advised on the economy by Ed Balls

So his lack of understanding of the economy is not altogether surprising.

Parliament may be recalled Friday in light of Islamic State air strikes

The question is - how do we in Britain support the efforts against the IS troops?
The USA have launched air strikes, working with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, who all took part, or supported the strikes.

Monday's strikes expanded the anti-IS campaign across the border into Syria for the first time. The strikes targeted the group's main headquarters in its stronghold of Raqqa, north-eastern Syria. The US has launched nearly 200 air strikes in Iraq against IS since August.
As always, I would welcome constituents thoughts. Thus far we have taken no physical action but have provided diplomatic support. But ...diplomacy will only get you so far with an organisation who
- kidnap people and then behead them
- or massacre those who will not support their extremist views.

For those who do not know what IS are have a read here:
The US Secretary of State has spent a lot of time making sure that this Coalition is a group of countries from all across the Middle East.

I should stress that am not certain that parliament is to be recalled [it requires the PM and Opposition leaders to agree in reality] although there is much discussion of this, and certainly the Guardian and other papers seem to think so. There are no easy answers but these monsters are not going to stop, that much is clear. I am in Westminster today, but my present plan is to go North tomorrow.

Our team of General Election volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it. So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help us please sign up here