Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Halton Lea Gate Mining Meeting

Halton Lea Gate is a windswept village on the edge of the Cumbrian border and near the Pennine Way. The countryside around it has a rough raw beauty. Salmon can be found in its river. The people there are warm, tough but friendly. However when roused their passion is ferocious and they were clearly universally opposed to the plan to mine for coal on a site just behind the village. The Council had organised a meeting to hear objections and allow the developer to make his representations and allay fears. With emotions running high, the develper was not winning any popularity contests.
The village hall was packed with around 250 people, with late attenders literally standing out in the soft rain straining to listen to the debate: everyone was there from the village. I sat at te back near one of the leaders of the opposition, Stan Rowntree.
As a councillor I have listened to many of these meetings. As a lawyer I have read the arguments; and as a campaigner I have put my case with passion in the past. Today I just tried to listen and learn.
There seem to be no environmental benefits, a multitude of reasons to object to the plan and very little economic benefits. It will produce three years of hell for residents, and poses potentially serious health risks. And all for around nine days of coal supply for a power station. It’s not that people are against an open-cast mine – but a mine with such bad access, barely 50 yards from many people’s back doors, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, where we are trying to encourage tourism, seems to make little sense. It should be opposed on strict planning grounds.
The best laugh of the night came when the developer tried to suggest that the risk of coal dust being blown over the homes, childrens play area and the village in general, was slight as it was not that windy.
Amidst the laughter and snorts of derision [Halton Lea Gate is probably the windiest place in all Northumberland] we all listened to the howls of the wind outside.
The excellent local councillor Ian Hutchinson opposes this plan. He was way laid with man flu but is doing sterling work on the village's behalf.
The Courant wrote an interesting report on the meeting.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Artistic Licence

To Newton to a great evening organised by Christine Hanley and her team at the art gallery, Fifiefofum. I fell in love with a wonderful sculpture of a horse, but it was a little beyond my price range at several thousand pounds!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

What the Papers Say

The Hexham Courant is the essential reading for all locals so we wait with bated breath for its report on the selection.

Overall I though the Courant’s piece was balanced and fair. I’ve had a drink since with Brian Tilley, its politics writer, and I’m sure we can work together. Brian is famous for his blog Hextol – we will have to try and outperform the master! This will not be easy as he has a justifiable mass following.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Wendy Morton

I headed east to meet Wendy Morton, who is the prospective parliamentary candidate for Tynemouth. Wendy is amazing: a pocket dynamo who has been making huge inroads into the lead of her absentee opponent Alan Campbell. She will win when Brown finally goes to the polls.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Home Sweet Home

Moved into my new home in the lovely hamlet of Aydon, just outside Corbridge. The central heating is a little temperamental, but nothing a few extra duvets and a decent fire can’t cope with. I’m surrounded by boxes of my worldly goods, and everything is a little chaotic, but the welcome was warm and the neighbours wonderful. Had dinner with one of my oldest friends who lives a mile so away at Styford.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Selection Day

Ponteland Memorial Hall is a big brick built hall on the outskirts of Ponteland. It was to this that 6 nervous applicants came on an overcast Saturday in November for the final selection as the Conservative Candidate for Hexham. All of the candidates are good - with lots of real world and political experience. I drew the final interview of the six – which added the challenge of trying to distinguish myself when the selection panel had already heard from five others and could well be thinking that it was time for a cup of tea (or a large gin). But I gave it my best and I know that the response was good: it is very rare in political speeches that people really laugh; it is also rare for a speaker to get a real feeling of warmth from such an audience, who do not know you that well: on this occasion I got both which was amazing. The voters were from across 1100 square miles of Northumberland and were numbered in their hundreds. After that we were off and running with a speech and a multitude of questions on everything from the economy to wind farms, from schools to social care. Sir David Kelly asked the questions as the moderator. After 30 minutes the grilling was over and I went outside for some fresh air to wait.
Slowly the other candidates appeared and we milled around nervously chatting and waiting for the decision of the voters. Eventually Sir David Kelly appeared with Allan Deane and the Chairman of the Association, the wonderful Bev Nelson. He spoke briefly, thanking us all, before announcing that I was the clear winner. I was stunned and elated, and really quite humbled at the task which awaits me; I shook hands with the unlucky other 5 and wished them well for the future – we are all on the same side. But there was no time for reflection, and it was back into the hall where Peter Atkinson, MP, made a wonderful speech of congratulation and welcome. Then Richard Dodd whisked about 20 of us away for lunch in a nearby pub. I had come out without any money so had to borrow £20 from Richard. Then it was straight off to do press and media with Peter Bould, the North East Conservative’s amazing press officer. And only then was I finally able to ring my family and friends who had been waiting on tenterhooks. My Dad was almost speechless – possibly for the first time in his life!