Thursday, 31 December 2009

Hexham Highlights of 2009

It is traditional to do a highlights of the year package so here goes - I admit this is purely personal:

Hexham Political Highlight: Helping local heroes John Rourke and Alison Hands bring the Hexham road safety campaign to fruition
Hexham Sports Highlight: winning the local point to point as a jockey at Corbridge on Lowlander on March 1st
Hexham Best Food award: although the French restuarant won on Gordon Ramsays programme this autumn my best local meal was at the Pheasant in Kielder
Hexham Best cafe award: easily won by the Italian Cafe = La Piccola at 22 Front Street, my regular Prudhoe lifesaver
Best Small Northumberland Village Show: Kirkwhelpington - which had the best tea by far!
Political Highlight in the North East: Linda Arkley winning the North Tyneside Mayoralty
Political Highlight worldwide: the election of Barack Obama
My Hexham Hairiest Moment: being chased by a very large dog whilst canvassing in Prudhoe during the Euro election!
Funniest moment on the campaign trail: being mistaken in Ponteland for the new Newcastle Airport air traffic controller - a man I now clearly have to meet!
Most Moving Moment: Rememberance Day service both in and outside Hexham Abbey in November.
Best non political Moment: being there on August 23rd at the Oval on the last day of the fifth test when we won the Ashes.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Green Alliance

I am delighted to have been asked by the Green Alliance to meet with them to attend their Leadership Programme on Climate Change on January 14th - it is a special event organised for would be MP's on Climate and the Environment.
The climate is changing, fossil fuels are a finite resource and we need to be thriftier with our energy, our planet and our childrens future.
There may be doubters but as I put it at the Hexham Debate recently - if 9 out of 10 people tell you your house is on fire do you leave your family inside or sort it out? This seems to me to be way to approach people in climate change denial

As one great leader once said:
“No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy — with full repairing lease”.
Who said it? It will suprise you but it was Margaret Thatcher...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Peter Jackson sets out the reality of the Northumberland CC Mismanagement

A good letter from Peter Jackson in the Christmas Eve Courant that sets out the problems we face: the present Liberal adminstration are just not performing: this is not our words but the independent Audit Commission

Big decisions lie ahead but Peter's letter puts it best when he says:
"Direction, decision making and financial management have all been sorely lacking over the last two years. I can only hope that, for the good of the county, the radical reforms proposed in the Conservatives’ alternative budget will be accepted and essential services will be protected."

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Latest Economic Figures and even the Guardian is against Gordon

Todays figures make sobering reading: see below for the full story in the Guardian but the short point is that we are getting more and more heavily into a debt we cannot sustain: even the Guardian admits that -
A leading ratings agency has warned Britain to get a tighter grip on its record budget deficit and figures revealed that the slump of the past 18 months was now officially the deepest since the second world war.
Fitch said that the UK needed to "articulate more credible and stronger fiscal consolidation during the course of 2010 to underpin confidence in the sustainability of public finances".
Failure to do so, the ratings agency added, would greatly increase the chances of a debt downgrade, which would increase the cost of servicing the national debt.
Confirmation that the UK is the only G20 nation still in recession sent the pound tumbling to a two-month low against the US dollar, with sterling dipping below the $1.60 level after the ONS announcement.
Officials said they now estimated that the economy contracted by 0.2% in the third quarter following a drop of 0.7% in the three months to June. The ONS said that new data showed that the UK had performed worse earlier in the recession than originally believed, leaving the economy 5.1% smaller at the end of the third quarter of 2009 than it had been a year earlier.

Putting it bluntly we have to live within our means - we just aren't at the moment.

Climate change debate in hexham

Can you be passionate about the environment and climate change and be a Conservative? I think you can.
In hexham there are big changes in our approach to Climate Change: I was lucky enough to meet with pupils at the Queen Elizabeth High School who are passionate about changing their local environment. I went to a meeting in West Hexham with local environmentalists / Greenpeace representatives, all of whom had attended the climate change rally in early december in london. All were passionate and convincing and we had a great discussion as to what we could do locally, in our area and nationally.
We agreed to keep meeting as the months go on but the most interesting thing was the efforts the pupils are making to change things locally. It is those who will have to deal with the problems of climate change who are more passionate about it, I have found.

In the context of the failures in Copenhagen to reach meaningful accords it is clear that if individuals have the choice they will normally try and live their life in an environmentally aware way; we just need to harness the power of these individuals. In these Hexham pupils we have the makings of leaders for sure.

Monday, 21 December 2009

How we will prepare the electoral choices in 2010

All politicians will spend too much of their winter holidays preparing how they will put their case to the public come the election; I know I will; after the turkey is eaten and the diet has started I will be sitting down and trying to set out the issues I want to fight the campaign on.
Even in a recession it is possible, as the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci put it, to be “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will”. Despite the economic backdrop, the next election will be won by the party that presents a convincing case for a better future rather than one that boasts about its achievements in the past. As one child said to me on a recent school visit "the past is so old!" He might have had a point - albeit he framed it in a interesting way - mind you he was 11.
Whether it is on climate change, Afghanistan, the economy, schools or hospitals every party must articulate its case for the future. And we must do that locally as well as nationally. There are equally important choices locally that will be influencing how people appraise the parties - particularly in our patch where the local council and the local economy are struggling as they are.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

ID Cards - even the minister forgets her ID card

So ID Cards are not dead after all ...just resting in Liverpool. Or not as the case may be - I attach the following memorable clip from the hapless minister for ID Cards, as reported elsewhere...
Where Are Your Papers?

In a gaffe worthy of Nicola Murray and the DoSaC team from the The Thick of It, the stasi-esque titled Identity Minister, Meg Hillier, turned up to an ID card unveiling in Liverpool without her ID card. As the Liverpool Post reports:
The former journalist and mother patted herself down and checked her handbag for the missing card before putting the slip-up down to the demands of looking after her baby. She then posed in front of the city’s landmark Liver Buildings alongside the vast River Mersey without her card.
What a fantastic advertisement for those simple and effective cards that make life and travel so much easier. Hillier was there to encourage residents of the North West to take up the scheme but in one cock-up has summed up just how pointless it is.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Riding Mill Village Hall + Get Together

Have spent much of last week in Riding Mill: on Thursday I was invited to meet around 50 of the villagers who grilled me for in excess of 2 hours on all subjects from the economy, to local health and care provision. It was a good evening, with lots of the locals keen to get involved in the forthcoming campaign .Then on Saturday we were invited to the opening of the new Village Hall - which has been built largely by Eric, the local master builder, and his son Ben. The quality of the build is amazing and the sense of community as villagers walked around the new facility on Saturday morning was wonderful to see. Eric insited on showing us around - and explaining the porcelain floor and giving us the tour of the bathrooms - of which he is inordinately proud! It is true to say that few hotels have bathrooms / toilets as glamorous or well made as these!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Manors in Prudhoe

Outside the Manors in Prudhoe with key Milecastle board members including Anne Moyle, and Edward Heslop, after being shown round the amazing new Manors facility.
I was lucky enough to go around the Milecastle flagship building the Manors today. It is a brilliant new facility and a great asset for the people of Prudhoe.
The work that they are doing to provide residential and day care facilities is second to none.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Haltwhistle - visiting Tynedale Grange

With Ida Davison [the former warden] and Doreen Harrison at Tynedale Grange, Haltwhistle; was lucky enough to be invited to the Grange for a get together, and some of Ida's amazing cakes. The Grange is full of wonderful people and we had a spirited 20 minute question and answer session at the end. Ian Hutchinson the local councillor came along too.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Tynedale FM Relaunch

Hilary and Mike receive You Tube training from the master...
Regular readers will know how much we are trying to do to help Tynedale FM relaunch; they are continuing their education series at the moment and I spent a fascinating hour with them learning the do and don'ts to the creation of you tube material. I still find it odd that they broadcast from inside the old swimming pool!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ponteland Catholic Church Meeting

Spent the afternoon as the guest of Father Melia, who is a legend in Ponteland, and around 25 parishioners of his church being grilled generally on all issues catholic and otherwise and discussing all aspects of faith. I am an anglican but am making a real effort to speak to all the different faiths in the lead up to the election.
It was a really interesting 2 hour session and further evidence of the great sense of community that exists in Ponteland

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Hexham debate and Heddon canvassing

Spent the morning doing the Hexham Debate at QE school with the other candidates and then went over to Heddon in the afternoon to continue the extensive Heddon canvass that we are engaged in.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Success in Halton Lea Gate Battle

Over a year ago the team, led by Local Councillors and Residents, started their campaign to stop the open cast mine in Halton Lea Gate. We all looked a lot younger when this was taken!
But on Tuesday night the Northumberland Councillors voted to reject the plan for open cast mining so close the back door of these peoples homes. Both Paul Kelly and Ian Hutchinson gave excellent speeches but the best of the lot was by Nick Kennon - who spoke boldly and with quiet passion. It has been a pleasure to get to him and Jeremy the local resident who has led the fight so well.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hexham Schools and abandoning fear

At the entrance to Hexham Middle School is a large sign that says:
"Abandon fear of failure all who enter here" an invitation to learning and life what could be more apposite - it was put up by the Headteacher and is the schools mantra

This double visit to the Hexham Middle School and Queen Elizabeth Upper School was a great experience, and I learnt a lot from the two very capable and knowledgeable head teachers; spent 4 hours on both sites;

Freeman Hospital

Was lucky enough to meet, talk and then be given the tour of the Freeman Hospital by the Chairman Sir Len Fenwick; a very interesting hospital - featured notably in the news recently with the opening of their Sir Bobby Robson cancer facility. It is wonderful hospital on a number of levels and a credit to the region.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Chamber of Commerce Awards - North East companies feature

Spent last night supporting various north east businesses at the awards ceremony at the National Maritime Museum hosted by Fiona Bruce. Really good turnout from the North East with several companies feratured including Kilfrost [nominated for Achievement in International Business - and based in Haltwhistle] and She's Gott It. Delighted for the winners of the Green award = JC Atkinsons - the Tyne and Wear company who produce 60,000 environmentally friendly coffins a year; described by the Judges as "having an environmental agenda as part of their DNA" they were clearly and rightly delighted to wi such a prestigious award.
Good suport for the Young Chamber which supports students who want to be the next "Apprentice" -which the NECC tell me are doing well in Sunderland.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Farmers beware - the wrong approach to climate change

Should we really be putting beef farmers out of business to save the planet? I am deliberately trying to make this blog non political but the Health Secretary Andy Burnham's plan to cut climate change by reducing the number of beef cattle bred for the table by a third is one of sheer lunacy.

While there are many sensible ways to go green, wiping out the livestock industry is not one of them. As well as being ruinous for farmers and the landscape, it would be utterly impractical. The number of livestock is dictated by the market for the meat. Arbitrarily cutting the domestic supply by a third will not make people greener – just angrier.
The telegraph has a good piece on this story: see

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Iraq Inquiry

And so it a car crash that noone wants to look at, but all are irrresistably drawn to, we are all going to be transfixed by the unfolding disaster of the Iraq inquiry and its sad revelations. As a bookend to the decline of the New labour movement it will make a sorry tale. Expect the total decline of the reputation of Tony Blair, the slow rehabilitation of the likes of Andrew Gilligan and an increase in the opposition to the Afghan war. Nation Building will look a lot less attractive to the country by the spring.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Supper Club at the Pheasant

A great evening was had last night at The Pheasant Inn where 27 hardy souls braved the elements for a delicious dinner. Everyone was on very good form and we tackled the issue of what the next Conservative Government should be doing. Everyone was asked to fill in a 3 line question on this issue - which was then judged by the X Factor team of Richard Dodd and Chris Galley .
The voted winners were as follows:
- alter the welfare system for the unemployed so that there is a positive incentive to return to work [Monica won a very nice bottle of wine]
- create a points system for each taxpayer whereby their contribution to the National Good [eg volontary service / charitable work] is offset against their tax bill. The purpose being to make those who take from society to pay and those that give to society be rewarded. [David won the second prize of a bottle of home made damson jam]
We could not have been looked after better and I was allowed behind the bar for a brief second!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Tynedale FM Relaunch

Tynedale FM broadcast from the old swimming pool in Hexham and it was there that a group of us went to tonight to support them and have a discussion about how Tynedale FM should look in the future. Hilary and Malcolm are doing a great job and everyone's enthusiasm for this project is plain to see.
They are going on the road with training sessions so if you want to get involved as DJ - go to
- Prudhoe High School Tuesday
- Haydon Bridge School Wednesday

Big Government or Big Society? You decide

Are we going to decide our lives or is it government's job?
The answer is that government should take as small a role in our lives as is possible - but this means we need to do more - whether it is to battle climate change, rekindle communities and help narrow the gap between rich and poor.
Government should be a stimulus and a safety net, not a panacea; it is a sad indictment of this government that despite many of its best intentions child poverty, literacy, social mobility and a host of other yardsticks have got worse in the last 12 years.

Better education, more focus on early years, [and early intervention in particular], and aggressive welfare reform are vital

But most of all government must become a trusting enabler - allowing the police chief, teacher, doctor and community to take control of their lives and helping those who need a helping hand a way upwards not a way out

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Post Office Closures - the Consultation Scandal

So now we know - the consultations over the closure of post offices was largely a sham. The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons has written a scathing report which makes it clear that complaints about the 2,500 closures were "ignored". The Chairman of the Committee stated that the brief consultations were "nothing more than a piece of window dressing".
For my part I have had a great deal of experience of sham healthcare consultations where people object but are ignored. This scandal is repeated across government and has to change
The tragedy is that the closure, which affects thousands of members of the public, has not even saved the post office much money, according to this article.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Glasgow by election

An interesting result - politics in Scotland is never simple - and there are no three party politics here. All credit to Labour who won - stopping the governing SNP in Scotland in their tracks.

We finished third, keeping our deposit, beating the BNP into fourth, by 62 votes, with the Liberals in sixth. I am certain that our titanic efforts last Saturday made a real difference to this result
Regardless of your overall politics it was great to keep the BNP down. Turnout was 33%, which is disappointing but unsurprising.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Dinner with Michael Heseltine

Was fortunate to be asked to dinner with Michael Heseltine, who was in the North East for just two days. Also present at the dinner near Stannington was Deputy Mayor of North Tyneside, Judith Wallace, and her husband. Very interesting to hear of the first five months since we won the North Tynside Mayoralty.

But most interesting was Mr Heseltine. After dinner we sat and talked for an hour. What he does not know about government is frankly not worth knowing. On local government he is a big fan of directly elected mayors and unitary authorities.

On a national issue I asked him how long the honeymoon would last if we won the election. His reply - "one day!"

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

East Coast Mainline - Join the Public Debate

East Coast Main Line comes back under public control from this Friday. Fortunately staff will keep their jobs. It is expected the route will be run by the government until mid-2011, with any profit being returned to the public purse. The key question is where do we go from here?

Anyone who has used the line recently will know the service is cramped, late and very expensive. But is the Government best at running a train service? The problem is surely the price the government made the operator pay = £1.4 billion - which clearly gets passed on to the long-suffering passenger, as the train company tries to recoup its outlay.

The unions are campaigning hard for this to be the opportunity to take the route permanently into public ownership.
Bob Crow is quoted as saying - "This is the second privatisation failure on the East Coast route following on from the GNER collapse."

Lawrence Marshall, of the Capital Rail Action Group, said keeping the East Coast Main Line in public hands would help provide a useful comparison with the rest of the network.
He said: "My view is that the franchise should be left with the government and not put back out to tender. If there is money to be made on this franchise, and presumably there is given the amount of interest when National Express took over, then why not let the public purse have the money."
ASLEF is organising a meeting concerning the East Coast Mainline entitled "Public or Private Future?" ASLEF describe how they, the rail unions, want to build "a progressive Labour policy on the issue before the next election". For progressive I suspect it will read state-owned but let us see.
The local meeting is planned in Newcastle on Thursday 17th December.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

When should the General Election be counted?

Our area is split between the ones who want the count long into the night of Thursday March 25/26th or May 6/7th and those who think that this is a relic of the past and that we should all return and count on the Friday.
A cynic might say Labour would want to change the system of counting, as Sunderland - which always counts first and fastest - is likely to go Conservative with the excellent Lee Martin leading the way.

For my part I would prefer to count on Thursday, as it is part of the fabric of the election, but accept that with the second biggest constituency in the UK this is always going to be difficult
For more details on the debate see Will Green's piece in the Journal.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Heddon on the Wall canvassing

Heddon is famous for being built exactly on Hadrians Wall and is the start of the constituency boundary to the east. When the town planners were building a new estate in Heddon several decades ago, they decided on wonderful Roman names for the streets: on any interpetation it is odd to be asking a householder - "is this number 24 Campus Martius or is 24 Trajan Walk"?
Jon and I got a good reception over two hours on the doorstep - the biggest local issue was rural broadband - which is clearly terrible in Heddon.
We did not finish there, so going back shortly, although the nights are drawing in - it is nearly dark at 4.30 so people are reluctant to open their doors, although they are pleased to see us [even if they do not agree with us] when they do.
Found several switchers from Labour to Conservative and only one Liberal. Lots of dissatisfaction with the war and the PM generally.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

A very solemn day in Hexham where many hundreds gathered to pay their respects for the servicemen who have lost their lives in the ultimate sacrifice. Canon Graham Usher led the service in front of the war memorial. Then almost all of us packed the Abbey for a service that was very moving.
The ceremonies were amazingly organised by the Hexham Town Council - the town clerk and the Mayor, Terry Robson, did a great job so that it was well run and suitably respectful. Many servicemen and women were present, not least the unit at Albermarle Barracks, which is barely six miles from Aydon. The services need our support in these difficult times.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

glasgow by election - hexham and the North East on tour

Photo: Guy Opperman, David Mundell MP, Ruth Davidson, the By Election Candidate, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and the North East team the Glasgow North East Asda [a suitable rally point]!

What a day! On tour with the team delivering over 10,000 leaflets - the by election is next Thursday.
Met loads of SNP, although Labour should hang on to win - though they are clearly struggling in Scotland; it was both politically worthwhile but an education for one and all - particularly the students.

If you want to see how Labour
- have raised unemployment
- have increased poverty and
- failed to address social problems ... go and see the mess they have made of this constituency.
Some of the poverty and lack of opportunity needed to be seen to be believed - it is a scandal that in 2009 that they have allowed this to happen.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A South Shields By Election - MIlliband for Euro Foreign Secretary??

So it is not going to be Tony Blair for Presidency but it is going to be David Milliband for European Foreign Secretary - see breaking news on a variety of blogs and websites
- Leave aside whether he is any good for the job
- Leave aside his clear view that the sinking Labour ship needs deserting now
- Leave aside that Gordon Brown has now lost his chief replacment as Labour leader [Lord spare us Harriet Harman please] and is certain to fight the next election as PM.

We have a great candidate in Karen Allen.

We fancy our chances - we shall see if it happens

Meeting Baroness Scotland at Pro Bono Heroes Reception

Guy Opperman with Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General - photo courtesy of Bob Fallon

Went yesterday to the Pro Bono Heroes Reception - which was hosted by the Attorney General Baroness Scotland. Had been nominated as part of the team
- that fought the Savernake Hospital Closure
- and by reason of the pro bono Appeals we conduct on behalf of unrepresented Jamaican non capital case appellants in the Privy Council

A very special afternoon, and was humbled to meet a lot of people who have done amazing work on behalf of their communities or in favour of specific worthy projects for free.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Another Bank Bailout

We are all £50 billion poorer now - as Alastair Darling has given RBS / Lloyds an even bigger bailout.
This latest £50 billion bank bailout is roughly equivalent to the annual schools budget and far exceeds the annual defence budget of £35 billion.
The new moves bring the total of public money lavished on Britain's financial rescue to £1.2trillion - almost £20,000 for every man, woman and child living in the country.
Yet still the government has
- an unrealistic system for repayment of the government money
- failed to force the banks to meet pledges to boost lending to firms and families in return for the bailout

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

An Early General Election - March 25??

Foreigners are always amazed when I tell them that only one person in this great country has an idea when the general election has to be...that person is of course Lord Mandelson - the Prime Minister in all but name
Rumours are rife that he is advising the struggling Gordon to go early.
For months we in Hexham have been working around a 28 day campaign leading up to May 6th [or possibly Gordon being dragged out on the last possible day in early june] but May 6th makes all the sense, as it is summertime and coincides with local council elections in some parts of the country - although not here.

For my part it is still May 6th I have my money on, and March 25th is only 8-1 with the bookies!
For more on this see the Telegraph's story.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

A tale of two Saturdays

Its a beautiful morning in rural Northumberland - crisp and clear - and the autumn changing of the leaves makes it even better. Off to Great Whittington, where the Angus family have thrown open their home to the village / locals for coffee, and a chance to meet and grill me. These events have been very successful and we do roughly one a fortnight throughout the constituency: given that the patch is over 1,100 square miles there are plenty of villages to cover!

However, the mind cannot forget that next weekend 30+ of us are going to Glasgow North East to give Ruth Davidson a hand in the battle for Michael Martin's old seat. The area is one of the most deprived in the UK,with some of the worst poverty rates and health problems. For those who think everything is rosy in the state of the UK in 2009, they should see what we will see next weekend.
We are taking 10 or so keen as mustard students - I am not sure who should be more scared - NE Glasgow or the students...
For full details of the by election, and why a Labour loss would be the mother of all disasters see The Times.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Battlesteads Inn - Wark Supper Club

To Wark for an amazing evening organised by Olive Archer and the Womens Committee - 50 came on an evening that was sold out weeks ago; a great night ensued as we were fed and watered well. The pub is going from strength to strength [find them in Sawdays] and Olive had organised a singer and two amazing local musicians to serenaded us through the evening with everything from Daniel O'Donnell to local songs and war time numbers - all accompanied by the two gents who played an accordian and harmonica.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fentimans of Hexham take on the state of Maine ... in the battle of Lemonade

Fentimans make great soft drinks.
I say this as a customer, but also because they are based in Hexham, because I have been round the Hexham premises and because I know some of the team there.
But apparently the USA State of Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse disagree. The puritan state has objected to the 0.5 percent of alcohol in the lemonade - even though it complies with legal laws for soft drinks and has less alcohol than mouthwash!
For the full story see the Courant.

Thus far these is no boycotting of Maine produce locally, but sales of Fentimans have gone through the roof, I am pleased to say.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Horse racing brings all members of the House of Commons together

To the House of Commons for the all party racing group as the guest of Hexham Racecourse. The meeting was to support the racing industry, which is going through difficult times. What was great was both the all-party representation, and the number of racing people who had made the trip to London. Met and talked to Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley, and Jeff Ennis MP for Barnsley East - who chairs the all party racing group. Jeff is a mad keen racing man and told great tales of when he was his dad's chalk boy in the late 1950's when his dad ran an illegal bookies next to Grimethorpe pit. He is a good man and doing great things for the Injured Jockeys Fund - a cause very dear to all of us jockeys' hearts
Also had a good chat to Nic Coward who runs the BHA and Clare Balding of the BBC.

Monday, 26 October 2009

How bad is our debt situation? We are heading for the Austerity Alps now...

How to describe this in one phrase that all will understand....

Try this: The Government's plan for reducing the deficit over the next four years will merely bring the national overdraft down to the level it reached in 1976, when Denis Healey had to beg a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

In September 1976 there was the humiliation of Healey's dash from Heathrow and the application to the IMF for a £2.3 billion rescue – at that time, the biggest-ever call on its resources, so large that it had to borrow the money elsewhere to lend it to us....of course back then £2.3 billion was a lot of money

Put simply we aren't even in the foothills of the austerity Alps we have to climb: we need to go further, faster. This applies to all political parties; I am pleased that we are at least leading the way in addressing the problem, but we need to do more to identify what we are going to do, as this is a problem that will not go away.

Friday, 23 October 2009

November 7th Dilemma - Glasgow not Pro Bono!

Am delighted to have been nominated for the Barristers Pro Bono Award for 2009; this is my third nomination and I was lucky enough to win in 2007 - it recognises volontary work for free by lawyers in the community.

However, this year I am nominated as part of the team that helped open justice up to individuals by developing Proctective Costs Orders and specifically for the campaign to prevent closure of hospital units.

My problem is that if I win I will be on the tough streets of East Glasgow fighting the by election, not at the ceremony! But Scotland it is - and a brave band of candidates, Conservative Future students and local councillors are to give the Scottish Conservatives a hand in the battle for Michael Martin's old seat

There is still space on the bus [although over 20 have confirmed] if anyone wants to come - just get in contact with me or Barbara in the office.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Flood Defence Plan Update

Recently attended the multiple local agencies briefing on the revised flood plan for Northumberland
All details are available on the NCC website.

If you are worried about your area I urge you to get involved and see the hard work the team are doing on our behalf to minimise the effects of local flooding

The consultation period runs until early November and the team are doing a great job; however, they accept they are not perfect and have asked for local input to make the flood plan and defences better; as we all know this affects all of us - not just the obvious target areas for flooding. There is much to consider - particularly for locals in Ponteland, Hexham and get involved and make a contribution.

Success for Hexham Road Safety Campaigners

Great news for John and Alison the campaigners for Allendale Road!
After a massive effort they have got a speed camera and a 20 mph zone to help road safety in the area around the school...this has been a massive campaign with thousands of signatures. I am delighted to have helped them in a very small way. Also very interesting that we were able to work locally with the liberals - the original presentation was with the local councillor Derek Kennedy in the village hall in Stamfordham.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Surveying Northumberland

The Hexham campaign team as seen recently out delivering surveys in east Hexham
We have been carrying out a lot of surveys and have been delivering them over the last month - in hexham, ponteland, corbridge, prudhoe and many of the other smaller towns and villages - 5,000 have been distributed at no cost to the taxpayer [and it is available online]
The whole idea is actually to ask people what they want their money spent these very straightened times ...with a lot of debt on the way

All explained and covered in The Journal recently.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Stamfordham Get Together

We have been spending lots of time in Stamfordham - at the western area committee, leafletting and surveying the area and then last night at the Jacksons for a party, when they kindly threw their home open to friends and neighbours.
Was extensively grilled but the striking thing was this: people are so passionate about his election. They really want to get involved, help and generally take on this government

Whittonstall open cast mine

Once again there is the prospect of another huge open cast mine in the constituency; this time it is between Stocksfield and Whittonstall. I have met the one of the locals / lead protesters yesterday and got more of an understanding of the scale of the problem both from him and the visit I did on thursday. This is a decision ultimately for Northumberland Unitary Council, which is run by the liberals
The papers have reported it in full.

The village is beautiful with a school one side of the road and a pub on the other - I could not make the public meeting last week but the villagers clearly do not want a mine on their doorstep - with everything that it involves.

The Halton Lea Gate open cast mine [see earlier posts in the winter of 2008 and spring 2009] will be up for a decision this winter ... which should give us an understanding of what the liberal council's view is of this sort of issue - as they now have two such applications to deal with in short succession.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Michael Bates comes to Hexham

A great evening last night as our fourth supper club saw a large group come together for dinner at The Tyne Green Golf Club in Hexham: Lord Michael Bates was the speaker: Michael is the former MP for Langbaugh, is now on the local government team in the Lords and is famous for his recent walk from Lindisfarne to Durham this summer to raise £14,000 for Tomorrows People North East.

He told great tales of the 1991 by election when aged 29 he fought Langbaugh [with a young William Hague as his minder] in the last days of the Thatcher / major government, and then spoke really well as to the changes a new Conservative Administration is going to bring in both nationally and locally; he attempted to describe the madness of the present system - and gave a description of the Labour government plans to scrap the Learning Skills Council ...but replace it with 15 different quangoes in its place.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Radical Days in Manchester

So how radical is David Cameron and the modern Conservative Party?
On the basis of what I have seen in the last 4 days ...VERY.

The interesting bits in Manchester were the issues that are now taking centre stage:
- welfare reform based on the centre for social justice report by Ian Duncan Smith
- schools reform can transform parent choice - Michael Gove will clearly be given free rein to change secondary education
- prison reform - I was at the CSJ Prison reform fringe meeting and the number of interested groups desperate for change to the shoddy prison systen that does so little to rehabilitate was amazing
- and economic change - we have gone some way in Osbornes speech but need to go further because the debt is off the scale

You can tell that the mood is shifting. As Labour collapses there is a window for us to jump through - but we need to be radical.
The public debate is turning. People are really begining to realise just how bad a situation of debt and difficulty we are in.

We are in for a very interesting next 12 months.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Corbridge Supper Club

Guy Opperman - photo by Cyrus Katrak

A great evening at the Tynedale Rugby Club where many locals came together for our third supper club of the year
I spoke on Afghanistan and we asked the audience to fill in a three question survey on defence and what we should be doing in Afghanistan - particularly should we stay or leave
We raised a lot of money for Help the Heroes / British Legion

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Alternative Business Awards

A great night at the Tyne Theatre. Won an award [amazingly!] as the most promising newcomer to the region...with much gentle micky taking by Brendan Healey. The charity we supported was the Percy Headley Foundation which is doing the most incredible job. They are lovely people doing everything they can for such an incredible cause. Have been asked to visit and cannot wait to go as you only watch their descriptive film for 5 minutes and you are totally moved.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

William Hague / Wendy Morton Dinner

To the Grand Hotel Tynemouth for a sit down dinner with William Hague on top form as the speaker
Wendy Morton and Linda Arkley are transforming North Tyneside / Tynemouth
Had long chat with Alan Wright the new PPC for Hartlepool - this will be one of the surprises of the General Election as Alan will come from third to first to a tory in Hartlepool!!

Lowlander ("Sushi") ON THE MEND...

Guy Opperman riding Lowlander - Crossing the finishing line at Hexham 6/6/09

Lowlander - known to everyone by his stable name of Sushi - has lots of people asking how he is... It is common knowledge that he was injured in a race at Hexham...well hes better now!!! It is so rare to have a leg fracture and get better, but we have done it

I rode him at Hexham on 6th June - and from going beautifully, it all went wrong at the downhill fence when he landed awkwardly and suffered a hairline fracture of his pastern. We didn't know this until later; despite this he still finished the race fifth out of 15 but would have won without the injury. Tim Reed, the trainer, and I were gutted with the result, but within minutes we discovered why he hadn't picked up and gone on and won his race... He was limping and we soon found out that he had a fractured off fore leg.

Since then he has been in a cast hobbling around and trying to get better. He has also had colic, which he only survived thanks to the efforts of the amazing Tim, and all manner of problems. But the final X ray looked really good

Just wanted to say that the Hexham vets, led by Roger Scott and Colin Mitchell have done an amazing job.

Sushi keeps me fit and sane and is my pride and joy. It will be a sad day when he retires, although my bank manager will be delighted!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Northumberland Shows

Have had great fun going round all the shows this summer meeting as many people as possible
In the last two weeks I have done many, including the revamped shows at Riding Mill and Stocksfield; however, none has come close to the amazing Kirkwhelpington show, which was run with military precision, and which had the best food and an amazing steam engine on display

Monday, 7 September 2009

Whalton Get Together

An amazing evening in Whalton where Richard and Caroline Renwick threw open their beautiful house to the village - supporters and opponents were both welcome - and it gave them the chance to meet me and grill me for 2/3 hours
Over 70 came from 18 to 80 and a great evening was had by all

Then dinner in the Chinese in Ponteland on Broadway... had a hilarous encounter when got mistaken for the new air traffic controller at the airport

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Otterburn TV Shoot

Peter Atkinson and I get a grilling from ITV's man in the north east, Gerry Foley

To Otterburn with Peter Atkinson MP to be interviewed by ITV's man in the North East Gerry Foley - who is one of the last "good guys" in TV
Despite the fact that it was chucking it down with rain we did some outside shots and then had a good meeting in the Percy Hotel - who very kindly let us spend the morning there

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Summer Tour - in typical Northumbrian weather

Peter Atkinson MP and I outside the Camien Cafe, Rochester with Tod Law behind us [photo by Chris Galley]:
Off to West Woodburn, Redesdale, Kirkwelpington, Otterburn and Rochester - where the weather was interesting but the welcome in the Camien Cafe was warm. We were very grateful to the cafe for huge steaming cups of coffee and warmed up as the weather closed in on us.
Met chris and others on the campaign trail and spent an extended morning in Otterburn. Peter coped very well with my driving!

Friday, 28 August 2009

September summer Tours

We are off again next week on the last of the summer tour with Peter Atkinson MP
Loved the last one - cannot wait to do this one with Peter - it is great to watch him. I am learning a lot

Know that we are definitely meeting up with Gerry Foley of Tyne Tees TV at some stage to do a piece to camera

Hope we bump into Eddie Izzard on the way! When Gerry met Eddie and the politicians -that would be a fascinating show...

Wednesday 2nd September

9:45 am PONTELAND, Broadway Shopping Centre

10:15 am PONTELAND, Merton Shopping Centre

11:15 am STANNINGTON, outside Ridley Arms

11:30 am WHALTON, outside village hall

11:50 am BELSAY, at village shop

12:20 pm MILBOURNE, outside the church

12:35 pm DALTON, at the post box

1:25 pm STAMFORDHAM, car park by the Bay Horse

1:55 pm MATFEN, outside village shop

2:55 pm GREAT WHITTINGTON, outside Queen’s Head

3:20 pm BARRASFORD, at the bus stop

Thursday 3rd September

10:00 am ROCHESTER, outside tea room

10:30 am OTTERBURN, outside Percy Arms

11:10 am KIRKWHELPINGTON, outside village hall

11:40 am WEST WOODBURN, outside post office

12:00 pm RIDSDALE, by the Gun Inn

Eddie Izzard runs through Ponteland next week

Ponteland will not know what has hit it when next week Eddie Izzard, the legendary comic, continues his marathon trek through the town on his way south to London!

The man is both a comic legend [I confess to having been to 4 of his gigs] and doing a great job for charity by running around Great Britain doing gigs as he goes, and raising money for Sport Relief.

I attach below the link to the Journal report of his trip next week:

Please look out for him and contribute money to his Sport Relief page as he runs from Ponteland to Durham - will try and meet him myself but diary not looking good.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Allendale Show and Ponteland Dinner

At the Allendale Show

Busy day in Haltwhistle, Allendale and Ponteland:
- early start coffee morning and get together in Haltwhistle, courtesy of Isobel James who threw open her house to her friends and neighbours.
- then on to the Allendale Show, which suffered from regular downpours but was a great success; got waylaid in the farmers beer tent, which was little hardship.
- then to Ponteland for an amazing sit down dinner for 60 in Darras Hall, organised by Roma and her team. Delicious food, and lots of chat. As darkness fell we were reduced to candlelight. Gave a short speech on how we need to do more to inspire people to vote for us - and that Labour losing the election is not enough; people need to be enthused by us rather than just put off the government. Everyone on great form as Newcastle United had won 3-0!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Haltwhistle Action Day

With Ian Hutchinson outside Greenholme with our leaflet

Outside Haltwhistle Hospital - roll on the rebuild!

A great day in Haltwhistle where 8 of us delivered over 1700 leaflets in the morning in support of Ian Hutchinson and his campaign on behalf of Greenholme, the day care centre that the council want to close. Haltwhistle has lots of hills as all the team can testify!
But it will be worth it as the consultation closes on Thursday 20th August and we wanted to make sure everyone in the town had a chance to object / make representations.
Haltwhistle has been a Labour town since Ramsay MacDonald was a boy but things are changing: there are a number of factors - obviously the unpopular government helps, but the town is changing with more outsiders, new businesses and younger families moving in. People who would never have voted anything but Labour in the past are coming up to us and switching. People like the way that we have moved to the centre ground. Our canvassing also shows the Liberals are struggling as a result of being in control of the council as well.

In the late afternoon played golf with Councillor Nick Holder at Tyne Green Golf Club in Hexham - played well till an errant slice nearly took out the 4.30pm train to Carlisle - the railway adjoins the tee...oops!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Hexham Summer Tour - Meeting the NFU

Peter and I with Johnny Ball, Annabel the cardboard cow, and the man from the National Park ...

Arrived at Once Brewed to see the NFU roadshow in town with Annabel [A cardboard cow], and some real sheep. Had a good chat to the amazing NFU man Johnny Ball - who agreed that his life on tour promoting farming round Britain [he does a different town or location every day] was like an actor / ageing rock star on tour. Spent a good hour chatting. The disastrous impact of the sheep ID scheme cannot be underestimated.

In the evening we had an amazing Patrons Club Drinks Party in the garden at Haughton Castle - great fun until the midges descended at 9pm. Gave a short speech on what we spend the Patrons money upon and why we need to win, not just here, but in Carlisle, Tynemouth, Stockton South, Jedburgh / Borders and Hartlepool to name a few.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Prudhoe Allotment Open day

Prudhoe has an amazing allotment high up on the hill that spreads out over an area that is deceptively large given that it is in the heart of the town - Peter Atkinson MP and I were lucky enough to be asked to visit on their open day; I was shown round by Joan, who lives locally and does such a lot for the town. Came away very humbled + the proud owner of some rhubard, onions and lots of runner beans!

A great cause - which is really well run.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hexham Road Safety Campaign

Photo: With John Rourke and Peter Atkinson MP showing John's 2000+ person petition for better road safety in Hexham.

This is a cross party camapaign to try and bring a safer environment around Allendale Road in Hexham - several kids have been hurt lately and John Rourke and Alison Hands are leading a great campaign to try and bring the speed down and get a safety camera. Peter Atkinson and I were happy to lend our support. Afterwards I sat down with John and Alison and worked out how to take the campaign forward in partnership with colleagues from other parties

My first day on the Summer Tour saw 10 villages, multiple meetings and much to learn - it is a great institution, and politics in the raw.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

August Summer Tour with Peter Atkinson

Very excited to be off on part of the tour with peter next week - this is a tradition that has been going on in this constituency for over 50 years - every summer the MP literally goes round every highway, byway, hamlet and village and takes the time to talk to everyone - as well as conducting multiple surgeries on the move
For my part I am in Ponteland on Monday then off on the road with Peter for 3 days - there are another 2 separate tours from the one set out below, that take place at other times over the summer. The point is fairly made that the media say Mps do not work the summer "holiday" but this is exactly what they should be doing - spending time with the people who they look after and represent

Tuesday 11th August
10:00 am CORBRIDGE, outside the library

10:40 am NEWTON, Main Street

11:00 pm OVINGTON, village green

11:25 pm OVINGHAM, car park

11:45 pm WYLAM, outside village store

12:20 pm HEDDON, shopping centre

2:00 pm PRUDHOE, all afternoon

Wednesday 12th August
10:00 am Meeting at Hadrian’s Wall Heritage

11:45am SLALEY, outside village shop

12:20 pm BLANCHLAND, outside village shop

1:00 pm SNODS EDGE, outside the village hall

1:30 pm WHITTONSTALL, The Anchor car park

1:50 pm NEW RIDLEY, Dr Syntax car park

2:10 pm HEDLEY ON THE HILL, by The Feathers

2:30 pm MICKLEY SQUARE, outside ‘Jiggery Pokery’

2:50 pm STOCKSFIELD, station car park

3:20 pm RIDING MILL, outside village shop

Thursday 13th August
9:30am FOURSTONES @ the garage.

9:50am NEWBROUGH, town hall

10:20am HAYDON BRIDGE, outside CO OP

11:00am BARDON MILL, outside village shop

11:25 am HENSHAW, village green

11:45 am ONCE BREWED, Information Centre

12:30pm GREENHEAD, outside village hall

1:00pm GILSLAND, outside village shop

1:35 pm HALTWHISTLE, in the Market Place

Friday we are canvassing in Haltwhistle in the morning and then I am playing golf at Tyne Green golf club in the evening with Nick Holder, local councillor in Hexham

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Cricket Tour In Cambridge

Was lucky enough to play cricket in Cambridge over the weekend of the 26th july and was part of the winning team against the West Indies; a day made more special when we got to meet Michael Holding - a true gent, who has a voice like liquid mahogany

Monday, 20 July 2009

Action day with the 18-21 year olds

A great day with the youngsters who have started to come and help us out more and more - Dan and Ben are old hands by now but Vicki and Immie both agreed to come and help - Immie doing this for the first time [she was great!]. As always the people you are canvassing with change the dynamic of what you do, how you approach the day, and often how you go down with the electorate. So it was today as it is tough to get cynical on the doorstep when you have 4 really bright, polite, questioning students on your doorstep
We started on Hordley Acres, which is the large estate in Haydon Bridge, which has long been neglected both by the Council and by political parties. I am amazed how well we are doing on the estates - they are really responding to our survey strategy and our desire to solve the local problems that affect their day to day lives. I am really proud that we were the ones who sorted out all the potholes in the estate - even though they had had a liberal councillor for months

We were canvassing the whole town and also surveying the area with a special Haydon Bridge leaflet
Even at 10.30 am on a monday morning a lot were in - most were just amazed we were actually asking them what was wrong with the town, how we could help locally and nationally and that we were there out of an election time...

In the town itself there was some Conservative support, only 3 labour, not one liberal and mostly possible conservatives. Lots of former labour switchers thinking of moving to us - the dynamic is very similar to the feel on the doorstep that you get in Haltwhistle

Then on to Ovington where we again canvassed the whole area. Gutted I missed their recent fair but you cannot go to everything

Big election meeting in the evening - we are now pretty much ready for an election whenever it is called - the plan is written, budget sorted and lots of people getting organised. I am lucky that the team of officers are as good as they are

Saturday, 18 July 2009


This had everything - Kamikaze sheep, torrential rain, the wild rough beauty of Kielder, more rain, floods, Wall fete, 3 prize northumberland alpacas, the wonders of the Bellingham bakery [again - I know! But it is so amazing], more rain, Kielder organic meat, hospitality in Humshaugh, a bike of dubious quality... and more rain

The apology is that we only managed Kielder to Hexham via the off road track and the back road via Falstone and Lanehead. There I lost my chain twoce and nearly lost my head as kamikaze sheep ran down the road towards us before executing a Brian O'Driscoll sidestep into the ditch. Being sheep they did not all go the same way with predictable results and a near death experience.

My bike is old and knackered and patently not an off road bike - we did well to survive the Kielder section. Between Falstone and Lasnehead the people and scenery are truly will struggle to find a nicer part of the county.

A Bellingham bakery pitstop [who else serves a Macaroni pie?..that tastes this great!] fuelled us all the way to Humshaugh and then Wall for the annual fete - full of everything from 3 very shy Alpacas [think a long necked sheep /llama], and great community spirit despite the rain

The flooding has been off the scale - not quite as bad as last year but getting there - the Tyne is in spate

Make it to Hexham very wet - everyone at Tynedale FM laid low with man, real or swine flu ... agree that we will pass on tomorrows Wylam section ...still a great day and we will do this annually

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Big Pedal

Less than a week before I embark on some long hours in the saddle, as I cycle from Kielder, over Northumberland's rolling hills, winding my way down to Wylam, to support Tynedale FM and raise money for them.

It's a worthy cause, and I hope my saddle fitness from racing will come into play on the bike, although I suspect few people will be drawing comparisons with Lance Armstrong as I whizz along.

But you never know. More on the ride soon...

Put simply we depart Kielder at 10 on saturday and then go to
- Bellingham at 12 [may have to stop in the amazing bakery - loved the "sly slice" [I kid you not] there on saturday]
- wark at 1
- Humshaugh for lunch
- wall show / fete at 3
- hexham for the afternoon show at 4

- Hexham to corbridge then along the river to the Boatman in Wylam for beer and medals

Have been totally inspired by Armstrong, who is one of my heroes - his books are amazing if you have never read them- at 37 he is still in the mix in the tour de france. His clash in the Alps next weekend with Contador is going to be epic

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Tynedale FM Question Time

To the Community Centre in Gilesgate for a 2 hour Question Time with various locals - although surprisingly none of the key opposition candidates showed up - Antoine having a baby [Mike Parker stood in - he clearly cares a lot about the town], Andrew D AWOL presumably [Derek K stood in for him as robustly as ever]. Interviewed by Stuart and Anna on issues such as the Egger expansion, the closure of day care centres,how to interest younger voters in politics, the proposed new hospital in Cramlington, and the brown bin debacle. We go live on Tuesday 14th as I understand it.
Tynedale Fm are doing amazingly well and everyone enjoyed the experience. Spent the rest of the day in Bellingham and Humshaugh and planned next weeks bike ride

Friday, 10 July 2009

Bardon Mill Drinks

An amazing day organised with military precision by John Galbriath - over 110 turned up to drink and eat delicious food. Bev gave a great introduction and I made a short speech. We were blessed with great weather. Met lots of poeple who are willing to help and get involved - our team of canvassers and deliverers grows literally daily. There is such a sense of optimism and desire in the party at the moment - a belief that things can change and a fundanmental desire to turn this country around. Everyone - party members and non members alike are passionately against Brown and much criticism from everyone of governments handling of Afghan campaign, country's finances and Brown generally. Brown is our greatest recruiting device - a lot genuinely hate him to the point of near apoplexy.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


The campaign support team - Nick Holder and the Brown boys take the fight to the Liberals in West Hexham - who says it is never sunny in Northumberland!

Well we live interesting times:
LABOUR = 147,338
LIBERALS = 103,644
UKIP = 90,700
BNP = 52,700
GREEN = 34,081

1 MEP elected from each of the main three parties but the liberals got a hell of a fright from UKIP

As a former candidate in a westminster election in Wales can I just say what an incredible result it was for us to top the polls in Wales!!

Friday, 5 June 2009

North tyneside result

Linda Arkley wins!
An amazing result for Linda, Allan and all the team - who would have thought it a Conservative Mayor on North Tyneside

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Tynemouth Action Day 2

Once again on the campaign trail first in Hexham and then helping the Mayoralty candidate Linda Arkley in North Tyneside. William Hague was in the constituency working hard. Would be amazing if we were in charge of local government in the north east. Spent the evening campaigning and having dinner with the girls from Conservative Future and fellow candidates Wendy Morton and Anne Marie Trevelyan.
All this and Newcastle United won 3-1!

Sunday, 10 May 2009


We are taking the Euro Election very seriously:

Over the next month we have David Cameron on may 5th, in North Tyneside, then a series of Tynemouth action days and a lot of canvassing

- Mark Francois, shadow minister for Europe, in Hexham on May 15th

- Dominic Grieve, shadow minister for Justice, in Prudhoe on May 27th

Most of our time is to be spent canvassing, campaigning and leafletting both here in Hexham and in the North Tyneside Mayoralty campaign.

The last 11 days will be the key canvassing days - please feel free to come and join in - simply contact Guy or Barbara in the Hexham Office:

May 25: Corbridge show and campaigning in Corbridge

May 26: Daytime - North Tyne tour: 11am Bellingham with Councillor John Riddle [meet by the bakery] 12.45pm Wark with Councillor Edward Heslop; Allendale at 6pm + Councillor Colin Horncastle

May 27: 11-1.45 Ponteland + councillors, 2-4pm Heddon on the Wall + Councillor Peter Jackson, and 5-7pm Prudhoe + Dominic Grieve MP + Councillor Anne Dale

May 28: 11-1pm Ponteland + councillors; 1.30-3 Corbridge + Councillor Jean Fearon. 4pm Prudhoe + Councillor Anne Dale

May 29: 11-3.30 Ponteland, then Hexham West - meet 5.30 Tescos cafe + Hexham / Ponteland Conservative Future team + Councillor Nick Holder

May 30: Haydon Bridge - meet 9.30am Ratcliff Road + Hexham / Ponteland Conservative Future team, [+Litter Pick at same time]. Lunch in Ponteland

June 1: -12.30 Hexham / Acomb + Councillor Terry Robson [meet at the office]; 12.45-2.15 High Warden and Newbrough with Tynedale Councillor Harold Forster then private meeting in Ponteland at 3pm. Thereafter Ponteland + Councillors 4.30 -7.30

June 2: Daytime - Mutual Aid- details to be confirmed; 5pm South Tyne villages then Riding Mill 6pm + Charles Heslop

June 3rd: 11-1 Ovington + Tynedale Councillor Fiona Hunter; 3.30: Bardon Mill - meet at Bowes Hotel + Bardon Mill branch; 5.45-7.30 - Hexham East + Councillor Ingrid Whale - meet at Ingrids house

June 4th: Election Day

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Tynemouth Action Day

Stephen Byers, the Labour MP, looked very glum as we campaigned all round him in Tynemouth this morning. Labour were attempting to canvass but they were swamped as we were all over the constituency in droves. Labour have been noticebly absent for some time and are trying to fight back but the Tory team in Albion Road is a top act - they are well organised, well led and highly motivated...touch wood and whisper it softly but I think we will win the North Tyneside Mayoralty
After 2 very long days my feet hurt!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Prudhoe and Haltwhistle campaigning

A long day delivering in Prudhoe - now known as "The Land of Many Steps" ... when it was built it was built on the side of steep hill overlooking the Tyne. The problem is that every house has 5-10 steps to its front door - this means you climb severla thousand a day as you deliver. I always lose 10 pounds in elections - may lose a lot more this time. We delivered all over West Prudhoe. Good response from the people we spoke to on the doorstep - bin tax of the libs is very unpopular. Lunch as always in the amazing cafe opposite the bookies. Then off to Haltwhistle where things are taking shape and then to humshaugh for a strategy working dinner.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hexham Conservatives Campaigning

A hexham evening planning the Euro campaign and then off to the Albert Edward afterwards with the councillors. Much talk of the Hexham Courant's story about the Liberal plan to put a £20 charge for the brown bin collection will be a flytippers charter and will do nothing for the environment.

Manchester, ID cards and the Congestion Charge

Pity poor Manchester. I was working there this week, and was amazed how upset some Mancunians were with the government. The decision has been taken that Manchester is to be the nation's guinea pig for the ID Cards scheme. The papers rightly point out that it was Manchester who recently rejected [by 80%] a massive area wide congestion charge planned by the government. As some sort of punishment Jacqui Smith has now decided to introduce ID Cards there: once again the project is very costly, is ill thought through, offends civil liberties and is easily avoidable by the unscrupulous. Manchester must wonder whether it is now the Government's test pilot for all things unsavoury. The problem is we are all going to be asked to take on what Manchester so obviously does not want. Put simply this money could be better spent elsewhere.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Cameron on North Tyneside / Shadow Ministers in Hexham

David Cameron came to North Tyneside to launch the national Local Government Election Campaign for 2009. He was acccompanied by Linda Arkley, the mayoral candidate and Wendy Morton the Tynemouth PPC

The event will be held Tuesday 5th May 2009 in Chirnside House, off Mariners Lane, North Tyneside and will commence at 10.45

After Cameron a large number of shadow ministers from Chris Grayling to Dominic Grieve [end of May] and Mark Francois [may 15th] will be in Hexham, throughout rural Northumberland and on North Tyneside

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Northumberland's Finest Pubs and Farm Shops...

Todays Telegraph Weekend Section has let some of the best Northumberland secrets out of the bag - and I am delighted for the owners:

One of the top pubs, The Barrasford Arms, features on the back page of the Weekend section

Was taken there recently and if anything it is better than they describe.

Then 3 local farm shops make it into the list of the top farm shops in the North

i). Brocksbushes Farm Nr. Corbridge, Northumberland (01434 633 100,
A good shop that offers pick-your-own asparagus and soft fruits. Strawberries in June, then raspberries, gooseberries, tayberries, black and red currants, plums and blackberries.
- virtually my ocal shop and very good.

ii). North Acomb Farm Stocksfield, Northumberland(01661 843181;
Opened in 1978 by Robin and Caroline Baty, this is a shop in a handsome yard, with a barn that houses their Welsh pigs. Home-made blood pudding, cakes and pies. Also, home-churned butter, outstanding bacon and sausages and certified Aberdeen Angus beef.

iii). Moorhouse Farm Shop 21 Station Road, Stannington, Morpeth, Northumberland (01670 789016;
Affordable, accessible farm shop with an abundant display of the farm's home-reared meat. Sacks of potatoes, locally grown vegetables and excellent Gilchesters Flour milled on a nearby farm by Andrew Wilkinson from pre-war wheat breeds (a must-try for keen bakers).
[+ a special mention for Tebay - without a doubt the best motorway service station, masquerading as a farm shop,in the world! - and a lifesaver to all of us who use the M6 too much]:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Rural Conference - Climate Change

To Close House just outside Heddon for the Rural Conference. Had a good chat with Ian Brown of One North East, who was chairing the day. The Climate Change presentation impressed a lot - much discussion of the water shortages that face us in the future. The Climate Change lecturer reminded us of the great trusim that - "In the past we have fought wars over oil the next 100 years we will fight wars over water"

Dismayed to read a poll that says that people are less concerned than in yesteryear about the environment / climate change.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Slaley Auction

The great thing about this job is the people you meet. I have been lucky enough to get to know Albert who runs an amazing charity auction that is known locally as "Albert's Auction". It raises money for the Parkinsons Disease Society. Albert is retired having worked many years for the National Park. But his passion is antiques of every variety. Down the years Albert has raised thousands of pounds by collecting and then auctioning off donations from antique chests to linen to a wheelbarow of garden gnomes.
This year was the last ever auction and the village hall in Slaley was packed. I arrived late after an event in Haydon Bridge to find the auction in full swing and the professional auctioneer in fine voice. My favourite of his sayings was when he waxed lyrical about a picture, before adding that "this would cover a big hole in the wall!"
More importantly there was an amazing sense of community, that needed to be seen and felt to be understood. Slaley is a village on the edge of Hexham Shire but the village Community and the Hall itself is more active than a town 10 times its size. A great afternoon.

Friday, 24 April 2009

A day in Newton + Ovington

Spent the day in Newton with former Councillor Fiona Hunter, who really knows her patch, and is another of the Tynedale Councillors who will be sorely missed. We were out and about in the village of Newton and the surrounding area all morning and popped in briefly to Mowden Hall ... To all of our surprise we were asked to stay for lunch with the kids. The children were amazingly well behaved, and clearly very happy. Asked the kids on my table who were the best teachers and one replied with a mischievous grin - "the gap year students, as they let us get away with more!" It is a wonderful school.
In the afternoon we were on the campaign trail in Ovington - am coming back to campaign here on June 3rd during the Euro election and wanted to spend time there beforehand.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Budget Blues

It does not matter whether you are rich or poor, black or white, Christian or Muslim, Tory or Labour ...sadly it is patently clear we are heading for the deepest recession since the 1930's. The level of government borrowing needs to be seen to be believed. I know I am not the only one who believes we cannot spend our way out of recession but the government seems fixated on spending at all costs. At some stage we will have to pay for this - and the problem will be our children's and our grandchildrens.
How we got here matters less, right now, than how we proceed. The growth forecasts are fanciful [compare the government to the CBI] and future borrowing is extreme.
Long difficult days lie ahead

Friday, 17 April 2009

Acomb canvassing

Out on the campaign trail with Councillor Terry Robson in Acomb; Terry is the new mayor of Hexham, a very busy councillor, and well known in Acomb. We leafletted for 3 hours, chatting to people as we went, admiring the spring's effect on the gardens, which are late this year. Good response on the doorstep.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter in Northumberland

A day hiking the Pennine Way around Bellingham - suitably fortified by the amazing home made food from the Bellingham Bakery.

Old sages say that you know that spring is here when you hear the sound of curlews in the air; out on Wark common the curlews filled the air with their telltale high pitched call...Westminster sometimes seems a million miles away but the bizarre thing was that in the pub last night they were still talking about Jacqui Smith and Damian MacBride

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Hexham Canvassing

Out again tonight knocking on doors in West Hexham with the lads from Ponteland and Councillor Paul Dixon. A good response as we worked our way through the Liberal heartland. Stopped off for a pint in the pub in Stamfordham on the way home.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Grand National Days

As a child I was always fixated by the Grand National - having been brought up on tales of my dad riding in it in the mid 1960's.
I am fond of a punt and I have been tipping the horse "State of Play" all week each way.
However, the pressure was on this morning when I was asked to
a). give the speech at the European Womens Coffee Morning in Corbridge, and
b). give my tip for todays race
One of our most famous members Olive immediately announced she was putting the money down that morning.
Hoping State of Play was feeling well I drove south down into the beautiful Allen Valley - it is a raw, sharp beauty down there - full of the biggest skies and the strongest winds - but everyone who lives there loves it. There is a wonderful sense of community. We had an amazing constituency lunch in Allendale, with enough food to feed the 8th Army and a great collectionof people to talk to. Unlike previous Allendale events I was glad not to be asked to make a speech - not least as I did not want the pressure of another tip.

At 4.15 I knew my fate: State of Play led at the second last but faded into fourth - but close enough for the each way punters to recover their stake and make a small profit. Still wished I was riding in it. Maybe one day ...

Friday, 3 April 2009

Hexham Annual General Meeting

Annual General Meetings are a good barometer of the state an association is in: tonight's meeting in the Beaumont Hotel was well attended by a broad cross section of the community, from Bellingham to Ponteland, featuring young and not so young - from all walks of life. The great thing about this association is the way it is so united.

After the formal business of the election of the officers and the Chairmans report the head of the Unitary Council Conservative Group, Peter Jackson, gave an update on what the Councillors are doing in the brave new world of Unitary. Putting it simply they are making the best of a bad job. Then Peter Atkinson MP gave a speech outlining the view from Westminster and the efforts David Cameron and the team are making to combat Brown and the slow slide into a ever bigger morass of debt. He also explained with relish how he was looking forward to taking me on the Summer Tour - with all the trips up byways and dead ends that it so wonderfully features!
After that it was my turn to explain what we are doing locally, the campaigns we are running in West Prudhoe, Hexham, Ponteland and Corbridge, the extensive details of our 3 1/2 week plan for the Euro Election campaign and the increased activity in the association - with supper clubs, a new conservative future, and a sense of optimism and going forward.

James McCardle had found a wonderful quote from the minutes of the 1950 address by the then new prospective parliamentary candidate Rupert Spier, which described how upon standing he was received with "rapturous applause and acclamation". I told this story and indicated that I accepted that times had changed and that I did not expect such a reception...

After the formal business we all went to the bar and put the world to rights ... a good evening all round

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April fool? Sadly no - its a Unitary Council..

It is surely fitting that the new Unitary Council is launched on April fools day.
Barely a few years ago after a vigorous campaign the present plan was roundly opposed - ignoring the people's vote the Government pressed ahead.

The biggest tragedy is the loss of Tynedale and Castle Morpeth District Council. This was well run, in credit and had excellent councillors of all political hues; they will be sorely missed. There was evidently great sadness at the demise of Tynedale, and a huge loss of jobs. Its loss is clearly a tragedy.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Humshaugh and Wall Annual Lunch - Understanding a Quadrillion

To Humshaugh for the famous lunch that people literally drive 50 + miles to come to; it is an instituion based on wonderful people, a slick organisation and the best puddings in the County. No wonder fans from Newcastle, Tynemouth, Durham and beyond make the trek north of Hexham! Peter Atkinson MP spoke really well about the Government's troubles and what David Cameron is doing - both to high light the weakness of the government's position and the real alternative that we propose. His best line was the comment that in the old days a million was lot of money, then a billion; now a trillion is not so much apparently and the government are talking in quadrillions, whatever that may be! One cannot help wondering if the government are turning the pound into lire as the currency continues to cumble? On any interpretation government borrowing is not what it used to be.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Prudhoe Canvassing

Prudhoe is not natural Conservative territory but I was astonished at the response we got on the doorstep tonight. Clearly we are doing well in the polls and the government is unpopular but this was a marked endorsement of what we are doing - roughly 4 out of 5 houses were supportive. We knocked on doors for 2 hours and found very few willing to express an endorsement for the government and only a few minority party supporters. The town is clearly changing - as everyone makes clear - and there are big efforts being made to improve the town, on a number of levels, by a large number of people from all walks of life.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Canvassing in West Prudhoe and Mickley

You know the government is struggling when a pensioner and Labour member of the local Labour party answers the door and announces that "I have been a member of the Prudhoe Labour party all my adult life but I will be voting Conservative next time - I am not voting for that man Brown on election day!" She announced indignantly. Lots of pensioners are really upset at the tax on pensions and savings, the impact of low interest rates on savings and the increase of stealth taxes on their money. This lady was not an isolated case on an interesting evening in West Prudhoe and Mickley

Monday, 9 March 2009

Prudhoe Days

Spent the day in Prudhoe - while Peter Atkinsn the MP is doing all matters Westminster I am getting stuck in to the areas where we have not been as strong in the past. In the pipeline there is lots of planned regeneration but the delivery will be the key. Spent time getting a real understanding of the two key new developments - both the new housing and supermarket projects have their fans and opponents .. spent a lot of time listening and learning as much as I could from locals

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Ponteland and the brave new world

To Darras Hall for a great evening as all ages and walks of life gathered together for a constutency get together: it was particularly good to see so many of the Ponteland High School and RGS students there and to chat to them. I am very hopeful we can introduce them to the cutting edge of politics by taking them canvassing - the plan is to go to Prudhoe and Hexham during their Easter holiday... there is no doubt that Obama and Cameron have grabbed their enthusiasm...long mayit last

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Tynedale Point to Point

Guy Opperman riding Lowlander
What a day! For a long time I had agreed to ride in the local point to point, which is run at Downhills; this is walking distance from where I live in Aydon. A big crowd turned out. Fortunately we were in the first. Lowlander is a big rangy bay with a sweet nature and a love of life; however, he has been below form for 2 years, with ulcers and all manner of horsey ailments. Tim Read has done a great job getting him fit and well and he won best turned out in the paddock. For myself I made the weight and felt nervous as kitten beforehand: I have ridden many times but not before such a crowd as this.
We jumped off handy and missed the first, but after that we got into a great rhythm. We took the lead on the second circuit and were never headed.

Guy Opperman and Lowlander in the winners enclosure
After the race Richard Dodd had great fun as the announcer for the prize giving and there were smiles all round. Sushi [Lowlanders stable name] was fine although he had lost 2 shoes!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Food Labelling Campaign

FOOD LABELLING: this is a real scandal - research into everyday products on supermarket shelves has indentified Tesco chicken dinners “produced in the UK” actually use chicken from Thailand; similarly Marks and Spencer’s corned beef sandwiches emblazoned with the British Union Jack flag use meat from Brazil; and goods from the Birdseye “Great British Menu” range are made with imported meat.

This is patently misleading consumers who may want to buy British

It is also undermining British farmers
We are launching a campaign to stop this. The campaign has been backed by famous chefs, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Prue Leith and Anthony Worrall Thompson.

As quoted in the press Nick Herbert MP and I are campaigning to "introduce a new law to prevent unclear and misleading labelling so only meat from animals reared in Britain can carry a British label.

I went with the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Nick Herbert MP, and met William Dodd at his farm in Belsay to highlight the campaign and support local farmers.
I urge residents to join our campaign by going to

Monday, 16 February 2009

Humshaugh Action Day

A wonderful day spent entirely in Humshaugh knocking on doors, drinking a lot of coffee, meeting everyone from pensioners to farmers, and really getting to know the village and the people in it. We started with a get together attended by 40 odd; having been accused of overdressing in the past I turned up without a tie to be met by wall to wall ties from every man! Not enough time to chat to everyone but well worth it. The afternoon we made loads of house calls punctuated by lunch in the excellent river cafe. Everyone very keen to talk politics but more interested to know if I am a good bet in the point to point.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hexham Auction Mart

A fascinating day at the Mart, where sheep and cattle were being sold; prices for the cattle were good. I have lots of experience of horse sales and this was suprisingly similar. I got better at identifying the breeds as the day wore on - but it was great to get the chance to see why some farmers prefer a Belgian Blue and others prefer a Limousin, and to see the prices they were reaching. The afternoon was a sheep sale. Again prices were not at all bad.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Hexham Supper Club

Tyne Green Golf Club saw a great evening with over 70 locals coming together for a meal. There was a great atmosphere with members and non members of the party mixing and braving the wintry elements outside. After dinner I gave a short speech and then answered questions for about 20 minutes. It was a credit to the evening's organiser, Paul Dixon, that it went so well.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Hexham Hospital

To the Hospital for a briefing and an opportunity to get a real understanding of the amazing work being done there. There are many changes in NHS provision in Northumberland, and Hexham is at the heart of those changes. The cancer treatment ward really impressed - this is local healthcare as it should be.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A Tour of Slaley and the Shire

A day battling the elements with the amazing Audrey Hutchinson in Slaley and the Shire. What she does not know about this area of the constituency is not worth knowing. We stopped and chatted to the former postmistress, who has only recently lost the Post Office. The short sightedness of the decision to take away the Post Offices from these villages is breathtaking.
They, and the shops around them, are the glue that holds these types of villages and the community together.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Business visits to key employers in Hexham

A day when the snow came down in huge clusters, but it gave me the chance to day to see what was happening at the two biggest private sector employers in the area - SCA in Prudhoe, and Egger in Hexham.
Between them they employ nearly 900 people in the area. Both are modern companies committed to their products and are a vital part of the community. The sense of enthusiasm for their products and their resolution to see this recession through was obvious. A fascinating day.
As the son of an engineer, I was very interested the mechanical engineering aspects of both sites and need to revisit [probably with my dad] to take it all in properly.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Newcastle V Sunderland - the big game

Off to the derby game at St James Park with Brooks Newmark [an ardent die hard NUFC fan] and Michelle Tempest, the Durham North West PPC. Great lunch in Chinatown was followed by the pilgrimage to the game with the rival fans well up for it. A derby is always an emotive occasion and this was no different - with lots of passion and commitment, but not enough skill. Sunderland sadly deserved the lead but we were saved by a penalty in the dying minutes. It looked dodgy as penalties go, but we did not care! The scene when we scored the equaliser was fantastic - everyone dancing around like madmen, shouting with emotion and joy. Then there was 10 minutes hanging on ... there is no doubt that watching NUFC is a stressful business! They will do well to stay up, I am afraid

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama becomes President

There is a real sense of possibility now that Obama is in the White House. Driving home in the car listening to him speak you could not fail to be moved by his oratory and his sense of purpose. He is quite clearly the man we need for these difficult times. As a would be politician I am fascinated by the way he crafts his speeches - they have amazing structure, and an almost lyrical feel. It is wonderful what he is doing.
Just two quotes from the speech resonated above all:

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."
and on the role of government in the days that lie ahead:
"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."
Comment: The last quote will, I hope, be adopted by the next Conservative Government: the test for government institutions in the UK in the days, months and years that lie ahead is surely whether they are helping people in a real and cost effective way ... some call it the Cuprinol test - are they doing what it say on the tin?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

David Cameron in the North East

On Friday 9 January we were delighted to welcome David Cameron to the North East. The Nissan car plant in Sunderland had announced 1,200 job losses 24 hours before so David headed up the A19 for a private meeting with Nissan bosses.
While on Wearside, David visited the City of Sunderland College with Sunderland Central PPC Lee Martin. He toured the new campus, chatted to students and told gathered journalists "I remember the pride everyone felt when Nissan came to the North East under the last Conservative Government. I remember going to the
plant last year and seeing what is a fantastic example of motor manufacturing. There's nothing wrong with the plant - it's the most efficient plant in the world. There's nothing wrong with the product - the
Qashqai has been a fantastically successful car."
The day was rounded off in North Shields where 150 residents had gathered for the North East's first Cameron Direct. For an hour David fielded questions from the audience on issues relating to crime and anti-social
behaviour, the EU, tuition fees, upgrading the A1, and even UFOs. Sat to his left were North Tyneside Mayoral Candidate Linda Arkley, and Tynemouth PPC Wendy Morton, who said after the event "The great thing about
Cameron Direct was that it was the audience of local residents who asked all the questions and so set the agenda for the evening. This was the first 'Cameron Direct' event in the North East - and it was extremely well
received by the local community."