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.