Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Jubilee Plans this weekend

In Westminster still but everyone now going completely Jubilee! My key plans for the Northumberland weekend are:
- Humshaugh Fete and events at Wylam and Slaley on Saturday
- The Abbey on Sunday morning followed by Prudhoe Street Party and the Bywell Jubilee party
[making a short speech to 1800 people there - I promise you it will be 20 seconds long max!]
- Monday sees the County Show and the various Hexham Beacon events
- Tuesday I am trying to get to several of the smaller Jubilee parties but definitely going to Henshaw / Bardon Mill and trying to head out west to Gilsland / Greenhead

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Haydon Bridge Beer Festival - Friday July 6th, 6pm

I am to become a barman! On Friday July 6th at 6pm I will be serving pints at the Haydon Bridge Beer Festival. I cannot wait and would urge everyone to put it in their diaries. The beer is outstanding and covers a huge variety.
Northumberrland is rightly becoming famous as the Beer capital of England - with outstanding breweries at Wylam, Matfen and Allendale to name a few. The causes the festival supports are numerous and worthy - including the Air Ambulance, which we are campaigning for in the House of Commons, and Tynedale Hospice =which I did the charity walk for last year.
The event features:
- 36 local Ales
- 14 Ciders from around the UK
- & Wines from around the world in our the gloriously named wine lounge.
and delicious food!
The attached link shows some of the fun but otherwise visit the main website:
My thanks in particular to all the local organisers and the key sponsors = WMH Farm Fresh Meats and ACIS Renewable Energy Ltd.
You might want to find a very teetotal friend to act as the designated driver [or take the train].
It will be a great night and worth putting in your diary. It also goes all day Saturday July 7th - when I shall be working at the real job!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Oil Buying Groups, the Office of Fair Trading Report, and the involvement of WHICH.

On Wednesday in Westminster the message was clear: Remote Communities need special attention. The OFT were in Westminster, where they gave a taster of their upcoming report into Remote Communities - which featured Hexham and the Upper North Tyne so significantly. Publication is expected in a month. It will look not just at fuel but at all aspects of rural living, including access to public and other services.
Separately, I recently received a helpful report by Mike Murray, who runs the North Tyne valley oil buying group.
His report is fascinating:
"You probably know that there are now six groups in this area (at Allendale, Hamsterley, Haydon Bridge, Humshaugh, in the North Tyne valley and at Slaley.) The groups probably have 700 or 800 members. Members are mainly householders. But a number of farmers, churches and village halls, a pub and several SMEs are members. It is likely that several thousand people now benefit from the work of the buying groups. Each group has a co-ordinator. The co-ordinators stay in touch and have recently been able to consolidate monthly orders. Last week the group at Humshaugh ordered some 18 500 litres. Earlier this week the remaining groups ordered some 90 000 litres. In the past four months we have taken our business to three different suppliers. In addition to the six groups there are three potential groups in the area. I called on a potential group at Scots Gap earlier in the week. And I have been exchanging messages with a potential group at Capheaton. These two potential groups are now in touch and will, I think, see if it may be wise to work as a single group. I am off to Haltwhistle next week to talk to a potential group there. Any new group in the area would be welcome to consolidate orders."
I cannot praise the work of these pioneers of people power highly enough. To watch their enthusiasm and work to battle the iniquity that is fuel poverty [which is 24% in the North East] is very impressive.

The effect of this consumer led revolution is not lost on the wider world and I am pleased to say that I have been working with the magazine "WHICH", who are also behind the Big Switch campaign, to see if we can share good ideas and both spread the message on oil buying to a global audience, whilst also tackling an attempt at a larger purchase of electricity supply - which seems a natural extension and expansion of the oil buying groups efforts. These plans have been delayed by the demands of day job, but I am resolved to tackle the work with WHICH very shortly and will report back.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Opposition to Green Belt Building grows

I am stongly opposed to building on green belt land: so I am pleased to report that the plans of the Labour Newcastle Council to build at Callerton, on our boundary edge, have taken another hit, as reported in todays Journal:
Their plan is amazing - given that there are countless brownfield sites in central newcastle which they have chosen to ignore - so that they can bulldoze over Callerton Green fields, and treasured parts of Gosforth.

Similar plans to build a possible 1000 homes on another site on the edge of Ponteland are also opposed, as reported in yesterdays Morpeth Herald:

My view is simply this: I am in favour of local community housing that supplements and does not impinge on the community infrastructure, and which provides the local housing for local people. Such housing should be fundamentally on brown field sites, unless there is an overwhelming local desire for this not to happen.
However, as I am required to do so, I will wait for the upcoming explanation in the proposing company's open day demonstration of their plans. However, I am certain that this proposal is unlikely to find favour with local people - particularly when there are brown field sites available.
This view is also backed up by the effects of the Localism Bill and the new National Planning Policy Framework, and the comments of the Planning Minister to me recently in the House of Commons. I will be looking to Northumberland County Council to ensure that they enforce the provisions of the governments work to provide green belt protection.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Prudhoe Community High School gets its rebuild - Back The Bid is successful! A good birthday present for Dr Iain Shaw!

Good news for PCHS [pictured]
It is with great pleasure that I can welcome the announcement today that the Government have decided to “Back the Bid” and allocate funding for the school in Prudhoe. Regular readers will know that this is something that I am very passionate about, not least because the school desperately needs work. I have been able to get Michael Gove to meet the School's headteacher and it is fair to say that our campaign has been amongst the most vigorous ever mounted for school funding. My commiserations to those schools who have missed out in these difficult times but I am so proud of everyone who has backed the bid.

I took the opportunity in November to ask the Prime Minister at PMQs if he would support our campaign:
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Schools in rural Northumberland were largely ignored by the previous Government. With the schools budget rising from £35 billion to £39 billion in 2015, will the Prime Minister welcome the finance bid put forward by Prudhoe community high school in my constituency?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly welcome that bid. It is important to note that, because we are protecting the per-pupil funding, even at a difficult time for the economy and public spending, the education budget will be rising and not falling.... As well as the extra investment in the schools budget, there is also the opportunity for free schools, which I think are going to be a major reform in our country, to bring in more good school places.

I cannot say much more than express how delighted I am for everyone, but most of all the headteacher Dr. Iain Shaw, all the teachers, governors, councillors and students of Prudhoe, who should be very proud; everyone has been very patient, so I want to thank you all for this. I think we can all agree, however, that the result has been well worth the wait!
There was also success for schools in Bedlington and Alnwick.
The full ministerial statement is set out here:

The last word should go to the school's inspirational headteacher, Dr Iain Shaw who emailed me this afternoon after telling the schools staff:
"Dear Guy,
Many thanks for all you support with this bid. Just been with all my colleagues at an ‘extraordinary’ staff meeting to tell them the news, they left slightly dazed! I know that this is the beginning of a new set of challenges but feel so relieved that millions of pounds of repairs needed here will be addressed. Do you think Michael Gove knew it was my birthday today?"

Energy - the House of Commons debates nuclear, petrol prices and shale gas

The House of Commons has seen a series of debates and statements to the House this week, as to how we keep the lights on, how we heat our homes, and how we run our cars.
Various governements have dithered about nuclear energy policy in the last 20 years but we learned in this week's energy statement that the UK can carry on running its existing fleet of nuclear power stations for longer. The safety case will be examined reactor by reactor, but the mood is to lengthen their lives. It’s certainly a cheap and immediate answer to the short term problem of how to keep the lights on.
I have been struck by how the people who live near a nuclear reactor are all very keen to have a second one built to replace the old. This is surely the biggest advert for their inherent safety. The government has found a way of paying investors and operators more to generate power from future new nuclear stations that does not fall foul of EU subsidy rules. We are clearly right to look to a mix of different power sources as fossil fuel reserves, particularly oil, begins to decine. This should include renewables, albeit like many in Northumberland, I have grave reservations about the efficacy, productivity and cost of onshore wind farms. They are very unpopular locally - not least because they divide communities.

Into this context I debated this week the issue of shale gas and petrol prices:
I have been impressed by the data and reports in to Shale Gas, which has transformed the American economy: if we can find an enviromentally acceptable way of extracting shale gas then this will go a long way to energy security, as shale gas is added to the North Sea natural gas deposits. I spoke on Tuesday in the shale gas debate brought by a number of Lancashire MPs, which can be found here:

Separately yesterday I debated the issue of Fuel Prices and called for an Office of Fair Trading Investigation into the oil companies and petrol prices generally. The full debate led by my friend the member for Harlow Robert Halfon can be found here:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Good news on Charlotte Straker Nursing Home

I am pleased to report for certain that the Charlotte Straker Home in Corbridge will defintely retain its palliative care facility. The full story is reported in todays Journal:

As the local medical director has put it: "this is good news for the local residents, as it is extremely important that end of life care is proivided in the community."
There is also a plan that this formula could be replicated across Northumberland as Charlotte Straker is a shining example of Nursing care.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Open Cast Mining - Halton Lea Gate and Whittonstall Applications

Northumberland has a long tradition of mining. Some look back to it with great fondness for a bygone age. Others argue that it was an inherently dangerous, unhealthy and poorly paid way to make a living, that in the process despoiled our countryside. It is true that our history of lead, tin and coal mining has shaped the local area significantly - indeed I have over 100 former mines in my constituency alone. But the mining methods have moved on and now it is dominated by open cast mining for coal. This is a different type of mining, and a lot safer for the miners. The constituency I represent has numerous open cast mining sites. I have visited them all - from the huge expanse of the Shotton mine, to the proposed sites at Halton Lea Gate [pictured] and the UK Coal application in Whittonstall.
As the MP I have no power over the decision to grant or reject the application, because it is controlled by the Northumberland County Council. I also have to stay out of the matter, not least because I am required by the very nature of my job to represent, to the best of my ability, both sides of the local argument: this applies on the one hand to the simplest planning application for an extension, which only one neighbour might object to, as compared to large applications that impact on a number of people both from a positive and negative standpoint.  I have been a parish and local councillor before and all councillors know that every application can attract support and opposition. So it is with applications to the Council for open cast mines.

From a constituency MP's point of view what is significant is the way in which the different companies have engaged with the relevant local communities. People are inherently distrustful of significant change that they cannot control. Companies that wish to get community support for open cast mining have a major hurdle to overcome. However, it can be done - I have visited the Shotton Mine and the local area: by and large there is support for the mine, the many local jobs it brings, the wages that are paid, and the way in which the company engages with the community. There is also a significant tourism benefit in the long run with the creation of the Northumberlandia earth sculpture [see below] - the biggest ever of its type. Full details on this can be found in the report from the Journal:

There are presently two applications before the Council for open cast mines. I campaigned against the Halton Lea Gate mine from a very early stage of being the candidate, long before the general election [see the blog post for late 2008]. In many ways I was freer to act as an activist as the candidate, as compared to the MP, who is restained by the obligations and requirements of the job. However, I have recently written to the Chief Executive of the County Council ensuring that local peoples objections, as expressed to me, are heard. It is fair to say that the objections are almost exactly as they were before I became the MP when this application was turned down by the County Council. It has also concerned me that there were possible problems with objectors having their say at the recent public inquiry - it is patently vital, and a fundamental part of natural justice, that all voices should be heard. That is the foundation of democracy. For my part I was in Westminster and unable to attend the inquiry, which was midweek.

I have also recently met with the representatives of the objectors to the Whittonstall open cast mine. This was the latest in a long line of meetings with local representatives, and on one occasion in 2010, UK Coal, who make the application. It is clear that there are many hundreds of objections to this scheme, and that the majority of the local people, parish councils and businesses surveyed are against the proposal. The objectors are eloquent, organised and passionate about their cause. They have set out their objections in detail on their Community website:

Again, I have written to the Chief Executive of the County Council to stress, in particular, the need for the impacts of the new Localism Bill to be fully understood by the relevant planning officers when assessing such an application. It is also wrong that these applications should take so long and be submitted on a repeated basis - it creates a blight upon the homes and businesses in the local area which is manifestly unfair.

It is not for me to decide these two applications. The whole point of the Coalition Government's approach to localism is that local people should have a real influence on how their local area is managed, developed and run - on all levels from housing to planning. One thing is clear to me. Neither of the 2 companies who seek to put forward applications for open cast mining have been able to persuade the majority of the local population that their plans are good for the community. On this issue the companies need to ask themselves why?

Friday, 18 May 2012

The land of Maybe, Maybe ....the giving of gifts to Greece is about to stop

Once again there is a gathering storm over the Euro. Greece is losing money from its own bank accounts and quite clearly Greece cannot form a government. New elections will lead to more extreme parties seeking ever more demands from the ECB to solve their problems. The Greeks do not want to leave the Euro - why would they? The Eurozone keeps bailing them out.
There are only a few outcomes in the months ahead:
i). One is that the EU say they can give no more. They have been here before and have already accepted one large write down of Greek state debt owned by banks and other private sector individuals, companies and funds. They could take the perfectly sensible view that allowing another lapse in conditions of the loan would simply lead to other countries demanding the same treatment. It would undermine the discipline the zone needs, and would send a signal to all that there is no need to meet solemn requirements entered into. Either Greece has to back down and try to do implement the agreement, or they need to move quickly to arrange an exit from the Euro on this option.

ii). We could have another temporary fix. Maybe more debt could be written off. Maybe the timetable for meeting the requirements for reform and budget deficit cuts could be extended. Maybe the ECB might issue yet more money to other worried banking systems to support other states in trouble. Just enough cash would be released for Greece to pay the basic bills and stave off full bankruptcy. Maybe this time Greece would do the right thing and pay its bills and live within its means.
Maybe we would not be back in the same position in 6 months time or less.

iii). The third option is that the Euro area moves more swiftly to fiscal union, with the richer areas accepting their responsibility to send much more money by way of transfer payments to the poorer parts like Greece. It is difficult to believe Germany would be willing to do this. Mrs Merkel has just suffered a bad regional election defeat and is unlikely to want to have to tell her electors in the run up to the German General Election next year that they are going to have to pay a lot more tax to subsidise the weak parts of the Euro zone.
Maybe Merkel and Hollande will make up and bring fiscal union of the Eurozone. But Hollande is thinking only of France right now, which means that this last scenario will not happen. And there is no appetite in Germany for vassal states, particularly one as dysfunctional as Greece.

Maybe.... Maybe
Whilst the Euro politicians squabble a two speed Eurozone seems inevitable. Noone in Europe wants Greece to leave the Euro but as its capital flees from its beleagured banks they will be forced to leave. The time for a negotiated exit has long gone. This will not be a simple death but a bloody one I fear.

Maybe this will not affect us here in the United Kingdom, but I am afraid it will. When many of your customers go bust your own business suffers. That is what will happen here.

Finally the world is getting tired of giving yet more gifts to the Greeks.  But then again Maybe ....

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The County Show - "from cakes to combines, and everything else in between"

There is only one place to be on Monday June 4th
The County Show in Corbridge is the place to be for a fun packed, all action extravaganza of everything that is Northumberland and beyond.  I have agreed to be a Judge of the Light Horses at the Show and the Indoor Tradestands. This may be an error. Judges have to make decisions as to who wins and loses: this is a difficult task as it is subjective. Judges are never popular, but I am looking forward to the day. The organisers are doing an amazing job at getting everything ready and I am badgering Northern Rail to ensure that there will be a plethora of long and regular trains to get people from Newcastle to Corbridge and back.
The main arena is packed all day with heavy horses, the Blazing Saddles Equine Stunt Team and Jason Smyths Adrenaline Tour – stunts with quads and motorbikes, but the highlight for many is always the Grand Parade of winning livestock at 3.15, from which the Champion of Champions is awarded. In celebration of the Queens Diamond Jubilee there are fancy dress classes with the theme Rule Britannia at 12.30 in the Cumberland wrestling ring. Free to enter, just turn up in fancy dress and judged by Jaws from the James Bond movies, sounds like fun! Also to mark the Jubilee, Champion of Champions sponsors, JS Hubbuck, agricultural merchants of Hexham have offered a limited edition, Border Fine Art figure of the Queen on horseback Trooping the Colour, to be raffled in aid of the Great North Air Ambulance. The winning ticket will be drawn after the Grand Parade and the hope is to raise £10,000 for this vital service for rural communities.

My jobs are twofold:
There is a huge entry for the livestock sections but particularly in the light horses with loyal competitors keen to be part of the day that marks the end of an era. This year sees the last show at Tynedale Park after more than 60 years before the move to Bywell in 2013. As Light Horse Champion judge the unenviable task is to choose a Champion from ponies, coloured horses, side saddle, show ponies, moorland and mountain working horses and ponies, and all manner of hunters. The judging takes place at approx 4.30 in horse ring 2 and the Champion is awarded the prestigious AC Silver Loving Cup.

Beforehand, my other judging commitment is the massive ‘indoor tradestands’. The show has over 350 tradestands: - ‘from cakes to combines and everything in between’ is the boast from the show office.
‘Indoor’ covers the craft and the indoor shopping marquees, artists, soap makers, jewellers, home accessories; the list goes on – another unenviable task!

I will be at the show all day and urge you to come along. There is nothing like it, and there is something for everyone, and good money being rasied for great community local charities. If you see me, please say hello!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Debts: how do you deal with them?

My Labour opponents in the House of Commons have opposed every single cut in public spending these last 2 years. This talk of too far too fast is a catchphrase for keep spending

When this Government entered office, there was no acceptance that we had borrowed too much and were hock deep in debt. We lacked a credible plan to convince the bond markets that Britain was serious about dealing with its debts. Recently, some people have been arguing that the deficit reduction isn’t happening fast enough.
As we all know, Ed Balls’ answer to the debt crisis is even more spending, more borrowing and more debt. He has learnt nothing from the mistakes he made as Gordon Brown’s right-hand man and is consequently isolated in the international debate on deficit reduction.

The IMF, the OECD and every business organisation in Britain believe the Government has the right plan. Mervyn King said recently that it was ‘a textbook response’.
The Coalition cut £6 billion from the deficit in 2010-11. The deficit is continuing to come down, and there are good news out there - like the jobs figures for last month which show an increase in employment. Apprentice numbers are soaring and slowly there are signs of change in bank lending.

 But it would be niave if I did not accept that some people do not like the medicine. Noone likes the person who tells them that they cannot spend or that their pet project is just too expensive. But I remain absolutely convinced that getting our debt under control, whilst boosting infastructure and job creation is the key to this crisis. We are all going to have to accept that the days of easy money, easy credit and endless public spending are what got us into this mess in the first place. There is no magic wand out there. I fear that the failure to accept its responsibilities will spell disaster in Greece, with extremists, civil unrest and a totally dysfunctional economy. I for one do not want our country to disintegrate like theirs.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

When Boris met the BBC Art Critic makes a good read

When Boris met the BBC Art critic makes a fascinating backdrop to an assessment of the BBC. My experience has been nothing but good locally but he makes a very good point. On the subject of the Olympics he also is able to deal with the issue: should sponsors help to pay for the Olympics or should it come out of the pocket of the man or woman in the street? Worth a read:

Opening of the National Hospitals Neuro Imaging Analysis Centre - my thanks to all the fundraisers and hikers.

Very proud of all the hikers, and sponsors, who helped me raise over £3000 for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neuroscience at Queens Square in London. A couple of weeks ago I attended the opening of the new Neuroimaging Analysis Centre with the Chief Executive, Theresa Dauncey, and Professor Tarek Yousry- Professor of Neuroradiology at the Hospital.

The Centre is groundbreaking in its ability to diagnose and assist surgeons operating to remove brain tumours and will clearly save lives. Many congratulations to the National Brain Appeal for all their hard work. It was a very moving day.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Meeting our Ambassadors to Sweden and Norway to discuss how we can bring business to the North East

With our ambassadors Jane Owen [Norway] and Paul Johnston [Sweden] in Portcullis House.
Tuesday of last week gave me the opportunity to meet Her Majesty's ambassadors to Sweden and Norway. Both are formidably bright and passionate about their jobs.
All our ambassadors attend London in the first week of May for a Leadership Conference, with a chance to brainstorm both together and with top officials / government. I took advantage of their proximity to set up a meeting to discuss how these 2 key countries can boost business in the North East. Our ambassadors and their staff are now being specifically instructed by the Coalition Government to be both the trade envoy and the shop window for all the great business opportunities that Britain both offers and provides. I was very pleased with our discussion and am sure we can work together to try and promote trade. Certainly this is something I am discussing with the North East Chamber of Commerce and local businesses in Northumberland. Indeed, in the North East our nearest neighbours, in so many ways, are the Scandinavian countries, as opposed to the French or Italians. We also stand a better prospect of getting investment into the North East and similar export of our goods to these countries, given that the Scandinavian economies are in a far better financial state than the core members of the Euro.

Sweden is also the home of SCA, which employs over 400 men and women in their fantastic factory in Prudhoe, so I was doubly keen to meet with our man in Sweden. There is huge scope for our exporters to go to these countries and I hope to lead, or be part of, a trade delegation to Scandinavia in the next year, if possible.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Early start radio interview and the Queens Speech

We do pageantry so well - saw these gents waiting for the Queen outside Westminster. All along Whitehall there were guaredsman ready to escort her back to the Palace.
Aside from reducing the deficit and boosting growth the Queens Speech legislative programme will help small businesses and
- start a Green Investment Bank
- reform the electricity energy market
- increase state pension
- make it easier for parents to be able to work
- improve disability suppoort and help children with special education needs
- reform the House of Lords
My radio interview today on the programme can be found on this link =53 half minutes in

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Westminster quiet today but a very early radio call in the morning

Westminster very quiet today - but have got a lot done as the phone was not going mad! Big day tomorrow with the Queeens Speech and a lot happening.
I am doing BBC Radio Newcastle at 7.20am LIVE tomorrow morning! I think Alfie and Charlie are conspiring to get me out of bed, and wide awake, earlier and earlier! Sorry if I am serious whilst you are all eating your cornflakes or driving to work.
95.4FM for the enthusiastic, interested, or curious.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Arch Cru Compensation - more encouraging news

Very pleased to see significant developments for the thousands of people who have lost money in this terrible scandal. I have several constituents who have lost all, or some, of their life savings.
Full report in todays paper:

I am quoted. My view remains that our job is to try and esure that there is the maximum possible recovery for our constituents. The case bears all the savage hallmarks of Equitable Life, although fortunately it is not quite so bad.

My opinion is that there will be recovery as follows:
- the £54 million negotiated package from Capita and others
- the moneys recovered by the effective administrator of Arch = Mr H Aldous
- the moneys recovered by the litigation brought against former executives [both of these are ongoing processes]
and lately the FSA has got involved in proposing a £110million package of compensation from independent financial advisors.
It is important to note that some advisors are clearly blameless. It all depends upon the individual relationship and advice given. But this package must be welcomed in broad terms, although I would want to see the details before giving a definitive opinion, and would struggle to advise on specifics. The full document from the FSA is described in detail at the end of the Mail's piece today.

One thing is clear: the fight goes on and those who have not put their hand in their pocket will soon have to make some compensation - as the list of negligent bodies in this sorry mess has not been finished.

I wish all the losers in this matter well. They need to hold their nerve, do their best to preserve their health and sanity in a difficult time, and understand that everyone in the House of Commons is right behind them - indeed the All Party Group on Arch Cru is the largest new APG in the new House of Commons - we have gone from 0 to over 85 in no time. It is a particular source of pride that it is all party - I work hand in glove with my labour colleague Tom Greatrex, MP, and representatives from all the other parties.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Local Elections 2012

Well with the Boris result in just before midnight that brings the Local Elections to a close for 2012. There have no doubt been some tough results for the Conservatives across the country this year. I have been especially disappointed to see some excellent local Conservative Councillors defeated in North Tyneside and Sunderland. The No result for a Newcastle Mayor was a disappointment too but I hope the Council takes notice that 25,000 Geordies feel the current system isn’t delivering. There was of course one really fantastic result for the Conservatives - Boris Johnson winning another term as Mayor of London with a million vote mandate. We can all be proud of that. I want to say thank you to Conservatives up and down the country; councillors, candidates, activists, members and supporters, who stuck by the party after a tough couple of months. We move on now with a renewed focus on delivering jobs and growth for our great country. Well done to all candidates, of whatever party, who took part in the elections this year.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Campaigning for Boris on Election Night - London needs a "Low tax, cost cutting, One Nation, Eurosceptic, bendy bus hating, bicycling Conservative"

Yesterday I spent a significant amount of time in Conservative Central Office campaigning for Boris. Today the votes are going to be counted and my prediction is that he will win. I thought that readers would like to understand the scene at CCHQ.
Generally the place was packed with well over a hundred supporters, many staffers, Sayeeda Warsi and 2 MPs -  the other one was Stephen Phillips, who was almost never off the phone for 4 hours. All of us were on the phones, trying to persuade voters to get out and vote as the clock counted down to 10 o'clock. At around 8pm Boris came in and thanked everyone personally and gave a short 3 minute speech before heading off again on the campaign trail. I phoned a multitude of areas including several West London suburbs, Worcester Park and Chingford but nowhere was left out.
I arrived with boxloads of chocolates [Heroes and Celebrations were a big hit], jelly babies and lots of jaffa cakes from the Tesco in Westminster, but then at around 9pm I headed out and bought some Lockets, a couple of crates of beers and a couple of bottles of wine to ease the throats of the volunteers who never ceased working until the end.
Huge admiration must go out to the staff at CCHQ who worked tirelessly, with real discipline and total focus - even though many were out on their feet. Sayeeda was there throughout until she had to go off to do the live TV post election debate.
You can never tell with elections and turnout was clearly down with the rainy day but in my view Boris wins. I spoke to several Labour voters throughout the day who simply would not back Ken. There was also a lot of support for Boris's plans, the fact that he is clearly pro businesses, jobs, and cycling, and most importantly his way of telling it like it is.

The Eurozone Crisis and the French Election

As France goes to the polls this weekend, and the European Central Bank meet today to assess the state of the Eurozone, it is worth reminding ourselves what is at stake: our country is in difficulties, with 8% unemployment, albeit this figure is coming down, and we are on a slow journey back from the possible bankruptcy we were heading for. Noone likes the medicine but in the long term it will make us better. Anyone doubting the present course need only look to Europe and study the unemployment and debt situations in the Eurozone.
An analysis of unemployment shows that total unemployment rates in March 2012 were as follows:
- Spain: 24%
- Greece: 21%
- Portugal 15%
- France 10%

It gets more frightening when you look at youth unemployment:
In Spain and Greece this is 50%+
We should take pride in the fact that our apprentice figures have doubled and that slowly the jobs are coming in the private sector to fill the public sector squeeze. Manufacturing in the UK is holding up well, and locally in Northumberland there are signs of well built, locally wanted, mixed use housebuilding projects at Stannington, for example, that will make a huge difference.  

Into this context I put the French Election: Hollande, the French Socialist Candidate, looks like winning, notwithstanding a typically combative performance from Sarkozy in the only French TV Debate on Wednesday night. The key issue is how do you get out of a debt crisis. Many will recognise Sarkozy's attack on Hollande for not being serious about the task of cutting the deficit.
"If you want to control your destiny, the first task is to bring down the debt," he said.

This is also the crucial debate that frames Britain. When you are in debt does the state borrow significantly more to fund its way out of a debt crisis?
I believe that we need to live within our means. That means making tough decisions. But I do see signs that the medecine is working. In the House of Commons there is a simple opposition by the Labour party to every single effort the Coalition has made to cut the deficit. Not one time have they agreed to cut the bills paid by UK PLC.

In France, Hollande clearly wants and intends to borrow much more, at high interest rates, and try to spend his way out of a debt crisis. He may win the election. The issue will be whether his economic approach works. As a fiscal Conservative I think he is wrong. The issue is whether by his actions he brings down the Eurozone as their fragile debt agreements spiral out of control. That would affect us in Britian dramatically.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Vote for Mayors - Newcastle and London decide

A simple message today: Mayors have been shown to work in the great cities of London, Paris, New York and San Francisco. If you are happy with the way the great city of Newcastle is run then so be it, but I have a vision of a city that is:
- regenerated
- with thriving business opportunities
- genuinely competing with London, Manchester and the Scottish cities
and Boris Bikes, cycle lanes and a city that is genuinely open to all.
So when you go the polls in Newcastle I urge you to vote for a Mayor and our Conservative candidates who have worked so hard to give local voters local representation.
For my part as several thousand people from the South East read this blog my simple message is Vote Boris! He has done a good job in London and anything is preferable to the awful Ken Livingston

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

May 2nd opening of Neuro Imaging centre - my thanks to all those who walked and fundraised with me

Today sees the opening of the new Neuroimaging Analysis Centre at The National Neurological Hospital in Queens Square, London.
This hospital saved my life and it is a wonderful place - I am pleased to have been able to raise money in the form of over £3,000 for it and know this work and the new centre will help save lives. The Hadrians Wall walk raised money both for Tynedale Hospice and this Hospital.
Looking forward to seeing the doctors and nurses [as always I will be taking in armfuls of chocolate for the ward nurses - night shifts require the ultimate endurance food!].

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Building on the Green Belt in Newcastle and Northumberland

Monday saw questions to the Dept of Communities and Local Government Minister for Housing and Green Belt, and I got the chance to raise local housing and our plans to protect the green belt:

Photo of Guy Opperman
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
What steps he is taking to promote the refurbishment of empty and vacant homes in Northumberland.
Andrew Stunell (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Hazel Grove, Liberal Democrat)
I have allocated £150 million to bring empty homes back into use, and £160,000 has already been committed to a project in Northumberland, subject to contract. In addition, of course, Northumberland has received a reward of £630,000 through the new homes bonus for bringing 256 long-term empty homes back into use.
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that Northumberland county council, in drawing up its local development framework, should promote and maintain brownfield sites for development before any greenfield sites?
Andrew Stunell (Parliamentary Under Secretary)
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I draw his and the council’s attention to the publication, two weeks ago, of the national planning policy framework, which sets out the importance of making sure that all such plans are founded on the principles of sustainable development. Of course, the Government want to encourage every local authority to focus on land of the least environmental quality, and that, of course, includes brownfield sites.

Good news for green belt protection and our plans to bring empty homes back into use

Mayoral and Local Elections this Thursday

Last Friday I appreared on BBC Radio Newcastle - you can listen to the show here - I was on 1 hour 50 minutes in:
My hope is that Newcastle votes for a Mayor - we need strong leadership to turn the city around after years of neglect. I would like to see no building on local green belt, Boris bikes in Newcastle, and some real urban regeneration of the great city.