Friday, 31 August 2012

Has Romney got the Momentum?

I still do not think Romney will win the upcoming US Election. But he is certainly gathering momentum. I remain an unreconstructed Obama supporter on so many levels but it is clear that slowly the momentum is swinging Romney's way. His choice of Ryan as VP has cemented his right flank, and the big guns of New Jersey's Chris Christie and other leading Republicans are now getting behind the man from Massachussetts.

But key problems remain for Romney:
- the economy may be the key issue but he still has failed to set out in sufficient detail what he would do if President, and how his economic strategy would be more successful than Obama's. The Financial Times, and many other papers both here and in the US have studied the alternative plans and I suspect their opinion as to the weakness of the alternative view of Romney will be proved right.
- the US Election is decided in certain key battleground states; it is definitely a tactical decision to hold the convention this week in Tampa, where Florida is a key swing state. But it is in Ohio and Pennsylvania that this election will probably be decided. Presupposing that Obama hangs onto the preference of female, Hispanic and Black voters then he wins big in manyswing states like New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado so Romney has to win the 2 big heavy industry states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
All the evidence of the campaigning Romney did in the last 2 years in those 2 key decisive states is that he is struggling to be the man they would like to see as "their sort of President". It is still a long way to go but my money still remains on Obama. Certainly, whoever wins the "Bellweather" of Ohio will almost certainly win the election.
If you wanted to see if Romnery or Obama wins you would spend a week criss crossing Ohio going to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and the farmlands between to see who will win. It is in towns of 50,000+ people like Springfield, Kettering , Mansfield and Cuyahoga Falls that this election will be decided.
I would love to do this straw poll road trip, but we have plenty enough here in the UK to sort out in the interim.

Jade is just the job

This week I'm is toasting the success of my apprentice, Jade, after she became one of the first ever to complete an apprenticeship with an MP and then go onto get a job. 
Jade Scott, from Prudhoe, began working for me soon after I took office, after she left Prudhoe Community High School. I was one of the first MP's ever to take on an apprentice. Jade has now completed her apprenticeship in Business Adminstration after working at my the Hexham Office.
She is a real worker. I believe it is both really important we support local young people into work and that I try to lead the way; I was pleased to give Jade that opportunity. 
The latest figures show that North East apprenticeship starts have risen 45% from 2009/10 to 2010/11. The North East is also getting the most benefit, as our 45% increase compares favourably to a 36% increase nationally. There are also more apprenticeships completing their courses, with a rise of 11% in the region compared to 5% nationally. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Local Labour's Booze Cruise

The Labour group on Northumberland County Council are keen to turn Northumberland into booze cruise central; they have argued that there is a "golden opportunity" to entice Scottish drinkers with an advertising campaign for a "booze cruise" style promotion, and want council funds set aside for promotion of our county.
Earlier this year the Scottish Parliament agreed on plans to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p, which should come into force in April. The move was intended to reduce the devastating effect of binge-drinking. Northumberland County Council's Labour group economic spokeswoman Susan Davey said: "By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the county may miss out on this golden opportunity. Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth with easy access to the A1 should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade but I expect, without an advertising campaign, Carlisle with its easy motorway access will win this race."
If this is the best economic policy they could come forward with they are more out of touch than I thought. It also shows they are dangerously out of touch with the devastating impact drinking has on people's lives.
Previously local labour politicians have opposed alcohol pricing - despite a plethora of doctors, police and hospitals backing such a measure which would save lives and cut anti social behaviour.

Now many will draw comparisons with Newcastle's former self promotion as a "party city" under it's previous Labour administration, which many agree did long term damage to the cities reputation.

That is a reputation I don't want for Northumberland, which is a fantastic place to live, with hundreds of things to see and do. It is those attractions, from our market towns to our beautiful countryside, that the Council should be promoting, not their big idea that you could get four cans of Special Brew for seven quid. I like a drink as much as anyone but I will not let Labour turn Gods own County into Booze Central.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Back in Westminster

Now back in Westminster after 5 weeks up north. Going through the letters and paperwork and prepping for the start of the new parliamentary term on Monday.

Still taking in some of the ramifications of summer while I was on my Charity Walk, like our Coalition partners now not proceeding on Lords reform, and dodging the silly season stories like Prince Harry - surely what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?

On House of Lords Reform I voted for the Bill in July. It passed the house overwhelmingly but clearly needed serious revision / amendment in order to work long term. But that is what parliament does. We pass Bills in outline and then work on them in debate and committee to improve them as abest we can.

I am stunned that Nick Clegg has now said that he will not be proceeding with the reforms that the whole House overwhelmingly backed.
It seems that there are three options:
- proceed with Clegg's bill, subject to amendment - the DPM has now announced he will not do this
- do nothing = now our present course, which means the House of Lords will not be reformed at all despite everyone agreeing it needs reform.
- Take Cleggs Bill, and the much admired Draft Bill of Lord David Steel, a former Lib Dem Party Leader, and work the two together to create a final Bill that actually creates a more accountable, slimmer, less patronage based Upper Chamber that enjoys the support of the House of Commons and most importantly the public which also allows for Commons supremacy and other changes that many have agreed are required.

I will be very curious to see whether Lords reform is now off the agenda for good.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pennine Way Finished!

Pennine Way Finished! Bit tired after 275 miles, but delighted that we have raised so much money and that the sum continues to grow. Was pretty pleased to see the famous Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm in Scotland in the gloaming and the rain - it was so dark I needed a flash. My thanks to everyone who helped me on the way and all those who have given their cash to the Great North Air Ambulance.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Into the West - on the Bastle Trail in Tarset - updated plus pics of the team and the famous sword!

Into the West - Updated + Pictures:
Spent the whole of last Saturday in the west of Northumberland in Tarset, at the Falstone Show and in Bellingham. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of The Tarset Community, based around Greenhaugh and Lanehead. They are few in numbers but do more for their community, and the wider area, than any other in Northumberland. The origins of so much of what we are trying to do in relation to fuel poverty, petrol supplies, oil buying, innovative tourism and so much more comes from this special area and the people who make it happen.
So I was delighted to be asked to visit the incredible community orchard, visit the Shilla Bastle and open the Bastle trail panel opposite the Holly Bush Inn in Greenhaugh. Space prevents me from thanking all the dozens of volunteers and key groups who made the events of the last year + worth of effort to ensure these events took place and were possible, but special mention must go to the pub for hosting us, Jan Ashdown who was chief organiser and so much more, the team from the Forestry Commission, and the team behind the Orchard, with its famous Murray Henge and local guardians. Because of the Falstone Show I left the pub earlier than I would have liked and before having had a chance to chat with everyone there, so please accept my apologies. On a final note many thanks to all those who made a contribution to the Great North Air Ambulance by coming to the Lunch on Saturday.
Falstone Show was a triumph of man over rain - many congratulations to the organising team who ensured everyone had a great time.
I was asked to cut the rope in Greenhaugh, not with a pair of scissors, but with a Cavalry Officers Sword borrowed from the Heritage Centre in Bellingham. They had wanted  me to ride through the village and cut the rope at speed but I suspect that might have been a little tricky to organise even for this crowd. We will save that for the next panel / opening event. One pic shows me getting the full expanation and examining the sword with Mr Murray the Henge Meister and Sword liberator!

Halton Lea Gate Opencast Meeting

74 locals joined me in the village hall to discuss the surprising decision of an inspector to overrule the County Council, and allow open cast mining next to this small village on the edge of the AONB and the Pennine Way. I am only now catching up with blogging and can sit down to describe the meetings I held with the key opponents of the scheme before a longer, near 2 hour, packed village hall meeting discussed the decision. I am really grateful to everyone who came.
The paper has reported the meeting reasonably fully here:
I remain reasonably confident that the developer will not be able to satisfy the 44 conditions set by the inspector - those in relation, for example, to the preservation of the Burn and water management generally seem very onerous and expensive. I am pleased the County Council retains control over the authorisation process / agreement as to satisfaction as to the conditions.
There is no substitute for reading the Inspectors report - and we handed out over 50 copies on the day.
But the short term decision that needs to be made is whether the village challenge the decision by way of judicial review - this has been done successfully by the Friends of Bellingham Surgery against the Health Trust and also the opponents of the Prudhoe Housing Development. It is not an easy thing to do however, and is based on strict legal grounds, as opposed to a rerun of the planning decision itself.
My strong advice at both the pre meeting, at the main meeting, and in subsequent conversations with members of the parish council since, is that they need to obtain a barrister's assessment as to whether there is grounds for judicial review. This can be done for free by the Bar Pro Bono Unit, an organisation I know, and which successfully helped the Bellingham Friends in particular. I know the Parish Council has met on this Wednesday and is now taking this forward, although I have not read the application as yet.
The short term way ahead is clear: the parish council will ry and obtain a specialist barrister's opinion as to whether there is grounds for judicial review. For my part I found para 22 of the decision surprising - and open to possible challenge, given that this site abutts an AONB. This barrister's assessment needs then to be reviewed by the parish council / locals. My hope is that this can be done before the end of September.
A final decision as to whether to issue proceedings would need to be taken by November 6th = 3 months post the decision's date.
One thing is clear - the battle waged by the villagers of Halton Lea Gate against open cast mining 57 metres from their back gardens may have been lost recently, but the war may still be won.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Northumberland Core Strategy Consultation

Following the public meeting last night in Ponteland the documents mentioned are available online.

You can download Northumberland's Core Strategy Consultation document here and the response form here

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Ponteland and Prudhoe

Spent Monday in Ponteland knocking on doors of residents concerned with the proposed development - thanks to all the team who came along to help. Then Hexham for the afternoon and the West Wylam Residents Meeting in the The Manors at Prudhoe in the evening. Good opportunity to discuss local and national issues with Ken Stow, Bill Garrett, Yvonne from the Partnership, the local police and the many locals who came along.

Byrness on Sunday - the church for the workers

Byrness Church features stained glass windows commissioned and installed by the many workers of the Catcleugh reservoir - that provides most of the water for Tyneside. The panel features the workers and the city of Newcastle on top and bottom of the panel.
Am a little behind with blogging but spent Sunday in the Redesdale Forest hiking Byrness to Bellingham, after a morning church service in Byrness. The church is famous for its stained glass windows, commemorating the workers who died during the building of the reservoir, and alongside the window are the names of those who perished in its building.
The Church is reputedly the smallest in Northumberland and can only accomodate around 50 souls at a push.
Once again finished with cake in the Heritage Cafe in the old railway carriage in Bellingham - a great cafe for anyone who wants to try it after the long hike up and over Padon Hill.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Phil Butler and I on the campaign trail

This picture [by Michael Allen] was taken in the Battlesteads Hotel in Wark on Friday night - Phil and I spoke and did a joint Q&A with over 50 guests at a dinner in aid of the Great North Air Ambulance - my 2012 charity.
This followed on from a hectic day in Haltwhistle earlier in the week, where we knocked on doors, spoke to local councillors, and went both to the Comrades Club and to a local business to do question and answer sessions.
Phil is articulate, local, passionate about the police force he served so successfully for 30 years, and with great ideas as to how we can reform policing so that it is local, visible, and value for money. It was really interesting to see him on the doorstep, in people's homes and businesses and speaking at a big dinner.
As always the food at the Battlesteads was delicious - there is a reson why this pub wins awards!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Haltwhistle all day - with Phil Butler, our police and crime commissioner candidate at the Comrades Club

Looking forward to the Comrades Club tonight in Haltwhistle. Today I am spending the whole day / night in Haltwhistle. I am going to the hospital rebuild site [myself and Ian Hutchinson pictured outside, and the town council / local community over many years, have campaigned for the long awaited rebuild].
Then I shall be visiting the businesses Agma and Kilfrost in the town, holding various surgeries with constituents, knocking on voters doors in the afternoon, and then having an "ASK GUY" session at the Comrades Club, who are kindly hosting myself and any constituents who want to come along and ask questions on any issue. For example, 74 people came on Monday to Halton Lea Gate. I will be accompanied this evening by Phil Butler, our police and crime commissioner candidate for Northumbria. Then I am staying in Halty overnight.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

ConHome Article

You can read my latest article for Conservative Home with an update on my walk and the challenges the Conservative Party faces in the North: Click Here

Monday, 13 August 2012

Back in Northumberland

After 12 day hiking I am back in Northumberland again. Will be holding an "Ask Guy" Event
- tonight in Halton Lea Gate
- Tuesday in Haydon Bridge
- Wednesday in Haltwhistle
Later in the week there are events at Newbrough and Wark and I will be at the Falstone Show saturday.
Will be knocking on a lot of doors as I hike up the South Tyne valley the next few days so keep a look out for me and would welcome a cup of tea at any time - particularly as the weather looks like rain!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Out of Yorkshire and back in the North East

Hiked the High Cup Valley this weekend. Good to be back in the North East.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Keighley today

Spending the day in Keighley with Kris Hopkins MP - Kris doing a great job here. Just pleased I am not lugging my backpack and doing proper work today...particularly as big rain is promised.

Update: Photo is of the team at Airedale Enterprise Services based in Keighley

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Hebden Bridge, Calder Valley and the Halifax area

Just spent a great 24 hours in Hebden Bridge, the Calder Valley and Halifax. Met loads of people, spoke at one Q+A event for 50 minutes, and had great conversations on multiple subjects as wide ranging as flood defences, the difficulties of Coalition government, petrol prices [again], the independence of MPs, what are Conservative values in todays age, and even a fascinating discussion about Israeli violence to native Palestinians near Jerusalem.
Hebden Bridge was recently flooded and I went to see the ladies who run Valley Organics, who have temporarily relocated their shop to the Baptist Church - it seemed a really good use of a church building that is both beautiful and not used as in yesteryear.
Now working my way slowly up the West side of Yorkshire

BBC Newcastle Radio interview about the charity walk

If you want to find out more about what I am doing, and why, listen to my interview with the ever delightful Alfie and Charlie from this Wednesday, from 1hr 20mins into the programme. Simply click HERE

Friday, 3 August 2012

Halifax and Calder Valley today

I will be on the eastern outskirts of Halifax this afternoon, and evening, meeting locals, and speaking at an event. Will spend the morning walking to Hebden Bridge. Spent the night in the constituency of Oldham and Saddleworth.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Volunteering with Jason McCartney MP for Colne Valley and the Canal and River Trust

This morning I walked from Crowden to Marsden in the Colne Valley constituency of Jason McCartney MP. I helped him out with his community project. Jason has set up a summer volunteering week featuring a whole host of local volunteering, from helping out at local hospices and the food bank, to helping to repaint the Standedge Tunnel Visitor centre; the bloke in blue is James Dean, the inspirational manager of the Canal and River Trust - which is the slimmed down version of 2 former quangoes. From the evidence I saw at Standedge the Canal and River Trust is clearly being run very well. More details of the incredible Standedge Tunnel can be found here:
More details of Jasons volunteering can be found at:

Sheffield and Kinder Scout

Spent a great night in Sheffield Tuesday night, in the company of Paul Blomfield MP. We were both speaking in support of the charity "Headway" at an event at the Harland Cafe in central sheffield. Lots of people there and a good atmosphere. The cafe is in the shadow of Bramall Lane and well worth a visit - not least for the photography exhibition they have there of Martin Jenkinson, the grounbreaking Sheffield photographer - see:
Spent the next day hiking from Edale to Crowden over the brooding presence of the mighty Kinder Scout. Will publish more detailed thoughts on Sheffield and the impressions gained from this fantastic city, in due course. Met some fascinating people including a former soldier - whose favourite politician was John Prescott.
Really grateful to everyone at Headway, and my host Paul Blomfield - who like me is a former tumour sufferer - and is campaigning with me for better treatment of head injury victims. We did BBC Radio Sheffield together with DJ Howie Pressman, which was fun, and then walked part of the first day together.