Saturday, 31 August 2013

Reflections on the Syria debate

It is a good thing that democracy and parliament had its say. I welcome the approach of a Prime Minister who consults and listens, even though the nature of the events of the 21 August forces the Coalition government to move with some speed. As Matthew Parris put it in today's Times, "Cameron has struck a blow for democracy."
I think he is right.
A few further brief points to make.
If you want to understand my decision read the blog posts from earlier in the week, the motion, and the speech. My good mate Colonel Bob Stewart very kindly came up to me after the debate and said, "thanks for putting me right" as to the exchange we had in the debate.
The effect of the Iraq conflict and the decision of Tony Blair to take us into Iraq on the back of the dodgy dossier and the 45 minutes claim hung over the debate on Thursday. Many voted against any action because of past issues.
That Ed Miliband changed his mind midweek and withdrew his support for a very measured and step by step approach starting and ending at the UN, with a further parliamentary vote to follow, is regretful but that is his choice, albeit is regretful that he chose a path that was not the UK speaking as one.
For those who have any doubt as to the legality of what was proposed, read online the published Attorney Generals guidance.
For those who doubt the fact of Assad's actions in killing hundreds then read online the independent Joint Intelligence Committee report. The evidence is overwhelming.
The fact of Russia objection is purely strategic and tactical. It has nothing to do with the merits or actions of Assad.
I keep coming back to the point that the Arab countries envy our parliamentary democracy. The Coalition government asked the question if we wanted a road map taking in the UN and a second
vote. The parliament said no and the government has accepted that. That is an end to the matter. Other countries may proceed. Our role, even via the UN is minimal now. As I explained in the speech the UN is almost powerless in these circumstances.

Cycling debate is on Monday in House of Commons

How would you improve cycling in Northumberland?
The evidence for promoting cycling is overwhelming, but we will need effort to be made to redesign our streets, and communities, with greater emphasis on cycling being part of the community transport plan. We need to be 'Cycle-proofing' our roads, streets and communities, focusing on safety for cycling with huge benefits from improving public healthreducing congestion and curbing emissions to be gained from reaching the goals of the Get Britain Cycling report ( the target is 10% of trips by 2025).
The Government has responded positively to many of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry’s recommendations, but whilst funding is required we need to ensure that local authorities follow suit. They also need guidance, professional training and regulatory freedom to allow the introduction of high-qualitycontinental-style cycle facilities. Low speed limits like the one I have campaigned for in Wylam will be key. Some Government departments are not contributing to the improvement in conditions for cyclists.
Cycling is an issue that crosses departments in central and local government. It starts with the transport budget but it also affects education, local government, housing and regeneration, tourism, sport, and most importantly health. It is also far cheaper than driving in these difficult economic times.
On Monday and beyond I shall be making the case locally and nationally that this is a long term investment that is win win on so many levels. But we will need local leadership and councillors willing to embrace the idea.
I would welcome all thoughts for how we can improve Northumberland's cycling in whatever way - simply email me and/ or contact your local parish or county councillor. There are really simple things we can do from more bike racks, to designated trails, school safety lessons, and health awareness, with wider issues like the design of housing estates and new roads / improvements needed to address this in a bigger way.
Countries like the Netherlands and Denmark lead the way and there is no reason we cannot follow. But locally we are starting from a very low base.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Haltwhistle Academy will go ahead 1st September!

Wonderful news that Haltwhistle Academy has got the go ahead from Liz Truss, Education Minister, after huge effort from Mike Routledge, and all his governors. I am a huge supporter of the Haltwhistle Middle and First Schools. It is well led with outstanding teachers, parents and governors. I genuinely believe that the team of teachers, governors and pupils will take the school from strength to strength - particularly as they now will run their own show, without interference from the Local Authority. The obstacles put in the way of this school taking itself out of Local Authority control defied belief, but I am just very pleased that this school now has control of its own destiny.  

The Speech I gave last night

Both Motions by the government and Opposition setting out a road map for the UN Investigators and the UN involvement, and the need for a second vote by the Commons were defeated last night. I set out below the speech I gave in a long and difficult debate.
7:52 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I am a former human rights and criminal lawyer who has worked in this country and abroad, and I want to address the legality of the process we face today. The effectiveness of chemical weapons is beyond doubt—that is why people want to use them. Their usage is a war crime and a humanitarian catastrophe, and I agree that the perpetrator, in any circumstance, should face justice.
It is a sad fact that all of our constituents are scarred by the Iraq and Afghanistan experience, which has poisoned the well of public confidence in so many ways. The public clearly lack confidence in our attempts at foreign policy. I know that the majority of my constituents in Northumberland and the majority of those in this House of Commons do not want to get involved in a civil war in Syria. Neither do I. I am clear that I have no desire for land forces or long-term involvement in this civil war, however abhorrent both sides are. I am grateful that both the Government and the Opposition have made that point clear. The reality of the situation is that we are only discussing the limited use of potential air strikes to diminish chemical weapons capacity.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s approach in holding the debate today, the decision to hold a second debate in the future, the publication of the Joint Intelligence Committee report and the Attorney-General’s legal summary. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the meeting yesterday. The revised motion gives a stronger and greater role to the United Nations. If anybody could urge the United Nations to resolve this, all of us would do so. Both the motion and the amendment seek the UN’s assistance. Whether we would be able to achieve that is a separate matter.

On usage and evidence, many have made the case that there is widespread and extensive evidence—from multiple intelligence agencies and the Arab League—of the repeated use by Assad of chemical weapons in the past couple of years, certainly in excess of a dozen times. All participants admit the usage on 21 August, when 300-plus were killed and 3,000-plus were maimed. If there is a delay, we hope that the UN can assist, but what do we do if 98% of the UN wish to pass a resolution but a country such as Russia blocks us? That has been the reality for some time and I suspect that that will be the reality in the future. One has to pose the question that if an incident like the holocaust were to happen tomorrow and one of the Security Council objected, what would the rest of the world do? We have to ask whether we are prepared to allow Russia to be the sole determinant of which part of international law is to be observed. Exact parallels can be found in the Kosovo situation in 1999, when Russia sought to prevent any NATO action.

Robert Buckland (South Swindon, Conservative)
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s analysis of the UN. The General Assembly is about to meet. Does he agree that using the General Assembly as a mechanism by which we could obtain a recommendation for action in Syria would be a sensible option for us to consider before exhausting all mechanisms within the UN?

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I completely endorse that. In Kosovo in 1999 there were three broadly supported UN resolutions. Although not enough to get over the UN hurdle that we seek to overcome, they did provide assistance and support that such a course would entail. We have to address what the legal basis is for any proposed action by the British or other international troops.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
I will make one point. I very carefully studied United Nations Security Council resolutions in 1992 as an authority for action. It is only the Security Council of the UN, as it is currently constituted, that will give authority for international action under article 6 or article 7.

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
With no disrespect to my hon. Friend—my honourable and respected military friend—I disagree. Subsequent to 1991, the responsibility to protect protocols were introduced, particularly post-1999 in Kosovo. I accept that we are not in a UN article 51 charter case. We are not acting in self defence. We are not, as a nation, in any way threatened. However, the process of R2P does allow NATO to act when certain preconditions, as set out in the Attorney-General’s guidance, are maintained.

On this particular point, I urge my hon. Friend Colonel Bob Stewart, the Member for Beckenham, and anyone who is concerned about this issue to go through the Attorney-General’s guidance, which has been published today. An objective has to be identified. In this case, it would be the objective of attempting to stop the specific spread and repeated use of chemical weapons. There could be little doubt that such an outrage constituted a humanitarian disaster, and we would need to be satisfied that every means, short of force, had been taken to resolve this specific situation in Syria. To that end, the revision of the motion and the encouragement of the UN makes specific the assistance on this particular problem that a military officer, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, would have previously had in those circumstances. We would then have to consider that the proposed action was the only means to averting further and immediate human catastrophe. As the Attorney-General made clear, the force proposed would need to be both proportionate and specifically directed to stop the possible future use of chemical weapons.

I have already mentioned the example of Kosovo in 1999, but historians and lawyers could set out similar actions. Action was taken in Liberia in 1990 and elsewhere in the past 20 years. Surely the point is this: R2P was brought in to address the question of whether, as a last resort, humanitarian intervention is authorised under international law. We are clearly not yet in that situation, but the power to act and a lawful course are clearly set out.

Today is not about military action or involvement in another country’s civil war; all agree that the issue is not about boots on the ground. It is about a war crime—the massive use of chemical weapons—and several countries in the world attempting to prevent the extended and further use of such weapons. Before any further specific action is taken, the House will have a second debate and will be provided, I hope, with an understanding of our objectives and strategy, the upsides of action or inaction, and an exit policy. I welcome and support the revised motion on those grounds.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Motion that Parliament is to consider today

Many developments yesterday, and grateful for several important meetings, but most important is the delay and due process. I am pleased that no action is contemplated before the UN and parliament have decided. There are key restrictions built into this Coalition motion which is a major improvement on what was originally a source of concern - particularly helpful is the delay until the United Nations have had their say and direction in future decisions, and the matter would have to return to parliament.

The Motion states that this House:
• Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
• Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
• Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
• Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
• Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
• Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
• Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
• Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
• Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and that any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
• notes that this resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

In Westminster prepping Syria debate

To help my speech and the thought processes I have drawn up a rough list of the questions I want to be addressed by tomorrow night when the vote is at 10pm: I have put in to speak, as have over 50 MPs, so I may not be called by the Speaker.
- what is the hard evidence that Assad carried out these chemical attacks?
- who has seen it and assessed it?
- is it certain that the Russians will continue to block a UN Security Council Resolution - it certainly appears so, based on everything they have said and done over the last 2 years.
- what is the up to date position in relation to the findings of the UN team on the ground in Syria?
- what is the legal basis for any proposed action by British or alternatively NATO troops?
- what is being proposed in terms of any parliamentary motion? [none has yet been laid before parliament]
- in terms of military action: are we proposing physically to act on our own [ie by the use of cruise missiles], with allies, or as supporters of allies who are actually carrying out any punitive strikes? I have presumed for now, the latter.
- it seems certain that under no circumstances are we proposing boots on the ground. This will need to be confirmed in the House of Commons.
- what is our objective of any proposed action?
- what is our strategy to pursue this?
- if we are intially unsuccessful are we proposing to go further to fulfil our objective?
- what would this entail?
- what are the upsides to this strategy in the wider context, particularly addressing the importance of global actions on certain key issues - eg the prevention of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, which will probably happen without strong global leadership?
- what are the immediate and potential downsides to our strategy / objective?
- are we able to delay a final decision pending further information, diplomacy, alternative action?
- is the risk of doing nothing greater than an attempt to stop the use of chemical weapons?
- do we have a clear exit strategy?
I have received plenty of emails and letters over the summer, and in particular over the last 72 hours, and have read them all. My constituents know that my fundamental approach is a reluctance to get involved, but I accept the PMs point that things have changed over the last 10 days. That does not mean I have changed my  provisional view. I can assure one and all that all communications will be read and considered before any decision is made. Apologies if I do not reply to emails at present - we are a little busy here in Westminster, but I will reply in full after the debate.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

IEA Conference - 10 economists and an MP discussing rail transport

Fascinating debate on privatisation of trains, and the differences across Europe - identifying successes and causes for failure. Led by Dr David Tyrell of Stafford University we assessed the problem of UK Railways in that the track and the operator are not linked, and lack integration.
My economist colleagues at the conference made the point that the provision of some public services eg water, gas, electricity is very different from the provision of a transport service like a railway, because railways are so dependent on the quality and extent of the infrastructure. David Tyrell's argument was strongly in favour of reintegration of network rail and the train operators.
We discussed the assessment of true operating cost. Is this a direct cost excluding investment? Or does maintenance included in operating cost. Being economists the experts all wanted hard data as to costs. The improvement in passenger numbers, and increased safety, was noted post UK privatisation.
Everyone agreed that you need a very long term view when assessing railways and noted that few other countries have a system where the network and the operator are different. The point was made that a nationalised service always lacks investment that privatised systems do provide. That will be the inevitable consequence if East Coast stays in the nationalised model; the evidence on this issue is overwhelming and fascinating. Temporary nationalisations constitute and compare to a war or a recesssion on a business: the service will carry on as previously, using previous investment, for a finite period before there is a requirement for widespread re-investment. Will governments in the future provide this? The evidence is clear that they have persistently failed to do this.
Some suggested a middle way for East coast - unification of the network and the operator in a future privatised model: this would be neither the nationalised model that Labour wants, nor the re privatisation that some Coalition government ministers want. It is an argument worth detailed study and I shall return to this. It would effectively see a return to a private regional line, but with control over its network, which is a crucial add on and benefit for the service, the company and the consumer.

Syria - we are getting close to a decision this week

Parliament is expected to be recalled to debate the issue today, with the possibility of air strikes being considered. No one is considering boots on the ground.
We can all see that Syria’s leader is an evil and murderous dictator. It is probably true that he is using chemical weapons against his enemies. Russia’s support for Assad is a particular complication.
The truth is that there are no winners in this situation.
For my part I see no plan, as yet, and more importantly, no strategy and exit. As always, you have to ask whether by getting involved we make things worse not better.
I will be there when parliament is recalled. I will listen to the arguments made.
There is a free vote, no whipping, and no advice from government as to the PMs view. There are differences of opinion across all political opinions.
I can say, at the moment, that I am not in favour of any military action. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

IEA Conference - a discussion as to whether a public institution can make both a profit and a loss?

Should the public sector be allowed to make a profit? Why is it only acceptable that the public sector can break even, make a loss or waste taxpayers money? An interesting discussion at the IEA conference as to:
- whether there is a will, or tacit agreement, for a state run school (or other public institution) to make a profit, provided that profit is then used for the benefit of the school, it's pupils and staff?
- whether health is a "non economic good"? Is it a service that has no cost, with no trade offs, and no cost pressures? The assertion was made in debate that the British public largely believe that health is a right that should never be looked at save as a national religion which cannot be criticised, evaluated from a cost to the taxpayer perspective or changed in any way.
- why do people frown on the NHS providing a health service to overseas visitors for a fee? For example, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London is a world leader. It is an NHS hospital. That is its fundamental purpose. Yet the previous UK Labour government set up a system whereby Moorfields could and did provide private treatment on the side by its public servant doctors and nurses. The proceeds of such private work paid for improvements to the hospital and its facilities. The Coalition has continued with this policy. The amount of work done privately by the NHS is only 0.5% of the total NHS budget, but this is still good money for the NHS in these difficult times.
-Why do people talk of profiteering and not of "lossering" (a made up word used by the academics today at the conference to counter the argument that there is no opposite to the word, and connations, of profiteering from a public sector institution)?
- the truth is tht people do not often criticise public sector institutions that run over budget and are run a t a comparative loss when compared to other countries, or British cities, similar models?
For more details of Moorfields approach and to make your own mind up, see:
This was a good discussion this afternoon on healthcare and education by Dr Steve Davies, of the IEA, and Professor Peter Zweifel of the University of Zurich.

IEA Conference

Listening to Karin Svanborg - Sjovall, Swedish Welfare expert on the issue of welfare, care and education and the Swedish model of provision of these services. Also listening to the second speaker, Dr Andre Alves, from the Institute for Political Studies and an advisor to the Portuguese government.
Both make the case that there is much to learn from the Swedish model, but that it is not a perfect "supermodel".
Interestingly, Karin makes the point that the trade union movement was initially very sceptical against the private provision of the former public sector providers in these sectors. So far not very surprising. A similar experience would be found in the UK down the years. However, as Karin makes clear some of the trade union movement in Sweden then became the strong supporters of this change and actually drove it forward. The union bosses found that its members / workers enjoyed the freedoms and control that came with a private provider, were incentivised and earnt more, and did not want to return to a monolithic public state model. As a result the union movement harangued the Social Democratic Party into more private provision not less. A lesson for us in the UK? Do former union member state school teachers who now work in a free school or academy want to go back to the old model?

Michael Gove is right on education

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, deserves unstinting praise for his 118 varieties of new state schools, on which the left leaning Independent reports. The new schools include an English-German bilingual primary school; a secondary school dedicated to autistic children; a technical school linked to the motor racing industry at Silverstone; and a school specialising in the creative arts associated with Elstree film studios.

The newspaper has long argued that Britain urgently needs more diversity in schools: different approaches to education suited to different children, and different sizes of school to break the trend towards 2,000-pupil monoculture secondary schools. This ought not to be a party political or ideological point. Specialist schools and academies, which often espouse unconventional approaches, were innovations of the Labour government; what Mr Gove has done is to accelerate that push towards diversification.
Full story here:

Sunday, 25 August 2013

IEA Lecture on Prison Reform

On stage at 9am tomorrow advocating a new approach to prisons. After all with a 65%+ fail rate and a cost of £50,000 per prisoner a year you would expect change and rehabilitation. Einstein was right -
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"
We need to take a different approach to how we treat prisoners in prison focusing less on warehousing and more on literacy, stopping drug use and the teaching of skills. Only then will we be able to mentor these men and women back into work and a normal life.
Surely the key is - what are the results of incarceration? Does it stop offending on release? At present the answer is no.
Prison numbers go up and up
1945- 10,000
1993- 43,000
2013- 86,000
The solution is not longer sentences but a better sentence. I believe the payment by results model as practised in the privatised prisons like Doncaster and Peterborough are the way ahead. They incentivise the teams of officers, governor, and prison staff to help change prisoners behaviour. The approach is very different to a traditional state prison.

"Every society gets the criminal it deserves.
Every community decides upon the the kind of law enforcement, justice, prison and rehabilitation it deserves."
Robert Kennedy, with a little help from GO

Modern Anti Slavery Bill to be brought in

"Slave masters who bring immigrants to Britain and force them to work will face long prison sentences and be banned from running companies under an anti-slavery law", my boss, Theresa May, the home secretary, said today. The Modern Slavery Bill will also introduce court orders to ban those who traffic illegal immigrants into the UK from returning to areas in which they operated.

You may think that slavery was outlawed in the 19th. Century by Wilberforce
and others. I wish you were right but it definitely exists in this and other European countries.
There are modern day trafficked men and women operating as effective slaves 
in some very different work environments - mostly the slaves are in the sex trade but there are some working on buildings sites to agricultural workers to nail bars. If you have any doubt read the Centre for Social Justice report on this issue. The evidence is clear and the boss has acted. 

    A light hearted look at the MPs caseload

    I do one of the most interesting and varied jobs in the world:
    Noone has ever asked me to intervene for their bear but in 3 years I have been asked to do many things. It remains a pleasure. If you do not like people and like representing them do not get involved in politics. I have 62,000 customers and the small team of helpers and I do everything we can to look after them.

    Saturday, 24 August 2013

    Prison reform with the BBC

    Chris Connell and I outside the Hexham Gaol. Chris describes himself as "an actor, presenter, guitarist and fisherman."
    I spent an afternoon with the Beeb and Chris in August in preparation for their programme on prison reform, which they are looking to broadcast in early September. We filmed at length in the wonderful Hexham Gaol. If you have not visited you must go.

    50 years on how do we remember John F Kennedy?

    JFK was killed in Dallas nearly 50 years ago. No leader in the intervening years has come close to his magnetism or captured the public's imagination, save possibly for Obama in the 2008 election campaign.
    For me he is the better speaker albeit his brother Bobby was the real deal.
    In June 1963 JFK stood on a platform in West Berlin and uttered one of the most iconic phrases of 20th-century politics: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
    jfk003.JPGPresident John F. Kennedy stands on a platform erected on the steps of West Berlin's city hall, Rathaus Schoeneberg. A crowd watches the President (back to camera) as he delivers his 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech on June 26, 1963, at Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin, in the Federal Republic of Germany. 
    Kennedy spoke truth to the power of Soviet totalitarianism in the shadow of the Berlin Wall and proudly declared, “I am a Berliner.”
    In Berlin he told the truth about those who build walls to stabilize a rotten system, albeit would be many more years before the wall itself came down. That speech was one of best-remembered moments of Kennedy’s tragically short presidency. He challenged Americans not only to reconsider their attitude toward the Cold War but also demanded that white America see civil rights as a moral issue. The speech on civil rights and equality is seminal:
    “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

    Friday, 23 August 2013

    Good news for Newcastle airport with new Toronto flight announced
    It is a matter of time before we get a direct flight to the USA

    Cycling Debate in the Commons - how do we get more people cycling in Northumberland?

    Monday September 2nd I shall speak, if called, having cycled into work along the river from Fulham.
    The report is here
    All contributions and suggestions from councillors, constituents and children much welcomed.
    Simply email in your thoughts.
    For my part I think Ponteland cries out for cycle lanes and pro cycling measures. Several constituents have already contacted us on this issue.

    The Talk in Westminster is one thing: will Labour get rid of Ed?

    For the first time this is a real possibility. Today it was former Labour Minister Brian Wilson who said he should go. Earlier this week Dan Hodges, the Labour writer was pretty robust on the issue..worth a read

    Thursday, 22 August 2013

    Syria chemical weapons attack

    Hundreds of people were killed in chemical weapon attacks in Damascus yesterday. The coverage is horrific. The UN has asked Syria to allow UN weapons inspectors already in the country to be allowed to investigate. I doubt that Assad will allow this for obvious reasons. It is time for Russia and China to condemn this. If this does not change their minds about Assad then I do not know what will.

    £250 million extra Cancer funding with approval of Proton Beam Therapy facilities for the UK

    The NHS is to build two new Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) facilities at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and University College London Hospital.
    Proton Beam Therapy is a particularly important form of cancer treatment as it targets tumours more precisely with less damage to surrounding tissues. This can improve the quality of life following cancer treatment, and reduce side effects, especially for children. At present the NHS currently sends children and adults needing PBT as part of their cancer treatment overseas – notably to the United States
    The good news is that in future this will no longer be necessary. This commitment to increasing access to advanced radiotherapy treatments is very good news and I am delighted that the long campaigning for Proton Beam Therapy in the UK has been successful and that the money is confirmed and the building will start soon

    Egypt is another Middle Eastern country lapsing into civil war

    The situation in Cairo is getting worse and worse. For us in the UK the gradual slide of another Middle Eastern country into civil war is a disaster: Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and violence has flared again: the news comes on the back of 2 years of civil war in Syria. Recently there have been 24 policemen loyal to the military regime gunned down execution-style by Islamist militants in the Sinai desert and counter allegations concerning 36 Islamist prisoners suffocated when teargas was fired into their van as they were being moved out of the capital in a convoy. At the same time former President Mubarak is to be freed and the army continue to control having ousted the Islamist government of Mohammad Morsi.
    William Hague put it well recently when he said:
    ‘There may be years of turbulence in Egypt and other countries going through this profound debate about the nature of democracy and the role of religion in their society. Whats happening now in the Middle East is the most important event so far of the 21st century, even compared to the financial crisis we’ve been through in terms of its impact on world affairs and I think it will take years and maybe decades for it to play out."

    IEA Conference this weekend - speaking on prison reform and regional banking

    I have plans to speak at the IEA's summer conference this weekend
    I shall be talking on the issue of prison reform, plans for prisons that both pay by the results - ie reduction of reoffending and better rehab, and the ideas for both community and private prisons in the brave new world where the state does not know best. Victorian prisons with no emphasis on changing the prisoner as opposed to warehousing them are not the way forward. We want innovative ideas, officers directly involved in the change mentality, proper mentoring and a different attitude seen at places like HMP Doncaster and Peterborough.
    If academies and foundation hospitals can transform their sector why not prisons? This is building on the work of the book I published last year, Doing Time:
    I shall also be leading an evening seminar on community banks and the localisation of banking services in an increasingly globalised world.
    Both ideas are for me key policy changes and I have high hopes for community banking to address local lending issues, particularly in relation to fuel poverty and oil buying.
    I will also be going to listen and debate with professors and various leading thinkers from around Europe who will be debating and discussing multiple issues including education reform, improvement in health services, and a discussion on nationalised or privately run train services.
    The IEA are a really good and interesting think tank which challenges governments both here in the UK and abroad: and worth checking out.

    Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    Great Day at the Prudhoe Allotment

    Visiting the National Neurology and Neurosurgery Hospital in Queens Square tomorrow

    I have fundraised for the wonderful NHS neurosurgical hospital which treated me in 2011 ever since my recovery. We have done sponsored walks across Hadrian's Wall for the National Brain Appeal, the charity that supports brain tumour research and the hospital; see previous posts here:
    And here:

    This year I donated the profits from both a charity quiz and the proceeds in their entirety from the book, Doing Time (a few copies amazingly are still available in your local bookshops, or if you must on Amazon, if you want to read the "must read book of the year", or make a donation to the national brain appeal!)
    I am still helping the hospital and the charity in whatever way I can, and recently lobbied the Public Health Minister, Anna Soubry, MP, for greater funding and support for brain tumour research and the Queens Square hospital itself.
    Tomorrow I am going to the hospital for a number of reasons but I will definitely going into the Lane Fox ward in the basement to give the nurses and team a supply of biscuits and chocolates. Night shifts are very long and I know that the patients put the nurses through a lot, because we are not the easiest bunch post operatively. I certainly was a patient they do not forget!
    They got particularly upset with me when I decided that I wanted some fresh air post operation, and managed to find my way out of the hospital, and go on a 2 hour frolic of my own through the city, even though still covered in head bandages that would have made an Egyptian Mummy proud. The nurses were not best pleased. I was far from a model patient. I will be urging others to do as I say not do as I did.
    The serious point is that if you are considering donating then the National Brain Appeal
    is a wonderful charity, that helps saves countless lives, including my own.

    Update: lovely to see the 2 ward sisters, Clara in Lane Fox, and the pocket rocket that is Sheila - who runs an amazing High Dependency Unit with great warmth, huge effort and a wonderful smile.

    The Adonis review - prepping speeches, conference notes and so much more

    The summer is a chance to think, and chief on my mind is the Adonis Report into the North East
    Together with Nick Brown MP I have secured a debate on Thursday September 5th in the early afternoon in the House of Commons. The next day there is an all day conference at the Centre for Life, where Adonis and othes, including myself, are speaking & discussing the report and debating the way ahead.
    The review was commissioned by the local enterprise partnership and featured some of our top business brains. I added my small contribution at a lunch with the Andrew Adonis team and David Miliband in the Commons. I regret to say we in the North East, and particularly the Labour Party, will miss David in the months and years ahead.
    I am writing my speech and action points in the light of the review and it will clearly shape much of government and my approach in the future. It is also a good guide for other LEPs.
    I am excited that for the first time in a while the North East is beginning to lead the way in forward thinking. This report is unique - no other LEP has done this, using the cream of the local talent from all walks of life, and led by a man who is easy to work with, whatever our political differences (Andrew was a Labour advisor and Minister under Tony Blair / Gordon Brown).
    What I am particularly interested is Adonis's views on alternative and innovative ways forward, that are not simply predicated on give more money to the region. We are going to have to solve our problems ourselves. Governments of all forms will lack cash in the years ahead.
    As always, the key is the approach, and government enabling and freeing up business, local authorities and community leaders to dare to be different, to prioritise, and put aside old rivalries.
    On that point the efforts of so many to persuade the many local authorities to form a combined authority is the icing on the cake. I have spoken to many local businesses and civic leaders on the way ahead for the combined authority, and there is a real sense that we are beginning to speak with one voice locally in a way that Manchester, and other regional hubs or cities, have done for many years.

    I shall be writing and speaking more in the coming weeks on specific topics and, as always, welcome contributions on the blog or in writing to the House, or emails on specific topics. For example, I have a dedicated and specialist team of transport experts who help me hugely with their greater knowledge and ability to read through local proposals in depth. Similarly I have expert supporters, and critics, who help from a Business point of view.
    The report and the details about the LEPs commissioning role is found here:

    Monday, 19 August 2013

    Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech in Washington 50 years ago this month

    The Great March on Washington was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It culminated in the rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963.
    The Reverend King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony to 250,000 people of all creeds and colours
    The full text is here:
    The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

    The key passage of one of the greatest speeches ever written or spoken is as follows:
    "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
    I have a dream today!"
    Anyone who aspires to speak in public should learn and practice the artistry in this speech.

    Some advice for Ed Miliband

    Everyone in the Labour party is offering advice to Ed this summer so I thought it might help if I did so too.

    Clearly I lack the impact of Lord Prescott’s unhelpful column in the Sunday Mirror yesterday [paraphrase = "fire the shadow team who have not got stuck in" or the views of Lord Glasman and Tom Watson MP, who have helpfully told the Mail their views that Ed should grow up and apologise for the mess left when he was a Minister under Gordon Brown:

    Ken Livingstone thinks Lord Prescott is wrong and the Shadow Cabinet are all on holiday.
    The former London mayor tells the Evening Standard this afternoon that Prezza should ‘retire – you have had your turn, you screwed it up, don’t try and wreck it for others’.
    Tom Harris thinks the party needs to stop talking tofu.

    One of the best writers in the party, Harris argues on the Telegraph website this afternoon that Labour’s drive to lower the voting age to 16 is ‘exactly the kind of middle-class dinner party issue that tofu eaters throughout the country get really excited about’. He also suggests that ‘Labour is starting to move away from talking about real life issues to talking instead about irrelevant, niche subjects that will impress and affect nobody’.
    Ed Balls is… er…not been seen all summer?
    Ed Balls, never a man to keep his opinion anywhere other than firmly on his sleeve, seems to be keeping quiet about how great Ed is at the moment.

    My view would be simple:
    - admit that the Coalition are on the right track to getting the country back in business and jobs,
    - agree or come up with a real policy on welfare and immigration reforms,
    - work with us in the national interest and don't spend all your time opposing everything
    That would be a start.

    Back in Westminster

    Sat at my desk in parliament catching up after a few days off. The blog broke down over the weekend for which I apologise. Blogspot is a very simple, non taxpayer funded, site that is normally really easy to work ... but it defeated me this weekend. We are now back on speaking terms and I will make up for lost blog time over the next couple of days.

    Friday, 16 August 2013

    Euro zone grows at last and Merkel says yes

    A double good day in Europe, as euro zone growth is finally up.
    And, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, announced on Wednesday that she wants talks on whether the European Union should ‘give something back’ to member states this autumn. She is the most powerful woman or man in Europe and it seems that she is thinking what the PM is thinking.
    The FT reports that "the eurozone’s two largest economies grew at a respectable pace in the second quarter: an annualised rate of 2.8 per cent in Germany; a surprisingly good 2 per cent for France. This puts an end to six quarters of contraction in the single-currency area. A patchwork of problems remains to be tackled but the eurozone’s return even to modest growth – 1.2 per cent annualised – is cause for relief." 

      Thursday, 15 August 2013

      What alternative do Labour propose? Answer came there none

      The speech by Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Chris Bryant, was a masterclass in how Blair style spinning can miscarry. Pre Briefing the newspapers before a speech is a Mandelsonian technique to try to secure more press coverage. It is often a double edged sword. It is key to check your facts! This was a spectacular boomerang which hurt its sender.
      On Sunday we were told that Labour would launch an attack on companies that used recently arrived migrant labour in place of local talent to drive down wages and worsen employment conditions. This is a serious charge if true. By Monday morning, still before the speech, the author was telling us that he had no intention of fingering named companies for bad labour practices, and admitted he got his facts wrong, before later changing tack further and praising Tesco as a good employer. What this highlights is the lack of an argument on the issue of immigration. Unable to agree with the government as this would be instant death in a Labour opposition they scrabble around to find an alternative. The floundering on this occasion was one of the worst I have ever heard of. It is rare indeed to hear a Shadow Minister criticising his own speech before he delivers it!
      The reality is that Labour was very keen on giving our borders over to the EU and allowing in many more people over a prolonged period, people who wanted and needed jobs. Is Bryant / Miliband going to follow this about turn with apologies for the policy of uncontrolled migration? I doubt it. Many others have written extensively about the sloppiness and mismanagement of this incident. I want to use it to reiterate a point I have blogged about before. Mr Miliband’s Labour team has only one gear: oppose everything regardless of whether you agree with it, or it was in your Labour 2010 manifesto, or because you accept that there is no money ..... in order to attack the Coalition government. 
      I fully admit the Coalition have not got every decision right these last 3 years. But opposition to everything by Labour merely deprives them of any credibility. Come up with realistic alternatives or support the government through these tough times. Sniping for fun, with no alternative, does them, nor politics, any good. 

      Tuesday, 13 August 2013

      Visiting the House of Commons - a Hexham Middle School student report

      In the spring we had a visit by Elizabeth Nixon, and some of her classmates, from Hexham Middle along with their inspirational maths teacher, Cath Parker. I asked Elizabeth to jot down her impressions on the day. She called it: My Thoughts on my visit to Parliament

      I have reproduced it in its entirety - it encapsulates a walk around the Commons, a meeting with the Education Minister, Liz Truss, MP, and her impressions of parliament: as always I would encourage all constituents, parents, and schools to try and make a trip. This is your parliament! I am merely a temporary custodian of this job. But not a day goes past when the hair on the back of my neck does not go up as I walk these rooms and stand both in the chamber of the Commons and the cavernous Westminster Hall, built in 1097 by William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror, and where King Charles I was sentenced to death for treason.
      Parliament is a special place: come and visit. But don't listen to me - listen to Elizabeth:

      "It was the 24 April 2013 and I and two other classmates, my Maths Teacher, Mrs Parker, and Mrs Muir, met at Newcastle Central Station under the big clock to board the train to London Kings Cross.

      I was absolutely terrified but very excited to be coming to Parliament to meet Guy Opperman, my local MP for Hexham, and Liz Truss, MP, the Under Secretary for Education.

      On arriving at Kings Cross we got in a black London cab and made our way to Portcullis House. Unfortunately, we were late in arriving and we had hoped to sit in on Prime Minister Questions, which was I so looking forward to doing, One day I really hope I can someday still do.

      We met Mr Opperman’s caseworker, Philip. We were shown Mr Opperman’s office so we could leave our bags, then we taken to Westminster Hall and through to the House of Commons.

      I sat and watched in front of screen some of that days debates. When I left Philip gave us historical facts about the history of the House of Commons, which I really found very interesting.

      Then we were rushed out of the House of Commons to meet Guy Opperman to go see Liz Truss to talk about why we were there in the first place. I felt that Liz Truss was very interested in what we had to say and she did seem to listen to everything we said, It was then I felt that what I’d written had actually made a difference and that what goes on in Parliament is actually influenced by what we say, even when we’re children, and that our MP’s are there to help us.

      Philip then took us all to Parliament Square where we had our pictures taken and we even went up onto the roof top of Parliament, which was extremely interesting.

      When it was time to leave, I wanted to stay. I hope one day, if not as a child then as an adult, that I can come back one day, maybe even as a MP! "

      Elizabeth Nixon
      Age 12

      Monday, 12 August 2013

      A living wage

      You can read about my support for a living wage HERE at AOL Money. I will post my article here for you to read later this week.

      Sunday, 11 August 2013

      The Sill project - A £10.5 million investment in our patch

      Last week I took some time to visit Once Brewed, the current site of Northumberland National Park’s Visitor Centre. It will soon become the location of the planned new Landscape Discovery Centre; The Sill.

      The Centre is set to create up to 156 new jobs when it opens in 2016, attracting up to 120,000 visitors annually. I think we will really see local businesses benefiting from this significant from this investment. A recent Economic Impact study predicted that the creation of the site would also contribute up to £3.35 million to the local economy in its first year alone, rising to £3.68 million per annum by 2021/22.

      It's great to have such huge investment in our area especially in these tough times. 

      The Sill is a truly exciting project that will really help put Northumberland on the map. I have studied the design and it is innovative and spectacular, including a grass covered roof which includes viewpoints looking out over the valley below.

      There are issues around traffic and access to be addressed but these can be solved. I have no hesitation in backing this huge investment in our local community, which will bring jobs in the short and long term.

      I have had a number of meetings to discuss the project and I am convinced we will see increased visitor numbers and a big boost to our local economy. This is a very exciting project for everyone here in Tynedale.

      Keep an eye on the blog for updates on how the project is getting along.

      Saturday, 10 August 2013

      A fuel duty cut for Northumberland?

      Last week the Journal reported on our campaign for a fuel duty cut in Northumberland...

      A CUT in fuel duty aimed at the remotest parts of the country must include Northumberland, an MP has insisted.

      Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, said he welcomed proposals to extend a fuel duty discount to the mainland. Under EU rules, the discount can currently only be offered to motorists on islands.

      But the MP said it was crucial that rural areas in the North East were included in the scheme.

      It follows the Government’s announcement that it is attempting to negotiate a mainland fuel duty discount with the EU.Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced in the Commons that it would be making representations in Brussels to extend the current island fuel duty reduction.

      “Yes, I will be making the case to the European Commission to extend the local discount, from islands at the moment, to the most remote mainland areas,” Mr Alexander said.

      “At the moment we are working to build a case to give local governments local support to get the evidence needed to make that case.”

      Mr Opperman said: “I welcome the Government’s decision to stand up for rural car owners and businesses.

      “Ever since I became an MP, I have been fighting for lower prices at the pump. Times are tough, but this Government has taken 13p off every litre of petrol for hard-pressed motorists.

      “I represent one of the most rural and remote constituencies in the country.

      “There is no doubt that people in rural locations pay a premium on fuel, and so I will be pressing for this fuel duty discount to come to Northumberland at the earliest opportunity.”

      Every small business in the country is already benefiting from a 13p reduction in fuel duty compared to Labour plans, Mr Alexander claimed.

      “This coalition government is on the side of small firms,” Mr Alexander said.

      Mr Alexander’s announcement came as he responded to questions from Liberal Democrat MP Alan Reid, who said he welcomed the Government’s “decision to freeze fuel duty and also the decision to introduce the island fuel duty discount”, saying it had allowed businesses on the two islands he represents to “benefit greatly”.


      Friday, 9 August 2013

      Sir Alan Beith retiring

      Many of you will have read that Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has announced he is retiring at the 2015 General Election. Sir Alan has been a really good constituency MP for Berwick and set the mould for many of us who have followed him into Parliament when it comes to campaigning locally. He has given the people of Berwick upon Tweed great service over the years - by the time the election comes he will have served for an incredible 42 years as an MP, taking the seat for the first time in 1973.

      I know that in the Berwick constituency many people put party politics aside to vote for Sir Alan because of his long standing commitment and dedication. I was actually up in Alnwick, in Sir Alan's patch last week, canvassing for Anne Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative candidate in 2015 who hopes to be his successor. It will be a close race but I am more than sure Anne Marie has the qualities the people of Berwick want in their local MP. You can follow Anne Marie's campaign on Twitter HERE

      Shows, Markets and more in Northumberland this weekend

      This weekend sees the ever popular Slaley Show, and the Hexham Farmers Market on Saturday and plenty of other events in and around Tynedale including the Madagascar Weekend at Kirkley Hall. On Sunday there is the Greenhead Farmers Market. Try and go along and shop local. The adage is simple: use it or lose it!

      Wednesday, 7 August 2013

      On BBC Radio Newcastle at 6.15am tomorrow

      An early start! Will be answering questions on our campaign for the living wage

      The Peoples' Kitchen in Newcastle

      Last night I spent some time meeting many of the volunteers who have made the Peoples' Kitchen such a success in Bath Lane. Named after the founder, the inspirational Alison Kay, the Alison Centre provides many hundreds of meals a week to the homeless and needy. Last night they were feeding over a hundred men and women of all ages in a sympathetic and supportive way. I spoke to many of the volunteers from one woman whose first day it was volunteering to others who have been helping there for many years. Some are volunteers from Tynedale who give up an afternoon or evening a week to help out cooking, driving , serving or listening.
      Quite rightly the Peoples Kitchen is supported by lots of local businesses, churches and other organisations. It does a brilliant job.
      Almost more important than the hot food is the supportive environment where people can find friendship, counselling and emotional support.
      It was a very moving evening and every one of the volunteers are rightly very proud of what a difference they are making to their local society. 

      Allendale Forge going from strength to strength

      Last week I popped into the Allendale Forge, both to get an update from Amanda, who runs the place, but also to meet some of the artists and studio holders. The Forge goes from strength to strength, with a vibrant atmospehere, beautiful art and a variety of services available, and a great cafe where you can while away an afternoon - including free wifi. Celebrating the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels this summer, six artists from Network Artists in Northumberland are showing their inspirational  paintings throughout August. I saw the beautiful paintings and met some of the artists and would urge you to go. More details about how to rent a studio and the attractions on offer at the forge are here:

      Good luck to Durham CC as they prepare to host the Ashes tomorrow

      The biggest event on the north east summer sporting calendar kicks off Friday with the fourth Ashes test against Australia. Durham have come a long way since graduating from minor county status just over 20 years ago. The Aussies and all the fans will get a warm welcome in the north east.

      Tuesday, 6 August 2013

      Was the Arab Spring a false dawn?

      Remember our heady optimism that democracy would spread across the Middle East as peace and equality triumphed over dictatorships? This is beginning to look like a distant memory. I have visited the Middle East a lot but not as much as I would like. The area fascinates me, and I know that there is no prospect of peace in this world if we do not resolve some of the issues and problems in the region.
      Yet it is not a good thing that the US embassies in the Muslim world are closing, as is the British embassy in Yemen, combined with the warning to Americans and other nations about overseas travel.
      The Islamist terrorist threat has not gone away. Indeed, the decision of the military to remove Egypt’s democratically elected president has not created the uproar many thought it would - but sadly this shows that democracy is not going to come easily to the region. We may not have liked the democractically elected leader of Egypt but his country chose him. Now the military rules once more.
      I look at the situation in Syria with horror, but what worries me almost more is the way in which Lebanon, Turkey, and potentially Jordan are being sucked into this Syrian civil conflict that is being increasingly taken over by a sectarian and religious war. My concern is also for Israel, and how it can stay stable and not involved. One commentator described how:

      ‘It’s as if the Middle East were simultaneously experiencing the French Revolution and the Thirty Years’ Wars.’
      We, in the UK, are observers in an ever worsening conflict not 5 hours flight from us. I would like to predicts this ends well but it is going to take a lot of time and is going to be very messy. The French Revolution and the 30 Years War were similarly long, bloody and very messy but democracy and peace prevailed in the end.

      Its National Allotments Week and I shall be helping at Prudhoe tomorrow

      I have two titles - MP and Vice Chairman of Prudhoe Allotments. I am very proud of both. I will be at the open day on Wednesday helping out and doing what I am told by Mrs Russell, who keeps us all in order. I shall also be checking out the work we have done down the years - the picture is of a group of the social action volunteers who helped paint all the sheds and fencing at the Allotment last year. This is National Allotments Week and there has never been a better time to get an allotment. For more details locally go here:

      Monday, 5 August 2013

      Cycling saves u money, tackles flab, and gives you thighs of steel!

      I cycle most mornings to work in London. I am trying to get more cycle lanes, stands and cycleways for locals and tourists alike in Northumberland. Last week I put in a special plea to the Highways Department of the Northumberland County Council to make a particular effort to safeguard and patch up cycleways in Northumberland. They are doing their bit and are going to make a special effort to make good all our particular cycleways. Our Coast to Coast cycleway is rightly famous and should be tried by one and all, ideally stopping off in or around Allenheads on the way.
      One great politician with great hair, and a certain style, described his Sunday 100 mile cycle ride in graphic and funny detail yesterday and his tale bears repeating. Enjoy Boris at his best:

      Work experience and internships in our offices

      Get involved! I am really keen to get young people involved in politics, and understanding better what an MP does on behalf of their constituents. This helps with citizenship and so much more. I am a service business with a mission statement that is simple - we try to provide a great service to all constituents, without fear or favour, whilst doing this as cheaply as is possible for the taxpayer. I was the first MP to train and retain an apprentice and my team go to great lengths to get people involved in whatever way they want to see how an MP's office works.
      I run two schemes to get people involved. In my constituency office in the last 3 years in Hexham we have had over 150 young people take part in our work experience programme getting first hand experience of politics. The scheme is totally flexible, and designed to give young people an experience which fits around them over a few days or weeks. Some people come for a day, others come for a couple of weeks. One young man from Stocksfield came along a couple of years ago and liked it so much he ended up volunteering most of his summer. In London from time to time we offer some short term work experience and I now offer a paid internship scheme too. We do everything possible to help local people of whatever political view get an inside look at the job I do on behalf of 60,000+ people.

      If you know any young people who would like to get tell them to get in touch and I will see how we can help, although places in London, in particular on the internship, are really limited. Email me at

      Traffic calming on the Military Road

      Today I have further meetings at Twice Brewed to try and ensure that we have a plan in place for the safety of locals and tourists who use the Military Road, whether as drivers, cyclists or hikers. I know the area well but was struck, on a recent visit to see locals living around Twice Brewed, just how dangerous the road and the junction down to Vindolanda was. I have since met with the Northumberland County Council and I am pleased to report that they are comissioning a traffic study to evaluate the problem properly. What is clear to me is that  the road area needs to be looked at to try and slow traffic down; we also need to ensure that any future development of the Sill is carried out with proper regard for road safety. I will be discussing this further with locals today and also will be meeting the team behind the Sill project - I am a big fan of the development of greater attractions, facilities and jobs in the National Park but we need to make sure this dovetails well with neighbours and is part of traffic improvements to this area.
      UPDATE: Good meeting tonight and my thanks to everyone who came along - particularly the local councillors and representatives from the Highways Department of NCC. There is an agreement to produce a traffic surey fundamnetally organised by the Council to look at road safety both on the Military Road and on the junction leading down to Vindolanda and the road beyondc leading to the A69. The hope is to get a study done within 3 months, to include the chance for local representations to be made in writing - please email or wrie to the highways Department at NCC in Morpeth or alternatively write or email me and I will forward this information / contribution on.

      Playing cricket in Allendale

      I accepted an offer to turn out for Allendale Cricket Club in their key game against Wylam. The day was beautiful and a resounding victory was achieved, which had not looked on the cards early in the day. Allendale are led by a great committee of cricket lovers, and with John Raglan's drive the Club has secured improved facilities, which the club are rightly proud of. Before the game I had my first net of the season, with a bowling machine to boot - very few club sides have this quality of equipment, and thanks to Councillor Colin Horncastle for making a lot of this possible, along with the other fundraisers.
      The team features a great collection of players from all walks of life, all age groups, and a kind acceptance of a newcomer into their side as an occasional player. I could not have been welcomed more, particularly as it was my first Tynedale game of the season and it was a crunch match.
      The day featured Allendale making 177, a score which many thought under par for a reasonable pitch. I batted [briefly] with top scorer Chris, a Whitfield farmer, before I attempted to hit one ball over the pavilion and duly was stumped. What was clear was that the pitch was not doing much. This changed when Allendale bowled: our opening bowler Amit was the difference on the day. He bowled with real pace, with a heavy ball that skidded off the deck. He was the only bowler all day to create uneven bounce and he ripped out the Wylam top 4 with figures of 4 wickets in 15 balls for 6 runs. Three of these wickets were bowled, with one sensational catch at mid off by Jack Raglan. The team were aided by a masterclass in leg spin from Swanny to mop up the tail, and to everyone's surprise the game was over by just after 6 with Wylam just under a 100 runs short. The result did not do a good Wylam side justice - it was just one of those cricket days.  A pint in the Golden Lion rounded things off nicely, although the bitter on tap was Wylam not Allendale!
      A few points struck me during the afternoon. I was really impressed with the efforts to get the kids involved and there was both a net before and a game of quick cricket in the interval. There is a desire to get the local youngsters playing. This is clearly not unique to Allendale as the Wylam players made the same point when we chatted - but it is still good to hear, and not possible without the efforts of lots of local volunteers.
      Also the club now have the opportunity to utilise the pitch for other events and are hosting their first wedding on the site in September. Coming soon is also the Allendale Show on Saturday August 17. It is always a great day and one of the best shows of the Tynedale summer; sadly I cannot be there this year. More details about the ground and chances to play cricket for young or old are found here.

      Sunday, 4 August 2013

      Isaac's Tea Trail, and spending time in Allenheads

      This week I have helped support Isaacs Tea Trail, after accepting the invitation from local volunteer, Roger Morris. Roger has done so much to promote and care for Isaac’s Tea Trail, a 36 mile circular walk through the North Pennines Area of Outsanding Natural Beauty, on the southern border of Northumberland, where it meets the Counties of Durham and Cumbria.

      The trail follows the route of Isaac Holden, a 19th century tea seller and philanthropist, who crossed the fells bringing tea leaves to lead miners and their families living in remote corners of the Pennines.
      In January 2011 Isaac’s Tea Trail gained international recognition by featuring in the book ‘501 Must-Visit Wild Places’.
      Isaac’s Tea Trail was described in The Independent newspaper as, "one of the last great undiscovered wilderness treks in England". Roger has now written the defintive guide, helped by the brilliant Allenheads Trust, many volunteers, and a great graphic designer in Marcus. This week it was a pleasure to meet many of the local enthusiasts, to walk 6 miles of the trail with supporters not just from the Allen Valley but also enthusiasts from the Haltwhistle Walking Festival team, and to hold a well attended public meeting in Allenheads. There is clearly a revival going on in the Allen Valley, with new businesses popping up, many trying to look after the cyclists who are doing the Coast 2 Coast cycleway. I met several Bed and Breakfast providers and the lovely lady who runs Allenheads pub. Everyone backs the revived Tea Tree Trail as a destination venue for walkers in the area. Having walked parts of it I can see why. 

      Saturday, 3 August 2013

      Guilty as charged! Must stop touching Churchill's statue before making a speech
      There is a statue of Winston Churchill by the entrance to the House of Commons chamber and I, and others, frequently touch the shoe for luck before going in to make a speech. 
      Sadly we seem to be wearing the old boy out! The commons committee charged with looking after the Victorian building and its art / statues has decreed we should be banned. 
      Regular viewers of the parliament channel will decide if there is any force in the good luck measure when the house returns at the end of August and the wartime pm is off limits.

      Friday, 2 August 2013

      At Newcastle Airport

      Talking with UK Border Agency staff (some of whose are constituents) after a 2 hour visit all across the airport. Good to hear of the airport expansion plans and to chat to lots of the differing teams across the airport