Sunday, 31 May 2015

Government publishes its Local Government Devolution Bill - much in it for the North

I really hope that the 7 Labour led local authorities embrace the future, and seek to copy what all the great regions of the world have done - whether it is London, Greater Manchester or huge tracts of Germany, where a regional approach, led by a Mayor, has shown massive advances in economic prosperity, jobs, and integrated public services from transport to health.

The question to be asked is whether our region wants the statutory powers over everything from health to police and transport as Labour run Greater Manchester is about to enjoy? This is about whether you wish to look forward, join together and allow a region to fulfil its potential. We are at a genuine tipping point.
Other regions like Greater Yorkshire and the West Midlands can see the massive benefit of these plans. At the same stage Scotland is getting the biggest regional devolution of them all with the Scotland Act and the implementing of the Smith Commission over the next 12 months.
We need the North East council leaders at the 7 local authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the business leaders at the NECC, CBI and FSB to get on board.
The text of the Bill published on Friday is here:

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dennis Skinner, the SNP and the battle for a seat in the Commons

To Dennis Skinner, the 83 year old unreconstructed far left wing MP, where he sits in the Commons matters. He has sat in the same backbenchers seat for over 30 years. This is front row on the left, appropriately. It is clear that the SNP take a different view. The SNP think Westminster traditions, and the respect we as MPs show those who have been here a long time - even though we disagree with them politically - are ridiculous and there to be attacked.
The SNP approach is to attack all of the Westminster traditions, the courtesies and respect shown. Their MPs are, as some freely admit, a wrecking ball, designed to show the Scots they are different and hopefully upset the rest of the Commons.
So there has been a turf war this last week over Skinners seat. The SNP took it, only for Skinner and various Labour MPs to help Dennis take it back.
For my part you have to spend time in the Commons to understand the character that is Dennis Skinner. As an MP you respect his commitment to the socialist cause, his continuing desire to represent his constituents aged 83, and his trenchant views. Yes he is sometimes over the top, but then aren't we all? And we will probably be way worse aged 83! But I am a strong supporter of this tradition and happily rebut the SNP claims and approach. It is about respect for Westminster and the House of Commons. It has been around many hundreds of years and will be here for a long time to come.
Full report of the story here, and a differing view, in today's independent:

Success after a long campaign as the rural fuel rebate goes live this Sunday in Bellingham & Kielder

As of Sunday the fuel prices in rural North West Northumberland will be coming down. This is the end of a 4 year campaign to make the case to central government and the EU that truly rural areas are hit by bigger transport and other associated costs. They have listened. I was up in Kielder and Bellingham barely 4 weeks ago and they were eagerly awaiting the change. It will make a big difference.
More details here:

Friday, 29 May 2015

Queens Speech Volume 2 - constitutional matters feature strongly

The constitutional matters feature strongly in the second set of the Governments manifesto and I have set the res of the measures out in detail below: it is fair to say that the Scotland and EU referendum Bills have to come first for a variety of reasons:
  • Scotland Bill – delivering in full the recommendations of the Smith Commission Agreement by transferring new tax and borrowing powers.
  • EU Referendum Bill – giving the British people a voice and a real choice on Europe in a referendum by the end of 2017
  • Wales Bill – securing a strong and lasting constitutional settlement and devolving wide-ranging powers to Wales. 
  • Northern Ireland Bill – providing full and independent investigations into unsolved Troubles-related deaths; enabling victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information, and creating a new independent Oral History Archive.
In addition there are a few other Bills on law and order, crime and justice matters
  • Extremism Bill – delivering new powers to tackle extremists who reject our values of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities.
  • Investigatory Powers Bill – updating legislation to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers and capabilities they need to keep Britain safe.
  • Policing and Criminal Justice Bill – continuing to reform policing to give police officers more freedom to do their job of making our streets safer, whilst at the same time ensuring that they are accountable to the communities they serve.
  • Psychoactive Substances Bill – making it an offence to produce or supply ‘legal highs’, restricting their supply and ensuring that people have less opportunity to get them. It will also give powers to the police to seize and destroy ‘legal highs’.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Queens Speech Report Vol 1 - much to report but here is the majority of domestic, non constitutional matters set out in detail

  • Behind this Queen’s Speech is a clear vision for what our country can be. A country of security and opportunity for everyone, at every stage of life. 

  • That is our ambition. To build a country where, whoever you are and wherever you live, you can have the chance of a good education, a decent job, a home of your own and the peace of mind that comes from being able to raise a family and enjoy a secure retirement. 
  • This is the Queen’s Speech for working people from a One Nation Government that will bring our country together.

Bills announced: 
  • Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill – setting out our ambition to achieve full employment, create 3 million more apprenticeships, expand our support for troubled families, and continuing to reform welfare and bring down the benefits bill.  
  • Enterprise Bill – backing businesses to create more jobs by sweeping away burdensome red tape, getting heavy handed regulators off firms’ backs and creating a Small Business Conciliation Service to help resolve disputes. 

  • Trade Unions Bill – ensuring that strikes can only go ahead with genuine support from members, minimising disruption for hardworking taxpayers. 

  • Childcare Bill – helping families by providing for an increased entitlement to 30 hours a week of free childcare available to eligible working parents of three- and four-year-olds, and requiring local authorities to publish information about the provision of childcare in the local authority area. 

  • Housing Bill – give more people the opportunity to buy a home by extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants; building 200,000 new Starter Homes for first-time buyers; helping more people to build their own home; and working to further increase the level of housebuilding.
  • Energy Bill – continue to increase our energy security, including a strong new regulator to make sure we get the most from our oil and gas reserves, and put onshore wind into the locally led planning system. 

  • Immigration Bill – making illegal working an offence and creating a new agency to crack down on cases of exploitation. It will also make it harder for illegal migrants to live in the UK and make deportation faster.
  • Education and Adoption Bill – speeding up intervention in failing schools and continuing our significant improvements in the adoption system – so all children get the best start in life.
  • Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill – devolving the necessary powers and responsibilities to city-wide areas with elected metro mayors – helping all parts of our country benefit from a growing economy.
  • HS2 Bill – enabling the building of phase one of the new North-South rail line.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Parliament gears up for Queens Speech tomorrow

The sovereign rarely attends parliament but the new session always features a new Queens Speech by her Majesty's government. It is an occasion of pomp and ceremony but also a vital reminder that the Queen may be sovereign but the commoners run the country.
More details on tomorrow's events here:

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Tans Restaurant

The Tans restaurant and the service it provides, helping people as it does with mental health problems through work and training, is clearly one that means a lot to many people. I have met with some of those affected and had surgeries with constituents and as a result made written representations to both the NHS Trust and the County Council.

Whilst I can understand the Council and Trust need to ensure they get value for money for the services they provide, it does seem a very blunt instrument for the Council to simply withdraw funding.
This is what the Council have said on the issue:

“They also serve a diminishing number of people, now supporting only about a quarter of the number of service users they were designed for. We are now embarking on individual reviews with the current service users and their families, discussing with them both existing alternative services in West Northumberland which could support them to become more independent and new services currently under development.

For some people, the option of individually designed support arrangements using personal budgets may be the best option, and we will be offering advice about how this could work. No date has been agreed for closing these schemes, and no date will be set until the right alternatives have been found for all current service users and arrangements have been made for the staff working in the schemes. We recognise that the Tans restaurant has been a popular part of Hexham life for a long time, and if those involved wish to explore keeping it open on a different basis, the council would be able to talk to them about sources of advice.

But the most important priority for the council and NTW is opening up new opportunities for people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.”

I have now asked the County Council's senior officers and the Trust to investigate if there are other ways this service can continue, or at least if transitional arrangements can be put in place.
You can read more about the issue here:

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Burnham and Cooper are not the "Change" candidates - they are Brownite deficit denying dinosaurs

Andy Burnham has been going on about how he is the change candidate for Labour:
Cooper is making the same point in a different way.
However, I have two strong argument that debunk this theory totally.
1. For the last five years I have seen from my spot on the parliamentary benches opposite Burnham and Cooper that these two are utter deficit denying, old school, dyed in the wool, Brownites. They opposed every reduction in budget, regardless of the merit, for five years. This is not an isolated vote - this is dozens of votes, dozens of opportunities to accept that this country has to live within its means. They failed every test, shirked every opportunity, denied any overspend.
2. The reason is simple: they are up to their ears in the Blair / Brown  overspend and "I am sorry there is no more money" era. They do not deny it because they were both a part of it. Both were in the Labour Treasury and major departments of state.
Labour can choose the past and elect either of these two. If they do they might as well rename their party the Dinosaur Party because they would have no relevance to 2015,  and modern politics.
Labour's real problem is that too many of the MPs [Ian Mearns, the Gateshead MP, is one] simply believe that they were not left wing enough at the last election. Deficit denying and believing that Gordon Brown was always right is not going to get them far in 2015-2020. They either choose the future or they will stay a relic of the past.   

Friday, 22 May 2015

"North East traditionalists need to open their minds to a new approach"-great article by Graham Robb

"So David Cameron confounded critics and pundits and won an overall majority. His new Conservative Government has already set about implementing its manifesto.
- Gone are the threats to business of higher taxes and more regulations.
- Gone are the threats to the economy of untrammelled public borrowing and never ending public debt.
- Gone too is the influence of the region’s Labour MPs if they foolishly decide on an obstructive, politically obsessed approach to dealing with the new Government.

Nick Brown MP had the tone right when he welcomed the appointment of North East MP James Wharton as the ‘Minister for the Northern Powerhouse’, albeit with the promise to scrutinise his performance.
It is a great truth in politics that an open hand achieves more than a clenched fist, and our region’s representatives need to work in tune with the realities of Government policy. It is a reality that more powers will be accompanied with new mayors; in coalition this pledge (which is not welcomed by many) might have been diluted but a majority Government is entitled to implement its manifesto. The consequences are that new mayors will disrupt existing and long-established political structures and it challenges the domination of Labour, but it is now up to us to make it work.
The pundits who doubted Cameron’s win are also wedded to the belief that he and Osborne are not sincere about helping the economy of the North. I know both men and they are genuine, each of them considering it a matter of personal integrity and professional pride that the economic gains of this recovery reach parts of the UK that other recoveries have not.
This ‘Heineken’ approach to spreading wealth requires smart and targeted devolution. It is true that the North West appears to be in the driving seat, but there is no reason that the North East shouldn’t hitch a ride."

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Labour leadership election: The Guardian could not be more damning on the disaster that is unfolding
This is pretty punchy stuff. It is patently clear that the Labour machine / Unions want Andy Burnham.
One passage from the Guardian article stands out:

"The  fault is the Labour’s leadership election system. At its malign heart is the process of nomination. To stand, a candidate needs the support of 15% of the party’s MPs. This bar – currently 35 MPs – is ridiculously high. In the Tory party, a candidate requires just a proposer and a seconder, which is a better and more open system. The problem is compounded by the candidates’ interest in amassing as many nominations as possible, which drains the pool still further. This happened in 2007 and 2010; now it is happening in 2015 too. Labour’s way squeezes out candidates and visions before things have even started. It lacks transparency. It takes power away from the voters. It is old-fashioned and absurd.
It also hands too much power to the power brokers – up to 130 of Labour’s MPs have backing from the Unite union, which has warned Labour to choose the “correct leader”. The nominations obsession encourages the sticks and carrots beloved of machine politicians – “nominate her and you’ll never get a shadow job” – while squeezing daylight and air out of the process ever further. Some 53 Labour MPs are new to Westminster. They haven’t even heard a single speech by any of the candidates. But a lot of them have decided who they are nominating. This is more than absurd.
In the Guardian’s view it is an outrage that Labour MPs are deciding the shape of this important contest so prematurely. No candidate has published a detailed argument about why Labour lost and how it can win. None has had more than a brief chance to take an argument to the public through the media or into the new Commons. No one actually knows what they really think about the big hard issues, yet the contest is being irrevocably moulded all the same. An essential process risks being sacrificed to the abuses of machine politics."

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Great speeches given & a report about Monday's House of Commons election of the new Speaker

Monday saw the unanimous re-election of John Bercow as Speaker. It featured several superb speeches by the Speaker himself, Jacob Rees Mogg in support of the Speaker elect, and then after the election there were very good speeches by the PM and Alastair Carmichael for the Lib Dems. Harriet Harman also made a pretty good contribution too. What is not understood is the process and this is a good subject for the blog.

First, one must make the point that the Speaker has been outstanding for backbenchers like myself in the last parliament. He also is a very good orator himself, and at his election to become Speaker it is the only time the Speaker ever truly speaks for himself in parliament: the key passage was as follows:
"It has been an honour to serve as Speaker for nearly six years, and I should be honoured to do so for a little longer if colleagues kindly agree. I shall strive to ensure that the House remains at the heart of our democratic system. All its Members, newcomers and veterans alike, should be part of the cast, not merely an audience.
If there are five words that I should like to be carved on my political tombstone—assuming that such items are not now for ever unfashionable—they are: “He was the Back-Benchers’ champion.” On that basis, I submit myself to the House."

It is fair to say that all of the House of Commons got the joke about the Tombstone after the Miliband EdStone disaster.

In support, Jacob gave his usual erudite and entertaining speech, making the point that:

"The Speaker is the champion of the House of Commons against all-comers—the champion of the Commons against the Lords and sometimes against the judges, but perhaps
most particularly against the Executive. The historians here will know that some seven Speakers lost their heads for championing the Commons against the Executive—something that we hope is no longer necessary."

After Jacob's speech the matter was put to a vote by the Father of the House, Gerald Kaufman, MP. The Speaker was elected unanimously.  

The PM and Harriet Harman on behalf of the main parties are then invited to comment and congratulate the Speaker on his election. They were both very funny, in a dry but precise way, in reply. You need to read the speeches to see how well both did in mildly poking fun of the Speaker, and themselves, whilst acknowledging the importance of the occasion.  

Finally for the Lib Dems, Alastair Carmichael, the MP for Shetland & the Orkney Isles, spoke "on behalf of the elite cadre of Liberal Democrats who have been returned!"
He was warmly received.
The full record of the short debate is here and worth a read:

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Saturday sees first United Airlines Newcastle Airport - New York flight: big excitement in the North East

Only one month to go until first transatlantic service – flight launches 23 May

Final preparations are underway ahead of the launch of the first US transatlantic scheduled service from Newcastle International Airport on 23 May. The United Airlines service to Newark / New York commences in just one month’s time. I am really grateful to the team at United Airlines for seeing the vision of the North East and our area as a big base for trade and tourism, exports and excitement. I cannot be at the opening flight on Saturday morning but I know lots of locals in Northumberland are very excited about the new route. 
As the final countdown begins, thousands of eager holidaymakers and business travellers have already booked on the service, which is running five days a week to the Big Apple on United Airlines from Newcastle.
The route will operate five times a week between 23 May and 7 September. It will have a big impact on tourism to the region. In addition to UK residents travelling on to North America for business or for leisure, the service makes the North East of England much more accessible for inbound travel from the States. 
This from Dave Laws, chief executive of the airport: 
“We have also been promoting the new service across the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire through visits to travel agencies, advertising and through some sponsorship deals within and outside the airport. It is now really down to the region to take advantage of this fantastic service so that United Airlines return and expand the operation in 2016.”
The number one destination is New York, but the service is proving popular for trips to Florida, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In all, over 300 onward connections are available via Newark.
Dave adds: “Passengers are making the most of United’s excellent route network to connect onto numerous further afield destinations. Some travellers are even using the flight to reach Hawaii. If you fancy visiting the United States and Canada this summer whether to tour, visit friends or family or laze in the sun, it’s not too late to book. Now is a good time to leap into action and visit your local travel agent either for a package holiday or a tailor made holiday.”

Monday, 18 May 2015

A packed week in the Commons:- Speakers election, swearing in, and much to do

Monday sees the Speakers election, which is a centuries old tradition worth watching on the parliament channel shortly after 2.30. John Bercow is likely to be re-elected. The deputy speakers are chosen the following week as I understand it.

Tuesday to Thursday sees the 650 MPs from the PM downwards taking the oath of allegiance, and being welcomed by the Speaker. I plan to try and swear in sometime between 5-7 on Tuesday afternoon.

There will also be the start of elections and hustings for the House of Commons select committees, and other committees, over the next few weeks. Select committees have great power and are very important as scrutinisers of government, as creative bodies providing an alternative view of a department, and as a breeding ground for specialists. Many of the new 2015 intake will be trying to get on to select committees. They are all chosen by secret ballot;

We are still getting on top of the casework and constituent requests that came in over the election period which I was unable or prevented from auctioning but we are getting there. Like all MPs I have to hire staff, reset up offices, organise diaries and start the process of being an MP again. It is easier the second time but still far from simple.

Over the next two weeks I am also getting used to my new job as a whip and meeting my charges. Much to do.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Thoughts on 1st week back in the Commons: Labour plotting, few Libs and SNP in force

Much to report: a new job, a new government, lots of SNP, not a liberal in the Commons, Alex Salmond drinking beer not pink champagne, and the sad sight of lots of former colleagues - some friends, some foes - clearing their offices; oh, and the Conservatives getting on with the job of being in government.

The scene after an election is a bit like the aftermath of a big battle. Some are gone and never seen again - as they simply never come back to the Commons and post their pass back. Some of the defeated linger and stare wistfully at the Chamber they are no longer allowed to enter. All of the defeated commons passes expired Wednesday at midnight. I passed one liberal democrat who was a friend of mine on the escalator as he was leaving: neither of us knew what to say -"stay in touch" were his parting words. One labour MP from Scotland, who had been particularly robust in his approach to me in various clashes in the Commons, simply avoided my gaze and looked down so as not to catch my eye.

The SNP are on robust form. The 20 year old Mhairi Black - who is the youngest MP for hundreds of years - is clearly the star of the show to such an extent that even Alex Salmond is being overshadowed. I introduced myself to Salmond in the commons library on Tuesday and we chatted. Later he was seen on the commons terrace with a pint of beer. I would question whether he really wants to be back as a smaller part of a big team in Westminster.

For my part I am delighted to be promoted to be part of the Whips office. The team are great and we are at the heart of government going forward. It will be fascinating. I will blog in more detail in the next few weeks on the changes this appointment will bring.

Most of Labour have not yet returned to the Commons but small groups can be found in corners plotting, working out who to back in the leadership contest. The word is that the 2 Brownite dinosaurs Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper will fight it out, as the younger modernisers lack the required Union backing, or else have withdrawn from the race. The labour leadership still remains a completely Union based affair - put simply those with the biggest union support win. To that end I find it amazing that Jim Murphy, one of the most decent people in the Labour Party, and a fellow
Former player in the House of Commons football team, is being ousted by Len McCluskey, a union leader, who should have no say in the matter.
Full details here:

Conservatives are on chipper form, with lots of new intake, and true praise for the amazing female candidates who beat Balls, Cable and Reckless. I have genuinely not seen a single Liberal MP save the one who bid me farewell.
Finally, one former Scottish labour MP has expressed his true feelings to the electorate:

Chancellor & NECC talk to the Journal and address what devolution offer they want for North East

A Stocksfield resident [AKA Mr Alan Milburn, former Labour Cabinet Minister] writes

"Too many in Labour kidded themselves that the ghastly experiment of a core-vote strategy would pay off. Voters couldn’t be fooled. Ed bet the house that they had moved to the left when they had gone the other way. Labour managed to lose both the core Scottish and the Middle England vote."

Watch Milburns devastating Newsnight interview here:

Or read what the Labour MP, Simon Danszuk writes in yesterdays paper: Labour’s front bench is out of touch and “dripping with privilege” – Simon Danczuk, Daily Telegraph

The Sill photography competition provides more reasons to go to Northumberland National Park

Friday, 15 May 2015

A Mayor for the North East is the way forward - we need one strong voice for the region

 • The old model of trying to run everything in our country from the centre of London is broken. It’s led to an unbalanced economy, made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives, and is not good for our prosperity or democracy.

• A central part of our Queen’s Speech will be a Bill to enable a new model of city government, based around a single city, or more usually a larger area like Greater London, Greater Manchester, or the Combined Aithority area of the North East. I am a big supporter of this as it will bind the area together, allow us to speak with one voice not many, and give us the critical mass we need to compete in the global race for jobs and investment. It will also integrate the region, and it's public services. 

 We will hand power to cities so they have greater control over local transport, housing, skills and healthcare – and the means to grow their local economy and ensure local people keep their rewards. But it’s right that people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes decisions and carries the can. So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. 

• Greater Manchester has agreed to have a mayor as part of our Northern Powerhouse – and this new law will make that happen. We are open to any other major city who wants to take this step. It means power to the working people of our country, a stronger democracy and greater prosperity for all.  

We are doing this by:
• A Cities Devolution Bill in the Queen’s Speech will devolve power to cities across England. The Bill will legislate so that by the end of the year the legal framework is in place so any city can choose to implement a Mayoral devolution deal. This would give the city greater control over local transport, housing, skills and healthcare; more power to grow their economy; and a single point of accountability in a city-wide elected mayor. 

• The historic deal for Greater Manchester will act as a blueprint for the rest of the country. The Bill will deliver this deal, reached last autumn, enabling Greater Manchester to elect its Mayor in 2017 – with powers over transport, strategic planning, policing, control of a new £300 million Housing Investment Fund. This will be the first city-wide elected mayor outside of London, and will give Mancunians a more powerful voice and bring practical improvements, such as better transport links, an Oyster-style travelcard, and more investment in skills and the city’s economy.

• Labour let our economy become unbalanced. For every ten private sector jobs created in the London and the South between 1998 and 2008, only one was created in the Midlands and the North.

Fuller details here from the BBC:

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pleased that PMs first visit after the election is today to the North East

PM is accompanying new Northern Powerhouse Minister, and my fellow North East Conservative MP, James Wharton.

The Journal's article on the North East election result

Why is Labour so anti SME / business / enterprise? Thoughts of David Miliband and Alan Sugar are telling

The few business leaders the labour party did have as supporters are now resigning. This from Alan Sugar, who is disillusioned with its "negative business policies" and "anti-enterprise concepts":

Separately yesterday David Miliband, the former South Shields MP and Cabinet Minister under Blair + Brown was quoted in the Independent as follows:
"David Miliband has criticised his brother's leadership of the Labour party, saying he failed to do enough to woo the middle classes.
He said Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband had "allowed themselves to be seen as moving backwards from the principles of aspiration and inclusion which are at the heart of progressive modern politics."
But he ruled himself out of running for the Labour leadership himself and refused to be drawn on who he believed was best to take over from his brother."

David Miliband added:
“I think there is no point in blaming the electorate. Any suggestion that they didn't quite get it is wrong. They didn't want what was being offered."
David Miliband delivers a sobering analysis of his brother Ed's failed bid for Number 10

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Colourful moments, dangerous dogs, dodgy letter boxes, cakes & titbits from the campaign trail

No election is without its high and lowlights. No election is complete without lots of cake, late nights,  encounters with dodgy letter boxes and the dog that lurks to eat your leaflet, and sometimes your fingers. All candidates emerge with massive respect for postmen, and a desire to reform letter boxes, particularly the tiny thin variety or the ones located 6 inches off the ground.

These are some of my reflections from the campaign:
1. The campaign was conducted fairly locally, particularly by the candidates, with only a few extremists defacing posters. Of the other candidates the most energetic and charismatic campaign was fought by Lee and his team of green activists. I met them many times on the campaign trail, and they were always smiling and cheery, even when we both got caught in the rain high on the hills of Prudhoe.

2.  I did over 7 hustings, again before robust audiences. The best hustings were the two BBC ones:
-the Hexham QEHS school BBC Newcastle live radio hustings with Alfie Joey was superb. Best questions were 2 questions asked by a young female pupil, jenny wren, on the NHS.
- and the live bbc TV hustings 7 days before polling day was remarkable for the way the Sunderland labour MP, Julie Elliott was monstered by the bbc audience on the Labour Party approach to business and "weaponising" the NHS. The audience did not like it, and were openly laughing at Julie.

3. The campaign hiking, particularly on the long roads of Ponteland, got us all very fit, but an exhaustive attempt to eat almost every cake in every tea shop in Northumberland corrected the dietary Balance! Top cake and scone award goes to tea and tipple tea shop in Corbridge, although the cafes in Greenhead and wylam were both outstanding pit stops much loved by the team. We walked hundreds of miles - with a maximum of 20 odd miles on one day!

4. Topics that were raised were across all spectrums: we discussed everything on doorsteps and hustings but here are a few points:
-in prudhoe the building of a new high school featured positively all the time.
-whilst concern about the local labour County Council not being interested in our part of Northumberland was a regular feature. No one can understand why they want to move the county headquarters even further away from us and in to a new expensive premises in Ashington.
- Assisted suicide was asked about repeatedly at hustings. Our electorate are clearly in favour of this in the appropriate circumstances.
- one voter hilariously asked if Ed Milibands stone tablet was to be used a counter top in his kitchen. I think he was joking but he said it with a straight face.

5. Some comedy / fun moments:
- my chairman nearly getting arrested by the police when trying to clean off the defacing of a poster. The police originally thought he was the defacer, when they turned up mob handed to arrest a pensioner bearing a blue can of correcting spray paint and a cloth.
- one of our campaign team knocking on one door so hard we thought for a moment he was trying to break in or wake the dead. Enthusiasm is tough to control.
- gate crashing the opening of the first night of the Bellingham burger van two Thursday's ago at Kielder Organics home farm.
- being asked to draw the raffle at the Feathers Inn quiz - had thought I had given up on such duties on the campaign.
- not being chased too much by any dogs was good, although one campaigner lost a wooden spoon used to put leaflets through a letterbox to a robust terrier, who grabbed it and took it for good after a mighty tussle.

Why did Labour lose this election and why did the Conservatives win?The evidence is clear to see

I am an aspirational, tax cutting, public service supporting, pro business, deficit reducing, One Nation, middle ground, socially liberal Conservative. I drove and walked a lot of miles at the election and met thousands of voters these last months and learnt a lot from the countless conversations I had. These are some of my impressions of these last five months on the campaign trail.

The British are aspirational, they want their country to live within their means, want security and have a broadly centrist view of the world. They want local champions who will fight their corner, and do what they can to improve their local area. I have tried to do that. 

Many different types of people voted Conservative, both locally and nationally, who were doing so for the first time. Several voters felt that the Coalition and the Prime Minister may have had to deal with a tough hand to play, but that they had also made mistakes. I agreed, and made the point that no government, no parent and no businessman or woman gets it right every time. But, on the broad principles of trying to live within our means, taxing the low earners less, supporting job creators, and safeguarding and protecting the NHS and 4-16 education budgets, whilst making big sacrifices in other departments, most voters I met felt that we had got it broadly right. 

Labour must do its own post mortem, but the impressions I gained from voters from prudhoe to Haltwhistle and beyond was that labour lost because of several reasons:
- the public clearly felt that Labour under Blair and Brown had spent too much and all but bankrupted the country. The veteran labour MP Frank Field has set out his clear view of where his leader messed up today in the Mail:
- they did not see Ed Miliband as a Prime Minister, or Balls as a custodian of their money. I agree. Balls is no loss to parliament. I am not sad to see my nemesis go. Miliband is a decent man, just very misguided - I would not trust him to run any business let alone the country. His Ed Stone tablet is now presumably being sold on eBay, or used in his second kitchen. But Balls is the only Labour politician who had genuine enemies and doubters inside his own Labour Party.
- the Labour campaign started left wing, under their most left wing leader for a generation, and veered ever further leftwards under threat from the SNP and others.
- it was striking that I could find no man or woman, either in or out of my constituency, who ran a SME or business who thought that Labour would run the economy well, such that the economy and their business would prosper.
- the public accepted the principle that you only have a strong NHS and public services if you have a strong economy. Yet on the issue of competence on the economy the Labour Party had nothing to say. They had no answer to issues on tax, for example.  On tax for the job creators, the richest 1% now pay 30% of our tax revenue, compared to those 1% paying only 21% in 2003; whilst the lowest paid had been taken out of Income Tax, as well with the minimum threshold rising to £10,600 from £6500 in 2010. Minimum wage is up, apprentice wages are up and the job numbers in the north east and across the country are remarkable. A 50% reduction of unemployment and a doubling of apprentices since 2010 in the Hexham constituency speaks for itself.
- on constitutional changes, immigration and Europe the Labour Party refused to engage with the issues. The public deeply distrusted a proposed deal with the SNP. They want English votes on English issues, and a fair settlement on devolution to all parts of the UK. They want reform of our European relationship.
- I found that people fully understood that whilst the 2010-2015 Coalition had been forced to make tough decisions, they did not want the debts of the Blair / Brown eras being passed on to their children.

Labour are losing votes to the Conservatives in the centre ground and to ukip and the greens on the left, but their choice of leader post Miliband will be crucial. If they continue to veer further to the left then their disastrous election result last Thursday will be repeated. The hard left types like Andy Burnham have nothing to say to middle Britain, to the owner of an SME, to the aspirational mum and dad.
For my part I am heading back into Westminster tomorrow morning first thing. There is much to be done nationally and locally. It is an honour to be asked to serve the people I represent in Northumberland. I remain humbled by the opportunity.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Excited to be going to Hexham Annual Spring Festival, and Market, this morning

From 9-4 today in the Abbey grounds is the spring eating and music festival. There is so much to see and do and so much to buy. There is music and entertainment in the bandstand. In the Market Place is the farmers market. Shop local and support your local producers please.

2015 General Election Result

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Polling day: a great honour to be the Hexham constituency MP these last 5 years

Regardless of the result today, hand on heart,  it has made me immensely proud to serve for the past five years as your MP.

A lot has changed for me over the last 5 years, not least surviving a brain tumour in Spring 2011. There was a time that I really thought I would have to give up being your local MP. The NHS surgeon who saved my life warned me that the potential risks included paralysis down my right side and an inability to talk. On the day of the operation, May 5, 2011, I had been your MP for just one year.

Thankfully the operation was a success, I am 100% recovered and I certainly haven’t lost the power to speak up for our area! The debt I owe to our NHS though will remain with me forever. And, having come so close to being forced to give up being your local MP has only strengthened my commitment to fight for our community.

There are people who say MPs shouldn’t get involved in local issues, that they should just stick to Westminster matters, and toe the party line. I couldn’t disagree more. In Parliament, I have been independent minded and I have tried my hardest to get stuck into local issues - fighting for fairer funding for our local schools, lobbying for more jobs and campaigning to preserve our Greenbelt.

Turning to the wider stage, I think that, after 13 years of Labour boom and bust, the present Conservative-led Government has provided this country with the strong and stable government we needed so badly. Last year we were the fastest-growing major economy in the developed world. More than 1.8 million extra people are in work. The deficit has been cut in half. These big changes didn’t just happen by accident. Since we came into government 1000 new jobs have been created every single day. In fact, we’ve created more jobs than the rest of the EU put together.

For years our pensioners were treated poorly. The people who fought the Second World War and re-built our country were fobbed off by Labour with a pitiful 75p increase in their pensions. It was a disgrace – and we’ve turned the situation around. The State Pension now is up by £950 a year under the Conservatives. We’ve also protected the NHS. It is one of the best things about being British: whoever you are, and regardless of your means, you can get help if you are sick. That’s why we have protected the NHS budget, employed 9,500 more doctors, 7,500 more nurses, started a Cancer Drugs Fund and, amongst so many other things, boosted dementia care and research. In the next Parliament we would make sure that under the Conservatives, once again healthcare spending is protected.

It is now time for local people to judge my record. It will be my name on the ballot paper today. If you think I haven’t been a good local MP, I do not expect or deserve your vote. If however, you do think I have been a good local MP - I hope I can count on your support. The polls close at 10pm.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Labour left us "I am afraid there is no money" - don't let them bankrupt us again

Labour Treasury Minister Liam Byrne MP's letter from 2010 "I'm afraid there is no money" is a very good reason I do not want anyone voting Labour this election. The Labour party bankrupted this country, and have opposed every effort at balancing the books these last 5 years. The security of the recovery is at stake, and The Two Eds, helped by the SNP, are not the people to be steering this country either.
Don't give the keys of the car back to the team who crashed it in the first place.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

"As a life long Labour supporter..."

I just wanted to share with you the email below I received from a constituent. It really does make the long days out and about in the Northumberland rain really worth it!  

My commitment to the NHS comes from personal experience

On two occasions my life has been saved by the NHS - once when I had my brain tumour in 2011 and once when I was crushed by a horse at Stratford Races when I was a jockey. As a result I had 12 broken bones, a pneumothorax, a ripped kidney and had my spleen removed. As a result I am immuno compromised and need the annual Flu Jab.

I came into politics because of my passion for the NHS, and have campaigned for NHS services for over 20 years. 

Over the past 5 years as your MP I have tried to do all I can to support local NHS services and will continue to do so if relected: I have helped lead successful campaigns to keep Maternity services stay at Hexham Hospital, and to protect A+E services at the Hospital.
After many years of supporting the project and after £4.6million investment, a brand new NHS hospital for West Tynedale has finally been built. I was there in Haltwhistle in March at the opening.  
I also led the campaign to scrap VAT on Air Ambulance, which will now save the Great North Air Ambulance £24,000 every single year, the cost of 10 life saving missions.
I have been been and will always continue to be a real champion of our NHS, and welcome the commitment my party leader has given to increase NHS funding if relected:

Tackling our roads crisis with investment

It may not seem a big issue to some people but here in our area the state of our local roads is a real important priority.
I am proud to have helped ensure that the County Council has the money it needs from central Government to fix our potholes and improve our roads. I helped secure an extra £5.6m additional roads funding for Northumberland in 2014 alone. That is more than for any other Council in the North East. I am working hard to ensure our potholes get fixed. 
I am also leading the campaign for safety improvements, and the long term dualling of the A69. We have got the feasibility study up and running and my thanks to all the campaigners. This work is needed not just for drivers but also to help pedestrians in towns and cyclists coming here as tourists. 

Fighting to protect our green belt locally here in Northumberland

If there is one thing people know about me it is that I am a passionate supporter of our Greenbelt. 

founded the Greenbelt Protection Group in Parliament and I have passionately led the campaign against plans to build on the Greenbelt in our area, especially in Ponteland and Hexham.

Although the County Council is determined to push on with it's plans, myself and local campaigners are still trying to reduce the number of houses planned for our Greenbelt. 

The Clearest choice in a generation

Monday, 4 May 2015

Salmond and Sturgeon will bring only trouble and strife to our country

Sturgeon states that there is nothing for the English to be afraid of in the rise of the Nationalists. Fear not, the SNP is coming to Westminster just to be friendly. As if...! If you believe her you need your head examined. Just as the Nationalists have so badly divided Scotland they seek to divide England, and the UK, because that is what they do. They create division and set people against each other, for their own ends.
Sir John Major has called it right:

Boris on the choices at this election, and Ed's dubious slab of rock

Local unemployment is down by 50% and apprenticeships are on the up

Locally unemployment rose under Labour in the last parliament, up from 543 people unemployed in 2005, to a peak of 1175 unemployed in 2010. 
Now, the number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in the Hexham constituency in Feb 2015 was 542, that is down 54% compared to it's peak under Labour.
There is more to do, but that is 633 more local people in a job, taking home a pay packet each month and being able to provide for their families.
Even pre-recession in January 2006 there were 628 people unemployed in the Hexham constituency, higher than the most recent figures.
Last year, 690 local young people started an apprenticeship, up from 430 under Labour in 2009/10. That means even more local young people are getting a good start in life. 
I am proud to have championed more jobs and apprenticeships for our area, and continue to be a passionate supporter of the Living Wage. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Fairer funding campaign for our local schools has brought in over £12 million

I am immensely proud to have helped lead the cross party fairer funding campaign, which has changed the rules on schools funding. The new agreement secured from the Government gives a fairer funding deal for our schools. For many decades Northumberland has been one of the worst funded education authorities.  The changes we have helped secure so far will deliver an extra £12 million for Northumberland's schools.
The resulting extra funding will make a real difference. 
This additional £12 million funding this year is, however, as far I'm concerned, simply a down-payment, or a first step towards a new and fairer funding system for our schools. For far too long pupils and schools in local authorities such as Northumberland (and Devon, Worcestershire, and Derbyshire) have been the poor relations of places like Newcastle in terms of our share of education funding. The real financial pressures some of schools face is testament to the injustice that is the long standing current formula.
The truth is the Coalition Government is the first administration in the past 30 years to even acknowledge that the existing school funding formula is unfair and has been underfunding areas like Northumberland for decades. What we need an overhaul of the national funding formula, to replace the existing discredited arrangements, and that is what I am campaigning for.
Having successfully secured a rebuild of Prudhoe High School and extra investment in 
Hexham QEHS, I am now working hard to deliver investment in our other school buildings.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Securing the Vat exemption and air ambulance funding is one of my proudest achievements

Leading the Air Ambulance Support group in the House of Commons has ben one of the best things I have done as an MP. It is a cross party group and our biggest achievement was getting the vat exemption on fuel for air ambulances. This followed a 2 year campaign, and a massive online petition and a big campaign locally led by the Hexham Courant:

The actual debate which began the long process of change is here:

Securing additional funding this year for all the air ambulances as part of a concerted campaign was a further example of cross party lobbying and campaigning by the association of air ambulances, who are seen here with myself and the Chancellor at Number 11 Downing Street. Subsequently, I recently met staff at the Great North Air Ambulance Service, which will receive £250,000 in extra funding to go towards a new base for the charity’s fundraising and operational teams.

The money was part of £5million from the Government to the Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) for equal distribution between twenty regional air ambulance services. The Government had raised the money through fines levied on UK banks for rigging the Libor interbank interest rate.

I have long been a supporter of GNAA, having previously walked the Pennine Way for the charity, raising over £1800 in doing so.

There are many people in my constituency and beyond who owe their lives to air ambulances, so it is hugely satisfying to have been involved in securing this funding. The funding changes we have been able to secure for the Air Ambulance will play a vital role on helping to save hundreds of lives every year. My work as Chair of the Air Ambulance group in Parliament has been one of the things I am most proud of.  It will make a real difference. The VAT changes alone, of which the Courant was a huge supporter, will help the Great North Air Ambulance fly an extra 10 life saving missions every single year. As the election draws close it is a reminder that when we work together we really can make a positive difference to our community.