The awesome power of just doing stuff

Necessity is the mother of invention said Plato.  There is no finer place on Earth and no better people to represent as a councillor than Blakelaw.  But our community is struggling.  Government cuts to Newcastle Council’s budget have decimated our public services and communities like Blakelaw, and the people who live here, are some of the hardest hit.

In Blakelaw we have taken matters into our own hands.  Three years ago it was announced that our much loved local Library would close as a direct result of Coalition Government cuts.  Our community came together and decided to do something about it.  Local residents like Ron Clarke and Nick Brown working with myself and my ward colleagues, Sue Pearson and Ben Riley, set about with many others to do things in a very different way.  The Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership was formed as a charity with a very simple purpose: to work with partners to build and support strong and sustainable public services, social enterprise, new jobs and resilient communities.  We were lucky to employ Glenn Pendleton, who had worked in the Community team at Newcastle Council for 30 years, to lead the Partnership, and since our launch in 2013 things have gone from strength to strength.

We took on the running of our local community centre and we negotiated with the Council to keep our Library open while we worked on plans to fund it.  Bu that was just the beginning of our social revolution.  With the support of the Blakelaw and North Fenham Community Council, our local primary schools Hilton and Thomas Walling, our social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle and many other partners, we have been able to work together to deliver some remarkable results.

It started with a resident-led redesign of the 165 housing estate in Blakelaw, an estate long blighted with anti-social behaviour problems and low level crime.  We worked together as a community to address the problems that were designed into the estate when it was built in the 60’s and we persuaded the Council to spend £2m to implement our plan.  Our fabulous youth worker Leanne Chaytor has developed a universal offer for our young residents and is rolling it out across  into our community.  We have Code Club teaching computer programming to our next generation.  We have activities for older residents, a local crèche, environmental services to support the Council, apprenticeships and community allotments.  We have gardening schemes, a community café and a project led by local resident Emma Benjamin and local charity, Hearts with Goals, to install defibrillators into every public building in the ward.  The list goes on… and all of these amazing things are delivered as public services for public benefit.  This is not David Cameron’s Big Society which demands that people do something for nothing, this is about building sustainable public services that meet local need.

And things are about to get even more exciting…  Two years ago our local Post Office was under threat of closure.  The current Postmaster wanted to retire and the Post Office planned to move the Blakelaw branch well out of reach of residents in Blakelaw for whom the Post Office is a lifeline.  We campaigned as a community to keep our Post Office local and with the support of our MP Chi Onwurah the community led campaign was a success.

Our idea was to relocate the Post Office into our Community Centre and Library and rather than the profits flowing into the pockets of an owner, we developed a plan to bring the Blakelaw Post Office into public ownership and plough the profits into public services for our community.  After two years of hard work our plan was approved and in January we will move the Post Office into the Blakelaw Community Centre and Library.  Every single penny of profit will go into local public services like our Library, our Community Centre and youth work.  And we aren’t finished yet…

We are exploring other social enterprises and opportunities to protect Blakelaw Ward residents from the savage cuts being imposed on local Council budgets.  Our community has engaged in a peaceful revolution by embracing the awesome power of just doing stuff.

Our socialist Post Office is a model we hope will inspire other communities to act in peaceful defiance of a Government obsessed with austerity.  There is another way, and it’s called Socialism.  The basic idea that together we can achieve more as a community than we ever could alone.

Thank you Labour Party

Thank you… two words that we don’t use often enough.  There are so many people to thank for the last 10 weeks of the Labour Leadership election.  When I come down from the high that I am still on from the result I intend to write a cathartic post about the campaign and all the amazing people who were involved from all the campaign teams.  But for now I want to thank the Labour Party staff.

I worked for Labour North for a short time in 2012 and spent several happy months working alongside a fantastic bunch of people.  They were hardworking and dedicated putting in very long hours during elections and doing so without complaint and in the spirit of solidarity and comradeship.  It was a great experience and I have recognised that same spirit and dedication throughout the leadership campaign.

Leadership campaigns are very hard for the people who work for the Labour Party.  They have to remaing steadfastly independent yet still keep the Labour Party machine operating.  That sometimes means they have to respond to things that happen during the campaign (the Welfare Bill as an example) and they have to respond effectively while remaining independent.  That’s not easy!

This campaign was also marked by the pressure having to weed out ineligible voters some of whom registered their support with the intent of embarrassing the Labour Party.  The Party stepped up and whilst I know there were a few cases where they got it wrong, they did a great job at protecting the integrity of the election.

Finally, a few days in under a new Leader and a new leadership team the organisation of the Labour Party is quickly adapting to a new way of doing things.  I think thanks are owed to everyone who works for the Labour Party… so Thanks.

Yes we ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ can

Jeremy and I talking about his speech before going on stage at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle.

Jeremy and I talking about his speech before going on stage at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle.

In 50 years, when I am sitting on my front porch reminiscing about the good old days, I’ll definately look back over the summer of 2015 with fond memories.

At the start of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party I was appointed alongside Ben Sellers as co-organiser for the Northern Region.  At the beginning of the campaign it was, for me at least, about making sure that the left of the Labour Party had a voice and some influence in the debates that would follow.  My hope was that our campaign would stave off the likely attempts to shift the Party further to centre and that left wing ideas would resonate with enough voters as to influence the future Leaders policy platform.  Looking back, I was uncharacteristically pessimistic.

It was clear from the first few debates that Jeremy was tapping into something that few had predicted would resonate with so many people.  His vision for Britain is unapologetically rooted in socialism but his ideas are not academic or on the fringe of reality as some would insist that you believe.  He is talking common sense, his ideas are majority positions and his vision is one of hope.

Jeremy addressing the overspill rally on Thornton Street

Austerity has defined politics at every level for the past 5 years and will do so for the next 5 years.  The Tories are electorally successful when they tap into our fears.  The Labour Party are successful when we show people there is another, more hopeful, and fairer way.  That is what Jeremy has tapped into.  His position on austerity is diametrically opposed to what the Coalition and latterly the Tories have been hitting us with in Government.  Simply put, austerity doesn’t work as a social or economic policy.  It doesn’t work as a social policy because it hits hardest those people who did the least to cause it.  It doesn’t work as an economic policy because you cannot grow an economy by cutting jobs and public services.

When Jeremy spoke to crowds of more than 2000 in Newcastle on 18th August he wasn’t just speaking to people who were going to vote for him anyway.  After the event I received more than 200 emails/texts/tweets from converts… people who were undecided before our event but who were firmly behind Team Corbyn after it.  His appeal is broad and if we come together as Labour Party behind Jeremy we can and will (and must) win the General Election in 2020.

In solidarity.

The audience inside the Tyne Theatre.

The audience inside the Tyne Theatre.



Don’t blame me, I voted Labour!

Cameron is the DevilLast Thursday was the end of a long campaign to secure a Labour majority in Parliament after 5 years of misery under a Tory-led Coalition.  We failed.

Watching the exit polls reported on the BBC at 10pm it was difficult to accept that they could possible be true.  I was up at 5am on Thursday morning confident that by the end of the day we would have a Labour Government.  To go from that to where we ended up is still difficult to accept 4 days later!

What the result means for me is nothing in comparison to what it means for too many of the Blakelaw Ward residents I am privileged to represent.  Already I have taken worried phone calls from residents about the impact of the bedroom tax – a policy Labour pledged to abolish but one which the Tories are ideologically wedded to.  It’s an example of what we can expect under a majority Tory Government led by a Prime Minister who needs the support of the right wing of his party if he is to achieve anything over the next 5 years.  Make no mistake, David Cameron’s Britain will be less fair, more cruel and much more divisive than anything my generation has ever experienced.

David Cameron has appointed a Justice Secretary who wants to bring back hanging and scrap the Human Rights Act.  His Work and Pensions Secretary, already responsible for inflicting pain and misery on millions in the last Government, is back on a mission to cut a further £12,000,000,000 (12 billion) from social security.  His Education Secretary wants to expand free schools staffed by unqualified teachers, and his Chancellor, now promoted to be his deputy, is the principle architect of the austerity that we only partially experienced in the last 5 years but we will now feel the full force of without the muzzle of Coalition.  That is the sort of Britain we can expect over the next 5 years and the Labour Party in Parliament, in Local Government and as a movement of social change needs to be the voice of fairness, inclusivity and hope in what will be desperate times for all but the most privileged few.

Watching the indignity of some of the prospective Labour Party Leaders taking to the newspapers and television over the weekend prompted me to think where did it all go wrong.  They have their theories that we didn’t appeal to middle England, or we lost the centre ground or that we should have embraced, rather than abandon, New Labour.  Rubbish… the principle reason Labour didn’t win the General Election last Thursday is that too many people just couldn’t see Ed Miliband as our Prime Minister.  The great shame of that is Ed Miliband would have been a great Prime Minister and he would have led a Government committed to social justice, fairness and equality of opportunity for all.  Sadly too many people are sold by what they read in the Labour hostile press in Britain.  Regardless of what anyone says about his waining influence, Rupert Murdoch played a very big part in Labour’s defeat.  That’s not sour grapes, it’s fact and it should worry everyone.

Moving forward we need a Party Leader who will take the fight for a fairer Britain to the Tories and who won’t abandon the principles of socialism from which the policies that our country desperately needs will be born.  We need a Party Leader who recognises the importance of our trade unions and the fierce urgency of rebuilding a party for and of the working man and woman of Britain.  We need a Party Leader who is committed abandoning New Labour and who isn’t afraid to challenge the misplaced Centrists within the Labour Party who call for the resurrection of this ugly apparition (yes Lord Mandelson, I mean you… if you don’t want to be in a Party linked to the Trade Unions then the answer is simple, join a different Party!!).

I think Jeremy Corbyn has all the qualities, underpinned by socialist values, needed to be the next Leader of the Labour Party and he has my full support.  I hope our members won’t be duped into electing a leader more committed to the cut of his suit than the cause of socialism or worse still a Leader who will take us back to the unprincipled days of New Labour.  We need someone with fight, with heart and with a burning desire to run this awful Tory Party out of Government at the earliest possible opportunity.  We need Jeremy Corbyn.

My Day with Green Watch

Jock, Me and Tommy

Jock, Me and Tommy

One of the things I do as a Councillor is sit as a Member on Tyne and Wear Fire Authority.  Life under this despicable Tory LibDem Coalition has been particularly harsh on that organisation with massive cuts forced on the service since 2010.

Even by the Government’s own figures in the past five years Tyne and Wear Fire Authority’s budget has been slashed by more than 20%.  But the reality of the situation is even grimmer.  The Government’s figures exclude service pressures and the cost of inflation and pay awards, all of which have had to be dealt with since 2010.  Taking all that into account the reality of the cuts to our budget during the life of the Coalition is more like 35%.  Devastating!

If that wasn’t bad enough, this disaster of a Government have also hit our Firefighters with unacceptable changes to their pension and retirement age – The Government now expects a Firefighter to work in active service up to 60 which even by the questionable standards of a Tory-led Government is just ridiculous!!  On the picket line during one of the strikes, a Firefighter said to me that the one thing that helped him get through what is unquestionably a physically and mentally demanding job was the thought that he would be able to retire at 55 with a decent pension.  The Tories and their LibDem legitimisers have destroyed that and in doing so they have betrayed the moral covenant which says ‘if you put your life on the line for others then when you have done your bit, you will be looked after’.  It is beyond disgusting what the Coalition have done to Firefighters.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a shift with Green Watch at Byker Community Fire Station.  Their watch manager is a straight talking Scotsman, Iain ‘Jock’ McKinness.  Over the course of the day Jock and his crew showed me the reality of life for an active duty Firefighter.  It was eye opening!

Some of the Green Watch Crew (the others were on a shout)

Some of the Green Watch Crew (the others were on a shout)

What impressed me most about Green Watch was their absolute dedication to the job.  They took pride in their work and they cared, passionately, about the Fire Service.  Like all Firefighters in England this Government has hit them hard but despite that they know they have a job to do and they do it with absolute commitment and professionalism.  They are a real credit to their profession and to Tyne and Fire and Rescue Service.

Firefighters do a job that people like me simple cannot comprehend.  It’s gruelling, it’s emotionally draining and it’s physically exhausting.  I am 36 and by lunchtime, after just a few hours shadowing these professionals at work, I was ready for an afternoon nap.  I cannot imagine doing their job day-in-day-out up to the age of 60.  It is just wrong.

Firefighters experience horrors on an almost daily basis that must be difficult to deal with – pulling people out of car accidents, dealing with suicide victims, house fires and every other type of emergency you can think of has to take its toll on even the most seasoned Firefighter.  This Government have cruelly targeted Firefighters in a way that should offend us all.  Their struggle should be our struggle and they deserve nothing less than our absolute support in their fight for a fair deal.

I hope on May 7th we run this shower of a Coalition out of Westminster.  A Labour Government will give our Firefighters a fair deal and will respect the job they do to keep us all safe.

On the Fireboat

On the Fireboat

The Cost of Living Crisis

Labour £The Tories and Liberal Democrats like to claim that families in Britain are better off but the truth is that hardworking people across Newcastle Central Constituency are £1,600 a year worse off under David Cameron.

People living in communities like Blakelaw and Fenham and Wingrove are struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis. However hard they work, rising prices and stagnant wages mean that families are seeing a fall in living standards and fewer opportunities for their kids.

David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg don’t understand the cost of living crisis facing hardworking families in Newcastle. Instead of standing up for hardworking families who play by the rules, the Tories stand up for a privileged few, and the Lib Dems have backed David Cameron all the way.

Ed Miliband’s cost of living contract shows exactly how hardworking families will be better off with Labour. We’ll freeze energy bills until 2017, make work pay by lowering the starting rate of tax, and provide a job or training to every young person unemployed for a year. And we’ll get Britain building again with 200,000 new homes a year built by 2020.

Only Labour will deal with the cost of living crisis.

S(crap) Trident

Scrap TridentTrident is pointless.  It’s supporters protest that it’s value is deterrence but what is it deterring?  Do we really the the biggest risk to our national security is that one of the ten nuclear powers (I’m including Israel in that number) will drop the bomb on Britain?  Please!  What we should be worried about is a lone wolf dropping a vile of smallpox in Trafalgar Square and nuclear ‘deterrent’ isn’t going to deter that!

Trident has no legitimate purpose – it’s use is morally inconceivable and would be illegal under international law.  In what situation would a British Prime Minister push the button and with it millions of lives?  I hope the answer to that is ‘no situation’.  Even the morally bankrupt war criminal Tony Blair admitted that ‘the only purpose of maintaining Trident is to give Britain status’.

To replace Trident would cost £100,000,000,000 (that’s ONE HUNDRED BILLION POUNDS).  Just think of the good we could do for society if we funded instruments of peace instead of instruments of war.

It’s time to scrap Trident.  Join the CND campaign and sign the petition calling for Trident to be scrapped here:

McDonald’s Appeal: Public Meeting



In September last year the elected Councillors on the Newcastle City Council planning committee rejected a plan submitted by McDonald’s to build a two-storey drive-thru off the Kenton Bar roundabout.

The plan was rejected following a campaign led by local residents and supported by Labour Councillors from Blakelaw Ward and Kenton Ward as well as the local Member of Parliament Chi Onwurah.  Democracy prevailed (or so we thought).

McDonald’s have appealed the decision (days before the deadline) and have requested that a Government appointed Planning Inspector conduct a three day hearing to look again at their planning application in an attempt to have the original decision overturned.  McDonald’s are bypassing local democracy and ignoring the will of local residents who were overwhelmingly against the plan.

Labour Councillors from Blakelaw Ward and Kenton Ward have organised a public meeting to hear from McDonald’s and to plan our campaign with local residents.  Please come along and support this important campaign for our local community.

For more information contact me using any of the details in the left column.

We must defend Trade Union rights

Trade UnionThe anti-trade union rhetoric of the Tory Party in recent weeks is deeply worrying for anyone like me who recognises and supports the essential role of trade unions in protecting the rights of workers.

Our country already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe forced on us during the despicable reign of Margaret Thatcher.  David Cameron’s plan to further restrict the rights of our public sector workers to strike should offend anyone who values the freedom of workers to fight for fair pay and fair conditions.

This Coalition Government have engaged in a sustained assault on the public sector since taking office in 2010 and they know that too many of the public services we all cherish are at breaking point.  Credit for keeping our public services running at all on unfair austerity budgets rests with our hardworking and dedicated public sector workers who are unwilling to give up on the vital public services that we all too often take for granted.  David Cameron knows that if his Tory Liberal Democrat Coalition continue to force swingeing cuts on local councils, the police, the fire service and the NHS then many of those services will be destroyed forever and privatisation will reign supreme.  That is Tory Utopia and David Cameron will stop at nothing to achieve it.  By restricting the rights of public sector workers to strike Mr Cameron is simply trying to make his mission to destroy the public sector less troublesome.

We cannot allow a government of elite millionaires to further weaken the rights of workers who ask for nothing more than a fair deal.  Please support our Trade Unions and the workers they represent by taking a few minutes to write a letter to David Cameron telling him what you think of his scheming plan.  Unity is strength.

Blakelaw North Fenham Star Path

Star PathSince I was first elected in 2012 local residents living in and around Kingsway and Queensway have told my ward colleagues and I that the footpath running from the bus stop on the Central Motorway on the approach to Cowgate Roundabout to Kingsway is too dark to use at night.

It’s a well used footpath so we explored installing street lights to solve the problem.  That proved to be too expensive (over £40,000 at least).  I set about researching potential solutions and came across Star Path (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds).

Star Path is the worlds first UV powered light
emitting footpath surface (in other words a path that glows in the dark).  The (perfectly safe) chemical surface interacts with UV rays to emit a glow during when its dark.  It’s a hard wearing durable surface

that will last for years and even if you don’t use the path it’s worth taking a trip to Blakelaw Ward to have a look (map below).  It’s amazing!!

Star Path Map


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