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Tuesday 21 April – On board with Chris Galley poster!

The nautical (and indeed aviation) puns didn’t come from me. However if you want your very own Wansbeck Conservatives poster – and you have a lot of blue toner in your printer – here’s your gizzit! Click on the link below for our PDF poster.

On_board_with_Chris Galley


Monday 20 April – Make A Noise for Bedlington

bedlington logo (1)Today I was out delivering my newsletter around Bedlington. You can download your own copy here (PDF format). The headline reads: “Bedlington: Time for a fair deal”. This relates to the truly shocking deterioration of the town centre. The shopping centre was once the pride of the town, but it has been going downhill very rapidly, with shop after shop closing down. The closure of Tesco was the final straw. I discussed this with a number of people when out in Bedlington, and everyone I met was very concerned about this issue. Bedlington has lost out to neighbouring towns in terms of public facilities – well, the exception is more housing estates, there is plenty of effort going into that! But what are all the new residents of Bedlington going to do when they move in?BedSelfie

Make A Noise for Bedlington (MAN4Bedlington on Facebook, you can follow it via this link) is a grassroots campaign, with a public protest lined up for Saturday 2 May. Here is their striking poster. I’m in touch with the organisers since I (and Wansbeck Conservatives) would like to support this initiative.


Saturday 18 April – Rothbury mutual aid

IMG_8183This is me with Anne-Marie Trevelyan, friends and supporters campaigning in Rothbury this morning.  There are a number of other candidate MPs in this photo, notably my next-door neighbour in Blyth Valley, Greg Munro. In the Conservative Party if you are on the Candidates List you are expected to do some “mutual aid” for other constituencies from time to time, whilst of course not neglecting your own patch….. Talking of which, I was hoping to finally meet the Liberal Democrat candidate for Wansbeck somewhere around here, but unfortunately he is proving somewhat elusive.

I nabbed a patch of the Rothbury area that I know very well, since I spent some of my childhood holidays around Elilaw, Biddlestone and Alwinton. On a beautiful day like today it was truly a breathtaking. It involves a lot of tight driving, opening gates and minding the red squirrels! Then back home to finish off my Ashington leaflet.

Thursday 16 April – Ashington Hustings

I had my first hustings of the campaign last night. It was organised by Ashington Churches Together, and there was quite a good turn out, 100 or 120 participants I would guess. It was chaired by Rev. Peter Sinclair of Newbiggin. In this photo, the candidates were from left to right: Ian Lavery (Labour), Melanie Hurst (UKIP), Fr. Peter chairing, Chris Hedley (Green), Chris Galley (Conservative), and “the Liberal Democrat Representative”.

I will blog about this bizarre outcome separately, but Tom Hancock “was working and wasn’t released by his employer”, which incidentally, is the Liberal Democrats! So he was tied up in Berwick and unable to get to Ashington. I was under the impression that the Liberal Democrats have another candidate in Berwick who could have perhaps answered the telephone at 8pm if necessary, but I’m easily confused. Anyway, his place was taken by the well known Cllr. Andrew Tebbutt, who is Tom’s agent.


We were given 5 questions 48 hours beforehand so we had some time to think about our answers:

1) Jesus showed care for the children. How would you & your party improve the life-chances of the children of Ashington?

2) There has been some new money, but the fact remains, overall mental health spending has been reduced by 8% over the past 5 years. Will your party commit to increase overall spending on health?

3) As the UK is one of the world’s richest countries, what will you do to speak out for the poor & vulnerable around the world?

4) As the age of the Two Party domination within British politics begins to wane, what do you see as the pros & cons of coalition?

5) Freedom of speech is a valued part of our society. Where do we draw the line in allowing racist content on ‘The Web’ before taking it down?

I was reasonably happy with my answers to 2 to 5, I didn’t do so well on question 1. I think some of the other candidates over-researched their brief, reeling off statistic after statistic, which merely proves they are a dab hand at operating Google.  I was impressed with Chris Hedley, it was his first ever public political engagement and he carried himself very well. He certainly won the prize for the smartest turned out candidate, perhaps as rebuttal to the sandals and sack-cloth cliché!

The meeting came alive on the aid to the Third World question. My view was that UKIP’s stance on this – to cut our 0.7% contribution of Gross National Income is utterly immoral and wrong, and the other candidates clearly felt the same. Ian Lavery ripped into UKIP on that very point, the fact that their supporters got rattled so much by his arguments suggests to me how they realise this is a considerable weak spot in their manifesto.


I am grateful for Ashington Churches Together for organising this. The photos come from the Twitter feed of Sally, the NCEA chaplain.

Monday 13 April – A hedge in Bedlington with a tall story

I’ve been campaigning on this issue, and highlighted it in leaflets being distributed around Bedlington, but I think it deserves a wider audience.

BedlingtonHedgeThis building site is in Bedlington, by Gallagher Park. Persimmon is building 33 dwellings at the end of Slaley Court, off Hirst Head. There’s a bridlepath that runs from the back of the Police Station and around the cricket and football pitches. It used to the site of the coal pit heaps but has now been transformed into a green space with many leisure users. The boundary between the bridlepath and the housing development was a mature hedge, home to birds and other wildlife. The park is home to one of England’s few remaining red squirrel colonies.

One day contractors, employed by Persimmon, cut down a 10 metre section of the hedge, contrary to restrictions on their original planning permission. The company says this was an accident, and the rest of the hedge was only saved because a local resident went out and stopped the contractors. Persimmon then applied to vary the original planning, not only to rectify their error, but also to ask permission to remove more of the hedgerow. The reason they gave in their application was to facilitate the construction of the 33 houses.

This is a very strange turn of events: in applying for permission in the first place Persimmon would have known about the hedge and impact on building work. Moreover, the plan of houses doesn’t show development right up to the hedge – this would have been gardens, with one exception. There is no access needed – well unless Persimmon want to develop another field over the path, that is. However having the hedge in place would reduce the size of some of the gardens quite noticeably, and the hedge probably isn’t as “neat” as it could be. This, presumably, would reduce the value of those properties.

The latest turn of events is that a few days ago the Council’s ecology office sent in their feedback, you can see it here (PDF). I think it’s fair to say that the assistant ecologist has considerable doubts about the turn of events, and is particularly scathing about Persimmon’s proposed remediation after construction is complete. Just to take one sentence from this report: “It is difficult to envisage how the removal of sections of hedgerow would be in the interest of public amenity, given that the gardens would be entirely private and removal of sections of them would be very likely to be detrimental to public amenity, given the well used pedestrian routes on both sides of the site.”

Not all housing development is bad, we need more houses and indeed smaller scale developments are easier to assimilate than mega estates. But this sort of action severely dents the case. Furthermore it undermines public confidence in the planning permission process. When I went round to this estate to canvass opinions, the phrase that was often mentioned was “we would never be allowed to get away with this, nor should they”. Unsurprisingly 20 local residents have objected to the proposal. A decision is now expected by the end of April.

House developers need to respect the legitimate wishes of local residents – and stick to the rules!

Click here for the main planning variation. You can see my objection there, lodged on 16 February.

Sunday 12 April – Music update

The recent about-change to the weather hasn’t been too good for some of the weaker lambs and I’ve had to put some on top of the Rayburn to warm up. Luckily no casualties so far, but it is always fraught. It’s a case of feeding-slight warming-feeding-more warming, to prevent the lamb from going into a fit.


Today is a bit quieter. I’ve taken the opportunity to update my music section, on the left. This is the cover from Passion Pit’s latest album, Kindred, which I’m listening to a lot at the moment.

Wednesday 8 April – Small businesses and the Start Up Loan Scheme

Today I got a press release from the Federation of Small Businesses,  which is a pressure group which campaigns for small businesses and the self employed. It’s a non partisan organisation which works with all the major parties. This is an important sector, employing 15 million people in 5 million companies. One of its campaigns, which I very much support, is Keep Trade Local, based on 3 Ps:

1) Parking can be vital for the high street
2) Planning can be too onerous
3) Procuring locally.

Some of Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians in Northumberland seem to struggle with some of the above.


In addition to the large number of jobs created by this government, it has also done a fantastic job at fostering business start-ups, with over  300,000 business start-up every year since 2013 – the highest since records began. And the North East has had the greatest increase of any region in England, partially due to the low start point.

However there is more that can be done locally. One initiative has been the government’s small business Start Up Loan Scheme. Overall this has been very successful, with 25,000 loans granted, and 32,000 jobs created – hopefully a lot more will be created over time. However only 25 such loans have been granted in Wansbeck, covering about £100,000 of finance, which is at least half what it should be.  Furthermore the government plans to expand this scheme by a factor of 3, and unless something changes then we will continue to limp behind.

Politicians in Wansbeck really must do more to highlight this important scheme – this is a missed opportunity and we mustn’t lose out any more on this initiative. Given Wansbeck’s background we should be really encouraging local budding entrepreneurs to “give it a go”, after all Sir Richard Branson started as a teenager printing a magazine  in a bit of borrowed space in the back of a church.

Monday 6 April: End of lambing


Somewhat earlier than expected, I’m fairly close to finishing off lambing, I’m now down to just a
handful of ewes who haven’t yet given birth to their lambs, and all but one of them is an experienced mother. So the pressure is off.

Except, of course, for the orphan lambs, well the abandoned lambs would be slightly more accurate. This year I only have 3 of them at this point, some years I’ve had 7, which is a bit of a handful and requires a special feeding bucket to avoid getting mugged everytime I go near the barn. Of these 3 lambs, one of them – the small boy lamb in the middle – wasn’t actually abandoned, the ewe had a difficult labour and didn’t look able to cope with twins, so I made the executive decision to take him off her hands.  Economically bottle feeding lambs isn’t a good outcome, the cost of care and powdered milk generally exceeds the all important “margin”. But it’s an essential part of lambing. Abandoned lambs really knit (!) together, they go everywhere together, sleep alongside each other and develop a strong bond.

It appears I’m not the only one who has been getting down with the lambs this weekend. I wouldn’t advocate feeding a lamb in that posture for too long, accidents can happen! Also it is best the lamb is on its feet during or the chest gets contracted, with a risk of coughing up the milk the wrong way. However to be fair to the Prime Minister, I did see some other photos of him feeding a lamb, yes one lamb, correctly over the thigh. (Photo copyright: PA)


Wednesday 25 March: Northumberland Church of England Academy

This was a Red Letter Day for me, in some respect the first public event of my campaign in Ashington. I was very kindly invited by the Northumberland Church of England Academy in Ashington to speak to the Sixth Form. Ian Lavery MP had undertaken a similar activity a few days beforehand.


It went fairly well, though I’m sure I can improve various aspects of the presentation! What interested me a bit was the focus on national issues rather than local ones, at least in terms of the question and answer session. The one area that really was probed was the tax avoiders versus benefit cheat issue. I personally feel that both should be pursued with equal vigour, but the impression in the room appeared to be that tax avoiders were having too easy a time of it. And my email inbox says something similar too. They also asked about Trident, jobs and student tuition fees. Having said that, I was quite pleasantly surprised that the questions weren’t that introspective – in other words just about education – they were more broadly based than that.

This school is quite special in many ways. There is a real buzz to the place and it is quite difficult to express in words how the education vibe totally overlays everything in the school. As a Tory I obviously thoroughly approve of all the sporting and Combined Cadet Force activities! On the other hand, while waiting in reception during my first visit I saw a special needs lad having to be returned home, it was perhaps a bit distressing but I overheard the support staff cheerfully indicate to the reception staff that he would perhaps be back for lessons that afternoon, if not tomorrow – as if it was all in a day’s work. Which in a way I suppose is exactly how it should be.

Chinese New Year: Year of the Ram

Today is the Chinese New Year, a big occasion out in Asia. It’s also the Year of the Ram, so here is a picture of my main tup, Shaftoe, taken earlier today – he enjoys having his blaze rubbed. He is a big lad, he weighs more than me!


And for the Chinese heritage residents of Wansbeck – health and happiness for the New Year.

Sunday 15 February – Worrying Ofsted reports for Ashington High School

The local media is reporting that Ashington High School has received an advance copy of an Ofsted report, placing the school in Special Measures. This implies Ofsted’s overall Ranking for the school was the lowest, namely “Inadequate”. A very worrying outcome and urgent corrective action is going to be needed. The whole community will need to constructively support the School in it’s difficult journey ahead.


The report won’t be put online for a few more days, so I can’t see any of the details behind this, but it represents a big blow to the school, since the previous report – just over 2 years ago – gave the school a “Good” judgement in all of Ofsted’s four categories, giving the same result in the Overall rating.

Without knowing the details it is difficult to give much comment, other than that clearly this must be a massive disappointment to the school, and comes in the wake of several poor reports for other schools in the North East.

There is some element of subjectiveness in these reports. For example I noticed that Ashington Church of England Academy was given (in October 2013) a “Requires Improvement” ranking – in between Good and Inadequate – despite the fact that the fundamental data seemed slightly better than that of the High School. The previous “Good” report for the High School made only passing reference to the poor attendance figures for the school. So my suspicion is that the previous report was possibly generous and this report has perhaps gone too heavily the other direction.

I was not very surprised that Ian Lavery MP managed to suggest – with obviously zero evidence – that perhaps North East schools were being deprived of investment. This is self evidently rubbish since – to take one example – the Academy is a brand new build, and despite massive investment it too has a less than perfect score.

It inevitably falls mainly to the staff, parents and pupils of Ashington High School to take this report on the chin, and work with the relevant experts to extricate itself from this position. The good news is that the School has already acknowledged this and seems ready to take on the challenge. At least there is now a tough level of accountability for school performance, and a political consensus that the best way out is to roll up the sleeves and get on with improvement.

Sunday 21 December – Selected for Wansbeck!

mainclubOn Friday night I was delighted and honoured to be voted as the Conservative Party’s candidate for Wansbeck and Morpeth. You can see the press release here on the Association’s website. The selection meeting was held upstairs at the Conservative Club in Morpeth (photo here from the MCUC website).

As I said in my opening speech, one of the things I firmly hold to be important about the Conservatives is that the paid up members in each Association get to vote on their general election candidate – it is the reason for paying your subs.  Though I got a few tougher questions from the floor, it was a friendly and positive event, rounded off with a mini quiz night afterwards. Sample question: which MP claimed £91.94 from Wickes for rock salt to deal with a snail incursion? Answers on a postcard to Blyth Labour Party. And you can check out The Guardian.

I am very grateful for the support shown to me by the rank and file members of the Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservative Association. However my new role is both important and necessary: Wansbeck has done very well under a Conservative led government, and yet so much more can be done with proper representation. It’s no good just promoting one part of the constituency and not the rest of it.

There’s lots of work to do, but I look forward to making the positive case for change in Wansbeck.

Monday 4 February – New DEFRA fund for rural jobs

As alluded to on my blog last Friday, today the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced a £20 million package of specialist training for aspiring business people in rural areas. £12 million of this is available for new projects, and is the sort of thing that can help to keep young people working in the countryside. It is targetted at adults working in the farming and forestry sectors, also for those working in traditional rural skills or tourism sectors – some 90,000 people in all. Now the catch with all these things is that funding tends to be sent via private training companies, so it is vital that Northumberland doesn’t lose out. Luckily there is a consortium of training organisations for the North East, called NEAL, which will hopefully ensure we get a good slice of the action.

Furthermore there are other funding options which should be open to rural areas, including Local Enterprise Partnership and Rural Growth Networks.

Saturday 2 February – Calcutta Cup

Better Together is the group campaigning to retain Scotland in the United Kingdom, and I am a member and supporter of it. Today saw one of the manifestions of the links that bind our two nations, the Calcutta Cup, which has been run 120 times and is arguably the longest running annual sporting encounter in existence. England won today 36-18, in a fiery display of skill at Twickenham.

BPMedicalsI had my own game to attend to: Border Park played Medicals at home in Kielder. Medicals are almost as old a club as the Calcutta Cup, they were founded in 1898 and are drawn from the medical students of Newcastle University. So they are not exactly in the same age bracket as me, nor indeed is the rest of Border Park. We didn’t do to well in this particular game, which was held on a somewhat crunchy pitch, which was nevertheless deemed playable (I think it was below freezing by the end of the game). I asked Jonty to take some action shots of me playing today, when he returned the camera he said “Getting action shots of you was always going to be a bit tricky”.

Friday 1 February – Keeping young people in rural areas

At the Executive last Saturday, where I was selected as a finalist for the Open Primary on 8 February, one of the questions I was asked was “What would you do to help keep young people living and working in rural areas?” This is a very real issue in North Northumberland – there is a shortage of both affordable housing and decent jobs.

Well today I had a meeting with the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, Matt Hancock, at Kirkely Hall, the agricultural and land skills college in Northumberland. So I asked him the same question.


He replied by pointing out that one of the legacies of the last government was to train young people without considering the long term position. So we ended up 94,000 students studying hairdressing, when there were only 18,000 jobs for them. On the other hand there were 123,000 students on construction related courses, when there are 275,000 jobs open to them.

He also said that there was about to be a new initiative for developing rural employment, to be launched by DEFRA (Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) very shortly – you read it here first!

Friday 1 February – Thropton leafleting

We have crucial County Council elections in Northumberland in May 2013. One of the battlegrounds is Rothbury, which is currently held by an independent Liberal Democrat. Such is the battleground that Danny Alexander, the LibDem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, got wheeled out to this particular corner of Northumberland a few weeks ago.

We are fortunate to have a particularly strong candidate, Brian Hesler, the former Fire Chief at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, to fly the flag for us in Rothbury. Good luck to him in his fight to win the seat back for the Conservatives.HeslerLeaflet

I was happy to meet up with him today to collect and then deliver a few hundred leaflets around Thropton, a village between where I live and Rothbury.

It was a suprisingly warm day out of the breeze, which makes the task of leafleting so much easier. There is still a bit of snow clinging to the top of the nearby Simonside Hills, and the pheasants were out in force, doubtless trying to find food in the frosty conditions.

Tuesday 29 January – In the Journal

The Journal 22 January

The Journal 22 January


So it’s made the newspapers. Or the Newcastle Journal at least.

The Open Primary has generated a lot of interest and some 300 people have put their names down to participate.  Anyone can come along to this meeting, so long as you are a voter in the Berwick upon Tweed constituency, which cover the are from Berwick down to Lynemouth and includes Alnwick, Amble and Wooler.

If you want to read the text of the Journal’s story, you can read about it here:

Berwick Parliamentary Candidates Hopefuls are Announced.

(This link opens in a new window and it may take a while to load, the Journal’s website is a bit clunky!).