Friday, 21 October 2016

Labour plan to bring lynx to kielder is genuinely mad - do Northumberland County Council agree with their London MPs?

Why do labour politicians in London (in this case Hammersmith) want to bring back the Lynx to Kielder in our area? I would be curious if the local labour Northumberland county council agrees that the return of a wild cat that eats all the deer and lambs it can is a a good thing for our farmers, hikers, cyclists, tourists or locals. It is certainly not a good thing for the deer or the lambs.
The Q and A in the House of Commons has only just been noticed but labour MP Andy Slaughters parliamentary question is here:

My report in the Courant is here:
I strongly oppose this crazy idea but have written to affected locals to get their feedback.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The election of Hilary Benn + Yvette Cooper to key select committees shows where key labour figures are going

Yesterday there were 4 contested select committees chosen. It was by secret ballot of all the House of Commons. My congratulations to the conservative winners Damian Collins, for culture, media and sport + Stephen Metcalfe on science and technology. Both are experts on the key subjects, good colleagues of mine, and will be superb in the job. 
But the labour selections were the really interesting ones: why? Because they show where the party is going and the view the Labour Party and Corbyn innner circle have of each other. 
- at the Home Affairs Select Committee, several former Labour heavyweights entered into the race to succeed him. Chuka Umunna had widely been tipped as the favourite,  it he flattered to deceive. In a sign of his limited popularity in the House he came a distant third, with the chairmanship going to Yvette Cooper, the former shadow home secretary. 
- Meanwhile, Hilary Benn — the former shadow foreign secretary — has been elected chair of the new Brexit select committee, winning by 330 to 209 over Leave campaigner Kate Hoey, who was clearly the Corbyn Choice - as she had backers from JCs inner circle like Ian Lavery and Clive Lewis. Put simply it appears that Corbyn did not want his nemesis Hilary Benn to win. Benn of course previously defied Corbyn over Syria and is the man who really should be leading the Labour Party.
The two appointments are significant because these 2 capable politicians would usually be expected to be a part of Labour’s shadow cabinet. While neither Benn or Cooper are the flavour of the month with the Corbyn regime, their election today serves as a reminder that his MPs can — and will — get by without him. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Britain in Bloom: Lots of local success for our Northumberland towns + villages-Corbridge one of many celebrated for their efforts

Huge congratulations to the many towns and villages who have been successful. Having driven through Corbridge a lot recently I can certainly testify to the hard work that has gone in there. Full report here-

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Select Committee elections tomorrow - decisions on select committees on Home Office, CMS, Science + Tec and Exiting EU

The 4 select committee elections are tomorrow. These are divided on party lines. Thus the science and Tec and the culture, media and sport select committees are a choice between different conservatives. Exiting the EU is a straight fight between Hilary Benn and Kate Hoey for labour. But the Home Office is the really interesting fight. Multiple applications have been made by 3 big beasts of the labour tribe who all seek to run the Home Affairs Select Committee.
These are Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint, and Chuka Umana, with the octogenarian Paul Flynn as a maverick labour outsider. 
The decisions will be made by all MPs tomorrow in a secret ballot, and announced later tomorrow. 

21 days to go until USA election + it depends on 3 key swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania - final TV Debate tomorrow

Trump appears to have stopped fighting really hard in Virginia - that is a big deal, given its Republican traditions. Acceptance of a loss there is a disaster for him.
However, Latest local polls show Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania and Florida. If Trump also loses Ohio and Iowa then he is in desperate trouble. Certainly if that's how it is on the night, Trump has no chance, and will be beaten out of sight.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A weaker pound is not necessarily to be feared: this rebalancing is long overdue + our exporters / tourism loves it

The pound has dropped in value. What does this mean and is it a good or bad thing, in the short medium and long term? 
There are both benefits and burdens to Brexit, but what is undeniable is that it is a shock and it causes a reassessment of our currency as compared to other currencies. This has caused a devaluation of the pound as compared to the dollar, the euro and other currencies. This has consequences. Some are not good. For example, imported goods like overseas fuel or non British food stuffs get more expensive. This is the origin of the Marmitegate crisis last week - and we will see some foodstuffs get more expensive in the shops if those shops are importing the produce. 

If you are trying to export your manufactured goods you love the depreciation in the pound. Suddenly your goods are that much cheaper and more competitive. 
Similarly look at tourism: if you run a home grown bed and breakfast or a hotel then the devaluation of the pound as compared to the dollar or the euro is wonderful news. Your product - the great British holiday - is now a lot more attractive to overseas visitors. 
But if you are going on a European or American mini break then your pound buys less dollars or euros. Your holiday abroad got more expensive. Which means many families, I predict, will choose to staycation in the uk next year. Which boosts our uk tourism, hotel, pub and b + b

But don't take my word for it. The guardian is no friend of Brexit, but yesterday it did this assessment of why the pounds devaluation is not to be feared: it is a view. But whilst the jury is out in the future that Brexit holds the reports from business of the consequential devaluation of the pound is that fundamentally it is a good thing. 

A weaker pound works by making exports cheaper and imports dearer. The effect, as after all the other devaluations and depreciations of the past 100 years – 1931 to 1976, 1992 and 2007 – will make the economy less dependent on consumers and more reliant on producers. Lord Mervyn King, a former governor of the Bank of England, thinks the latest fall in sterling is a good thing and he is right.
Put the Brexit vote to one side for a second and ask yourself the following questions: 
- is the economy currently unbalanced? 
- Is growth too dependent on consumer spending and asset price bubbles? 
- Is the productive base of the economy too small? 
- Is it a problem that the UK is running a balance of payments deficit worth 6% of GDP, bigger than ever before in peacetime?
If your answer to these four questions is yes – as it should be – then you need to accept that there is an upside to the falling pound. Indeed, many of those who are now talking about a sterling crisis were last year bemoaning the fact that Greece – trapped as it was inside the eurozone – did not have the benefit of a floating currency and so had to use a brutal internal devaluation involving wage cuts, pension reductions and welfare retrenchment to restore its competitiveness.
The current account deficit will shrink as a result of stronger exports from the manufacturing and service sectors, the boost provided to the tourism industry, and because cheaper domestic goods and services will be substituted for more expensive imports. To say that dearer imports will make life more difficult for consumers is to miss the point. That’s how rebalancing works.

Westminster this week - busy 5 days ahead, with many local businesses in Westminster

Biggest event this week is probably a meeting with the CBI North East in Westminster on Tuesday, involving a Q+A with local business leaders.
Various bills are also to be debated in parliament notably the Savings Bill until 10pm on Monday night. We have a debate on the BBC on Tuesday from 12:30-7 whilst I have a variety of statutory instruments and delegated legislation in committees.
Away from the main chamber I have meetings with a local Prudhoe company Pure Products who are in Westminster on Thursday. Earlier in the week I am meeting Highways England, having a discussion about the Tynedale community bank with All party group in credit unions, and meetings with NCS graduates, and other local constituents who are down in Westminster. I am on duty all week so will be in parliament until Friday afternoon, as the house is sitting once again for private members business on Fridays.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Analysis of the Debate on Aleppo in Parliament this week - no easy options but plenty of resolve

This weeks debate on Aleppo highlighted some stark truths about the current conflict in Syria. The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP, captured the main points extremely well:

"Let me spell out some of the consequences. At this moment, the 275,000 inhabitants of eastern Aleppo are under siege. They are isolated from the outside world, subjected to constant bombardment, and prevented from receiving humanitarian aid. Their power and water supplies have been cut off in what has become a signature tactic of the Assad killing machine: the besieging of civilian populations. What we are now seeing in eastern Aleppo is the biggest and, potentially, the deadliest siege since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war more than five years ago.

Last week the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned that eastern Aleppo might be “totally destroyed” by the end of the year. In the past two weeks, at least 376 people—half of them children—have been killed, and another 1,266 have been injured. Every hospital in eastern Aleppo is believed to have been bombed, some more than once, and several have been put out of action. Hospitals have been targeted with such frequency and precision that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this must be deliberate policy. As the House will know, intentionally attacking a hospital amounts to a war crime.

It is time, I think, for all these incidents to be properly and fully investigated with a view to assembling the necessary evidence and ensuring that justice is done—and, yes, I say in answer to questions that have been raised by several Members today that we do think that there could be advantage in the procedures of the International Criminal Court. I remind the House that in recent history, war criminals have been successfully prosecuted decades after their offences.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield spoke of the will of the House. I am afraid that that was absent three years ago when, as several Members pointed out, we took an historic decision not to intervene. I hope that we will show a different measure of resolve this afternoon. Those who are conducting this bombing and who are, in my view, culpable of these crimes should realise that the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small.

The same penalties should apply to those involved in deliberate attacks on humanitarian convoys. As many Members have pointed out, on 19 September a UN aid convoy was destroyed near Aleppo and at least 20 people were killed. The vehicles were clearly marked, and the convoy had official permission from the Assad regime to deliver those desperately needed supplies. Satellite photographs that are in the public domain leave no doubt that the convoy was struck from the air. The incident took place after dark; by Russia’s own account, the war planes of Syria’s regime cannot strike targets after dark, and—also by Russia's own account—its aircraft were in the vicinity at the time. All the available evidence therefore points to Russian responsibility for the atrocity.

I trust that the UN board of inquiry will establish exactly what happened, and we in the United Kingdom Government stand ready to help. I emphasise that it is the UK which, week after week, is taking the lead—together with our allies in America and France, and all like-minded nations—in highlighting what is happening in Syria to a world in which, I fear, the wells of outrage are becoming exhausted.

I listened to the passionate speeches from the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the co-chair of the all-party friends of Syria group, who is carrying on the tradition of Jo Cox, whom we mourn. I listened to all the speeches that made the point that there is no commensurate horror among some of the anti-war protest groups, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley: I would certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop the War coalition at the moment?
It is up to us in the Government to show a lead, and week after week in the UN we are indeed doing what we can to point out what the Russians are up to and to build an international understanding of what is going on in Syria. I believe that we are having some effect. As Members have pointed out, the Russians have now been driven to mount a veto in the Security Council to protect their own position five times. This is not some anti-Russian campaign; we are not doing this out of any particular hostility towards Russia. Indeed, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, did his utmost to negotiate an agreement with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that would at least have reduced the killing. Anyone who has studied the Lavrov-Kerry talks will know that John Kerry threw himself into that task in a Herculean way. However, on 3 October, he was driven to abandon his efforts by the attack on the aid convoy and the pounding of Aleppo, which destroyed all hopes of a ceasefire. The US Secretary of State has concluded, I think rightly, that Russia was determined to help Assad’s onslaught against the women, children and families of Aleppo regardless of any agreement
We are in constant touch with our French colleagues about this proposal. 

I must say bluntly to the House that if Russia continues on its current path, that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation. If President Putin’s strategy is to restore the greatness and glory of Russia, I believe that he risks seeing his ambition turn to ashes in the face of international contempt for what is happening in Syria. Russia tries to justify its onslaught on Aleppo by saying that its sole aim is to drive out Jabhat al-Nusra, or Fatah al-Sham as it now calls itself, which is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. No one questions that these people are terrorists, but their presence in that city cannot justify an assault on 275,000 innocent people, still less the imposition of a siege, which is, by its very nature, a wholly indiscriminate tactic. I agree with the phrase of Staffan de Mistura who said that the Russians should not be able to use the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra as an alibi.

I will come to the way forward for Aleppo in a minute. Let me remind the House of all the ways in which the UK is trying to be of use and trying to salve the situation. Like other Members, I pay tribute to the White Helmets, who rescue men, women and children from the rubble of bomb sites. Many Members have met them. Funded partly by the UK Government, they are doing an heroic job. Of the 3,000 volunteers, 142 have been killed in the line of duty and 400 have been wounded.
Britain is at the forefront of this humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis. We have pledged £2.3 billion—our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis—which makes us the second largest donor after the US. We can be proud in this country of the help that we are giving to hundreds of thousands of people. Britain has done a huge amount to mobilise the international community.In February, we co-hosted a conference and secured pledges of more than $12 billion, which is the largest amount ever raised in a one-day conference.

Let me answer the question about whether we are taking enough refugees asked by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). Yes, of course we should take our share, and we are doing so, but Members will agree that the overwhelming priority is to help those nearest the centres of conflict in the berm and elsewhere and to keep them as near to their communities as we can.

Others have spoken about no-fly zones, or no-bombing zones. I have every sympathy with those ideas and the motives behind them. We must work through all those types of options with our allies, especially as this House is not committed to putting boots on the ground. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said, we cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone. We need to think very carefully about the consequences.

We must consult on this as widely as possible, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield suggested, I will certainly be talking to everybody involved in the 1991 effort to provide no-fly zones over northern Iraq. We must ensure that we have innovative ways of getting aid into Aleppo and, as several Members have said, we must step up the pressure on Assad’s regime and on the Russians through sanctions. I listened carefully to what was said. The House will accept that there is a certain friability in the European resolve to impose sanctions on Russia, given the large dependency of many European countries on Russian gas. It is vital that our country remains at the forefront of keeping that resolve from crumbling, which is what we are doing.

In the long term the only realistic solution is to persuade both sides to agree to a ceasefire and then to work towards a political solution. It is of course true that that process has been stopped since April, when the ceasefire was destroyed. That does not mean that the process is dead, and it must not mean that the process is dead. On the contrary, this country and this Government have worked to keep that flame of hope alive and have worked for a settlement. On 7 September we hosted a session in London with the high negotiations committee of the Syrian opposition, which set out a detailed and progressive vision for how to achieve a transition in Syria towards a democratic, pluralist administration in which the rights of all communities in that country would be respected, but would also preserve the stability and institutions of the Syrian state while getting rid of the Assad regime.
We  cannot get rid of the jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo as long as the population of Aleppo is being bombed in a ruthless aerial bombardment that is driving people into a position in which they will do anything to fight and resist the Assad regime. Our best hope is to persuade the Russians that it is profoundly in their interests to take the initiative, to win the acclaim of the international community, to do the right thing in Syria, to call off their puppets in the Assad regime, to stop the bombing, to bring peace to Aleppo and to have a genuine ceasefire. That is the way; that is the prelude. I am perfectly prepared to look at Staffan de Mistura’s proposals for leading out al-Nusra and all the rest of it, and perhaps to bring in a UN contingent—that all sounds eminently sensible—but a ceasefire and the end of the Russian bombardment has to come first. 

I think that millions of people in Syria are yearning for that outcome and for a return to talks. I hope that they will hear the passion of this afternoon’s debate. They will recognise that, of course, there are no easy solutions and no pat answers to this. They also know that this House and our constituents are disgusted by the behaviour of Assad and his regime. I hope that in Moscow and Damascus they will hear the message from British MPs that we are willing to consider anything honestly and practically that can be done to bring peace and hope back to Syria. I am grateful to all Members who have spoken so passionately this afternoon."

The full debate on the situation in Aleppo can be found here:

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Delighted to be part of annual Newcastle University debate on Northern Powerhouse and progress made

I was recently involved in an excellent and lively debate on the North-South, post-Brexit divide with Newcastle University and Res Publica. This is an annual Newcastle University event. The key points from the discussion were:

SME-University collaboration  
The skills gap 
Devolution and double devolution  
Transport infrastructure: HS2 and HS3 
The Northern Powerhouse  

Crucially, the conclusion of much of the discussion was that the efforts behind the Northern Powerhouse initiative is an ongoing processes rather than single events, and that silver bullets for the problem do not exist. 
There has been considerable progress since 2010: the Northern Powerhouse,cross-regional cooperation in health, tourism, transport and so on have been key levers and we are already seeing the green shoots of change. The greatest increase in the economically active population has been in the North East. The greatest increase in employment has been in the North East. 

But as the Chancellor Philip Hammond made very clear: we cannot rest on our laurels and we have a long way to go to solve the issue. There are political obstacles along the way: whilst the Greater Manchester area has embraced devolution and these forms of cooperation, integration and synergy, many other areas, including parts of the North East have so far backed off from embracing devolution. 
This is going to need cross business, government, academic, and local political cooperation and action but conversations have been and continue to be very positive. There was much optimism on this issue in the room, and I believe, quite rightly.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Thoughts on today's visit by Education Minister Justine #Greening to Prudhoe High School

Today was a special day. No new school has been built in my Northumberland constituency for decades. This stat particularly applies to a High School. The visit today by Justine Greening, the comprehensively educated Yorkshirewoman, who is the Secretary of State for Education, was the culmination of over 5 years of work that began when I first became the MP in 2010. At that time I did extensive research to identify the key needs of the Hexham constituency. It was clear that successive governments, and local authorities, had not focused on Prudhoe and its schools. I set out to change that. I organised a series of one on one meetings with the then Secretary of State of education, Michael Gove. I then brought him to Northumberland to meet the previous headteacher Iain Shaw, and then repeatedly campaigned for the rebuild in parliament. Our Tynedale "back the bid" campaign enthused the local community who backed us in writing, by letters and on my online and written petitions.
That finally resulted in my plea to the Prime Minister at Prime Ministers Questions in late 2011.

When Michael Gove stopped me in 2012 in a corridor in the House of Commons to discuss the school, the impact of any future rebuild, and our wider fairer funding campaign it was clear we were getting somewhere.
The announcement was greeted by the school and on my blog in 2012 here: That finally resulted

It has been a long journey but it is clearly worth it. And it is not just the rebuild. Yes it had a leaky roof, and a very run down building, but there was also a troubled history including an intervening special measures finding by Ofsted.
Because of the best efforts of many pupils, teachers, governors, staff and the headteacher the Prudhoe Community High School has turned around. The school is brand new. The Ofsted rating is good, and the mood has changed. It is quite clear that the way in which the pupils are both taught and challenged has changed. Not all schools really push their pupils, and their teachers. Prudhoe CHS now does that uniformly. For that, Deborah Reeman, the new headteacher, must take a lot of credit.
Anyone who listened to the school council as I did this morning, with Justine, would notice and remark upon the difference. The Hexham courant came today and their report is here:
Some pictures of the visit by Justine are below:

National Citizens Service changes teenagers for the better - David Cameron rightly extols the virtues of NCS

My former boss is rightly very proud of the National Citizen Service. I have seen locally it's wonderful effects. He has written a great article here extolling its virtues.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Good to welcome soldiers from 3RHA based at Albermarle Barracks toWestminster yesterday

The soldiers were in London and popped in briefly to the Commons. We chatted about many things after they had been round parliament first thing. It was also a good opportunity to discuss how they are settling in to the Barracks. There are many good points to being stationed in England and Northumberland is an excellent base for gunners; but, there is no doubt that the accommodation is not as good as it was in Germany, their former base, and mobile phone coverage on the base remains very poor to non existent. Broadband was non existent a couple of years ago but whilst it is now present, it is still of insufficient quality. The MOD are committed to upgrading the accommodation and we are working with them to sort the other problems. I shall be with our soldiers on Remembrance Sunday in November in Hexahm. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

American election is in 28 days - very happy to make clear my support for Clinton in this race

Polling data, early voting, money, GOTV operation, demographics all say Clinton will win. And yet .... And yet. Less than 1 month to go until American election and the concern remains that Trump could win. I hope not. I am adamant that I would far prefer Clinton as leader of the free world. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Westminster this week - busy week in the Commons + plenty of constituents coming to parliament

Highlight of the week will be welcoming 3RHA, the regiment based at Albemarle to the House of Commons on Tuesday. I have several other constituents coming south this week, and multiple meetings at the DWP regarding credit unions and community banks, and the 80th anniversary celebration of our National Parks creation. I am also welcoming a representation Dom the association of convenience store owners on Tuesday.
In the chamber we are debating in particular the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, of which I will blog more shortly.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Does Labour now admit it wants to enter into a Coalition with the SNP? Former labour MP Tom Harris thinks so.

North and south of the border, Labour is taking an equivocal approach to Scotland and the constitutional integrity of the UK. The ultimate irony in all of this is that none of it really matters. Decisions, whether at a UK or a Scottish level are taken without reference to Labour because it has contrived in its own collapse into irrelevance.
But Scottish voters who support the Union and English voters suspicious of Scottish nationalism will take note. And vote accordingly, just like last time. This take is from former labour MP Tom Harris and is worth a read. 
Full article here:

Friday, 7 October 2016

My i/v with the Chronicle: Why have 4 NE LAs backed out when labour led authorities everywhere else embrace devolution+ more power?

I met with Chronicle / Journal journalists this week and discussed my sadness that the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne have backed out of a devolution deal that would have given them power over everything from transport, to skills, to business development and more ability to grow jobs and growth in their area.
This is not a Labour / Conservative thing: why? Because the labour led authorities in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Teesside, and 3 the labour led local authorities north of the Tyne have all pressed ahead with devolution, power, money and growth. They have embraced devolution. I wish the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne had not decided to walk away. But it is their decision. If I was partisan for Northumberland only, as a local MP, I would see this as an opportunity for residents North of the Tyne to get an advantage over those who live and work south of the Tyne.
I am certain this will happen in any event.
But it is a matter of sorrow that we cannot work together for the greater good.
But be under no illusion - this is very good news for Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.
My interview is here:

Thursday, 6 October 2016

It's #NationalPoetryDay - Frost, Dickinson +Whitman lift the soul

1. “These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

2. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

3. “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” – Walt Whitman

Read #RuthDavidsons speech from this week + you will see why she is so admired

Friends, five years ago I came to this conference, seeking to win the leadership of our party in Scotland. We’d just had our worst ever Scottish election result on the back of two decades of decline. As career moves went, the omens didn’t look exactly ideal. We were being kicked around by our opponents. And the media was calling us a corpse that wouldn’t twitch. And that was on a good day. But conference, you always kept the faith. When I argued we could win again as Conservatives, you granted me the privilege of allowing me to lead. We weren’t being credited with much in the way of prospects but we had our values, we had heart and we had belief. And five years on, I’m here to give you the good news – the Scottish Conservatives are back as a fighting force once again.
More than double our number of MSPs. Leapfrogging Labour and consigning them to 3rd for the first time in six decades. Standing up to the SNP. Being the strong opposition Scotland so desperately needs. From the Borders to Banff, we are showing that there is another way. A better way. One which seeks not to stoke divisions or split our country, but one which knuckles down and gets on with the job.
And we are not done yet. Not by a long shot. Next year every council seat in Scotland is up for grabs and we will deliver the best Conservative result since devolution. We won’t be satisfied until we have a Conservative in and working hard on the ground in every community in Scotland. It’s not leaders that turn results around; it’s teams. And the team we’re building in Scotland makes me so proud to lead it. The torch is being passed to the next generation. In parliament we’ve now got everyone from Olympic athletes to university professors, soldiers, farmers, teachers and third sector workers and we want that same spread – from every walk of life – in our town halls, too. We’re not hiding any more, conference.
We’re out and proud. We are winning support from all parts of Scotland. So I say to those who believe in service, in community, in country; let the Scottish Conservative party be your home.
I am aware how Scottish politics can sometimes look. You see Nicola Sturgeon on the TV most weeks telling you how Scotland is up in arms – again.…threatening the break-up of Britain. Asserting independence is closer now than ever before. Declaring separation is somehow inevitable. Today, speaking to people here from across the UK, I want to make this clear. Don’t believe a word of it. There is nothing inevitable about the break-up of this great nation…and I for one will fight it every inch and so will thousands with me. The SNP doesn’t speak for all of Scotland. And nor does it have the right to. Every nation is bigger than any one party – bigger than any one person. And Scotland is bigger, more varied, more complex than the nation the SNP would like to pretend. So, next time you see Nicola Sturgeon picking a fight, or trying to claim the United Kingdom is over – Remember, she does not speak for the country. And, when she threatens to put yet another divisive referendum back on the table, the nation is not behind her. She’s not speaking for the majority. Because the majority of us want to move on.
The majority have no wish to return to the divisions of the past – we want to seize the opportunities of the future. Most Scots have had enough. And they are telling her – for pity’s sake, First Minister, let – this – go.
The problem, of course, is that the SNP isn’t listening. Instead, they’re determined to keep the divisions over the last few years alive. Now, I’m often accused by those same opponents –those ardent separatists – that I bang on about independence and the Union as much as they do. Well, for so long as the SNP keeps this alive – then so be it. Because the Union matters so much. It matters for the economic stability and jobs that our partnership brings. It matters for the defence and security of our country. It matters because of the common bonds we share right across this United Kingdom. And it matters perhaps even more so now that we are leaving the European Union. Now, you all know where I stood in the referendum in June. But I tell you this: I did not vote Remain to see my vote co-opted into a fresh SNP independence drive. And I can tell you something else: whatever questions Brexit raises, none of them – not a single one – is answered destroying our own union of nations…To read the full speech on the Union, Ruths drive and amazing leadership click below:

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Full transcript of the speech of the Prime Minister today - standing up for the many not the few

Passionate, patriotic, a supporter of the state, + clearly on the centre ground, championing the many not the few-this was a great speech Theresa May
I love that the PM made it clear that as a country we succeed or fail together. She is right that we achieve or fall short together. When one of us falters, our human instinct is to reach out our hand and and help them over the line ...
She believes that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest.

This was the PM setting out her positive mission to change the country for the many not the few

The reality is that the Corbyn Labour Party is the nasty party now.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Ruth Davidson: "What Conservatives do for women in this country? We Make them PM”.

While Scottish Labour struggle to fill their events with supporters, the Scottish Conservatives can take heart that their resurgence is still going strong. Attendees for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party reception queued around the bend to hear Ruth Davidson speak.

Davidson spoke of her surprise that officials had put the Scots in a room where they could break things, before moving on to the F-word. After Labour’s women conference saw Harriet Harman and her comrades describe Theresa May as a non-sister, Davidson struck back — suggesting that it is the Conservatives who did the best for women’s equality. ‘People often ask what we do for women in this country, and I say “well we make them Prime Minister”.’

However, it was Theresa May who had the last word. The Prime Minister took to the stage to explain that the Tories didn’t just make women Prime Minister:
‘And I need to correct Ruth, she says the Conservatives make women Prime Minister, but actually we make them leaders.’ 
Spectator wishes Labour’s feminists luck responding to that.
Hat tip to the Speccie for a great report.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The 3 local authorities north of the Tyne have a great opportunity with devolution.

I am a strong believer in Northern Devolution and am sure that this is too good an opportunity for the 3 northern local authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside to turn down. Hard to disagree with the front page of the Journal from last Saturday.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Hexham Courant report of our recent #JobsFair

The evidence is overwhelming that both the employers and the visitors who came looking for work, apprenticeships, and future opportunities found the event really positive. We will do it bigger and better next year

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tannery in Hexham shows what makes a successful local pub

What makes a good pub? How do you attract locals to a former unloved boozer? How do you appeal to a broad cross section of the local community thereby making the enterprise commercially viable? How do you survive in an era where pub usage competes with supermarket bought at home drinking, and justified but financially punitive drink driving and anti smoking laws?
I have no qualifications on this issue but based upon a lot of observations and chats to locals I think I can explain a bit.
I have been engaged on an assessment of local pubs both for work and pleasure since 2010, when I became the MP. I have visited pretty much every pub in my massive 1000+ square mile community from the most northerly pub, the First and Last just inside of the Scottish border in Redesdale, to the Lord Crewe in Blamchland and the Allenheads Inn on the southern Durham border. From the Ridley Arms in Stannington in the east, to the Holly Bush Pub and the Pheasant Inn on the edge of remote Kielder Forest.
It has been an exhaustive study, but great fun!
To be fair I am a big real ale man so any pub that supports this gets my vote. I have recently supported and helped reopen several local pubs - notably the Dyvels in Corbridge which is doing well, with good beer and nice people running it:

But it is clear that today's consumer wants something special from his pub. The old style spit and sawdust pub can survive, but it is difficult. You need an edge, a selling point, a trademark. 
The Dipton Mill Inn is very very good, but probably thebest ale pub of them all, for example, is the Boat House in Wylam which takes beer so seriously is has up to 18 ales at any one time: 

Different places want different things, so it is not for me to prescribe what works in Prudhoe (The Falcon is doing very well with its Carvery) or out in the sticks - but pubs like the Barrasford Arms, the Rat in Anick, and the Feathers in Hedley, are all doing very very well; and the Battlesteads in Wark is probably the most successful pub / small hotel in the county. All have found their model. Others are struggling and there are pubs closing all across the country, and in Northumberland. But there are clearly very successful local town pubs. For an example of this I would urge you to go to The Tannery inHexham, which I helped relaunch last Friday, with the owner and the support group from Punch. I have got to know Punch very well over the last few years, as they have rebuilt and renovated a number of key local pubs, and even hotels like the County Hotel. It is hard to argue against their commitment to our area, their financial investment, and their use of local tradesmen / builders where possible, and their general support. Without their investment many fine institutions would have withered and died - for example the County Hotel which was shut for years, and rebuilt at massive cost. I confess an interest, as they also have for two years helped sponsor the Hexham Jobs Fair which I have run to get more young (and older) people into work and apprenticeships.  
But go back to the Tannery. This pub was really struggling before Dave took it over. It is now packed, and it is easy to see why. 
Start with the beer - a great place to start! 6 proper ales on hand pump is rare, and the quality is excellent. I would go myself just for the ale, and it is better than most other pubs on beer.  Add in plenty of ciders and speciality gins and good wine and you have an offer that clearly appeals. But the renovation has added a great garden area and table tennis table out back, and the food is consistently very good. 
But it is the attention to detail and the quirkiness that impress about the Tannery. It is bright and open, with the best toilets for miles around as one discerning female punter described the newest addition! One male punter on Friday described how "the quirkiness makes the place feel like a much loved room in your home" - and Dave has great plans to add a train that will go all around the bar. This has got to be seen, as it is clearly no normal train! I wish the team behind the Tannery pub well. It is a big addition to Hexham. Their Twitter account is worth a follow on its own. Find it here:

Monday, 26 September 2016

Really positive morning spent last Friday at Haltwhistle First and Middle School

Pictured with Mrs Susie Drake, and Dr Judith Greene, in the grounds of Haltwhistle First School.  There is no doubt that the team at Haltwhistle Community Campus have really begun to turn the school around. With a new team of headteachers, working with a enthusiastic governing body, there is a different atmosphere and a positivity at the school. I stayed for lunch with the children - my favourite pupil was the young lady from Haltwhistle who was keen to study Astro Physics at Harvard. Now that is aspiration, and all credit to her. This is a school that is on the up. I also did a surgery and door knocking in the town on Saturday. Good responses all round.

Friday, 23 September 2016

When Corbyn wins will his Momentum supporters will turn their attention to "the #172" - the 172 labour MPs who defied #Corbyn

"Labour / Leftwing politics will be subsumed into a struggle against “the 172” – the number of MPs who voted no confidence in the leadership "
This is the Guardian speaking not me. They sum up the problem here: 
"A movement that aspires to succeed has to begin by accepting that most people don’t think like it. It must obsess not over why people agree with it but why millions don’t.
It must focus its resources on seeking converts, not traitors. It must avoid becoming a subculture with its own language and rites, all of which are bemusing and alien to most people. It must spend every spare moment debating and discussing a strategy to victory, not confusing the enthusiasm of a minority for a plan to win. It must project an image of positivity, optimism and inclusivity, not of anger, bitterness and vengeance. It must make the average punter feel as though they could easily be part of the movement, without feeling they’ve signed up to a never-ending exam that other activists are always waiting for them to fail.
Most people have spent the last three months slogging away at their job, going to the seaside, having after-work drinks, picking their kids up after school – getting on with their lives. Let’s be blunt. If members of the public are even paying attention to Labour’s car crash – and most have switched channel – “freakshow” is probably one of their kinder words."
The full guardian article is here:
The question is which way does the Labour Party go post a Corbyn win? I know where I think it is going. It is genuinely not good if it does do this either for the party's sake or the 
country. All countries need a functioning opposition. Labour is not it.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning - which event will you support for the Macmillan Coffee Morning?

Tomorrow and next Friday September 30th homes, schools and offices up and down the country will be doing their bit for cancer support. What are you going to do? Have your friends round? Organise a village hall or work event? Get your school to do an event? I have been to many of these events down the years and they are always amazing. My thanks to all the local community businesses and pubs who have already got involved. I shall be supporting several such events over the next ten days.

Roman shoe fashions discovered at Vindolanda. More reasons to go visit the roman site on Hadrian wall

Archaeologists were left stunned when they uncovered a near 2,000-year-old shoe which looks just like the Adidas Predator football boot famously worn by David Beckham.
The distinctive ridges on the shoe's outer shell and curved space for laces winding down to the toe give it an uncanny resemblance to the 21st century trainer.
The ancient sneaker was discovered in a ditch at Roman fort Vindolanda close to Hexham, Northumberland.
Staff soon realised it looked more like a modern day football boot than a shoe worn almost two millennia ago. 
Full story here:

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Financial services forum: lessons in behavioural economics, simplicity, the nudge factor and more

The science of behavioural economics has fundamental application to business and the choices we make in our purchases, our brand loyalty and our interpretation of a customer experience. But it also has massive application to government, politics and how the state interacts with its population.
For 2 days I have been studying (and speaking) at the Financial Services Forum. When I spoke I particularly focused on the creation and significance of the Tynedale Community Bank, which I, and others, helped launch last November after a 4 year struggle to get it off the ground.
For those interested in the bank there are reports of our launch and links to our website here:

More recently the team were able to update the Northumberland community with progress as reported here:

Present at the forum were some of the biggest financial service providers with major representatives from big insurers to banks and all aspects of FS. Full credit to the FSF. But the speakers brought in to make us think differently and reassess our lives and businesses were particularly fascinating. I would happily hear them all again, and took copious notes.
4 in particular stood out:

Paul Craven discussed and set out the details of Nudge Theory: his talk "What makes a good Nudge?" was fascinating: examples of Nudge theory are many but always astounding.
- the university of Newcastle did a power of the unconscious when doing an honesty bowl - where there was a picture of a pair of eyes next to the honesty bowl people paid more than when there was no eyes next to them. The theory of this is the power of suggestion on the brain. Nothing is said. There is simply a pair of eyes "watching over you". And yet this makes people more honest. Likewise:
- where you put a picture of someone's car on the form when the person receive a fine for the actions of that car / driver, the individual is more likely to pay than if you send them a straightforward bill. The French authorities saw a massive rise in payments by putting a picture of the offending car on the bill.
- I smiled and loved the sign as you enter a restaurant that says:
"Please remember to turn your phone back on when you leave the restaurant." This worked to persuade people gently to turn off their phones by a positive suggestion, rather than the usual - Turn your phone off!
- opt in or opt out of organ donation: if you ask people to opt in very few do. If you ask people to opt out of organ donation then they rarely do refuse to donate. It is the same question just asked in a different way.
- hospital and doctor appointment texts the day before the appointment greatly increase attendance.
- in hospitals hand sanitisers are rarely used by members of the public. Yet if you put up a sign in such a hospital that says "here we use hand disinfective in order to protect your relatives" - the result is massive increase in such usage.
In some companies they have got people to sign an affirmation of the truth of the contents of a document eg a tax return or expenses claim - at the start of the document then it will be way more accurate and truthful than if someone has to sign such an affirmation of truth at the end of the document.

And Philip Davies, of Siegel + Gale, is clearly a king of brand management. He discussed how businesses and brands attempt to make things simpler for people. His simplicity index of firms and brands and the way they go up and down was fascinating. His most simple and successful brands for 2016 were Aldi and Lidl and 1st direct.
A couple of points jumped out of his talk:
- simple is smart. Work hard to make things simple. Be ruthless in driving simplicity. Overcome complexity by having clarity in everything you do. Have a clear purpose, remove uncertainty and have engaged people.
- "strategy is about understanding future implications of today's decisions".
- In 2000 the attention span of an adult was 12 seconds. In 2015 this had reduced to 8 seconds.
By contrast, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds!
- His simplicity index has various rules: is it easy to understand? Is it transparent and honest? Is the customer experience good? Is it innovative and fresh? and finally is it useful?
- His definition of a great CEO ascertained that all such people had empathy, were logical and were authentic.
The advice was to entertain before you sell, to get noticed but don't disrupt, but, above all, keep it simple.

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy + Mather took us on a 100 minute discussion of the science of knowing what economists are wrong about. His treatise on trustanomics was fascinating.
A couple of phrases jumped out at me:
- "successful innovation is behavioural change"
- "marketing is simply the signalling of faith in your own futurity"
His examples/phrases were numerous = "a flower is simply a weed with an advertising budget"
I liked his cou ter intuitive tales, like the story of the impact of reducing ticket prices on actual sales of theatre tickets (actually you sell less tickets and at a lower price!)
Yet bizarrely everyone does this because there is a bias in corporate decision making (and civil service) against innovation and a push to defensive decision making.
His conclusion that economic theory presupposes perfect understanding and trust, and therefore can often be wrong as such things rarely exist,was hard to argue with.

Finally the futurist Rohit Talwar dazzled with his assessment of what the future holds
His three horizon approach assesses:
A 1-12 month approach as to what are we bringing into land / completing in this period
A 1-3 year search for growth areas and future events
A 4-10 year understanding of future drivers.
His treatise on the
- massive likely increases in life expectancy,
- and the ever growing number of automated jobs (1 Billion more such jobs automated by computers / robots by 2030)
- and the exponential growth in artificial intelligence and its permeation into all forms of our lives at an ever faster speed is so rapid that we, as a Society, are only just beginning to grapple with both this opportunity and its consequential effects.
His advice as to How we embrace the future was clear:
1. Create a team of future scouts - involving people who don't fear change.
2. Scan the future, share the insight and shape the change.
3. Develop key insights and build key muscles
But above all simplify - that word again.

His last Moment I liked: all of us have a To Do List but none of us have a To Stop List. And we definitely need this!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Verdict on Hexham Jobs Fair is that it was a big success!

Both my small team, and all our helpers from Job Centre Plus, are recovering from the massive undertaking that was Thursday's Jobs Fair. Dozens of local businesses, third sector and public authorities provided advice, apprenticeships, opportunities and jobs to over 600 people who crammed into the Hexham Mart. Our visitors included many of the local unemployed and not just from Hexham. There was also a lot of people coming who wanted to change their job or retrain. And finally we over 150 school kids from many of the local schools from 12-18. It was a great day and my massive thanks to all the employers, the JCP staff, the sponsors Egger and Pubch, the Mart and everyone else who made it possible.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Real opportunity for the Councils north of the Tyne to forge ahead with devolution

I am unashamedly committed to devolution of powers from London to the regions. The chance to run transport, skills, and so much more including health and justice is a huge prize. So, It is very disappointing that the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne have backed out of the devolution deal. Even the Guardian are critical of the decision. This is from their article earlier in the week:

"Local government itself needs to accept a large share of the responsibility. A lot of councils across the country have spent huge amounts of time agonising about geography, mayors and rivalries, often in the belief that, if only they wait long enough, a better deal will come along. It won’t... the devolution process ... is the only game in town for local government for the foreseeable future, and Whitehall holds most of the cards."
For my part, I will be doing all I can to support devolution. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Jobs fair today! 10-4 at Hexham Mart - list of attending companies / organisations

B & M
Disability Confident (DWP)
Generation North East 
Go North East
Helen McArdle Care
Helping Hands
INTU - Metro Centre
Matthew Charlton - Jewson
McGinley Support Services
Sir Robert Mcapline
National Careers Service CFBT
National Parks
Natural Ability
NEEC Training
Northumberland Adult Learning
Northumberland College 
Northumberland Joinery
Princes Trust
Release Potential 
Reserve Army
Sure Start
Teleperformance Contact Centre Gateshead
Tesco Extra
Tynedale Community Bank
Walwick Hall

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

10 days to go until Labour select Corbyn or Smith - my key questions before the vote

The evidence locally is that labour members prefer Corbyn to Smith. That is their choice. I want to try and drill down as to what is the Labour offer and more specifically what is the offer by each candidate
The questions I am interested in having not been to any of the hustings with the labour candidates are
- why each candidate is preferred?
- are they the person to persuade the voters who did not vote labour to return to the fold?
- what are the 3 key policies to appeal to the middle ground where most of the voters live and have their political approach (in my experience very few people are genuinely far left or far right)
- what are they going to do to ensure we grow the british economy and support british SMEs?
- what are their approaches to NATO, defence, and the terrorist threat?
- what is their definition of brexit?
The link to one of the debates locally is here:

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Cycle to work day tomorrow - get involved and get on a bike!

Tomorrow is your chance to get back on a bike, choose one of the best forms of fitness and the best way to see the world. Don't take the car, tube or bus. Try and cycle to work.
Details of the plan and why it matters are found here:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Westminster this week - a lot happening in the commons, constituents here and a charity quiz

Today in the commons is packed with defence questions, an education statement and then the final stages of the Wales Bill. Tomorrow we have the digital economy bill and multiple other debates in the  other parts of the House. I have constituents like Bob Paton down meeting ministers today and a variety of other constituency related meetings.
I am doing a lot of other stuff in this busy week, notably hosting the charity quiz in the commons tonight in aid of brain tumour research.
Wednesday i will be supporting and taking part in Cycle to work day first thing.
Up in Northumberland very late Wednesday night as we have the jobs and apprenticeships fair on Thursday at the Hexham mart.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

BAAFest approaches! The top Northumberland acoustic festival September 9-11 is a must go atBellingham

There are few festivals like this - well worth going to. Full details here:

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Disappointed at latest setback as 4 NE councils delay devolution but still committed to making devolution happen

The news that the 4 councils south of the Tyne have put the brakes on devolution is not good news. I am certain that we should be following the example of the Labour led areas like Greater Manchester and Liverpool that have embraced devolution, greater powers over transport, skills and so much more, but it is interesting that all 3 Councils North of the Tyne, including, to their credit, my own in Northumberland, are keen to press ahead. I know that this government is absolutely committed to devolution and a massive transfer of power from Westminster to the regions. Sajid Javid could not have been clearer about this. Why the 4 south of the tyne councils do not want to proceed is a matter for them but it is not what I would advise.
The Guardian reports the story in part and in full here:
"Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for communities and local government, said he was disappointed with the decision but indicated devolution was not dead in the north-east. A spokeswoman for his department said: “It is disappointing that some north-east councils have been unwilling to support this deal, which would certainly have benefited local people. If councils in the region wish to discuss devolution proposals further, our door remains open.”

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Newly built Prudhoe High School looks amazing after massive investment

They were still unpacking last week when I went round with headteacher Deborah but there is no doubt - the High School is really going places. With great results, the first newly built school in 30 years in our area, a new uniform and approach and staff who have worked over the summer to get the school ready you cannot fail to be impressed. Very proud to have played a small part in getting the rebuild from DFE and making it happen, and sorting some teething problems along the way. This rebuild has been the plan since I got elected in May 2010 and got the then education secretary to meet our head teachers. Any pupil would be very proud to go to this school now

Monday, 5 September 2016

Westminster this week - busy week in the Commons as the new PM is in China for the G20

The Prime Minister is in China for the G20 Summit – where she is showing that Britain is a bold, confident, outward-looking country.
At this meeting of the G20, we are showing that Britain is open for business as a bold, confident, outward looking country. The Prime Minister will be highlighting that, while we will continue to play a key role on the world stage, we will be talking to other nations about the opportunities for trade around the globe that will open up for Britain following Brexit.

Our ambition is that Britain will be a global leader in free trade. We are going to make the most of the opportunities that our departure from the EU presents – getting out into the world and doing business right across the globe, while at home building a Britain that works for everyone.
In Westminster we have the Funance Bill today and tomorrow and various other debates in the house this week. I am on the bench in the house on Tuesday morning for Justice Questions with the new Lord Chancellor. This week I also have a variety of constituents coming south to London and meetings in Westminster re Northumberland.