On Friday 3rd May Jamie Driscoll became the first Elected Mayor of North of Tyne. I wish him well, and hope he can work collaboratively with the three council leaders and the NELEP. His ambitious socialist programme will probably have to be scaled down a lot to fit what’s possible, what’s an allowable use of the funding, and to be agreeable to his cabinet partners.
I got 13% of the first-choice votes – not bad in a contest that also had a credible Independent candidate (who will have picked up much of the ‘neither of them’ vote). Over 23,000 people gave me their vote, and there were lots and lots of second choice votes for me too (people whose first choice was for the Independent or for Labour), so who knows what might have happened in a three-way contest! The campaign gave me a chance to put forward my realistic vision of what was possible, and to offer myself as an experienced and collaborative pragmatist. As usual, I was happy to commend people and policies from other parties where appropriate, whilst telling them, and the voters, when I thought they were wrong or unrealistic.
Thanks to all those who voted for me, and of course to my agent and the rest of the team who encouraged, funded, leafletted, consoled. But of course, a great day for Liberal Democrat councillors across the UK, with over 700 seats gained, including Gareth Kane in Ouseburn ward, Newcastle.
Now for some relaxation, and to catch up with my teaching work at Newcastle University (mostly marking of coursework and exams for the next month!). And my wife (who nearly tripled her vote in the local elections in North Tyneside) will be glad to hear less of politics at all hours.
April 29th: Thursday saw the screening of both the BBC ‘Mastermind’ quiz and the ITV ‘quick-fire’ interviews. I scored 6 on the quiz – not too bad considering I was asked the area of the NoT (my answer: 3,000 sq.m., correct answer 2,000 sq.m.) and the meaning of ‘clamming’ (Geordie: means hungry). The ITV format worked quite well and I kept to time – strictly 20 seconds or 30 on each question.
On Friday all five of us were recorded at the BBC studios, screened on Sunday as the Politics Show. I don’t think I have the best ‘TV manner’ of the five candidates, but feel I came across as thoughtful and knowledgeable about detail. The Labour candidate set out his ambitious plans and was challenged on the realism of those. Did you see the programme? What did you think?
At the Environment hustings last Tuesday, Biodiversity was raised as an issue. As I said at the time, the dramatic fall in insect numbers (owing to chemical use and climate) threatens world food supplies, and reduced plant diversity could also make new drug discovery difficult.
April 24th: Feeling tired today after four fixtures yesterday – BBC Radio, BBC TV, Chronicle/Journal hustings, then a hustings in Alnwick. The evening fixture was organised by Friends of the Earth and was focussed on the Environment – a subject I’ve featured and emphasised whenever I can in this campaign.
Some good questions included our support for declaring a Climate Emergency in line with the street protests and the amazing Greta Thunberg. I supported this call, as it’s such a massive issue and we should be grateful to young people in particular for insisting action is taken now. But I said, to audience agreement, that declarations aren’t much use unless we all take action, including examining our own lifestyles and sacrifices we might need to make. I already do what I can (I don’t own a car, buy second-hand and rarely fly) but maybe there’s more? Perhaps I could aim to eat only seasonal food to avoid heating, cooling and transport costs?
Another important issue raised was Biodiversity – important for the richness of our environment, for insect pollination, and for sources for new drugs.
April 23rd: Walking across Castle Leazes to the BBC Newcastle studios for an interview on ‘Alfie and Anna at Breakfast’ (8.20am, on BBC Sounds), I saw that the cows were back for the summer. I used to see them every day from April to October when I lived in Fenham and walked to Newcastle University each day.
April 21st – Easter Sunday: Greeting the dawn at 5.45am on the sea-front at Whitley Bay with forty people from local churches. A wonderful, beautiful clear morning with hope for new life. Good words on the radio too about how new energy and hope can rise from disaster, such as the fire at Notre Dame, and how similar that story is to the fire at Brancepeth Church in County Durham in 1997. Both seemed to resonate with people of faith and none – a sense of shared history and mystery about these ancient buildings.
April 18th: At a hustings organised by the Centre for Cities and the NE Chamber of Commerce, where all five candidates answered questions on the economy, transport, etc. Some good questions: ‘Why would an entrepreneur choose Newcastle?’, ‘How do we make the local economy more inclusive?’ (this meant including those from different socio-economic backgrounds), ‘What would you do for business in Newcastle City Centre?’.
April 18th: A busy day yesterday, starting with filming by ITV on Blyth dockside for the evening programmes on Thursday 25th. It felt like one of those adverts, sitting at a table in the open air with cranes, goods and the sea behind. Seven questions about me, my aims and policy, and my local knowledge (and I got the local celebrity right!).
Later that morning, an important session with ‘Becoming Visible’ – working with deaf people on materials, education and advice for employment. They filmed me answering questions and will add sign language later so that the deaf community can get information accessibly. We discussed difficulties of funding, of delayed education, and the need for employers to see disabled people as an underused resource rather than a problem to be solved.
My Sustrans interview (see previous blog item) was then followed by a personal profile by an Evening Chronicle reporter. I declined to say who my second vote would be cast for, and explained that I was offering myself and my experience for a job that needs to be done well – this is not a personal ambition – and that linked to my personal faith.