Saturday, 15 March 2014

Crimea- a really uncertain outcome?

My Mum used to talk about the Cuban crisis as a defining moment in her young adult life, when the whole world held its collective breath in case a nuclear war started between the US and The USSR over the Russian missiles on Cuba.

I have been reading Max Hastings' great work, Catastrophe, about the outbreak of World War 1, and looking at the leadership reasons for bringing their countries to a war footing.

In each case, fear of invasion by the Russians has been the driving force: in 1914 the German Kaiser wanted to pre-empt Russian military growth and check their military strength before they got too strong for German forces to rebuff on the Eastern front. The unexpected murders of the Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife provided an opportunity for Germany & Russia to square up against each other with Serbia as the excuse.

In 1962 Cuba became the equivalent Serbian pinchpoint,  and now in 2014 it seems that the Crimean Peninsula - known to us all by name thanks to its 19th century war, but probably hard for most people to pinpoint on a map until a fortnight ago - has become the focus of the present day crisis.

Should we be anxious? Have all the world's leaders got nerves of steel & do they actually want to do the right thing? Is Putin actually bothered about maintaining stability, or is he driven by a longstanding desire to see Russian territory return to USSR size?

News this morning is that Russian money in the western markets is being pulled out fast, for fear of sanctions & blockage. Might it be the case that the oligarchs' vast personal fortunes - including Putin's - may be the key to stability? That childhood phrase which my Mum's hippy musician friends used to disparaging sing about.... That  "money makes the world go round", may prove key to the aversion of military aggression in Crimea.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Broadband 4 All Northumberland

I am very dismayed by today's announcement that Northumberland County Council have decided to make the recently appointed director at Arch, responsible for broadband rollout, redundant- just as all the key work needs to be done to reach the 90% of premises included in the first rollout, and then work on some clever planning for the last 10% presently not planned for.

Perhaps the Labour administration's focus on making these bad budget cut decisions (which will have longterm negative impact on the future economic development of rural Northumberland), explains why no-one from County Hall was lobbying Westminster to ask for a fair proportion of the next £250 million announced today.

Due to Labour councillors' lack of interest in the economic future of rural Northumberland, we have only been allocated £650,000- against North Yorkshire's £10million or Durham's £3.8 million.  When will our elected representatives start fighting our corner?

I have written to the Secretary of State, Maria Miller MP, at DCMS today to try to find out why we have had such a poor commitment, & what we can do to access more funding, since we have one of the hardest to reach areas left to get
broadband to in Northumberland.  Funds should flow to these areas rather than to those easy-to-fulfil (& probably economic for BT anyway) through expected growth.

Rural Northumberland deserves a better deal & a fair share of resources from local & central Government.

Friday, 3 January 2014

A New Year brings new challenges

It seems to be the fashion for politicians to make predictions about the coming new year, mostly on issues over which they have no influence or control.

I am no fortune teller and as I have never been of a gambling nature, I prefer to look at those issues coming forward on my horizon over which I might- with hard work & perhaps a little luck- make a difference to the outcome for those issues & people I care about.

I expect my 2014 to be dominated by:-

1. Continued lobbying through my Dual The A1 campaign to get the last stretch of this English road brought into the 21st century with a safe dual carriageway which can draw in new investment to the North East for the economic benefit of our region.

2. The great and urgent challenge to the United Kingdom of the Scottish Referendum on 18th September this year. For us Borderers, and most especially the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the prospect of Scotland becoming a foreign country has no upside. Families would be split, doctors surgeries & schools cut off, and hundreds of years of happy co-existence brought to an abrupt end.

As my small part in trying to encourage those Scots with a vote to say NO to Alex Salmond's nationalistic hue & cry, I am organising the Border Union Rally with Rory Stewart, the MP for Penrith & the Borders. We will be leading a great walk along 28 miles of the most magnificent & wild part of the Border Ridge on 19th July this summer, hopefully with hundreds of other intrepid walkers who want to share their love of the Union.

Do sign up to support & join us at

We are also going to encourage all walkers to raise some sponsorship funds to support a British military charity of their choice. In this 100th anniversary year of the start of World War I, support for our brave armed forces who put their lives on the line for our safety has never been more important.

In WW1, so many died in battle - today modern warfare & medecine has reduced deaths, but leaves men & women with extensive life changing injuries (both visible & invisible). We want to play our small part in highlighting the extraordinary work of so many British military charities who support ex-forces personnel across the UK, in wach of our four corners. I do not want a new border which cuts Scotland off from Great Britain.

Monday, 25 November 2013

We want to keep our Union together

I am in the throes of organising the Border Union Rally next summer, with the help of Rory Stewart MP, the man who walked across Afghanistan and will think nothing of a gentle stroll along 29 miles of our invisible border between England and Scotland. 

As a voice for North Northumberland, I am deeply conscious of the fact that our border with Scotland (all 96 miles of it) is simply a spectacular part of the northern landscape, a stretch of Great Britain rarely visited and not stopping anyone from one side or the other.  But if Scotland were to vote FOR independence next September, the market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed would become a frontier town, a border outpost which would create a break in family ties and business networks, in school bus routes and dentists patient lists.

I hear every day from folk on the English side of the Border that they don't want the UK broken up. So we are organising this Rally and encouraging as many people as possible to join us in showing the Scots how much we love them being in the Union, and calling on them to vote NO to independence.

To sign up to join the Rally, register now at and follow us on Twitter @BorderRally.

I will be inviting Boris Johnson to join our Rally, following his moving article this week which I have included here in full:

Boris writes:
"I have a faded sticker on the back of my car that reads: I (heart) Scotland. I have a feeling it was stuck there by some fellows from Strathclyde police when they came down to help with the Notting Hill carnival, and I keep it there because it reflects my general feelings. I (heart) Scotland in the way that so many of us Sassenachs do: you know, fabulous place, lovely people, gorgeous purple moors, great white beaches and an incomparable contribution to Western thought and civilisation, from Adam Smith to Andrew Neil.

I (heart) Scotland so much that I once made a doomed attempt to become rector of a Scottish university, in which I destroyed a massive poll lead by announcing that I was not only English but in favour of top-up fees, and ended up coming third and having beer poured over my head. But still I (heart) Scotland. I (heart) the bagpipes and the porridge and the view from Arthur’s Seat and swimming with seals and the funny prehistoric cows with ginger fringes and the see-you-Jimmy tam-o’-shanter that I keep as a memento of one holiday; and so I find it positively (heart) breaking to find that serious people are now worried that the union between England and Scotland – a gigantic political fact for 306 years – is under threat.

Never mind the sentiment, the fuzzy warm feelings I have about the place. Whatever happens, tourism will continue, after all. We are on the verge of losing something even more precious – to both Scotland and England – and I don’t think people have woken up to the full lunacy of what is afoot. In its desultory complacency, the conversation reminds me of some middle-aged couple deciding to get divorced. All they can think about is the liberation – the new beginnings, the excitement. So more and more English people are thinking, what the hell: if the Scots want to walk out, why don’t we just let them?

We won’t have to subsidise them any more via the Barnett formula, people think; and there are plenty of Tories who secretly agree with John Major, and reckon that getting rid of all those Scottish Labour MPs would be a fine thing for England and the Conservative Party. As for the Scots — well, I can see the attraction: your own nation, your own government, and the chance to join the ranks of those small and dynamic countries that seem to be happiest and most prosperous.

What both sides are forgetting – and they have this in common with divorcing couples – is that it may look OK on day one, but on day two the lawyers come in. There is the division of property to work out, the rights of access to be determined. The longer the marriage has lasted, the more there is to unpick, and the more hellish and self-flayingly painful the whole process becomes.

After three centuries of union, England and Scotland are not just woven together by sentiment, but by a cat’s cradle of intricate legal and political ties. Fibre by fibre that would have to be sliced apart, and the result will be agony and endless recrimination.

On Tuesday, the Scottish government will publish a vast White Paper explaining how on earth it is supposed to work. So here are some of the questions I hope that document will be able to settle. We are told that the proposal is that Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state and the pound as the national currency – though presumably both of these commitments could be varied by a future Scottish parliament.

But on what basis does Scotland get to keep the pound? Will they use sterling informally, just as some Latin American countries rely on the dollar? And why should the Bank of England take any notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy? Why should the governor travel to Edinburgh and be interrogated by Scottish MPs? After independence, after all, he will owe his appointment entirely to an English-Welsh-Northern Irish government. Or will Alec Salmond come south, and sit in an ante-room in Threadneedle Street, hoping for an audience?

Then there is the basic question of what this independent state of Scotland is supposed to be, and how it is meant to relate to the rest of the world. We are talking about a secession from the Union of the United Kingdom, and many EU diplomats have now made it clear to Salmond that this is exactly the same as seceding from the EU. If the Scots wanted to remain in the EU (and they seem, for some reason, to think this is necessary) Scotland would have to seek an immediate accession – and the question is: who would conduct the negotiations?

Why should this be done by UKrep, the UK office in Brussels, when Scotland has voted to leave the UK? The Scots would have to equip themselves instantly with a new cadre of diplomats. There would have to be a Scottish foreign office around the world – wouldn’t there? And if not, why not? What about Britain’s nuclear missiles, and the need to use submarine bases in Scotland? What about Scottish regiments in the British Army?

There are endless opportunities for confusion and bickering. Then there is one final point that no one seems to have grasped: that this is not just the end of the United Kingdom. It is the end of Britain. Yes, of course, there will still be an island called Great Britain, the largest in the British Isles. But Britain as a political entity will be annihilated. This very name of our nation only gained currency after the Act of Union, and makes no sense with the top section lopped off and “independent”.

And then what? What happens to British sporting teams? What happens, for goodness’ sake, to the “British” Broadcasting Corporation? Nobody has the faintest idea. I am appalled that the pro-independence vote is up at 38 per cent. We need someone — the Americans? — to step in as a kind of marriage guidance counsellor and tell us to stop being so damn stupid. Divorce will diminish us both. It will be unutterably wretched and painful, and it will eliminate the most successful political union in history."

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Syrian Challenge - is it Britain's job to take on Middle East religious wars?

I am deeply concerned by the Syria debate taking place today, and the seeming lack of information from Government or media outlets about the realities of the battleground taking place in Syria and the wider Middle East. 

Whilst I totally agree that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, I am very nervous about the proposed action from Western Governments to determine who is at fault.  There seems to be no clear evidence presented yet  which proves that Assad ordered this attack, and I hope that if the UN Inspectors determine that chemical weapons were indeed used, the UN then decides to take it upon themselves to identify the leader of this attack & those which allegedly have gone on before (in smaller attacks).

I do not know what Ed Miliband's motivations for standing up to Cameron at the 12th hour were yesterday, but he has my respect for doing so, if only to allow MPs more time to challenge the international (US-French-UK) determination to wade into this ghastly war.

I am receiving information from contacts in the Middle East from Egypt & Syria who are telling me that all is not what it might seem from Western media reporting - that whilst Assad may not be a good or nice man, he is fighting to stop the Muslim Brotherhood from taking over with a view to torching all Christian Churches, Shia mosques, and further extermination of non-Muslims.  I am not an expert, and so I would like to hear a wider debate with source information on what is actually going on out there.

Is this really simply an evil Assad exterminating his people?  Or is this a similar battle to the one raging in Egypt, where a year into Muslim Brotherhood power all who are not Sunni seem to be their enemy to be overcome and the country's army are trying to prevent their doctrinal domination?

The Motion before the House of Commons today is below, and whilst it is measured in its tone,  it leaves many questions to be answered.  I shall be listening closely to the whole debate in the hope of being given a clearer indication of why our Government is seemingly so desperate to wade into this situation.  I hope that the UN Security Council will start to take charge of this situation rather than leaving some of its members to take up arms unilaterally.  Chemical weapons are not an acceptable tool of war, and any and all who use them must be punished.  But is Great Britain the one to do that, or should it be led by international law only?

The Government’s motion


The Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister
Secretary William Hague
Secretary Theresa May
Secretary Philip Hammond
Mr Dominic Grieve

That this House:
·         Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
·         Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
·         Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
·         Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
·         Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
·         Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
·         Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
·         Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
·         Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
·         notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Fracking for Shale Gas in the North East?

I have been battling with Lord Howell's misplaced & ill-informed comments this week in the House of Lords about fracking for shale gas in the North East (because we are a "desolate" part of the UK - language which he has now apologised for and retracted), and came across the article below which sets much of our impending energy crisis into clear perspective.

Initial surveys indicate that the North East won't be where the shale gas revolution takes place as there isn't any deposits of significance which present technology could exploit effectively. Its all in the South East and a strip from Lancashire to Yorkshire.

This is a fascinating article published in the FT about our energy needs, its history & the future. 

A real energy revolution needs us to look beyond sound bites.  By John Kay

The blame for the UK’s impending power crisis will lie squarely with prevaricating politicians.

The origins of Britain’s impending energy crisis go back half a century. The Beatles were in their heyday, the young Harold Wilson was a freshly elected prime minister committed to “the white heat of technology”. But British consumers experienced power cuts during the winter.

The government announced a massive programme to expand electricity generating capacity. The plan included several coal-fired stations of unprecedented size. But its showpiece
was the construction of five nuclear power stations to a newly developed British design, the advanced gas-cooled reactor, or AGR. “I am quite sure we have hit the jackpot,” said Fred Lee, the minister in charge, enthusing about the technology’s export prospects.

The plan was an economic disaster. The stations were subject to horrendous
delays and cost overruns. It would be 30 years before they came close to operating efficiently. The shortfall in capacity did not matter much because the electricity was not needed anyway. Needless to say, the export markets did not materialise. In the 1980s the Thatcher government shut down most of the coal industry, built one new nuclear station – to a proven US design – and privatised the industry.

Privatisation was in most respects a success. Power companies built smaller stations using combined cycle gas-fired technology that was fuel efficient and quick and cheap to construct. The scale of the economic cost of nuclear was finally revealed; executives who had misled ministers and parliament were more fearful of the consequences of misleading investors. The nuclear plants were pulled from the sale. They were later privatised as British Energy, which went bust and after reconstruction was acquired byElĂ©ctricitĂ© de France. France generates most of its electricity from nuclear power and is a global leader in that technology.

But privatisation failed to provide a stable framework for planning new electricity generation. The initial regime reflected careful thought about
appropriate incentives for capacity installation, but this regime was swept away in 2001 in favour of a simpler one modelled on other commodity markets and known as Neta (New Electricity Trading Arrangements), subsequently to be Betta (British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements). As so often in commodity markets, this structure worked rather better in the short run than over the long term.

Lee’s power stations are now coming to the end of their lives. But there is still no clarity as to what will replace them, or when, and the latest energy white paper published this summer proposes many interventions but no coherent policy.

The problems fall into three main groups. The first is that no one wants a power station, especially a nuclear one, near them. In fact most people do not want any power stations at all. They do, however, want to use refrigerators, computers, televisions and washing
machines. Explaining this inconsistency requires political courage.

Second, building power stations with a life of many decades requires confidence in the stability of the market for their output. This is especially true of nuclear stations whose capital costs represent most of the total cost of the power they generate. Policy vacillation has created permanent uncertainty. For years there has been a ritual dance in which government offers subsidy and
guarantees for new construction while pretending it is not doing so.

Third, the debate is dominated by gestures, at once feeble and costly, towards environmentalism. Perhaps the British should adopt a simpler, more self-sufficient way of life, but they have not done so and are not going to anytime soon. Until then, their demands for power can only be met by gas-fired and nuclear generation. The shale gas revolution suggests that gas will be the
main element in the mixture. The efficient use of gas will cut carbon emissions by much more than expensive wind installations. The uncertain availability of wind turbines means that even if they yield some power they do not reduce the need for other generating capacity.

To be able to use power the UK needs to build power stations. But it is easier to posture, prevaricate and procrastinate than to take decisions whose consequences will only be evident many years from now. When the lights flicker, as they will, the responsibility will lie squarely with the preoccupation of politicians with sound bites from tabloid headlines.


Friday, 31 May 2013


After months of campaigning and bringing the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, to see for himself the broken road into Rothbury, we have been awarded a grant of £4.99 million to help Northumberland County Council get the road fixed.
It has been a nerve-wracking few weeks as we have continued to share the local residents' real life struggles to cope with the road closure with the Minister, to ensure he understood just how important this road repair is to our Coquet Valley community. 

Our impact survey has thrown up the following information which we shared with the Minister & his team:
  • 98% of respondents (either living in Rothbury or the Valley or regular visitor) were affected by the road closure.
  • One third of respondents were businesses in the village, and they have been affected by as much as a drop in turnover of £1500 per month (and that has been in the non-summer months). 
  • The extra distance travelled by the average family as a result of the closure is 10 miles per day, which adds up to around £20 per week of extra fuel costs for two cars - on the local average wages, this is proving to be an unsustainable burden for many.
  • The School Buses have longer journeys both in time & costs - and are struggling to get over the moor road due to the steep hills, also creating long tailbacks and further time delays for everyone else trying to get to Alnwick or Morpeth.
  • The wear & tear on all vehicles, businesses and private, has been substantial - with the only road open suffering from greater pot holes and causing damage to many vehicles.
Thank you to all those who helped us explain to the Minister just how serious this road closure is.  We are extremely grateful that he listened and has supported County Hall's request for £5million towards the rebuild.  Now we must make sure that our Council gets cracking on the rebuild immediately.

If you have any questions on this please do not hesitate to get in touch on 07970 653258 or