Archive for the ‘Defence’ Category
The Badlanders ride into town
I don’t know why, but every time we hold a special commemoration for Armed Forces Day in South Shields we end up with heavy skies and rain, and so it was on this damp Sunday morning as the Badlanders MCC rode into town along the Coast Road to the Bents Park. A cavalcade of hundreds of big noisy brash and expensive motorbikes preceded the parade of local armed services personnel and youth groups led a pipe band marching from Gypsies Green Stadium watched by a very encouraging crowd which grew massively as they approached the entrance to the Bents Park. The parade took the salute from the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear Nigel Sherlock O.B.E. alongside the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside Cllrs. Eilleen Leask and Olive Puncheon at a dais erected next to the clean and modern looking caravan park of Sea Road. Considering the inclement weather (no we have had our fair share of rain this summer too) it was encouraging to see so many youngsters and families coming along to pay homage to the courage, bravery, and steadfastness of our armed services in the service of our country.
In past years the parade and salute has taken place at the Town Hall on the same day as the rest of the country, at times the parade was so short that it almost went unnoticed, so the decision to combine it with the excellent and well organised fun day provided by these motorbike enthusiasts appears to be the right one. Many of the Badlanders are former members of the armed services and will often be seen visiting South Shields for the annual Service of Remembrance each November at Westoe, they spend months and months planning and organising this huge event which grows and grows each year – they are to be heartily congratulated for the sterling work that they do raising thousands of pounds for service charities each year.
As the parade entered the Bents Park the groups lined up in front of the main stage for an inspection by the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear and the Mayor of South Tyneside, this was followed by a special religious service conducted by vicar of St. Michael and All the Angels, Westoe, the Revd. Paul Kennedy, himself a former decorated serviceman. His exhortation included the ode from the moving poem by Lawrence Binyon “For the Fallen”:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
The National Anthem was played by the Durham Army Cadet band.The rest of the day was spent in showing off the magnificent machines, sports and games for the children, demonstrations, and live music from local rock bands. If you would like to see pictures form the “fun” part of the day, you will need to tune in to South Shields Daily Picturesover the next few weeks. No amount of thunder or lightening was going to stop them!
Welcome back my friends.
First a bit of music to cheer you all up, and may I extend a big welcome to you all as we begin a New Year in South Tyneside’s first and oldest political blog, I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that it brings some sort of cheer to you. I cannot promise that output from this desk will be any more frequent this year than it was last, a new lifestyle here leaves me a bit less time to write and my passion for photography at South Shields Daily Pictures also competes for my online time. However, with a long drum roll let’s get started with things for 2012.
National and international predictions
Financial and political pressure within the EU continue to build as a realistic solution to the Eurozone crisis fails to materialise, as referendums in Greece and Ireland initially reject further austerity measures relating to the latest bail out plans. Calls to remove these countries from the Eurozone are thwarted as both nations are forced to hold a second vote which confirms their compliance with the Commission’s wishes. Massive unrest on the streets of Athens leads, for the first time, to a pan European peacekeeping force being deployed in Greece to keep its citizens under control.
David Cameron decides that Britain will not contribute any personnel to the new force, and further reduces Britain’s contribution to the IMF, stating that our financial problems require us to keep more of our finances at home. Nick Clegg threatens to pull the Lib-Dems out of the coalition in protest at the Conservatives outright hostility to the new EU plans designed to bring stability to the markets, however because of Labour’s weak position under Ed Miliband a combination of Tory and rebellious Labour MPs win the day in a Confidence debate in the House of Commons, thus tying the Lib-Dems into the coalition. Rebel Labour MPs claim this was the best way to ensure the total demise of Lib- Dem MPs at the next general election whilst buying more time for Labour to reorganise.
In America President Obama wins a second term, although very narrowly, after providing logistical and intelligence support to Israel when they successfully bombed a number of Iranian nuclear facilities the week before President Ahmedinijad was expected to announce the testing of his country’s first nuclear weapon.
In Russia Vladimir Putin is elected to lead the nation again, but there are strong doubts about the integrity of the elections, massive unrest in Russian cities is dealt with firmly and harshly, and following warmer than normal friendly talks with neighbouring states regarding trade agreements and energy supplies, observers begin fearing for the independence of the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) as nationalist parties there see a massive rise in popularity after the EU’s enforced austerity measures spark riots.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announces a new treaty with Iran, promising to help them rebuild the facilities destroyed by the Israelis. Increased defence spending in the secretive far eastern state has resulted in a larger American military presence in Australia’s Northern Territory and the permanent patrol of a full battle ready US fleet in international waters close to the Korean peninsular.
China continues to be the world’s leading economy but still shows little appetite for increasing it’s spending on imports, preferring instead to produce good quality copies of foreign article for home consumption, Obama’s pleas for relaxations in China’s trade policies fall on deaf ears.
The case in San Mateo County Court in California involving three South Tyneside councillors and an officer rumbles on seemingly interminably with no prospect of either a firm result and conclusion, or a commencement of proceedings in a British court. The costs of the matter are used as a political weapon during the local government elections in May.
Fifteen South Shields boys and girls attend the X Factor auditions in Newcastle but not a single one makes any progress, meanwhile late in the year Little Mix release an album to mixed reviews which does well in the charts but does not reach No. 1, fans had a liking for the new material but complained that five covers in the album were probably too many. As the year closes Little Mix prepare for their second UK headlining tour. Meanwhile Joe McElderry had released an album firmly in the dance genre after expressing disappointment over the sales of his Christmas Classics collection of cover songs, he also decided to accept the offer of a part in a West End musical and will be appearing in panto at the end of the year at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.
South Tyneside’s jobless figures continue to rise although not at the massive rate that some had feared, local employment prospects are boosted by the announcement from Nissan of their decision to build a further two new models at their massive plant in Washington.
In the local elections in May Labour takes an absolute stranglehold on local politics as virtually all opposition in South Tyneside is wiped off the map. Cllr Geraldine White loses her seat to Labour in Fellgate and Hedworth, Lawrence Nolan fails to hold Harton for the Progressives after the retirement of Jimmy Capstick, the Liberal Democrats disappear as Joe Abbot loses to Labour in Hebburn North, Labour regain Horsely Hill in a close contest as Independent Alliance councillor Gordon Finch loses his seat, in Monkton John Hodgson somehow manages to fend off Labour’s challenge with only a handful of votes to spare, Labour make it three in a row in West Park as Enid Hetherington ends the Progressive Association’s long tenure there, Labour pick up Westoe at the expense of Allen Branley, and further legal challenges ensue after Ahmed Khan narrowly loses the decision against Labour’s John Anglin in the Beacon and Bents ward of South Shields.
Labour’s only other failure on a remarkable night was in Cleadon Village and East Boldon, where Conservative Councillor Jeff Milburn retained his seat with a much reduced majority.
Following further shop closures in King Street, South Shields, South Tyneside Council announced an updated plan for a shoppers car parking scheme which gave two hours of free town centre parking, charges would only be applied after two hours and could be refunded if shoppers were spending more than £5 with local “partner” businesses. In a further sign of Labour’s pragmatic approach to working with the coalition government council Leader Iain Malcolm announced his intention of shaving an additional £45m from South Tyneside’s spending as he intended to announce a first ever reduction in council taxes to help local people rebuild their economy by putting money back into their own pockets to spend.
On the sporting scene, South Shields Mariners are in disarray after the sale of Filtrona Park , a late season slide in form saw them narrowly avoid relegation and their future is now in serious doubt as new houses are about to be built on their former ground. Until they find a new home their existence in the Northern League cannot be guaranteed.
In the Premier League Mike Ashley showed no inclination to spend on Newcastle United during the January window, as once again he discussed the possibility of selling the club at the end of the season. The Magpies strong start to the campaign was cancelled out when striker Demba Ba suffered a serious injury, this coupled with the sales of Tiote and Krul meant that Pardew’s men had a late season loss of form which saw them end the campaign in 15th. place.
Rivals Sunderland were boosted by the surprise arrival of a top name striker and a full back which pleased the red and white half of South Shields. Meanwhile Ryan Noble’s emergence as a Premier League threat helped Martin O’Neill cement his status as a “legend” as the team went on a strong run towards the end of the season finishing above the Magpies in 9th. place. Owner Ellis Short announced that further funds would be made available to the Irishman for the summer transfer window, once again Sunderland are considering the possibility of extending the capacity at The Stadium of Light.
Remembrance Sunday in South Tyneside
As Her Majesty the Queen led the nation’s tributes by paying respect to our fallen heroes at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, here in South Tyneside a number of remembrance events took place around the borough coinciding with the televised event in London. Services were held in South Shields, Jarrow, Hebburn, Cleadon Village, Whitburn Village and East Boldon where parades and wreath laying ceremonies took place. As a “Shieldsman” I was remarking with friends yesterday evening how much the popularity and feeling for our armed services has increased steadily over recent years, and this shows itself in the numbers who now attend the ceremony at Westoe Cenotaph. The recent long running conflicts in Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent Libya, have reinforced in our minds the professionalism, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice given by our armed services and we welcome this opportunity to show our respect and homage to those who never made it home.
It was a dull misty and damp morning in South Shields as the parade assembled behind the Town Hall in Westoe Road, the moisture shrouded the clock tower of the proud old building and muffled the sound of the tolling bell of St. Bede’s church, as the clock chimed at 10:30 the parade commenced led by the Harton and Westoe Brass Band to make its way up the hill of Westoe Road to the Cenotaph. The salute was taken by Deputy Mayor Cllr. Eileen Leask and the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, hundreds of participants representing the armed services, veterans organisations, the Royal British Legion, and youth organisations filed past watched by an expectant crowd. Once at Westoe they were met by the Revd. Paul Kennedy, Vicar of St. Michael and All the Angels, and Father Michael Wemyss of St. Bede’s parish church who jointly conducted the ceremony. Huge crowds had gathered unperturbed by the damp chill weather to participate in a respectful two minutes silence at 11:00 am preceding a short service and the wreath laying ceremony.
Leading the tributes on behalf of the Borough of South Tyneside were Deputy Mayor Eileen Leask, Council Leader Iain Malcolm, and Chief Executive Martin Swales. Wreaths representing all sections of our community were laid and it was heart warming to see one gentleman still marching to this event and taking part on behalf of his buddies at the ripe young age of 91. As you look through these dull and greyish pictures, spare a thought for the younger generation, there were many of them there this morning, brownies, scouts, Air Training Corps, Army Cadets, T. S. Collingwood, Royal Marine Cadets, Boys Brigade and schools. They have a hunger for knowledge about our past, and many of them are now coming into contact with families who may recently have lost a loved in in conflict, or seen a relative return home bearing injuries. Remembrance Sunday is no longer just about the Great War of 1914 -18 and the Second World War, it has transcended those two dreadful conflagrations and strengthened its meaning to new generations of participants, which I hope you may discover through some of the pictures showing above.
In a week which has seen a departure from the normal political unity at this time of year, we learn that some 2000 British army personnel will remain in Afghanistan for up to 20 years training commanders of the Afghan National Army to British standards, whilst at the same time our government intends to carry on paring back the numbers of personnel who we depend upon to defend our interests. The spat between Conservatives and Labour sadly sounds a sour note when our attention ought to be firmly focussed on the welfare of armed service personnel when they are returned to civilian life, or are returned to the UK seriously injured, it is often heard that as a nation we do not treat our veterans as well as we might.
Also sadly noted, once again, was the almost total lack of opposition councillors within the civic party at Westoe, although one was seen popping into the corner shop before the parade arrived. Has Remembrance Sunday suddenly become party political or what? I know that at least one Conservative councillor was on duty today, but really……… where were the South Shields non Labour councillors as the rest of the community did its duty?
On a lighter note, you will see some leather clad lads and lasses in the pictures, your first thoughts may be that they are troublesome, or the celebrity chefs “Hairy Bikers” , in fact they are members of the Badlander’s Motorcycle Club who regularly meet in South Shields. Many of them are also members of the Royal British Legion Riders Section and they have, jointly with local Hells Angels, raised thousands of pounds in recent years for charities such as “Help the Heroes”. Don’t be afraid to approach them at next year’s event or at their Armed Forces charity fund raiser at the Bents Park, they are a cheerful friendly bunch and a great laugh!
You cannot judge a book by its cover!
Click thumbnail for larger picture
I was asked a few times yesterday about the “aircraft carrier” that was spotted anchored off the mouth of the Tyne as South Shields entertained thousands of visitors on a weekend dedicated to supporting Armed Forces Day. Following a small parade and presentation at South Shields Town Hall on Saturday morning there was a big presence of bikers and petrol heads at the Bents Park on Sunday as many people took advantage of rather hot and steamy weather to enjoy the seaside. The displays were quite impressive and it was pleasing to see an event organised by those who are probably more accustomed to bad press rather than being the subject of praise, however the Badlanders Motor Cycle Club and the Tyne Wear Chapter of the Hells Angels provided a variety of entertainment and bags of interest for those interested in monster machines, hot rods, heavy metal rock, vintage militaria, and generally good clean honest fun. They had live bands entertaining the crowds, lots of charity stalls, retailers, big bikes for sale, food and drink, and a car and bike show too, and the whole event was aimed at raising money for various charities with links to our servicemen and women such as Help for Heroes, Save Our Soldiers, and The Royal British Legion.
HMS Illustrious seemed to have timed her visit purposefully, but it may well have been an opportune accident of timing as she undergoes sea trials around the UK coast following a £40m refit at Rosyth. “Lusty” Illustrious is classed as a “strike carrier” but in reality she is the last remaining through deck cruiser after the decommissioning of Ark Royal and Invincible, her decks are now fitted for carrying helicopters and she will serve as the UK’s on call carrier when HMS Ocean undergoes a refit. She has been in Rosyth dockyard for the past 16 months for an overhaul which has seen her communications kit enhanced, mess areas – the crew’s living spaces – revamped, a new anti-torpedo system fitted, and has had 540,000 litres of paint (enough to fill one fifth of an Olympic-sized swimming pool) applied, including a fuel-efficient coating to her outer hull which will make her scythe through the oceans more efficiently, among other work carried out by Babcock and the ship’s company.
Above all, however, the ship emerges from refit capable of carrying up to 20 helicopters and 600 troops as an assault ship (a function she performed for real during operations in Afghanistan in 2001-02).
“This has been a challenging project, delivered to a very high standard by the joint team – on time and on budget.”
said Capt Graeme Little, of the Capital Ships team at the Defence Equipment and Support organisation.
“We approach Illustrious’ return to the navy with confidence in the significant improvements which have been made.”
After an initial week-long run-out of Rosyth earlier this month, a more thorough work-out for Lusty is now underway over the next five weeks.
She’s due in Portsmouth in late July, when she’ll be formally handed back to the Fleet.
I share the grave worries and concerns voiced by our top brass in the Ministry of Defence over our very stretched roles at present, and with two new carriers promised sometime never in the future we are left in quite a vulnerable position with one “strike (helicopter) carrier” on call at a time when the Argentinians are rattling their sabres over the Falklands again, if they had a mind to subjugate the Falkland Islanders I fear there would be little that we could do this time to relieve their plight. Worse still I cannot see our “friends” in America helping us, despite our clamour to help them out in Afghanistan!
At a time of economic restraint British military adventures need to be very carefully considered and priorities ought to be given to the defence of the realm and defence of British strategic interests, before we even think about assisting in the so called Arab Spring! These “revolutions” in the middle east have not produced exciting results either for the protagonists or the outside observers who were perhaps hoping to see the emergence of liberal democracies, even in Egypt the military seems to have worked quietly but successfully behind the scenes to get the result that they wanted. Our involvement in Libya was premature and hasty and many of us had doubts over the altruism of the original motives, it is becoming increasingly expensive for the tax payer and stretches the Royal Navy and the RAF to their absolute limits, to add insult to the current impasse we have the Prime Minister telling his Defence Chiefs of Staff that their job is to do the fighting and it is his job to do the talking! Please don’t misunderstand me, along with thousands of other South Tynesiders, I fully and unambiguously support the dedication and professionalism of our armed services when the politicians have made a decision to deploy them abroad, and I also recognise that the MOD is a big beast capable of wasting many millions of our hard earned pounds just as well as any other department, but the Prime Minister must at least look as though he is listening to what his military staff are telling him. The message they are trumpeting is that we are involved in too many campaigns at a time when the politicians are asking them to slim down the operations and the budgets, you cannot get quarts out of pint pots!
The answers to half of the current financial conundrums for our Defence Chiefs must surely be a very swift and total withdrawal from Afghanistan, regardless of the pace of the US draw down, and a lightning fast removal from Libya, in both cases we ought to make it quite clear that it is now up to the people of those countries to decide their own destinies and fates without external intervention. We have done our bit, it’s surely time for them to do theirs (if they really want that change).
A more insular policy may well be required for a while at least until the bristling of the top brass has subsided, however as the prickly Argentinians become more embroiled in robust rhetoric we at least can rely on the good Doctor Liam Fox to fight fire with fire:
“Those in politics on the other side of the world can huff and puff but it will not change our resolve politically to retain the independence and the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands nor to come to their defence and to maintain deterrence as best we can.
“We have Typhoons already stationed there. We have a very clear message that we have both the naval power if necessary, and certainly an intent to ensure that the Falkland Islands are kept free and their people enjoy the liberation we fought so hard for 30 years ago.”
Those words need to be read very very carefully, he mentions political resolve but not military resolution, and he talks up deterrence “as best we can”, he talks of intent to keep the Falklands “liberated” from the Argentinians. All this with a few Typhoons and a navy that would fill the South Marine Park lake? Come on Dr. Fox, the only naval power that we might have left would be a nuclear submarine prepared to play very high stakes in an international game of poker!
Either that or the big hearted Badlanders and Hells Angels from Tyne Wear and Durham might be enlisted to join a cargo carrier headed south to relive their glory days of 29 years ago!
……..they can hardly ever tread a straight path.
In some other European countries such as Belgium and Italy, where the electoral system is forever throwing together pacts and coalitions between parties, they are used to seeing compromises, here in the UK we are more likely to call them “U-turns”. Whether its on deficit reduction, higher education, NHS reform, defence, or justice the ConLib coalition is constantly in flux with policy being driven more by the need to keep the coalition together than what might be seen as the necessities of good government.
In many respects this was to have been expected when David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats drew up their agreement last year after we failed to make a clear decisive choice at the general election, but by far the biggest flaw at the outset was the agreement manipulated by David Cameron to engineer a five year fixed Parliament. With this new restriction in place Cameron probably felt that he had a chance of carrying through most, but not all, of his party’s programme, with a few adjustments along the way. However, it is inevitable that tensions will arise within government and within the two parties making up the administration, and as one policy after another appears to the press and Opposition as being ill judged or poorly formulated detractors can (almost justifiably) point to yet another U-turn or abandonment of important party principle. During previous periods when we have had either a minority government or a government getting by with a small majority the most important opposition has come from within the ranks of the governing party keeping the executive on its toes, this is not quite so easy to achieve when two parties are involved. The other important position to note was that a major defeat for such a government in The House of Commons might lead to a new general election as the Prime Minister attempts to secure a good working majority.
David Cameron, unfortunately decided to tie his own hands behind his back with the fixed term Parliament and it would take an enormous effort from MPs to force him back to the polls, it has also tied Nick Clegg into a very tight arrangement which so far has resulted in his party becoming the whipping boys for the coalition, some say Cameron has played a blinder! I don’t, and I see this coalition arrangement leading to weakened policy as some on the right wing of the Tories become more vociferous, and more on the left wing of the Liberal Democrats become more rebellious, “fudge” will become the flavour of the month! I would have been far happier with a much more fluid and loose voting arrangement between the parties, without Lib-Dem ministers, that would enable a Cameron government to start out along its path, with the possibility of a sooner rather than later general election to try and cement his position.
The risk of a government falling can actually strengthen its hand with its own backbenchers and fortify its survival measures. There is nothing quite like the threat of losing one’s seat to exercise the minds of those recalcitrant MPs in marginal seats (of all parties), as they huff and puff to try and blow the government off course!
The five year fixed Parliament is a classic illustration of fixing something which was not broken at the outset.
Welcome back to the MiliTV Channel, just one of a series of initiatives which I am considering to supplement my salary for being the MP for South Shields. I consider these part-time jobs as an essential duty as I do my bit to pay back part of the £1 trillion debt that my colleagues in the last Labour government built up for you, (and yes I know, some of you are finding it difficult to get one job never mind two or three). Don’t know if you realised but it’s building up at the rate of over £7000 per second now because David Cameron and George Osborne cannot get to grips with controlling this wonderful legacy that we left for your children and grandchildren. Every employed person in the UK now owes over £34000 to pay for our wonderful thirteen years in office, and the LibCon coalition government now has to spend nearly £43 billion a year on interest charges alone, that’s more than it costs to run the Ministry of Defence!
Anyway, back to the TV show, this is Colmans in Ocean Road, South Shields’ most celebrated chippy, couldn’t make my mind up whether or not I should treat Bill Bryson to haddock and chips the other night and not sure if he likes mushy peas. I really ought to cut out these luxuries as I help to pay back the debt with extra jobs, but looking on the bright side, they do serve them up in great boxes which recycle really well.