Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald has entered the debate about the party’s future following its devastating General Election defeat.
The race to replace former leader Ed Miliband is under way, with MPs and commentators having their say on where Labour went wrong.
Mr McDonald, who increased his own majority last week, concedes his party failed to win the trust of the public, but says it would be wrong to revive New Labour policies of the late 1990s and 2000s.
Contributing to the Labour List website, he wrote:
“One of the underlying assumptions of New Labour was that we could focus our attention on Conservative voters outside of our traditional heartlands because our core vote had ‘nowhere else to go’.
“Between 1997 and 2010 this strategy lost Labour 5 million voters, many of who simply stopped voting, and our wipe-out in Scotland and the UKIP surge in the North of England and Wales have demonstrated that much of our core vote now have somewhere else to go and have already gone.”
Mr McDonald rejected suggestions Labour had developed an “anti-business” stance.
“While it is certainly true that Labour must devise a strategy for the whole of the country, the suggestion that we somehow turned our back on business is misguided,” he wrote.
“We want business to succeed for the simple reason that it is the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the people who work in their businesses who create the prosperity needed for a fairer society.”
The Middlesbrough MP wrote that his party “owed it to all” who needed a Labour government to have a “frank discussion” about its future.
“What went wrong and the solutions to the challenges faced by the party warrant frank discussion and bold thinking, not simply a call to return to the politics of the mid-1990s.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 May 2015
A petition against the privatisation of the NHS won the support of hundreds of North people during a day of action.
Campaigners from 38 Degrees took to the streets at Durham Market Place and on Teesside to drum up support for protecting the NHS after the next election.
They are challenging parliamentary candidates to protect the NHS from privatisation.
A petition which has been signed by around 2,000 people in the area will be handed to Durham City candidates in the coming week.
And campaigners delivered a 700-strong ‘Save our NHS’ petition to Middlesbrough parliamentary candidate Andy McDonald on Saturday.
Members of the independent campaign group 38 Degrees have called on parliamentary candidates, if they are elected, to “do everything they can to protect the NHS,” from what the group describes as “funding squeezes, privatisation, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal”.
The message behind the campaign is spelled out on the 38 Degrees website which says:
“The NHS has been part of our lives for 67 years, but now it’s make or break.
“The NHS isn’t getting the cash it needs. And the government is letting money-hungry private companies carve out profits from treating the sick.”
Alan Rose, one of the campaigners, said:
“‘Our NHS has always been there for me and my family when we’ve needed it. But some politicians seem determined to break it up and sell parts off to the highest bidder.
“The thought of my family being cared for by profit-making companies really worries me. It’s not just about campaign promises to spend this or that, it’s about the fundamental values of the NHS. Could we be heading for a two-tier service based on ability to pay?
“What about the massive structural changes introduced by the Health and Social Care Act in 2012?”
“I would estimate that we collected around 400 signatures.
“We were so impressed with the number of people who were prepared to stop and talk to us in the cold and rain, because the weather really was awful on the morning.
“This petition is important because there is a great danger to the North East if there is a substantial amount of privatisation of the NHS.
“The 2012 Health and Social Care Act went a long way to dismantling the NHS.”
David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said:
“We want Durham City’s MP candidates to see that the best way to win votes is to pledge to save the NHS from privatisation and funding freezes.
“Every candidate needs to realise that cutting NHS funding, or handing it over to private companies, is a huge turn off for voters.”
‘Boro’s petition has attracted 792 signitures and was handed to Mr McDonald at the Bottle of Notes by Stella Worton, a 38 Degrees member from Middlesbrough.
David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees said:
“We’re sending a clear message to our local MP candidates – you’re being watched by hundreds us. And we all want you to protect the NHS.
“Politicians can’t sit on the fence about the NHS. If they want our votes, they need to promise to keep the NHS safe from private companies and funding freezes.
“We won’t stand for another five years of the NHS being broken up or squeezed to breaking point.
“Saturday’s petition delivery event is all about the people of Middlesbrough telling our next MPs exactly what we want for our NHS.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 26 Apr 2015
Darlington: currently held by Jenny Chapman (Lab)
Jenny Chapman (Lab),
Mike Cherrington (Green),
Anne-Marie Curry (LD),
Peter Cuthbertson (Con),
Alan Docherty (TUSC),
David Hodgson (Ukip)
Hartlepool: currently held by Iain Wright (Lab)
Hilary Allen (LD),
Sandra Allison (Save Our Hospital),
Phillip Broughton (Ukip),
John Hobbs (Ind),
Michael Holt (Green),
Stephen Picton (Ind),
Richard Royal (Con),
Iain Wright (Lab).
Middlesbrough: currently held by Andy Mcdonald (Lab)
Craig Baker (Ukip),
Simon Clarke (Con),
Hannah Grahm (Green),
Richard Kilpatrick (LD),
Andy McDonald (Lab).
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: currently held by Tom Blenkinsop (Lab)
Tom Blenkinsop (Lab),
Martin Brampton (Green),
Ben Gibson (LD),
Will Goodhand (Con),
Steve Turner (Ukip).
Redcar: vacant – Ian Swales (Lib Dem) standing down.
Christopher Gallacher (Ukip),
Philip Lockey (North East Party),
Josh Mason (LD),
Peter Pinkney (Green),
Anna Turley (Lab),
Jacob Young (Con).
Stockton North: currently held by Alex Cunningham (Lab)
Mandy Boylett (Ukip),
Alex Cunningham (Lab),
Christopher Daniels (Con),
Adrian Sycamore (LD),
John Tait (North East Party).
Stockton South: currently held by James Wharton (Con)
Louise Baldock (Lab),
Drew Durning (LD),
Jacqui Lovell (Green),
Ted Strike (Ukip),
Steve Walmlsey (Ind Against Social Injustice),
James Wharton (Con).
Labour MPs in the North-East have shrugged off predictions of a UKIP surge at next year’s general election – insisting their seats are not at serious risk.
The party’s MPs spoke of their confidence despite Labour’s disastrous performance in the Rochester and Strood by-election, where UKIP scored a stunning success.
> But wasn’t the turnout only 50.6% ? Not so stunning, when the majority of the electorate (those who didn’t vote and those who voted otherwise) did not vote for UKIP.
Of course, the UKIP winner was actually a rat leaving the Tory ship, defending the seat he won under their flag. He got 16,867 votes (42.1%).
At the last election, standing as a Tory, he got 23,604 vote (49.2%). the turnout then was 64.9%. Not such a ringing endorsement of UKIP after all.
On the other hand, the Green Party overtook the Lib Dems and scored their best result since the 2010 General Election – but the media are so in love with UKIP that they ignored that.
And they denied they were drawing up new strategies to combat the phenomenon of a party once famously ridiculed, by David Cameron, as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.
Nigel Farage’s party is widely acknowledged to have broadened its appeal beyond being an anti-EU pressure group and can claim to have more working class backing than Labour.
Researchers have suggested some North-East constituencies – Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland, South Shields and Middlesbrough – may be vulnerable to a UKIP surge.
And, at last May’s European elections, the fast-rising party topped the vote in Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland.
UKIP has refused to release its target seats in the North-East and Yorkshire, but is widely believed to have identified Hartlepool as its most likely success.
However, Iain Wright, the town’s Labour MP, said: “I think UKIP shout about it, but it’s all talk. I speak to voters all the time and they really don’t mention them.”
That was echoed by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, who said: “The response I get on the doorstep is overwhelmingly supportive of Labour policies to tackle inequalities head on.”
And Durham North West MP Pat Glass pointed to three county council by-elections in her constituency since last May 2014, all of which Labour had won “convincingly”.
She added: “My view is that, whilst UKIP will take some votes in the North-East, they will not come close to winning any seats.”
Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, acknowledged growing concern about the level of immigration, but argued her voters were being won round to Labour’s solutions.
At the 2010 general election, UKIP won only a tiny share of the vote in, for example, Hartlepool (seven per cent) and Bishop Auckland (2.7 per cent) – giving it a mountain to climb.
Indeed, Jonathan Arnott, UKIP’s North-East Euro-MP stopped short of predicting sensational gains for his party in the region next May.
Instead, he said: “At the European elections in May, UKIP won in Redcar and Cleveland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton.
“UKIP are the only viable challengers to Labour across the North-East and we are expecting a two horse race come next May.”
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Nov 2014
> Why do the media seem so intent on boosting UKIP ? I’m reminded of this year’s Sunderland City Council elections, in which UKIP’s performance was described in the national media as astounding.
So astounding, in fact, that they won 0 seats.
In fact, across Tyne & Wear as a whole, they suffered a 50% loss (losing one of their two local council seats – they might have lost both, but the other wasn’t up for election this time around). Yet on this evidence we’re told that they’re going to sweep to victory.
The region’s MP’s reacted angrily to David Cameron’s plans for a constitutional revolution after Scotland rejected independence – accusing him of a political fix.
Labour MPs warned the plan – “English votes for English laws” – would strengthen the influence of the Conservative heartlands over Westminster, while doing nothing for the North-East.
> Well ? Did anyone seriously expect anything different ?
And they demanded the overhaul instead focus on devolving power down from Westminster, in parallel with firm promises already made to Scotland on tax and spending.
The stance – echoed by Labour leader Ed Miliband – puts the region on a collision course with both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, who plan to rush through a solution to the so-called ‘West Lothian’ question.
Under the fast-track timetable, firm plans will be unveiled in January – from a committee headed by Richmond MP William Hague – delighting Tories who fear the rising UKIP threat.
In reality, change looks impossible before the May general election, but the “English votes for English laws” proposal is, nevertheless, a political nightmare for Labour.
Mr Cameron suggested Scottish MPs would lose voting rights over tax issues, potentially leaving a Miliband administration – with 41 Scots MPs currently – unable to pass a Budget.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) attacked a “crude attempt to cobble this together on the back of an envelope”- calling on the prime minister to put devolution first –
“In our region, we will find that our position gets relatively worse. It might be a good solution for people in Hertfordshire, but I don’t think it’s a good solution for people in Durham.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) –
“Cameron completely missed the point. He should not be using this as an opportunity to increase the Tory stranglehold over England.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham) –
“Cameron is pandering to his right wing and UKIP – this is not going to help the North-East at all.
Jenny Chapman (Darlington) –
“He should be talking to people in the North-East about what they want and what extra powers they want, rather than making a back-of-a-fag-packet declaration.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) –
“I’m astounded by the naivety of the prime minister in thinking that all he needs to do is change the way Westminster votes.”
Grahame Morris (Easington) –
“A Tory-dominated English Parliament, which continues to concentrate power and resources in the affluent South, will worsen existing regional inequities and frustrate the legitimate desire for greater autonomy for the North East.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) –
“In any settlement, there has to be something for the regions and I think that has to be more powers over economic development.”
But Liberal Democrat Ian Swales (Redcar) – while agreeing devolution must go “further and faster” – said it would be “absurd” not to restrict Scottish voting rights at Westminster.
He said: “We may end up with some form of English parliament, but should first make it work by MPs only being able to vote on issues that affect the country they represent.”
The MPs agreed any notion of a regional assembly was “off the agenda” – arguing instead for new, combined authorities to be strengthened with economic powers.
Some constitutional experts warned of chaos ahead, arguing Westminster could end up with “two Governments” – one for defence and foreign affairs, the other for the likes of education and health.
And the respected Institute for Government think-tank also argued the “debate on English devolution” must be part of the post-referendum settlement.
A Government source rejected suggestions that Mr Cameron was fast-tracking the ‘English votes’ issue, while devolution was left in the slow lane.
He said: “We believe we have done a lot devolving powers within England, through the likes of City Deals – and they have been welcomed by business and political leaders in the North.”
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Sept 2014
An MP has said the North-East has been “totally ignored once again” in a Government consultation on rail travel.
The Government is consulting on future Northern and TransPennine franchises which start in February 2016.
Plans have already been unveiled for major improvements to Manchester train stations and the possibility of electrification of the railway lines to York or Leeds has been raised.
But Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said the North-East and especially the Tees Valley is being “totally ignored.”
In a written response he pointed to an Institute of Institute of Public Policy Research report which showed that for nearly £3,000 spent per person on transport in London and the South-East just £5 is spent in the North-East.
He also said current TransPennine trains were “third rate,” any investment in the North-East was confined to the Tyne and Wear Metro and the current franchise plans were likely to lead to ticket office closures and price hikes for customers. Stopping electrification at York or Leeds would also reduce the region to being left with mere “shuttle services to the 21st Century.”
He continued: “I went to one presentation about rail with the secretary of Transport about this and all I could see on the screen was an arrow pointing North-East. That was our only mention. I went beserk. There’s nothing for us, despite the fact that we’re the only region outside London actually with a positive contribution to GDP. It’s like the North doesn’t exist at all outside the M62 corridor.”
Mr McDonald said he had sympathy with The Hannah Mitchell Foundation which campaigns for the North to have a regional Government. The Foundation has appealed directly to the Labour Party to promise to make changes if elected to the franchise to include new trains which it says should be made in the north.
Companies will be chosen to run the new rail franchises in the coming year.
Source – Northern Echo, 18 Aug 2014
MPs have again launched a stinging attack on the Government following what they described as a “maladroit” review of claims for the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma.
A short inquiry by MPs on the Justice Select Committee found the consultation had not been prepared in a thorough and even-handed manner and it should be undertaken again.
Their report also called on the Ministry of Justice to work with the Department of Health to reduce delays in the production of mesothelioma victims’ medical records and highlighted the excessive average legal cost of £20,000 for every claim.
Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald, one of the committee members, said: “What is abundantly clear from our investigations is the Government never had any intention of retaining the exemptions they agreed to and which were secured by parliament for the benefit of mesothelioma victims and their families.
“The protective measures that were so hard won from the Government, which meant that victims didn’t have to suffer additional legal costs brought about by litigation funding changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), were simply a sham.”
Mr McDonald accused the Government and the Association of British Insurers of “dodgy deals behind closed doors”.
Last year, MPs from this region condemned a “roll over” to the insurance industry when they criticised weaknesses in the Mesothelioma Bill, legislation designed to compensate victims of mesothelioma who have been unable to trace employers who exposed them to asbestos.
Mesothelioma, a painful and almost always fatal lung disease caused 2,291 deaths in 2011, a higher number of which on average occurred in the North-East. This is thought to be because of the region’s background in heavy industry.
James Dalton, an assistant director of the Association of British Insurers, said the insurance industry had always been “open and transparent”, adding: “We make no apologies for negotiating with Government a scheme, paid for by insurers, that will compensate an extra 3,000 sufferers over the next ten years, who would otherwise go uncompensated.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are considering the best way to get claims settled fairly and quickly.”
“We will consider the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.”
Source – Durham Times, 01 Aug 2014
Better rail links between Middlesbrough and London could generate almost £6m a year in extra revenue to the town’s economy.
Vital improvements are needed to the town’s rail links, which are the “poorest rail service to London of any city” in the UK except for Bradford, according to a new report.
The review by the Middlesbrough Council‘s highways and transportation manager Derek Gittins “conservatively estimates” the introduction of a direct Middlesbrough to London service every two hours could generate upwards of £5.8m a year in extra revenue.
Of the largest 20 cities and towns in the UK outside London, only Bradford and Huddersfield – which has no service – don’t have a better service to London than Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald is among those who has campaigned for rail improvements, saying it is an “extremely important issue for the region”.
A Middlesbrough Council executive meeting heard that in 2013/14 there were 1.37 million passengers at Middlesbrough railway station.
In the last five years rail improvements have been made to stations across the town including new lifts at Middlesbrough station and better waiting facilities at Marton, Gypsy Lane and Nunthorpe.
A new station behind James Cook University Hospital has recently opened to serve the hospital, new housing developments and sports village and to ease congestion on Marton Road.
The bids from rail operators to run the East Coast Mainline franchise from March 2015 have been submitted to the Department for Transport.
Contained within the invitation to tender is an option to include a direct train service from Middlesbrough to London.
Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool and Darlington are the closest stations to Middlesbrough which currently have a direct link to the capital.
The Department for Transport has established a joint Electrification Task Force with infrastructure manager Network Rail to study options for further electrification in the north.
The executive agreed to support the drive for improved rail services for Middlesbrough and the wider Teesside area, specifically for a direct service to London; improve connectivity via the North Transpennine route; and support the case for electrification.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 24 July 2014
A Twitter post by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald on the day of a Parliamentary tribute to former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is the most retweeted of any Teesside MP.
Mr McDonald’s message, which he posted on the day MPs gathered in Westminster to pay tribute to Mrs Thatcher after her death last April, topped a list of the most popular social media posts by the region’s politicians.
It was retweeted 381 times.
In the post, the Labour MP explained he wasn’t attending the session and was opting instead to serve his community “because there is such a thing as society”.
Mrs Thatcher famously said there was “no such thing as society” in an interview in 1987.
I am not in Parliament today. I am in Middlesbrough serving my community, because there is such a thing as society.
— Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP) April 10, 2013
Mr McDonald, who was elected in November 2012 following the death of Sir Stuart Bell, has the fewest number of Twitter followers among Teesside’s MPs.
He has just under 3,000 people following him on the social networking site.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has the most followers with more than 8,000.
Elsewhere, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham came second on the list with a tweet referencing an attack on the government by his party leader Ed Miliband.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 06 June 2014
THE region’s Labour MPs have thrown their weight behind Ed Miliband’s plans to shake up trade union influence over the party, ahead of a crunch vote.
The North-East MPs enthusiastically backed the proposals, arguing they would strengthen – rather than weaken – the historic link with rank-and-file union members.
Some also welcomed a greater say for party members, despite the package dramatically diluting the influence of MPs themselves in choosing the party leader.
And others expressed hope that voters would respect Labour for standing up against large donors – at a time when the Conservatives are bankrolled by big companies and the wealthy.
Only Dave Anderson, the Blaydon MP, broke ranks to criticise Mr Miliband for “naval gazing”, instead of focusing on defeating a “lousy” Government.
In contrast, Easington MP Grahame Morris – who had previously criticised the shake-up – said he was prepared to give the Labour leader the benefit of the doubt.
The leftwinger said: “There are dangers involved and I question the whole basis for doing this, but I will support the changes.”
That basis was the damaging row over murky behaviour in Falkirk, where the Unite union was found to have tried to “manipulate” the selection of its candidate.
> Ironic, really, since that’s what the whole electoral system is about – trying to manipulate the selection of one candidate or another.
Now, in the biggest shake-up since Labour was born more than a century ago, Mr Miliband wants to introduce a “one member, one vote” system for electing future party leaders.
The current electoral college – giving the unions, MPs and the party’s 180,000 members equal one-third shares of the vote – will be swept away.
But candidates for the leadership will need to win nominations from about 25 per cent of Labour MPs, double the current 12.5 per cent threshold, to enter the leadership ballot.
In 2010, such a barrier would have allowed only the two Miliband brothers onto the shortlist – excluding Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, the other candidates.
But the other key reform – to union funding – will now be phased in, over five years, after officials admitted to fears the party would “take a financial hit”.
By 2020, union members who want to contribute to Labour’s funds will have to “opt in”, rather than “opt out”, becoming “associate Labour members” for a reduced fee.
The unions currently provide Labour with £8.5m a year in affiliation fees. If only half of the current 2.7m affiliated union members “opt in”, then Labour could lose £4m annually.
Unison, the key public service union, already has such a system – giving Labour a pool of 400,000 affiliated members from which to recruit immediately.
The package – overwhelmingly approved by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) earlier this month – will be put to a special party conference on March 1.
But Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: “Ed Miliband promised to loosen the trade union barons’ grip on the Labour Party. But he has been too weak to deliver.”
THE VIEWS OF NORTH-EAST LABOUR MPS:
Dave Anderson (Blaydon): “We face an enormous struggle to get rid of the present lousy administration, so the last thing the Labour movement needs is to spend precious time navel gazing.”
Hugh Bayley (York): “This will show the public that the Labour Party continues to modernise and, unlike other parties, reduce the influence of large donors.”
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland): “This is a step in the right direction and shows Ed Miliband wants to lead his party and the country.”
Jenny Chapman (Darlington): “I am happy with the reforms. It will introduce more voices and make Labour more representative of working people.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North): “It will be positive to have individual – rather than block – votes, but it will still be important for the party to be challenged and positively influenced by the unions.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham): “This is well overdue. It will make the party more transparent and democratic and re-connect us with thousands of trade unionists. Ed has got the balance right.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough): “The trade union movement and the Labour Party are of the same root and future. These reforms will help to enshrine this most important bond.”
Grahame Morris (Easington): “If this leads to more trade unionists becoming involved in the Labour party, that will be a good thing – but that will only happen if we make an attractive offer to working people.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield): “I don’t want Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and BNP supporters who happen to be a member of a trade union to have a say in the leadership of my party. Only those committed to Labour should.”
Iain Wright (Hartlepool): “Creating a mass membership party of trade unionists and others will make sure Labour never again loses touch with its roots.”
> No comment from any of the Wearside or Tyneside Labour MPs (Dave Anderson excepted) ? And since when was York in the North East ?
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Feb 2014