Tagged: Berwick-upon-Tweed

General Election 2015: ‘The control exerted over regional press has been alarming’

No reporter expects a warm welcome from politicians on the prowl for votes.

Especially not during this election, when the polls are so close that the phrase “squeaky bum time” doesn’t come close to describing the anxiety gnawing away at the heart of most candidates.

That said, the control exerted over the regional press during this time has been alarming.

The North East isn’t exactly the eye of the storm. It is home to some of Labour’s safest seats and that isn’t likely to change after tomorrow’s election.

The party machines calculate, perhaps understandably, it is only worth sending their high-profile folk to marginal constituencies, like Berwick Upon Tweed and Stockton South, where showing a well-known face could make a difference.

It is a state of affairs which has seen not one party leader venture into Tyne and Wear or County Durham since the dissolution of Parliament, bar Ed Miliband reportedly jumping off a train for a quick coffee in Newcastle Central Station.

But here’s an example of what it is like to cover the visit of a big hitter when they do grace us with their presence. On Tuesday, Baileys Cafe, in Alnwick, hosted one George Osborne for tea and cake as the senior Tory sought to drum up support for Berwick candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

A press officer asked me what questions I want to ask. I said I didn’t know (a white lie, told after an experience with the Prime Minister’s PR, which I’ll come to later).

Mr Osborne arrived to the sound of cameras furiously clicking, ordered food and spent 20 minutes dining with a select group of local businessmen, all of whom appeared to be Conservative supporters. I don’t know this for certain, mind, but deduced as much from snippets of the conversation, which included “hopefully with Anne-Marie in Parliament” and lots of warm smiles.

Journalists were invited take pictures of Mr Osborne’s supposedly impromptu encountering of the public, after which he would take our questions.

The Chancellor disappeared for a huddle with his press team while myself and two other local journalists were told to wait at a table – a bit like being sat outside the headmaster’s office when you are caught chewing gum.

When Mr Osborne re-emerged, his press officer barked: “One question each.”

I was last in the go-round so pushed my luck by asking a second question, as did one other reporter, much to the annoyance of his press officer.

Note that these are questions without a follow-up, so in reality you are afforded nothing but the stock party line and little opportunity to get under the skin of what information you get. If I wanted to read a manifesto, I would have stayed in the office and used Google.

Disappointing, to say the least. The press officer said she understood, jotted down her email and told me to send her additional questions, a phone interview having been ruled out, for some reason. This email was not acknowledged until 11.35pm, almost 12 hours after the interview and well past our newspapers’ deadlines.

Another example, in April, David Cameron visited the Icon Plastics factory, in Eaglescliffe, to support Stockton South Tory James Wharton. I was asked to email six questions the night before, then on the day was put in a pool of six reporters and given just two questions. No follow-ups.

I was, again, told to email additional questions. Press officers assured me a week later they were “still trying” to get answers. I gave up.

All parties are guilty of this kind of behaviour, though it has to be said Labour’s Ed Balls and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron found time to give us a phone interview when they visited.

This treatment of the press isn’t unfair on journalists. We’re used to no-one liking us all that much.

It is unfair on the people who read and watch our content; the same people, incidentally, whose vote decides whether or not these rather evasive politicians have this kind of power.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  06 May 2015

Letter reveals Nick Clegg’s secret plan for road charging, parking taxes and local beer taxes

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg privately wanted to give councils powers to impose new taxes including road-pricing, workplace parking taxes and local beer and cigarette taxes, it has emerged.

In his role as Deputy Prime Minister he also said councils should be free to impose a tourism tax, such as taxes on visitors staying in hotels, and to scrap existing council tax discounts including the 20% discount for people who live alone.

The proposals were set out in a letter from Mr Clegg to Eric Pickles, the Conservative Local Government Secretary, in 2011 – but were rejected by Mr Pickles.

The latest revelation about the behind-the-scenes debates within the Coalition government comes as Tories and Lib Dems fight a series of pitched battles in marginal seats such as Berwick-upon-Tweed.

While Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are the only politicians with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after the general election, many of the seats the Conservatives have a realistic chance of gaining on May 7 are held by their Lib Dem Coalition partners.

Mr Clegg wanted councils to have “a much wider range of taxation and charging powers” which they would be free to use.

 

The aim would have been to ensure councils were “self-funding” rather than depending on funding from central government for most of their income, as they do now.

Specific proposals in the letter to Mr Pickles included giving councils “complete freedom over discounts rather than mandating them to offer specific discounts to single people, empty homes, second homes etc”.

The letter continued:

“There is a set of further tax powers that could warrant further consideration, including, but not limited to: fuel taxes; sales taxes; landfill taxes; workplace parking levies; utility taxes; ‘tourism taxes’; local airport levies; duties on alcohol, tobacco and other substances; and stamp duty”.

> He left out a Fresh Air tax. Pay-to-breathe…

And the Government should consider give councils charging powers covering “parking charges; speeding fines; waste collection; road pricing” and more, the letter said.

Mr Clegg told his Cabinet colleague:

“We should drive to ensure that local authorities have the greatest range of revenue raising powers at their disposal and are as unencumbered from central government restraints as possible.”

The letter was written as the Department for Communities and Local Government considered plans to allow councils to retain some of the business rates they collect.

But it has emerged now as the battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in marginal seats becomes increasingly bitter, with the two Coalition parties lifting the lid on internal Government discussions from the past five years in an attempt to embarrass each other.

Lib Dems are defending a majority of 2,690 in Berwick.

Both parties have accused the other of secretly backing plans to impose regional pay – which would mean public sector workers such as nurses or teachers were paid less in the north east than those in the south east.

And Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has said that in 2012 the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, distributed ideas for cutting the welfare bill which included limiting child benefit and child tax credit payments to two children – cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children – and means testing child benefit, which would cut payments by £1,750 for a middle-income family with two children.

Mr Duncan Smith also wanted to remove child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds, a cut of over £1,000 for parents of a single child, according to the Lib Dems.

George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, retaliated by claiming the proposals were contained in a policy document “that was commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”.

In a statement responding to the letter’s publication now, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

“This Tory spin shows their true colours.

“They simply don’t trust local people and want to govern every aspect of people’s lives from Westminster.

“The proposals in this letter could give local authorities the power to LOWER these taxes in response to the wishes of local people.

“Liberal Democrats believe the best decisions are taken by those closest to the people those decisions effect.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Apr 2015

General Election 2015: Where are all the party leaders? Not in the North East !

Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.

David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.

He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.

Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.

The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.

Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.

And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.

The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.

Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.

Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015

Northumberland Greens launch their election battle

Campaigners hoping to turn Northumberland in a Green Party powerbase defied dreary weather to officially launch their election battle.

Natalie Bennett’s party will fight all four Northumberland constituencies at the General Election next month, placing energy, anti-austerity, public services and transport at the heart of their strategy.

Taking shelter under bright green umbrellas, the candidates chose Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, for the event, close to the site of a planned opencast mine, which the Greens are petitioning against amid fears it will damage the environment.

The party’s candidate for Hexham and chairman of the Northumberland Greens Lee Williscroft-Ferris, said:

“Today has been a huge success.

“Despite the poor weather, many Green Party members from across the four Northumberland constituencies have come to Druridge Bay to show their support as their candidates officially launch their general election campaigns.

“Although we are each fighting hard in our own areas, we share similar concerns. These include an urgent need to improve public transport and protect our public services, as well as a mutual objective of fighting against the unsafe exploitation of our natural resources through fracking, open cast mining and underground coal gasification.

“We offer a people and planet-focussed alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics and to the narrative of austerity – the number of people here today proves that there is a genuine appetite for a positive, Green vision of hope here in Northumberland.”

It comes as the Greens celebrate being the third-largest party, in terms of membership, in England as the party enjoys unprecedented exposure in the TV leaders’ debates.

While the Greens are not anticipating victory in Northumberland a surge of support for them could make a decisive difference in the key marginal of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Following the retirement of long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan is neck-and-neck with Lib Dem Julie Porksen, but the Greens’ candidate Rachael Roberts is holding her own.

Dawn Furness is taking on Labour’s Ronnie Campbell – who polled a 6,668 majority in 2010 – in the Blyth Valley constituency while Chris Hedley also faces a tough opponent in Wansbeck where Ian Lavery will stand for Ed Miliband’s party.

The Save Druridge campaign has a petition, which can be found online: http://www.savedruridge.co.uk

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Apr 2015

All fracking applications for Northumberland must be refused believes Green Party

Fracking must be roundly rejected in any part of Northumberland, a Green Party politician vying to be an MP has said.

Rachael Roberts, who will contest the Berwick upon Tweed constituency, has launched a petition demanding that Northumberland County Council commits to refusing all applications for fracking.

She said

“All proposals for fossil fuel extraction in Northumberland, whether by fracking for gas, drilling for oil, or open cast mining for coal, are fundamentally keeping us tied to 19th Century technology – the county council has already recognised that Northumberland has potential to become a world leader in renewable energy, and it is in this clean technology of the future that our investment must be made, not in the polluting technology of the past.”

In 2014, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) invited bids from companies wishing to explore for onshore oil and gas across much of Northumberland.

The areas permitting exploratory drilling under Amble and Rothbury, and between those two towns. The results have not been announced.

Ms Roberts is calling on the council to make a refusal of any fracking activity its policy.

She said:

“Fracking contaminates ground water supplies, where it risks introducing toxic chemicals, carcinogenic hydrocarbons and radioactive matter into the natural food chain.

“The biodiversity that is already stressed from pollution, pesticides and climate change will be under threat: this is a risk that no responsible council should ever consider taking.”

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said:

“The exploratory, appraisal or production phase of hydrocarbon extraction can only take place in areas where the Department of Energy and Climate Change have issued a license.

“The Government is considering a further round of these licences and parts of Northumberland do fall within the areas being considered.

“In addition, planning permission would also be required.

“The emerging Core Strategy includes a number of draft policies that any future planning applications for fracking would be considered against.

“The draft policies set out a range of environment criteria for assessing proposals, including a requirement to demonstrate that any benefits outweigh the adverse impacts on local communities and the environment.”

Ms Roberts’ petition can be found at:

http://committees.northumberland.gov.uk/elps/entity/EI7JtcDdayjvA8jLlIBGfuA?searchreq=50

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Mar 2015

Berwick : Greens select General Election candidate

A town councillor from Alnwick has been selected as the Green Party candidate for the general election.

The decision to choose Rachael Roberts, 42, to stand for the Berwick constituency seat in May was unanimous.

Ms Roberts has lived in Alnwick for nine years and works as a guidance team manager and practitioner at Newcastle University’s careers service.

She has been a member of the Green Party for six years and was elected to Alnwick Town Council in 2011.

In line with Green Party philosophy, she says she is passionate about the need for change within national politics and wants to move away from the “negative campaigning seen at the moment.”

Having been active in her local community, Ms Roberts is also keen to bring decision making as close as possible to those it affects.

She said:

“I think we are seeing a Green surge because people are pleasantly surprised by Green Party policies, including scrapping tuition fees, bringing the railways back into public ownership, stopping the privatisation of the NHS, investing in decent jobs and building truly affordable housing.”

She is supporting Save Druridge, the campaign to protect the beautiful area of Druridge Bay against plans for an opencast coal mine.

The Berwick constituency Green Party said in a statement:

“In the run-up to the May election, voters in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency will see a new force in politics – a force that will be campaigning strongly for change and policies that work for the common good.

“This will be ably lead by Rachael who is already an experienced campaigner and a well-known local figure.

“Rachael and the local Green Party will be working hard to meet with constituents and hear their views.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  05 Feb 2015

Alan Beith demands reform as homeowners discover they have a lord of the manor

An MP has called for an urgent review after thousands of homeowners were shocked to discover they had a lord of the manor – with the right to hunt on their property.

More than 90,000 properties, most of them ordinary residential homes, may be subject to archaic legal provisions dating back to before the Norman conquest , an inquiry led by North East MP Sir Alan Beith has warned.

It means the lord of the manor has the right to mine minerals beneath the property, hold fairs and markets on the land or use it for hunting, shooting or fishing.

Homeowners were astounded to learn that they were affected and feared property values could be hit, even though such rights are rarely exercised.

Sir Alan, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, is chair of the Commons Justice Committee which has held an inquiry into the problem.

In new report, the Committee called an independent review by the Law Commission into whether the rights should be scrapped.

The concept of a lord of the manor may sound old-fashioned but it still exists. Lordships can be bought and sold, and some are held by charitable and educational institutions.

Properties affected are not necessarily in rural areas, or anywhere near a manor house or similar building. Thousands of homes in built up, urban areas have a lord of the manor.

Most affected homeowners appear to have been unaware of the issue, until an attempt to update the law had unintended consequences.

Changes made through the Land Registration Act 2002 forced lords of the manor to register their claims by October 2013 – or lose them.

But it meant homeowners received letters from the Land Registry informing them that a claim affecting their property had been filed.

Around 90,000 claims were registered in the year preceding the deadline, with many people discovering for the first time that their properties may be subject to rights owned by a third party.

A claim may have no practical impact, as it is thought unlikely that a court would back a lord who tried to exercise their rights against the wishes of the property’s owner.

But it appears on the charges register held by the Land Registry, which can be consulted when a property is being sold to check whether there it is affected by statutory restrictions. This has led to fears it could cause problems for people trying to sell their home.

Sir Alan said:

“House owners were astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties, and worried that this would affect them when selling the house or getting a mortgage. The lack of understanding of such rights, and the way the registration process was carried out and communicated, has led to understandable concerns and anxieties.”

“The Committee heard evidence about considerable problems with the registration process, and in particular the Land Registry’s notifications to owners, the burden of proof of the validity of claims, which falls disproportionately on the landowner, and the use of unilateral notices to register manorial rights.

“However, there was little evidence of problems actually being caused by the exercise of manorial rights in practice in the present day.”

Simply abolishing the system could be difficult, he said. In some cases, manorial rights could have a genuine value, such as when there was a real prospect of mining or extracting minerals from the land.

But Sir Alan said: “We nevertheless consider that the situation where a claim can be made over areas of dense residential properties – where rights are unlikely or impossible to be exercised – is anomalous.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015

Berwick Greens make progress

The Berwick Green Party has confirmed that is intends to have its general election candidate in place by the end of the month.

Karl Robins is the co-ordinator for the newly-formed constituency party. The party has also announced that its next meeting is scheduled to place in the south of the constituency on Saturday, January 31.

A statement from the Berwick Greens said:

“With the party accelerating in national opinion polls, the Berwick upon Tweed Constituency Green Party intend to have a candidate in place by the end of January so that the task of fighting the general election can begin in earnest.

“Having watched and listened while friends and neighbours across the border took their future so seriously throughout last year’s referendum debate, it seems that many in Northumberland now want to take a more active role in deciding their own future.

“Setting up a party organisation from scratch, there is a lot to be put in place in a very short time, but there is clear and enthusiastic support from existing members, and a huge expression of interest from the general public.

“Local party officials have asked the public to bear with them while the necessary structures are put in place at a local level.”

○For more info about the party, email Karl Robins at rhinos3054@yahoo.co.uk

Source –  Berwick Advertiser,  20 Jan 2015

Greens ready to stand for election in Berwick

The Green Party has announced its intention to contest the general election in the Berwick constituency.

The Greens plan to put forward a candidate to stand in May after the forming of local branch of the national party.

A statement read:

“The Green Party are delighted to announce the formation of a local branch of the national party, to represent the interests of the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency and to give voters in north Northumberland a wider range of choice than ever before at the forthcoming general election.”

The party has not had been on a general election ballot paper for the Berwick constituency since 1987 when Nigel David Pamphilion received 379 votes.

A group of people from the north Northumberland area met in Alnwick before Christmas and agreed to form a local branch of the national party, with the urgent aim to ensure that there is a locally-based Green Party candidate on the ballot paper in May.

The party’s next meeting is in Berwick on Saturday.

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  05 Jan 2015

Conservative Party try to reinvent themselves as the party of the North East

> Is there a General Election on the horizon or something ? The Tories are getting all concerned about the North East…

Growing the economy in the North of England and closing the wealth divide with London and the south east was one of the major themes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, spoke repeatedly about backing the North in his keynote speech at the  conference.

The focus may seem surprising given that the party has few MPs in the North East.

Guy Opperman in Hexham, Northumberland, and James Wharton in Stockton South are the party’s only North East representatives in the Commons, although Tories believe they have a chance of taking Liberal Democrat-held Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, at the next election.

But William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary regarded as unofficial deputy leader of the party, pointed out to journalists that there were many more Conservative MPs in the North West and in Yorkshire.

Mr Osborne, who represents a constituency in Cheshire, even told the conference: “I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.

> Yorkshire and Cheshire are quite different from the North East. That’s exactly why they do elect Tories.

“It is not healthy for our country or our economy.”

He pledged: “Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.”

And he highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse”, saying: “The answer is to build up the rest of our country. To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.”

The Chancellor’s plan is to turn the North into an economic powerhouse rivalling London by investing up to £15 billion on local transport links, picking a scientific speciality for universities to become world-leaders in, possibly building a high speed line across the Pennines, linking the North East and North West, and giving cities more autonomy and cash – if they agree to transform local government by introducing directly-elected mayors.

Mr Hague insisted the party was on course to win in the North.

He said: “At the last general election we made a major breakthrough in the North – if you take the North as being Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We went up at the last election from 19 MPs in the North to 42. That was a huge expansion, including in the North East of course, where we gained Stockton South.

> And… and… oh, just Stockton South, then ? Along with Hexham, that’s a really huge expansion in the North East.

“I hope we can add to that – there will be seats we will be targeting in the North including the North East.”

Major announcements at the conference included plans to freeze working-age benefits – including benefits received by working people on low salaries – for two years.

This means cutting benefits in real terms, because of the effects of inflation.

Conservative leader David Cameron, in his conference speech, announced plans to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500. This would take one million more workers out of income tax entirely and give a tax cut to 30 million more, Mr Cameron said.

An estimated 51,000 North East workers would pay no income tax at all because of the change. Many others would pay less tax.

> Isn’t this because wages are so poor to start with ?

Mr Cameron also announced plans to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p income tax rate from £41,900 today to £50,000.

It means a tax cut for many people earning above-average salaries. Mr Cameron said the 40p tax was supposed to be for the rich, but it’s currently paid by some senior nurses, teachers and police officers.

But critics pointed out that the Conservatives had failed to explain how they would pay the £7 billion cost of cutting tax.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts in six years’ time when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from.

“Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Oct 2014