The Conservatives are attempting to “muffle” the voice of the North East in parliament, it is claimed, as a shake-up of boundaries could leave the region with three fewer MPs.
David Cameron’s Tories want to redraw the dividing lines of the UK’s parliamentary constituencies and cut the number of MPs by 10% from 650 to 600.
The say it will save money and make the system fairer but now stand accused of trying to “gerrymander” votes by the region’s Labour MPs, who fear their party could be locked out of power in 2020 because of the move.
The proposal was first put forward in 2013. It came after a review by the Boundary Commission, which found there should be three fewer constituencies in the region – one each from Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside.
But the Lib Dems blocked the move after being forced to abandon the House of Lords reform they had campaigned on.
Boundary reform was in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto, however, and the Prime Minister is reportedly ready to defy his backbench MPs, whose own constituencies will be placed under the microscope.
The current boundaries are said to favour Labour because the party tends to do better in urban seats tend be smaller – Newcastle, for example is split into three constituencies – than the suburban seats where the Tories pick up more votes, like the relatively large Hexham constituency.
But Labour say the reduction comes after a switch from household to individual voter registration in December 2014, which saw a million people drop off the electoral roll nationally, and any review must be started afresh.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said:
“This is a clear attempt by the Tories to gerrymander the constituencies on the basis of an electoral register from which they deliberately excluded seven million people by implementing individual voter registration.
“It is my contention that the Tories made that change in order to reduce the number of people on the register, just like the Republicans did in America.
“The people that have gone from the register are those in insecure housing, those on low incomes and young people.
“I think everybody knows that the voice of the North East was not heard by the Tory-led Government over the last five years, and this is a further attempt to muffle it.”
In the Newcastle City Council area, individual voter registration saw 18,000 people fall off the electoral roll. A local campaign saw 11,000 sign up, but Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, said the North East risks being sidelined.
“Our region already feels bruised and battered from the last five years of the Coalition Government and it looks like the Tories boundary review could further marginalise us.
“In Newcastle, we have a growing population and yet this isn’t matched by electoral registration statistics as the voter registration system seems deliberately designed to deter people from joining the register.
“Reducing the number of MPs in the North East will work to the Tories’ electoral advantage and make it even more less likely we will have a Labour Government in 2020.”
Mr Cameron appointed his Cabinet this week and is expected to push through a number of policies within the first 100 days of Parliament having won a decisive majority at last week’s election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 May 2015
Bishop Auckland: currently held by Helen Goodman (Labour)
Christopher Fraser Adams (Con),
Rhys Burriss (Ukip),
Helen Catherine Goodman (Lab),
Thom Robinson (Green),
Stephen Charles White (Lib Dem)
City of Durham: currently held by Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour)
Roberta Carol Blackman-Woods (Lab),
Liam Finbar Clark (Ukip),
Jon Collings (Ind),
Rebecca Mary Louise Coulson (Con),
Jonathan Elmer (Green),
John Eric Marshall (Ind),
Craig Martin (LD).
Easington: currently held by Grahame Morris (Labour)
Luke Christopher Armstrong (LD),
Jonathan William Arnott (Ukip),
Steven Paul Colborn ( Socialist Party of Great Britain)
Chris Hampsheir (Con),
Susan McDonnell (North East Party),
Grahame Mark Morris (Lab),
Martie Warin (Green).
> It’s good to see that Steve Colborn is still fighting on. His letters in the local press are always worth reading. I can honestly say that if I lived in Easington he’d get my vote.
North Durham: currently held by Kevan Jones (Labour).
Malcolm David Bint (Ukip),
Laetitia Sophie Glossop (Con),
Kevan David Jones (Lab),
Peter James Maughan (LD),
Vicki Nolan (Green).
> I’m almost sure Laetitia Glossop is a character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel ?
North West Durham: currently held by Pat Glass (Labour)
Pat Glass (Lab),
Charlotte Jacqueline Louise Haitham Taylor (Con),
Bruce Robertson Reid(Ukip),
Mark Anthony Shilcock(Green),
Owen Leighton Temple (Lib Dem)
Sedgefield: currently held by Phil Wilson (Labour)
Stephen Patrick Glenn (LD),
John Paul Leathley (Ukip),
Greg William Robinson (Green),
Phil Wilson (Lab),
Scott Wood (Con).
The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.
A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.
The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.
South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.
Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.
The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.
Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.
The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.
“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.
“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.
The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.
These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.
“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”
Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.
His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:
“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.
“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.
“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.
“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!
“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015
Ministers have been accused of launching a pre-election attack on trade unions by making it harder to collect union dues from Government employees.
North East MPs said the change could hit thousands of workers at the Benton Park View complex in Newcastle, known as Longbenton, where Whitehall departments have offices.
MP Nick Brown challenged ministers to justify the decision in the House of Commons, while Blaydon MP David Anderson claimed the Government wanted to create “another Arthur Scargill” to drum up anti-union feeling.
It follows the announcement that Government departments are to stop paying trade union subscriptions directly from the payroll on behalf of staff, a practice known as “checking off”.
Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs:
“I believe that this change will enable unions to build a much more direct relationship with their members, without the need for the relationship to be intermediated by the employer.”
But the change could affect 5,500 people working at Longbenton the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and outsourced service providers, according to Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East.
He pointed out that departments routinely helped staff pay a range of fees and subscriptions – but the Government was only targeting unions.
Speaking in the Commons, the MP said:
“Government Departments offer a range of check-off services to their employees, including deductions for membership fees, for private sporting clubs, for private clubs more generally and even for private medical schemes.
“What is it that makes the payments of trade union dues exceptional? Why would any employer want to withdraw this from its own employees?”
Mr Anderon said the Government was attacking unions as a political stunt in the run up to the election.
“The truth is that this is nothing more than another attempt to find the bogeyman whom the Conservatives have tried to find for the last five years.
“They want another Arthur Scargill so that they can try to rattle a can in the next few weeks. That is what this is all about.”
And the move was also condemned by Bishop Auckland Labour MP Helen Goodman, who said ministers wanted to weaken unions in advance of spending cuts.
“Why has the Minister chosen this moment to crack down on check-off? Has he done so because the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a one million reduction in the number of public servants, and he wants to weaken the unions before that happens?”
Mr Maude told her:
“We have looked at this in a perfectly sensible, straightforward way. We want trade unions in the civil service – and in this context I am talking only about the civil service – to engage in a sensible, modern fashion, and we want public money to be deployed in the delivery of public services rather than the delivery of trade union officials’ salaries.”
“Many unions have sought to withdraw from check-off arrangements themselves, because they take the view that a modern union in a modern workplace should have a direct relationship with their members, not intermediated by the employer.
“Check-off dates from an era when many people did not have bank accounts and direct debit did not exist. It exists now, and many unions take the view, and indeed the Public and Commercial Services Union has said, that the easiest way to collect their dues is through direct debit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Mar 2015
Securing a fairer funding settlement was top of the agenda when Labour’s North East troops gathered to launch a manifesto for the region.
MPs and Westminster candidates gathered at the party’s campaign headquarters in Stockton to set out their stall ahead of May’s General Election.
A regional minister, greater devolution, a boost for transport, a North East investment bank and rolling out the living wage were also on the list of priorities for Labour campaigners.
It comes as figures show hundreds of millions of pounds have been moved away from the region’s public sector organisations while other affluent, often Tory heartland areas saw an increase.
The North East is also one of the country’s biggest exporters but the region continues to struggle with the highest unemployment rate.
Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland and chairman of the group said:
“We want to see our region thrive again and believe our plan covering everything from fair funding and a National Investment Bank to improved rail, road and airport infrastructure and many more decisions taken in the North East, will do that.
“We do not however underestimate the size of the challenge and believe only with national and local politicians, business and industry, colleges and universities and others working together, can we succeed in exploiting the talents of our people and provide them and their families with the future they are entitled to.”
The Tories will maintain the country must stick its “long term economic plan” but Labour North East has set out two priorities as its members of Ed Miliband’s party fight for a win at the ballot box in May.
The news the party will campaign for a Minister for the North East could also see the former postholder Newcastle East MP Nick Brown return to the role after the Coalition scrapped the position.
Manifesto for the North East
The main points of the manifesto are:
* Secure fair funding based on the needs of the region
* A living wage
* Development of sector-based industrial strategies to help industry clusters work better together and build local supply chains
* The creation of an investment bank for the region
* Significant investment in the road network and regulation of bus services
* Improvement to the rail system and modern trains
* Development of our regional ports and airports to encourage better international connectivity and boost investment
* A regional tourism strategy to bring back more visitors
* Our employers, colleges and universities working closer together to develop the skills we need
* A careers and guidance service that informs our young people of the vast choices available to them as they plan their future.
> Like the vast choice of which workfare scam you’ll be sent on ?
* Greater devolution of decision making and funding to combined authorities working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and a regional minister
* Staying within the European Union
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Feb 2015
Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.
Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say
Now figures reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.
If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.
The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.
In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.
The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95), North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).
Mr Jones said:
“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.”
And he said:
“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”
Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.
But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.
In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.
Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.
She told ministers:
“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
Immigrants working on construction sites should be able to speak English, a North MP has said.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said it is vital immigrants have a “reasonable understanding” of the language so health and safety isn’t put at risk.
The Shadow Welfare Reform Minister said some of her constituents have “completely fair” concerns about immigration and insists Labour would address them.
“I think people have legitimate concerns,” she said. “They are also concerned about people not being able to speak good English.
“These are totally fair and totally reasonable concerns. On a building site you do need to have a reasonable understanding of English for health and safety purposes.
“You are working in a team and everybody needs to be able to understand what you say. If you go to the A&E department you want to speak to someone who can speak English.
“That is completely reasonable and fair.”
The Bishop Auckland constituency is home to just 800 non-UK nationals (of a total 89,500), which equates to just 1%.
In County Durham overall, there are 13,700 non-UK-nationals in County Durham (2.7%).
The MP’s words come after Bishop Auckland Mayor Colin Race defected from Labour to Ukip.
She said people are worried about the impact on wages and immigrants claiming benefits that will be wired overseas.
“In general, people think that some immigration is good, particularly for things like high-skilled work in the NHS, but they want more controls,” she said.
“They want reassurance that a Labour government would control immigration better and so I tell them that we will re-establish checks on the borders for people coming in and going out.
“The really big thing people are worried about is the impact on jobs and wages. They feel that people from Eastern Europe are prepared to work for less than they are and that some employers are exploiting that and that this pushes down wages.”
> Are they really prepared to work for less ? Or could it be they see the apparant size of UK wages compared to those at home and it looks good, but they fail to take into account that costs – housing, food, everything – are also higher ?
And then they find themselves here working for less, but paying out more.
She added: “Labour plans to raise the minimum wage and to stop employers recruiting overseas while not offering jobs to local people. I think people are right to be concerned and they want us to tighten up. We will tighten up.
> How about UK citizens working abroad ? Shouldn’t their jobs have been offered to local people too ? What’s going to be done about that ?
“I think it is fair that people want us to say that people aren’t allowed to claim benefits for children overseas.”
The Labour MP also took a swipe at Ukip, led by Nigel Farage, for being “all over the place” on policy and being anti-women.
“They are a bit of a one-man band,” she said. “I suppose that the other long-standing parties, by definition, have to make the difficult decisions.
“Farage still benefits from being the new kid on the block. Once you get past the Europe issue, they are all over the place.
“They seem to change their policies regularly.”
She added: “I think they are very conservative with respect to women.
“In their eyes, women should have a very certain place. They want to take us back to the 1950s with respect to women.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Feb 2015
Tough measures designed to force benefit claimants to find work are instead making them ill, a study by North East academics has warned.
Claimants who have their benefits cut are sometimes left to go without food or the ability to heat their homes, a study found.
And this has an impact on their health – particularly because some of these affected are already ill or disabled.
The study was carried out by researcher Kayleigh Garthwaite and Professor Clare Bambra of Durham University.
Their findings were presented to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an investigation into “sanctions” which can imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit paid to people who are ill or disabled.
Claimants can have their benefits cuts off, known as a sanction, if officials believe they have failed to prove that they are looking for work.
But critics including a number of North East MPs argue that some claimants have lost benefits for no good reason. In a Commons debate in January, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and other Labour MPs said they believed job centre staff were given unofficial targets for the number of sanctions issued.
The study by Dr Garthwaite and Professor Bambra was part of a five year project looking at why some groups of people are healthier than others, which has focused on foodbank users in Stockton on Tees.
In a paper presented to MPs, they said:
“Sanctions led to loss of their only source of income, resulting in sanctioned ESA recipients often going without sufficient food and/or energy required to maintain good health or recover from illness.”
In some cases, benefits were taken from people who did not understand the complex rules, including people mental health conditions, the academics said.
“Sanctions have led to cases of a total loss of income resulting in an inability to eat or heat at the levels required for maintaining good health or recovering from ill health.
“Indeed sanctions have exacerbated ill health. The sanctioning of people with mental health problems is a particular problem – with the stress and anxiety of income loss adding to their underlying condition.”
The academics said sanctions for ESA claimants “should be relaxed or removed – particularly for those with mental health problems”.
Dr Garthwaite also spoke to MPs at Westminster, where she warned that claimants often had no idea that there was an official hardship fund available to help people who had entirely run out of money.
She told them that some food bank users had resorted to eating food they knew would be bad for them because of medical conditions – such as an intolerance for wheat – because they had nothing else.
Defending the policy, Employment Minister Esther McVey told the committee that studies had shown sanctions encouraged people to find work.
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work, and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
The Government publishes figures showing how many sanctions have been imposed.
In Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees Valley, sanctions were imposed 92,326 times since 2012.
The job centre which has cut benefits most often is James Cook House in Middlesbrough, which imposed 7,068 sanctions.
John Street job centre in Sunderland imposed 4,922 sanctions.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
The forthcoming general election has been described as one of the most unpredictable in generations.
And with the polls revealing Labour and the Conservatives to be neck-and-neck, the result could depend on how well the so-called minor parties perform.
For some time now this has largely meant UKIP which has enjoyed a level of success in the North.
Now it also means the Green party which has seen its membership surge of late reportedly to a higher level than that of UKIP.
So will either of them manage to win seats here or perhaps gain sufficient votes to affect the final outcome?
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said Labour was most at threat from the rise of UKIP while the Greens posed a threat particularly to the Lib Dems.
Dr Farr also said the support in the North East had given UKIP a certain amount of credibility.
“Before it had been portrayed as the party of disgruntled Tories, the anti-immigration party.
“But the North East is Labour’s heartland and immigration isn’t as big an issue here as it is, say, in the North West.
“The issue here is about representation which many former Labour voters don’t think they are getting from the party.
“Meanwhile UKIP can say what it likes at the moment as it is a party untarnished by being in Government.
“What it is offering is what Labour used to offer – clarity and certainty.”
This could explain why UKIP has enjoyed notable electoral successes up here recently.
At present it has a North East MEP, Jonathan Arnott, and four local councillors, two in South Tyneside and two in Hartlepool.
At the 2013 South Shields by-election following David Miliband’s resignation, UKIP’s Richard Elvin came second to Labour’s Emma Lewell Buck winning 24% of the vote, with the Tories and Lib Dems a distant thrid and fourth.
And, if the UK didn’t have a first past the post electoral system, it could have many more representatives.
In the May 2014 local elections at Newcastle City Council, having never contested a ward before, UKIP put up candidates in 19 and nine came second in the vote.
Its overall share of the vote was 9,231 or 13.5%, ahead of the Conservatives although trailing Labour and the Lib Dems.
Meanwhile at Sunderland City Council, UKIP put up five candidates in 2012 and although none won, it got some notable numbers in Hetton in particular with 1,363 where their candidate came a close second.
In 2014 it was unlucky not to win any seats despite gaining 16,951 votes in total, a 24.3% share. Of the 23 wards it contested it came 2nd in 16 of them.
Even as we approach the general election it is still making inroads. Last month the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Coun Colin Race, quit the Labour Party and joined UKIP.
As for the Greens, Dr Farr said:
“There has been a huge surge in support because the Lib Dem support has collapsed and they are also attracting people from the left of Labour who are fed up with austerity.
“There isn’t a Syriza type party (the left wing anti-austerity party in Greece which formed the last Government there) in the UK.
“The Green party is basically still a pressure group without fully formed policies on all the issues. It’s leader was embarrassed recently in a TV interview because of this.”
However he said in time, using the success it has had at local level in places like Brighton, it could achieve credibility at a national level.
This might mean any electoral success it enjoys in the region by be more limited than UKIP which, in the public’s eye, is a bit more of an established party.
Overall Dr Farr said he wasn’t expecting many surprises at the May general election.
He said: “I think in most of the North East, the majorities are such that the numbers they attract won’t be enough to win seats.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
The Labour Mayor of Bishop Auckland has defected to UKIP.
Councillor Colin Race, who says he has voted Labour “ever since he was old enough”, made the shock announcement at a Bishop Auckland Town Council meeting, in County Durham, on Tuesday.
Coun Race said he will be joining Nigel Farage’s party before pouring scorn on his former Labour colleagues for being part of a “cosy consensus” of politicians.
Coun Race said: “Year-on-year it has become increasingly clear that Labour are neglecting voters and taking us all for granted.
“The Labour Party that I once knew – the party that stuck up for the working families, is no more. We have a cosy consensus of politicians in Westminster who spend more time patting each other on the back, than representing the people who pay their wages at the end of the month.
“Here in the North East we have the highest rates of unemployment in the country, how are my kids meant to get a job when our political class support open door mass immigration from 27 other EU member states?”
> But its not immigrants who are cutting full time jobs and replacing them with short hours or zero hours jobs. That’s the real problem, not immigration. Still, sounds like UKIP’s his natural home.
Coun Race’s defection comes four months before Labour MP Helen Goodman fights to keep the Bishop Auckland constituency red.
UKIP’s North East MEP, Jonathan Arnott, said:
“I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Coun Colin Race, to UKIP’s peoples’ army.
“Labour party members across our region are simply realising that the incredibly wealthy individuals who sit at the top of the Labour party don’t, and make no attempt to, work for hard-working, law-abiding citizens across the country.
“Only UKIP are offering a sensible, credible alternative to the Labour party who have neglected the North East for years.”
> Don’t forget the Green Party, who have the added bonus of not being racist.
It is understood Coun Race attempted to stand for Labour on Durham County Council but was rejected as a candidate.
Labour hit back at the councillor’s criticism and branded UKIP “more Tory than the Tories”.
A party spokesman said:
“On the day Nigel Farage confirmed his plans to privatise the NHS, people in Bishop Auckland will rightly be questioning the decision of one of their town councillors.
“UKIP’s policies include another tax break for millionaires, higher taxes on working families, scrapping rights as at work and higher bankers’ bonuses.
“They can’t be described as a party who will stand up for working people. In reality they are more Tory than the Tories.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Jan 2015