Tagged: Blaydon

Gateshead local elections will see a Green Party candidate contest every seat for the first time

The rising popularity of the Green Party has given the political group their biggest boost yet in Labour-run Gateshead ahead of the local elections on May 7.

For the first time the Greens are fielding candidates in all 22 electoral wards that make up the borough council and the two parliamentary seats, Gateshead and Blaydon.

Andrew Blanchflower, who is organising the party’s Gateshead campaign said their membership had increased five fold since last year and up to 10% are former members of the Labour party.

He said part of their membership surge is down to the council’s controversial Core Strategy plan that means almost 3000 homes will be built on greenbelt land and which was voted on in March.

Speaking as his party announced their manifesto Mr Blanchflower, who is standing in Dunston and Teams against Labour’s Gary Haley, said:

“Last year we stood in eight wards, but for the May 7 elections we will have candidates in all 22 wards of Gateshead. The ‘green surge’ has meant that local party membership has increased by more than five times in the last six months.

“Around five to 10% have been Labour members but what is significant is that they may not have been politically active before, but now they are. People will find that we are a breath of fresh air. We are offering an anti-austerity solution.”

Total membership now stands at 154, up from just low double figures last year, and Mr Blanchflower said many of the new recruits will all be active in challenging their two target seats Saltwell, where Labour council leader Mick Henry is standing for re-election and Crawcrook and Greenside, where they got 12% of the vote in the 2014 local election.

Crawcrook was a key centre of protest from wildlife campaigners trying to protect its greenbelt – part of which had been ear-marked for housing.

However their stance as the anti-austerity party and the only option for dramatic environmental change has been challenged today by the Gateshead Liberal Democrats who say they can ‘out-Green’ the Greens.

Self-sufficiency advocate Dr Jonathan Wallace, who is also up for election in the Lib Dem stronghold of Whickham South and Sunniside, said:

“The big issue that we have been fighting is Labour’s plans for building on the greenbelt and we’ve fought that for years. Labour got their plans passed and it’s caused a great deal of upset among residents.

“A really big issue has also been open cast mining. There were two big applications, including one at Marley Hill, and we led the campaign to get them defeated but Gateshead Labour councillors voted for it. We also campaigned

“I’m confident that because we have led the environmental in Gateshead that in terms of green policies people will look to us, rather than the Greens. If they are looking to people who lead a green lifestyle they can look to me – I can ‘out-green’ and Green Party candidate.”

He said none of their 11 seats are considered safe but they enjoy safe majorities in his own area of Whickham South and Sunniside (800) and Whickham North where they increased their majority from 100 to 300.

They also hope to make gains in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and in Ryton, Crook and Stella.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Apr 2015

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Easington is safest Labour seat in England

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.

He said:

“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 launching pre-election strike on trade unions, claim North East MPs

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.

He said:

“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.

She said:

“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

Should MPs be paid more? – Salary set to rise after the general election

Would Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have been caught out in a sting apparently offering their services to a private company for cash if the salary earned by MPs’ was much higher?

> Probably. There’s no accounting for greed.

The suggestion is an unpopular one with the electorate, many of whom have endured years of pay freezes, particularly in the public sector in which the politicians are classified as working.

After the next election, an MP’s salary is set to rise 10% from £66,396 to £74,000 – the level set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which said they did an important job and should not be paid a “miserly amount”.

When this was revealed last year it caused a bit of a meltdown inside and outside of Parliament with the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour party leaders for once united.

They argued it would be wrong when public sector pay rises were capped at 1%.

Rifkind, who said the allegations made against him were “unfounded”, has subsequently said he can’t live on his £67,000 a year MP’s salary.

However Blaydon MP, Labour’s Dave Anderson, was unsympathetic. He said:

“If you can’t live on the salary get another job. You know what you sign up for.

“If you can’t live off £67,000 a year you must be from another planet.”

Mr Anderson was equally dismissive of MPs who took on second jobs to boost their income.

“If you want another job, take another job and leave. You shouldn’t have a second job as an MP regardless.

“Me and my colleagues work so many hours I don’t know how anybody who fit another job in.”

His fellow MP Nick Brown who represents Newcastle East said:

“I agree with that. Your duty is to your constituency and the country.

“I’ve been an MP for 31 years and have never had a second job.”

As for the salary of MPs he said he did not want to be “sanctimonious” and criticise anybody who thinks it should be higher. “I think an MP’s salary level should be set independently,” he said.

As for how much a fair salary would be, Mr Brown wouldn’t be drawn on a figure just that it should “cover the cost of being an MP.

> Before exopenses claims, I imagine.

The debate about what an MP’s salary should be has been clouded by a number of scandals over the years to the extent that when a rise is suggested most in Parliament come out in public against it firmly.

 

But in a secret poll of MPs, the responses were different.

Back in 2013, in a survey conducted by Ipsa, MPs suggested they deserved an £86,250 salary.

On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.

However later that year, a poll of the public revealed it thought MPs should actually get a pay cut, the average figure being £54,400. In the North East, people thought they should be paid £52,140.

Arguments for the rise included one that being an MP was an important job and salaries should be more in keeping with this, comparing it to money earned by company executives. If pay was better, we would get better MPs.

> Does anyone really believe that ? What we’d really get is richer MPs.

It would also, the argument went, entice more people from less well-off backgrounds to become interested in becoming an MP.

To counter this some have wondered how a salary that is around three times the national average would put off potential less well off candidates.

According to one commentator: “To a working class kid a salary of £65,000 a year is the equivalent of winning the lottery”.

And anyway, MPs are public servants and should be subject to the same rules as anyone else in the public sector. They do an incredibly important job – but so do lots of other people, such as nurses and the police.

Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said:

“The public has unreasonable expectations of politicians because they just don’t like them.

> And I wonder why that should be ?

“There needs to be a competitive salary as in comparison to parliamentarians elsewhere, MPs here aren’t played a lot nor do they get the same level of support.”

“They are frightened to be awarded a competitive salary which was why they tried to make it up in allowances in the first place.

“However in trying to avoid one problem they have created another.”

He said such was the “febrile” nature of the debate, the public generally can’t even accept the need for MPs to travel first class on trains and reclaim it on expenses.

“Yet they often do work of a confidential nature at this time so these arrangements are needed,” he said.

Dr Farr said that while it appears Straw and Rifkind might have broken no rules, they were foolish to do what they did.

However he added what did need to be sorted out was the so-called ‘Whitehall revolving door’ situation where former Ministers get jobs in the private sector

“It’s a toxic issue and in some ways MPs are in a lose-lose situation,” he said.

> For that sort of money, you’d get a lot of volunteers willing to risk that kind of lose-lose situation…

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015

Rally against council cuts in Gateshead to take place on Saturday

Library users, keen swimmers and pensioners will unite to take part in a rally through Gateshead town centre on Saturday.

The demonstration against Gateshead Council’s budget cuts will bring dozens of protestors together, as well as three MPs, who will speak out on Central Government’s current financial deal for local authorities.

Those affected by proposed library and swimming pool closures, and cut backs of hours at Gateshead facilities, will meet with people who use the borough’s older people’s and mental health services.

Gateshead Council’s leader Mick Henry must make up to £46m worth of savings over the next two years and proposals include reviewing how they run the Gateshead Indoor Bowling Centre, Dunston Activity Centre and Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre.

Other cut backs – including the older people’s service which helps people with their shopping and paying bills on time – could lead to job losses.

Together service users will march from the Gateshead Interchange towards the Civic Centre at 2.15pm on Saturday (07 Feb), in a protest organised by the Gateshead Public Services Alliance which is part of the union Unison.

Speeches will be heard from Labour politicians, Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon, Stephen Hepburn MP for Jarrow and Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead.

Alison Chapel, area organiser for the Public Services Alliance, said: “We have people coming on behalf of the libraries, and older people’s services in Gateshead which are all under threat with closure of the scaling back of hours.

“We know that the council have to make cuts because the Government is reducing their budget.

“The council has to decide how these cuts are going to be implemented and we are trying to show that they are not just dealing with statistics.

“These cuts affect real people because they use the service and they need the service and in some cases, particularly the older people’s service, it’s a false economy anyway because it’s quite a low level service but it means people can stay in their homes and it prevents them taking up beds in hospitals.

“It is Central Government who are cutting the council finances and we do understand the difficulty the council is facing but they need to make the decision in the face of people’s actual experiences and needs.”

Councillor Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council said:

“Setting our Budget is a fine balancing act as we have so many competing priorities. It’s getting harder and harder to continue to protect those services that people want and need, but we will do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable adults and children in our communities.

“We know that in future there will be some significant changes to services that people hold dear, but we need to start making those decisions now as the money simply won’t be there to continue to provide them in the same way.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  05 Feb 2015

MPs urge Miliband to lean further Left in alternative election manifesto

Four North-East Labour MPs have urged Ed Miliband to swing to the Left and rip up his “tragic” commitment to further deep spending cuts.

Grahame Morris (Easington), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Dave Anderson (Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) are among 16 rebels issuing the challenge to their leader.

Their alternative election manifesto demands:

* A £30bn investment package – an “alternative way out of endless austerity” – funded either by higher borrowing, the state-owned banks, or a levy on the super-rich.

The MPs call on Mr Miliband to exploit 0.5 per cent interest rates, arguing it would cost just £150m a year to finance the package – which they say would create more than a million jobs, within three years.

Instead, they say: “All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20.”

* Rail nationalisation, by taking train operating franchises back into public ownership when they expire.

The MPs reject Labour’s plan to allow not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises, condemning it as timid and “wholly unnecessary”.

They claim privatisation costs £1.2bn a year, adding: “Over 80 per cent of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.”

* Stronger trade union and employment rights, with a return to collective bargaining “as a check against excessive corporate power”.

The alternative manifesto blames the disappearance of union-negotiated agreements for a sharp fall in the share of national income going to salaries and wages – from 65 per cent in 1980, to 53 per cent in 2012.

And it says: “We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.”

The move laid bare how Mr Miliband will struggle to carry his party to make the deep spending cuts planned, even if he wins a small majority in May.

The left-wing group of MPs are keen to take advantage of the rise of the anti-austerity Green Party and of the SNP to push Labour in a more radical direction.

Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, has made repeated threats to establish a new workers’ party if Labour loses after offering a “pale shade of austerity”.

Last year, Mr McCluskey urged the likes of Mr Morris, Mr Mearns and Mr Lavery to “put the brakes” on Ed Miliband if he tries to take Labour to the right

> Even further to the right, I think he means…

It followed the trio’s criticism of Labour support for an overall welfare cap and vote against compulsory unpaid work experience.

Source – Northern Echo,  26 Jan 2015

Government accused of sidestepping questions on possible Orgreave inquiry

The Government has been accused of sidestepping questions about delays into a possible inquiry into the actions of police during the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’.

For two years the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating whether officers accused of fitting up striking miners on riot charges, including two from the North East, had a case to answer.

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a miner at the time who was at the South Yorkshire coking plant that day in June, 1984, submitted two questions to Home Secretary Theresa May about the matter.

He asked if she would find out when the IPCC would make its decision and what her department knew about the reasons for the delay.

 

 In the Government’s reply, the Home Office said the IPCC had completed its assessment of the events at Orgreave and was taking legal advice before publishing its findings.

In the written reply, signed by Minister Mike Penning, he wrote:

“This has been a very complex exercise which has required the in-depth analysis of a vast amount of documentation from over 30 years ago. As the IPCC is an independent organisation the Government has no control or influence over the date of publication of its findings.”

Mr Anderson commented:

“The government should put “the vast amount of paperwork” in the public domain so that people and Parliament can see if they were misled.

“She sidesteps the second question about exactly what information she has and puts the onus onto an Independent body. Has the IPCC seen all of the paperwork that has not been released and if not why not?”

Orgreave was the scene of some of the bitterest clashes during the year long miners strike of 1984 to 1985.

In all 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot following it, an offence which carries a maximum life sentence.

All the charges were eventually dropped and 39 miners were later awarded £425,000 in compensation amid claims police witnesses gave evidence that had been dictated to them by senior officers as well as perjuring themselves.

It was in 2012 after a TV documentary repeated these allegations in light of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report that the head of South Yorkshire Police referred his own force to the IPCC.

It was South Yorkshire Police which was in control of the crowds at the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.

It was revealed officers had fabricated evidence – including having statements dictated to them by senior officers – in an attempt to blame the tragedy on the Liverpool fans, the same tactics used against miners at Orgreave five years earlier.

Mr Anderson added:

“(David) Cameron said Sunshine is the best policy. Well come on then, shine a light on this disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Jan 2015

North East councils seen as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’ by residents facing food poverty

Food poverty is no longer being seen as a welfare issue as those who suffer from it have got so used to turning to charities for help.

In a report, North East academic Dr Jane Midgley said the huge increase in foodbanks run by the voluntary sector has blurred the lines as to who should be caring for the vulnerable and the needy.

She said a squeeze on incomes, benefit sanctions and rocketing utility bills are the drivers of foodbank use, but people instead see their local council as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’.

Dr Midgley, whose research formed part of the Feeding Britain report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, urged councils to show support for those facing the misery of food poverty and called for more clarity over the root causes of the phenomenon.

She said:

“We are increasingly finding that charities, rather than the state, are supporting people in need who cannot afford to feed themselves.

“While we need to recognise the effort this takes and the difference it makes to peoples lives, the boundaries of this responsibility are far from clear.

“Food poverty is not seen as a welfare issue and because of the way charities and voluntary sector organisations have stepped in, people no longer see local government and the public sector as a source of support.”

Foodbank use exploded in 2014. The Trussell Trust said between April and September 2014, more than 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead , Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks.

That works out at 4,289 people a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.

“We are now not just at a critical juncture for how we respond to the issue of food poverty, but also what this means for local policy makers,” Dr Midgley added.

They need to be able to show, in a difficult financial climate, that they still care and want people who live within their towns and cities to live well and flourish.”

 

The Feeding Britain report warned that North families are just one unexpected bill away from food poverty. It said the living wage and speedier benefit payments must form part of the solution.

Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said he had “no indication” people were turning on councils and said staff were supportive of people facing the misery of food poverty.

He said:

“We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we are seeing some of the most terrible cases of poverty in years due to the huge financial pressures being put on hard-working families.

> I do wish politicians would refrain from parrotting hard-working families on issues like this. It implies that those not working for whatever reasion are lazy, and before we know where we are we’re back to the concept of deserving and undeserving poor.

“We are living in a society where rising costs and relentless government cuts across the country are creating much tougher living conditions. Here in South Tyneside we are doing all we can to try and support and protect people who are experiencing the greatest hardship.

“As a council we have committed to the phased introduction of the Living Wage for Council workers from April 2015. This should help people on some of the lowest wages and we hope that other businesses will be able to look to do the same.”

Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said Coalition ministers were to blame for the rise in foodbanks.

He said:

“You can’t sack half a million public sector workers or employ people on exploitative zero hours contracts and expect there to be anything other than a calamitous outcome.

“While ministers enjoy Christmas this week far too many of our people will be struggling, literally, on the breadline. It’s time to stop penalising the poor for the failures of the richest in society.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  02 Jan 2015

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson claims Tyneside nurses are turning to shoebox collections

NHS nurses on Tyneside are “seriously considering” setting up shoebox collections to help colleagues struggling to cope with pay cuts, MPs have heard.

Labour’s Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon,  said some nurses were worried about getting through Christmas.

And he said he had been informed of the idea under consideration at a trust where the chief executive’s pay had increased alongside a rise in allowances for its governors.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Anderson told Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt :

“Can I advise you that last week I spoke to nurses at the hospital near my constituency who told me because of the ongoing cuts to their pay, which has been going on for many years, they are actually seriously considering setting up shoebox collections to help their members get through Christmas.

“At the same time, the chief executive of the trust has had a 17% pay increase and the governors of the trust have had an 88% increase in their allowances.

“Is this what you mean by all being in this together?”

Mr Hunt replied that the Government would take no lessons from Labour on increases to the salaries of senior managers.

He said:

“I’m afraid we won’t take any lessons from the party that increased managers’ pay at double the rate of nurses’ pay when they were in office.

“I’ll tell you what this Government has done when it comes to the lowest paid NHS workers, because of our increases in the tax-free threshold they have seen their take home pay go up by £1,000 a year.”

> Pot calls kettle black, blah, blah, blah… meanwhile the nurses are still collecting.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  02 Dec 2014