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
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
Campaigners are calling for four councils to “get around a table” and discuss moving Yarm into Yorkshire.
It comes after voters in the market town gave an emphatic “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council.
More than 89% of voters who took part in a poll on Tuesday over the future of Yarm’s local administration said they would prefer the town to be under Hambleton’s control.
Only around 11% favoured staying under Stockton Council.
The Yarm 4 Yorkshire campaign claim Stockton Council has ignored people over issues such as parking and housing.
Stockton Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the results of the poll until Yarm Town Council had an opportunity “to fully consider the results” or the Boundary Commission asked it “to look into the matter further”.
But one of the organisers of the poll, Chris Johnson, said it was time for the four councils who would be involved in any transfer – Stockton, Yarm, North Yorkshire and Hambleton – to get together “and work out what, if any process, would be done”.
One of the campaigners admitted today they did not even know if Yarm would be better off in Hambleton.
But Mr Johnson explained: “The way forward now would be for the four councils to sit down around the table. Those details would then come out. This is just the first step on the way.”
He said they had also contacted the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the hope that the “resounding result” would indicate to them “a failing of democracy”.
The result is not legally binding as Government consent would be needed for the town to be transferred to North Yorkshire
Critics say the proposal is unlikely to be introduced.
The turnout for the poll, which was funded by Yarm Town Council and organised by officials from Stockton Council was 25%.
The chair of Yarm Town Council, Peter Monck, branded the poll “a waste of time”, saying: “You can’t claim a victory when 75% didn’t vote. At £4,000 it’s not a good use of council money at all.
“If Stockton Council say they aren’t going to do anything, that’s it – it won’t go any further.
“Even if Stockton Council were to agree to it, it’s a long drawn out process, Hambleton would have to agree and then it would go to the Boundary Commission.”
Labour Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: “For our part, we would reiterate that Stockton Borough Council delivers a huge range of very high quality services from which all of our residents can benefit, no matter where they live.
“Residents’ surveys consistently reveal these services enjoy very high satisfaction levels which show the majority of residents value and appreciate the council’s contribution.
“Of course, like all councils there are times when we have to make difficult decisions and we absolutely understand that people have strong views on issues such as parking and on planning applications for new houses.
“These issues would have to be addressed by whichever local authority had responsibility for Yarm.”
Yarm borough councillor Andrew Sherris, Conservative, said: “We need an open and honest debate with all the information presented on a level playing field without any of the political interference experienced recently with hundreds of letters being sent out to residents.
“The level and quality of service delivery is paramount, particularly for the elderly and more vulnerable members of our Community.”
UKIP councillor Mark Chatburn added: “Critics of this will point to the fact that four out of five residents in Yarm either voted ‘no’ or didn’t even bother to vote. Put in those terms it sounds less convincing than the polling results would suggest.”
James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, said of the result: “People are clearly fed up with Stockton Council riding roughshod over Yarm. This result should act as a wake up call and our Labour run council needs to listen or they will lose ever more support.”
Louise Baldock Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, said the result “came as no surprise”, but added: “I am concerned that people as yet know nothing about what a move into a different council authority would mean for the delivery of vital services.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 May 2014