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
Labour stands charged with harbouring “disdain” for the North East after it emerged the benefits cap could be harsher in this region than in the wealthy South East if they win power.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said an independent body will review the threshold on an area-by-area basis, and admitted it could vary depending on the cost of living.
Ian Jones, chair of the North East Lib Dems, poured scorn on the move and accused Ed Miliband’s party of “treating the North East like a second class citizen”.
Conservatives, meanwhile, said it would “penalise” the North East and called the idea “simply wrong”.
Mr Balls said the issues will be looked at by an independent board that will “double check we are doing the right thing” maintaining a national standard.
“We are not proposing to lower the benefit cap,” he said. “We are asking an independent advisory committee to check and make sure it is at the right level in all parts of the country.
“We have a national benefits system and we are going to keep the benefits system national.
“We are going to make sure by double checking with the advisory committee that we are doing the right thing.
“The right thing to do is to have the same level of support across the country but there is a cost of living difference and we have got to get it right.
“We aren’t thinking to undermine support for people, we are looking to enhance it.
“This is why we are asking for an independent committee to look at it, we don’t think it should be a political decision and we don’t want to give a steer to the committee. There is no preordained agenda from the Labour Party.”
The news is likely to anger Labour’s support in one of their heartland regions. It also comes after a controversial statement by Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves.
She was attacked by opponents as being part of a “metropolitan elite” and turning her back on the unemployed when she claimed Labour was “not the party of people on benefits.”
The senior figure added: “We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.”
> Fine. So you won’t want my vote then.
A Conservative spokesman said:
“The benefits cap is an important measure, and it is right it is applied fairly. But under Labour plans, people could be penalised for living in the North East rather than another part of the country. That is simply wrong.
“Labour just have no credibility when it comes to welfare – they voted against our benefit cap and every single measure we’ve taken to get people off the dole and into work.”
Ian Jones, chair of the North East Lib Dems, said:
“Ed Balls’ weasel words on this won’t fool any one. The Labour manifesto is clear that they will look to treat people in the less well-off areas of the country worse than those in London and the South East.
“We saw the same thing with Conservative plans for regional pay cuts for teachers and nurses in the North East. Both parties, for different reasons, treat the region as a second class citizen. Labour are incredibly complacent and the Conservatives have nothing but disdain for the North.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Apr 2015
This article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Saturday 20th December 2014
Women will overwhelmingly bear the brunt of a freeze in tax credits and benefits that will be introduced by George Osborne if the Tories win the general election next year, according to an analysis by the House of Commons library.
The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, accused the Tories of planning to “hit millions of families on modest incomes” after the figures showed 80% of the estimated savings in tax credits would come from women. Women would provide 75% of the savings in benefits.
Labour commissioned the analysis after the chancellor announced in his speech to the Conservative party conference in September that he would save £3bn a year by freezing working age benefits. The freeze, which Balls describes as a cut in real terms, would hit 10m households.
The analysis has taken Osborne’s forecast that the freeze will produce an annual saving of £3.2bn by 2017-18. It says that £2.4bn (75%) of the savings will be provided by women and £800m by men (25%). It says that women are on course to receive 80% of tax credits by 2017-18 which means they will overwhelmingly be affected by the freeze.
“These new figures show how, once again, women will bear the brunt of David Cameron and George Osborne’s choices. This follows four years of budgets which have taken six times more from women than men – even though women earn less than men.
“Of course we need to make savings to get the deficit down. But the Tories have chosen to hit millions of working families on modest incomes again, while keeping their huge tax cut for millionaires.”
Labour has regularly pointed out that cuts or freezes to working-age benefits penalise women and amount to a strivers’ tax on low-paid workers. The large numbers of women in part-time work and the pressures of childcare mean that they rely more on tax credits, making them more vulnerable to cuts and freezes.
The attack by Labour on the impact of the freeze shows that Balls believes he is on strong ground to promote his own narrative on deficit reduction in the runup to the election: that the deficit must be tackled but in a way that does not hit the working poor and imposes a greater burden on richer voters.
Labour has pledged to ensure that the deficit falls year on year in the next parliament, though it has not set a date, as Osborne has, for the structural budget deficit to be eliminated. The party has also pledged to ensure that the wealthy make a greater contribution by restoring the 50p higher rate of income tax.
“Working people are already worse off under this government. If the Tories win next year, 3 million working people face being made worse off because their tax credits will be cut again. This strivers’ tax will cost a one-earner family with two children earning £25,000 almost £500 a year.
“While the Tories target working people, our tough but balanced approach will start by reversing the £3bn-a-year Tory tax cut for the top 1% of earners.”
Osborne’s freeze, which will hit the poorest third of the population, will mean working families lose up to £490 a year in child benefit and tax credits. The average amount lost will be £300 per household.
In setting out the freeze at the Tory conference, Osborne said:
“The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than the wages of the taxpayers who are paying for them … we will provide a welfare system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too.”
Pensioner and disability benefits will be excluded.
> More austerity (for some) whoever wins seems to be the message from the Big 3 parties. It’s just a matter of choosing who you get fucked over by…
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Dec 2014
> 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
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is calling on Westminster parties to clarify as to whether child benefit will be included in devolved powers on offer to Scotland.
The call comes after the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls revealed that a future Labour government would freeze child benefit rises at just 1% until 2017 – a real-terms cut.
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said:
“As Ed Balls has made clear in his speech [yesterday], Labour are locked into the Tory austerity agenda. This means more cuts that would hit Scotland hard.
“In the last few years, we have had cuts on top of cuts from the Tories. And it is clear that this will continue to be the case no matter what government we have in Westminster after next May’s General Election.
“Labour’s proposal to cut Child Benefit in real terms would hit families across Scotland in the pocket – at a time when many are already suffering at the hands of Tory cuts.
“Over the past year, the number of people using foodbanks has rocketed by 400 per cent. Westminster has proved time and time again that it cannot be trusted to look out for the vulnerable. For this reason, welfare needs to be devolved to Scotland.
“However, the reality is that Labour’s devolution commission proposals completely fail to outline what welfare powers they would devolve to Scotland – and make no mention of Child Benefit.
“The Labour Party need to remember that 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted Yes last week – and polling has shown that a further quarter of No voters cast their vote in the expectation that substantial further powers would be devolved to Scotland in the coming months.
“Ed Balls’ statement that he would not increase borrowing to fund capital investment also raises questions about the effectiveness of the borrowing powers that are already supposed to be coming to the Scottish Parliament.
“The Westminster parties must now honour their commitment on further powers to the people of Scotland – and the first thing they must do is outline exactly what powers they are proposing for the Scottish Parliament.
“It is only with this much needed clarity we can move forward and work to get the best possible deal for Scotland in the circumstances.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 23 Sept 2014
Our study into the way politicians use Twitter to communicate with voters found that the most successful are able to reach thousands of people. And the popular internet messaging service has changed the way politicians keep in touch with the public, said Mr Lavery.
But he also warned that Twitter had a dark side – with critics hiding behind their keyboards to attack not just politicians but their families too.
We looked at the MPs who achieved the most “retweets”, when other Twitter users repeated their message so that it reached a wider audience.
Backbencher Mr Lavery was in 13th place nationwide – a good result as most of the MPs ahead of him were members of the Cabinet or Labour’s Shadow Cabinet.
His most popular message was a tweeting supporting the families of the football fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
His comment was retweeted by 2,187 people.
This means that each of them sent it to their own followers on Twitter. As some users have hundreds of even thousands of followers, the message could easily have reached a million people.
Mr Lavery said: “Twitter is a great way to communicate, particularly with younger people. It’s a way of getting your message across about what you’re doing in the community and in the constituency.”
> But is it two-way communication ? Does the politician also listen to what the community and in the constituency are saying ?
Ed Balls, who was trying to search for what people had been saying about him – but accidentally sent out a Tweet consisting of nothing but his own name instead, was the most popular Tweet. His tweet “Ed Balls” has been retweeted 28,893 times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 June 2014
> The rest of the results from Tyne & Wear…
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
It was a day that promised much for UKIP with rumours of winning a seat in Woolsington early on. Flopped again, though.
They did come second in a number of seats, registering particularly highly in Walkergate with 843 votes and Benwell and Scotswood with 823, however outright victory eluded it.
In all 27 seats were up for grabs at Newcastle City Council, 16 previously held by Labour and 11 by the Lib Dems.
At the end of the count it was almost a case of “as you were” with Labour winning 17, the Lib Dems nine and Independent candidate Bill Corbett landing a spectacular success in Westerhope, taking the seat from Labour.
In some wards the Lib Dem vote collapsed but overall party leaders were visibly relieved that its support held up well compared to other parts of the country.
However its Chief Whip Tom Woodwark was the major casualty of the day when he lost out to Labour in South Jesmond.
Overall Labour won 45% of the vote, the Lib Dems 21.7%, UKIP 13.5% and the Tories 9.9%.
North Tyneside’s former elected mayor Linda Arkley failed to make a civic comeback after losing in the Tynemouth ward to Labour’s Sarah Day.
The seat was one of the most hotly contested and the Conservative candidate missed out on being elected by just 37 votes.
Current mayor Norma Redfearn said she was “overjoyed” Labour had managed to retain overall control of the council as well as gaining two additional seats in Wallsend and Chirton.
She said Labour had weathered many a protest vote in the past and were not worried about UKIP coming second in nine wards.
Their surge was down to the current Government’s record on job creation and the bedroom tax, she added. UKIP gained a 20% share of the vote overall although failed to win a seat.
Party member Marianne Follin, who also stood in Tynemouth, said: “It’s been said we are the fourth political party and we’ve proved that now.”
> What ? That you’re in 4th place ? Behind the Lib Dems ? Nothing to boast about there !
The council is now made up of 44 Labour councillors, 12 Conservative and 4 Lib Dems.
Labour remained in control of Gateshead Council despite a strong UKIP showing.
Leader of the council, Mick Henry, thanked the public for their support to his party despite the Government cuts his borough currently faces.
He said: “Nothing has changed. Considering that we are suffering a 37% cut in the budget and we have had to take actions as a council, I am pleased that the Gateshead public have shown support for us in the circumstances.”
When asked about the number of votes secured by UKIP, Mr
Henry said: “Next year will be different.
“The European elections have helped them on this occasion and we are hoping it will be different next year.
“It’s the Liberal Democrats we need to worry about, and the actions of the Government.”
> It’s the Liberal Democrats we need to worry about – not a phrase you hear very often…
> The national media seems to be intent on boosting UKIP on the basis of these local elections, and even locally the Newcastle Journal was making statements like:
“Asked for his response to Ukip’s success in Sunderland and the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, where the party won ten seats, Mr Balls said: …”
Pardon me ? Ukip’s success in Sunderland ? Did I miss something ?
They didn’t win a single seat ! That’s success ?
Neither did the Greens or Lib Dems, so they must be doing very well too, right ?
The truth is – and the Newcastle Journal and other local media have failed to point this out – before these elections UKIP had 2 local seats across the whole of Tyne & Wear, both in South Tyneside.
After these elections, they only have 1… and that perhaps only because that particular seat wasn’t up for election.
So across Tyne & Wear, which UKIP had been making noises about targeting, they won nothing and actually lost 50% of what they did hold.
Now there’s success and there’s success… and there’s also dismal failure. I think I know which category UKIP’s performance falls into.
As I interupted Ed Balls earlier, perhaps we should return to him for a moment…
“So we have to understand that challenge (of UKIP). People want to know we will have tough controls on immigration, that you’re not going to be able to come here to work in our country and send benefits back to families at home “
In other words, some people are voting for UKIP, so lets steal their policies and hijack the closet racist vote.
Surely they learnt their lesson with New Labour’s desperate attempts to win the middle class vote ?
Why are the mainstream media so keen to make you think falling inflation means your wages will rise?
There is absolutely no indication that this will happen.
If you are lucky, and the drop in inflation (to 1.7 per cent) affects things that make a difference to the pound in your pocket, like fuel prices, groceries and utility bills, then their prices are now outstripping your ability to pay for them at a slightly slower rate. Big deal.
The reports all say that private sector wages are on the way up – but this includes the salaries of fatcat company bosses along with the lowest-paid office cleaners.
FTSE-100 bosses all received more pay by January 8 than average workers earn in a year. Their…
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By Jenny Howarth
Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fourth budget. It was clear from his opening gambit – “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you” – that this budget would help the few and not the many. If you were not a ‘hard-worker’, business owner or saver then there would be no point in listening any further.
For Osborne, the budget was an opportunity to say that their long-term economic plan is delivering security for the people of this country. The emphasis was on support for businesses who invest and export, on support for manufacturers, on support for savers or rather making sure “hardworking people keep more of what they earn – and more of what they save” – all aimed towards the central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.
By the end of his 55 minute speech it was very clear that the economic security he spoke of was for the few not the many. He tried to convince people that his budget was for the “makers, doers and savers”, yet it came across as “I’m hoping to gain the over-50 vote”. He promised a budget of “hard truths” which could be implied as “if you think I’m going to help the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable then think again”.
Osborne’s budget was more ‘out of touch with reality’ than ‘hard truths’. He spoke of economic growth, a Britain on the road to recovery, even mentioning the new resilient pound coin to match the resilient economy. However, for thousands of families waking up the morning after the Budget, life is still a struggle. For them the budget was meaningless, doing nothing to improve their desperate situation and here is why.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty”. Adding, “People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth”.
A view shared by other charities. William Higham, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said:
“The Budget was a missed opportunity to address the needs of families that are struggling to pay their food bill and children whose parents cannot afford to pay for uniforms and school trips”.
It is for these reasons, George Osborne’s fourth budget was a budget for the few. It failed to address the fact that living standards are falling – despite the 2010 Manifesto promising “An economy where…[people’s] standard of living…rises steadily and sustainably”. It failed to help the 350 000 reliant on food banks or the 400 000 disabled people paying bedroom tax. His “resilient pound for a resilient economy” ignores the fact that working people are £1600 worse off.
Osborne may believe that increasing personal tax to £10 500 will help improve living standards but whilst it lifts three million out of taxation, it does nothing for the many families who depend on housing benefit to top up the little wage they get. “The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits – giving with one hand while taking with the other”, says Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
Matthew Reed’s comment raises another important point – benefits. Osborne had nothing to say on this except to announce a cap on the welfare budget. This will see Tax credits and housing benefit limited to £119.5bn in a bid to cut the deficit. Critics say that this limit to benefit claims over the next four years will hit disabled people and the low paid without tackling the underlying causes of Britain’s growing social security bill.
Whilst it may appear to be political suicide by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying Labour will vote for the cap, it is not. According to Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the cap was simply a “gesture” and served no purpose other than to kick the “problem of spending cuts into the next parliament”.
For Portes it was “meaningless” to put a number on the cap without having policies in place to deliver it or to state how the cuts would be achieved. Adding that the charter would commit MPs to renewing the cap each year. “As Parliament already votes on measures to change social security budgets, this charter will not make much difference”.
It would appear that Osborne’s welfare cap charter is not new but something that already exists. It could be argued that whilst Labour is voting for it, there is plenty scope to amend the limit and bring in policies that would help not hit. Moreover, the question that needs to be asked is would a successive conservative government do that or would they continue with their long-term economic plan that they insist is bringing security to the people of Britain.
For now it would appear they are committed to helping the few, committed to bringing security to the hard-workers, business owners and savers. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says:
“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carer’s and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 20 March 2014
You know, if the Greens really got their act together, they could clean up at the next general election. Who else is left for us to vote for ?
Labour’s workfare plus a sandwich scheme is no better than the Tory’s current workfare and is every bit as badly thought out.
Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee takes the worst elements of almost all previous welfare-to-work style schemes and has rolled them all into one giant and hugely expensive fuck up. Possibly hundreds of thousands of people are to be forced to work in part-time temporary jobs with wages pegged at the minimum wage or face their benefits will be stopped.
Many people in these compulsory jobs may find themselves worse off then someone on current Tory workfare schemes. The jobs will only be for 25 hours a week, meaning those over 21 will receive just £156.70 under current rates. For the vast majority of claimants, who have rent to pay, this is likely to…
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