The gap between the North East and the wealthy South is growing wider as the economy recovers, an MP has warned.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, led a 90-minute Commons debate calling for more support for traditional industrial areas such as the former coalmining villages in his Durham constituency.
He told Ministers that boosting the economy of the North East would benefit the entire country and could reduce congestion and overcrowding in London, because fewer people would move to the capital to seek work.
Mr Morris called for support for a planned Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham, County Durham, which could create more than 2,000 jobs.
The development, which was set to feature television studios as well as conference and training facilities, had been backed by the regional development agency created under the last Labour Government and abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2012.
However Business Minister Anna Soubry accused Labour MPs of failing to celebrate job creation in the North East, and said the Government had awarded £13.4m to businesses to help create jobs in Easington alone.
A number of Labour MPs from across the region have been pushing the Government to create an industrial strategy for the North East to tackle what they say is a lack of good quality private sector jobs. They made similar pleas to former Labour leader Ed Miliband in the run-up to May’s election.
Mr Morris said that there needed to be a senior politician championing the regions in the Cabinet.
He said: “My view is that we need a strong voice in cabinet advocating for our regions.”
> Well that’s not going happen, is it ? Areas like the North East dont vote Tory, so Tories don’t care what happens to them. Dont forget that Thatcher’s government seriously considered cutting cities like Liverpool loose to die. Do you suppose the same mentality doesn’t still exist in the Tory ranks – it’s what Tories do.
Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald has entered the debate about the party’s future following its devastating General Election defeat.
The race to replace former leader Ed Miliband is under way, with MPs and commentators having their say on where Labour went wrong.
Mr McDonald, who increased his own majority last week, concedes his party failed to win the trust of the public, but says it would be wrong to revive New Labour policies of the late 1990s and 2000s.
Contributing to the Labour List website, he wrote:
“One of the underlying assumptions of New Labour was that we could focus our attention on Conservative voters outside of our traditional heartlands because our core vote had ‘nowhere else to go’.
“Between 1997 and 2010 this strategy lost Labour 5 million voters, many of who simply stopped voting, and our wipe-out in Scotland and the UKIP surge in the North of England and Wales have demonstrated that much of our core vote now have somewhere else to go and have already gone.”
Mr McDonald rejected suggestions Labour had developed an “anti-business” stance.
“While it is certainly true that Labour must devise a strategy for the whole of the country, the suggestion that we somehow turned our back on business is misguided,” he wrote.
“We want business to succeed for the simple reason that it is the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the people who work in their businesses who create the prosperity needed for a fairer society.”
The Middlesbrough MP wrote that his party “owed it to all” who needed a Labour government to have a “frank discussion” about its future.
“What went wrong and the solutions to the challenges faced by the party warrant frank discussion and bold thinking, not simply a call to return to the politics of the mid-1990s.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 May 2015
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
Union chiefs Len McCluskey and Matt Wrack and left-wing author Owen Jones will top the bill at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.
The general secretaries of Unite and the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) will be joined by the firebrand Guardian columnist on the Durham Racecourse speakers’ stage at Europe’s biggest trade union event on Sunday, July 11.
Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper will also introduce Steve Murphy from UCATT, John McDonald from ASLEF and Chris Keates from the NASUWT.
However, Ed Miliband will be absent – organisers having decided not to invite the Labour leader.
Mr Miliband, who claimed the Labour leadership ahead of his brother David with strong union backing, became the first party boss to address the Gala since Neil Kinnock when he travelled to Durham in 2012, but has not returned since.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the 131st Gala, as dozens of brass and bagpipe bands march union and colliery banners through Durham City’s historic streets past dignitaries watching from the first floor balcony of the Royal County Hotel and to the Racecourse where, in addition to the political speeches which start at about 1pm, there will be family entertainment, campaign stalls and more.
Mr Hopper said he was very pleased with the speakers line-up.
The outcome of this week’s General Election is bound to be the central theme of the speeches; and Mr Hopper said he could not see Labour winning.
“The Scottish girl (Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon) has run rings around them.
“Miliband hasn’t come across very well. She’s putting him on the spot every time,” he said.
Last year’s Gala had a mournful feel, as guests paid tribute to the late Labour grandee Tony Benn and union leader Bob Crow.
On Gala day, the centre of Durham will be closed to traffic from 7am. Visitors are encouraged to use park and ride buses.
There is an ongoing appeal to support the continuation of the Gala. Supporters are invited to become a Friend of the event, for a minimum fee of £2 a month. For more information, visit friendsofdurhamminersgala.org
> Interesting developments ? Are the decision not to invite Miliband, and Dave Hopper’s comments about Labour’s chances the beginnings of a move away from the Labour Party ?
Source – Durham Times, 04 May 2015
Having started with the far right, now for the not quite so far right…the Labour Party.
Are musicians and creative people generally more likely to lean to the left, politically speaking ? It does generally seem that way.
Labour once had a good relationship with musicians – I’m particularly thinking of their engagement with Red Wedge, the collective of musicians who attempted to engage young people with politics in general, and the policies of the Labour Party in particular, during the period leading up to the 1987 general election, in the hope of ousting the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.
Fronted by Billy Bragg (whose 1985 Jobs for Youth tour had been a prototype of sorts for Red Wedge), Paul Weller and The Communards lead singer Jimmy Somerville, they put on concert tours and appeared in the media, adding their support to the Labour Party campaign.
Artists who appeared at Red Wedge gigs included The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Jerry Dammers,Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths, The The, Captain Sensible and the Blow Monkeys.
Which is a pretty good support base. It didn’t work though, and Red Wedge was formally disbanded in 1990.
I wonder how many of those would appear in support of Miliband ? Labour lost any credibility they may have still retained under Blair (despite desperate attempts to woo ‘Cool Britannia’) and I dont really think its ever going to come back. Tough shit, Ed.
There’s not even much in the way of anti-Labour songs out there… not in the same way as there is for UKIP. There’s one or two featuring Ed Miliband, but they are more speech cut-ups – well executed and quite funny, but without the vitriol and satire that fuels the anti-UKIP ones.
It’s a if we’ve been so disapointed by Labour that we cant even be bothered to heckle anymore.
I do like the bacon sandwich one, though.
Ed Miliband (feat. Queen): One Nation
Rap Battle – Miliband, Farage & Clegg
Ed Miliband eats a bacon sandwich
It’d probably be unfair to drag Tony Blair into this…but, hey – why not ? This is a great video and neatly sums up the disillusionment Bliar left in his wake : “we could have been anything…”
Goodbye, Tony Blair
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg privately wanted to give councils powers to impose new taxes including road-pricing, workplace parking taxes and local beer and cigarette taxes, it has emerged.
In his role as Deputy Prime Minister he also said councils should be free to impose a tourism tax, such as taxes on visitors staying in hotels, and to scrap existing council tax discounts including the 20% discount for people who live alone.
The proposals were set out in a letter from Mr Clegg to Eric Pickles, the Conservative Local Government Secretary, in 2011 – but were rejected by Mr Pickles.
The latest revelation about the behind-the-scenes debates within the Coalition government comes as Tories and Lib Dems fight a series of pitched battles in marginal seats such as Berwick-upon-Tweed.
While Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are the only politicians with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after the general election, many of the seats the Conservatives have a realistic chance of gaining on May 7 are held by their Lib Dem Coalition partners.
Mr Clegg wanted councils to have “a much wider range of taxation and charging powers” which they would be free to use.
The aim would have been to ensure councils were “self-funding” rather than depending on funding from central government for most of their income, as they do now.
Specific proposals in the letter to Mr Pickles included giving councils “complete freedom over discounts rather than mandating them to offer specific discounts to single people, empty homes, second homes etc”.
The letter continued:
“There is a set of further tax powers that could warrant further consideration, including, but not limited to: fuel taxes; sales taxes; landfill taxes; workplace parking levies; utility taxes; ‘tourism taxes’; local airport levies; duties on alcohol, tobacco and other substances; and stamp duty”.
> He left out a Fresh Air tax. Pay-to-breathe…
And the Government should consider give councils charging powers covering “parking charges; speeding fines; waste collection; road pricing” and more, the letter said.
Mr Clegg told his Cabinet colleague:
“We should drive to ensure that local authorities have the greatest range of revenue raising powers at their disposal and are as unencumbered from central government restraints as possible.”
The letter was written as the Department for Communities and Local Government considered plans to allow councils to retain some of the business rates they collect.
But it has emerged now as the battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in marginal seats becomes increasingly bitter, with the two Coalition parties lifting the lid on internal Government discussions from the past five years in an attempt to embarrass each other.
Lib Dems are defending a majority of 2,690 in Berwick.
Both parties have accused the other of secretly backing plans to impose regional pay – which would mean public sector workers such as nurses or teachers were paid less in the north east than those in the south east.
And Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has said that in 2012 the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, distributed ideas for cutting the welfare bill which included limiting child benefit and child tax credit payments to two children – cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children – and means testing child benefit, which would cut payments by £1,750 for a middle-income family with two children.
Mr Duncan Smith also wanted to remove child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds, a cut of over £1,000 for parents of a single child, according to the Lib Dems.
George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, retaliated by claiming the proposals were contained in a policy document “that was commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”.
In a statement responding to the letter’s publication now, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:
“This Tory spin shows their true colours.
“They simply don’t trust local people and want to govern every aspect of people’s lives from Westminster.
“The proposals in this letter could give local authorities the power to LOWER these taxes in response to the wishes of local people.
“Liberal Democrats believe the best decisions are taken by those closest to the people those decisions effect.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Apr 2015
One in every dozen homes in South Tyneside has no adults registered to vote in next week’s elections.
There are 70,696 properties in the borough, and 5,847 have no one registered to vote in either the general or local elections on Thursday, May 7.
Coun Jim Foreman, a Labour representative for the Cleadon Park ward in South Shields, says he is shocked that potentially up to 12,000 people are missing out on having their say on what happens in the borough or whether David Cameron will still be running the country from next month onwards or if he will be replaced by Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage or another challenger.
He believes that while some properties will be empty, and some may house people not eligible to vote through their nationalities, the vast majority of absenteeism is down to those concerned not being on the electoral register.
“In Cleadon Park and Harton Moor, we found there were 186 properties with no voters attached, and only 10 of these were empty. The rest were all home to British residents.
“To be honest, apart from South Tyneside College’s overseas students, I can’t imagine there are that many homes within the borough that have no British people residing in them, so I don’t think that many of the properties can be attributed to this factor.
“Within the Cleadon Park ward there has obviously been the regeneration project going on, and a lot of people have just moved into their new homes, so registering has probably slipped there mind.
“But voting is the main way that people can make a change to their community, especially on a local level.”
Coun Foreman thinks that one of the reasons there are so many houses with no voters registered could be the changes made to the electoral register last year.
Last July, the individual electoral register (IER) was launched, making everyone responsible for their own registration, as opposed to the head of the household registering everyone, as was previously the case.
Nationally, voters were contacted by local electoral registration officers to inform them of what, if anything, they needed to do next.
Under the new system, about 80 per cent of those already on the electoral register were automatically added to the IER.
However, those who were not matched against existing government records needed to provide additional information.
It’s these people Coun Foreman believes may have slipped through the net.
“Let’s be honest. If there’s something going on in your life, whether it’s work issues, perhaps a family member is unwell, then applying to vote is probably not one of your main priorities.
“For these things to sink in, people do need to be reminded quite a few times before they actually do it.
“I just hope that those who have missed out this time, make sure they register in time for the next election.
“I always say there’s not many things in life you get for free, but the chance to vote is one of those free things, and people should make the most of it.
“I think the change of legislation has thrown people slightly, but people need to realise that their vote does count and the party that they vote for can have an impact on the local community and, of course, nationally.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 Apr 2015
Do you ever miss the era when you didn’t know what a benefit sanction was?
That innocent time, before the Department for Work and Pensions renamed a family a “benefit unit”?
One of the great luxuries of no longer having a Conservative-led government would be not having to learn any more about their intricately boring, functionally brutal social security innovations.
Look, I’m no Pollyanna. There are clearly question marks over a possible Labour/SNP coalition: how is it going to work, for a start, now that Labour has explicitly promised not to talk to the SNP? Prime minister’s questions would look like a cocktail party with two exes blanking each other. We’ll know they’re in love, but they’ll be too angry to see it.
And what, exactly, is Ed Miliband’s rent capping idea?
The beginning of a new courage, as he sets his face to the blizzard of the rentier economy?
Or a canny bid for the votes of people who don’t think any politicians are capable of anything?
These are battles for the future, and I would have them 1,000 times rather than watch unfold the nightmare of “in-work conditionality”.
As part of the universal credit pilot, last week saw the beginning of new requirements on the number of hours worked: under these regulations, anyone earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours on the minimum wage would be subject to pressure which could end in a sanction.
The second parent in the “benefit unit” would be required to work a minimum of 16 hours, taking the working week for the family up to 51 hours, before the threat of sanctions would be lifted.
Over the coming year, 15,000 families will be placed on this regime, to varying degrees of stringency: some will just be nudged with a fortnightly phone call, others will have to attend regular interviews which, as we’ve seen with the regular social security picture, comes with the ever-present risk of having your benefits removed and being left with nothing.
Labour’s Baroness Sherlock asked some searching questions in the Lords in January about the ethics of doing a randomised control trial in which one of the groups suffered a real risk to their wellbeing.
Lord Freud waved the problem off, but this is the man, remember, who thinks people use food banks because there is an “infinite demand for a free good”. He probably thinks these families only had children in the first place because they presented no immediate unit cost.
It may sound as though there is no moral dishevelment more profound than deliberately leaving parents without the money to feed their children (the cost of the trial, incidentally, is £15m, which I am prepared to bet real money is more than the scheme will ever save). But there are two other aspects, one cultural and one democratic, to consider.
First, as Lindsay Judge, who conducted research on the pilot for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to be released on Monday, points out:
“If you focus on hours, you individualise the problem of low pay. It allows employers to take their eye off pay, and it allows the state to take their eye off benefits.”
To be on low wages under this regime is to be at the mercy of many different pressures: employers who think you’re expendable and are less likely to make accommodations for you, whether that means flexibility or extra hours; government agencies who will focus on increasing your hours, regardless of what that does to your family; and an inbuilt discrimination in the fact that people on the minimum wage are expected to work more in the first place (since the “conditionality” element of universal credit is based on family income, not hours worked).
But if you were to take this policy, and the demands it makes of parents, and lay it over other debates – education, where the worthy parent is at the school gates and all over the homework; or health, where good parenting involves a lot of home baking – you can see that to be on the minimum wage is, by steady increments, becoming incompatible with “respectable” parenting. This is even starker for single parents, who are of course often judged as deficient in the first place.
The democratic deficit emerges from the CPAG’s research, in which it asked two groups, one high income and one low income, how much other parents should be expected to work. Judge describes “parents being shocked at the sharpness of the state in other parents’ lives. You come up against these sharp edges all the time when you’re a low-income family and they’re really unpleasant. People who don’t have that interaction with the state are really surprised.”
CPAG found that people tended to approach the issue as parents first and taxpayers second, concluding overwhelmingly that it has to be a question of individual choice; parents must decide for themselves how many hours they work.
“Everyone said, people should be able to make the same choices about work-life balance across the income spectrum. Policies that bear down in a coercive manner are not acceptable – and that response was found in the higher- as well as the lower-income group.”
So many benefit reforms are justified on the basis that the country is sick of a something-for-nothing culture. But when you ask in-depth questions about what other people’s lives should be like, and what kind of dignity a state should respect and uphold, a much more generous, human picture emerges.
The genius of so many of these reforms has been in the naming – “spare-room subsidies” and “work-related activity groups” – they sound like technicalities rather than financial traumas. I don’t know what the in-work conditionality would have to be called for parents to stand together against it: I’d sooner not find out.
Source – The Guardian, 26 Apr 2015
Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.
David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.
He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.
Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.
Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.
The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.
Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.
Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015
A stark warning setting out “grave concerns” about extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants has been issued to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Bill Midgley, chairman of Newcastle-based social housing provider Leazes Homes, accuses the politician of using “the sanctity of a person’s home” as an “election bargaining chip” after the pledge was revealed in the Conservative Party Manifesto last week.
Mr Midgley echoes fears voiced by others in the sector as he outlines how a policy that forces associations to sell off their assets would mean they have less borrowing power.
Because of this, he says, associations could not build more homes for some of the most vulnerable in society, including “older people, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems.”
The letter reads:
“If organisations like us are unable to secure loan funding for supported housing properties then the potential damage is unthinkable. It is essential that such accommodation can be provided by the affordable housing sector.”
The Tories say the plan opens the possibility of home ownership up to thousands of people who may otherwise be locked out of the market.
The National Housing Federation estimates there are 19,620 people in the North East who would be eligible for a mortgage under the plans and that it will cost £808m to implement the policy.
But Mr Midgley fears poor people may be forced to pay higher rents in the private sector.
Signing off the letter to Mr Cameron, he said:
“I urge you to reconsider this proposal. We have a duty as a society to provide our citizens with good-quality, affordable housing, but the sanctity of a person’s home is not something to be used as a bargaining chip to secure election votes.”
Guy Opperman, the Conservative candidate for Hexham defended the policy –
“We want more people who work hard and save up to be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home.
“Right now it is too difficult for housing association tenants to buy their own home. Until now the Right to Buy has only been available to tenants in local authority properties. This means there are around 500,000 housing association tenants who have no right to buy their home.
“The Right to Buy scheme has already helped around two million families to realise their dream of owning a home. By now extending the Right to Buy to housing associations tenants, we will help more people who want to move on and up the housing ladder.
“Our proposals will increase house building, increase home ownership and reduce waiting lists. Right to Buy improves social mobility and builds mixed communities.
“It gives something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules and gives people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood.”
The Conservatives have pledged to improve their help-to-buy scheme and have also committed to 200,000 new starter homes in their manifesto.
Similarly Labour says it will build 200,000 new homes by 2020 and that private sector rent would be capped should Ed Miliband be Prime Minister.
The Lib Dems have pledged 300,000 homes a year, and ten garden cities as well as a rent-to-buy ownership scheme.
UKIP plan to build one million homes on brownfield sites by 2020, and Nigel Farage wants to restrict right-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes to British nationals.
Should the Greens win power they will regulate private sector rent and build 500,000 social homes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Apr 2015