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.
Labour’s Easington representative, Grahame Morris, and Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, were backing Andy Burnham in the Labour leadership race, but this week ditched him in favour of Jeremy Corbyn.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, who is one of the last in the region to reveal her nomination, has also announced her support for Mr Corbyn.
The leadership race has so far seen Andy Burnham take the pole position with 53 nominations from MPs, with Yvette Cooper on 46, Liz Kendall on 37, Mary Creagh on seven, and Jeremy Corbyn on 13.
Mr Corbyn, 66, has a track record of rebellion against the Labour party, regularly defying the whip. In January he was among a number of MPs who wrote an open letter to Ed Miliband calling on the party to oppose further austerity.
Ronnie Campbell, who has represented Blyth Valley for Labour since 1987, said: “I’m making a point and Grahame is doing the same and the point is that there are still socialists.
A Labour candidate in the region has broken ranks by pledging to vote against the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Party leader Ed Miliband has insisted he would retain the submarine-based weapons system, because Britain faces an “uncertain and unstable world”.
And he has rejected demands from the Scottish Nationalists who say it is not the best way “to spend £100bn” – the possible total cost of replacing the deterrent.
But Grahame Morris, in Easington, is among around 50 Labour candidates who have made clear their opposition in statements on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament website.
Mr Morris wrote:
“Replacing Trident will undermine the UK’s moral authority when seeking to restrict nuclear proliferation by other countries.
“We must adapt to meet the new security challenges of the 21st Century, such as climate change, pandemics, organised crime, cyber warfare and terrorism.
“In a time of austerity, when the Government are making damaging cuts to our armed forces, we cannot justify spending in excess of £100bn on a new Trident system that will do nothing to improve the security or defence of the UK.”
The stance puts Mr Morris strongly at odds with Kevan Jones, the North Durham candidate and defence spokesman, who recently said of Trident :
“It is party policy, it has gone through rigorous policy review, it was endorsed at conference last year, and that is the policy.
“We’re in favour of a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on a continuous-at-sea deterrent.”
The Conservatives have been criticised by senior military figures for making Trident an election issue, after the Defence Secretary suggested Mr Miliband was ready to “stab the UK in the back”, to get into No.10.
It was ultimately unsuccessful, but the campaign for devolution in Scotland has fanned the flames of regional rule in the North-East that were never quite extinguished by the 2004 ‘no’ vote.
The North East Party was launched less than a year ago as the independence campaign north of the border was in full swing. On May 7, it will field four candidates in Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North.
Vice-chair Susan McDonnell, who formed the party with former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, admitted they had hoped to have more candidates standing, but people who had initially shown an interest backed away when they realised the effort involved.
“They also had to find £500 for the deposit from their own pocket which may have put them off,” says Mrs McDonnell, who will contest the Easington seat.
The party wants to see a referendum for the the region’s 12 unitary authorities to be replaced by a single North-East government, however Mrs McDonnell stresses that it is not all about devolution.
“It’s about decision making taking place in the North-East by people from the North-East – we’re sick to death of being the poor relation in the North.”
The party has enjoyed some early success with two councillors voted on to Peterlee Town Council, and Mrs McDonnell says its membership is growing fast.
“We’re got quite a large presence on social media and are getting people from all over the region travelling to our meetings – Blyth, Newcastle, Redcar, Hartlepool and Stockton.”
The candidate accepts she may not be able to defeat the standing Easington MP, Grahame Morris, who has a majority of almost 15,000, but she adds: “I’m having a whale of a time.
“I am taking it very seriously but I also understand it’s a game. I’m not so naive to think that I will win on May 7 but I will give Grahame Morris as good a run as he’s ever had – I hope to give him a bloody nose.”
The party is one of several regional parties which have appeared around the country in recent years, with many forming an allegiance under the Vote Local banner.
Mrs Mc Donnell says the parties have been launched because of a combination of being disillusioned with the mainstream Westminster centred parties and the referendum in Scotland. The new parties include Yorkshire First, which wants to see a Yorkshire parliament.
Devolution and regionalism expert Arianna Giovannini, who lectures at Huddersfield University, said the idea of regionalist parties was not new.
However, she adds: “What is certainly new is the emergence of regionalist parties in the North of England, ie Yorkshire First, the North East Party, and the Campaign for the North.”
Dr Giovannini says the emerging regionalist parties have great potential, especially if they succeed in joining forces with other organisations and movements, and manage to achieve grassroots support.
But she adds:
“Whether regional devolution in the North of England will succeed or fall may well hinge on the ability to generate democratic momentum, creating a clear, bold, confident and concerted vision for the future.
“However, the story of the Scottish Constitutional Convention tells us that such a process will take time, and cannot be rushed or accomplished overnight. In this sense, the following months and the results and effects of the imminent general election will be crucial in shaping the path ahead.”
The North East Party may not yet be big enough to change the course of the devolution debate in this region, but it is certainly a sign of the growing desire to see greater powers handed over.
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Apr 2015
The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.
A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.
The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.
South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.
Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.
The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.
Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.
The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.
“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.
“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.
The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.
These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.
“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”
Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.
His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:
“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.
“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.
“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.
“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!
“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015
North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.
The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.
Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.
And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”
However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.
And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.
Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).
Cllr Wallace added:
“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.
“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.
And he said:
“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”
Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”
The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.
A housing group has announced it is to sell a number of empty homes which a debate in Parliament heard could go for as little as £1.
Accent housing association, which manages 361 social housing properties in Horden and Blackhall, says it has reluctantly taken the decision after exhausting all other avenues including approaching other landlords.
It is seeking consent from the Homes and Communities Agency to dispose of 30 empty homes in Blackhall and 130 in Horden.
Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:
“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options.
“We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible.
“We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty.
“We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.”
During a debate in the House of Commons last week called by Easington MP Grahame Morris, the Government suggested such homes could be sold off for as little as £1 with new owners being required to renovate them.
But Mr Morris said there was a feeling Accent was abandoning the community and said they should not be allowed to walk away from their responsibilities.
Ms Stone added:
“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future.
“We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”
Accent says it has invested £8.6m in the area but would have to spend a further £7m to bring the houses up to the required standard.
The social housing provider says it intends to sell more of its 321 properties in Blackhall and Horden as they become vacant.
It says it is visiting all residents in the areas affected.
So far, more than 130 households have requested a move while those who wish to will remain Accent tenants.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 18 Feb 2015
Nearly 200 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up – encouraging crime and damaging the quality of life for their neighbours, an MP has warned.
Easington MP Grahame Morris urged ministers to intervene as he warned that large numbers of homes in Horden and Blackhall, in his constituency, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he said social housing provider Accent had allowed properties to fall into disrepair through lack of investment and by failing to vet new tenants properly.
Mr Morris also warned that changes to housing benefit had meant properties went empty, because they had two bedrooms but were occupied by single people – who had become liable for the bedroom tax.
He won a promise from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into the problems faced by the villages.
The minister also said he would ask the Homes and Communities Agency, the official body which regulates social housing providers, to meet Mr Morris to discuss his concerns.
Leading the debate, Mr Morris said the villages’ problems followed the closure of Horden colliery in 1987, which among other things led to a decline in the local population over time.
Accent managed 361 properties in Horden and Blackhall, Mr Morris said. But 130 of its 220 homes in Horden were currently empty, as well as 30 of the 141 properties in Blackhall.
He warned: “The problem is that, as properties become empty, Accent no longer seeks to let them as homes. Instead, vacant properties are being boarded up, which are an eyesore and a drain on the community.
“It is clear, from walking around the area, that properties have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair and now require substantial work.”
Proposals to improve the homes had been scrapped following the introduction of the bedroom tax, he said, because the only way to ensure the homes were occupied had been to rent them to single people, and this was no longer possible.
But Mr Morris said that local residents complained Accent had not taken good care of its housing stock for many years before the bedroom tax was introduced.
He said: “It seems to have total disregard for the community in terms of vetting potential tenants.
“The residents’ groups, who have worked closely with the local authority and the police, have been out litter picking, clearing up fly-tipping and identifying problems to report to the local authority. However, the residents say that their efforts to clean and improve the area have been undermined.”
The result had been crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations in the empty homes.
The MP urged the minister to ensure the Government invested in the village to improve the housing stock, to replace high-density colliery housing with more modern housing.
One option could be an approach known as “homesteading”, in which homes are sold at a substantial discount to buyers who then spend money to improve the properties, he said.
However, Mr Morris said some public funding would be needed. He told the minister: “I understand that we are in a time of austerity, but if there is a political will, we can overcome any barriers on finance.”
Mr Lewis said:
“He painted a sobering picture of a town struggling with empty homes and the damaging impact that that can have on the wider community. Horden is in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. I appreciate that, having visited the north-east in the past few weeks.”
“We need to see beautiful places such as Horden thriving, but we must also ensure that we fix the broken market so that they can deliver on that.”
Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:
“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options. We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible. We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.
“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future. We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”
Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015
The vast majority of Labour supporters back a set of left-wing policies proposed by three North MPs, a poll shows.
Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns and Grahame Morris, MPs for Wansbeck, Gateshead and Easington, signed a letter calling for a number of changes to their party’s policies, and a poll by Labour List shows 83% of supporters back them.
The statement called for the re-nationalisation of the railways, ahead of the East Coast Main Line returning to private hands, and an end to austerity measures.
It comes as Labour figures make the finishing touches to the election manifesto, eyeing both a surge by the Greens and the threat of Ukip.
The poll shows that Labour’s grassroots are for the party lurching to the left. Ed Miliband is unlikely to sanction such a move, however, in the wake of recent criticism from business leaders, including that of Boots boss Stefano Pessina, who said the party winning power would be a “catastrophe” for the country.
> So he should do it just to piss Pessina off ! Him and his ilk aren’t likely to be Labour supporters anyway, so where’s the problem ? Are you really for the people Ed, or for big business interests ?
No, don’t bother answering that. I think we already know the answer.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, said the MPs’ proposal is “hardly revolutionary” and called for the party to be “a little bit bolder”.
“Currently the party policy makers are drawing up the long-awaited manifestos.
“It’s a critical period when politicians should ensure the voice of their constituents should be heard. Rail Nationalisation, Trade Union Rights and collective bargaining in the workplace and a change in focus on austerity are issues the general public are hankering for, and why not.
“These simple policies are hardly revolutionary and would impact greatly on those who have faced the brunt of the relentless attacks of the coalition Government.
“Report after report show it’s the less well off who are shouldering biggest burden in today’s society we must endeavour to change this unacceptable situation.
“Politics is about decisions it’s about choice, despite the excellent policies on offer from the Labour Party we need to move a little further and influence the decision makers these issues are exceptionally appealing to our natural voters.
“Being that little bit bolder under the excellent leadership of Ed Miliband would undoubtedly pay dividends for the party, and the constituents we represent.”
> Ed Milliband an excellent leader ? Sections of the media, of course, try to portray him as something of a weirdo. Speaking as someone who has spent much of his life in the company of weirdos and who, truth to tell, is probably a weirdo too, my complaint is that Ed is not weird enough !
He just comes over as another identikit career politician, to be honest. He could be leading the Conservatives and not look out of place.
Most damning of all, he comes across as Blair Junior, which is a bit like being Satan Junior to many of those people who used to vote Labour before it became New.
Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, added:
“Most people, including the former head of the Bank of England, know that it wasn’t the last Labour Government that crashed the economy, it was an international financial and banking crisis – yet it seems that the people who crashed the economy, the bankers, are the individuals who are personally profiting from the situation while urging cuts, pain and austerity for the vast majority of the population.
“Austerity and the pain that goes with it, is not necessary – it is a set of political and economic policy choices. There are alternatives and we should explore those alternatives for the benefit of the many rather than the few.”
All of the main parties have yet to publish their manifestos.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Feb 2015
A new political party campaigning for a regional government has launched its first ever manifesto.
The North East Party, led by the former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, is fielding four candidates at the General Election.
Campaigners want a North East Government to replace councils and the combined authority.
They also want to scrap council tax and replace it with a property tax based on current market value.
The North East Party also calls for £1bn investment in enterprise, raised from a new land tax.
Mr Dawson will also campaign for free care for older people and pledges to secure more money for services if the party is elected.
Violet Rook, Newcastle North candidate, will take on sitting Labour MP Catherine McKinnell at the election in May.
She said: “I have lived in Kingston Park for 30 years and served the NHS for decades as a nurse and midwife throughout the area.
“Standing up for the North East’ means caring for the future of all communities in the region and wanting a fair deal for them now.”
Phil Lockey, the Redcar candidate, who will be fighting Ukip and Labour’s candidate Anna Turley, said:
“Like many thousands from our region, I have experience in the Armed Forces and standing for Parliament in the town where I live is another vital way to serve our Country and our community.
“Leadership is essential and in working for devolution the North East Party seeks to create 2.6 million leaders to take our region forward.”
Susan McDonnell, candidate for Easington, where Labour’s Grahame Morris had a large majority in 2010, said:
“I have lived in Easington almost all my life and consider that we’ve been badly let down by successive Labour MPs every one of whom were men.
“Unlike them, I will not stand for the people of Easington paying higher rates of Council Tax than billionaires living in London.
“I want to represent Easington well and help take the whole area forward , placing many more decisions in our own hands.”
John Tait, Stockton North candidate, added:
“I have spent 19 years as an Independent Councillor in Stockton and I have worked for decades in Higher Education and Industry.
“I want to use the opportunity of devolution and new resources from fair taxation to invest in jobs and enterprise developing ever more successful spin-offs from world class science and technology to benefit the people of Stockton and the North East.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Jan 2015