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
It seems that Hilton Dawson has a history of triumphing against the odds.
The native Northumbrian has twice overcome substantial Tory power bases at council and parliamentary level to get into office.
That was in the North West where he lived and worked for around 20 years.
Now back home, he hopes to repeat his David and Goliath act at the next general election in May with the North East party he helped form and is chairman of.
And this time three of the four seats his party are contesting at Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North are held by Labour with who he was a member for 30 years.
But he doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his political roots, just loyalty to his personal roots.
“There isn’t anyone who stands up for the North East directly,” he said.
“My experience of parliament and working with national policy makers is that huge decisions are made in London by people who don’t know about the region.
“We need to get these big decisions – about jobs, housing, health, wellbeing, transport – made here.”
To do this, it aims to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales.
“We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Hilton said.
“In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”
The idea for it was born out of a debate in 2013 at the Newcastle Lit & Phil Society about whether it was time for ‘Wor Party’. A lot of people attending thought it was.
The North East Party was officially registered last May. It had its first annual general meeting in June then in December after a three day meeting it thrashed out its manifesto.
Read what you will into the fact these discussions took place in a room above a funeral home in Shotton Colliery.
“Very salubrious surroundings,” laughed Hilton at the memory but he is very pleased with the result and hopes to cause as much of a stir as his first attempt to change things as an eight-year-old schoolboy.
Born in Mona Taylor’s Maternity Home in Stannington, his parents were both teachers. He was raised in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where he was a pupil at Moorside First, locally known as the Colliery School.
It was there he recalls he became second in command in a pupils protest about the state of the school’s food.
“The soup was particularly terrible that day,” said Hilton.
“We marched up and down the playground all over dinner time. We all really enjoyed it.”
The Head, Mr Kirsopp (none of the kids knew his first name, of course), “emerged lugubriously at the end of lunch time” recalled Hilton.
“We looked at him with some trepidation then he ceremonially rang the bell and we went inside. Nothing more was said about it.”
This obviously whetted his appetite. After later completing his studies at Ashington Grammar School he gained a place at Warwick University to study philosophy and politics.
“Philosophy to understand the world and politics to change it,” he said.
Hilton recalled Warwick as a bit of a political hotbed in the 1960s with plenty of sit-ins and protests.
It was after his first year there he married Susan, who he met at school.
After graduating they went to stay for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel.
“We wanted to experience a collective way of life. We had idealistic expectations of it. The work was very hard but rewarding.”
Then they returned home as Susan was pregnant with their first child, Catherine.
He found work at the Choppington Social Welfare Centre, moving into a council house in Scotland Gate.
“It was one of the most educational experiences of my life,” said Hilton.
“I worked with the people of the community on many fantastic things. I was part of this rough, tough, incredibly warm hearted community organising anything from play groups for youngsters to events for the older residents, working with the people there to make things happen.
“At different times I would run the bar, put three tons of coal in the central heating, paint the walls, but most important of all I learned how to talk to people.
“The teachers’ son grew up an enormous amount.”
Having worked with social workers on projects there he became interested in the profession, getting a job at Bedlington.
“The attitude of people on the estate changed straight away. While they were still friendly it was a case of you’re a social worker now, there’s a difference.”
Hilton said he worked with a fantastic team determined to make a difference to the community and it was when he became involved in mainstream politics, joining the Labour party in 1978.
“The university anarchist saw at Choppington what a group of dedicated local politicians were doing for the community,” he said.
Hilton got onto a well respected course at Lancaster University.
“It was the top place to go,” he said. “It had the Centre for Youth Crime and The Community.”
He and wife Susan packed their bags and with daughter Catherine headed to the North West.
Soon after his second daughter Helen was born.
“She always says you lot speak funny. She is from the North West the rest of us are from the North East,” said Hilton.
He got heavily involved in child care and child protection issues, managing children’s homes as well as fostering and adoption services.
He worked his way up to social work manager, on call 24 hours a day.
“I could be called out at any time of the night dealing with all sorts of matters – a child on the roof, what are we going to do about it. Six kids who need housing now at 2am. It was stressful but I loved the job.”
His job resulted in a lot of community involvement and he decided to stand in the Lancaster City Council elections for the Ryelands ward in 1987.
“It had always been Tory and no-one ever understood why – it had a huge housing estate on it,” said Hilton.
The penny eventually dropped that while Tory supporters would vote come election day, hardly anybody from the estate ever did.
After much canvassing, that changed.
“It was one of the most seminal moments of my life,” said Hilton. “A huge phalanx of people came out of the estate to vote, knocking on doors as they went to persuade other people to vote.”
Hilton won the ward for Labour.
Then 10 years later in 1997 he stood for parliament in the Lancaster and Wyre constituency, formed after boundary changes from the old Lancaster constituency.
Since the Second World War Lancaster had been won by the Tories at every election bar the 1966 poll.
“No-one expected us to win,” he said.
“The media, even an eminent professor of politics. told me I had no chance.
“But I’d learned if you just engage with people, have a clear message and work hard at the grass roots you can win,” he said.
After winning the seat after a re-count he became well known for his championing of child related issues – he was named the 2004 Children’s Champion in the House of Commons – however it led to run ins with party bosses.
He objected to its policies on asylum seekers suggesting they be refused benefits would see their children left destitute.
Hilton described it as “immoral” in a Commons debate.
And then there the Iraq war – “a terrible time,” he recalled.
Hilton was one of the Labour MPs who backed a rebel backbench amendment that the case for war with Iraq was “unproven”.
So while he loved his first four years in Parliament, his enthusiasm waned considerably after he was re-elected, again after a recount, in 2001.
By 2005 he had decided it was time to move on and quit before the general election to return to children’s services.
He became CEO of Shaftesbury Young People which works for children both in care and in need and later chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.
In the meantime he had returned to his native North East, he and wife Susan buying a house in Warkworth which boasts a spectacular view of Warkworth Castle.
“I found I was able to commute to London from Alnmouth which is on the East Coast mainline.”
He also found time to fight for the Lynemouth and Ellington seat in the 2008 Northumberland County Council elections.
“It was the only safe Labour seat I have ever fought – and I got whupped,” said Hilton ruefully.
“I had the arrogance to think I could do it all in a month thinking I could repeat what I did in Ryelands over a much shorter period of time.
“It proved a very important political lesson.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 Jan 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
SNP politician Christine Grahame’s proposal to contest the Berwick constituency at next year’s General Election has been ruled out.
Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale in the Scottish Parliament, had previously expressed her willingness to be a candidate in the English seat currently held by long-serving Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith.
She felt it would secure the SNP leadership a place in any UK-wide television debates to be screened in the run-up to May. That way the SNP could claim to be standing right across the UK because it would have candidates in England as well as Scotland.
However, the idea has been rejected by the SNP executive.
Ms Grahame said:
“I am disappointed but not surprised that the SNP’s governing body has rejected my offer. I, of course, accept the ruling.”
The idea sparked debate among voters on both sides of the border.
The proposal certainly captured the imagination south of the border, with some predicting she could collect a significant numbers of votes from disaffected Berwickers.
While she was never likely to win a seat that is seen as a two-horse race between Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Liberal Democrat Julie Porksen, an SNP candidate might have been able to pick up support from voters disillusioned, most recently, by the failure of the coalition partners to commit to dualling the last 25 miles of the A1 up to Berwick.
Ms Graham’s proposal also received a favourable reaction from the North-East Party, which seeks greater devolution for Berwick and the north east of England generally.
“I have contacted Hilton Dawson, of the North-East Party, offering to assist them in their campaign if they think that would be helpful.
“But to stand in Berwick to promote devolution for the north east and to lay to rest the scare stories about Scotland cutting itself off from England in the event of independence (I am English born) I required approval from my party’s executive.”
Ms Grahame is no stranger to Berwick’s political scene.
In September she took part in the BBC’s pre-referendum ‘Scotland and Us’ debate at The Maltings, arguing that Scotland breaking away from England would be good for the area and would stimulate the case for devolution of powers to the north of England.
And in the run up to the 2008 general election she lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to “return to the fold” although politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 12 Dec 2014
The North East Party (NEP), which wants the region to have its own elected assembly with powers similar to the Scottish or Welsh governments, held its first public meeting in Durham City tonight (Monday, June 16).
Chair Hilton Dawson, a Northumberland-born former Labour MP, said: “My experience is policy is made in London without very much thought of the regions, and in particular the North-East.
“We are the least regarded and least favoured region in the whole of England.
“There’s no reason why the North-East should continue to be the poor relation in England and lose out to other parts of the UK.
“We can have world-class standards and services and we can create jobs and prosperity.”
Mr Dawson said £300 less in public money is spent per person in the North-East than London every year – adding up to £750m.
The NEP was first mooted in November, founded last month and hopes to field candidates in 12 North-East constituencies at next year’s General Election.
“We’ve had an amazing level of support. Every day we are seeing a trickle of support coming towards us,” Mr Dawson said.
But Mr Dawson said he was convinced the outcome could be overturned, given a party devoted to campaigning for the cause.
“The only way we will get real devolution and real power is by having a party to challenge Westminster parties at the ballot box and get these issues onto the agenda,” he said.
The NEP wants an assembly with wide-ranging powers, excluding only areas such as macroeconomic, defence, foreign and international development policy.
However, Labour says the North-East people decisively rejected the idea in the 2004 referendum and that democratic decision must be respected.
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: “Clearly there is a need for more devolution but we think the mechanisms should be local authorities or local authorities working together.”
Tonight’s launch included a discussion, funding appeal and hustings event. For further details, visit thenortheastparty.org.uk
Source – Durham Times, 17 June 2014
A new political party has been launched with the aim of bringing devolution to the North-East.
The North East Party is aiming to secure powers similar to those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It intends to contest 12 seats in the region at next year’s general election, funded through membership and donations from people who want political independence from Westminster.
The North East Party (NEP) wants to take control of issues such as job creation, public services, including health and social care, as well as education and public transport. It also says it wants to ensure world class science and research is carried out in the region.
The party’s chairman is Hilton Dawson, former Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre, who lives in Warkworth, Northumberland, and is from the area.
The 60-year-old social worker, who has a wife, two daughters and is a grandfather-of-four, said: “We are the most neglected region in England and until we have real power and real decision making here we won’t be to address the fundamental issues of the North-East.
“This is the poorest region in the country with the highest level of unemployment and the highest level of social deprivation.
Susan McDonnell, a former Peterlee Town Councillor and Labour Party member, is considering standing against Easington MP Grahame Morris in the general election next May.
The 49-year-old, who lives in Peterlee with her husband, and has one son, narrowly missed out on a seat on Durham County Council last year.
Ms McDonnell, the party’s administrator, who works as an office manager for an email marketing company in Newcastle, said: “The purpose of the party is to bring political representation to the North-East.
“We had a referendum on regional assembly and that failed because it was dressed up as another level of bureaucracy.
“What we would aim to try and do is get true devolution for the North-East so we are not beholden to Westminster. We would decide on the key issues that affect the region with our own Government.
“It won’t be a separate country, but we will have devolved power so decisions that affect the North-East will be made here in the North-East by North-East people.”
The first gathering of the North East Party will be held at the Durham Conference Centre on Monday, June 16 from 6pmto 9pm.
For more information:
Source – Durham Times, 27 May 2014