Tagged: Newcastle East

Threat to behead Newcastle UKIP parliamentary candidate probed by police

Police are investigating a threat to behead a UKIP election candidate after the 62-year-old reported a disturbing phone call.

David Robinson-Young, a 62-year-old barrister who hopes to be elected to represent the Newcastle East constituency, has said he fears for his personal safety after the “chilling” experience.

He described the man as an “irate” constituent who he says identified himself as a Muslim and angry with the Government.

He said the man was initially calm but after some minutes began to shout and swear at which point the former policeman hung up.

Mr Robinson-Young said:

“He said the Muslim community is really annoyed with the British government supporting bombing Muslim countries and that the community here just wants to get on with their family lives.”

UKIP's Blyth headquarters vandalised a second time
UKIP’s Blyth headquarters vandalised a second time

Mr Robinson-Young said the man swore at him before making the beheading threat.

Northumbria Police confirmed they had received a complaint and are investigating the matter.

Mr Robinson-Young added:

“I’m not a man who is easily intimidated, I’m an ex-policeman and I’ve been subjected to numerous physical threats in the past. I left the police service because of injuries received in an assault on duty.

“I found this man’s threats to be particularly chilling and it as really shaken me. However I will not let this incident prevent me from continuing in the campaign to try and change our country for the better.”

> How very ironic – it’s only a few days since Robinson-Young was coming under fire from Newcastle’s Jewish community for his party’s xenophobic policies. UKIP certainly seem to be uniting the local population.

See: https://unemployedtynewear.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/newcastles-jewish-community-heckle-ukip-parliamentary-candidate-for-xenophobic-views/

Meanwhile, the UKIP campaign office in Blyth has vandalised this week for the second time.

Crosses and the word ‘No’ were daubed on to the shutters of the office.

Jonathan Arnott, North East UKIP MEP, said:

“This is now the second time that anti-democracy protesters have vandalised our office in Blyth.

“Sadly some people don’t respect our fundamental British freedoms.

“This comes at a time when some of our candidates have received death threats, showing the ugly face of some of those who oppose our message of freedom, independence and democracy.

“Ultimately this kind of criminal activity will prove counterproductive as it will simply spur our activists on to work harder and campaign for longer.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Apr 2015

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Newcastle’s Jewish community heckle UKIP parliamentary candidate for ‘xenophobic’ views

A UKIP election hopeful has been heckled for his party’s ‘xenophobic’ policies by leading members of Newcastle’s Jewish community.

 Eric Josephs, a former co-chair of the North East Jewish representative council, shouted at UKIP parliamentary candidate David Robinson Young, ‘that’s xenophobic’ as he outlined his views on immigration at a synagogue in Gosforth, Newcastle during a hustings event.

He was backed up by a man whose family escaped Nazi Germany with three days before war broke out, who said that if there had been UKIP’s favoured Australian style points system in 1939 ‘believe me, I would have died’.

Mr Robinson Young, a leading city barrister running in the Newcastle East constituency , strongly denied the accusation.

He said: “I am not xenophonic and no-one in my party is xenophobic.

“We don’t have a problem with immigration, but we have a problem with the politically motivated immigration system at the moment.”

However German born Walter Knoblauch, who lost his grandmother, aunt and great-uncle in the concentration camps, backed up Mr Josephs’ outburst.

He said:

“What you are saying is abhorrent. If there had been a points system in 1939 when I arrived here, believe me I would have died. I left Germany three days before the war broke out. We did not have time to build up points.”

Mr Knoblauch, who lives in Gosforth, arrived from Munich to Newcastle, with the assistance of Newcastle man Stanley Holmes who worked for the Tyneside Industrial Development Board. Mr Holmes was instrumental in bringing many German Jewish families to Newcastle and invited Walter’s father Herman to set up a shoe businesses, Knorbrit Products, at Orchard Street, Newcastle, and later Laco Shoes.

Walter’s brother John also ran Victory Shoe shops at the Grainger Market, Shields Road and Gateshead High Street before he died in 1982.

Mr Robinson Young said during the hustings event ahead of the General Election that cases where refugees are escaping ‘tyranny’, including current African migration across the Mediterranean sea would be considered in a different light by UKIP if they were to get into power following the May 7 General Election.

He said: “If people are genuine refugees from tyranny by all means lets look at them as this country did for you.”

Liberal Democrat Newcastle city councillor for West Gosforth, Jackie Slesenger, said from the audience that she was immensely proud of the citizenship ceremonies that take place in Newcastle every year with up to a 100 people from around the world who have chosen to make Britain their home and asked Mr Robinson Young to think again about ‘what he says about immigration’.

He said: “No-one thinks carefully about immigration can possibly say they don’t like immigration.

“People who do that are ignorant. I’m not ignorant and we have nothing against immigration, it’s the system. We do not have a race problem, we have a space problem. This country is filling up.”

He also said it was important to focus not just on the number of immigrants coming to the UK, but the quality of the people arriving, and the skills and professions they have to offer the country.

The hustings event organised by the Representative Council of North East Jewry was held at the Synagogue Hall, Graham Park Road.

Also present were Newcastle Central parliamentary candidates, Chi Onwurah for Labour, Nick Cott for the Liberal Democrats and Simon Kitchen for the Conservatives.

Daniel O’Brien Thompson, the UKIP candidate for Newcastle Central, did not take part in the hustings, but was present in the audience.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Apr 2015

‘I’ll cut my pay in half if I win’ – TUSC Jarrow election candidate

MPs should be content with pay packets a third of the size of those they get now, according to a socialist bidding to become Jarrow’s next representative at Westminster.

Norman Hall thinks it’s outrageous that our Parliamentarians are set to receive salaries of £75,000.

The semi-retired software engineer believes that puts them out of touch with ordinary working people.

That’s why the 59-year-old, of Gateshead, has pledged his support for proposals for MPs to receive no more than the salary of the average skilled worker.

He said: “That would mean they receive between £25,000 and £30,000 and are living the same lifestyle as the people they represent.

“It would help them to directly understand the issues that affect working people.”

Mr Hall, representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) at the general election on Thursday, May 7, is also campaigning on an anti-austerity platform.

He said:

“All of the six major parties are parties of austerity.

“They are all in favour of cuts. Our stance is simple. We are saying no to austerity.”

This is the first time that Mr Hall has stood for Parliament, but he has made two bids to become a councillor in Gateshead.

Originally a member of the Labour Party, he became disillusioned with what he says was its “lack of support” for the miners during the strike of 1985 and 1985 and joined the Socialist Party, and it allied with trade unions to form TUSC in 2010.

The union coalition plans to stand in more than 120 seats across the country in May, including Washington and Sunderland North, North Tyneside and Newcastle East.

Mr Hall, a married stepfather of two, said:

“The coalition is exactly what it says on the tin.

“I’m well aware of Jarrow’s heritage stretching back to Ellen Wilkinson, and in 2011 I was involved in the Youth Fight for Jobs, which marked the 75th anniversary of the Jarrow March.

“I’m from Wallsend, and it shared with Jarrow many of the problems that stemmed from de-industrialisation.

“In terms of what support I’ll receive, that’s somewhat up in the air, but it’s clear that people are disillusioned with the mainstream parties. We are here to give the working class an alternative voice, one against austerity and against the cuts that took place under Labour and the Tories.

“It started under Alistair Darling, who made ordinary people pay for the banking crisis. The working class needs a new voice.”

TUSC opposes all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions and rejects increases in council tax, rent and service charges to “compensate for government cuts”.

The party also supports nationalisation of the banks and the financial system, is against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and all secret austerity treaties.

The other candidates standing in Jarrow on May 7 are: Stephen Hepburn (Labour), Stan Collins (Liberal Democrat), Steve Harrison (UKIP) and David Herbert (Green).

Source – Shields Gazette, 16 March 2015

Ministers launching pre-election strike on trade unions, claim North East MPs

Ministers have been accused of launching a pre-election attack on trade unions by making it harder to collect union dues from Government employees.

North East MPs said the change could hit thousands of workers at the Benton Park View complex in Newcastle, known as Longbenton, where Whitehall departments have offices.

MP Nick Brown challenged ministers to justify the decision in the House of Commons, while Blaydon MP David Anderson claimed the Government wanted to create “another Arthur Scargill” to drum up anti-union feeling.

It follows the announcement that Government departments are to stop paying trade union subscriptions directly from the payroll on behalf of staff, a practice known as “checking off”.

Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs:

“I believe that this change will enable unions to build a much more direct relationship with their members, without the need for the relationship to be intermediated by the employer.”

But the change could affect 5,500 people working at Longbenton the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and outsourced service providers, according to Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East.

He pointed out that departments routinely helped staff pay a range of fees and subscriptions – but the Government was only targeting unions.

Speaking in the Commons, the MP said:

“Government Departments offer a range of check-off services to their employees, including deductions for membership fees, for private sporting clubs, for private clubs more generally and even for private medical schemes.

“What is it that makes the payments of trade union dues exceptional? Why would any employer want to withdraw this from its own employees?”

 

Mr Anderon said the Government was attacking unions as a political stunt in the run up to the election.

He said:

“The truth is that this is nothing more than another attempt to find the bogeyman whom the Conservatives have tried to find for the last five years.

“They want another Arthur Scargill so that they can try to rattle a can in the next few weeks. That is what this is all about.”

And the move was also condemned by Bishop Auckland Labour MP Helen Goodman, who said ministers wanted to weaken unions in advance of spending cuts.

She said:

“Why has the Minister chosen this moment to crack down on check-off? Has he done so because the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a one million reduction in the number of public servants, and he wants to weaken the unions before that happens?”

Mr Maude told her:

“We have looked at this in a perfectly sensible, straightforward way. We want trade unions in the civil service – and in this context I am talking only about the civil service – to engage in a sensible, modern fashion, and we want public money to be deployed in the delivery of public services rather than the delivery of trade union officials’ salaries.”

“Many unions have sought to withdraw from check-off arrangements themselves, because they take the view that a modern union in a modern workplace should have a direct relationship with their members, not intermediated by the employer.

“Check-off dates from an era when many people did not have bank accounts and direct debit did not exist. It exists now, and many unions take the view, and indeed the Public and Commercial Services Union has said, that the easiest way to collect their dues is through direct debit.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Mar 2015

Newcastle East constituency one of the worst places in the UK for voters falling off the electoral register

A Newcastle constituency is one of the worst in the UK for voters falling off the electoral register.

In the last year more than 9,000 potential voters have dropped off the list in Newcastle East, with only Cardiff Central and Liverpool Riverside having worse figures.

A spokesman for the BiteTheBallot campaign group which is fighting to get more people on the electoral register before the May general election said the figure was “an absolute disgrace”.

The controversial switch from household to individual electoral registration has caused a great deal of problems for local authorities whose electoral registration officers are continuing to run into problems with their electoral management software systems.

The number of people on the register has dropped yet the Government and the Electoral Commission don’t have a plan to deal with this and it’s extremely worrying,” said the BiteTheBallot spokesman.

It was revealed last week that local authorities had been given an extra £20m in a bid to solve this.

However the spokesman was dismissive of the move, saying it would be spent mostly on sending out letters.

He said: “It’s about getting people into the community to engage with them and get them interested in politics and registering for the vote.”

The spokesman revealed the group has a Community Engagement Officer, Megan Patterson, who is working with Durham County Council and visiting local schools, sixth form colleges and youth clubs.

“She is doing stellar work in getting people registered. It’s labour intensive but it works.”

According to the Office for National Statistics there were 58,557 people registered to vote in Newcastle East as of December 2014.

This is an 13.8% decrease on the 67,945 people who were registered to vote in the constituency on December 1, 2013, the third biggest decrease for any of the 591 parliamentary constituencies in England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The ONS estimates there are 84,394 people aged 18 and above living in Newcastle East which means that only 69.4% of the potentially eligible voting population is in fact registered to vote.

However this percentage is likely to be higher as the population estimates also include people who are not eligible to vote such as those born overseas.

Ironically not far behind Newcastle in numbers falling off the electoral register is City of Durham where the BiteTheBallot community engagement officer is working.

It has seen an 11.5% drop in the year from 73,036 to 64,614.

Across the whole of Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham there was a fall of 3.8% in the number of people registered to vote with declines in all but one constituency.

Source – Sunday Sun, 01 Mar 2015

Labour North East manifesto

Securing a fairer funding settlement was top of the agenda when Labour’s North East troops gathered to launch a manifesto for the region.

MPs and Westminster candidates gathered at the party’s campaign headquarters in Stockton to set out their stall ahead of May’s General Election.

A regional minister, greater devolution, a boost for transport, a North East investment bank and rolling out the living wage were also on the list of priorities for Labour campaigners.

It comes as figures show hundreds of millions of pounds have been moved away from the region’s public sector organisations while other affluent, often Tory heartland areas saw an increase.

The North East is also one of the country’s biggest exporters but the region continues to struggle with the highest unemployment rate.

 

Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland and chairman of the group said:

“We want to see our region thrive again and believe our plan covering everything from fair funding and a National Investment Bank to improved rail, road and airport infrastructure and many more decisions taken in the North East, will do that.

“We do not however underestimate the size of the challenge and believe only with national and local politicians, business and industry, colleges and universities and others working together, can we succeed in exploiting the talents of our people and provide them and their families with the future they are entitled to.”

The Tories will maintain the country must stick its “long term economic plan” but Labour North East has set out two priorities as its members of Ed Miliband’s party fight for a win at the ballot box in May.

The news the party will campaign for a Minister for the North East could also see the former postholder Newcastle East MP Nick Brown return to the role after the Coalition scrapped the position.

 

Manifesto for the North East

The main points of the manifesto are:

* Secure fair funding based on the needs of the region

* A living wage

* Development of sector-based industrial strategies to help industry clusters work better together and build local supply chains

* The creation of an investment bank for the region

* Significant investment in the road network and regulation of bus services

* Improvement to the rail system and modern trains

* Development of our regional ports and airports to encourage better international connectivity and boost investment

* A regional tourism strategy to bring back more visitors

* Our employers, colleges and universities working closer together to develop the skills we need

* A careers and guidance service that informs our young people of the vast choices available to them as they plan their future.

> Like the vast choice of which workfare scam you’ll be sent on ?

* Greater devolution of decision making and funding to combined authorities working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and a regional minister

* Staying within the European Union

Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Feb 2015

Should MPs be paid more? – Salary set to rise after the general election

Would Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have been caught out in a sting apparently offering their services to a private company for cash if the salary earned by MPs’ was much higher?

> Probably. There’s no accounting for greed.

The suggestion is an unpopular one with the electorate, many of whom have endured years of pay freezes, particularly in the public sector in which the politicians are classified as working.

After the next election, an MP’s salary is set to rise 10% from £66,396 to £74,000 – the level set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which said they did an important job and should not be paid a “miserly amount”.

When this was revealed last year it caused a bit of a meltdown inside and outside of Parliament with the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour party leaders for once united.

They argued it would be wrong when public sector pay rises were capped at 1%.

Rifkind, who said the allegations made against him were “unfounded”, has subsequently said he can’t live on his £67,000 a year MP’s salary.

However Blaydon MP, Labour’s Dave Anderson, was unsympathetic. He said:

“If you can’t live on the salary get another job. You know what you sign up for.

“If you can’t live off £67,000 a year you must be from another planet.”

Mr Anderson was equally dismissive of MPs who took on second jobs to boost their income.

“If you want another job, take another job and leave. You shouldn’t have a second job as an MP regardless.

“Me and my colleagues work so many hours I don’t know how anybody who fit another job in.”

His fellow MP Nick Brown who represents Newcastle East said:

“I agree with that. Your duty is to your constituency and the country.

“I’ve been an MP for 31 years and have never had a second job.”

As for the salary of MPs he said he did not want to be “sanctimonious” and criticise anybody who thinks it should be higher. “I think an MP’s salary level should be set independently,” he said.

As for how much a fair salary would be, Mr Brown wouldn’t be drawn on a figure just that it should “cover the cost of being an MP.

> Before exopenses claims, I imagine.

The debate about what an MP’s salary should be has been clouded by a number of scandals over the years to the extent that when a rise is suggested most in Parliament come out in public against it firmly.

 

But in a secret poll of MPs, the responses were different.

Back in 2013, in a survey conducted by Ipsa, MPs suggested they deserved an £86,250 salary.

On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.

However later that year, a poll of the public revealed it thought MPs should actually get a pay cut, the average figure being £54,400. In the North East, people thought they should be paid £52,140.

Arguments for the rise included one that being an MP was an important job and salaries should be more in keeping with this, comparing it to money earned by company executives. If pay was better, we would get better MPs.

> Does anyone really believe that ? What we’d really get is richer MPs.

It would also, the argument went, entice more people from less well-off backgrounds to become interested in becoming an MP.

To counter this some have wondered how a salary that is around three times the national average would put off potential less well off candidates.

According to one commentator: “To a working class kid a salary of £65,000 a year is the equivalent of winning the lottery”.

And anyway, MPs are public servants and should be subject to the same rules as anyone else in the public sector. They do an incredibly important job – but so do lots of other people, such as nurses and the police.

Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said:

“The public has unreasonable expectations of politicians because they just don’t like them.

> And I wonder why that should be ?

“There needs to be a competitive salary as in comparison to parliamentarians elsewhere, MPs here aren’t played a lot nor do they get the same level of support.”

“They are frightened to be awarded a competitive salary which was why they tried to make it up in allowances in the first place.

“However in trying to avoid one problem they have created another.”

He said such was the “febrile” nature of the debate, the public generally can’t even accept the need for MPs to travel first class on trains and reclaim it on expenses.

“Yet they often do work of a confidential nature at this time so these arrangements are needed,” he said.

Dr Farr said that while it appears Straw and Rifkind might have broken no rules, they were foolish to do what they did.

However he added what did need to be sorted out was the so-called ‘Whitehall revolving door’ situation where former Ministers get jobs in the private sector

“It’s a toxic issue and in some ways MPs are in a lose-lose situation,” he said.

> For that sort of money, you’d get a lot of volunteers willing to risk that kind of lose-lose situation…

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015

Will the Green surge win votes in the North East?

We haven’t yet ordered our coffee and already Shirley Ford, a school administrator and lead campaigner for the North East Green Party, is racing through her lines.

“As of this morning, we had 22 candidates selected with another five possibles,” she says, as we find seats at a quiet South Shields seaside cafe.

“But things are changing so rapidly now. If you had asked me before Christmas, I would have told you something entirely different. We are a small party, we don’t have much money so it is all about candidates’ enthusiasm.”

She seems nervous, but it is an extraordinary time for the Greens. The so-called surge is in full swing.

Calls for Natalie Bennett to be included in the TV leaders’ debates intensified until the dam broke and broadcasters changed their stance in what has been celebrated as a watershed moment for the party. Now, after 20 years on the sidelines, the region’s handful of Green councillors find themselves in the spotlight and, sometimes, the firing line.

“Yes, but that is exactly what we wanted – to be taken seriously,” said Shirley.

And, it seems, times are changing. The party in the region has tripled its number of parliamentary candidates since 2010 and, Shirley, who is sporting a fern green jumper and matching coat, does not by any means predict a win, but she is brimming with optimism.

“Five years ago, we ran just seven candidates and that tells you where local parties’ strength was at,” she says, with a wry smile.

We stood someone in South Shields, Gateshead, the three Newcastle seats, Tynemouth and Wansbeck. This time round we are looking at standing candidates in all but two seats. We might struggle to stand in Sunderland but things are changing every day.

“We didn’t think that Blyth Valley would have a candidate but suddenly we have had some key people joining there that have made it possible for members to select.”

The media glare, she says, is winning the party support but the Greens’ operation on the ground is gathering strength.

“I think that national and local media does make a difference as to what people think something is happening,” she said. “We don’t have very much money. It is up for members of each local party to raise the money for their deposit and for any research or materials.

“We have to be creative. We don’t have the resources to go and knock on everyone’s door or to carry out a poll of the constituency, but we are doing what we can.”

 

Shirley, who will stand in South Shields, was an organiser for the local Stop The War Coalition and has lobbied government as part of the Women in Black campaign against injustice, war and militarism.

“I joined the Green Party 11 years ago but I grew up in a family interested in politics,” she said. “I campaigned against apartheid when I was a student and I was always interested in human rights.”

She says people are finding the party via the Greens petitioning on specific issues, such their campaign against the Newcastle/Gateshead One Core Strategy, which could allow for homes to be built on greenbelt.

Greens are renowned for their passion for the environment and so have been smart in joining with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage to organisation clean-ups.

But what does it all add up to? Where does she think the Green Party will do well in the North East?

Newcastle East is one to watch – we have been focussing campaign work in the Heaton area and we are very active in Jesmond,” she said.

“We campaigned during local elections on local issues, including on transport and housing. We have been in that area for two or three years building that campaign level up.

“We have been championing more affordable housing and we have seen a good response in the Newcastle North area. I think in Northumberland, in Hexham and Berwick, we will do well. The two parties wanted to link up on energy campaigning issues, such as the Druridge Bay opencast coal mining campaign.

“There has been a lot of – what’s the word – a lot of synergy. They have been linking up on local issues that they are passionate about and I think that comes across.

“We want people to get the message across we want renewable energy projects that are small scale that are not going to be having such a huge impact.”

While it isn’t likely the Greens can unseat the former Labour Minister Nick Brown in Newcastle East, it shows which demographic supports the Greens – students.

In Durham, the party had been quite dormant but in the county council local elections we stood 15 candidates and we came second in the City of Durham division of Neville’s Cross,” she said.

“A good number of student residents live there. We also did well in other wards in the city where there is a high proportion of students.

“We have maintained the momentum that that gave us.”

So, the Green Party is relying on the region’s student vote?

“That is part of the strategy, to engage students and to encourage students to stand. Some of our parliamentary candidates are students. Middlesbrough and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are students, while others are Young Greens.”

The Greens are also popular among socialists after announcing the party would scrap Trident, renationalise railways and offer everyone a single payment ‘citizens income’, though the party has yet to set out exactly how that will be paid for.

> Well, just scrapping Trident alone would save around £1.5 BILLION a year, not to mention the plans to spend over £100 billion on a replacement for  Trident.

But, Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT Union, is standing for the party in Redcar as a result, proclaiming that “the Greens are now the party of the left.”

Shirley said the move was welcome news:

“Peter has been a member for quite a long time now and he spoke at the Green Party conference 18 months ago on the whole railway issue. The national part is very excited about it.

“It is really exciting.”

It comes as the Greens announce membership nationally has grown by 120% this year. Now, their leader will share a platform with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

“It gives people a sense of a change and there might well be a place for a smaller party,” said Shirley.

“This lets people hear our policies and gives people a chance to make their own mind up.

“Last time, we imported the American presidential debate but that isn’t how our system works. You vote for your local candidate on policies and the debates last time didn’t reflect that.”

 

And it is on local issues that the Greens stand to make the most ground in this election.

The Coal Authority has granted licences for companies to explore parts of the North coast to see if underground coal gasification is possible.

The Green Party is mobilising its forces and it is when talking about this that Shirley is most animated.

“We are going to campaign on this off-the-coast, underground coal gasification because this issue has been bubbling along,” she said.

“We are keeping an eye out to see if there are any actual planning applications for anything onshore for both the drilling rigs and the processing plants.

“The argument that is always made is that we have got to have jobs – jobs jobs jobs – but they don’t think about the jobs that will be put at risk, such as tourism jobs and fishing jobs.”

Shirley is keen for the party not to be seen as an extension of eco-charities but as a party with a social agenda.

“We have petitions on particular issues in lots of places,” she said.

“Here in South Tyneside we have a schools campaign to bring back glass bottles and in Jarrow we have a petition to save the walk-in centre.

“We are trying to find solutions to the things that really matter to people.”

Winning in a region where Labour is so strong will be tough. On this issue, Shirley found herself agreeing with the leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who branded the North East a “one-party state” ruled by Labour.

Shirley says because of this dominance by the big parties, the Greens’ long game will be to campaign on voting reform.

It is sad,” she said “It is partly our electoral system. All of the focus is on those marginal seats and if you are in a safe seat then you are very much taken for granted.

“That is one of the things we want to change.”

She added: “In 2010, a lot of people in the North East told us that they support Green but that they were going to vote Labour because of fear that the Tories could get in.

“Well, the Tories did get in anyway.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  11 Feb 2015

More than 30,000 potential voters in Newcastle and Gateshead have not registered

Tens of thousands of potential voters in the North East have dropped off the electoral register in what has been described as a “crisis of democratic engagement” in the UK.

In a series of worrying figures, one blackspot has been revealed as Newcastle where 18,000 have dropped off the register.

Worst affected is the Ouseburn ward in Newcastle East, home to many students, where there has been a 55% drop off of registered voters totalling 9,982, in the last year alone.

At the 2010 general election, Labour MP Nick Brown won Newcastle East with a 4,453 majority.

Other areas highlighted include Gateshead with a 12,962 drop off, Sunderland with 5,776 and Derwentside in Durham with 3,280.

They are among approximately 7.5 million people nationwide who are missing from national registers.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is not just a scandal, it is a disaster for our democracy.”

 

With the May 2015 general election fast approaching, efforts are being stepped up to get as many enrolled as possible before the April 20 deadline.

Independent campaign group Bite The Ballot highlighted the situation by designating last Thursday as National Voter Registration Day in a bid to get 250,000 to register.

> Last Thursday, eh ?  Did you know that ?  No, nor me.

I wonder how many of those missing voters it actually reached ?

Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has arranged for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.

It follows the Commission’s discovery – through polling by YouGov – that four in 10 people, and more than half (53%) of 18 to 24-year-olds, remain unaware that they can register to vote online.

Almost one million people have dropped off the electoral register since the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) last summer, mostly students, first time voters and those living in private rented accommodation and those from newer immigrant communities.

As a result of IER, rather than one person in a household registering everyone or a university signing up all its students in halls, each individual is now responsible for registering themselves. In addition, they have to supply a National Insurance number.

 

A Commons committee used the focus to renew its demands that government consider radical reforms to boost engagement and election turnout, including online voting, weekend elections, polling-day registration and a “none of the above” option.

> A “none of the above” option would be good. I’d go further and link the number of none of the above votes nationally to MP’s pay. The more there are, the less the MPs get.

At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters – 34.9% of the electorate did not take part – more than voted for any one party.

Graham Allen MP, chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said:

“This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.

“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said:

“Over one million 16-24-year-olds have registered since the new system was introduced, and everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system. We’re also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register.”

How to register

If you are 16 or over you can register through the Government website, www.gov.uk/register-to-vote .

You’ll need your National Insurance number, and the registration process takes around five minutes. It can also be done by post.

The process is also explained on the Bite the Ballot website on www.bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015

Pressure on North East foodbanks could be eased by £22m EU fund, politicians tell PM

North East politicians are calling for government to tap into a £22m EU fund to ease pressure on foodbanks.

David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position going into a potential in/out referendum in 2017.

However the Conservative Party have said they are not missing out on EU cash and have £2.9m to spend, and they – not Europe – will decide where it goes.

Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.

The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need. Foodbanks would have been able to apply for funding from the pot. However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.

The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.

The North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks. The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes,  and leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig.

Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:

“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year. 

“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”

Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, in the medium term he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.

A Conservative party spokesperson, said:

“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.

“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

> So nothing will happen this side of the General Election. Probably not after it, either.

In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.

Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m – the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000 – neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.

The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:

“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.

“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.

“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”

The Government announced in October that it plans to use some of the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England. Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.

Figures from by the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks, show that between April and September 2014, over 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead, Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks alone.

That breaks down to 4,289 a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015