The majority of students at two leading North East universities intend to vote Conservative in the forthcoming General Election, a new poll has revealed.
This is despite the party pushing up annual tuition fees for students to a maximum of £9,000 in 2012, up from £3,290.
The Student Politics 2015 poll, by independent research company High Fliers Research, is based on more than 13,000 face-to-face interviews with final year students at 30 UK universities.
Two North East universities, Durham and Newcastle, were represented in the survey and an overwhelming majority of students at both institutions voted in favour of the Conservatives.
At Durham University 45 per cent of students said they intended to vote Conservative at the General Election.
Only 27 per cent of finalists said they would be voting Labour, eight per cent Liberal Democrat and 17 per cent Green Party.
A small portion, two per cent, said they intended to vote for UKIP.
Down the road at Newcastle University, the political picture appears similar with 35 per cent saying they intend to vote Conservative at the May elections.
This is followed by 27 per cent of students voting Labour, three per cent Liberal Democrat and 29 per cent in favour of the Green Party. Only one per cent said they would be voting for UKIP.
Across the country, more than 30 per cent of students questioned intend to vote for Labour and the Conservative party in the forthcoming General Election.
A quarter of finalists plan to vote for the Green Party but only six per cent are backing the Liberal Democrats and just one per cent are UKIP supporters. Three per cent expect to vote for the SNP.
The Conservatives are the most popular party at 14 out of the 30 universities included within the survey and among the country’s greatest supporters are Durham University students.
Managing director of High Fliers Research, Martin Birchall, said:
“Our research not only confirms that first-time voters at the country’s top universities are set to vote for Labour and the Conservatives in almost equal numbers in the General Election but that there has been a huge surge in support for the Green Party on campus, taking them to within just a few percentage points of the two leading parties. By contrast, just six per cent of students are planning to vote Liberal Democrat, a quarter of the number who supported the party in 2010.”
> If true, then students deserve all the extra tuition fees they get heaped on them.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Apr 2015
A North East woman has become a poster girl in a campaign to combat prejudice against immigrants.
Wendy Dirks is one of 15 people selected nationwide to feature in the “I am an immigrant” initiative launched by the Movement Against Xenophobia.
Their pictures, taken by Vogue magazine photographer Philip Volkers, can now be seen at 400 London tube stations, 550 national railway stations and other sites across the UK.
Explaining the thinking behind it, the group said:
“Immigrants are part of the fabric of our society. It’s time to celebrate, not vilify them.”
Wendy, 62, is originally from Chicago in the US but has lived and worked in Newcastle for nine years with her husband, Gateshead-born Dr Don Reid. She is a lecturer in Oral Biology at Newcastle University.
“When I first saw the picture of me it was absolutely surreal. This and the fact it was taken by a photographer from Vogue.
“But it’s a fantastic idea to let people know that immigrants have contributed so much to British society, particularly when the issue has become so toxic in the run up to the general election.”
More than £44,000 was raised in a crowdfunding drive to back the campaign.
It feature the likes a fire fighter from Poland, a stand up comedian from Somalia, a barrister, a teacher and a bus driver, people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world who have one thing in common. Living and working in Britain.
Wendy revealed how a run in with British immigration officials indirectly led to her involvement in the campaign.
She said her son from her first marriage and still living in the US had lost his job which resulted in health issues. As a result she and Don wanted him to come and stay with them in Newcastle for six months to recuperate.
“He was in a bad way. We looked into it and thought he could come for six months without a visa.
“But he was stopped at the airport, put into a cell and sent home the next morning because they decided as he had no job here he had no reason to go back to the US.”
As a result of the incident she was in touch with the UK-based Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which is behind the Movement Against Xenophobia. One of its emails asking for volunteers for the ‘I am an immigrant’ campaign found its way to Wendy.
“I put my name forward straight away and was chosen.
“The campaign is definitely not saying that there should be no immigration controls. But the way people talk about immigrants, it’s as if we’re to blame for all the ills, as if we don’t make a contribution to the country, which is very wrong.
“I love it here, especially the North East. I love Newcastle and Northumberland is gorgeous.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Apr 2015
Not too long before the general election, but that doesn’t stop the government’s personal money making machine slow down.
In the latest abuse of their power, the government are selling off the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) who are responsible for food safety in the UK.
Guess who the government are trying to sell it to? Their ‘preferred partner’ Capita.
Professor Tim Lang, a Westminster adviser, told The Independent that the sale of the key government research unit to the outsourcing giant Capita could undermine essential work on food safety and lead to commercial concerns being put before the public interest.
Capita formally takes over the agency next Wednesday. But Professor Lang, who heads City University London’s food policy unit, said: “I think it’s absolutely scandalous. This is selling the state, and the moment a state loses its access to science it’s in trouble.”
He claimed many food policy…
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Families in Newcastle are going hungry just so they can hang onto their homes following the introduction of the bedroom tax, a report has said.
Research released by Newcastle University reveals communities are being ripped apart by the tax, which has left people in the region feeling “hopeless”.
Many are finding it almost impossible to manage ever-decreasing incomes, with many spiralling into debt and rent arrears in order to afford bare essentials such as food.
Tyneside, where the research was carried out, is disproportionately affected by the bedroom tax with some 50,000 households estimated to be ‘under-occupying’.
Social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) reported last year that 66% of people affected by the bedroom tax were in rent arrears.
Residents were finding it increasingly difficult to buy simple, basic foodstuffs and in some extreme cases, cutting down to just one meal a day, or going to bed early to evade hunger and keep warm – a pattern more prevalent among parents to ensure their children were properly fed.
The University research – A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’ – looks at the effects of the tax on the area.
It followed people living in Walker in Newcastle, which is in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK, where around 650 homes are affected by the bedroom tax.
Dr Suzanne Moffatt, who was involved in the research, said:
“The bedroom tax reduces a home to simply bricks and mortar.
“However, these are homes that people invest in over time, places of safety within communities that offer friendship and support.
“As a consequence, many of those we interviewed elected to pay the tax in order to stay in their homes, resulting in cutting back on essentials such as food and heat to do so.
“Rather than improve housing stock efficiency and save tax payers money, the effect of the bedroom tax in the North East is likely to make the distribution of social housing less efficient.”
Dr Moffatt says the new study undermines Government claims that implementing the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ in April 2013 would not have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.
“Monumental effort was put in by people to simply ‘survive’. Their accounts powerfully demonstrate how loss of income as a result of the bedroom tax has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many saying it had left them feeling ‘hopeless’.”
Researchers within Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society also looked at the YHN pilot scheme set up in help people in response to the introduction of the tax.
Neil Scott, director of Tenancy Services, said:
“We encouraged residents to enrol onto training courses. For those that took part, it was highly beneficial, with a small number of mainly short-term jobs created within our organisation.”
The pilot ran for seven months from September 2013 to April 2014 and included budgeting and housing advice, with a focus on testing the Government’s claims that work pays by supporting residents who were farthest from the labour market to gain employment.
Dr Moffatt added:
“Although this pilot was fantastic for those involved, one person working over seven months can only achieve so much.
“At a time when local authority budgets are being increasingly tightened, it is always going to be difficult to fund interventions of this kind.
“These people are not languishing around on benefits by any means – they face many complex barriers to employment such the poor state of the local labour market, as well as mental or physical health issues and lack of qualifications.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Mar 2015
The visit by Martin Luther King to Newcastle in 1967 will link America’s fight for civil rights and battles waged on our own doorstep in a major exhibition making its national debut in the North next month.
Former US civil rights worker Marcia Heinemann Saunders will be over to cut the ribbon at the launch of Journey to Justice on April 4 – the anniversary of King’s assassination – at Discovery Museum where it will run for a month ahead of a national tour.
And it’s set to get everyone talking with its fascinating mix of archive film, photographs, music, poetry, oral histories and high-profile speakers including former ANC freedom fighter Archie Sibeko, now settled in the region.
It’s the culmination of nearly three years’ hard work and fund-raising by former teacher Carrie Supple whose initial idea, inspired by a trip to the US, spiralled to include a huge range of local organisations and supporters as well as volunteers.
The London-based 56-year-old, whose mother was from Newcastle and who herself taught history in the region for 10 years, is delighted how it’s taken off.
“I’m very excited about it,” she said.
“I went to America in 2012 and visited the civil rights museums. I thought it would be great telling the story in the UK when I came back.”
Newcastle was a natural choice for it, with her own links, the visit from King when the civil rights leader received an honorary degree from Newcastle University, our own historic struggles and the scale of support she found here which includes some university funding.
Running until May 4, the focus of the exhibition will be on stories rarely heard.
Those of the American civil rights movement in the sixties include Marcia’s support in helping African Americans in Tennessee to register their vote; six-year-old Ruby Bridges who had to be escorted to school under armed guard because of the fury caused by allowing her entry to an all-white school, and the Greensboro sit-in where students were refused service at a “whites only” counter in a Woolworth store in North Carolina. The exhibition will recreate the counter where visitors can sit and learn about the story.
And the backdrop to it all will be the stirring church music of the civil rights era.
“Many said the music gave them the strength and the hope to get them through,” said Carrie.
Tyneside’s social justice story will feature The Jarrow March and fights for better health care, housing, mining conditions, pay and trade union rights, and local young people have played a part by recording memories of the older generation.
“There are people who recall being in the room with Martin Luther King in 1967,” said Carrie.
Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Mar 2015
Police are monitoring a “disturbing” “neo-Nazi” website called RedWatch after images of anti-Pegida protestors were posted alongside a request for information.
Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah is among the people pictured after she spoke at a rally against an anti-Islam demonstration in the city.
The site – run by a far-right group not directly connected to Pegida – brands protestors “degenerates”, claims they were involved in violence and calls on people to provide personal data.
It is believed RedWatch has links to the paramilitary group Combat 18 and many featured on the site fear their names and addresses could be shared with dangerous individuals.
Chi confirmed she was reporting the matter to police, adding:
“The reference to illegal activities appears defamatory as well as an incitement and to call me degenerate and say I was making death threats – which is absolutely untrue – would also appear to incite people to take aggressive action.”
She added: “I think it is disturbing and I have asked the police to keep me informed.”
Pegida marchers, who claim they are trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants, were outnumbered in Newcastle by counter-demonstrators at a rate of more than five to one. People are calling on Northumbria Police to take action on RedWatch.
Newcastle University student Gary Spedding, another anti-Pegida marcher whose picture features on the site, said:
“I was shocked to discover the website known as RedWatch.
“The police informed me that my image, and those of a number of others that I know personally, had recently been uploaded to this neo-Nazi site following Newcastle Unites highly praised and successful rally against Pegida in Newcastle last month.
“The modus operandi of RedWatch, uploading images of anti-fascist individuals and groups in order to identify them and gather our personal details including telephone numbers and home addresses, is something I find to be sinister, creepy and potentially criminal.
“Publishing the image, personal details and contact number of individuals with implied intent to incite violence against them is possibly a breach of the Electronic Communications Act (2000).
“RedWatch is a far-right platform with strong ties to a paramilitary group known as Combat 18 – the publishing of personal details on the website has previously resulted in actual violence towards people at their home addresses and even death threats to elected representatives, including members of parliament and their families.
“I would urge those who may have had their images and personal details uploaded to the website to be vigilant and report the website – along with any out of the ordinary occurrences such as no caller ID phone calls – to the police as soon as possible.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said:
“We have been made aware of this website and are currently making inquiries into this matter.”
The people who run the site use this introduction:
“This is a site designed and intended for people who are involved in the struggle against the spread of Marxist lies in the UK.”
> Nothing actually new – RedWatch has published photos and requested info on protestors at protests in Newcastle and Sunderland before.
Though undoubtedly they are sinister, creepy and potentially criminal.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Mar 2015
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
The forthcoming general election has been described as one of the most unpredictable in generations.
And with the polls revealing Labour and the Conservatives to be neck-and-neck, the result could depend on how well the so-called minor parties perform.
For some time now this has largely meant UKIP which has enjoyed a level of success in the North.
Now it also means the Green party which has seen its membership surge of late reportedly to a higher level than that of UKIP.
So will either of them manage to win seats here or perhaps gain sufficient votes to affect the final outcome?
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said Labour was most at threat from the rise of UKIP while the Greens posed a threat particularly to the Lib Dems.
Dr Farr also said the support in the North East had given UKIP a certain amount of credibility.
“Before it had been portrayed as the party of disgruntled Tories, the anti-immigration party.
“But the North East is Labour’s heartland and immigration isn’t as big an issue here as it is, say, in the North West.
“The issue here is about representation which many former Labour voters don’t think they are getting from the party.
“Meanwhile UKIP can say what it likes at the moment as it is a party untarnished by being in Government.
“What it is offering is what Labour used to offer – clarity and certainty.”
This could explain why UKIP has enjoyed notable electoral successes up here recently.
At present it has a North East MEP, Jonathan Arnott, and four local councillors, two in South Tyneside and two in Hartlepool.
At the 2013 South Shields by-election following David Miliband’s resignation, UKIP’s Richard Elvin came second to Labour’s Emma Lewell Buck winning 24% of the vote, with the Tories and Lib Dems a distant thrid and fourth.
And, if the UK didn’t have a first past the post electoral system, it could have many more representatives.
In the May 2014 local elections at Newcastle City Council, having never contested a ward before, UKIP put up candidates in 19 and nine came second in the vote.
Its overall share of the vote was 9,231 or 13.5%, ahead of the Conservatives although trailing Labour and the Lib Dems.
Meanwhile at Sunderland City Council, UKIP put up five candidates in 2012 and although none won, it got some notable numbers in Hetton in particular with 1,363 where their candidate came a close second.
In 2014 it was unlucky not to win any seats despite gaining 16,951 votes in total, a 24.3% share. Of the 23 wards it contested it came 2nd in 16 of them.
Even as we approach the general election it is still making inroads. Last month the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Coun Colin Race, quit the Labour Party and joined UKIP.
As for the Greens, Dr Farr said:
“There has been a huge surge in support because the Lib Dem support has collapsed and they are also attracting people from the left of Labour who are fed up with austerity.
“There isn’t a Syriza type party (the left wing anti-austerity party in Greece which formed the last Government there) in the UK.
“The Green party is basically still a pressure group without fully formed policies on all the issues. It’s leader was embarrassed recently in a TV interview because of this.”
However he said in time, using the success it has had at local level in places like Brighton, it could achieve credibility at a national level.
This might mean any electoral success it enjoys in the region by be more limited than UKIP which, in the public’s eye, is a bit more of an established party.
Overall Dr Farr said he wasn’t expecting many surprises at the May general election.
He said: “I think in most of the North East, the majorities are such that the numbers they attract won’t be enough to win seats.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
A town councillor from Alnwick has been selected as the Green Party candidate for the general election.
The decision to choose Rachael Roberts, 42, to stand for the Berwick constituency seat in May was unanimous.
Ms Roberts has lived in Alnwick for nine years and works as a guidance team manager and practitioner at Newcastle University’s careers service.
She has been a member of the Green Party for six years and was elected to Alnwick Town Council in 2011.
In line with Green Party philosophy, she says she is passionate about the need for change within national politics and wants to move away from the “negative campaigning seen at the moment.”
Having been active in her local community, Ms Roberts is also keen to bring decision making as close as possible to those it affects.
“I think we are seeing a Green surge because people are pleasantly surprised by Green Party policies, including scrapping tuition fees, bringing the railways back into public ownership, stopping the privatisation of the NHS, investing in decent jobs and building truly affordable housing.”
She is supporting Save Druridge, the campaign to protect the beautiful area of Druridge Bay against plans for an opencast coal mine.
The Berwick constituency Green Party said in a statement:
“In the run-up to the May election, voters in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency will see a new force in politics – a force that will be campaigning strongly for change and policies that work for the common good.
“This will be ably lead by Rachael who is already an experienced campaigner and a well-known local figure.
“Rachael and the local Green Party will be working hard to meet with constituents and hear their views.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 05 Feb 2015
But his key statement on the nation’s finances also confirmed that local councils face years of further deep cuts.
And the Chancellor’s big surprise, changes to Stamp Duty leading to lower bills for many buyers, will have limited impact on the North East because low property prices in the region mean many home buyers don’t pay the duty anyway.
The Autumn Statement also confirmed that outdated Pacer trains still in use on some routes in the North East will be replaced.
Mr Osborne told the Commons that his goal was to create “a more balanced national economy” and that meant creating a northern powerhouse “as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.”
He announced £20m for a Ageing Science centre in Newcastle, to “back the brilliant work on ageing being conducted at Newcastle University”.
There was also £28m for a world-class research and development centre, to be called the National Formulation Centre, that will specialise in the development of products such as medicines and chemicals, based in Sedgefield.
And documents published by the Treasury also revealed plans for a Great Exhibition in the north.
But local authorities face at least five more years of further dramatic cuts in spending, the Autumn Statement confirmed. Funding from the Treasury for local services is to be cut by more than a fifth by 2019-20.
The figures are included in forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the official Treasury watchdog, as part of the statement. It predicted that the main grant provided to local councils will fall from £60.3bn in 2014-15 to £50.5bn in 2019-20.
Mr Osborne insisted: “I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending.”
This would mean cuts of £13.6bn in 2015-16, as previously announced, and “two further years where decisions on this scale will be required”.
He added: “We’re going to have to go on controlling spending after those years if we want to have a surplus and keep it.”
Another key announcement was a change to stamp duty, previously charged on homes costing more than £125,000.
Buyers eligible for the tax paid one per cent or more of the purchase price. In future, stamp duty will only be paid on the portion of the price which is above the threshold, leading to significant reductions for some properties.
However, an analysis of house prices shows that average prices in the North East are below the £125,000 threshold anyway, which means many buyers will not be affected as they pay no stamp duty.
Average house prices are £120,545 in Newcastle, £124,338 in North Tyneside, £123,766 in Northumberland, £99,837 in South Tyneside and £85,438 in Sunderland.
Nonetheless, buyers of more expensive homes will make savings as long as the property is worth less than £937,000.
Responding to questions from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, and Labour Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, the Chancellor also said there would be help for airports in the North if they were hit by a potential cut in air passenger duty in Scotland, following the announcement that aviation duty will be devolved to the Scottish government.
Responding to the statement, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown pointed out that the Chancellor had announced Britain was awarded the lead role in the next international effort to explore the planet of Mars, adding:
“The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East of England. His Northern Powerhouse is located over 100 miles to the South of Tyne and Wear.
“His statement contained no commitment to any type of workable regional policy in the context of further Scottish Devolution. This is grotesquely one-sided. Even his stamp duty changes were focussed on London and the South East.”
But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said:
“The Autumn Statement sticks to our strategy to deal with the deficit, enabling us to release funds for key Liberal Democrat priorities that bring fairness and a stronger economy.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Dec 2014