One in every dozen homes in South Tyneside has no adults registered to vote in next week’s elections.
There are 70,696 properties in the borough, and 5,847 have no one registered to vote in either the general or local elections on Thursday, May 7.
Coun Jim Foreman, a Labour representative for the Cleadon Park ward in South Shields, says he is shocked that potentially up to 12,000 people are missing out on having their say on what happens in the borough or whether David Cameron will still be running the country from next month onwards or if he will be replaced by Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage or another challenger.
He believes that while some properties will be empty, and some may house people not eligible to vote through their nationalities, the vast majority of absenteeism is down to those concerned not being on the electoral register.
“In Cleadon Park and Harton Moor, we found there were 186 properties with no voters attached, and only 10 of these were empty. The rest were all home to British residents.
“To be honest, apart from South Tyneside College’s overseas students, I can’t imagine there are that many homes within the borough that have no British people residing in them, so I don’t think that many of the properties can be attributed to this factor.
“Within the Cleadon Park ward there has obviously been the regeneration project going on, and a lot of people have just moved into their new homes, so registering has probably slipped there mind.
“But voting is the main way that people can make a change to their community, especially on a local level.”
Coun Foreman thinks that one of the reasons there are so many houses with no voters registered could be the changes made to the electoral register last year.
Last July, the individual electoral register (IER) was launched, making everyone responsible for their own registration, as opposed to the head of the household registering everyone, as was previously the case.
Nationally, voters were contacted by local electoral registration officers to inform them of what, if anything, they needed to do next.
Under the new system, about 80 per cent of those already on the electoral register were automatically added to the IER.
However, those who were not matched against existing government records needed to provide additional information.
It’s these people Coun Foreman believes may have slipped through the net.
“Let’s be honest. If there’s something going on in your life, whether it’s work issues, perhaps a family member is unwell, then applying to vote is probably not one of your main priorities.
“For these things to sink in, people do need to be reminded quite a few times before they actually do it.
“I just hope that those who have missed out this time, make sure they register in time for the next election.
“I always say there’s not many things in life you get for free, but the chance to vote is one of those free things, and people should make the most of it.
“I think the change of legislation has thrown people slightly, but people need to realise that their vote does count and the party that they vote for can have an impact on the local community and, of course, nationally.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 Apr 2015
Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.
David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.
He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.
Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.
Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.
The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.
Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.
Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015
A stark warning setting out “grave concerns” about extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants has been issued to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Bill Midgley, chairman of Newcastle-based social housing provider Leazes Homes, accuses the politician of using “the sanctity of a person’s home” as an “election bargaining chip” after the pledge was revealed in the Conservative Party Manifesto last week.
Mr Midgley echoes fears voiced by others in the sector as he outlines how a policy that forces associations to sell off their assets would mean they have less borrowing power.
Because of this, he says, associations could not build more homes for some of the most vulnerable in society, including “older people, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems.”
The letter reads:
“If organisations like us are unable to secure loan funding for supported housing properties then the potential damage is unthinkable. It is essential that such accommodation can be provided by the affordable housing sector.”
The Tories say the plan opens the possibility of home ownership up to thousands of people who may otherwise be locked out of the market.
The National Housing Federation estimates there are 19,620 people in the North East who would be eligible for a mortgage under the plans and that it will cost £808m to implement the policy.
But Mr Midgley fears poor people may be forced to pay higher rents in the private sector.
Signing off the letter to Mr Cameron, he said:
“I urge you to reconsider this proposal. We have a duty as a society to provide our citizens with good-quality, affordable housing, but the sanctity of a person’s home is not something to be used as a bargaining chip to secure election votes.”
Guy Opperman, the Conservative candidate for Hexham defended the policy –
“We want more people who work hard and save up to be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home.
“Right now it is too difficult for housing association tenants to buy their own home. Until now the Right to Buy has only been available to tenants in local authority properties. This means there are around 500,000 housing association tenants who have no right to buy their home.
“The Right to Buy scheme has already helped around two million families to realise their dream of owning a home. By now extending the Right to Buy to housing associations tenants, we will help more people who want to move on and up the housing ladder.
“Our proposals will increase house building, increase home ownership and reduce waiting lists. Right to Buy improves social mobility and builds mixed communities.
“It gives something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules and gives people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood.”
The Conservatives have pledged to improve their help-to-buy scheme and have also committed to 200,000 new starter homes in their manifesto.
Similarly Labour says it will build 200,000 new homes by 2020 and that private sector rent would be capped should Ed Miliband be Prime Minister.
The Lib Dems have pledged 300,000 homes a year, and ten garden cities as well as a rent-to-buy ownership scheme.
UKIP plan to build one million homes on brownfield sites by 2020, and Nigel Farage wants to restrict right-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes to British nationals.
Should the Greens win power they will regulate private sector rent and build 500,000 social homes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Apr 2015
Ukip has declared war on cycle lanes in Newcastle – by claiming they discriminate against the elderly.
The anti-EU party has distributed leaflets claiming it’s unfair to spend money on cyclists because they tend to be young.
And while Ukip acknowledges that Newcastle has received a £10m government grant for the lanes, it complains:
“Just because they receive a government grant they don’t have to spend it.”
> Uh, I think they probably do, you know. That’s rather the point of grants.
The leaflet highlights planned cycle lanes in Gosforth High Street, John Dobson Street and other roads in the city.
But it asks: “Are cycle lanes paved with gold?”
The Ukip leaflet continues:
“Cyclists are the chosen people, motorists are just a cash cow and have very few rights.
“How many elderly ladies will get on their bikes on a dark December night in Newcastle? Not many.
“Surely giving all the rights to cyclists, who are usually young people, is discrimination against the elderly and infirm?”
The leaflet goes on to complain that cyclists “carry no number plates or insurance” and suggests the council could improve road safety by ordering cyclists to put bells on their bikes.
But the claims were rejected by Newcastle Central Labour candidate Chi Onwurah.
“Cycling is a low impact way of keeping fit for people of all ages as well as a green and sustainable means of transport.
“The idea that this discriminates against older people is absurd and implies some kind of battle between cyclists and the elderly when in reality we all benefit from quieter, safer roads.
“Ukip have gone from picking on immigrants to picking on cyclists. Who is next I wonder?”
Earlier this week, Ukip launched its North East campaign and claimed it would be a “two horse race” between Ukip and Labour in the region.
Ukip and the Green Party are fielding a record number of General Election candidates as they seek to prove their credentials as emerging national political forces.
Provisional Press Association figures suggest Nigel Farage’s party is contesting 624 of the UK’s 650 Westminster seats – 66 more than it did in 2010.
Meanwhile the Greens, who have enjoyed a number of strong by-election performances, are putting up hopefuls in 571 seats – more than 70% higher than the 335 it fielded last time.
But in a signal of the dramatic decline of the far-right British National Party as an electoral force, it will be on the ballot paper in only eight constituencies, down from 338 last time.
The total number of candidates appears to have dipped slightly from 4,150 to 3,963 candidates.
A growing number are women – up almost a fifth from 854 to 1,020.
Ukip’s slate however is the only one of the major parties to be more male than in 2010, with only 77 women standing compared with 83.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Apr 2015
UKIP’s deputy leader has confirmed the party is targeting Northumberland’s Blyth Valley seat.
Nigel Farage’s second-in-command, Paul Nuttall MEP, was in the coastal constituency for the second time in a matter of weeks and said the seat – which is widely regarded as safe Labour territory – is a target for Ukip, while neighbouring Wansbeck was also “of great interest”.
Sitting Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell’s majority has dropped to 6,668 in 2010 from 17,736 in 2001.
The 71-year-old – who is for having a referendum on membership of the European Union – said Ukip was running an “ageist” campaign.
He added this election will be the last time he stands but he was nonetheless confident of a Labour victory.
It comes three months after Ukip opened its North East headquarters off Blyth high street, just a stone’s throw away from Mr Campbell’s office.
“Demographically, it is perfect for Ukip if you look at the people who came over to us at the recent election,” said Paul Nuttall, who is an MEP in the North West.
“We are investing in the constituency and building for the future.
“We are going to put in a very good performance – but it isn’t just about the short-term political gain, this is a long-term target seat.
“With Hartlepool, Blyth sticks out and we did very well in the South Shields by-election too, remember.”
Ukip has remained tight-lipped about its target seats but the MEP could not deny Blyth is now ranked among them.
He could not cite any polling data which says Blyth voters are shunning Labour but confirmed the party will be throwing resources at the campaign there.
“The reports that we hear are very positive, as are the ones we get from Wansbeck,” said Mr Nuttall.
“I’m not going to deny that we are parking our tanks on Labour’s lawn in Blyth. Barry Elliott is a great candidate and he has a good team around him.”
“Ukip has nothing to offer Blyth. We do not have a problem with immigration at all.
“Ukip has talked about being a target for a while. In the North East for them, it is Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, South Shields and us.
“I don’t know why they are targeting me. We are canvassing every day, I was out knocking on doors this morning. I hear that they tell people that I’m too old and that I should retire.
“I have a few years left in me yet. People don’t like ageism. Ageism is just as bad as racism.
“If they can manage to turn over my 6,668 majority then I haven’t done my job for the people of Blyth.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Mar 2015
General election apathy reigns supreme in South Tyneside.
That was the conclusion to be drawn from talking to a cross-section of would-be voters approachedin King Street, South Shields.
There are now just over two months to go before the nation decides on its next government.
The odds are on another coalition pact, with neither the Conservatives or the Labour Party predicted to win an overall majority.
But on the streets of the borough, we found little appetite for any of the parties jostling for our votes in the coming weeks.
Retired panel-beater Russell Dodds, 74, of Biddick Hall, South Shields, said:
“I am a bit mystified by the whole political scene.
“Nobody seems to have answers on anything, from the Middle East to pensions and even the Metro system, which is always breaking down.
“I’m sad to say there is a blandness about politicians these days.
“You have to look for the difference between the parties. No one really stands out.
“Look at Nigel Farage. He’s always pictured looking happy with a pint of beer in his hand, but does that really make him qualified to run the country?”
Ex-shipyard worker Norman Ogden, 72, of Hebburn, said:
“It’s hard not to be cynical about politics when you hear about MPs fiddling their expenses and former ministers being filmed trying to bolster their incomes.
“At the same time, hospitals are struggling because there are not enough nurses.”
South Shields shopper and retired foundry supervisor Leslie Milburn, 75, said:
“There used to be an old saying that it’s six and two threes. Now, it’s six and three twos.
“There is more choice as far as the number of parties, but there is less choice because everyone is the same.
“I’ll vote, but only because if I don’t vote, it will be my own fault if we get the worst option in.”
South Shields shop worker Stephanie Doxford, 23, voted for the first time in 2010, and she intends to do so again on Thursday, May 7.
“I’ll definitely be voting, although part of me thinks they are all as bad as each other.
“I voted Conservative in 2010, and I’m inclined to do so again, but I’ll hear what the other parties say in the run-up to the election.
“Ed Miliband doesn’t come across well to me. It all seems about badmouthing the other parties. I don’t really know what his party stands for.
“I think the election will be close, but my instinct tells me it won’t be a coalition this time, that the Conservatives might get an overall majority.”
Retired Merchant Navy bosun Denis Atkinson, 67, of Jarrow, said:
“I’d be inclined to stick with the Conservatives. I think David Cameron is doing a pretty good job, particularly with the economy.
“Why change things when we’re heading in the right direction?
“I know this is a Labour heartland, and I was Labour years ago, but I think the tide is turning away from them, even here in the North East.”
The most of apathetic of those we spoke to was unemployed George Pattison, 45, of Jarrow. He said:
“I won’t be voting. I never vote. I don’t believe in politicians. I get on with my own life and make my own decisions. I want nothing to do with them.”
> That’s not apathy though, is it ? It’s someone actively making a decision and carrying it through.
Aource – Shields Gazette, 28 Feb 2015
Immigrants working on construction sites should be able to speak English, a North MP has said.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said it is vital immigrants have a “reasonable understanding” of the language so health and safety isn’t put at risk.
The Shadow Welfare Reform Minister said some of her constituents have “completely fair” concerns about immigration and insists Labour would address them.
“I think people have legitimate concerns,” she said. “They are also concerned about people not being able to speak good English.
“These are totally fair and totally reasonable concerns. On a building site you do need to have a reasonable understanding of English for health and safety purposes.
“You are working in a team and everybody needs to be able to understand what you say. If you go to the A&E department you want to speak to someone who can speak English.
“That is completely reasonable and fair.”
The Bishop Auckland constituency is home to just 800 non-UK nationals (of a total 89,500), which equates to just 1%.
In County Durham overall, there are 13,700 non-UK-nationals in County Durham (2.7%).
The MP’s words come after Bishop Auckland Mayor Colin Race defected from Labour to Ukip.
She said people are worried about the impact on wages and immigrants claiming benefits that will be wired overseas.
“In general, people think that some immigration is good, particularly for things like high-skilled work in the NHS, but they want more controls,” she said.
“They want reassurance that a Labour government would control immigration better and so I tell them that we will re-establish checks on the borders for people coming in and going out.
“The really big thing people are worried about is the impact on jobs and wages. They feel that people from Eastern Europe are prepared to work for less than they are and that some employers are exploiting that and that this pushes down wages.”
> Are they really prepared to work for less ? Or could it be they see the apparant size of UK wages compared to those at home and it looks good, but they fail to take into account that costs – housing, food, everything – are also higher ?
And then they find themselves here working for less, but paying out more.
She added: “Labour plans to raise the minimum wage and to stop employers recruiting overseas while not offering jobs to local people. I think people are right to be concerned and they want us to tighten up. We will tighten up.
> How about UK citizens working abroad ? Shouldn’t their jobs have been offered to local people too ? What’s going to be done about that ?
“I think it is fair that people want us to say that people aren’t allowed to claim benefits for children overseas.”
The Labour MP also took a swipe at Ukip, led by Nigel Farage, for being “all over the place” on policy and being anti-women.
“They are a bit of a one-man band,” she said. “I suppose that the other long-standing parties, by definition, have to make the difficult decisions.
“Farage still benefits from being the new kid on the block. Once you get past the Europe issue, they are all over the place.
“They seem to change their policies regularly.”
She added: “I think they are very conservative with respect to women.
“In their eyes, women should have a very certain place. They want to take us back to the 1950s with respect to women.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Feb 2015
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