Tagged: North-West Durham

Blunder sees North West Durham Tory hopeful’s posters put up 150 miles away

An election bungle has seen a North East election hopeful’s campaign message directed at voters 150 miles away.

A billboard urging voters to back Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Conservative parliamentary candidate for North West Durham, on May 7 has been erected in Cleethorpes.

Mrs Haitham Taylor, a fine artist, will take on Labour candidate and former MP Pat Glass for the seat along with Owen Temple, the Liberal Democrat candidate, Bruce Reid, Ukip candidate, and Mark Shilcock standing for the Green Party.

But somehow, her campaign material ended up in Lincolnshire. Mrs Haitham Taylor said the error was made by the media agency responsible for putting up the posters.

 The poster for Charlotte Haitham Taylor in Cleethorpes
The poster for Charlotte Haitham Taylor in Cleethorpes

She said:

“It is deeply regrettable that the media agency have somehow managed to put up one of my election posters 150 miles away from where it should be.

“This has caused undue confusion for voters in Cleethorpes and for this I am very sorry.

“As soon as I was notified I took immediate action to remedy this. I am doing everything within my powers to ensure that the media agency correct their mistakes in a timely fashion.”

The 20ft-long poster on the main road into the seaside town has a giant photo of Conservative candidate Mrs Haitham-Taylor with the banner headline “A new vision for North West Durham”.

It is positioned just feet from a “welcome to Cleethorpes” sign.

Conservative candidate for Cleethorpes, Martin Vickers told the Grimsby Telegraph: “It’s nothing to do with me. They are allocated to a PR company.

“I know nothing about it. It is obviously a mistake.

“It is a national company which organises it. The company which is going around the country has made a mistake.”

Mr Vickers said he would report it to his party’s headquarters.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Apr 2015

Easington is safest Labour seat in England

The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.

A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.

The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.

South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.

Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.

The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.

Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.

The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.

He said:

“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.

“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.

The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.

These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.

“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”

Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.

His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:

“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.

“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.

“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.

“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!

“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015

A third of Hartlepool workers are ‘trapped in poverty’

More than a third of Hartlepool workers do not earn enough to live on, according to new research.

Figures from the TUC show 34.7 per cent of people in the town are paid less than the living wage – defined as the minimum hourly rate needed for workers to provide for themselves and their family.

And Hartlepool is the worst place in the region for the number of women earning less than the living wage, with 46.7 per cent of female workers taking home less than the minimum £7.85 an hour.

TUC analysis shows nationally one in five jobs nationwide pays under the living wage – leaving more than five million people on less than subsistence pay.

In the North East, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency tops the list of living wage blackspots, followed by Hartlepool, Berwick, Newcastle North and North West Durham.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:

“In-work poverty is getting worse and it is proof the economy might well work for millionaires at the top, but does nothing to help people on low pay.”

Mr Wright raised the issue of pay inequality in a Commons debate last week in his role as Shadow Minister for Industry, and referred to Hartlepool.

“Almost a quarter of North East workers and nearly half of all part-time staff are not being paid a living wage,” he told MPs.

“It is striking that the people most likely to be in poverty in Britain in the 21st Century are those in work. No-one can honestly suggest that the economy is working well or as productively as it could be when that is the case.

“This country will not achieve our vision of a highly-skilled, well-paid and innovative work force, ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by all in work, if we continue down the present path.

“The taxpayer is having to subsidise, through tax credits and other parts of the welfare state, the failure of many firms to pay a decent wage.”

Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau manager Joe Michna said the centre was dealing with the consequences of low wages.

“These figures come as no surprise,” he said.

“Certainly a large number of our clients, particularly those struggling with their daily needs, would be below what is defined as the living wage.

“We get a lot of people who are on the minimum wage and others who are just above it.”

Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said:

“These figures show that huge numbers of working people in the North East are struggling to bring home a wage they can live off.

“Extending the living wage is a vital step towards tackling the growing problem of in-work poverty in parts of the North East – and Britain as a whole.

“Working families have experienced the biggest squeeze on their living standards since Victorian times, and these living wage figures show that women are disproportionately affected.

“Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom, and the government’s mantra about ‘making work pay’ is completely out of touch with reality.

“The number of living wage employers is growing rapidly and unions are playing their part in encouraging more employers to sign up and pay it.

“But we need to see a far wider commitment to pay the living wage from government, employers and modern wages councils – to drive up productivity and set higher minimum rates in industries where employers can afford to pay their staff more.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 Feb 2015

Government ‘blunder’ risks thousands of teenagers losing the right to vote, MP warns

Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.

Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say

Now figures  reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.

If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.

The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.

In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.

The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95),  North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).

Mr Jones said:

“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.

 The Labour MP urged ministers to provide funding to local councils and require them to use other data they hold on 17-year-olds to get them registered in time.

And he said:

“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”

Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.

But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.

In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.

 A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it was “encouraging all local authorities” to write to every property in their area to tell 16 and 17-year-olds to go online to register.

Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.

She told ministers:

“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  16 Feb 2015

Tory website leak reveals list of “non-target” seats

The Conservatives appeared to write off their chances in a swathe of North-East constituencies, in a leak on the party’s own website.

Eight seats in the region are described as “non target” for the May general election, suggesting little effort will be put into trying to win them.

Unsurprisingly, the eight include some ultra-safe Labour seats where the Tories are miles behind, including North Durham (12,076 votes), North West Durham (9,773) and Sedgefield (8,696).

In others, the Conservatives were in third place in 2010, so face an even bigger mountain to climb in May, in City of Durham (14,350 votes behind) and Redcar (13,165).

However, the list also includes Darlington, where Labour’s Jenny Chapman finished just 3,388 votes ahead of her Conservative opponent five years ago.

Furthermore, Darlington was a Tory seat until it was lost by Michael Fallon – now the Defence Secretary – at the 1992 general election.

Ms Chapman said: “I am surprised. They need to change their attitude, because this is the kind of high-handed assumption that drives voters away from politics.”

But Peter Cuthbertson, the Conservative candidate in Darlington, said: “I think there’s every chance of victory – I’m picking up enthusiasm for change in Darlington.

“I have seen this list, but I have not had any communication with my party about it, so I don’t know whether it is true.”

Asked what help he was receiving from Conservatives headquarters, Mr Cuthbertson said: “It’s down to local people to muscle their own resources. I’ve got no expectation that they will campaign for me.”

Stockton North is also on the list, although Labour’s majority is only 6,676, as is York Central (6,451), where sitting Labour MP Hugh Bayley is standing down.

Other constituencies are described as “non target” because they have big Tory majorities, including Richmond (23,336) and Thirsk and Malton (11,281).

The blunder occurred when a staff member at Conservative HQ uploaded the photographs of hundreds of Tory candidates, of which 112 were categorised as “non target”.

 The leak implied the party had also given up on Rochester and Strood, where the MP Mark Reckless deserted the Tories and won a by-election for Ukip last year.

The mistake was later corrected, but not before the list was recorded by a freelance journalist, who published the information.

Source –  Northern Echo,  12 Feb 2015

Durham Free School was ‘a haven for every crap teacher in the North-East’, MP tells Commons debate

Failed Durham Free School (DFS) was a “haven for every crap teacher in the North-East”, a Commons debate was told last night.

Ministers were told that staff who had left other nearby schools – after “competency procedures” – had been given new jobs at the controversial Durham City secondary.

The allegation came as city MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said most people fighting its closure – ordered by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, last week – had “no direct knowledge of the school”.

Instead, they were relying on “very selective comments from the Ofsted report”, amid a national newspaper campaign claiming the watchdog is “waging war on Christian schools”.

In fact, Ms Blackman-Woods said, DFS had been “rated inadequate across all categories” – which was “highly unusual even for a free school”.

But, in reply, schools minister Nick Gibb defended the decision to open DFS, in September 2013, insisting it had passed “rigorous” tests set by the Department for Education (Dfe).

He told MPs:

“We were satisfied that the governing structure had the capability to deliver an outstanding education to its pupils.”

The debate was held eight days after the Education Secretary sprung a surprise by announcing DFS would be shut because “what Ofsted found is enough to shock any parent”.

Some parents and teachers have launched a “save our school” campaign – rejecting the criticisms – and have until next Tuesday to persuade Ms Morgan to change her mind.

But, in the Commons, North West Durham MP Pat Glass said:

“I was aware that there were very high levels of teachers working at Durham Free School that had already been through competency procedures with other local authorities.

“A head teacher in the region told me that the school had become a haven for every crap teacher in the North-East – that’s what he said to me.”

And Ms Blackman-Woods set out in detail the school’s key failings, which had made the closure decision “obvious”. They were that:

* “Students’ achievement is weak”.

* “Leaders, including governors, do not have high enough expectations of students or teachers”.

* “Governors place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff”

* “Teaching is inadequate over time”.

* “Teachers’ assessment of students’ work is inaccurate and marking is weak”.

* “The behaviour of some students leads to unsafe situations”.

The Durham City MP said the school had promised to be “caring”, but added: “It had moved from being caring to possibly scary for those young people.”

Of 43 letters she had received opposing the closure, only 18 had come from parents at the school.

Mr Gibb said DFS had received “£840,000-odd of revenue and capital funding” for its 92 pupils – plus a ‘pupil premium’ top-up for poorer youngsters.

Source –  Durham Times,  28 Jan 2015

‘Free school plans need better checks’ – MPs

A committee of MPs will today call for tougher rules before the setting up of ‘free schools’, to prevent a repeat of the Durham Free School fiasco.

The Department For Education (DFE) is urged to impose stronger checks before giving the go-ahead in areas with surplus places and a large number of outstanding, existing schools.

And it is told to publish the impact on neighbouring schools – not only when an application is made, but after a free school is opened.

The recommendations go to the heart of criticism of Durham Free School (DFS), which has been condemned as inadequate by watchdog Ofsted and will close within months.

Critics, led by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City’s Labour MP, argue DFS should never have been opened, in September 2013, and is a scandalous waste of money.

It attracted only about 90 pupils – in a city with high-quality schools, with empty places – and was expected to take another eight years to reach its target size of 630.

And it angered local people by opening temporarily in the former home of Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate, which had been controversially closed amid budget cuts.

The saga will be raised in the Commons tonight, in a debate led by Ms Blackman-Woods, who will demand that ministers reveal the full financial details behind the DFS failure.

Ministers are also under pressure to come clean about the role of Michael Gove’s former adviser, Durham-born Dominic Cummings, and his mother, in establishing the school.

Before that debate, today’s report by the Conservative-led education committee also accuses the Government of “exaggerating the success” of academies and free schools.

 Pat Glass, the North West Durham Labour MP, who helped carry out the inquiry, said the report was intended to prevent a repeat of events in Durham City. She said:

“We are saying the DFE needs to look very carefully before it agrees to set up a free school in an area that already has sufficient good places and good schools.

“Durham Free School was a waste of public money – £4m was thrown away – and Michael Gove did absolutely nothing about it.”

 Nicky Morgan replaced Mr Gove as Education Secretary in last year’s reshuffle. Last week, she announced DFS would be shut because “what Ofsted found is enough to shock any parent”.

Free schools have the same freedoms as academies, but have been typically set up the charitable arms of private firms, or groups of parents, or teachers.

There are now 1,884 secondary academies (60 per cent of the total) and 2,299 primaries (13 per cent), after outstanding schools were encouraged to convert.

Source –  Durham Times,  27 Jan 2015

Redcar council leader says ‘real’ working-class MPs are being squeezed out of Parliament

Poloticians with “plumby” accents are squeezing out working class MPs from Parliament, a leading North councillor has warned.

George Dunning, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said “career politicians” with “silver tongues” are being parachuted in ahead of real people in the corridors of power.

Coun Dunning, who worked in the Teesside steel industry for more than 30 years, said he was recently interviewed by a Labour panel of councillors who struggled to understand what he was saying.

I don’t talk with plumbs in my mouth because I was born and raised as part of a working-class Teesside family,” he said.

The Labour panel said I tended to raise my voice during debate and this made me difficult to understand.

“Obviously these people didn’t know I spent 30 years or more working in steel and 10 of those with no hearing protection.

“What annoys a lot of us, is, although we are a diminishing breed in steel, chemical and manufacturing, we are still around and we should have adequate representation in Parliament.

“I think it’s a kick in the teeth when members of your own political party struggle to understand why you talk the way you do.

“We’re working people with working-class backgrounds.

“Let’s see more real people in Parliament and not just the increasing breed of career politicians.”

The Teesside council leader is not alone in raising the issue of accent.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who was born and raised in  Ashington, accused Parliament of being hostile to working-class northerners.

He said: “We’ve got an elite in Westminster which, quite frankly, frightens me.

“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think ‘Well, that man doesn’t know too much.”

> Mind you, you know what they say about the Ashington accent…

A woman goes into a hairdressers in Ashington and says “give me a perm.”

“Ok“, replies the hairdresser, “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”

His Labour colleague, Pat Glass, who represents North West Durham, last year gave her take on the culture within Westminster.

If they spot a northern accent they start shouting about it to put you off,” she said.

Coun Dunning backed Mr Lavery’s words and credited the Northumberland MP as one of the few “real” working-class politicians in the Houses of Parliament.

“Ian Lavery’s comments hit where it hurts,” said Coun Dunning. “That being the elite class of MPs at Westminster feeling Ian’s blunt words. Then the truth always does, especially when stressing the lack of real people in Parliament.”

Source –  Sunday Sun, 11 Jan 2015

North East Labour MPs back firefighters in pensions dispute

MPs have spoken out to back firefighters, following a four-day strike over pensions.

Labour MPs from the North East urged Ministers to negotiate with firefighters.

And Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, hit out at plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 before they can receive their pension.

Currently, firefighters can retire at 55 but plans to make them work another five years are one of the contentious issues that have led to the strike.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Campbell said:

“I worked down the coal mine for 29 years, and I watched old men of 60 struggling at the coal face. What must it be like for firemen of 60 trying to save lives from fire and flood?”

He was answered by local government minister Penny Mordaunt, who said:

We need older workers to stay in the fire service because they have great expertise. By offering protections on pensions and jobs for older workers and good practice for fire authorities to follow, we will ensure that in future they have the protections that Labour did not introduce.”

> Sounds like “we need to keep on older workers because we can’t be arsed to train younger ones.” ?

The last Labour government raised the retirement age to 60 for people becoming firefighters after April 2006. The Government’s plans would increase the retirement age for every serving firefighter, including those who expected to retire at 55.

Other changes include changing the way pensions are calculated, which effectively means people will receive less, and increasing contributions.

Fire Brigades Union members began a four-day strike at the start of the end of October .

North West Durham MP Pat Glass asked:

“We have just come through the longest firefighters’ strike in 38 years. When will the Government stop their politically motivated and disingenuous behaviour in this dispute and genuinely sit down with the Fire Brigades Union to settle this, as the Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are doing?”

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell asked the Minister:

“Why does not she treat them with the respect that they deserve?”

And Stockton South MP Alex Cunningham highlighted a letter from Mrs Mordaunt to a Labour MP in which she said:

“I am conscious that we will only have the ideas for the service to meet future challenges and aspirations if firefighters are engaged and feel an ownership for the service. Trust and good morale are key to this.”

He asked her:

“How does refusing to change a single word of the regulation improve morale, and how does refusing to negotiate improve trust?”

The Minister insisted that firefighters received “one of the best schemes in the public sector”.

She said:

“There has been extensive debate and consultation on these matters. I have dealt with any outstanding issues in the past few months, including those of the transition of armed forces pension schemes into the firefighters’ pension scheme and fitness protections.

“The regulations have now been laid, and it is evident from the questions coming from the Opposition that they do not understand the scheme. It is an excellent scheme, and to say otherwise would be to do firefighters a disservice.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  12 Nov 2014

Tories accused of being “deeply patronising” to voters in North West Durham

Tories who selected a parliamentary candidate who lives 240 miles away to stand in County Durham have been accused of being “deeply patronising” to voters.

Charlotte Haitham-Taylor, the Conservative vying for the safe Labour seat of North West Durham, has rented a home in Shotley Bridge and was chosen to stand for the party in August.

However, she is also a councillor at Wokingham Borough Council, and this week faced calls to stand down from her role as Lead Member for Children’s Services.

Opponents in Berkshire say she cannot be a ‘part time head of department’, but rivals for the Durham seat say Ms Haitham-Taylor should not have been selected by David Cameron’s party to run in the North East seat at all.

Owen Temple, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate, said: “The Conservatives’ approach to our constituency is deeply patronising.

“Election after election they put up a candidate from the other end of the country (Maidstone in 2005, Cambridge in 2010, and now Berkshire) who is never seen again once the election is over.

“If they want to be taken seriously they need to develop a local candidate. The problem is there just are no local Conservatives.”

Pat Glass, the incumbent Labour MP for the constituency, said: “I think that Ms Haitham-Taylor needs to be open about where she lives.

“It appears that she is telling people in North West Durham that she is local and has moved to Shotley Bridge whilst at the same time telling the people of Wokingham that she is only renting in Shotley Bridge and her home is in Wokingham.

“I think that the people of North West Durham deserve to be represented by someone that not only lives in North West Durham but also shares an understanding of the issues that are important to them and affects their daily lives but also shares some collective history with them.”

When  approached  for a comment, Ms Haitham-Taylor said she had rented the Shotley Bridge home at her own cost and had committed considerable time with voters in County Durham already.

However, the Tory campaigner, who is a mum-of-one and a professional fine artist, also made a press statement hitting out at her critics in Wokingham and insisting her role with the Berkshire council was more important.

She told the BBC: “I can understand why they might have concerns but I want to assure them that I absolutely prioritise my duties of lead membership for children’s services.

“That is incredibly important to me. I will not desert my role in order to put my canvassing in North West Durham ahead of that.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Sept 2014