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
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Redcar to voice concerns over jobs at a major new power plant.
Representatives from the Unite, GMB and UCATT unions protested in Redcar town centre.
It followed previous protests at the Wilton International Site near Redcar over the rate of pay given to foreign workers at the new £250m Sita facility.
Concerns have also been raised that the company was recruiting predominantly from overseas and was not adhering to nationally agreed terms and conditions.
Michael Blench, an officer for the GMB, said:
“The main reason for today is to keep up the pressure on Sita and Sembcorp, who are the landlords of the site.”
He added: “The ideal outcome from my point of view is that the site will be finished with the workforce that is there and that what we are doing sends a message.
“This situation hasn’t happened in the way we would have liked but the important thing is that if Sita ever came back to this area, they know our position from the start.
“This is a message for the future.”
Steve Cason, North-east regional officer for construction at Unite, added: “All we want to see is equality and fairness across the board.”
But Sita has denied claims made by the protesters and says it is paying the correct, nationally agreed rates to its employees.
A spokesman for the company said:
“Allegations continue to be made about the employment of foreign workers at the Wilton 11 construction site, including claims about low rates of pay and accommodation allowances.
“We continue to refute all of these allegations and there’s no evidence to support any of these claims.”
“Since construction began, a significant proportion of workers on site have been from the local area and we have made significant efforts to try and promote job opportunities to local workers. This included the organisation of a jobs fair at Redcar and Cleveland College on Thursday 19 February, to which 774 people attended.
“However, it is still necessary for a proportion of workers on site to be from wider European Union member states and it would be difficult to deliver a project of this nature without them.
“Energy-from-waste facilities require a great deal of specialist equipment which has had to be sourced from within the wider European Union. These elements are of a bespoke and sophisticated nature, meaning that some of our suppliers choose to use their own specialist and experienced workforce when they are fitted.
“All workers on site, regardless of their nationality, are employed because of their individual skills and abilities. They have a legal entitlement to work in the UK and contribute to the local economy while they are here, furthermore there is no substance to allegations that they are employed on site as a means of sourcing cheap labour.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 Apr 2015
The Green Party admits this election is about building momentum for success at the General Election 2020.
At the North East launch of its manifesto at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle, parliamentary candidates and members running in the local elections said their support had quadrupled in the past six months, which had set the scene of the party becoming a serious challenger over the next decade.
The Newcastle party now has 400 members and has five times as many candidates standing in the local council elections compared to 2014, and four times as many General Election candidates since 2010 across the North East.
However nationally it holds just one seat in Brighton, represented by former leader Caroline Lucas, and the party is yet to make inroads on any local council in the region.
Former Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Peter Thomson, who switched from Labour to The Greens, said:
“We believe we are going to pick up a lot of support. We’re not so stupid to think we can win a raft of seats but there’s a distinct possibility of more than one. For us it’s a process of building and the next election in 2020 will be the one where we will see a significant Green breakthrough.”
“In much the same way the SNP have proved themselves much more attractive, you are going to see that in the country as a whole – people will realise that there is a viable opportunity.”
As a representative of those who have shifted from Labour, Mr Thomson said the Green manifesto this week had proven that the party is one of the true left.
“I was a former Labour councillor for Elswick, but I’ve moved across to Green in the last year. I drifted across from the Labour party because I didn’t believe that it really did fight for social justice anymore or recognise the really serious nature of the neo-liberal crisis that effects the whole of our international economy and until we face up to that we are in deep trouble.
“This means we need to start addressing climate change and the things that drive it like unbridled development. I would have found it very difficult to be part of the city’s Labour council as they put through their Core Strategy for building new homes and I would have found it very hard to have sat through the cuts that Labour has been forced to make.”
Joining the parliamentary and local election candidates at the rally was Peter Pinkney, who is running for MP in Redcar, and as the president of the RMT union, one of the Green’s most high profile candidates.
He said Green party leader Natalie Bennett was a ardent campaigner on the RMT’s behalf against the privatisation of the railways.
“Whenever we have a campaign about re-nationalising the railways, or there’s picket lines and demonstrations – she’s there.
She’s given us support all along, as has Caroline Lucas, who moved a private members bill to re-nationalise the railways which is more than any Labour MPs have done.”
He said the fact Labour has set up a task force to attack the Greens was telling of the party’s threat of swiping votes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Apr 2015
Darlington: currently held by Jenny Chapman (Lab)
Jenny Chapman (Lab),
Mike Cherrington (Green),
Anne-Marie Curry (LD),
Peter Cuthbertson (Con),
Alan Docherty (TUSC),
David Hodgson (Ukip)
Hartlepool: currently held by Iain Wright (Lab)
Hilary Allen (LD),
Sandra Allison (Save Our Hospital),
Phillip Broughton (Ukip),
John Hobbs (Ind),
Michael Holt (Green),
Stephen Picton (Ind),
Richard Royal (Con),
Iain Wright (Lab).
Middlesbrough: currently held by Andy Mcdonald (Lab)
Craig Baker (Ukip),
Simon Clarke (Con),
Hannah Grahm (Green),
Richard Kilpatrick (LD),
Andy McDonald (Lab).
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: currently held by Tom Blenkinsop (Lab)
Tom Blenkinsop (Lab),
Martin Brampton (Green),
Ben Gibson (LD),
Will Goodhand (Con),
Steve Turner (Ukip).
Redcar: vacant – Ian Swales (Lib Dem) standing down.
Christopher Gallacher (Ukip),
Philip Lockey (North East Party),
Josh Mason (LD),
Peter Pinkney (Green),
Anna Turley (Lab),
Jacob Young (Con).
Stockton North: currently held by Alex Cunningham (Lab)
Mandy Boylett (Ukip),
Alex Cunningham (Lab),
Christopher Daniels (Con),
Adrian Sycamore (LD),
John Tait (North East Party).
Stockton South: currently held by James Wharton (Con)
Louise Baldock (Lab),
Drew Durning (LD),
Jacqui Lovell (Green),
Ted Strike (Ukip),
Steve Walmlsey (Ind Against Social Injustice),
James Wharton (Con).
It was ultimately unsuccessful, but the campaign for devolution in Scotland has fanned the flames of regional rule in the North-East that were never quite extinguished by the 2004 ‘no’ vote.
The North East Party was launched less than a year ago as the independence campaign north of the border was in full swing. On May 7, it will field four candidates in Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North.
Vice-chair Susan McDonnell, who formed the party with former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, admitted they had hoped to have more candidates standing, but people who had initially shown an interest backed away when they realised the effort involved.
“They also had to find £500 for the deposit from their own pocket which may have put them off,” says Mrs McDonnell, who will contest the Easington seat.
The party wants to see a referendum for the the region’s 12 unitary authorities to be replaced by a single North-East government, however Mrs McDonnell stresses that it is not all about devolution.
“It’s about decision making taking place in the North-East by people from the North-East – we’re sick to death of being the poor relation in the North.”
The party has enjoyed some early success with two councillors voted on to Peterlee Town Council, and Mrs McDonnell says its membership is growing fast.
“We’re got quite a large presence on social media and are getting people from all over the region travelling to our meetings – Blyth, Newcastle, Redcar, Hartlepool and Stockton.”
The candidate accepts she may not be able to defeat the standing Easington MP, Grahame Morris, who has a majority of almost 15,000, but she adds: “I’m having a whale of a time.
“I am taking it very seriously but I also understand it’s a game. I’m not so naive to think that I will win on May 7 but I will give Grahame Morris as good a run as he’s ever had – I hope to give him a bloody nose.”
The party is one of several regional parties which have appeared around the country in recent years, with many forming an allegiance under the Vote Local banner.
Mrs Mc Donnell says the parties have been launched because of a combination of being disillusioned with the mainstream Westminster centred parties and the referendum in Scotland. The new parties include Yorkshire First, which wants to see a Yorkshire parliament.
Devolution and regionalism expert Arianna Giovannini, who lectures at Huddersfield University, said the idea of regionalist parties was not new.
However, she adds: “What is certainly new is the emergence of regionalist parties in the North of England, ie Yorkshire First, the North East Party, and the Campaign for the North.”
Dr Giovannini says the emerging regionalist parties have great potential, especially if they succeed in joining forces with other organisations and movements, and manage to achieve grassroots support.
But she adds:
“Whether regional devolution in the North of England will succeed or fall may well hinge on the ability to generate democratic momentum, creating a clear, bold, confident and concerted vision for the future.
“However, the story of the Scottish Constitutional Convention tells us that such a process will take time, and cannot be rushed or accomplished overnight. In this sense, the following months and the results and effects of the imminent general election will be crucial in shaping the path ahead.”
The North East Party may not yet be big enough to change the course of the devolution debate in this region, but it is certainly a sign of the growing desire to see greater powers handed over.
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Apr 2015
Labour leader Ed Miliband denied accusations he supported “bullies” or was a “coward” after an attack by disgruntled party members on a visit to the North-East.
Mr Miliband gave a speech and took questions from the public on a visit to Redcar, a town which the party hopes to take from the Liberal Democrats in May’s General Election.
He offered a vision of better jobs, fairer employment rights and more power and money for the region – but the event was overshadowed by a protest from former party loyalists.
The demonstration outside Redcar and Cleveland College, where the Labour leader was speaking, was led by former long-standing Labour leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, George Dunning, who brandished a banner saying ‘Does Miliband Support Bullies?’.
Cllr Dunning, a trade-unionist and former steelworker, and ten other councillors were deselected by the party earlier this year.
The councillors went on to resign from the Labour Party saying they had been “bullied.”
Cllr Dunning’s former deputy leader, Sheelagh Clarke, went further, branding Mr Miliband “a coward.”
“He called Cameron a coward because the Prime Minister won’t take part in the TV debates. But he can’t find a quick minute to talk to eight, nine or ten of us ordinary people. How can he be leader of our country if he can’t talk to a few ordinary people? It is cowardly.”
Mr Miliband said he was offering “a big plan” for the region which included increasing the minimum wage, more apprenticeships for youngsters, an end to ‘zero hours’ contracts and more high quality jobs. A key area where the economy could be boosted and high paid jobs created was green energy, he said, which with some Government investment and encouragement could be a major asset to the North-East.
Earlier, Mr Miliband welcomed the improved employment figures, with 45,000 new jobs created in the region since Labour lost power in 2010, but said many were “low paid, insecure and not good enough.”
But in much of his question and answer session with about 200 members of the public he focused on what he would do for young people, including guaranteeing apprenticeships for 18-year-olds and lowering university tuition fees.
Asked about the decline in Durham Tees Valley Airport he promised a future Labour Government would “look at the whole issue of regional airports.”
One Teesside woman spoke movingly of having to leave work for eight months to look after her severely ill, 11-year-old daughter with various authorities declining to offer support, while another talked of having to look after four grandchildren and having to give up her home.
Mr Miliband received his biggest round of applause after publicly thanking the women for their “incredibly important work” and said it was an issue the party was already looking at.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Mar 2015
Former Labour councillors today called on Ed Miliband to investigate after a bitter row in the Redcar party led to the departure of a number of high-profile members.
Former Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning headed a demonstration in Redcar asking for a full investigation into the party’s “flawed selection process”.
The call came ahead of the Labour leader’s question and answer session at Redcar and Cleveland College.
Mr Dunning’s deselection followed those of Redcar and Cleveland Council cabinet members Steve Goldswain (Eston) and Norman Pickthall (Teesville), the chair of Cleveland Fire Authority, Cllr Brian Briggs (Skelton) and Cllr Olywn Peters (Eston).
The deselections meant Mr Dunning and his colleagues could not stand for Labour in May’s elections and followed claims of bullying and harassment in the local party.
Mr Dunning, who has since quit the party, said:
“I was and still am the longest serving leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council.
“But I was deselected due to the influence of a group within the party who have never been voted for by the public.
“Everybody knows the selection process is flawed from start to finish.
“I’m absolutely appalled by the Labour Party. I’m nearly 65 and this is the first time ever I will not be voting for Labour. It is not a democratic party anymore and it no longer represents the working class.
“I’ve asked the question, will Ed Miliband carry out a full investigation into Labour Party North’s deeply flawed selection process?”
The deselections have seen Labour lose control of Redcar & Cleveland Council.
> Which seems a weird thing to do just before elections….
The upheaval in the Redcar and Cleveland Labour group follows a similar row in the Middlesbrough party last year.
Five councillors were deselected following interviews, and although Cllr Derek Loughborough won an appeal against the decision, he quit the party along with Cllrs Len Junier, Pervaz Khan, Sajaad Khan and John McPartland.
In a statement issued at the time of the deselections, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, said it was “time for change”.
“Leader George Dunning and deputy leader Sheelagh Clarke have served Redcar and Cleveland with great commitment and have a lot to be proud of,” the statement said.
“However, local Labour Party members have today voted to replace them with other candidates for the ward of Teesville. We have a wealth of talent in the Labour Party and the bar has been set very high this year.
“The people of Redcar and Cleveland deserve the very best representation that the Labour party has to offer in the local community and members have chosen some fantastic local candidates. It is time for change. We are building a fresh, exciting and committed new team.”
The statement was released in the names of Mr Blenkinsop, Ms Turley and John McCormick, chair of Redcar and Cleveland Local Campaign Forum, Neil Bendelow, chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party and Bill Suthers, chair of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour Party.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 06 Mar 2015
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 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
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
The leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council has hinted that he could stand as a Green Party candidate after being deselected by the Labour party.
Councillor George Dunning, who expects to be removed as leader on Thursday, was one of ten Labour members who last week tore up their party card outside the office of the party’s would-be Redcar MP, Anna Turley.
The veteran Labour councillor was not selected, alongside his deputy Sheelagh Clarke and several members of his cabinet committee, by the party to fight in May’s council election.
Now he said he could stand as an Independent councillor but says several of the members have been approached by the Green Party.
Mr Dunning said:
“I expect to be thrown out as council leader as the Lib Dems move a motion of no confidence in me for a second time, the last time was September 2013. I expect that following Thursday’s council meeting I won’t be the council leader after being the longest serving Redcar and Cleveland Council leader. Options for me, and the other former Labour councillors, will then be considered.”
The news comes as a leading union official announced that he would be standing for the Green Party in the Redcar constituency.
“Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.
“As a life-long socialist, I could see that most of the policies were what the Labour Party once had, but those days are long gone with Labour.”
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Feb 2015