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
The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
Campaigners have hit out at rail fares as it was revealed it is cheaper to drive to London in a Bugatti Veyron than catch the train.
Fares from Newcastle and Middlesbrough to the capital city work out more expensive by almost 10p per mile than driving the £850,000 supercar.
Rail travel to London at peak times costs even more – at 20p per mile more than the gas guzzling motor.
An investigation revealed the Veyron, which has an engine more powerful than that in a World War Two Hawker Hurricane fighter plane, costs a whopping 32p per mile to drive.
This means a journey in the Bugatti from Newcastle Central station to Kings Cross would cost a whopping £90.24. The same journey in a tiny Volkswagen Up! would cost around £28.
Travelling from Middlesbrough Rail Station to Kings Cross would cost £80.64.
But the journeys by rail were more even more expensive – at a cost of 45p per mile for an off-peak journey and 45p during rush hour.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said:
“Whilst East Coast has been a stunning success in public ownership, delivering a billion pounds back the taxpayer while the private train companies drain similar sums out, these figures show that in the run-up to the intended re-privatisation the route is being fattened up with eye-watering fares that can be exploited by any new private company taking over in the future.”
Andy Silvester, campaign manager of the Tax Payers’ Alliance, said:
“It’s totally understandable that taxpayers want a train line that they’re paying for to have more affordable ticket prices.
“The East Coast Mainline should be returned to private hands as soon as practically possible, as it is only by reintroducing competition that prices will come down.
> Do you think he really believes that ? Against all the evidence ?
“Of course, passengers are paying even more for their train tickets than the price of the ticket, as they’re also funding it through their taxes.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Better Transport, said:
“For the vast majority of people, the 2 hour 50 minute train journey from London to Newcastle will still be better value than the five hour drive, and come at less cost to the environment.
“The Government must take stronger action to keep rail fares down to ensure this continues to be the case.”
The Veyron has an out of town fuel economy of 15.6 letres per 100km, which was used to calculate how it fared compared to rail tickets between Newcastle and the capital.
Booking a ticket in advance allows travellers to pay less for train at specific times of the day. But for flexibility passengers need to buy off-peak and anytime singles and their prices stay the same all day.
The Veyron’s impressive cost for the journey highlights rising rail fares in England. Comparisons made by the Sunday Sun show it matches the price of a train ticket between Paris and Lyon in France, at exactly 32p per mile.
The journey on the continent is 243.23 miles compared to 268 between Newcastle and London.
A distance of 407 miles between Madrid and Barcelona puts the high rail fares in the UK in even sharper light. A journey between the two Spanish cities would cost just 22p per mile.
But a taxi ride between the two UK cities would set you back the most at £1.80 per mile or an eye-watering £496.80 on the metre.
The cheapest option would be to take a coach, at just 11p per mile and £29 per ticket.
Source – Sunday Sun, 05 Oct 2014
A former Labour mayor and trade union figure from the north of England has urged people in Scotland to vote for independence.
Craig Johnston, the former mayor of Carlisle, says a Yes vote will “energise the debate about devolution” across the UK.
Mr Johnston, a regional organiser for the RMT union, also hopes a new constitution in an independent Scotland will implement workers’ rights and “instil a bit of fairness in the workplace”.
Criticising the Labour Party, he said:
“I don’t want the Labour Party to be like it is.
“I can’t support a Labour Party that introduced the private finance initiative and let the moneylenders into the NHS – Nye Bevan’s temple.
“This is the party that oversaw the crisis, bailed out the bankers and started selling off the NHS. These are the people who are trying to scare us now.”
Dennis Canavan, chair of Yes Scotland’s advisory board, said:
“This is yet more evidence of the breadth and sheer energy of the Yes campaign.
“Craig Johnston is a highly-respected civic and political figure in Carlisle, which of course sits very close to the border and for centuries has had strong links with Scotland.”
Steve Bowditch, current Labour mayor of the city disagreed and said a Yes vote would be “extremely damaging for Carlisle”.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Sept 2014
North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.
The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.
The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.
Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.
The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.
The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.
And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.
Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:
“This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.
“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.
“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:
“The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”
Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.
Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:
“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:
“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”
However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Sept 2014
A CAMPAIGN against possible cuts in jobs and services on the Tyne Valley railway line gets under way in Hexham on Monday.
As part of protests against about the Government’s proposals for the future of the Northern franchise, the RMT union is launching a new phase of action on the day that Northern axes a range of off-peak fares.
RMT is pointing out to passengers that the fare increases may be a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern franchises. The union has slammed the Government and Northern Rail for secretly colluding to axe the off-peak fares.
A new postcard, following on from the 10,000 cards collected in opposition to the plans under the franchise consultation, will be distributed from Monday with the public urged to press MPs to sign EDM 174, opposing the new franchise proposals, and calling for councillors and local authorities to register their opposition.
Hexham has been chosen for the first phase in the action on Monday morning, between 7am and 9am, as commuters set off to work in Newcastle.
Source – Hexham Courant, 03 Sept 2014