A Sunderland clergyman is among hundreds who have turned out to fight plans for Britain’s nuclear weapons programme.
Rev Chris Howson, who is based at Sunderland Minister, his wife Katriona, and their daughters Clara, 10, and Angela, seven, are among the crowd blockading the Faslane military base on the River Clyde in Scotland.
They are among a North East contingency who have made Bairns Not Bombs banners, with some members of the protest chaining themselves in to prevent anyone entering or leaving the site.
Wear 4 Peace has around 15 people at the event.
Rev Howson, who travelled to Scotland overnight with his family, said:
“We’re protesting against Trident, which would cost £100billion at a time when Sunderland is facing cuts in its services and terrible devastation to its public sector.
People from across the world are taking part in today’s protest, and Rev Howson say the group will remain in place for as long as possible.
Trident is a sea-based nuclear weapons system which was acquired by Margaret Thatcher Government in the early 1980s as a replacement for the Polaris missile system which the UK had possessed since the 1960s.
Trident came into use in the 1990s, with a proposal to renew it sparking the protest today and other demonstrations.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 13 Apr 2015
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
Darlington Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is warning that ‘rip-off’ letting agent’s fees are causing renters financial problems in the borough.
New evidence uncovered by the charity reveals tenants are frequently charged fees often hidden by letting agents – to the tune of £337 on average nationally.
These charges come on top of advertised rent prices and deposits and in some cases can force people into debt, the charity says.
Nationally in the last year, Citizens Advice has seen around 14,500 cases of client problems with private rented rents and other charges
Most agents charge for checking references, but costs nationally range from as little as £6 to £300, according to the study.
Renters can also be hit by charges ranging from between £15 to £300 for simply renewing their tenancies.
Some agents charged £300 for credit checks that are widely available for £25.
The Still Let Down report advises that letting agents’ fees should be banned to protect tenants in the private rental sector.
Neeraj Sharma, CEO of Darlington Citizens Advice said:
“Some renters in Darlington area are being let down by agencies.
“People are being hit with fees for inventories, credit checks, and tenancy renewals.
“Adding expensive agency fees on top of rents can stretch people’s finances to breaking point.
“If you’re struggling because of letting agent’s fees, then come to Citizens Advice for help as soon as you know there’s a problem.”
Despite an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) requirement being introduced in 2013 that agents should give clear information about fees, this study found that only a third provided full written details.
The requirement will become law later this year which will mean agents have to publish fees on their websites and in their offices.
But Darlington CAB is concerned this will have little impact.
The charity says it does not call for a fees ban in England ‘lightly’, but said alternative measures have not worked.
It adds that if charges are to be made, they should fall on landlords as they are in a better position to shop around and pick the best agency.
A fees ban was introduced in Scotland in 2012 and there is no clear evidence to suggest it has led to an increase in rental prices, the report adds.
Darlington CAB is running a Settled and safe: a renter’s right campaign, calling for better protections for private renters and anybody needing advice can visit the office at Bennett House on Horsemarket.
Source – Northern Echo, 06 Apr 2015
Police have been left red-faced after breaking down the door of the wrong home during an early-morning raid – leaving a handwritten note to apologise.
The botched operation, which took place at 7.30am on Wednesday, saw eight officers from the North East of England and Edinburgh storm a flat in Pennywell Road, in the Scottish capital, after the family there left for work.
But after drilling a hole in the front door to remove the lock and force entry into the home, it quickly became apparent that they had mixed up names and targeted the wrong person.
Incredibly, it is the second time confused officers have wrongly linked the family to a serious assault in the North East of England.
Mr McPhail, 52, said:
“It’s like the Keystone Cops. They were apparently there for four hours trying to gain entry.
“It’s ridiculous that they have time to do this. I told them, ‘Next time you fancy a jolly in Edinburgh go and see the Castle and leave my flat alone’.
“Is this how they do policing now?
“I’m not going to let this lie. I’m going to have to make a complaint. My son is going to have to because he has his career to worry about.
“I’m really sorry for the person who was assaulted, but that doesn’t justify them coming up and doing this.
“All I want is my door back to how it was – it’s all scratched and battered.
“I just want people to realise that you can be completely law abiding and go about your life, but there’s nothing to stop the police coming in your house anyway.”
After the unsuccessful operation, embarrassed officers left a handwritten note in the McPhails’ living room asking them to “please accept our sincere apologies for this inconvenience”.
The letter also listed telephone numbers to contact if the family wished to make a claim for the damage inflicted on their door.
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said:
“The officers acted upon the information that was available to them at the time. It wasn’t made apparent until today that the person at the address was unconnected to the investigation.
“Police officers from the Edinburgh area attended the address to support Cleveland officers who were carrying out the warrant.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 04 Apr 2015
A report published today reveals the “human cost” of Government cuts in the North East.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the most deprived areas of England have seen the largest cuts in funding since 2010.
‘The Cost Of The Cuts’ report finds that local authorities have been able to protect front line services by finding new, innovative ways of working, but that capacity for further efficiency savings is fast running out.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, who last week oversaw £40million budget cutbacks and a council tax increase which will see the city’s Band B residents paying £20 more a year, said:
“This research highlights the human cost of the cuts to service users and staff and reinforces the case Newcastle has made for a fairer and more equitable settlement.
“We have long argued that disproportionate Government cuts have had a bigger impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have now added their independent voice to the many who now confirm that, sadly this has indeed been the case.
“Whilst we recognise the need for reductions in public spending, the cuts have been implemented far too quickly and at a pace and scale which has led to service reductions which could otherwise have been avoided. This approach is causing real harm to our communities.
“In Newcastle we have responded by doing all we can to safeguard services to the most vulnerable, and to continue to invest in our city to create the jobs and economic growth which are fundamentally important to tackling the inequalities in health, wealth and quality of life which blight our communities.
“More innovative approaches are possible based on greater devolution of public service budgets to places, and multi-year financial settlements which give local councils and their partners greater certainty about their finances. This would allow us to plan ahead together for a more transformative approach to sustaining public services in the face of continuing austerity.”
Analysis of local government expenditure data reveals that the poorest English authorities have seen reductions of £182 more per head than the most affluent, breaking the historic link between the amount a local authority spends per head and local deprivation levels.
In 2010/11, the most deprived councils had an extra 45% of expenditure per head to cope with additional needs. By 2014/15, this had been reduced to 17%.
Services such as housing and planning have been worst affected across the country, seeing cuts of around 40%.
The report highlights an important difference between the situation in England and in Scotland. It claims the slower pace of cuts in Scotland may have given local authorities more room to invest in preventative measures, which could drive down costs in the medium term by reducing the need for services in future years.
Professor Annette Hastings from the University of Glasgow said:
“Local councils find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. At a time when the agenda is about how to make public services work better, particularly for those that need them the most, councils are being subjected to year on year funding cuts.
“Their capacity to deliver positive change is being reduced just when it is needed the most.”
Josh Stott, policy and research manager at the Foundation said:
“The cuts have forced the pace of local service reform and there have been some positives, in terms of service redesign and new ways of working.
“However, we are now beginning to see the impacts of the cuts filter through on to the quality of local services. There is a general consensus that we are only half way through the cuts and, if we continue on this course, it seems inevitable that the poorest people and places will be even harder hit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Mar 2015
Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
> If it aint broke… break it.
The East Coast Main Line franchise made a profit of £13 million last year – with the cash returned to the Treasury.
And the financial success of the line is in stark contrast to other (privatised) rail franchises, which required millions in subsidies to keep going.
Labour said the figures exposed the foolishness of privatising the line, which is currently run by a state-owned business but is due to be managed by Virgin Trains from March.
They were published in the annual financial report of the Office of Rail Regulation, the official regulator for Britain’s railways.
The East Coast Main Line was one of only two rail franchises to make a profit for taxpayers. The other was South West Trains.
Virgin Trains, which currently runs the West Coast Main Line from London to Manchester and on to Scotland, received £221 million in subsidies.
And the most expensive franchise was the Northern Rail line, which operates in the North East, North West and Yorkshire, and received £495 million.
A separate study by consumer group Which also found the East Coast Main Line had a good record for train delays, coming sixth out of 21 franchises for the lowest number of delays.
Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP said:
“These reports prove that the forthcoming East Coast sell-off is set to be a terrible blunder that puts privatisation ahead of passengers’ and taxpayers’ best interests.”
“East Coast was one of only two train operating companies that made a net contribution to the Treasury once infrastructure costs were taken in to account.”
Labour plans to allow a state-owned operator to bid for future franchises, although this would still potentially allow private operators to run franchises if they win the bidding process.
The policy not supported by some Labour MPs who argue that franchises should simply be transferred to the public sector once they expire.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
“We are investing record amounts in our railways as part of our long-term economic plan and passenger fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements, which will bring more services, more seats and modern trains.
“As we drive forward this huge investment programme, it is absolutely important that disruption to passengers is kept to a minimum. It is also important that we recognise passengers’ concerns about the cost of rail fares. This is why we have frozen them for the second year in a row.”
The Office of Rail Regulation said rail industry income from passengers in 2013/14 was £8.16 billion – a 10.8% rise compared with the figure for 2010/11 and 6.2% higher than in 2012/13.
Government funding for the railways in 2013/14 was just under £3.8 billion – a 16.4% dip on the total for 2010/11 and 8.1% down on 2012/13.
Total Government funding in 2013/14 varied from £1.88 per passenger journey in England to £7.77 per journey in Scotland and £9.18 per journey in Wales.
Government funding in 2013/14 represented 28.5% of the rail industry’s total income.
The number of passenger journeys increased by 16.6% (or by 260 million journeys) between 2010/11 and 2013/14, with the amount of freight carried rising 18.1%.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said:
“There has been substantial growth in the use of the railways in the past four years. Passengers are increasingly the main funder of the railways, and must be central to developing plans for future services and investment.
“Our report also highlights that the rail industry has been successful in keeping costs stable despite carrying significantly more passengers.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Feb 2015
The Green Party is set to field more than three times as many candidates in the North East as in 2010, in a further sign that the smaller parties could play a key role in the general election.
And the party has turned to an “crowdfunding” website where supporters, or anyone who want to help, are urged to contribute small sums of money to help pay the cost of deposits.
One candidate is even offering donors rewards such as a sketch or a personalised poem if they help to fund his campaign.
It follows the success of the Greens in winning support from one in 20 voters in the region in the European elections last year, placing them almost level with the Liberal Democrats.
The party had just ten candidates in the region in 2010.
But it expects to have candidates in 25 seats on May 7.
However, standing for election can be an expensive business – particularly for a party without funding from big businesses or trade unions.
To help raise the £500 deposit which every candidate needs, the Greens have turned to a website called crowdfunder.co.uk which allows anybody to contribute sums, typically of £5 or more, to a cause.
In return, donors will receive a reward which varies from candidate to candidate.
Michael Holt, who hopes to be the Green Party candidate for Hartlepool, is offering to draw a sketch for backers who donate £5, write a personalised poem for £10 or record a song, on the subject of the donor’s choosing, for £30.
Other candidates are offering more conventional rewards. Donors backing the campaign of prospective Tynemouth candidate Julia Erskine can receive a badge or a mug.
The fundraising has a serious purpose – to allow the Greens to take part in May’s General Election in a way that hasn’t happened before.
It comes amid speculation that the traditional three parties – Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – could lose ground to parties such as UKIP, the Greens and, in Scotland, the SNP.
One opinion poll published this week found that Labour had 27 per cent of the vote in the North of England while Conservatives were on 22 per cent, UKIP on 14 per cent, Greens on seven percent and Lib Dems on four per cent.
The North East has not traditionally been the most fertile ground for the Greens, who have one MP, representing Brighton Pavilion.
Brighton and Hove Council is also the only council controlled by the Greens, as a minority administration. London, the south east and south west each have one Green MEP.
But the party believes it could pick up support in the North East and is campaigning on a series of local issues across the region. In Northumberland they are opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and they are also working with residents concerned about planned open cast mining at Druridge Bay.
Greens in Newcastle and Gateshead are campaigning to protect the green belt. Greens have also opposed the closure of the Jarrow NHS walk-in centre in South Tyneside.
Shirley Ford, North East organiser for the Greens and the party’s organiser in South Shields, said:
“The party has pledged to stand in at least 75% of constituencies and we are determined to exceed that in the North East. We really want to give everyone the chance to vote Green in the General Election. The way our membership and supporter numbers are rocketing, we are optimistic that we will be able to do that.”
“With local parties right across the region blossoming, we are confident we can raise all the deposits and funds for campaigning.
“And one key way we are doing this is by crowdfunding, with some local parties having already fully funded their candidates’ deposits. We rely on the commitment and dedication of our members and supporters to raise the money we need.”
What they stand for:
In line with the other parties, the Green Party has not yet published its General Election manifesto. The party says that its manifesto published last year for the European Elections provides a good guide to what it believes.
- Opposing austerity and instead creating jobs by investing in a low carbon economy
- Scrapping the welfare cap
- A new tax on bankers bonuses
- Stopping the “privatisation” of the National Health Service
- Bringing schools such as academies and free schools back under local authority control
- Bringing rail franchises back into public ownership
Scrapping the high speed rail line known as HS2
> The Green surge in the North East is interesting because formerly UKIP were claiming to be the alternative vote in the region for disillusioned Labour voters.
I suspect that the Greens are now becoming the alternative to UKIP being the alternative (if that makes sense). Certainly you’d like to hope that any ex-Labour or Lib Dems with principles would vote Green rather than UKIP and its pathetic policies.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
It seems that Hilton Dawson has a history of triumphing against the odds.
The native Northumbrian has twice overcome substantial Tory power bases at council and parliamentary level to get into office.
That was in the North West where he lived and worked for around 20 years.
Now back home, he hopes to repeat his David and Goliath act at the next general election in May with the North East party he helped form and is chairman of.
And this time three of the four seats his party are contesting at Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North are held by Labour with who he was a member for 30 years.
But he doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his political roots, just loyalty to his personal roots.
“There isn’t anyone who stands up for the North East directly,” he said.
“My experience of parliament and working with national policy makers is that huge decisions are made in London by people who don’t know about the region.
“We need to get these big decisions – about jobs, housing, health, wellbeing, transport – made here.”
To do this, it aims to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales.
“We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Hilton said.
“In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”
The idea for it was born out of a debate in 2013 at the Newcastle Lit & Phil Society about whether it was time for ‘Wor Party’. A lot of people attending thought it was.
The North East Party was officially registered last May. It had its first annual general meeting in June then in December after a three day meeting it thrashed out its manifesto.
Read what you will into the fact these discussions took place in a room above a funeral home in Shotton Colliery.
“Very salubrious surroundings,” laughed Hilton at the memory but he is very pleased with the result and hopes to cause as much of a stir as his first attempt to change things as an eight-year-old schoolboy.
Born in Mona Taylor’s Maternity Home in Stannington, his parents were both teachers. He was raised in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where he was a pupil at Moorside First, locally known as the Colliery School.
It was there he recalls he became second in command in a pupils protest about the state of the school’s food.
“The soup was particularly terrible that day,” said Hilton.
“We marched up and down the playground all over dinner time. We all really enjoyed it.”
The Head, Mr Kirsopp (none of the kids knew his first name, of course), “emerged lugubriously at the end of lunch time” recalled Hilton.
“We looked at him with some trepidation then he ceremonially rang the bell and we went inside. Nothing more was said about it.”
This obviously whetted his appetite. After later completing his studies at Ashington Grammar School he gained a place at Warwick University to study philosophy and politics.
“Philosophy to understand the world and politics to change it,” he said.
Hilton recalled Warwick as a bit of a political hotbed in the 1960s with plenty of sit-ins and protests.
It was after his first year there he married Susan, who he met at school.
After graduating they went to stay for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel.
“We wanted to experience a collective way of life. We had idealistic expectations of it. The work was very hard but rewarding.”
Then they returned home as Susan was pregnant with their first child, Catherine.
He found work at the Choppington Social Welfare Centre, moving into a council house in Scotland Gate.
“It was one of the most educational experiences of my life,” said Hilton.
“I worked with the people of the community on many fantastic things. I was part of this rough, tough, incredibly warm hearted community organising anything from play groups for youngsters to events for the older residents, working with the people there to make things happen.
“At different times I would run the bar, put three tons of coal in the central heating, paint the walls, but most important of all I learned how to talk to people.
“The teachers’ son grew up an enormous amount.”
Having worked with social workers on projects there he became interested in the profession, getting a job at Bedlington.
“The attitude of people on the estate changed straight away. While they were still friendly it was a case of you’re a social worker now, there’s a difference.”
Hilton said he worked with a fantastic team determined to make a difference to the community and it was when he became involved in mainstream politics, joining the Labour party in 1978.
“The university anarchist saw at Choppington what a group of dedicated local politicians were doing for the community,” he said.
Hilton got onto a well respected course at Lancaster University.
“It was the top place to go,” he said. “It had the Centre for Youth Crime and The Community.”
He and wife Susan packed their bags and with daughter Catherine headed to the North West.
Soon after his second daughter Helen was born.
“She always says you lot speak funny. She is from the North West the rest of us are from the North East,” said Hilton.
He got heavily involved in child care and child protection issues, managing children’s homes as well as fostering and adoption services.
He worked his way up to social work manager, on call 24 hours a day.
“I could be called out at any time of the night dealing with all sorts of matters – a child on the roof, what are we going to do about it. Six kids who need housing now at 2am. It was stressful but I loved the job.”
His job resulted in a lot of community involvement and he decided to stand in the Lancaster City Council elections for the Ryelands ward in 1987.
“It had always been Tory and no-one ever understood why – it had a huge housing estate on it,” said Hilton.
The penny eventually dropped that while Tory supporters would vote come election day, hardly anybody from the estate ever did.
After much canvassing, that changed.
“It was one of the most seminal moments of my life,” said Hilton. “A huge phalanx of people came out of the estate to vote, knocking on doors as they went to persuade other people to vote.”
Hilton won the ward for Labour.
Then 10 years later in 1997 he stood for parliament in the Lancaster and Wyre constituency, formed after boundary changes from the old Lancaster constituency.
Since the Second World War Lancaster had been won by the Tories at every election bar the 1966 poll.
“No-one expected us to win,” he said.
“The media, even an eminent professor of politics. told me I had no chance.
“But I’d learned if you just engage with people, have a clear message and work hard at the grass roots you can win,” he said.
After winning the seat after a re-count he became well known for his championing of child related issues – he was named the 2004 Children’s Champion in the House of Commons – however it led to run ins with party bosses.
He objected to its policies on asylum seekers suggesting they be refused benefits would see their children left destitute.
Hilton described it as “immoral” in a Commons debate.
And then there the Iraq war – “a terrible time,” he recalled.
Hilton was one of the Labour MPs who backed a rebel backbench amendment that the case for war with Iraq was “unproven”.
So while he loved his first four years in Parliament, his enthusiasm waned considerably after he was re-elected, again after a recount, in 2001.
By 2005 he had decided it was time to move on and quit before the general election to return to children’s services.
He became CEO of Shaftesbury Young People which works for children both in care and in need and later chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.
In the meantime he had returned to his native North East, he and wife Susan buying a house in Warkworth which boasts a spectacular view of Warkworth Castle.
“I found I was able to commute to London from Alnmouth which is on the East Coast mainline.”
He also found time to fight for the Lynemouth and Ellington seat in the 2008 Northumberland County Council elections.
“It was the only safe Labour seat I have ever fought – and I got whupped,” said Hilton ruefully.
“I had the arrogance to think I could do it all in a month thinking I could repeat what I did in Ryelands over a much shorter period of time.
“It proved a very important political lesson.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 Jan 2015
“I am so disheartened, ill and worn down by them, but I will vote if it is with my last breath to get this Coalition out!”
Claimants are angry – not cowed – and they are planning to turn out in huge numbers to vote in May.
That’s the message from almost 6,000 readers who responded to the Benefits and Work General Election Survey, conducted over the last fortnight.
A staggering 84% of respondents said their lives had been made worse or much worse by the Coalition. 14% had seen no difference whilst fewer than 2% said it had been made better or much better.
You can read in detail what they had to say about life under the Coalition in “I’m scared” – what the Coalition have done to 84% of sick and disabled claimants.
But it’s what our readers had to say about their voting intentions that should have politicians breathing frantically into brown paper bags.
No fewer than 85% voted at the 2010 election.
And an extraordinary 93% of respondents plan on voting at the next election, an increase of 8%.
Although we didn’t ask, many told us who they intend to vote for as well. Below are a selection of the many thousands of responses we received.
I’ll never vote Tory/Lib Dem again
Perhaps politicians and the tabloids sometimes forget that it’s not only Labour voters who get sick, become disabled or lose their jobs. When it happens to a Conservative supporter it can come as a bit of a shock.
“For the first time in my life I do not know who to vote for. After what Ian Duncan Smith put me through I cannot ever vote Tory again, but it is hard making a new choice.”
“Vote this coalition out. I voted conservative for all my life. Never again. I don’t trust a word that comes out of their mouths, especially the DWP and Employment ministers.”
“I would prefer the Downing Street cat to get elected rather than the Conservatives, and, I like many voted for them in the last election.”
“Our family would never vote for a tory government ever again!”
“I am in a Tory marginal. They’ve lost three votes in this household. I am not convinced that Labour – the only likely alternative – are likely to do anything better. The Bedroom Tax does not apply to me but as a result of its impact on disabled people I will not be voting Tory again. Neither will I vote for the Lib Dems who did not have the backbone to stop it. I will be voting tactically in the hope that this Government will fall and take IDS with them.”
And then there are all those people who voted Lib Dem in the expectation that they would pursue left of centre policies . . .
“I feel that my vote last time was not how I wanted it to be. I voted Liberal Democrats to keep conservative from ruining the country, I certainly didn’t expect my vote to be added to the conservatives.”
“Lib Dems stole my vote.”
Finally, there are Tory and Lib Dem supporters who initially thought that a coalition might be rather a good idea.
“I had high hopes for the Coalition (I have always voted for one of the Parties in question); however, I won’t be voting for either of them in the next election. Massively disappointed.”
“The only good thing to come out of the coalition is that I am now aware of how spineless and what liars both parties are. I will never vote for either of them again.”
I’m voting Labour, reluctantly
We weren’t surprised by the number of respondents who volunteered the information that they would be voting Labour. But what came across very strongly indeed was the almost universal lack of enthusiasm for doing so. Most sick and disabled people expect Labour to be bad, just not as bad as the Conservatives.
“Vote tactically; even if that does mean the Labour Party, whom I do not particularly wish to endorse.”
“Vote Labour. They can be no worse than the coalition.”
“This coalition has been the most heartless and uncaring in living memory. Whether things will massively improve under Ed Miliband is debateable, but at least some of the Labour MPs do care.”
“Have to get these out, Labour might not be much better but sure can’t be worse.”
“We have to get the Tories out and at least with Labour it won’t be quite as bad.”
“Russell Brand speaks the truth about the corrupt political system which needs destroying and recreating in another form. Not sure it’s a good Idea not to vote though …we could end up with the nightmare scenario of permanent Tory rule…with a heavy heart I will vote Labour.”
“Life under this Gov has been very hard to the poorest section of our people, but be under no illusion, life under Labour won’t be a great deal better, but anything better is good.”
“Labour slightly more likely to look after claimants.”
“Vote strategically. Anything which gets the Conservatives out of sole or coalition power. Don’t vote Lib Dem they sold out. Labour are far from perfect. But only alternative viable party who stand any chance of beating Tories. Working class and the vulnerable stand a chance if Labour regain power.”
“I’m no fan of Labour’s timid approach but since only Labour can beat the Tories and since they are more likely to listen, vote Labour where it will secure a Labour victory and vote for any other progressive party where it will keep the Tory out even if Labour can’t win the seat.”
“Because at least Labour have promised to abolish the sickening bedroom tax, whether or not they adhere to this promise is yet to be seen, as we know the politicians don’t stick to what they promise.”
“For the past 5 years my wife and I have been at the mercy of a government that has none. So Labour are the only credible party, they are for the common people but still they need to have more working class people as MPs not public school boys.“
“It’s got to be better under Labour they are fairer and have more compassion and will abolish the illegal bedroom tax.”
“Voting is the only way to bring about a much needed change. Hundreds if not thousands will not survive another 5 years of the Tories. Many people I know will be voting UKIP but my strong views are that a UKIP vote is a vote for the Tories. We must vote Labour.”
I’m voting Green with hope
By contrast to Labour voters, those who say they are voting green tend to be much more positive about their choice – even if it runs the risk of splitting the anti-conservative vote and putting the Tories in power.
“I have been a Labour supporter all my life but no longer. If we have a Green candidate in our constituency I will vote Green. If not I suppose it will have to be Labour.”
“Vote green, even if they don’t get a majority, they do at least support what labour used to stand for.
“I am voting Green Party if there is a candidate as they are the only party that shows any compassion for a fairer society.
“I will probably feel upset whatever the outcome, but I’d feel more miserable if I didn’t even have a say. I think we should all give the Greens a try now.”
“I’m proud to say I’m voting Green, again. Their policies, when people take the time to read them, are very, very good. And they support the little fish in the big ocean – us.”
“Vote for the Greens, if you really don’t know who else to vote for… we’ve tried everyone else. Even Labour now are too right-wing and don’t represent the low-paid working class person.”
“At least make a protest vote to give hope for others. Vote green!”
“It matters to vote to make other parties, e.g. Green Party stronger. I will not vote Tory or Labour, both behave disgusting towards disabled people, but will vote for alternative.”
I’m voting SNP/Plaid because they are for claimants
In Scotland, there seems to be a real feeling that the SNP can be trusted to oppose some of the worst attacks on claimants in a way that people no longer trust Labour. The same appears to be true of Plaid.
“I shall vote SNP as I live in Scotland and they do not want the DLA to change to PIP
Labour admit that they will still implement welfare cutbacks so they are useless but preferable to Tories. I will be voting SNP.”
“I intend to vote SNP as they have tried to help by subsidising the bedroom tax and are against austerity cuts. Labour are no longer a socialist party, MPs voted with the Tories for further cuts.”
“Tories are out to crucify you if you have a disability. I’m voting SNP, as a Scot I can testify been stabbed in back for voting to stay in union but gain fictional extra devolution.”
“It matters for me in Scotland to vote SNP as they genuinely oppose the cuts and may hold the balance of power. Voters in the rest of the country may benefit from voting tactically to
get rid of the Tories .”
“I live in wales which biases my choice of which party to vote for. So if i was talking to someone who also lived in wales i would tell them that Plaid Cymru have the most disability friendly policies of all political parties in the UK. I realise that Plaid if they came to power in Wales would not have the capacity to control benefits however they may be able to in future as devolutionary powers increase.”
“I will vote for Plaid Cymru in Wales. I am not concerned with England. I don’t think it is worth voting there.”
I’m voting UKIP in spite of the press
In spite of continued negative publicity and the strong indication that some UKIP candidates despise claimants, there is no shortage of sick and disabled claimants willing to give UKIP a try.
“Vote for UKIP- this will blow out the old tired parties that just want to save money by bullying the disabled. UKIP is largely an unknown at the moment, but they will probably leave the disabled alone- at least for a few years.”
“I detest this government and would like to see UKIP have a chance.”
“I will be voting UKIP as I don’t believe in David Cameron and I don’t feel that being in the EU is helping this country.”
“The only hope is UKIP so we need to vote to get their influence into government, or at least to have a big influence as part of a coalition.”
“Vote ukip. Hoping they will be better than others.”
“To my dismay I have always voted Conservative. In the next election and future elections UKIP will have my vote.”
“Vote UKIP who are the only ones that understand the people’s needs , do not vote for the self-serving 3 main parties or this will just continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
“I feel that the last Labour government with its Stealth Taxes and general lies have completely lost my support for ever. The Conservative’s did not do what they promised – so how can I trust them. It’s time for a new party, may be UKIP could do a better job.”
I’m voting for anyone who can keep the Coalition parties out
For many respondents it really is a question of voting for anyone at all, so long as the result is that the Coalition parties are forced from power.
“I am so disheartened, ill and worn down by them, but I will vote if it is with my last breath to get this Coalition out!
“I’m 47 and never voted before having had the feeling my vote didn’t matter but with the way the sick and disabled have been treated by this coalition i will certainly be voting to try and make sure they don’t stay in power
“I don’t care who gets in at the next election as long as the conservatives no longer have any power over the running of this country. Nobody could do as bad a job as them, and over the years the considerable damage they have done to this country is horrendous.”
“It matters very much that you make a point of voting. Any fellow claimants must vote to try and keep the Conservatives and Lib Dems out. Things will only get worse if they get in power again. Please take time out to vote!!!”
“I fear for my life and for this country if the Tories are elected again.
“We don’t have the power to work miracles, but we do have the power to get the Tories out. It’s not that I think any other party will be a magic solution, but we know that things can only get worse with them in power.”
“Life under the coalition ? You haven’t got one! Upcoming election? Never before, have I been so interested/petrified of a certain party getting another 5 years and destroying our country even more!”
“We must vote in our thousands, our tens of thousands. It’s the only chance we have of getting rid of this cruel and vindictive Coalition.”
It’s my duty to vote
On the subject of whether to vote or not, many respondents stressed their view that if you don’t vote you have no right to complain and that you are letting down all those who fought so hard for the right to vote.
There was also a strong view that if claimants are seen to be active voters then politicians will start to take notice of them.
“I don’t know whether voting will do any good. But if I don’t use my vote how can I complain about the people who are in power?”
“Generations that came before us fought hard for the right to vote, they were our ancestors, and like them we need to stand up for ourselves, and make our voices heard, or the powerful will find it easier to trample all over us.”
“We have to vote no matter what to show the government how we feel about their behaviour toward pensioners like myself who are disabled and ill. We are not scroungers most of us have worked since aged 15.”
“Benefit claimants should organise politically instead of not voting. Statistically we are among the groups less likely to vote. We have to fight to achieve our aims whether they are fairer benefits or just removing the stigma.”
“Politicians reward the sections of the electorate who vote, that is why older people get more generous giveaways. The young who don’t vote are ignored by the government.”
“People have to vote. It is totally ridiculous to say “your vote does not count”. Five more years of this shit and how many more people will die for the sake of Ian Duncan Smith and the rich of this country. People have to vote.”
“You can’t make a difference if you don’t vote. The government already think we are nobodies, don’t agree with them, make your voice heard.”
“There are people in the world who would give anything to vote and are prevented from doing so by their own leaders. You should vote even if it’s for a smaller party that you don’t think can win.”
“‘They’ are not all the same. Different political parties or groups will impact differently on our lives.”
“It is worth voting for two reasons, the first and more obvious and immediate is that if we get the Tories in again things will get very much worse for us – and that’s a lot worse than state it will be. Secondly, once politicians see we are able to represent a large and united block of voters they will be much less inclined to undertake the vicious attacks that has been current Con-Dem policies. We could even become somewhat akin to the retired block of voters; untouchable, for the electoral fear of its consequences.”
“I normally vote, but last election i did not because I was so disillusioned. This year I will return to voting Why? Because it is a way to protest against the main parties, to show that I am not happy with their politics.”
“If this coalition has made a negative effect on your life or the life of someone close, you should vote and have your say otherwise stop complaining, its your fault they got in last time. Come on let’s show them we will not be pushed around, have your say, use your vote.”
“Because we are a marginal and every vote not cast is a vote for the Conservatives, and we cannot afford for them to win again.”
I’m not voting because . . .
Not everyone who responded said they would vote – a small minority will not do so. For some, it is the perception – in spite of the massive difference in spending plans – that there is no discernible difference between the parties.
Others simply have no belief in party politics as a force for change
Perhaps more worryingly, some respondents either didn’t realise they could have a postal vote, can’t get to a post box even if they had one or have tried to get a postal vote and failed. The need for online voting has never been more urgent.
“Cause l cannot get there. I’m nearly 61 and struggling.
“As I’m disabled can’t get to a post box as they closed it. Can’t vote on the internet.”
“Do not leave house.”
“Too ill to get to polling station and i have applied for a postal vote 7 times but never received one.
“Not registered, disabled and housebound.”
“It’s too hard to get there and I can’t make a decision as to who would help me get disability best.
“Mobility problems and disillusioned with politics.”
“I do not trust any of the political parties, none of them represent my interests or that of the class of which I am a part.”
“There will be no change to the disabled.”
“Makes no changes to my life. All parties are going to make life hell on earth for disabled claimants.”
“No party can be described as ‘pro-disabled’.
“Because they are all the same nothing changes.”
“Makes no difference who we vote for nothing will change their ways towards disabled people and benefits.”
“I don’t think either Labour or Conservative are for Disabled people.”
“You can’t put a cigarette paper between the mainstream political parties.”
“When it comes to welfare policy you can’t get a fag paper between either labour or the tories.”
“Because for the first time in my life as a Labour voter, I don’t know exactly what they stand for anymore and doubt they will change the welfare bill or represent the working class anymore. Ed Milliband and Clegg and Cameron are all millionaire public school Oxbridge white men so I have lost heart.”
“They are all the same.”
“They are all as bad as each other.”
“The Tory and Labour Parties are as bad as each other, I won’t vote UKIP as a protest vote because I’d be afraid that they would win and not be capable of running the country. This will be the very 1st time I haven’t voted in 41 years .”
“I live in a safe tory seat, so I don’t see the point in voting.”
This was a self-selecting group of people. It represents those who feel most strongly about the issue of voting. It may not be a representative sample of the views of all claimants.
But there are lessons that politicians should, nonetheless, take from this poll.
One is that any assumption that claimants have been beaten into weary despair and will not turn out on May 7th is almost certainly wrong – many feel that their lives depend on voting.
So, if the pollsters have not factored in enough working age claimants views, then there may be some surprises in store.
Another lesson is primarily for Labour.
It is evident that many claimants intend to vote for Labour because they believe that is the only way of preventing the Tories being the largest party. But it is just as clear that most are doing so with enormous reluctance, on the grounds that Labour are marginally the lesser of two evils.
And some just cannot bring themselves to vote for a party that still treats them with such palpable disdain.
If Labour continues to take claimants votes for granted in the mistaken belief that they have nowhere else to go, it could very easily cost them the keys to No 10.
The bizarre reality is that all three major parties choose to ignore the voting potential of millions of working age claimants.
Yet, as we demonstrate once again, this time in graphic detail with dozens of bar charts, claimants’ votes can make a massive difference to the outcome of the general election.
And if our survey is anything to go by, they are going to do just that.
Source – Benefits & Work, 28 Jan 2015