The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.
A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.
The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.
South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.
Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.
The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.
Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.
The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.
“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.
“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.
The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.
These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.
“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”
Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.
His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:
“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.
“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.
“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.
“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!
“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015
The deselected deputy leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council Sheelagh Clarke has called the process “undemocratic” – and claims “somebody in London wants rid”.
Council Leader George Dunning, along with deputy Cllr Clarke, cabinet member Mark Hannon and former mayor Vic Jefferies were told at a meeting at the Claxton Hotel in Redcar on Sunday that they would not be allowed to stand for Labour in their wards in May’s elections.
It immediately raises questions about how the authority will run on a day-to-day basis – coming as it does after a further four Labour councillors were deselected last year.
But Cllrs Dunning and Clarke say they remain “as committed as ever”.
How the leader and deputy responded
“There is a budget for us to get through, and we’re proposing to keep council tax frozen again and do what’s right for the people of this borough,” said the leader.
“We’ve done a hell of a lot of work since taking the council back in 2007 – which a lot of people in our party didn’t even think we would do.
“As far as we’re concerned, unless there’s a vote of no confidence, Sheelagh and I will continue to run the council.”
Cllr Dunning insists he is the victim of a “power struggle” within the Labour Party and that the office of Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop “wants to run the council, and we won’t let them”.
“A lot of members in Teesville are getting on, or have been ill,” the leader continued.
“I wasn’t going to round people up on a cold day and tell them they had to come and vote for us, but I know we had the support.
“This has been a struggle for years.
“There have been people in this party who wanted to be leader, who wanted to be on the cabinet, and they are paranoid and power-mad.”
‘It’s not democratic’
Cllr Dunning has survived tests of his leadership in the past – both from within his own party and from the Liberal Democrat opposition.
And Cllr Clarke said:
“I do not think it is a democratic process. If the people of my ward had voted me out, I would fully accept that.
“But those people have been denied a chance, because somebody from the Labour Party in London wants rid of us.”
Meanwhile, cabinet member Mark Hannon blamed the fall-out on a rift between senior councillors and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, and councillors working in their offices.
Candidates are chosen by local Labour party members in each ward, but if not enough members show up, as was the case on Sunday, the party’s local executive steps in to vote.
And Cllr Hannon, cabinet member for economic development, said: “I went and did a ten minute presentation at my interview, I answered questions for ten minutes, and I know I did the best presentation.
“The other candidates weren’t in there for anywhere near as long as me.
“I am popular with people in Redcar.
“Since I’ve been a councillor, we’ve got a new hospital in my Kirkleatham ward, housing, a new shopping centre.
“That doesn’t matter though. It’s been a cull of senior councillors.”
‘Labour just want to keep people on benefits’
“The Labour Party doesn’t care about the working classes any more.
“They just want to keep people on benefits and feather their own nests.”
“Against a backdrop of austerity, we have totally regenerated Redcar.
“We’ve not only kept leisure centres open, but we’ve built a new one, we’ve kept libraries open – and we’ve tried to keep council tax down.”
Cllr Hannon alluded to bullying within the party – which led cabinet member Olwyn Peters to claim she had suffered a breakdown.
This comes two-and-a-half years after Labour North’s Wallis Report claimed the Redcar and Cleveland Labour Group was “dysfunctional”.
What the MPs said
In a joint statement, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, thanked Cllrs Dunning and Clarke for their service but said it was “time for change”.
Mr Blenkinsop said:
“All candidates knew exactly what to expect, and the bar has been set very high in these elections.
“If deselected councillors were not told about the reasons for deselection, they’re not asking the right questions. Selection is a democratic process.
“The Labour Party is not looking for candidates that take support for the party for granted, or for anyone who is complacent. Candidates need to get out and talk to people to find out what they want.
“But I wasn’t part of the selection process for these councillors, so I don’t know what the reasons were.”
‘If Labour group can’t manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?’
Glyn Nightingale, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said the possibility of launching another ‘no confidence’ vote would “be a matter for group members to discuss”.
“If the Labour group cannot manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?” he added.
“I do not agree with what George Dunning and his administration have done in office, but I acknowledge that they have been working hard.
“It was up to the people at the ballot box to replace them – not an internal party manipulation.”
‘I totally do not accept any form of bullying’
Neil Bendelow, the chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, said that all members had been treated equally.
“The way that candidates were selected follows the Labour Party process and would be the same anywhere,” he added.
“All councillors were asked the same type of questions, and were allowed to give a ten minute presentation and answer questions for ten minutes.
“We have some fanstastic candidates who are going to work tirelessly for their wards.”
Last year, Cllrs Brian Briggs, Steve Goldswain, Norman Pickthall and Brian Hogg were also deselected.
But Mr Bendelow added: “I totally do not accept any form of bullying whatsoever.
“There is a process for anyone to follow if they feel they are being bullied, and I have received no complaints and no shred of evidence has been given to us.”
What the future holds
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke and Hannon were told that they could possibly stand for Labour in other wards – but say they were not given reasons for their deselection.
Cllrs Dunning and Clarke said that at this point, they would not consider standing as independent councillors.
Cllr Dunning said that Bob Norton, Rob Hodgson, and Geraldine Williams will now stand for Labour in the Teesville ward.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
The chairman of the Thornaby Labour Party has resigned from his post “with immediate effect”.
Les Hodge is also quitting the Labour Party and said his announcement came with “a heavy heart”.
But he added: “The people of Thornaby deserve far better than what the Labour party are currently giving them and I can no longer be a part of that.
“I just want to work in the community where I live and help to make a difference.
“As far as the Labour Party are concerned, I have not seen any change at all, I actually think it has got worse.”
Mr Hodge, who has lived in the town for nearly 20 years and calls Thornaby his home, said he has informed the Thornaby Independent Association (TIA) that he “would be happy to stand as a Thornaby Independent if they so wish”.
“As a political group, they have Thornaby interests at heart, they have morals and believe in loyalty and fairness for the people of Thornaby,” he said.
The Labour Party was not available for comment
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 23 Sept 2014
Union leaders are right to axe funds for Labour MPs who will not back them, a North East MP has said.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, chair of the trade union group of Labour MPs, has said party leader Ed Miliband needs to realise the importance of having unions put the views of ordinary people into the party.
Labour’s left-wing powerbase in the North East has increasingly sided with the unions since Mr Miliband announced last year his intention to reform links with the party paymasters.
Now Wansbeck MP Mr Lavery has said Unite is right to stop paying out to MPs who will not back it.
Unite is paying out £3,000 a time to Labour MPs who backed the unions when party leader Mr Miliband proposed axing historic links.
That includes £3,000 for Easington’s Grahame Morris, who penned an article warning that “Miliband’s plans for the party’s affiliated trade union members are fraught with danger.”
They also handed funds to Blaydon MP Dave Anderson. The former union chairman said in the run-up to Mr Miliband’s union showdown that the party was busying itself with “navel-gazing” and had ended up “facing a period of review and a costly, time-consuming conference” instead of campaigning for votes.
Another £3,000 went to Gateshead MP Ian Mearns.
The MP was among those who refused to follow Labour party orders when he spoke out against the party’s plans to back the Tory cap on welfare payments.
Mr Lavery – “In recent times some members of parliament have sought to distance themselves from the trade unions and their members.
“They are very much entitled to do so. However, the unions are quite entitled to react by withdrawing constituency finance.
“I think it is basic, why would a union wish to expend its members’ money supporting MPs who don’t support them. It would be quite a ludicrous situation.”
Mr Lavery was building on his speech at Unite’s annual conference in Liverpool, where he said: “A lot of these MPs believe it was the Labour Party that introduced the trade unions rather than the fact that it was ordinary working people in trade unions that formed the Labour Party.
“At the beginning of the 1900s there were huge problems with the health service — we didn’t have the NHS. There were huge problems with wages, terms and conditions, with poverty, with child poverty.
“That’s why the Labour Party was formed — to give a voice to ordinary people in Parliament. That’s what the party leader should remember.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 July 2014
Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.
She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
The departure leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.
A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”
A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.
“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”
The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.
The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).
Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.
He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”
Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.
Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.
“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉
Source – Sunderland Echo 04 Feb 2014