North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.
The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.
Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.
And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”
However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.
And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.
Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).
Cllr Wallace added:
“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.
“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.
And he said:
“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”
Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”
The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.
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
Operation Dollar has been launched on the back of increased concerns about people begging in North Shields town centre and Front Street, Tynemouth.
Officers from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team will be carrying out high visibility patrols as well as working with other agencies such as the Changing Lives scheme which aims to help homeless people.
Members of the public are being advised to help and not to give money to beggars.
North Shields and Tynemouth Neighbourhood Inspector Geoff Cross said:
“Beggars can be intimidating to some people and put them off from going to certain areas.
“Begging itself is an offence and it is often the case that people who are begging are involved in other crime and anti-social behaviour that has detrimental effect on the community.
“We want people to be able to visit Tynemouth and North Shields without fear of being harassed by beggars.
“Most people begging need help and support or help of some kind, and organisations such as Changing Lives can help put them in touch with the correct support and ensure they get the right help.”
“By ensuring those found begging are directed to the correct support it’s hoped we can reduce the amount of begging taking place on the streets.”
> I wonder in how many cases ‘the right help‘ put them on the streets in the first place ? As we know, Iain Duncan Smith believes sanctions help people focus on getting a job… how many sanctioned people have had to take up a ‘job’ begging as a result of them ?
Source – Whitley Bay News Guardian, 11 Nov 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
Hundreds of people turned out to enjoy the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic on its 150th anniversary.
It took place at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington, and the crowds enjoyed a packed programme of entertainment to mark the special celebration, including Glenn Tilbrook from chart topping band, Squeeze.
Also in the line up were local folk legend Johnny Handle, as well as traditional music and dance, street theatre and entertainers, the Ashington Colliery and Bedlington Youth brass bands, Werca’s Folk, and the Monkseaton Morrismen.
The day started with a memorial service and wreath laying.
Woodhorn’s own comedian-in-residence Seymour Mace added a touch of humour to the day as he, his fellow comedians John Whale and Andy Fury, and staff from the museum who have been working with the project, put their own entertaining twist on a guided visit to the museum.
Extracts from the Pitmen Painters were read out as Woodhorn is the home of the Ashington Group’s main collection of paintings and has a close bond to the story.
Original cast members, Chris Connel and Phillippa Wilson, recreated scenes from Lee Hall’s award-winning play.
The first Picnic was staged at Blyth Links in 1864 and over the years it has moved around the county – from Blyth to Morpeth, Bedlington to Ashington, Newbiggin, Tynemouth and even Newcastle’s Town Moor.
Keith Merrin, Director of Woodhorn, said: “150 years on and this event is still about bringing the whole North East community together, to strengthen bonds and have fun. It’s not just about Ashington, but about the whole region as so many have a link to coal.
“The Picnic is the perfect opportunity to come together to remember and celebrate an industry and the people that helped shape the North East and create the proud communities that exists today.”
This year’s special Picnic has been made possible thanks to Northumberland County Council, Ashington Town Council and the NUM working with Woodhorn to develop a fitting tribute to the event’s history.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 June 2014
> The rest of the results from Tyne & Wear…
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
It was a day that promised much for UKIP with rumours of winning a seat in Woolsington early on. Flopped again, though.
They did come second in a number of seats, registering particularly highly in Walkergate with 843 votes and Benwell and Scotswood with 823, however outright victory eluded it.
In all 27 seats were up for grabs at Newcastle City Council, 16 previously held by Labour and 11 by the Lib Dems.
At the end of the count it was almost a case of “as you were” with Labour winning 17, the Lib Dems nine and Independent candidate Bill Corbett landing a spectacular success in Westerhope, taking the seat from Labour.
In some wards the Lib Dem vote collapsed but overall party leaders were visibly relieved that its support held up well compared to other parts of the country.
However its Chief Whip Tom Woodwark was the major casualty of the day when he lost out to Labour in South Jesmond.
Overall Labour won 45% of the vote, the Lib Dems 21.7%, UKIP 13.5% and the Tories 9.9%.
North Tyneside’s former elected mayor Linda Arkley failed to make a civic comeback after losing in the Tynemouth ward to Labour’s Sarah Day.
The seat was one of the most hotly contested and the Conservative candidate missed out on being elected by just 37 votes.
Current mayor Norma Redfearn said she was “overjoyed” Labour had managed to retain overall control of the council as well as gaining two additional seats in Wallsend and Chirton.
She said Labour had weathered many a protest vote in the past and were not worried about UKIP coming second in nine wards.
Their surge was down to the current Government’s record on job creation and the bedroom tax, she added. UKIP gained a 20% share of the vote overall although failed to win a seat.
Party member Marianne Follin, who also stood in Tynemouth, said: “It’s been said we are the fourth political party and we’ve proved that now.”
> What ? That you’re in 4th place ? Behind the Lib Dems ? Nothing to boast about there !
The council is now made up of 44 Labour councillors, 12 Conservative and 4 Lib Dems.
Labour remained in control of Gateshead Council despite a strong UKIP showing.
Leader of the council, Mick Henry, thanked the public for their support to his party despite the Government cuts his borough currently faces.
He said: “Nothing has changed. Considering that we are suffering a 37% cut in the budget and we have had to take actions as a council, I am pleased that the Gateshead public have shown support for us in the circumstances.”
When asked about the number of votes secured by UKIP, Mr
Henry said: “Next year will be different.
“The European elections have helped them on this occasion and we are hoping it will be different next year.
“It’s the Liberal Democrats we need to worry about, and the actions of the Government.”
> It’s the Liberal Democrats we need to worry about – not a phrase you hear very often…
> The national media seems to be intent on boosting UKIP on the basis of these local elections, and even locally the Newcastle Journal was making statements like:
“Asked for his response to Ukip’s success in Sunderland and the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, where the party won ten seats, Mr Balls said: …”
Pardon me ? Ukip’s success in Sunderland ? Did I miss something ?
They didn’t win a single seat ! That’s success ?
Neither did the Greens or Lib Dems, so they must be doing very well too, right ?
The truth is – and the Newcastle Journal and other local media have failed to point this out – before these elections UKIP had 2 local seats across the whole of Tyne & Wear, both in South Tyneside.
After these elections, they only have 1… and that perhaps only because that particular seat wasn’t up for election.
So across Tyne & Wear, which UKIP had been making noises about targeting, they won nothing and actually lost 50% of what they did hold.
Now there’s success and there’s success… and there’s also dismal failure. I think I know which category UKIP’s performance falls into.
As I interupted Ed Balls earlier, perhaps we should return to him for a moment…
“So we have to understand that challenge (of UKIP). People want to know we will have tough controls on immigration, that you’re not going to be able to come here to work in our country and send benefits back to families at home “
In other words, some people are voting for UKIP, so lets steal their policies and hijack the closet racist vote.
Surely they learnt their lesson with New Labour’s desperate attempts to win the middle class vote ?
> UKIP candidates behaving badly…again.
Police had to be called to a public meeting when a UKIP candidate standing in tomorrow’s local elections was thrown out.
A torrent of swearing and shouting led to Stephen Brand being asked to leave the Park Hotel in Tynemouth following his outburst at North Tyneside Question Time run by the People’s Assembly on Monday night.
He is standing in North Tyneside’s Chirton ward for the UK Independence Party against independent candidate Amanda Normand, Labour’s Margaret Reynolds and the Conservative candidate Heather Sarin.
Two officers from Northumbria Police were called to the sea-front hotel at around 7.50pm to calm scenes in the hotel’s ballroom after Mr Brand interrupted a speaker during a discussion on education.
Despite being told by audience members to be quiet and sit down and wait his turn to speak, he continued to shout and became aggressive when event organisers approached him to usher him out of the room.
At one point he shouted that if anyone laid a hand on him “it would be assault”.
A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “We were called to the Park Hotel in Tynemouth following reports of a man shouting during a meeting.
“Officers attended and at the request of the manager, officers asked him to leave, which he did.”
He received no police caution or warning for his behaviour and willingly left the scene.
However his outburst just days before the election was not welcomed by fellow UKIP candidate Gary Legg, who is standing in the Monkseaton South ward.
The former member of the RAF had been invited as part of a panel of six representatives from political parties for the question-and-answer session and he is now working with the party to clarify how events unfolded on Monday night.
Joan Hewitt, who co-organised the event on behalf of the People’s Assembly, said: “Normally I wouldn’t condone the highlighting of an unpleasant incident but I think this shows that this particular UKIP candidate was not agreeing with the nature of the event, which was participatory.”
Also speaking on the panel was North Tyneside’s current Labour deputy mayor Bruce Pickard, Alan Furness, who is standing as a Conservative candidate in Valley, Martin Collins for the Green Party in Wallsend, Tim Wall standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Benton and David Taws, the independent candidate for Collingwood.
A spokesman for UKIP said the party was conducting an inquiry into the incident, however Mr Brand will still stand on Thursday.
He said: “There is a suggestion of provocation. We would apologise however.
“It will be referred to the national executive committee who will look at everything and the committee may determine what the appropriate action is that should be taken.
“It’s very difficult before an election to do anything else. Ballot papers have gone out and they have got his name on it.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 21 May 2014
Postal voting is far more popular in the region than in the rest of the country, and ‘experts’ fear voting in the North could be left open to greater risk of fraud as a result.
Figures released by parliament reveal that the top eight constituencies in the UK for using the system are all in the North. But fears have been raised that postal voting systems are more susceptible to rigging.
Richard Mawrey QC, who tries cases of electoral fraud, has criticised the ‘on demand’ postal voting system and has called for it to be scrapped.
“Postal voting on demand, however many safeguards you build into it, is wide open to fraud,” Mr Mawrey – a deputy high court judge and election commissioner – said last week.
“It’s open to fraud on a scale that will make election rigging a possibility and indeed in some areas a probability.”
He added that postal voting can be easily manipulated and people can be forced into voting for a particular candidate.
Four North constituencies – Houghton and Sunderland South, Washington and Sunderland West , Newcastle and Sunderland Central have more than half of their voters taking part by post, the highest numbers in the country.
Four others – South Shields, Newcastle central, Blyth Valley and Jarrow – are also in the top ten nationally for postal voting.
And across the region 17 other constituencies, from Stockton to Tynemouth, have at least a quarter of voters choosing to vote by post. The average uptake of postal votes across the UK was just 18.8% of voters, up from 15% in 2005.
Dr Alistair Clark is a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, specialising in electoral integrity. He believes that the postal voting system in the UK has fundamental problems.
“There are difficulties with the system, particularly since the extension of it to being on demand,” he said. “The main difficulty relates to the security of the ballot – we have no idea who is actually completing the ballot papers – anyone could be filling them out.
“Although signatures have to be provided and matched up, signatures can change over time, and this creates a whole level of additional difficulties for election officials.”
A postal voting-only system was trialled by many North constituencies in the early 2000s, which is the likely reason why the proportion of take up in the region is so high.
But Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley – where 46% of ballots were posted – believes there are also other factors.
“We have a very ageing population but we also have a lot of younger people,” he said.
“The older people might not want to leave their homes to vote while the younger people might be away working outside of the North East.”
He doesn’t believe there is too much cause for concern, saying: “I think postal voting is handy and it does work.
“It’s got to be well marshalled though because we’ve seen it fiddled in other parts of the country in the past.
“There is a security risk and we have to be vigilant about it.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West – where 50.8% were posted – is also in favour of postal voting.
“While we should always look at how we can increase security, the experience in Sunderland and across the country is that postal voting allows and encourages more people to use their vote at local and national elections, which is good for democracy,” she said.
“Of course, any abuses of the system should always be investigated, and perpetrators prosecuted, but there’s no reason whatsoever to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Since 2001, anyone on the electoral roll has been able to apply for a postal ballot.
The Electoral Commission said it would not be “proportionate” to end postal voting altogether, and the government has no plans to abolish the current system, saying it had made it easier for many people to vote.
However, from June this year, anyone who wants a postal vote will have to apply individually and prove their identity, as the government is introducing individual electoral registration which ministers say will help stamp out some abuses.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 March 2014
UKIP has found an unlikely ally in left-wing musician Billy Bragg after a move to host its largest ever rally at the SageGateshead.
The venue’s management was attacked on social media for itsdecision to provide the venue for the party’s spring meeting on St George’s Day in April.
After critics on the social networking site Twitter said the organisation had a “moral obligation” not to allow UKIP leader Nigel Farage to assemble his party on Tyneside, Bragg waded into the online spat to support the Sage.
Responding to online questioning, Mr Bragg – who regularly plays at the venue and was part of its recent poster campaign – wrote: “I don’t have a problem with it.
“We shouldn’t be complacent about UKIP, but denying them the right to hold meetings is not the way forward. Don’t UKIP have the right of assembly?”
> He may have a point – UKIP is home to so many fruitcakes that giving them the opportunity of making prats of themselves in public might be a good thing.
The meeting on the evening of April 23 will be the largest public meeting ever to be held by the party and its “early bird” free tickets have already been snapped up.
The Eurosceptic party has previously held a North East conference in Tynemouth but Nigel Farage will be speaking in person at this event.
> If anywhere in Tyne & Wear was going to host a UKIP conference, you’d have bet on it being Tynemouth 😉
After by-election successes across the country, Mr Farage has said he hopes to make considerable gains in May’s local and European elections.
Messages left for the Sage online from the public prompted the organisation’s general director Anthony Sargent to clarify his stance on hosting political events.
The music and concert venue has previously been booked to hold the meetings of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats and Mr Sargent said: “Picking and choosing between political views would be an indefensible position and that really would be letting the local community down.
“We need to give these people a platform, then trust the democratic process to separate the wheat from the chaff. We have no opinion on UKIP nor do we on the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats.”
Quoting political philosopher John Stuart Mill, he added: “There’s a very basic freedom of speech right in the UK which is prized by the British whether or not you agree with a set of opinions. It’s a foundational right living in Britain that you have the right to express yourself.”
One critic of the planned conference, Alan Verth, wrote on Twitter that Sage needed to consider its “moral obligations to community” while a user of the site calling himself Trevstanley called it a“disgusting” move and would not be visiting the Sage again.
Mr Verth wrote: “I’m not happy with my home town hosting this as it goes against everything I stand for.”
Newcastle-based singer Gem Andrews, who released her debut last year, also took to Twitter to ask people to campaign against UKIP meeting on Tyneside.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has disowned proposals from one of his MEPs for Muslims to be asked to sign a charter rejecting violence.
Gerard Batten, who sits on the party’s National Executive Committee, said he stood by the “charter of Muslim understanding” which he co-authored in 2006 and which states that parts of the Koran which promote “violent physical jihad” should be regarded as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic”.
His comments sparked criticism from Muslim groups and UKIP’s political opponents.
The Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Syed Kamall, who is himself a Muslim, left a letter on Mr Batten’s empty seat at the Parliament chamber in Strasbourg, sarcastically offering him a guarantee that he had no intention to commit acts of violence.
Mr Farage said: “This was a private publication from Gerard Batten in 2006 and its contents are not and never have been UKIP policy.”
> Fruitcakes, the whole lot of them…
Source – Newcastle Journal 06 Feb 2014