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
Parts of the North East’s cultural heritage could be put at risk as the Government seeks to end its responsibility for historic sites.
Ministers are part-way through plans to reform English Heritage and create a charitable arm responsible for the National Heritage Collection.
The Government hopes that an £80m cash injection will mean the quango no longer needs taxpayer support.
But concerns have now emerged that the moves will see properties put at risk as the reformed English Heritage struggles to pay for all its assets.
In the North East, English Heritage is responsible for key tourism attractions such as BelsayHall, Lindisfarne Priory, Warkworth Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.
As well as those flagship sites there are many others which, while contributing to the overall worth of region’s heritage, do not individually draw in large numbers of visitors.
Culture ministers have been warned of the potential downside of their reforms in a joint response by the region’s 12 local authorities.
The Association of North East Councils has said it wants to ensure the changes do not create a situation in which only the sites which generate the most revenue are protected, instead of the entire collection.
And former regional minister Nick Brown has added to the warnings. He said: “The Government’s proposal has two obvious flaws. The loss of expertise will be damaging in the long run because the advice from a well informed independent authority will no longer be there.
“Secondly, our country’s heritage should not be reduced to a historically themed version of Disneyland. It should be preserved, treasured and valued for present and future generations.”
Urging caution of the unknown costs involved, the Association said: “This is an ambitious plan, with yet another organisation competing for the same sources of commercial and philanthropic funding as similar organisations.”
The councils said: “In the North East there is concern over the protection of historic buildings that may not necessarily generate large amounts of income and instead rely on a subsidy, yet are nonetheless key to the collection and bring in wider economic and social benefits to the local community in terms of tourism.”
The Association added: “Similarly, it is of concern that some sites may require such a level of investment to make them more popular and revenue generating, that the charity may seek to divest itself of responsibility for them. We would not wish to see detriment to any part of the collection solely on the grounds of financial viability and fully expect the new charity to demonstrate that it is the sector lead in conserving the Heritage Collection.”
Already across the North East there are nearly 300 properties on English Heritages At Risk register, properties which for decades have struggled to attract sufficient funding.
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council said: “There’s a worrying lack of detail in this consultation which compounds the feeling that this is just another attempt by the coalition to scale back the state, this time in the area of heritage.
“Northumberland has a rich and varied tapestry which tell the story of this county over the ages and it is a worry that the Government simply wants to open up English Heritage to the market. The Government needs to make the case for their proposed changes and I’m afraid I’m not convinced.”
Former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham, a one-time regional member of English Heritage, said there were concerns that the changes were akin to “privatising out heritage.”
A DCMS spokesman: “The Government’s plans to create a new charity, to be called English Heritage, to manage the National Heritage Collection will not involve disposing of or downgrading any buildings or sites. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“The £80m investment will be used to enhance and improve the Collection, helping to secure its future for generations to come.”
> Of course it’s now generally forgotten that in it’s early days our unelected coalition government made a determined attempt to sell off the nation’s woodland into private hands.
Source – Newcastle Journal 18 Feb 2014