Many homes in the region are displaying election posters in the run up to May 7, but one house in Teesside has put up a sign with a difference.
John Spence, who lives in Valley Drive in Yarm, is encouraging everyone to ‘Vote Muppet’, and is displaying a sign in his front garden to illustrate to the point to passersby.
The sign includes an image of Kermit the frog, along with his message “Vote Muppet – you will get one anyway.”
The candidate profile for Kermit the frog includes “He has led the Muppets through crisis after crisis.”
The sign has prompted a strong reaction on social media, with one Twitter user describing the stunt as “absolutely brilliant” and saying “I love it and would do the same in our garden.”
Another user commented that he believed the Muppets were set for a “landside majority.”
Others have also made reference to other party leaders whilst tweeting about the sign. One wrote “Apparently someone put up an election poster saying Vote Muppet! Looks like David Cameron could be using two identities in Election Campaign.”
Source – Northern Echo, 06 May 2015
A major new campaign has been launched to hit back against any negative portrayal of Stockton from the controversial show Benefits Street.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign is a light-hearted response to what is expected to be a less than flattering portrayal of the borough when the Channel 4 series airs next year.
And people across the borough and beyond are being encouraged to show their love for Stockton by sharing photographs, videos and stories.
A new website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up to kick-start the campaign.
The decision to film the second series of Benefits Street in Stockton caused widespread outrage, with some accusing Channel 4 of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.
The first series made stars of some of its cast but was described by critics as “poverty porn”.
After the story broke , Middlesbrough FC fans at the Riverside Stadium unveiled a banner reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.
But despite the fierce local and national criticism of the show, Channel 4 chief executive Ralph Lee said the broadcaster’s output would not be “censored”.
He defended the channel’s right “to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society”.
Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook said:
“We did everything in our power to persuade the producers of Benefits Street to turn their attentions elsewhere. Sadly, you can’t win them all.
“What became clear, though, was that lots of people agreed with us that this is not a good thing for the borough.
“So, we’ve decided to focus our energies on turning a negative into a positive. We’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to respond to a series like Benefits Street is to celebrate, with good humour and quiet confidence, all that is great about our fine borough.”
The campaign will give people the opportunity to share their views on what they love about Stockton.
The council will support the campaign, but now want to “hand it over the public”, said Cllr Cook.
“This is a borough-wide campaign for the whole of Stockton-on-Tees. We’re delighted that our local media – The Gazette, Northern Echo and BBC Tees – are in agreement with us and have agreed to unite in their support of us.
“Whether you’re from Stockton, Billingham, Yarm, Eaglescliffe, Thornaby, Norton or Ingleby Barwick, we’d love you to get involved.”
Benefits Street is expected to be aired in March 2015 and the Positively Stockton campaign – also known as “Psst…” – features a major event that same month.
Billed as The Loudest Whisper, the event on Friday, March 13, will see a whispered message passed around the borough – starting and ending in Kingston Road – where the series is being filmed.
The message will be passed from person to person using human chains as well as all kinds of transport, from horses and rowing boats to buses and bikes.
The event, which will also raise money for Comic Relief, is being organised by Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman and proud Stocktonian Mike McGrother.
“There has been an assumption from the producers of Benefits Street that we’re a community that needs to be given a voice,” he said.
“To present this as ‘factual’ television designed to engineer some kind of social benefit is a bit arrogant I think.
“There’s an abundance of community pride in Stockton – it’s just not our style to go shouting it from the rooftops. But if we’re faced with a series that seeks to paint us in an unfair light on national television, we shouldn’t take that lying down.
“Through the Loudest Whisper event and the Positively Stockton campaign, we can dispel the myths that will inevitably be trotted out using the sense of humour, community spirit and understated manner people in our borough are renowned for.
“And it’s all for Comic Relief. Our voices, though quiet, will be heard!”
The new campaign also has the support of Stockton’s MPs.
Alex Cunningham, Labour, in whose Stockton North constituency Benefits Street is being filmed, said:
“There is much for us to be positive about our borough from the talent and resilience of our people to the powerhouse of the local council and other organisations doing their best in difficult circumstances to create jobs, improve our town centres and make life better for us all.
“It is tremendous that our community is reacting in such a positive way.
“Doubtless Channel 4 will claim our campaign would never have happened but for their unwelcome intrusion into our community, but they will be wrong again – there have been many positive initiatives over the years promoting our success, which is perhaps why the borough is seeing its population grow and why it was voted one of the best places in the country to do business.”
James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said:
“If you look around you in Stockton you see things getting better – more jobs, more investment, a town and community proud of its past and looking to its future.
“We need to talk up what makes us great and this campaign is a brilliant addition to that. Benefits Street will show what they want, we will show the truth and talk up Teesside.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit: www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 Nov 2014
An investigation into reports of a fraudster offering jobseekers fake jobs at a Yarm pub has been closed, police said.
Around 10 potential victims of a scam came forward after applying for apparently non-existent bar jobs advertised for the Union Arms, on Yarm High Street.
The pub had no connection to the job adverts, which were placed in Middlesbrough JobCentre in September last year.
A number of job hunters spoke to the police after applying for the jobs and subsequently discovering they were not real vacancies, fearing they had handed over their personal details to a scammer looking to commit identity theft.
Cleveland Police investigated the claims but say the probe has now come to an end.
One of those who came forward was 27-year-old Stephen Grafton, of Middlesbrough, who said at the time he was “disgusted” to discover the job he was so pleased to be offered did not exist.
Stephen, who is now in a full-time job, said:
“When it all happened and I went to the JobCentre in Middlesbrough. They told me it had been passed over to the police by them and I should go to the station to report it myself.
“I went, and a few days later I received a voicemail from the police fraud department saying it was being investigated and someone had been arrested.
“It’s a shame to hear it has been dropped.
“I suspect no fraudulent crime was committed as he was caught before any damage could be done to us.”
A 29-year-old man from the Middlesbrough area was arrested on suspicion of fraud before being bailed pending further enquiries. He was later released without charge.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said:
“An investigation was undertaken and a man was arrested in connection with the incidents.
“The evidence was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and it was decided that the man should be released without charge.”
Source – Middlebrough Evening Gazette, 31 Oct 2014
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
Campaigners are calling for four councils to “get around a table” and discuss moving Yarm into Yorkshire.
It comes after voters in the market town gave an emphatic “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council.
More than 89% of voters who took part in a poll on Tuesday over the future of Yarm’s local administration said they would prefer the town to be under Hambleton’s control.
Only around 11% favoured staying under Stockton Council.
The Yarm 4 Yorkshire campaign claim Stockton Council has ignored people over issues such as parking and housing.
Stockton Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the results of the poll until Yarm Town Council had an opportunity “to fully consider the results” or the Boundary Commission asked it “to look into the matter further”.
But one of the organisers of the poll, Chris Johnson, said it was time for the four councils who would be involved in any transfer – Stockton, Yarm, North Yorkshire and Hambleton – to get together “and work out what, if any process, would be done”.
One of the campaigners admitted today they did not even know if Yarm would be better off in Hambleton.
But Mr Johnson explained: “The way forward now would be for the four councils to sit down around the table. Those details would then come out. This is just the first step on the way.”
He said they had also contacted the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the hope that the “resounding result” would indicate to them “a failing of democracy”.
The result is not legally binding as Government consent would be needed for the town to be transferred to North Yorkshire
Critics say the proposal is unlikely to be introduced.
The turnout for the poll, which was funded by Yarm Town Council and organised by officials from Stockton Council was 25%.
The chair of Yarm Town Council, Peter Monck, branded the poll “a waste of time”, saying: “You can’t claim a victory when 75% didn’t vote. At £4,000 it’s not a good use of council money at all.
“If Stockton Council say they aren’t going to do anything, that’s it – it won’t go any further.
“Even if Stockton Council were to agree to it, it’s a long drawn out process, Hambleton would have to agree and then it would go to the Boundary Commission.”
Labour Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: “For our part, we would reiterate that Stockton Borough Council delivers a huge range of very high quality services from which all of our residents can benefit, no matter where they live.
“Residents’ surveys consistently reveal these services enjoy very high satisfaction levels which show the majority of residents value and appreciate the council’s contribution.
“Of course, like all councils there are times when we have to make difficult decisions and we absolutely understand that people have strong views on issues such as parking and on planning applications for new houses.
“These issues would have to be addressed by whichever local authority had responsibility for Yarm.”
Yarm borough councillor Andrew Sherris, Conservative, said: “We need an open and honest debate with all the information presented on a level playing field without any of the political interference experienced recently with hundreds of letters being sent out to residents.
“The level and quality of service delivery is paramount, particularly for the elderly and more vulnerable members of our Community.”
UKIP councillor Mark Chatburn added: “Critics of this will point to the fact that four out of five residents in Yarm either voted ‘no’ or didn’t even bother to vote. Put in those terms it sounds less convincing than the polling results would suggest.”
James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, said of the result: “People are clearly fed up with Stockton Council riding roughshod over Yarm. This result should act as a wake up call and our Labour run council needs to listen or they will lose ever more support.”
Louise Baldock Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, said the result “came as no surprise”, but added: “I am concerned that people as yet know nothing about what a move into a different council authority would mean for the delivery of vital services.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 May 2014
Thornaby has become the second town to decide on an official poll to determine if residents want to leave Stockton Borough Council.
Yarm for Yorkshire campaigners will hold their referendum on Tuesday (MAY 27). Meanwhile, a group of about 15 dissatisfied residents asked Thornaby Town Council on Tuesday to consider doing the same.
But in Thornaby the town council took a more long-term approach, with a steering group being set up to consider all the issues and decide on a question for the referendum by post, which would be held within 12 months.
Neither poll would be legally binding but campaigners hope they will ensure Stockton Borough Council and the government see the strength of feeling in the south of the borough.
The Thornaby steering group will look at all options, whether it is becoming part of North Yorkshire, joining Middlesbrough or forming a new authority south of the river.
Terry Chapman, one of the campaigners behind the Thornaby for Yorkshire poll, said after the meeting: “Residents are angry that they are overlooked, that the council agreed more gypsy sites in Thornaby than anywhere else in the borough, and that the town council had to pay £100,000 to the council to buy Thornaby Town Hall when it should have just been given to the town.
Steve Walmsley, a Thornaby Independent councillor on both Thornaby town and Stockton borough councils, said a long-term, more inclusive poll was needed as Stockton Council would be able to ignore a poll with a poor turnout.
He said he was personally against joining Hambleton as its centre, in Northallerton, was too far away and he considered it had a “poor record.”
He added: “This is a consultation, referendum, call it what you want, but we want to take our time and make sure no-one is excluded. If we have it near to next year’s council elections it may have more impact on Stockton council.”
In Yarm, Tuesday’s poll will cost about £4,000 to the town council. No postal votes will be accepted and polling cards will not be issued in the election, which has been organised by Stockton Borough Council and will see polling stations open for just four hours.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 May 2014
A UKIP councillor has been found guilty of misconduct after leaking confidential legal documents intended for councillors’ eyes only.
Mark Chatburn, the only UKIP councillor on Stockton Borough Council, was investigated for publishing the legal paper on his blog.
But the councillor, who represents Yarm, said he was only acting in the best interests of residents and published the confidential legal advice to show how, he claimed, councillors on the planning committee were being influenced in their votes.
He was investigated by Stockton Borough Council for breaching the councillors’ code of conduct and was found guilty in a hearing last week.
Coun Chatburn, who did not attend the hearing, said: “I cannot pretend it came as a surprise the council’s kangaroo court, made up entirely of political opponents, reached the decision they did.
“From how they deal with planning applications, to secretly buying properties to convert into childrens’ homes and presenting residents with a done deal, Stockton council is seemingly incapable of acting in an open and transparent manner.
“I was elected to act in the best interests of residents. That is what I have always done and that is what I will continue to do.”
Coun Chatburn published the legal paper, relating to a controversial planning application at Urlay Nook, near Eaglescliffe, on his blog, linked from his Twitter account.
The legal document said the council would be unlikely to win an appeal against developer Taylor Wimpey if it rejected a plan to build 145 homes and Coun Chatburn said this was trying to influence the voting of the planning committee to vote in favour of the scheme.
The written decision from Stockton Borough Council’s Standards Panel said his actions “represented unacceptable behaviour for a councillor” and also criticised his lack of remorse.
He has been instructed by the panel to give reassurance, in writing, that he would not leak any more confidential information and will be given “advice and guidance” about the code of conduct.
The decision document said: “The Councillor had shown no remorse, but rather to the contrary had indicated that he would do it again without hesitation, and that he had demonstrated scant regard for the pre-hearing and hearing process.”
Coun Chatburn is no longer on Stockton council’s planning committee after defecting from the Conservative Party to UKIP last year.
Source – Northern Echo 07 May 2014
> UKIP’s much vaunted assault on the North east gets off to a poor start… don’t snigger.
The UK Independence Party was heavily defeated in last night’s Yarm Town Council elections – despite the arrival of party leader Nigel Farage for a meet-and-greet the day before the poll.
The UKIP leader had promised during Wednesday’s visit that the North-east would return a Ukip MEP in next month’s Euro elections.
And he added that more councillors would be joining Teesside’s only Ukip councillor – Stockton Council’s Mark Chatburn.
Mr Chatburn defected from the Conservative party in September and later quit Yarm Town Council.
He was among ran nine candidates to run for the three seats up for grabs in yesterday’s Yarm Town Council election.
Mr Chatburn finished eighth with 368 votes.
Seven ballot papers were rejected. A total of 2,041 were issued – a turnout of 30.24%.
Results in full
Lorraine Meakin (Yarm Residents Association) – 1,110 Elected
Martin William Kenefec (Yarm Residents Association) – 1,036 Elected
William James Wilkinson (Yarm Residents Association) – 976 Elected
Carole Jones (Yarm Independent Association) – 636
Fred Holmes (Yarm Independent Association) – 623
Paddy Morton (Yarm Independent Association) – 441
Tom Reay (UKIP) – 385
Mark Chatburn (UKIP) – 368
Mandy Boylett (UKIP) – 322
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 25 April 2014