Section: UK

Corruption: The 60 million dollar question facing David Cameron

Peter Benson

As taxpayers we may be grateful for the diligence of the treasury officials who rejected the efforts of Cameron’s lobbying but we must continue to be vigilant on the actions of all government ministers. There is considerable evidence to suggest there is clear bias in the awarding of grants and contracts to friends and donors of the Conservative party.

Opinion

No more shielding

Peter Lathan

Will the streets, parks and other open spaces be filled with released detainees celebrating their re-acquired freedom, running and singing and dancing in glee? Will there be parties and will joy be unconfined? Will bliss reign and the Kingdom of Heaven appear among the people of England?

World Autism Awareness Week

Louise Brown

Females are commonly able to ‘mask’ their autism more than males making diagnosis more difficult in some cases. Where someone’s autism is less obvious (also in the case of high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome) sometimes others are far less tolerant as they are not aware they have this condition and hence get annoyed with things they view as socially inappropriate.

The Tees Valley mayoral election campaign gets underway as Jessie Joe Jacobs launches her manifesto

Scott Hunter

The starting point for this is the need to deal with rising inequality in the region, capitalizing on the region’s industrial strengths and applying them to the industries of the future, hence the focus on the climate economy and the digital and tech sector. Her aim is to train up to 10,000 people in climate industry skills, either through apprenticeships or through loans and grants to support other workers, developing a training hub for climate jobs, and providing business investment and the creation of a green industrial park.

North East People

By bus to Russia

Jim Walker

I spoke Russian and could get by in French and German; but I had never driven anything larger than my father’s Daimler (in which I had failed my first driving test). Nevertheless, I applied and was accepted. The main driver was a mechanic who had driven heavy lorries across Australia between Sydney and Perth.

Review

Open: Kimberley Clausing

Giuseppe Bignardi

The starting point in the author’s analysis is that Donald Trump’s election was the consequence of dissatisfaction with economic stagnation and was based on a rhetoric that appealed to both the right and the left wing of the political spectrum.

Theatre

Jim Beirne hands over the reins to Live Theatre

Carol Westall

Jim Beirne, MBE marks a 21 year career milestone as he steps down as Chief Executive of Live Theatre. The composer and musician, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from Northumbria University in 2011 and an MBE in 2012.

Ireland is keeping a candle lit: Part 2 of European Movement conference, a talk by Noelle O’Connell

Robin Tudge

Irrespective of that, however, the referendum has opened a ‘Pandora’s box, and as Farry said earlier regarding NI, “Brexit has had significant and largely unwanted impacts”, mainly on the border.The Ireland-NI border is now the EU’s only land border with the UK, while the Protocol demands the increasingly shaky Irish Sea customs border over which a ‘new reality’ of ‘very stark trade differentials’ now exists. Covid-19 and stockpiling notwithstanding, port traffic between Welsh ports and Ireland has declined dramatically – while the threat to the GFA has risen as much.

Building Bridges: Part 1 of European Movement conference

Robin Tudge

The conference was opened by its host, Anna Bird, the CEO of the European Movement UK, with the keynote opening speech by Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, former leader of the Green Party and Green MEP. ”We’re still grieving about Brexit,” she said, and ”no treaty or trade cooperation agreement will make us […]

Poetry Corner

Hoist the flag

Harry Gallagher

Hoist the flag over the food banks,
tell the world just who we are,
paint the breakfast clubbing hungry kids
red, white and blue;
then snap them all in two
to check they’re British through and through.

Opinion

Flag fetishism by gaslight

Gareth Kearns

Cast your mind back ten years or more. I can remember all the way back to the 1970s. For most of that period, to see a house in the UK flying a flag from a pole was rare. It was also deemed by most people to be odd. Now, I just don’t mean the Union […]

Poetry Corner

Hope

Nicola Tipton

Longer days. Dormant
hope bubbles in heart’s well-spring.
Fountains crystal light.

Turn out your lights for Earth Hour tonight

Julie Ward

For one hour on 27 March millions of people across the globe will turn off their lights and unplug their TVs. Whole streets and cities will go dark and people will look out of their windows and see the stars. It will be a moment of reflection at a pivotal point in history when many of us have been confined to our homes for a year as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world from its likely roots as a zoonotic disease jumping species in the wet markets of Wuhan.

Earth Hour first started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. It was an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund designed to draw attention to the growing environmental disaster and accompanying species loss. 14 years later this symbolic action is observed in more than 180 countries. Mass action by millions of people can be a powerful catalyst for change and Earth Hour has succeeded in raising awareness of the climate emergency, forcing some governments to take notice and take action.

This year’s Earth Hour takes place in the year when the UK government will host the delayed Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, which will focus attention on our record as a country, which is highly questionable with a new government supported coal-mine planned for Cumbria and lacklustre progress of the much vaunted Green Homes Grant scheme. Meanwhile the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is making painfully slow progress since being tabled in September 2020.

Writing in the Oxford Political Review, Harvey Phythian pinpointed the policy problem in the Conservatives’ own 2019 election manifesto where the party proclaimed, “we believe that free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet”. Basically, it’s a business as usual approach which is minimally responsive to the effects of climate change rather than being vigorously pro-active in taking preventative measures, hence a tree planting programme is given headline status when what we desperately need is strong and binding legislation to stop polluters in the first place. Meanwhile, the EU is making progress on a wide range of policies to proactively tackle climate change.

Boris Johnson’s own record on the issue is depressing. As a tawdry media columnist during his period in office as the Mayor of London he pooh-poohed the warnings of climate experts and accepted donations from wealthy climate-change deniers. His voting record in parliament clearly demonstrates his lack of support for strong legislative measures to protect the environment, and he has just taken delivery of a second gas-guzzling jet to whisk him off to meetings with his Russian oligarch friends in places like Tuscany whilst the rest of us will be fined £5,000 for daring to attempt a cheap cycling holiday in France this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. And let’s not forget his refusal to participate in a leaders’ debate on climate change in the 2019 election campaign prompting the programme producers to replace him and his Brexit mate Nigel Farage with melting blocks of ice.

All the more reason then to do your bit and turn off the lights between 8.30-9.30pm on Saturday 27 March and join a global action that recognises the connectedness of all life on earth. Reducing consumption is just one of a raft of actions that can contribute to achieving carbon net zero whilst reducing your domestic energy bills. The Centre for Sustainable Energy has a handy guideT to energy consumption of household items. Not filling the kettle and doing less ironing are on my list of actions.

Building bridges, not barriers: European Movement conference on Saturday

Yvonne Wancke

“This unfolding disaster highlights the urgent need for us to rebuild bridges with our European neighbours. On Saturday the European Movement will bring together thousands of our members and activists with politicians and industry voices to begin to lay the first bricks. We are growing a mass movement for change – and step by step our movement will forge a way back from this government’s awful, isolationist deal.” Lord Adonis

Could fascism ever get a grip on the North East?

Stephen Lambert

Far right organisations like For Britain, led by Anne Marie Waters, are targeting the North East, especially Hartlepool, to stir up racial hatred and social unrest. MI5 and police have made the point that the threat posed by the extreme right in the north and elsewhere is greater now than at any other time since the 1930s.

North East People

Getting old: the reality

Peter Lathan

Or I’m sitting and suddenly realise that for the last five, ten, fifteen or even more minutes, I haven’t been there. My lungs had continued to inflate and deflate, my heart to beat, my blood to circulate, my stomach acids to carry out their natural alchemy, but I hadn’t been there. No mental activity of any kind. A body functioning but a mind stilled.

The worst Christmas present ever?

Joyce Quin

. My local port of North Shields is England’s largest prawn exporting port, the main customers, accounting for the majority of the business, being France and Spain. In the past the prawns arrived in France from North Shields the following day guaranteeing their freshness. Now this takes three days which for a product with a fresh shelf life of five days is far from ideal. Because of the new system of export hubs the prawns actually travel north to Glasgow first and then begin the long journey to the south coast. The new paperwork (a non-tariff barrier for the Prime Minister’s information) is complex and if the goods are part of a larger consignment then they risk being held up because of any mistake, even a minor one, by any other of the exporters in the group. On arrival at the port of entry in the EU costly customs procedures begin. The overall effect of the Brexit deal, if these problems are not dealt with, are threatening to any business’ survival in a competitive market.

A Watergate moment for Johnson?

Peter Benson

The code of conduct for ministers says they “should not accept gifts, hospitality or services that might place them under an obligation” – and the same applies to family members.

A pandemic, a limited vaccine supply and secret vaccine contracts

Giuseppe Bignardi

On 17 March, the EU announced the intention of changing its export policy, particularly in relation to countries which are also vaccine producers. The EU argues that there needs to be reciprocity and proportionality to make sure there is an equitable distribution of vaccines. I do not know the details of the EU vaccine export plan, but I do know that Boris Johnson has failed on reciprocity and global solidarity.

Opinion

Shame on them!

Nicola Tipton

Those of us, who have spent so much of our time this last couple of weeks raising awareness about the toxic clauses in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and its inherent dangers to our human right to protest, can only condemn in the strongest terms the actions of the few last night. Their actions may have wiped out what has been achieved and the limited progress we have made to preserve our freedom of speech. Furthermore, it will inevitably polarise camps and opinion more. Such a travesty, when a cross party group has been set up by concerned MPs about the ramifications of this Bill if it is made law unamended.

“Take back the tap” on World Water Day

Julie Ward

Across the world 1 in 3 people live without safe drinking water, and it is estimated that by 2025 half of the global population will be living in areas where water is scarce. In many of the world’s poorest countries girls aren’t going to school because they have to fetch and carry water for their families. As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world the mantra of “wash your hands” was meaningless in places where clean water is still in scarce supply.

Wild swimming

Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

The swim in the Tyne is all mine, all mine,
no-bodies bobbing about; my time.
Between poppy-splashed fields of wheat,
ancient alders and elders meet,
draping limbs soothe the surface
creating a primitive place,

Newcastle memorial to murdered women

Louise Brown

The horrific Sarah Everard murder has thrown female safety back into the spotlight on the same week the notorious ‘Policing Bill’s second reading was voted through. A bill which fails to tackle violence against women and girls. We all saw the horrifying scenes of the vigil held last Saturday at Clapham Common while the police tried to stop it. Thankfully today was nothing like that and people were given space to reflect on the reality of women’s safety in the UK today.

Why voting in this May’s local council elections is so important

Stephen Lambert

On 6 May 2021 there are a number of important elections taking place across the North East including elections to local councils, a Mayoral election in Tees Valley, a Police and Crime Commissioner election for Northumbria and a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool. There is, however, a big issue in local elections with ‘turn-out’. In 2019 […]

Kill the bill on policing

Ann Schofield

The bill has been dubbed “The Police Crackdown” bill and an all-out assault on the right to protest. Many critics see the banning of the vigil and the £10,000 fine for of a nurse who organised a protest against the cut in their wages to be a deliberate decision to criminalise protest and control free expression, dissent and the right to protest under cover of the lockdown regulations. The expectation is the government will then make the emergency measures on protest permanent through legislation.

Gagged: a letter to my Tory MP

Nicola Tipton

Protest is, and always has been, noisy. It is annoying. Steven Bray, my friend, is a thorn in the side. He does not swear but says how he believes it is. So do those ‘patriotic’, Johnson loving leavers.

A dark dark day for democracy

Yvonne Wancke

Today parliament voted on the second reading for the policing bill (Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill). Amongst a myriad of terrifying possibilities, if the bill passes, this would mean that people could be sentenced for up to ten years in prison for ‘defacing’ a statue, could be stopped from what used to be lawful […]

BREAKINGUPDATED

By-election in Hartlepool as Mike Hill resigns

Yvonne Wancke

Today, Mike Hill, Labour MP for Hartlepool, has resigned with immediate effect. This will prompt a by-election. Mike Hill has been the MP for Hartlepool since 2017. It is believed that his resignation is connected with an ongoing investigation on claims of sexual harassment. A spokesperson for Hartlepool Constituency Labour Party said, “We have been informed […]