Kim’s way

According to the science of Red Wall pollsters and focus groupers, Labour can  only get permission to be heard again by voters in the North if it first proves it has spent a long time hearing the people’s anger against Labour and internalising the great gospel of Daily Mail headlines which native Northern humankind is born and bred to believe. Step forward, top Red Wall pundit and incoming Labour strategy director, Deborah Mattinson.

And yet, along comes  instead a woman who has lived all her life in her West Yorks constituency and retains the seat for Labour against the choreographed onslaught of a vicious, wel- funded Trump tribute performer, boosted by the narrative of a  media baying for Starmer’s blood, by arguing for what? “Hope not hate”, community values, decency, kindness, fairness, unity, diversity, social justice. Labour values in contemporary terms.

Of course, this glitch is now quickly being re-spun.The by-election was called a referendum on Starmer, but that was because he was meant to lose. Now all bets are back on again, and Starmer, comdemned to inevitable fail by the narrative, is swiftly redirected back to the last-chance saloon where he belongs. It’s almost as good as having a Labour leader you can smear, year on year, as an anti-Semite.

Our question is, might we not take some time out to learn from Kim Leadbeater’s way of being successful? Maybe there is mileage in those “woke” Labour values which the pundits teach us that  real people despise? Maybe the director of strategy should visit the area for some refesher focus grouping? And maybe  triangulating tabloid echo-ideologues don’t know everything about politics after all? In an astute blog on the by-election, Yasmin Ali praises a new generation of women Labour campaigners, ijncluding Kim, who stay closed to the subteties of the local terrain, and gace a platform to local voices like Batley’s Muslim women, which don’t obediently repeat the HQ comms narrative. Was there a  chorus on the Pennine doorsteps demanding to “get ‘get Brexit done’ done”? Not very noticeably, it seems.

On the other hand if, as appeared over the weekend, Labour instead of taking this opportunity to authorise a less timid policy, sticks with the back-office focus-groupers’ advice to brand itself as an alternative party of populist economic nationalism, it may discover two years later that  imitation flag-waving Brexit-masochism does not win much moral or electoral leverage when competing with the original xenophobic version. Labour’s “buoyant” weekend relaunch, following the surprise  win, is almost certainly none other than the patriotic “bounceback” it had prepared as its response to an   expected repeat Red Wall thrashing. There clearly wasn’t enough time for the Leader’s comms team to rewrite their narrative, but maybe they might now think of daring to imagine  an economic policy that actually serves the national interest. We have one suggestion…

Colin Gordon

Social media or letters pages?

Have you read this article on our use of social media yet? Have a read and let us know what you think. You can write to us at editor@northeastbylines.co.uk or you can comment on socia media.

The editor

Election of Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner May 6th 2021

I’ve just undertaken a brief research for the candidates for the above post and I noticed the dismay and concern expressed by some of previous very low levels of the voting for this post.  Could it possibly be what appears to be a total lack of interest by the candidates for the electorate in this area.

I live in the Cleveland area and have not received one piece of information as to who the candidates are, for what is an extremely important position to assist in the reduction of crime and support and development of our police force. 

Do any of these people deserve our vote and how many voters know that they are required to give second choice when they vote? 

I always use my historically hard fought for vote, therefor as a voter I feel we are being taken for granted and maybe, that is why they do not deserve my/our vote.
A disappointed voter.


A reply to K T Parker

Thank you for your comments.  Can I say that, quite apart from anything else, it is flattering when someone takes the trouble to make such a considered response to what I’ve written? Can I deal with the matter of the local connection first.

I fully agree with you about Paul Williams’ local connection.  The reason that it does not appear in this article is that I covered in my article “Who wins Hartlepool” that was published the previous week. So it wasn’t included here for the sake of avoiding repetition.  The whole issue of local connection is a can of worms, however.

With regard to my comments on communication style, my point here was not intended to be about the candidates but the main parties, and they way they seek to control the agenda in election campaigns.  No sooner does a crucial by-election turn up than they bring out the prawn sandwiches (to borrow a phrase from Bradley Wiggins).  And hardly a day goes by without the candidate being photographed standing beside some party bigwig, whose soundbites are then reported in the local press.  My contention would be that the Labour Party is no less guilty of politics by soundbite than the Conservatives.  I certainly have had the experience of listening to the great and good from the Labour Party at events where local candidates have been all but side-lined.  So, there was no disrespect intended either to Paul Williams or Jill Mortimer in that argument, except insofar as they are acquiescent of that.  Paul Williams is obviously a much more experienced politician than Jill Mortimer, but both adhere to Party messaging discipline.  In Williams’ case that includes the ‘everything round here was fine when we were in office’ message, which is doubtful, to say the least.  A by election such as this brings into relief some of the structural weakness of our political system, which is one of the issues I’m trying to address.

Scott Hunter

Dear Editor,

I read Scott Hunter’s article on the Hartlepool By-election with interest. It was well-written, the perspective of the unsung hero of our electoral process, the returning officer, was a fresh one, and his criticisms of the superficial nature of coverage in the national press rang true. There were, however, a couple of points in the article that do not stand up to scrutiny.

The first is on local connection. The author may not have intended this, but his piece could easily be read as implying only independent candidates have a connection to Hartlepool. This may be a fair criticism of Jill Mortimer, a farmer and local councillor in North Yorkshire, who admits that she rarely spent any time at all in Hartlepool before her selection as the Conservative candidate. Will she abandon her farm and move to Hartlepool if she wins? An agricultural community is very different from a port and industrial city like Hartlepool, so why is she the right person to represent it? Is she counting on voters to blindly vote for the blue rosette? These are valid questions about ‘connection’ to Hartlepool to be asking.

The criticism is less fair of Dr Paul Williams. No, he wasn’t born in Hartlepool, and he previously represented the nearby constituency of Stockton South, but for at least the last six months he has been working at Hartlepool Hospital Urgent Care and Hartlepool’s One Life Centre, treating coronavirus patients. (A Facebook post on April 1st mentioned he was taking Easter off “after almost 200 shifts in Covid clinics and urgent care locally in the last six months without a break.”) True, he was awarded an OBE in January 2021 for services to healthcare in Stockton-on-Tees, where he successfully campaigned to reduce waiting times for autism diagnosis from 4 years to less than 12 months, but he has already introduced reforms in Hartlepool’s healthcare by re-introducing 24-hour doctors. Is that not a local connection?

The second point is on the communication style of the main parties’ candidates. “No matter how plausible the main party candidates, their responses to questions have been scripted at their respective party headquarters, making whatever they say entirely predictable, and, in the process making what they say largely irrelevant,” Scott claimed. He went on to say, “Generic messaging delivered to the citizens of nowhere. We talk, you listen; just mark your cross for us on polling day. That’s your job. Nothing more.”

In this instance, I found the claim was unfair to both main party candidates, although for markedly different reasons. We all know what a slick, well-oiled machine Conservative propaganda is, and how well the party trains its candidates to stay on message and batter the electorate with the same three-word slogans over and over  again. Labour is much less accomplished in this respect, but it has a social media presence all the same. I compared what the candidates post with what their party leaders and parties post, to validate Scott’s claim, and made some interesting discoveries.

It was impossible to do the analysis for Jill Mortimer, because she only set up her Facebook page on March 30th and her Twitter account in April. Apparently, she is not one for social media. Party Chair Amanda Milling has been doing the talking for her, while the party, 88% of whose Facebook ads were found to be inaccurate during the 2019 general election, has been running a nasty attack ad against Dr Williams on Facebook. Ignoring posts about updating profile pictures, etc., Ms Mortimer has made 10 posts on Facebook (one about Prince Philip) and tweeted 6 times, the first time on April 2nd. With such little data, it is hard to draw conclusions. Most of her posts are of the “great to be out campaigning with such and such Con MP” variety. Her lack of social media presence could be an advantage: she is a blank canvass and the Cons can make all sorts of marvellous claims on her behalf that it will be difficult for the public to verify.

Dr Paul Williams set up his Facebook page in 2015 and his Twitter account in September 2009, and communicates more frequently than Ms Mortimer. While there is inevitably some overlap between local and party messaging, Dr Williams’ posts are fully tailored to the Hartlepool context. In other words, far from generic, arrogant and detached from local concerns.

Take the current controversy over the NHS pay-rise. The Cons promised, legislated and budgeted for a 2.1% pay-rise, which with 1.7% inflation would represent a real increase of 0.4%. Except Boris Johnson has gone back on that, and the 1% “rise” he is now proposing is a real cut of 0.7%. While Keir Starmer and Labour are focusing on the NHS as a whole, Dr Williams launched his campaign going into bat for the 7,600 Hartlepool NHS healthcare staff who will bear the brunt of Johnson’s U-turn. The emphasis is different. It is not only local; it is personal. Indeed, he has been criticised by some for making videos on his breaks at work, still in scrubs, calling out Johnson and Hancock for making false claims about Hartlepool. 

Ms Mortimer cannot talk about this because at the heart of the Greensill scandal was a plan to generate enormous profits by targeting NHS staff with a scheme akin to payday loans, which they would not need if they received fair pay. Nor can she mention Liberty Steel, since it is the Conservatives’ Greensill scandal that has put it at risk. Meanwhile Dr Williams is campaigning to save those Hartlepool jobs, for example by joining MPs from steel-making constituencies in discussions on what can be done. Ms Mortimer has posted something insipid about reviving Hartlepool’s high street, while Dr Williams has launched a buy-local initiative and appears to have imitated North-East for Europe’s “heart” campaign to publicise it. To make equivalence between these two candidates is unwarranted and unfair.

Yours faithfully,

KT Parker

£8.6 million ‘Heist’

So the powers that be at County Hall are planning to give away millions of North-East Covid-recovery funds in order to bail themselves out of a self-made crisis. This all began when their development company, Advance, came under-threat of being sued by engineering contractor, Farrans, for loss of income after decisions were taken to shut down a site at east Sleekburn last March.

This ‘non-ringfenced’ public money was given to NCC (ed. Northumberland County Council) to help hard-working, local businesses across Northumberland who have been struggling during the pandemic to begin to slowly rebuild.

As the year-long chaos rumbles on, I am disturbed at how few questions were actually asked. Why were decisions made only by the Conservative cabinet and not fully discussed with the rest of the council?  Why were the Risk  Assessment Panel meetings, scheduled in the diary, all cancelled? And why are they now attempting to give away, in a worst case scenario, up to £8.6m of Covid-recovery money intended to help out small businesses in our region?

This is not business, it’s monkey business.

During these Covid-plagued times too few council meetings were held during 2020 – so while the rest of us battled with Zoom and Teams to continue our daily affairs, the Conservative-led Cabinet transcended scrutiny through poor communication with their own council. Indeed many of our elected councillors were excluded from these standard decision making processes – which has in turn led to further mistakes being made.

This is not democratic. 

NCC have put themselves at risk of being sued because of the poor judgment of their council cabinet and their micro-managing of development projects. I would like to see transparency and good governance from our elected leaders, and accountability for this mess. How much incompetence can voters forgive? We need better than this in Northumberland – so use your vote in May to elect than this current cohort in the Tory-led cabinet.

We need to elect people who will serve us, not just themselves

Dr Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

Our NHS heroes looked after us, now we have to look after them 

All our amazing hospital staff put their lives on the line at the height of the pandemic and the least we can do is reward them with a real pay rise. This is an insult. It is cruel. The Tories were urging us all to clap for carers last year and now they are making them pay for the pandemic. Applause and cheap words won’t pay the rent. They need a real rise. 

Last year ordinary people across the Tees not only clapped for carers but sent them food and chocolates to show they were appreciated. The people know what these heroes do but the Tory government have treated them with utter contempt. Where is the compassion?  

They say they can’t afford a pay-rise but they could afford to hand £37 billion to their mates to waste on a failed track and test system. It is a disgrace. 

The real-term cuts will hit at least 8,700 workers in Darlington, 7,400 in Hartlepool, 8,000 in Middlesbrough, 7,700 in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, 5,800 in Redcar, 7,100 in Stockton North and a whopping 11,200 in Stockton South.  

Last week the Government revealed a paltry 1% pay award to NHS staff that is a cut in real terms when inflation is taken into account. That was paired with a ‘pay freeze’ for all other public sector workers earning above £24,000 in 2021-22. Those earning less than £24,000 were promised “a fixed increase of £250”. 

Taking into account inflation, every non-NHS public sector worker earning over £18,000 will also get a real-term pay cut. That means 6,231 teachers will see their pay cut, as well as other school staff and police officers. 

On top of the pay freeze, the Budget also confirmed a one-billion-pound council tax bombshell and a cut to Universal Credit in six months that will hit those who can least afford it. 

This a triple blow to people’s pockets is totally irresponsible when the economy is so fragile and many family finances have been hit by lockdown, furlough and unemployment.

Making people worried about making ends meet will stop spending on local high streets and our small businesses will suffer at the very moment they need a bit of a boost. 

Jessie Joe-Jacobs, Labour candidate for Tees Valley Mayor

People’s Vote – You’ve got it!

If, like me you were gutted, when we so narrowly missed the chance for a People’s Vote in December 2019, then now’s your chance to have one. The main political parties let us down then and agreed to an election so they could follow their own agendas. We have a precious opportunity over the next couple of weeks to make our voice heard.

The Census gives us that opportunity! Who’d have thought? It’s so simple! No need to leave your home, no need to compromise yourself or your job in anyway by going on a protest; not another petition to sign.  Just do something you have to legally do in your own home. Nobody will even know what you put unless you choose to tell them. It’s that easy. All you need to do is fill in the nationality question as a European! I have already done this as you can fill in the form early.

This is a gift! Wouldn’t it be marvellous if everybody who didn’t want Brexit in the first place, and all those who have changed their minds, did this! Not everybody, who could vote in the referendum did. Furthermore, we have a whole cohort of young people who were too young to vote. It is their future. Now they can make their voice heard.

If Brexit was going so well it would be making front page news every day! Yes, the vaccine is incredibly important and so is the pandemic. Equally, the UK is obsessed with the royal family, but surely the Conservative Party would be trumpeting the benefits of Brexit from the rooftops too for the press to report. Instead, the word is hardly mentioned.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if by far the biggest response to the Nationality question was European?  It easily could be if we did it in our millions. Together we are strong. Others will be identifying with narrower more specific national groups. It would be impossible for these groups to surpass ‘European’ if we all make a stand. There are other benefits too in that extreme political movements can not play on what can divide us if we identify with what we all hold in common.

It would give so much more weight to our arguments and put pressure on all parties to reconsider their positions, if we mark ourselves as European. The crass arguments about mandates and the ‘will of the people’ would be blown out of the water. We can make this happen! We can do it without even leaving our homes!

Today, I woke up filled with optimism. I have a chance to make my voice heard. It is a little like Christmas has come early. Just as in Narnia, it has been winter for a long time. Now, perhaps, Aslan is on the move …

There has been so much apathy, despair, frustration etc. over the last few years. We have become weary, bored even, feeling helpless. Now we have a chance. Please, if you want to shout out your sense of belonging to Europe, whether young old, rich poor, whatever ethnicity, however you identify yourself, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever political, religious views you hold, then identify as EUROPEAN!

We have a voice! Use it!

Name withheld

Letter to my Conservative MP

Thank you for your last email. I hope that you are well. I am as delighted as you (Abbots News Feb) about the success and roll out of vaccine. Fantastic news. Can’t wait to get mine. 

However, I wish that you would respond properly to some of my other concerns. The government can not hide serious irregularities if our democracy is going to hold strong.

I have asked you time and again about the tendering of contracts over the last year, specifically and generally. You have fobbed me off.

Judge Chamberlain has just adjudicated that the ministerial code has been broken and government guidelines as to the tendering of contracts during the pandemic have been unlawful. 

All governments, as you have told me yourself, need to be held accountable. That is why I have signed this petition. The ‘integrity’ of the current government, of which you are part, it would seem, cannot be relied upon. 

I would welcome a swift and specific reply on the above matters. I need to know what you and other backbenchers are going to do about this and do not want to be fobbed off with what great guys Hancock and co are working in a difficult situation in unprecedented times. We all are. 

That is not an excuse to consistently misappropriate public money! You should be doing the job because you are up to it and you should all be enshrining the seven principles at all times. If you do not do this, then by parliament’s own standards, you are not fit to govern.

Kind regards,

Name withheld

T Dan Smith: a re-appraisal

Your article on T Dan Smith found its way to me and I was glad to read it. I think the time has come for a re-appraisal of what he achieved, which was a lot, and didn’t achieve (there was quite a lot of that too).

It is a pity, though that your historical perspective is undermined somewhat when you say “the mark he made on the city … can still be seen to this day, over a century after his spell as leader came to an end”. I was there. I remember it well, and I am still alive to tell the tale!

I look forward to more, deeper, analysis and historical account-settling.


Fred Brookes

Editor’s reply:
Thank you for your feedback. I have amended the reference. As you rightly point out, it was not over a century ago!

Cracking the perfect poached egg: still too much work!

Just read your article. Still too much work!

Here’s my method:
Boiling water in a microwaveable cereal bowl
Crack egg into the water
Microwave for 40 seconds. 
Done 🙂


Shocking, distressing and highly disrespectful

I happened to stumble across an article by Louisa Britain in North East Bylines: How bad recipes are deflecting from a truthful debate. I cannot agree more. It is shocking, distressing and highly disrespectful of people who have more than enough, in many cases much more than enough, to ‘preach’ to those who are really struggling.

The author points out that much of the advice given by these well-meaning if misguided ‘advisors’ is inaccurate anyway. 68p to make a family dinner for four! Good grief! I think not. She rightly writes about how other ingredients are needed (salt and pepper etc) and that utensils, cooking equipment, electricity or gas are needed.

It is hard enough for many people to cope, possibly out of work because of the pandemic or other factors, possibly dealing with emotional and mental health issues and desperately trying to manage on very little money. They do not need to be lectured by the very people who would be much better actually trying to provide practical, kind, and dignified support – or just by staying out of it!

J. Thompson

Promises, promises …

The first broken Brexit promise of 2021 was Mr Gove’s, “never to weaken the environmental protections that we have put in place while in the EU” – but already, in the first week of January, the sugar beet producers have been granted permission to use pesticides containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, the ones that kill the bees.    Harvesting sugar beet damages the soil just as eating sugar damages our health – we spend £8.8 billion per year treating Type 2 diabetes. 

And there’s no sign yet of a British law to prohibit the export of UK plastics in bulk to poorer countries to match the EU’ ban.

Instead, we have a bill to preserve the statues of dead white men, mostly slaver traders or owners, from the horrid demonstrators.  

And no more Private Members’ Bills for the foreseeable future, a diminution of democracy obscured by a Jolly Bad Taste Joke made simultaneously by the immaculate Rees-Mogg mocking the fishermen – who were also promised something better than piles of rotting fish they cannot export.  He got the headlines with that, as intended. 

Wendy Bond

We can always be in control of migration and the economy: a note for Keir Starmer

Why do political leaders in this country seem to have little knowledge of European treaties? If they invested time in reading, they would realize a solution to a massive jobs and business crisis in the whole of the UK and for British citizens based in Europe could be avoided.

The term ‘freedom of movement’ is highly misleading. It was never free. At least not if it was used according to the provisions for this under treaties present for both EU members and members of the single market.

Under article 7 of the EEA regulations, a person who migrates to another country within the single market must provide evidence of a job, business activity, freelance income or funds from savings, investments or a pension in order to remain for more than 3 months in another European country, in addition to comprehensive health insurance so that the individual and his or her family if relevant are not a burden on the host country. This is hardly freedom of movement, rather a controlled migration framework, which Theresa May failed to use when at the home office. Despite numerous letters to my MP, I have not received one satisfactory explanation as to why the Conservative government never applied these controls on immigration.

Labour needs to get over their aversion to support such a controlled migration framework. This is not ‘freedom of movement’ by any means. I cannot understand the attitude of Keir Starmer on this. If thousands of jobs were to be lost due to the closure of a factory, the labour party and the trade unions would be up in arms. Yet without mobility frameworks to work in Europe without red tape, British industry is suffering.

For example, the outbound tourism industry provides 25,000 British people, most of them who are young and in their first job, with roles in winter and summer seasons each year. It alone is worth more to the UK economy than fishing, contributing a staggering 2.3 billion Pounds to the Exchequer, whereas fisheries, with its 12,000 workers, contributes 987 million.

UK operators will now look to recruit seasonal workers in the EU because applying for visas is a complex procedure:
1. jobs need to be advertised for 8 weeks to make
sure that there are no European nationals losing out,
2. the British applicant needs to apply for a work permit (which takes several weeks)
and then go to an Embassy to apply for a visa in person.
At any point, the authorities may reject the candidate.

How many Northern lasses in poorer families in the Red Wall districts have dreamt of careers as a courier for one of the big operators on the resorts of Europe, studying hard for their GCSE or A-level language skills and tourism diplomas from our colleges? The outbound tourism industry helped them along, gave them skills which could be used back home in many jobs. Experienced managers may be able to go to work on an inter-corporate transfer to a company office in Europe, but those starting out can forget that.

Tourism is one example. There are many more sectors. Last week, it was revelated that the EU was prepared to grant musicians and creative professionals access to its markets without permits. The British government rejected this offer. The ISM (musicians union) and NUJ (journalists union) members find themselves professionally restricted. Many a British dancer gained an Equity card via a Summer season in a European hotel, which allowed them to audition for shows in the UK after that.

Britain could take its place in the single market again with a controlled migration framework to ensure that no sponging happens and reassure the public.

As for global Britain attracting the brightest and best talent, we have already witnessed several different models for permits or permit free work for the exempted categories of professionals under the UK-EU Brexit deal, who may still work in services in Europe, such as IT specialists and engineers. The Netherlands and Germany allow easier access to their markets, whereas Denmark and Belgium insist upon work permit applications. Even before the Brexit deal, the Dutch developed a ‘knowledge migrant framework’ as a full EU member, which allowed easier entry for third country nationals on their terms. So much for EU or single market membership removing a country’s ability to allow entry of world class talent. Barriers to these were all in the mind of politicians.

There’s nothing wrong with a controlled migration framework. Forcing thousands of people into unemployment and poorer futures is utterly wrong, as is the massive deficit caused to the UK treasury.

J. Hamilton