Thoughts on last night’s count in South Shields
I enjoyed being able to take an interest in the count at Temple Park Leisure Centre in South Shields last night, having spent many hours helping the Conservative Party as a volunteer supporter (not a member) during the past few weeks of the campaign, allowing me to renew acquaintances and rediscover the joys of engaging with folks on the doorstep and on the streets. I met with many people from all sorts of parties yesterday in South Shields and beyond but it struck me during the early hours how the vast majority of those in the body politic of this town are plain and simple ordinary folk wanting the best possible outcome not just for the country, but also for their own beliefs, and more especially for the people they love most – the canny folks o’ Shields!
The vast majority of those that I spoke to last night are genuinely nice people whose hearts are all in the right place, they just happen to have different ideas about how things ought to be run, it’s as simple as that. Take, for instance, Shirley Ford and Bryan Atkinson from the Green Party (pictured) two super people, committed to their cause, exceptionally friendly and engaging, they have a special interest and hold it dear to their hearts, more importantly they have the courage to stand up and be counted for a programme that they believe in yet know it will not win them seats here. One admires this courage to take those beliefs to the people and ask for a judgement, it takes a lot of guts and determination to involve yourself in the political process and they would be a credit to any of the major parties if they decided to join (there is now quite a lot of common ground being shared with the green agenda and their party has played a large part in bringing environmental issues to the forefront of politics.)
I also spoke with Mr. Kaikavoosi, another genuinely nice man who has built businesses and employed people here in South Shields and stood as an independent candidate, probably in the sure knowledge that he would lose his deposit, that takes a lot of guts, but he had his point to make and exercised his right to make it.
I also spoke with members of the South Shields Labour Party who did not appear to be desperately downhearted by their party’s poor showing nationally, many were expecting such a result, but they were buoyed by what was looking to be a good night for them in the local elections, and so it turned out to be as they picked up an additional five seats on South Tyneside Council. My friendships with some of my idealogical opponents in the Labour Party go back many many years, in fact right back to my childhood, the fact that we sit on opposite sides of the fence does not in any way interfere with this friendship, and that is just the way it should be.
I spoke with Liberal Democrats Bill Troupe and Steven Psallidas, again wonderful ordinary Geordies with strong South Shields links, who were clearly happy to take part in this most important democratic process without allowing the national situation to overshadow what they have done to forward their cause over the past few weeks.
Victor Thompson was there with his family all decorated with very colourful rosettes, but I didn’t get an opportunity to talk with him about his decision to stand in the general election, but again a situation where perhaps he would have appreciated that he would likely lose his deposit, a big one to take on the chin.
George and June Elsom were a real hoot, George is the sort of bloke who can always manage to find humour and he and his wife, although politically out on a limb, still manage to get out there and get their message across, but I have to start to ask questions about the role of independents in South Tyneside if we ever want to break Labour’s domination.
I also had a wonderfully long conversation with Ken Hickman, the veteran Progressive councillor who sadly lost his seat in West Park ward after giving many many years of service to South Tyneside Council and the old South Shields Borough Council prior to that, as well as other members of the Progressive Association. It was a sad night for them as Bob Watters and Neil Maxwell, for Labour, took two seats from them, Lawrence Nolan fell in Harton. I was saddened because perfectly good councillors who have satisfied the needs of their constituents lost because the strength of their votes was fragmented by the introduction of more independent or Conservative candidates in their ward, similarly David Potts’ majority in Cleadon and East Boldon was severely tested and he almost lost his seat after the Progressives fielded a candidate there.
And therein lies the one problem with local politics in South Tyneside for those who would wish to see some sort of break from Labour’s stranglehold here, the opposition parties continue to proliferate and fragment the votes of the anti Labour majority, by continuing to fight against each other they give succour and strength to a Labour Party which has moved further and further towards the centre ground locally, I cannot remember the last time that the Labour Party won the popular vote in a local election here with more than 50% of the votes cast. If we looked at their share of the vote compared with the size of the electorate they have hardly ever come close to winning 40% of the available vote!
However it is worth repeating that the vast majority of those candidates and supporters taking part in the local government elections and the general election are decent, amiable, ordinary, honourable folks who serve their causes well and recognise that politics ought to be a battle of ideas and policies, and not an opportunity to simply vilify and belittle opponents in the most personal and dishonest of ways. It would be better for all of us if people of this disposition questioned their own values and came to the conclusion that it is not in the public interest for them to continue to seek support without a real programme of ideas behind them.