Council meetings upstaged
South Tyneside’s finest blotted out by dead tyrant.
This news will probably never be reported nationally and will struggle to find the first two or three pages of The Shields Gazette tomorrow, as our press go on a frenzied search for sound bites, video clips. and gruesome pictures following the killing of the Libyan “mad dog” tyrant Gaddafi, but none of that for now.
Today in South Shields Town Hall not a single dissenting voice was to be heard as South Tyneside Council first of all did its bit to help local businesses by agreeing new procurement procedures that ought to help improve the security of local jobs, now it is up to local employers to have a real go at winning council tenders as the council signalled its intentions to secure 50% of its supplies from local businesses within the next four years. Secondly they agreed a new Charter with the Armed Forces which will effectively lift some of the barriers and hurdles faced by serving members of the Armed services, ex-service personnel, and their families, when they come to re-integrate into the local community after serving their country. At last some relief and some dignity for those who have risked their lives as they seek housing, health care, rehabilitation, education, training, or employment opportunities. South Tyneside WILL NOT be found wanting. Thirdly, the Council unanimously passed a resolution which will see Cllr. James Lowery Capstick become a Freeman of the Borough, he becomes the only serving councillor to be honoured in this way after what seems like a lifetime of service to the old County Borough of South Shields, and Metropolitan District of South Tyneside.
Jim has served for over 44 years, and it was fitting that he received accolades from both sides of the chamber from people who were not around when he first won a seat in South Shields way back in the 1960s. The chamber was hushed and you could have heard a pin drop as Cllr. Iain Malcolm, Labour’s Leader in South Tyneside moving the motion to give him the Freedom of the Borough recalled Jim’s early forays into local democracy in an election against the late Albert Elliott in Simonside, he brought some mirth as councillors chuckled over the “on-off” relationship, Iain always wanting Jimmy off the council, and Jimmy always getting back on! He admired Jimmy’s long held and firm belief that national politics has no place in local town halls even if his party allegiance didn’t allow him to share that belief. He also went on to recall that time in the late 1960s and early 70s when the Progressives had the majority on the old South Shields County Borough Council and Jimmy Capstick served as vice chairman of the Housing Committee when George Smith was chairman. Between them they introduced the “right to buy” in the north-east, long before the Conservatives had even thought of it, they built over 600 new council homes, and sold council land to develop the Holder House estate in Whiteleas, he was also instrumental with the late Harry Marshall in building the new Temple Park Leisure Centre. Councillor Malcolm also praised Jimmy’s open attitude and approach to local politics stating that his long experience and wisdom of town hall proceedings was always worth listening to.
This theme was developed by Cllr. Enid Hetherington for the Progressives in recalling many memories that she had shared with her father, Harry Marshall, and of the friendly sage advice often offered to a new councillor by Jimmy Capstick, she kept her remarks short, not wishing to take any gloss off the occasion for her colleague.
Labour’s heavyweight from Hebburn Cllr. Eddie McAtominey then made a salutary statement recalling that period between the late 1970s and the early 1980s when Labour was licking its wounds following heavy defeats locally and the landslide election of Mrs. Thatcher. He recalled that South Tyneside Council had 66 seats back then and that 32 were Labours, 32 were Progressive/Conservative, and 2 Liberals held the balance of power (oh how things might have changed if I had found a few more handfuls of votes to defeat Elizabeth Diamond in Brinkburn eh?). Jimmy Capstick and Harry Marshall stubbornly kept Labour on their toes as first Vince Fitzpatrick and then Albert Elliott attempted to steady the ship, there were many heated debates and arguments in the chamber, indeed Eddie opined that some of the very best debates took place during that period, but Jimmy ensured that all opposition councillors had their say and concluded the debates without any hint of rancour or personal attack or insult. It was this honourable approach that marked Jimmy out as an outstanding contributor to the political life of South Tyneside.
Finally Cllr. George Elsom (always a generous fellow) on behalf of the independents painted out the picture of the times he had opposed Jimmy from the Labour benches then joined him in opposition, yet despite Cllr. Capstick being a founder member of the Independent Alliance Elsom affirmed that the recent period of personal attacks, insults, and dishonourable slurs against paid council officers and employees did not take place under Jimmy’s joint leadership. In fact he stated that Jimmy was an absolute gentleman in politics, perhaps the last of this type in South Tyneside .
Cllr. Capstick’s acceptance speech was received in absolute silence as the frailty of his years showed but belied none of his wit and wisdom as he declined any thoughts of commemorative caskets or suchlike. He was acutely aware that he has seen many changes in local politics over the past fifty years but no so momentous as Labour Leader moving a motion such as this, it just would not have happened in the past. He was alluding to Cllr. Malcolm’s profound change in leadership style which has been brought to the Labour benches opposite, despite their heavy majority Malcolm has introduced a more open type of governance and is far more likely to listen to the opposition and the wider electorate than his predecessors. Jimmy has found him approachable and amenable, and thinks this new era is developing better decision making processes. He sounded humble, yet proud of his long service, but even more proud of his family and the steadfast support of his wife Elmer, however he did drop a huge clue that his service as a councillor may soon be coming to an end as he seeks more time at home to spend with his family.
I too was (a) surprised and pleased that a Labour Leader should propose this motion to honour his opponent, and (b) kind of disappointed that only 22 people were in the public gallery to witness this event, and no doubt some of them were journalists. Jimmy Capstick may well be the last of his generation of long term well respected Progressives who set out to represent nobody but the people of South Shields and South Tyneside without any flavour of national politics creeping in, there were a good few mentions for Ken Hickman to today, another who deserves some recognition.
A special ceremony to convey the Freedom of the Borough to Cllr. Capstick will take place on 7th. November, why not go along and watch, these things don’t happen very often.
Former South Shields Progressive Councillors George Smith, Stan Smith, and Dr. John McKee were all honoured by the Queen, it would be nice to think that someone may make nominations on behalf of Jimmy Capstick and Ken Hickman too.
Coming soon – a very old picture of South Shields County Borough Council.