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Archive for the ‘Progressive’ Category

Reducing the number of South Tyneside councillors

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Populist move from one current and one former councillor

Well it certainly might be an idea that gains the backing of a large section of the community eager to see the perceived wasting of money halted, but as things stand these proposals from the former Progressive councillor Greenwell Jewitt, and the borough’s Old Peoples Parliament Forum 50, along with backing from current Independent councillor George Elsom seem doomed to failure not least because they are poorly thought through and poorly presented.

The idea sounds great, bringing the number of councillors down from 54 to 36 and reducing allowances by 50% would certainly find favour with a lot of people, many could probably find popular alternative ways to spend the c £300000 that might be saved (in other words the cash would not be saved at all)  but there is no substance, clarity, or technical detail in the proposals, nor does the proposal take account of what actions South Tyneside Council can legitimately take on its own behalf. Our council cannot decide alone to reduce the number of its elected representatives, nor can it decide alone what level of allowances to compensate elected members with.

These decisions can only be taken alongside the guidance, advice, and support of external organisations set up by statute governing the constitution of local councils in England Wales.

One needs to ask Cllr, Elsom and Mr. Jewitt exactly how they would propose making the reduction in councillor numbers. Would they favour continuing with fewer but larger three member seats and elections held at the same time and frequency as the rest of England and Wales, or would they favour two member wards, which require our council to be completely out of step with the rest of England and Wales? Twelve larger wards across the borough would suit me to be sure, but it would be almost impossible to get all party agreement on the shape, size, and the boundaries of these new wards, it might also lead to a reduction in Labour’s dominance at local level. However this is all academic, in order to facilitate a change in the size of South Tyneside Council, the council would need to pass a resolution requesting that the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England carry out a special and specific electoral review just for this borough, and it is a very rare thing indeed for single borough reviews to take place successfully.

Electoral reviews look at whether the boundaries of wards or divisions within a local authority need to be altered. We might conduct these reviews either to ensure fairer representation at local government elections after any significant changes in the distribution of electors, or at the request of a local authority for other reasons.

Things we look at:

  • the number of councillors on the council
  • the number of wards or divisions
  • whether the wards or divisions should be represented by a single councillor, or jointly by two or three councillors
  • the boundaries and names of those wards or divisions

Our responsibilities relate solely to local government in England.

So, as you can see from the above, this will be a major hurdle to overcome, and certainly would not happen overnight!

I think Forum 50’s idea of collecting petition signatures may be the right way to go to promote the council into thinking of considering their proposal, but a realist would recognise that there can be no political will withing the Labour Party to cut their own throats.

Nice try though guys!

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Written by curly

March 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

Cllr. James Lowery Capstick R.I.P.

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South Shields Town Hall  Town Hall flags at half mast as Freeman of the Borough passes away aged 80

I was much saddened to learn today of the passing of my former Progressive colleague Jimmy Capstick, it seems such a short time ago when we were all gathered in the     Town  Hall in South Shields to commemorate his long service to the Borough of South Tyneside and install him as a Freeman of the Borough. Jimmy devoted the major part of his life to serving his constituents and promoting the virtues of a non political opposition to the local Labour Party in the form of the Progressive Association, a body which had stood the test of time for over 50 years.

I first met Jimmy in around 1976 when I  attended an interview in a dingy basement office in Beach Road, then belonging to the late Harry Marshall, where I was interviewed by a panel looking for prospective Progressive candidates  which also included Eddie Russel, George Wilkinson, the late Maurice Piggott, along with Jimmy and Harry. I was struck then by Jimmy’s warmth and humour as well as his devotion to the people of South Shields, and the pride that he had for his home town. Since that day, I have only ever knew him as an honest, honourable, hard working councillor who has been ever present apart from a break of one year in 1990. It is quite remarkable that this outwardly unassuming man should have been so popular with those that he represented that they continued to give him their support over such a lengthy period of time, he will be a very hard act to follow indeed.

He was also a family man with a huge admiration for the achievements of  his children and grandchildren, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was at Jimmy’s home to present him with some family photographs but alas he was  too unwell to receive visitors that day. Added to the respiratory problems that he had suffered in recent months he also suffered a heart attack over the Christmas period and his wife Elmer, ever present and caring, was intent on nursing him well.

Jimmy will be missed by many, particularly amongst that small band of Progressive activists who cling to the values that he extolled, but also by the many who came to meet him in daily life as he represented them at the town hall and did his level best to ensure that grievances were put right or problems ironed out. He will be missed in the council chamber for his sage advice and knowledge, and for his calming influence in those heated moments.

Council Leader Iain Malcolm has been very magnanimous in his choice of words and actions in recent months, recognising his opponent in a way which would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, for that, I think we should all be grateful.

Rest in peace Jimmy.

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Written by curly

February 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm

2012 predictions

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Welcome back my friends.

First a bit of music to cheer you all up, and may I extend a big welcome to you all as we begin a New Year in South Tyneside’s first and oldest political blog, I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that it brings some sort of cheer to you. I cannot promise that output from this desk will be any more frequent this year than it was last, a new lifestyle here leaves me a bit less time to write and my passion for photography at South Shields Daily Pictures also competes for my online time. However, with a long drum roll let’s get started with things for 2012.

National and international predictions

Financial and political pressure within the EU continue to build as a realistic solution to the Eurozone crisis fails to materialise, as referendums in Greece and Ireland  initially reject further austerity measures relating to the latest bail out plans. Calls to remove these countries from the Eurozone are thwarted as both nations are forced to hold a second vote which confirms their compliance with the Commission’s wishes. Massive unrest on the streets of Athens leads, for the first time, to a pan European peacekeeping force being deployed in Greece to keep its citizens under control.

David Cameron decides that Britain will not contribute any personnel to the new force, and further reduces Britain’s contribution to the IMF, stating that our financial problems require us to keep more of our finances at home. Nick Clegg threatens to pull the Lib-Dems out of the coalition in protest at the Conservatives outright hostility to the new EU plans designed to bring stability to the markets, however because of Labour’s weak position under Ed Miliband a combination of Tory and rebellious Labour MPs win the day in a Confidence debate in the House of Commons, thus tying the Lib-Dems into the coalition. Rebel Labour MPs claim this was the best way to ensure the total demise of Lib- Dem MPs at the next general election whilst buying more time for Labour to reorganise.

In America President Obama wins a second term, although very narrowly, after providing logistical and intelligence support to Israel when they successfully bombed a number of Iranian nuclear facilities the week before President Ahmedinijad was expected to announce the testing of his country’s first nuclear weapon.

In Russia Vladimir Putin is elected to lead the nation again, but there are strong doubts about the integrity of the elections, massive unrest in Russian cities is dealt with firmly and harshly, and following warmer than normal friendly talks with neighbouring states regarding trade agreements and energy supplies, observers begin fearing for the independence of the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) as nationalist parties there see a massive rise in popularity after the EU’s enforced austerity measures spark riots.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announces a new treaty with Iran, promising to help them rebuild the facilities destroyed by the Israelis. Increased  defence spending in the secretive far eastern state has resulted in a larger American military presence in Australia’s Northern Territory and the permanent patrol of a full battle ready US fleet in international waters close to the Korean peninsular.

China continues to be the world’s leading economy but still shows little appetite for increasing it’s spending on imports, preferring instead to produce good quality copies of foreign article for home consumption, Obama’s pleas for relaxations in China’s trade policies fall on deaf ears.

Local predictions.

The case in San Mateo County Court in California involving three South Tyneside councillors and an officer rumbles on seemingly interminably with no prospect of either a firm result and conclusion, or a commencement of proceedings in a British court. The costs of the matter are used as a political weapon during the local government elections in May.

Fifteen South Shields boys and girls attend the X Factor auditions in Newcastle but not a single one makes any progress, meanwhile late in the year Little Mix release an album to mixed reviews which does well in the charts but does not reach No. 1, fans had a liking for the new material but complained that five covers in the album were probably too many. As the year closes Little Mix prepare for their second UK headlining tour. Meanwhile Joe McElderry had released an album firmly in the dance genre after expressing disappointment over the sales of his Christmas Classics collection of cover songs, he also decided to accept the offer of a part in a West End musical and will be appearing in panto at the end of the year at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.

South Tyneside’s jobless figures continue to rise although not at the massive rate that some had feared, local employment prospects are boosted by the announcement from Nissan of their decision to build a further two new models at their massive plant in Washington.

In the local elections in May Labour takes an absolute stranglehold on local politics as virtually all opposition in South Tyneside is wiped off the map. Cllr Geraldine White loses her seat to Labour in Fellgate and Hedworth, Lawrence Nolan fails to hold Harton for the Progressives after the retirement of Jimmy Capstick, the Liberal Democrats disappear as Joe Abbot loses to Labour in Hebburn North, Labour regain Horsely Hill in a close contest as Independent Alliance councillor Gordon Finch loses his seat, in Monkton John Hodgson somehow manages to fend off Labour’s challenge with only a handful of votes to spare, Labour make it three in a row in West Park as Enid Hetherington ends the Progressive Association’s long tenure there, Labour pick up Westoe at the expense of Allen Branley, and further legal challenges ensue after Ahmed Khan narrowly loses the decision against Labour’s John Anglin in the Beacon and Bents ward of South Shields.

Labour’s only other failure on a remarkable night was in Cleadon Village and East Boldon, where Conservative Councillor Jeff Milburn retained his seat with a much  reduced majority.

Following further shop closures in King Street, South Shields, South Tyneside Council announced an updated plan for a shoppers car parking scheme which gave two hours of free town centre parking, charges would only be applied after two hours and could be refunded if shoppers were spending more than £5 with local “partner” businesses. In a further sign of Labour’s pragmatic approach to working with the coalition government council Leader Iain Malcolm announced his intention of shaving an additional £45m from South Tyneside’s spending as he intended to announce a first ever reduction in council taxes to help local people rebuild their economy by putting money back into their own pockets to spend.

On the sporting scene, South Shields Mariners are in disarray after the sale of Filtrona Park , a late season slide in form saw them narrowly avoid relegation and their future is now in serious doubt as new houses are about to be built on their former ground. Until they find a new home their existence in the Northern League cannot be guaranteed.

In the Premier League Mike Ashley showed no inclination to spend on Newcastle United during the January window, as once again he discussed the possibility of selling the club at the end of the season. The Magpies strong start to the campaign was cancelled out when striker Demba Ba suffered a serious injury, this coupled with the sales of Tiote and Krul meant that Pardew’s men had a late season loss of form which saw them end the campaign in 15th. place.

Rivals  Sunderland were boosted by the surprise arrival of a top name striker and a full back which pleased the red and white half of South Shields. Meanwhile Ryan Noble’s emergence as a Premier League threat helped Martin O’Neill cement his status as a “legend” as the team went on a strong run towards the end of the season finishing above the Magpies in 9th. place. Owner Ellis Short announced that further funds would be made available to the Irishman for the summer transfer window, once again Sunderland are considering the possibility of extending the capacity at The Stadium of Light.

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South Tyneside’s five month election campaign!

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John Anglin and Johnny Morris

Long lost cousins?

No – honestly, it isn’t until May next year.

Surely this must go down as the longest election campaign in South Tyneside’s history, however the Labour Party is already out of the blocks and up and running!

Former Mayor John Anglin has announced in a letter to residents of the Beacon and Bents ward in South Shields that he’ll be contesting the seat that he so recently vacated in order to make a lengthy overseas trip, and being a bit mischievous I noticed a distinct similarity between Mr. Anglin and former BBC children’s’ TV presenter Johnny Morris. The man from “Animal Magic” might easily have been a long lost cousin of John Anglin, don’t you think? More than likely Morris ignored the best advice ever given to showmen, “never work with children or monkeys animals”, and Anglin must surely be contemplating this advice too as he attempts to retake the seat for Labour. It is not yet known whether or not South Shields’ most controversial and outspoken councillor, Ahmed Khan, has decided that he wishes to defend the seat in May 2012.

Also out and about in the Fellgate and Hedworth ward was another new Labour candidate Alan Smith – no not this one –  with council leader Iain Malcolm and Cllr. Bill Brady. They were there to say things to the effect that Labour does NOT forget about those wards that elect opposition councillors! Sounds quite funny really when the perception is quite the opposite, as I’m sure Cllr. Steve Harrison and his fellow independents will attest.

However there is a point to all of this, and that is that Labour is setting out an early marker that sitting Independent councillors are going to be targeted, and that they see opportunities of retaking seats which have “strayed” from Labour’s grasp in recent years. Make no bones about this, the current Labour leadership in South Tyneside sees a rosy future and believes that it can achieve overwhelming dominance in the council chamber as the Conservative and Lib-Dem brands appear “toxic” to the electorate. This new “Blue” Labour regime probably also sees some dividend coming from the tight budgetary controls imposed upon it by the coalition government, it is quite prepared to undertake the task of reducing council spending in exchange for the freeze in council taxes, they certainly don’t want to rock the boat by introducing proposals that call for increases in taxes when we are finding the economic climate “challenging”. The local Labour Party will be challenging the opposition parties to produce a well informed and costed alternative budget in the first quarter of next year, something  which they have not been adept at doing with any great success in the past few years. It also offers Labour the opportunity of opening a “trap door” for the opposition if they attempt to produce a budget calling for a reduction in council taxes if it is accompanied by even larger spending cuts than those implemented by the ruling Labour group.

Now is the time for those Conservatives, Lib_Dems, Progressive, and non aligned independents in South Tyneside to come together with a united vision of how the borough can progress through 2012 without further affecting economic decline and without burdening the local electorate with additional taxation and service charges, in an effort to appear both sympathetic to the aims of the coalition in reducing the budget deficit and the debt mountain, and appealing to those who wish to see an effective and empathetic alternative to Labour  whilst putting a firm squeeze on the Independent Alliance who have signally failed to prosper as an opposition with a real policy agenda or new ideas.

The long road to May 2012 starts here – today!

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Capstick, Freedom of the Borough – picture special

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Cllr. Jimmy Capstick, South Tyneside

Memorable day for South Tyneside veteran councillor

Yesterday in South Shields Town Hall Cllr. Jimmy Capstick accepted the honour of being installed as a Freeman of the Borough of South Tyneside in a ceremony attended by hundreds of friends, family, ex-councillors and well wishers. It was a very special day for Jimmy, the longest serving councillor in South Tyneside, and one which will have filled him with happiness and pride, however as everyone was assembled in the council chamber it fell to Chief Executive Martin Swales to announce that Jimmy was not there! He’d been rushed into hospital earlier in the day but had bravely discharged himself  and was making his way to South Shields by taxi in order to attend, once again displaying his great sense of duty and commitment in the most selfless manner, he was determined not to spoil the day for everyone else! Sadly it meant that Jimmy missed the chance to fully participate in the lunch and civic reception afterwards as he quickly returned home, possibly on doctors’ orders.

It was great to see and meet up with former friends and colleagues as well as unexpectedly bumping into one of Mrs. Curly’s relatives, and I’m also very grateful to Mayor Cllr. Jim Sewell for giving me special dispensation to record some of the moments of the ceremony and reception to bring to you today. Rather than writing a long post on the event here are just some bullet points that help to inform you about the pictures and some of the other moments of memory.

  • Great to see George Wilkinson, Stan Smith, Steve Mannion, and Ken Hickman – familiar faces in familiar seats, Stan looks as though he is back to good health.
  • Wonderful to converse with Jean Alderson, widow of the former high ranking council officer Reevel Alderson.
  • Good to see so many people from St. Peter’s church in Harton.
  • Cllr. George Elsom is now sporting a healthy growth of hair on his upper lip to help raise awareness and money for a prostate cancer charity – big ups George!
  • Happy to photograph members of Jimmy Capstick’s family and record their pride and joy.
  • George Wilkinson has unearthed a little gem in his family photos, I hope to bring it to you shortly.
  • Cllr. Capstick, despite his failing health, got through his acceptance speech with grace, humility, and lots of his familiar humour.
  • Cllr. Enid Hetherington spoke on behalf of the Progressive Association.
  • Cllr. Steve Harrison spoke on behalf of the official opposition.
  • Big respect to Cllr. Iain Malcolm Labour’s leader in South Tyneside for being a “big politician” and honouring his opponent in such a public and memorable manner.
  • Disappointment at the absence of quite a few of our councillors (perhaps they had work or other commitments).
  • The meal was simple chicken, potatoes, and vegetables, nobody could accuse the council of lavish spending in tough times.
  • People of all political persuasions were genuinely happy and pleased to be with Cllr. Capstick and his family, 45 years service as a councillor deserves some respect and recognition.
  • Bit of a pity that I couldn’t spend a few moments with Jimmy but it was understandable given the circumstances.
  • Good to see former Labour councillor Tom Bamford enjoying his retirement and in excellent spirits.
  • The giant screen in the main reception room looked like “This is your Life” – nice touch.
  • Great to see the public gallery heaving packed, the overspill watched a live video stream in the ante room.
  • Great to have participation from a representative of the “Hello Club” from our German twin town Wuppertal.
  • Many thanks to Val and Dorothy for being so helpful and doing what they do best, they really are treasures.
  • Jimmy is the only serving South Tyneside councillor to have been honoured in this way.

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South Shields Council – 1973

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South Shields Council 1973

A better looking bunch

Click picture to enlarge

I bring you this from a very kindly lady from Cleadon Village, who I thank for lending me the publication “South Shields – A story of a town and its people who have lived up to their motto Always Ready” which was published by the old County Borough Council in 1974 by the then excellent Press and Communications Officer Peter Gillanders (who was virtually a one man press office). Not sure who the photograph was taken by, there are no credits shown in the booklet, but it was likely to be either Harrisons Photographers of South Shields, or the Shields Gazette.

Needless to say this 37 year old booklet is pretty worn and damaged but has survived reasonably well for a document which was sold to the public for the princely sum of 10p back then. The picture of the Council, which was incomplete as the names below show the absentees, was a fold out inside the back page and had a major fold and crease down the centre and small pieces of wear and tear around, however after making four separate scans I think I’ve stitched them together reasonably well and repaired most of the damage to bring you this looking as best as I can possibly achieve.

The first noticeable thing that will come to mind when comparing these people to the current South Tyneside Council is how well they are turned out, gentlemen all suited and booted, handkerchiefs neatly pressed and inserted into breast pockets too, and the ladies are at their smartest. Such a shame that our present bunch of councillors turn up to Town Hall meetings in scruffy anoraks, tieless, or in crumpled tee shirts looking as though they slept in them! The Mayor Cllr. Ken Srimger and the Town Clerk, Mr. R.S. Young, are looking resplendent in their official robes of office. Another point that I chuckled at as I scanned this picture was Harry Marshall’s white socks!

Our newest Freeman of the Borough, Cllr. Jim Capstick is four from the right in the second back row, the only councillor in this picture still serving today.

This is the group of councillors that I was mainly mixing with a few years later as I became Chairman of South Shield Young Conservatives, joined the Progressive Association and started out a brief political journey in South Shields and South South Tyneside. There are quite a few here who I never met or had any sort of relationship with, a few had a profound influence on a political newcomer.

Ken Charlton, in the back row, was a gentleman and a fierce combative debater who researched deeply to pin Labour down time and time again, a warm and charming man who worked his socks off for the Progressive, and later Conservative, causes. Also in the back row I remember fondly Mr. Reevel Alderson, an exemplary officer who had bags of time and patience for a new councillor. In the fourth row from the front I recall Jim Davison as a dour and seemingly humourless man inside the chamber, but outside he was entirely different and could cause many laughs with his caustic dislike of anything “Tory” , then there was Gerry Graham for many years Chairman of the Town Development Committee who worked tirelessly to improve the face of South Shields during the 70s and 80s, we still get on well now when I bump into him. You will also find in this row Dick Barry, another from the Laygate area who I found difficult to get along with, a young Bob Growcott who still has many friends down at Brigham’s Club, Jim Capstick, and the excellent Director of Education Ken Stringer.

In the third row I see Cllr. Alan Madsen before he became wheelchair bound, a colleague of mine in the Beacon and Bents ward, his wife Ann is missing from this picture, I remember Alan as having a particularly sharp mind in group meetings when at times we couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Next to him is Albert Elliott, another that I found difficult to deal with, he was a former miner (which didn’t help in the Thatcher years), and he later went on to be Leader of the South Tyneside Council. A little further along there is Lillian Jordison, who was in the same class at school as my late mother, a lovely lady who could talk the hind legs off a donkey if you let her, and next to old Bill the Mace Bearer stands Elizabeth Diamond who narrowly held her Brinkburn seat against me in the year when the Progressives came so close to gaining control from Labour. Elizabeth was very kindly  to me from then on and was often encouraging me to speak up a bit in the chamber on those few occasions that I had something to offer. A little further along I see the white haired Tom Collins, a robust figure who was a constant thorn in Labour’s side, although at times his broad vernacular must have been difficult for the Gazette reporters to decipher.

In the second row there is another future Labour Leader Vince Fitzpatrick, he too was a gentleman who had a great grasp of figures and handled his brief well, not for him the reading of a pre-prepared script as some of today’s councillors do (badly), then there is the giant figure of another former Freeman of the Borough Murtagh Diamond, again a man who was always warm and friendly irrespective of which party you represented, he was an educationalist and fiercely loyal to the Labour Party. Next is Billy Malcolm (one of three Malcolms pictured), father of the current Leader Iain Malcolm, fiercely combative and of a view “if you’re not with us, you’re agin us!”, I was Margaret Whinfield’s agent when she defeated him in a Tyne Wear County Council election for Rekendyke and Victoria, he was NOT happy at the outcome! Then there is Ernie Mackley, who I believe was Labour’s Leader back then, another ex miner, he surprised us all in the council chamber once in the middle of a speech a few years later by stopping mid sentence, apologising to the Mayor (Albert Elliott) and inserting his dentures! I kid you not. Along at the far right are old stalwarts and workhorses Harold Abey and Warden Newby, who I only met once or twice.

To the front row now, and I see Bill Owen, who had a sweet shop in Frederick Street and later somewhat blotted his copybook by joining the far right nationalists, I could never figure that out, a couple of places along is Harry Marshall one of the greatest raconteurs these parts have known, whether it be in political or sporting circles, in the chamber or at the bar! I don’t know how many times I’ve “chewed the cud” with Harry in his later years. Then Dr. John McKee who had his surgery in Tyne Dock and stood as Conservative candidate for South Shields in a couple of general elections, he was always statesmanlike, had a wonderful humour allied with immense charm and warmth, and finally Capt. George Bairnson a former seaman who was quiet and unassuming, but a lovely homely bloke.

I invite you to bring along any anecdotes and memories of this period as we saw huge changes in local government and the transformation from South Shields to South Tyneside, any stories you’d like to relate please leave them here. I’d also be interested in hearing what Cleadon, Boldon, Hebburn and Jarrow folks thought about the prospective joining up of the geographical areas back then.
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Written by curly

October 23, 2011 at 11:00 am

Council meetings upstaged

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south shields town hallSouth 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.

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Written by curly

October 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Capstick – Freeman of the Borough

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cllr. jim capstickVeteran South Tyneside councillor to be honoured

Councillor Jimmy Capstick the leader of the small South Tyneside Progressive group of councillors is to be awarded the status  of Freeman of the Borough, having served the local community for an astonishing 44 years.

Jimmy is “old school” Progressive having stuck firmly to the party’s strictly independent view about the need for local councillors to serve their town first and not to allow the politics of national parties to dominate our affairs within the town hall. It is a remarkable achievement to have gained the respect and support, not only of his constituents over that period, but also of his fellow councillors from all of the other parties represented on South Tyneside Council. Jimmy is a self effacing and quiet family man with a calm demeanour laced with an impish wit, he has opposed Labour over four decades and faced a number of Leaders in debate including Ernest Mackley, Vince Fitzpatrick, Albert Elliott, Paul Waggot and current Leader Iain Malcolm, he has been the mainstay of the South Tyneside Progressive Association since the death of former leader Harry Marshall. I first met Jimmy in the mid 1970s and he was one of the more experienced of my colleagues when I joined the Council in 1980, often providing me with insights on procedure, strategies and tactics and a guiding hand on the Council’s constitution and confusing Standing Orders at the time. He has been almost an ever present member of South Tyneside Council since its formation in 1973, with a break of one year in 1990 and he has represented Cleadon Park, West Park, and Harton wards during that time. Seriously, you could not wish to meet a more friendly and helpful local representative (despite him being an avid Newcastle supporter).

The Freedom of the Borough is not awarded lightly and only one other local councillor has received the award since 1973, unlike the City of Newcastle it does not bestow any special rights or privileges, in other words he will not be able to graze sheep or horses on Cleadon Hills or drive them along the John Reid Road! The nomination for this award has full cross party support in the council and a special motion will be put to the full council next Thursday 20th. October in South Shields town hall  when it will be approved.

Current Labour Leader Cllr. Iain Malcolm has said:

“The Freeman accolade represents our thanks and appreciation to Jim Capstick for his outstanding and distinguished service to the people South Tyneside. I am confident that this nomination will be approved and a civic ceremony to bestow the honour will take place at a later date.”

Cllr. Capstick is currently not in the best of health, but I’m sure that this award will be well received and cheer him and his family enormously, he can look back at his life and achievements in the local community with a huge amount of pride.

The South Tyneside Progressives now have their own website – here

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Written by curly

October 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

Labour cock-a-hoop in South Tyneside

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Tory scalp in Cleadon and East Boldon is biggest prize

I’m still pretty tired after yesterday’s elections and a fairly long night attending the count at the Temple Park Centre in South Shields, which although it was hard on the legs for the gathered politicos was well organised by Val Stephenson on behalf of the Returning Officer, I hear that similar praise is also due for the officials at Jarrow Community Centre. They were never in any sort of race to beat Sunderland into declaring results but at least the counting was all but over at the time they predicted it ought to have started!

It would be churlish of me NOT to congratulate the Labour Party in South Tyneside for some good results last night so I’ll do it now, well done boys and girls, you have a well oiled election machine which some of the rest of us sneakily admire and envy. Biggest prize of the night went to Joan Atkinson, who after years of hard graft chipping away at the Conservative majority in Cleadon and East Boldon ousted Donald Wood. It was not a shock to some of us but there was some surprise at the size of the Labour majority and the fact that they took over 50% share of the vote on a very healthy turnout of over 55%, I felt terribly sorry for Don Wood who is a real gent and really did not deserve to be the victim of the “Potts factor”, I had predicted a tough uphill fight for the Tories in Cleadon but expected them to hold with a slim margin. One veteran Conservative (and former councillor) who I spoke to put the blame for the loss firmly on Jarrow Conservative Association for the failure to “sort out Potts” when the had the chance prior to his last reselection, he too saw the writing on the wall.

I was right too in predicting victory for Ian Harkus for Labour in Hebburn North as Lib-Dem John McKie was ousted on a night which has so far seen 295 of his colleagues lose their seats. South Tyneside now has just one Liberal Democrat councillor within its ranks. Labour’s other gain came in South Shields where “long legs” Joyce Welsh romped home with a health majority over the sitting Progressive Marjorie Robinson, the result was not as close as I predicted. Speaking to Joyce after her victory I realise she doesn’t mind being called “long legs” at all and thinks it may be an easy way to distinguish her from the similar named Cllr. Walsh!

Elsewhere former Mayor’s Secretary Fay Cunningham returns to South Shields town hall this time as a Labour councillor having held off the challenge of Tom Defty in Bede ward, we see a new “independent” in Fellgate and Hedworth in the form of Linda Hemmer who beat Labour’s Moira Smith by just over 100 votes, and already rumours are circulating that Ms Hemmer may shortly defect to the Labour benches. Real Independent George Elsom held his seat in Cleadon Park but with a reduced majority against Labour, but perhaps he would have polled better without the intervention of Colin Campbell who also took a reasonable handful of independent votes. As a side note George is convinced he was the real media star of the Shields Gazette’s videos!

The Independent Alliance candidates had a miserable night, they arrived en masse for the count (someone even suggested they marched in singing “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees” but I took that with a pinch of salt, they just didn’t look in singing mood) Jim Hodgson failed for the second year running to take Beacon and Bents ward where débutante Conservative Ali Hayder put in a strong showing holding the Conservative vote up to last year’s general election levels, the result was a comfortable win for Labour’s Audrey McMillan, although she had a nervous disposition early in the counting. Independent Alliance leader Jane Branley who probably had what most people would consider a rock solid majority in Westoe, must have been taken aback and shocked to see it wither away to around 200, and her party failed to make any real impact or improvement in other wards, perhaps the writing may be on the wall for the “Indies” who remain the largest opposition grouping on the council. Having spent a small fortune on literature and having produced and delivered more leaflets than anyone else in South Tyneside, I wonder if they feel happy with the yield on their investment?

The Conservatives surprised with a reasonable return of votes at about the same level as last year’s big turnout general election and in many places improved from fourth to third place finishes so they shouldn’t be massively dismayed with their performance other than losing one key seat – and they may well fear what may happen next year in Cleadon Village, the Liberal Democrats will be seriously worried that their presence in the council chamber may soon be gone altogether as Nick Clegg’s leadership took real punishment in England, and the Progressives will also be ruminating on their long term future as traditional independent alternative to Labour in these parts, Lawrence Nolan garnered a fairly healthy bucket of votes in Harton but it was nowhere near good enough to threaten Labour’s Rob Dix. The Progressives are now down to two seats in South Tyneside, which is not good news for a party which had previously controlled the old South Shields council.

As the dust settles I wonder what negotiations will take place amongst the fractured opposition parties and what manoeuvres we will see as they try to determine who will be seen as the “official” opposition, there are many who do not wish the six Independent Alliance councillors to dominate, the nine others may wish to upset the applecart in one form or another.

So Labour’s position is once more cemented and strengthened in South Tyneside, the people have made their choices and the turnout was pretty good for a local government election at just under 40%, so they will feel very confident that they have a strong mandate. Their policies will be tempered by the amount of available cash from central resources and the main opposition to any contentious proposals will come from within their own group or from within the community. I expect them to continue treading that line which is fairly closely linked to the Blairite tendency to mirror centre right attitudes towards acceptability and financial restraint and responsibility, they know it works and they won’t wish to throw away the gains they have made. We must now wait and see just how they display that level of responsibility in the manner that they set about spending our cash.

Sadly, ALL of our opposition councillors and parties have some serious thinking to do regarding how they approach the coming years and avoid becoming totally eclipsed.

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Back on the campaign trail in South Shields

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Local politics needs local volunteers

About thirty years ago in the heyday of “Thatcherism” when we had two tier local government, the wards in South Shields returned no fewer than nine Conservative councillors to the old Tyne and Wear County Council. Just think about that, the majority of County councillors in this town were Conservatives during a period when, apparently, the government of the day was hated in the north east. That’s right, the majority of those who cast their votes in South Shields did so for the Conservative Party!

Unfortunately following the demise of the old county council the South Shields Conservative Association went through a period of “navel gazing” and did not build upon the base of support that they had gained, it was also an awkward period when they had great difficulty in deciding upon the new direction that they should take in local politics as a number of their members, myself included, were still sitting on South Tyneside District Council as Progressives knowing that in future years they would have to decide whether or not they should offer themselves as main stream Conservatives. This was the direction eventually decided  upon after much pressure from the party’s professional agents in Newcastle and the party’s HQ in London. It ought to have been a good transition but many voters had been comfortable with the very “local” tag attached to the South Tyneside Progressive Association and were prepared to continue their support for an apparent “non political” but “slightly to the right of Labour” local group. It was obvious that there was not a great deal of enthusiasm in unseating former colleagues who had become quite close friends and the level of commitment to election fighting dwindled at the same rate as the average age of Conservative membership advanced. It has only been in recent years as an influx of younger members, particularly in the Jarrow constituency, have gained some influence and an appetite for electoral fighting has begun to emerge again.

However the organisation is dreadfully poor and there are not many “boots on the ground”, I understand that this is the same position that others find themselves in, unless they are part of Labour’s well oiled fighting machine. For local politics to benefit most, and for any sort of real and lasting change to take effect, it requires an influx of local people and volunteers to join the organisation of their choice, or at least to help out during election periods, that is why I decided to help the Conservatives during last year’s general election after more than twenty years absence. I am still not a member and am still enjoying my own freedom and independence to campaign for the people of my own choice, this is rather like being registered as a supporter of a party in an American campaign without having to fully commit to party membership.

I hope that people of other persuasions are also thinking of what they can do to promote inclusion and debate in an effort to see the candidates of their choice being elected, it is what local politics needs on top of the participation of just casting one’s vote on polling day. Without any sort of active campaigning support from fresh minds local political parties may well stagnate, as I have witnessed, it needs ordinary men and women to make a decision to do just a little bit more than displaying a leaflet or poster in the front window. I’m sure all three of the main parties would welcome some help from some new faces and try to encourage them to hang around after election day.

So, I was back on the campaign trail today distributing leaflets for a Conservative hopeful in South Shields wondering just what are the best ways for new candidates to get their message across and remind people that South Shields has not always been a barren desert for Tories. Yes, there are the small leaflets, the odd letter which may or may not get published in the Shields Gazette (depending upon how much political controversy their editorial policy will allow), there are social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Better still is a dedicated personal website allied to a well designed local official party site, many  people DO look at these and use them to glean information and views, but without doubt as we become more interconnected via the internet and smart phone, the best way is to join the cold canvassers and salesmen in knocking on doors at appropriate times of day. It is the only way for your face and personality to become known, a small team of volunteers ought to be employed mainly as the distribution team for literature whilst the candidate gets his/her face known on the doorsteps.

Unfortunately, these old fashioned ways are proven to work best.

Now then, which is the smallest and flattest ward in South Shields?

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Written by curly

April 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm