Journal Column - 28/7/15

Magicians use distractions to draw an audience’s attention away from their tricks. While we’re watching one hand, the other is weaving its magic unseen.

The Tories take with one hand while pretending to give with the other, the party’s rhetoric and reality poles apart.

And every gesture is botched. The Conservatives finally accept Labour’s minimum wage but then turn a supposed increase into a cut in income by slashing tax credits for tens of thousands of poorly paid and middle earners in the North East.

Frank Field, a Labour MP who was a favourite of Maggie Thatcher and was Cameron’s poverty Tsar, warns that the increase in the minimum wage will be more than wiped out by ‘unbelievably vicious’ cuts in tax credits.

Talk of a Northern Powerhouse is mocked by pulling the plug on rail electrifications in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

David Cameron’s also hopefully bought an atlas and discovered where the north is after mistaking Teesside for Tyneside.

Reducing incomes and scrapping rail improvements are both contemptuous actions which speak much louder than deceptive words.

But the war on trade unions in the heavily unionised North East should be the nail in the coffin of the ludicrous Tory pretence of supporting working people, guff that is humbug for the gullible.

Working people choose to join trade unions to give themselves a bit of security and a voice. Trade unions work well with good employers.

The best firms value the constructive contribution of trade unions. The right to join an effective union is a fundamental right in a free society along with the right to vote, the right to a fair trial and the right to be treated justly instead of facing discrimination.

Strikes are now few and far between, yet the right to strike is another fundamental freedom, never taken lightly by those who lose wages if they don’t go to work and who know the effect on fellow members of society.

That freedom to withdraw one’s labour is the difference between slavery and dignity.

I’ve been a member of the Ucatt construction union for 30 years, joining when I was a building labourer before becoming heavily involved in politics.

I’m full of admiration when my union stands up for decency, protesting against low pay and the secret blacklisting of workers branded as troublemakers for highlighting safety concerns in an industry that used to be a killing field.

Workers want companies to succeed so they keep their jobs and who could argue against a fair week’s pay for a fair week’s work?

The threat to success and prosperity in the North East isn’t vibrant trade unions.

Motivated, highly skilled and organised workers are part of the answer to the challenges ahead.

The joint threat to committed employees and responsible employers is from the heirs of lock-out pit and mill owners still running a race to the bottom instead of the top.

Fly-by-night businesses exploiting high unemployment with a take-it-or-leave - it approach don’t deserve to last long.

There’s a strong argument for better rather than worse employment laws, including workers on company boards to encourage greater co-operation for mutual benefit.

No amount of propaganda and sleight of hand can mask the truth that the Tories remain a Two Nation party with the North East firmly in that part of the country they know little about and care even less.

I’ll give Cameron and Osborne this, though. Both possess a ventriloquist’s control of facial muscles.

It must take a huge effort for neither to giggle when they find us on that map and then pretend we matter to them.

Whey aye, man I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron’s learning a few words of Geordie for his next flying visit. 

Meet your MP


Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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