Online Archive  
Issue 8 - November 1972
Backwater Politics
The Poulson affair has spotlighted the activities of one of the town's most public-spirited citizens, Alderman Andrew Cunningham. However, it is important to realise that Chester-le-Street, like most North-East mining towns, has been controlled for decades by the Labour Party. The latter becomes not only the indispensable vehicle for the politically ambitious, as in one-party states, but an instrument for controlling innumerable committees of educational, social and welfare institutions, entry to which depends on carrying the Party card.

Faced with entrenched power you can either try to change things from within by joining up yourself, you can ignore it, or you can try to form an opposition. I assume that most readers of Muther Grumble support the last position.

What else can you do, when in Chester-le-Street the South Ward, (in which Andrew Cunningham lives in a bungalow reputed to have cost £18,000, on an estate built by S McMullough) is represented by two full-time officials of the GMWU, John Reay and John Moss, and by Andrew's son, John Cunningham, who is ex-education officer for the GMWU and now MP for Whitehaven.

Just up the road representing Waldridge (strangely enough, in the RDC, while Chester Moor which is further out from the town's facilities miraculously forms part of the UDC) is yet another GMWU official - a Mr Tom Burlison.

One reason why Labour have maintained such a stranglehold over the Council is the Ward division, unchanged as far back as anyone can remember. It is, or rather was, the County Council's responsibility to make amendments.

However, a Labour-controlled County Council would hardly see a case for the reform in the following:

North 4,275 3 councillors 1:1,578
South 4,781 3 councillors 1:1,593
Central 1,346 3 councillors 1:448
West 2,859 3 councillors 1:952
Pelton Fell 1,662 4 councillors 1:415
Chester Moor 200 1 councillor 1:200

This has been democracy at work in Chester-le-Street in recent years. It is nothing short of scandalous.

Readers won't be surprised to know that Pelton Fell is a solid Labour area, as is Chester Moor, and West Ward. The only genuine contests took place in North, Central and South wards. Because the Central ward was so small, all the benefits of party organisation and union organisation (particularly in South ward) were brought to the election struggles in the two biggest wards.

So why bother? One simple answer is that if you do not oppose what is going on you have no cause to grumble afterwards if you think it a disgrace that the town has no cinema. That the council will not carry out its pledge made in election week to grant concessionary fares to OAPs, in spite of the council itself being a prime example of a gerontocracy at work.

Incidentally, the cost of concessionary fares is a mere £3,000, while consultancy fees for the development of a council house estate at Whitehill are reputed to be £300 per house, for 1,000 houses = £300,000.

What then is to be done? Firstly under the local government shake-up planned for 1974 all the old boundaries are being redrawn. The proposals are in your local development office now for you to examine and comment upon. Make sure that the new councils do not enjoy such a tenuous connection with justice as many of the old ones did.

Secondly, think of standing yourself in the first election to be held in the spring of next year 1973.

You can be sure the old guard are already organising.

In the meanwhile the Poulson case goes on. Cunningham refuses to resign from the police authority and is aided by Councillor Len Harper of Sunderland, a patron of the arts and a Chester-le-Street headmaster who agreed that those pressing for Cunningham's resignation "should not be heard". But it isn't only Alderman Cunningham's activities that ought to be examined by the courts. There is not a person who has knowledge of the Labour Party in the north-east who is not aware of examples of scandalous activity. The party long ceased to represent anybody but itself and does not even bother to disguise the fact.

'Community involvement' must bring about a realignment of political forces. 1973 is the year to make a start.