BBC BLOGS - Moss Missives

Archives for June 2010

When is three a crowd in the new politics?

Richard Moss | 12:27 UK time, Sunday, 27 June 2010


George Osborne delivers the Budget flanked by Nick Clegg and Danny AlexanderWe at the Politics Show have had plenty of discussions over the last few weeks about how to deal with coalition government.

The big question, when is three a crowd during TV debates?

We've had complaints in previous weeks about all three parties being represented in discussions.

The objection is at times a legitimate one. With a coalition, surely you need only one representative from either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats to speak for the Government?

There has been one week I can remember where we did get all three parties in when it probably was misguided.

Both the Lib Dems and Tories were singing from the same hymn sheet, and therefore ganging up on Labour. It would have been more balanced with just one Coalition representative.

Now I have to say the Labour MP in question was more than able to handle it, but it's not something that should happen every week.

Was it a mistake then for us to have all three parties represented in our post-budget debate this week?

I'd argue no.

Where the Coalition parties are in general agreement on an issue, then one representative will do.

But on something as momentous and as controversial as this week's Budget, I think it's right to hear from all three of the larger parties.

Firstly, both parts of the Coaliton - Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - should be held accountable for their joint decisions, and also be given a chance to justify them.

Secondly, there are clearly rumblings of discontent amongst the Liberal Democrats about parts of the Budget - the scale and timing of the cuts, and the choice to raise VAT.

So a debate with a Lib Dem representative, can also explore just how united the coalition is.

It does require careful handling and it won't happen every week, or even most weeks, but I think on this occasion it was justified.

If you didn't catch it live, check out the debate on the BBC iPlayer and let me know what you think.

We're off air next Sunday for the Wimbledon mens' final so I'm going to lie down in a darkened room for a week. Hope the rest of you enjoy the sunshine.

Labour leadership hustings comes to Newcastle

Richard Moss | 14:34 UK time, Saturday, 26 June 2010


The Labour candidates at the leadership hustings in NewcastleThey came, they saw, they sounded a bit similar.

The Labour leadership contest came to the North with a hustings for party members in Newcastle.

If I was being cruel, I'd point out the aptness of holding it in a museum full of dinosaurs and other vanquished big beasts. (The Great North Museum: Hancock).

But actually, if anything the healthy turnout and generally positive atmosphere spoke of a party that isn't ready for extinction just yet.

Could any of the five candidates on show though offer the distinctive vision that could get Labour back into power?

For four of the contenders, discerning that becomes a matter of hanging on every word, studying every nuance for the differences between them.

It's unlikely the Milibands, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are ever going to fall out about the general direction of the party.

There were some interesting moments though.

When Andy Burnham talked about ending the party's parachuting of candidates into constituencies he was sat next to David Miliband (parachuted into South Shields circa 2001 I believe).

David Miliband and Andy BurnhamBut Miliband D did manage to successfully play the local card to try and prove that he does now have an affection for and understanding of a region he arrived in a decade ago.

But he did point out that Labour needed to win in Stevenage as well as South Shields.

Some distinctively northern issues did come up though.

The imminent extinction of regional development agencies like One North East was the subject of one question.

Ed Miliband talked of mutualising Northern Rock and using it as a model of how a new kind of banking sector could be based in the regions.

Andy Burnham pondered whether people might regret not voting for a regional assembly now that a Conservative-led government was implementing severe cuts.

But otherwise it needed some close studying of every word to find much difference in approach.

David Miliband said Tony Blair made a mistake by only truly focusing on "education, education, education" for the first four years of his premiership. He even talked of getting 70%, not 50% of young people into university.

Ed Miliband talked about favouring a graduate tax instead of tuition fees as a way of funding higher education.

Ed Balls said he'd favour making anyone earning over £100,000 pay the top 50% rate of tax (at the moment you have to earn more than £150,000).

Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Diane AbbottOf course, the one candidate who does have the most distinctive views is Diane Abbott.

She spoke of levying a wealth tax, of cancelling Trident, of ending privatisation.

She got the biggest laugh when a question came up about the Australian Labor Party's decision to ditch Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard three months before an election.

Did she and the other contenders think the UK Labour party might have won the election had they been brave enough to get rid of Gordon Brown in the same way?

No, she said, but they were right in one thing - the decision to put a woman in charge.

She also got the loudest cheer from the audience at the end.

But she still seems an unlikely winner, even though she may well come ahead of some of the other contenders.

And the overall verdict?

Purely anecdotally from talking to members afterwards, there was some surprise at how well Ed Balls performed and some sense of a lack of substance from Andy Burnham.

Ed Miliband was perhaps the leader who spoke most to the hearts of some I spoke to, but it was his brother who still seemed the most likely a Prime Minister in waiting.

They now have to make the crucial choice. Get it right and they could be picking the next PM, get it wrong and they risk turning the party into one of those museum pieces.

MP compares Cumbria shootings coverage to Hillsborough

Richard Moss | 17:17 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Floral tributes in WhitehavenWhile most of the nation was watching England beat Slovenia, the focus this afternoon for a handful of MPs - and for yours truly - was a Commons debate about the Cumbrian shootings.

It was called by the Copeland MP Jamie Reed, three weeks to the day after the horrific events in his constituency, and a few days after the final funerals of the victims.

And a very sober, passionate and, at times, emotional debate it was.

In his opening speech, Jamie Reed, made a strong condemnation of some of the media coverage.

While praising the local media, the MP was scathing about some of the behaviour of the national newspapers.

He even compared the behaviour of the Press to the infamous Sun coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

He talked about journalists making up stories in the absence of facts, and being prepared to wave chequebooks around to gather "dirt".

The MP said he will be writing to the Press Complaints Commission and the National Union of Journalists to register his feelings.

But he also wanted to highlight other issues.

In particular, he said the tragedy had emphasised the need for local services to be protected.

He pointed to the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven. The community was promised £100m by the last government to rebuild it, but the Coalition has so far frozen that funding.

He asked for that to be resolved as soon as possible.

There were powerful contributions from Cumbria's other MPs too.

In particular, from Penrith and the Border's Rory Stewart who chose the debate to make his maiden speech.

That was unusual because MPs usually want to do that in the full chamber while this debate was held in the much smaller and less grand Westminster Hall.

Instead of the grandeur then he made a very good and passionate speech about the area he represents, and the need for the Cumbrian police force to remain in place and not be merged with Lancashire Constabulary.

Inevitably though the debate did turn to the gun laws.

No conclusions were drawn, other than the need for a sober, but thorough review to see if any changes could have prevented the murders of the 12 people killed on June 2.

But the Tynemouth MP Alan Campbell, a Shadow Home Office Minister, talked about the need for all areas to be considered, including GP assessments of licence applicants, and the possibility of guns bought for sport being controlled in registered clubs.

The Home Office minister James Brokenshire promised a full Commons debate on gun laws before the Summer recess.

And he promised to pass on the concerns about the funding for the West Cumberland Hospital.

In the end, of course, we may never know exactly what led Derrick Bird to cause so much carnage.

But Cumbrian MPs are determined to ensure that any lessons which can be drawn from that day of murder and mayhem three weeks ago are considered carefully and thoroughly by their colleagues.

Unions call budget "declaration of war" on the North

Richard Moss | 15:54 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Public sector workers demonstrating in NewcastleTo George Osborne it's the "Unavoidable Budget", necessary pain for long term gain.

But trade unions have called it a "Declaration of War" against the North.

Unison say that's what it amounts to because of its assault on the public sector.

And indeed, unsurprisingly we will see huge government spending cuts, and a freeze on public sector pay for anyone earning more than £21,000-a-year.

But like much of the rest of the Budget, George Osborne was politically astute enough to try and balance the pain with some concessions to the region.

Yes, a VAT rise and restrictions on benefits will probably disproportionately hurt the North where we historically have lower incomes and higher unemployment.

But some will be lifted out of income tax by the rise in personal allowances, and others may benefit from changes to child tax credit for the lower paid.

Yes, the impact on the public sector will be significant, and jobs inevitably will be lost.

But the Chancellor also went out of his way to talk about the help that could be on offer to regions like ours that are heavily dependent on public sector jobs.

The Government believes the solution is for the private sector to grow and replace any jobs lost.

So there were some concrete policies on that score.

As leaked, new businesses setting up outside London and the South East won't pay the first £5,000 National Insurance for the initial ten people they employ.

There'll also be a Capital Growth Fund set up to fund regional projects over the next two years.

And talking of investment in infrastructure, George Osborne also confirmed that he will release the £350m the previous government promised to invest in the modernisation of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

George OsborneBut the Chancellor also promised to bring forward a White Paper on how to tackle Britain's regional economic differences.

Again, I'm assuming much of that will focus on how to wean the North East away from its dependence on the public sector.

For Labour and the unions though, these are just inadequate sticking plasters for a gaping would that's been cut out of the public finances.

Unions were protesting in Newcastle this afternoon to highlight what they believe is an assault on our region in particular.

It all felt very 1980s, but the unions say it's the start of a fightback against the cuts and policies they fear will hit the poorest as well as their members.

Of course, what we don't know yet is how the overall public spending cuts will affect individual government departments and how they might affect funding for our councils.

Our local authorities will be offered help to freeze council tax, but they will also, presumably, have to cut services.

We may not get that detail till the spending review in the autumn.

In the meantime, even if the Government would certainly reject any idea of a "declaration of war", the battle-lines are being drawn in the North by the unions.

Public Sector 'gets seven out of ten' regional grants

Richard Moss | 10:22 UK time, Sunday, 20 June 2010


The Angel of the NorthThe Government's decision to abolish regional development agencies like One North East has caused great consternation.

Supporters of RDAs say this is the wrong time to be cutting organisations which are intent on creating jobs.

They believe it could play a part in the private sector growth the Government's so keen on.

What then are we to make of some new figures obtained by the Taxpayers' Alliance?

They show that more than seven in ten grants given out by One North East between 2007 and 2009 went to public sector organisations.

There are similar figures in some other agencies. According to the Taxpayers' Alliance figures, almost three-quarters of the grants given out by the North West Development Agency (NWDA) and more than half of those doled out by Yorkshire Forward went to the public sector.

And we're not talking about small sums of money.

In the financial years 2007-8 and 2008-9 the Taxpayers' Alliance say One North East gave grants worth £228m to public sector organisations, the NWDA £362m and Yorkshire Forward £259m.

The figures made me do a double take. You'd expect some grants to our councils and public sector organisations but not such a large proportion.

But let's qualify this a little. Although these grants were given to "public sector" organisations, many would have eventually been passed on to the private sector.

Big grants help to run organisations like Business Link that would then have supported private companies. The agency is there as middleman as well as grant provider.

You could also argue that it matters less where the grants go to than the jobs they create.

But it will add to ammunition of those who believe New Labour's initial economic success was based purely on an unsustainable public sector boom.

That's certainly the take of the Taxpayers' Alliance.

They say the figures add to the case for their abolition, also highlighting the number of big corporations rather than small firms which have been awarded grants.

But abolition, even if the RDA will be replaced some form of economic agency, will add to the anxiety in a region like the North East.

Any replacement will surely not have the same amount of money to give out to public sector organisations.

So not only might they face direct cuts in funding from government but they'll also be losing out on grants from the likes of One North East.

It's all part of the ongoing debate about private vs public.

But is it as simple as that?

Check out our discussion on the Politics Show this week.

We assembled our own "Star Chamber" ahead of the Budget. They were Guardian commentator Peter Hetherington, IPPR North's Katie Schmuecker and businessman Ian Dormer.

It's well worth a watch. They certainly believe it is impossible to look at the public and private sectors separately - the one impacts on the other.

They certainly see tough times ahead, but also opportunities to test the Government's commitment to its pledge to rebalance the economy away from a reliance on the City of London.

The speculation that National Insurance incentives could be offered to companies outside the capital and the South East could add more substance to Government rhetoric.

We'll have to make do with 48 hours more of speculative headlines though before we find out just what the Government's first Budget will mean for the North.

Labour fury at 'targeting of North' in hospital cut

Richard Moss | 12:01 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

So cuts are no longer theoretical but all too real.

And in the North East's case that reality is a hospital that will no longer be built.

The new North Tees and Hartlepool hospital planned for Wynyard was scrapped by the Coalition yesterday, saving £464m.

There has been outrage from Labour MPs.

The Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has accused the Government of stopping a project which was vital for the health of the region.

Stockton North's Alex Cunningham has tabled a Commons motion calling for the decision to be reversed.

And we saw Sedgefield's Phil Wilson attacking the decision in the house, even wagging his finger at Lib Dem Chief Secretary Danny Alexander.

But while there's no question that the MPs and the hospital trust believe the new building was necessary, even essential, the public were not so sure.

There was a long-running public campaign to keep the hospital in Hartlepool open, and doubts about putting it in a location which would be difficult to get to - in the middle of nowhere, its critics said.

The planned new hospital at WynyardStockton South Conservative MP James Wharton says that lack of public support counted against the project.

And the new Government was also unimpressed that the hospital trust were looking entirely to taxpayers' money for the project rather than going down the Private Finance Initiative route.

But there is a narrative being developed here with the whole process of cuts.

Labour see them as being targeted at the North in general and the North East in particular. Three other new hospitals elsewhere in the country were approved yesterday.

And some in the Labour party say the other cuts we know about have a bias against the north.

In particular they point to the cuts in the area-based grants for councils - a funding stream which tended to benefit councils in more deprived areas in the North.

They also see cuts in employment support schemes and regional development agencies as unfair to the region, given it has the highest level of joblessness in England.

Indeed Labour see what's happening as akin to the 1980s.

But for the undermining of traditional industries such as shipbuilding, steel and mining you can substitute an attack on public sector jobs.

The result, they believe, will be the same. The North will suffer more than the rest of the country

Is that true? Too early to say perhaps.

It's something the Coalition would rubbish, and James Wharton has firmly placed the blame for any cuts at Labour's door for - in his view - mismanaging the public finances.

And in fairness, alongside the hospital cut, there was confirmation that some very important projects for the region will go ahead.

The £350m investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro was largely approved, as was around £30m towards wind turbine testing and building.

And £56m was also approved for a scheme to reorganise bus services in Teesside.

Of course though, we're just at the start of the cuts.

So how should the North respond? Just protest, or seek solutions?

The Politics Show has assembled a panel of knowledgable and thoughtful people this weekend to mull it over ahead of next week's Budget.

Former Guardian writer Peter Hetherington, IPPR North's Katie Schmuecher and businessman Ian Dormer will be giving us their opinions.

We're on at 11am on BBC One this Sunday.

Stuart Drummond - from monkey suit to world domination

Richard Moss | 17:29 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Stuart Drummond in his former guise as H'angus the MonkeyFor someone who first stood for office as a joke - and as a monkey - Hartlepool's mayor Stuart Drummond has come a long way.

Those from outside the North East may only remember his first election in 2002.

At the time Stuart's claim to fame was as the local football club mascot, H'angus the Monkey.

So cue lots of campaigning in his monkey suit and a pledge to give free bananas to the town's schoolchildren.

To his own astonishment though the joke gained momentum, and he was elected.

For many, including the local Labour MP of the time, a certain Mr Mandelson, this was crass and unbelievable.

But Stuart Drummond realised that having been elected, he'd better actually have a stab at doing the job.

So there was no more monkeying around, and no more bananas, as he got his teeth into the task.

And looking at the results, his efforts have borne fruit of a a different kind

In an assessment published last year, Hartlepool Council was described as a four star authority - the highest possible rating. In addition it was found to be improving strongly.

Local people also seem to have appreciated what he's done, as last year he was elected for a third term.

Now he's adding some global recognition to his local profile.

Hartlepool's first citizen has been shortlisted as one of the world's best mayors.

He's one of 25 on the list, and the only contender from the UK.

So a man who once dressed as a monkey is now competing against the Mayors of Brisbane, Dubai, Mumbai, Karachi, Mexico City, Oklahoma, Caracas, Hamburg and Lyon amongst others for the title of World Mayor 2010.

The voting's taking place at the moment via the organiser's website, with the result announced in the autumn.

It's quite a story at a time when a lot of people are wondering how we can attract people from different backgrounds into politics.

Stuart Drummond being elected as mayor for the third timeI'm sure there'll be people who will quibble with his record, but he is as yet the only mayor in England to have been elected for three successive terms.

And in an era when most of the Labour leadership contestants are former Special Advisors and have nothing beyond politics in their CV, it's encouraging to see someone succeed from a completely different background.

As well as being H'angus, Stuart Drummond had worked in a call centre, and as a a cruise line waiter - something he credits with teaching him vital people skills.

I'm sure there are more ordinary people like him out there who, given a chance, could add a lot to public life.

The challenge for the political parties is to track them down so they don't have to stand purely as a joke.

Can Cameron hold the line on health spending?

Richard Moss | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010


A nurse checks on a patientYou can understand why the Conservatives are sensitive about the NHS.

It's an area the party has felt vulnerable on since Tony Blair made the last 24 hours of the 1997 election about "saving the health service".

So perhaps it's not surprising that David Cameron should spend a large amount of his time as leader trying to shoot that Labour fox.

Many of his speeches contained a commitment to protect the NHS, and the manifesto pledged to ringfence health spending.

Only health and international development would be safe from cuts.

But now he's Prime Minister, is that a pledge David Cameron should keep?

Their coalition partners, the Lib Dems, certainly didn't think health service spending should be ringfenced.

They saw opportunities to save money in absolute terms.

Bureaucracy could be cut but rather than follow the current Conservative line of directing any savings to other parts of the health service, that money could be used to cut the deficit.

And there is now pressure for a rethink from others too.

The Centre Right thinktank Reform certainly thinks the pledge is a mistake - cutting off huge areas of potential savings.

Martin Callanan MEPAnd on the Politics Show this week, Conservative Euro-MP Martin Callanan openly admitted he thought the pledge was a mistake.

He'd like to see David Cameron rethink it, and be prepared to make real cuts in the NHS budget.

Of course, that will see Labour attack the coalition for breaking a promise to the electorate.

But if the country's financial situation is as bad as the Government's painting it, is it wise to rule out anything?

It's a debate I'm sure that will be going on within the coalition and beyond.

Northumbria and Durham Police in merger talks

Richard Moss | 14:06 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010


Community Safety Officer patrolling in DurhamRemember police mergers?

The idea was big around five years ago.

The Labour government of the time argued mergers could be more efficient and make forces more effective in tackling organised crime and terrorism.

It got ditched though by the then-Home Secretary John Reid after howls of protest from forces and communities around the country.

There was much opposition in Cleveland in particular to plans to merge the force with their counterparts in Northumbria and Durham.

But now it appears the merger may be back in fashion.

This time though it's the forces themselves that may be putting it back on the agenda.

And in a way that's not surprising.

Despite the protests, some forces were keen on the idea.

Cumbria and Lancashire were disappointed when their merger plans were called off.

And despite Cleveland's qualms, Northumbria and Durham did see merits in coming together.

Since the merger has come off, they have begun co-operating with each other to save money.

But yesterday Durham's Chief Constable revealed that a merger was an option that was now being considered once more.

I've been speaking to the Durham Police Authority Chairman Peter Thompson, who's confirmed that.

He revealed that talks first began at the start of the year.

But any decision is some way off. A report will be prepared for October, and he nsists a merger will only go ahead if the report shows it would be in the best interests of both forces, and both communities.

You can see why it might be attractive.

The new Government has already imposed cuts of more than £8m on our forces this year.

Northumbria has to save £3.5m, Durham £1.3m, Cleveland £1.3m, North Yorkshitre £1.1m and Cumbria £1m.

And that may just be the start.

Policing could face more cuts in Autumn's Comprehensive Spending Review, as unlike health and international development, it's not been protected by the coalition.

But of course there will be costs as well as savings involved in mergers, so they'll need to be studied closely.

Roberta Blackman-Woods MPThe City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods does believe the idea has merit though, if it can protect front-line policing from cuts.

But what of Cleveland?

I've also been to see their Police Authority Chairman, Dave McLuckie.

He was one of the fiercest opponents of the North East superforce idea, and says he would still oppose merging with both Northumbria and Durham.

But he wouldn't rule out a merger with a single neighbouring force, and pointed out that Cleveland already does co-operate with Durham and other constabularies.

I hasten to say he also warned it could be a long way off.

But these are the realities of the financial situation the public sector now finds itself in.

We'll be debating cuts and mergers on the Politics Show at 11am on Sunday on BBC1.

Cumbrian shootings cast shadow over PMQs

Richard Moss | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010


A minute's silence is observed on the taxi rank in WhitehavenAs last week's Prime Ministers' Questions began, the full horror of the Cumbrian shootings was only just emerging.

This week it dominated the half-hour from start to finish.

As in West Cumbria today, a minute's silence was held at the beginning to remember the victims, and David Cameron kicked off by offering condolences to the families of those killed by Derrick Bird.

And the Leader of the Opposition, Harriet Harman, also began by asking the PM whether there would be a review of the gun laws.

The answer from the PM was an interesting one.

He confirmed gun laws would be examined, but he also told the House that Cumbria's Chief Constable had written to the Association of Chief Police Officers asking for a review by police experts of gun licensing and the tactics used in dealing with firearms incidents.

The Workington MP Tony Cunningham then asked whether the PM could offer the people of Cumbria his full support in recovering from last Wednesday's events.

David Cameron paid tribute to what he called a "tough" but "compassionate" community, that can sometimes feel cut off.

He also talked about the work of the West Cumberland Hospital, and said its efforts demonstrated small, local general hospitals have an important role. "Big is not always beautiful," was his conclusion.

The Barrow MP John Woodcock then had the final question, asking if a review would consider whether you could still justify allowing guns used for sport to be kept at home.

The Prime Minister promised again to look at every aspect of the gun law, but said there was little evidence generally that weapons kept for sport were being used to commit crimes.

Jamie Reed MPHe then went off to meet Tony Cunningham and the Copeland MP Jamie Reed to discuss the Government's response to the shootings.

After that meeting Jamie Reed said the shape of any inquiry should be determined by his constituents rather than any politician, although we'll have to see precisely what that means.

There was some good news for the North East in PMQs with David Cameron confirming that the £20m grant to help Nissan produce electric cars in Sunderland would be paid out.

But he couldn't give the Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson - called for the second week in a row - the same assurance on a plan to rebuild a school in her constituency.

'Golden goodbye' payouts to North MPs could cost £1m

Richard Moss | 15:19 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010


House of CommonsYou'd have thought one of the compensations of being an MP who stood down or lost their seat at the election would be avoiding any dodgy headlines about your finances.

But the Taxpayers' Alliance today has highlighted the amount of money many of those who've left the Commons are entitled to as "resettlement grants". Some have called them "golden goodbyes".

It adds up to more than a million pounds across the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

These grants are designed to ease the pain for MPs who've either retired or lost their seat. The idea is to help them cope with the sudden loss of their salary.

They're based on length of service and age.

And they can be worth a healthy amount.

Some of the MPs in our area are entitled to almost £65,000, according to the Alliance - a year's salary effectively.

That includes the likes of Durham North West's Hilary Armstrong, Carlisle's Eric Martlew, and Penrith and the Border's David Maclean.

Stephen ByersI can certainly imagine some people might take a dim view of payouts to North Tyneside's Stephen Byers. He was also entitled to almost £65,000, but of course his final days in the Commons were dominated by his famous claim to be a "cab for hire".

What neither the Alliance nor I can tell you though is whether any of these MPs accepted these payments either in part or in full.

But there was some talk before the election that one of the factors that may have persuaded many MPs to stand down at this election was the fact that these grants are likely to be far less generous in the future, so you have to suspect many will have been accepted.

Sunderland North's Bill Etherington was certainly unapologetic on the Politics Show about his intention to accept his payment of £44,000.

These payments though also go to MPs who lost their seats. So former Redcar MP Vera Baird and Stockton North's Frank Cook are entitled to around £32,000, and Dari Taylor, who lost in Stockton South, around £50,000.

To add insult to injury, the first £30,000 of these payouts - if taken -are also tax-free.

Some MPs have justified these payments by likening the loss of their seat to being made redundant. They have a sudden loss of earnings that they cannot replace quickly.

But the Taxpayers' Alliance say these payments are unacceptable. It says MPs are effectively on a five-year contract with the electorate and losing the seat terminates that contract.

At most, they say, an MP should be entitled to a month's salary when they leave or lose their seat.

Here's the full list from our region according to the Taxpayers' Alliance. Again I'd add the qualification that these are what the Alliance believes our MPs were entitled to. We don't know whether MPs actually claimed these amounts.

£64,766 - Hilary Armstrong (Durham NW), Stephen Byers (North Tyneside), Doug Henderson (Newcastle North), Eric Martlew (Carlisle), Chris Mullin (Sunderland South), John Greenway (Ryedale), David Maclean (Penrith and the Border).

£59,584 - David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

£54,403 - David Clelland (Tyne Bridge), Jim Cousins (Newcastle Central), John Cummings (Easington), Denis Murphy (Wansbeck).

£50,711 - Dari Taylor (Stockton South)

£49,222 - Alan Milburn (Darlington). Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

£44,040 - Bill Etherington (Sunderland North)

£40,154 - Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington), Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

£32,383 - Frank Cook (Stockton North), Vera Baird (Redcar)

North told to "lead not plead" on spending cuts

Richard Moss | 09:25 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010


George OsborneA day doesn't go by now without some disquiet from northern Labour MPs about coalition cuts.

But a new report released today by a thinktank suggests the North needs to "lead not plead" and carve out its own future rather than just protest about any cuts made by George Osborne and the government.

The IPPR North Election Unplugged report looks at the impact of the change in government on our politics, our economics and our society.

It does highlight many of the concerns.

There will be big cuts in the public sector, the North is heavily dependent on it, so the contributors to the report accept there are anxious times ahead.

The new government does not include many northern ministers, and is heavily dependent on votes in the south of England, so that again could leave the region isolated.

But the report also points out that the new government is making some noises that should encourage the North.

One of its first acts has been to introduce a Decentralisation and Localism Bill, that's promising more powers and freedom for our councils.

It points out that the Big Society ideas may offer opportunities for the region.

And David Cameron has spoken about breaking the country's dependence on the City of London.

Manufacturing is back in vogue - something the North will welcome.

And also perversely a government dependent on votes in the South may be more willing to avoid overdevelopment in the Home Counties.

The decision to scrap the third runway at Heathrow and concentrate on high speed rail is cited as one example of that sensitivity.

If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy then, the report argues, it should be looking towards accelerating economic growth in the North.

Of course, all this is theoretical, and there will be deep suspicions about how serious the new Government will be about some of these issues.

But the report talks about the North taking control of its own future too.

And it says the old days of Northern delegations going cap in hand to Whitehall isn't the way to do that.

Instead it says the North needs to come up with its own solutions to the problems of shrinking public expenditure.

As former Guardian journalist Peter Hetherington points out, the North East in particular is a cohesive region compared to many others.

It has fewer councils because all of them are unitary, and could work much more in partnership to deliver innovative solutions.

The report argues that it's those solutions which the North's politicians need to focus on as well as the problems which will be caused by spending cuts.

If you're interested in discussing any of these issues further, there's more about them on IPPR North's website, where you'll also find details of an event I'm chairing tonight to discuss the fallout from the 2010 election.

North MPs back David Miliband for Labour leadership

Richard Moss | 13:52 UK time, Sunday, 6 June 2010


David Miliband MPThere's just a few days left for Labour MPs to say who they're nominating to be their party's new leader.

And so far in the North East and Cumbria, David Miliband is clearly ahead in terms of backing from his colleagues in the region.

The South Shields MP has 11 nominations from the patch.

Scarcely surprising that an MP from the North should get so much local backing.

Interestingly though, a lot of the new intake have nailed their colours to his mast, even though he's long since had the 33 nominations he needed to get on the ballot paper.

His backers so far are: Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Pat Glass (Durham North West), Alex Cunningham (Stockton North), Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and Hugh Bayley (York Central).

Ed Balls is next with five nominations from the region. His backers are Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland), Iain Wright (Hartlepool), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) and Dave Anderson (Blaydon).

Ed Miliband has four supporters: Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham City), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) and Grahame Morris (Easington).

The remaining three candidates each have one nomination from the North East. Kevan Jones (Durham North) has nominated Andy Burnham and Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) has gone for John McDonnell.

Chi Onwurah MPNewcastle Central's new MP Chi Onwurah has nominated Diane Abbott. Although she won't necessarily vote for her, she says she's keen for her to make the ballot paper as the only female, and only black candidate.

But with three candidates still well short of the 33 nominations needed, the scramble will be on in the last few days to persuade our remaining MPs to make a choice.

Yet to make a nomination are Wansbeck's Ian Lavery and Workington's Tony Cunningham.

I understand Newcastle East's Nick Brown won't make any nomination because as Labour's Chief Whip he needs to remain neutral.

It was interesting this week to talk to a selection of our MPs about their choice. They all had their own individual reasons.

But it struck me so far that their choice appeared to be based more on the personal qualities of their favoured candidate rather than about massive policy differences.

That may change as a three-month debate should be more than long enough to demonstrate any divisions.

You suspect though that there's certainly not that much dividing the leading candidates.

Ed Balls is generally winning more supporters from the soft left than his rivals, but Labour members may have to go on their gut instinct of who they trust to revive the party rather than choosing any specific policy platform.

Calls for gun law reform after the Cumbrian shootings

Richard Moss | 12:16 UK time, Friday, 4 June 2010


David Cameron meets Jamie Reed outside the West Cumberland HospitalIt was inevitable that the West Cumbrian shootings would lead to calls for reform of our gun laws.

But before heading to the area today, David Cameron warned against a knee-jerk reaction and overhasty legislation.

And the Copeland MP Jamie Reed has been notably measured in his response, talking about the need for all the facts to be digested before any discussion of what might need to change.

It is right that any review of the gun laws is carefully considered, and not just rushed through to grab easy headlines.

But it's clear now that a debate is beginning.

We know Derrick Bird held his guns legally, we know he had no known mental health problems, but we also know he did have a conviction for theft.

Labour peer Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, a former County Durham police officer, has pointed out that even if our laws are some of the tightest in Europe, very few of those who apply are actually refused gun licences.

He says that's one area which may need examining.

And the Gateshead MP Ian Mearns has also questioned whether it is ever right that such ferocious and terrifying weapons could be held legally by any individual.

Local newspaper reportHe told me this morning that that he understands any further tightening of the laws will lead to the shooting lobby protesting about civil liberties.

But, he pointed out, Derrick Bird's 12 victims' civil liberties were "completely terminated" by Wednesday's events.

He believes there may be a case for restricting access to some weapons.

The MP suggests they could be kept within controlled gun clubs to prevent people having such weapons at home.

It is a difficult issue though.

As the Prime Minister has pointed out, you cannot legislate "to stop a switch flicking in someone's head", but you can be fairly certain that Derrick Bird would have caused far less carnage if he hadn't had access to powerful guns.

But for the moment we are still piecing together Derrick Bird's motives, and the principal focus for the community is rightly on those who have been murdered and injured and their families.

Jane Robinson (l) and her sister Barrie Robinson (r)

During my time as a journalist in Cumbria, I had come across two of Derrick Bird's victims - the solicitor Kevin Commons, and 66-year-old Jane Robinson from Seascale.

It emphasises again that, although it sounds like a cliché, West Cumbria is an incredibly close-knit community.

Unfortunately like Hungerford and Dunblane, it will, to a certain extent, now become synonymous with mass murder.

I hope though that it doesn't become the only reference point for an area I have such affection for.

How West Cumbria recovers from this will be one of the issues we will explore on this Sunday's Politics Show as we talk to the local MP Jamie Reed live from Whitehaven.

North dominates Cameron's first PMQs

Richard Moss | 13:30 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010


David Cameron at Prime Minister's QuestionsThe north featured prominently in David Cameron's first Prime Minister's Questions session.

First in the grim subject of the Cumbrian shootings, with tributes paid on all sides to the victims, but also later in a series of questions from the region.

Sir Alan Beith was first up, asking the PM about the balance between cutting the public sector in the North East and encouraging the private sector to grow.

You may remember Mr Cameron added fuel to Labour's fire during the election campaign by mentioning the North East and Northern Ireland as two places where the size of the public sector was "unsustainable".

But on this occasion, the PM said no region would be singled out.

Next up was Blyth Valley's Ronnie Campbell, asking when David Cameron would be selling the shares of the nationalised banks to "his friends in the city".

Actually, Mr Cameron responded, he would be looking to sell them to Mr Campbell's constituents.

After the veterans, it was then the turn of the new breed.

Houghton and Sunderland South's newly elected Labour MP Bridget Phillipson asked about government support for Nissan.

The plant was promised a £20m government grant before the election but, Ms Phillipson asked, would the new coalition honour that?

Cue, some pretty predictable bigging up of Nissan, before Mr Cameron admitted he had no answer to the question, earning just about the biggest groan of PMQs.

A letter was promised, although today the Business Secretary Vince Cable has confirmed that the grant will be reviewed alongside lots of other last minute government expenditure.

But the North wasn't finished there. Finally came the new Gateshead MP Ian Mearns.

He wanted to know if the PM thought the possibility of 40% budget cuts at the regional development agency One North East would really be helpful for the local economy.

David Cameron again promised that the region could keep some form of regional agency if the councils agreed it was a good idea, but he believed there was plenty of waste to be cut out, especially as powers over transport and planning would return to local authorities.

Overall, the new Prime Minister answered confidently, even if he was short on detail at times. But I suspect he can expect many more questions from the north's MPs in the weeks and months to come.

Whitehaven shootings leave Cumbria facing another tragedy

Richard Moss | 17:10 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Police in Whitehaven c/o PA Images

Today's shootings mark the third time in six months I've been stunned by news from the county I grew up in and worked in for many years.

To give you an idea of what it's usually like working as a journalist in Cumbria, in my first five years on Carlisle's local newspaper there wasn't a single murder to report.

It wasn't that there weren't important and serious stories to focus on but nothing on the scale of the last six months.

First came the Cockermouth floods, devastating the town I went to school in, then last week's bus crash, involving the school my daughter goes to (though not her bus) and now these terrifying shootings.

I spent five happy years reporting for the BBC in Whitehaven. The local radio offices were just yards from Duke Street, where today's mayhem started.

Derrick Bird c/o Cumbria Police handout

I also know Egremont and the villages of Seascale and Gosforth well.

Today I'm in Westminster, somewhere about as far removed from West Cumbria geographically and philosophically as you can be.

So to hear tales of blood and murder on those streets I remember so well is not only astonishing and an unreal feeling, but also chilling.

These are close-knit communities. Bonds born of isolation are strong, and it's likely most people will know someone caught up in today's events.

Witness the amount we already know about the gunman Derrick Bird.

That shows how strong the connections between people are in West Cumbria. There's no shortage of people who knew him, something you couldn't imagine in a big city.

I remember the towns and villages which have made the news today with fondness because of their sense of community and the friendly and unpretentious characters that inhabited them.

Sympathies have to be focused on the families who are now mourning their losses or tending the injured.

But today as I can witness from the garish headlines on the London Evening Standard it seems a whole community has become known nationally not for its closeness but for a few hours of madness.

Today's events will be picked over for some time to come, but how Cumbrians must hanker now for a long period of peaceful calm free of media attention.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.