progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

Darlington Labour gives hope in hard times

Darlington was seen by the Tories as the council in the North East that they could win in England's local elections. Such was their effort, even the Tory Prime Minister David Cameron paid a visit to the borough. And as during the general election last year, the Tories bought billboard space to attack the Labour Party with the same inaccurate and misleading statements on public finances.

The Labour Party launched it's local election campaign at start of April, a new financial year in which people across the country were beginning to experience the start of the Tory-led government's experiment with austerity. The launch took place at The Forum, a music venue run by the Humantics community enterprise, and was attendend by all of the party's candidates.

A month later, at the end of the campaign - and also at the end of the coalition's first year in power - Labour gained five seats across three wards in Darlington.

Thanks to the hard work of candidates, party members, and supporters - and the borough's Labour MP, Jenny Chapman, the Darlington Labour Party increased its majority on the council.

In Park East, Paul Harman joins Cyndi Hughes and Joe Lyonette; in Pierremont, Bob Carson and Linda Hughes join Stephen Harker; and Marjorie Knowles and John Vasey joins Mark Burton in Harrowgate Hill. Three wards had turned red, and the big losers were the Tories.

The turnout was typical local elections in recent years which have taken place separately from general elections, with just over 2/5 electors taking part. (A majority of voters in the constituency rejected a change in the voting system from first-past-the-post to the preferential, but not proportional, "alternative vote" system.)

After the results had been announced, John Williams, who is stepping down as both council leader and as a councillor, announced that his deputy Bill Dixon, had been chosen to lead the Labour group and would become the new leader of Darlington Borough Council.

Bill spoke to express his thanks to all those who had taken part in the elections. Commenting on the length of his time as deputy, Dixon joked that he had served the longest apprenticeship. He thanked John for his years of service to the borough. Referring to struggles for democracy which have been taking place in the Middle East and North Africa since the start of the year, the new leader asked people who had not taken part in the local elections to consider the importance of exercising their right to vote. On this point, there was wide agreement from those present, registered in the form of applause.

The coalition parties in Darlington reacted to the size and speed of the spending cuts with either acceptance or silence - despite warnings that the government's plans threaten to derail the economic recovery, especially in regional economies like that of the North East which are heavily dependent on public spending in the wake of longterm structural changes in the private sector.

One year on from the general election and the UK economy has been flat for six months: private investment isn't rising, yet public spending is being cut. As a result of the budget, forecasts for growth revised down, and unemployment revised up.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that household borrowing will rise over the next five years as people are faced with squeezed wages, higher inflation, and reduced public services. The coalition government can - and does, repeatedly - point to private sector job creation figures, but not to growth sufficiently strong or widespread to make up for the cut in aggregate demand. Will people really get further into debt? If they don't, the coalition's deficit reduction plans will be further undermined.

The Tory Chancellor George Osborne continually asserts that there is no alternative to his plans, or if one exists it is so horrific as to be undesirable - he frequently compares the UK to nations which lack autonomy on key levers of economic policy, having joined the single currency. For all the rhetoric about difficult decisions, the coalition has failed to confront the most pressing problem that the UK faces - the power of the banking sector over the direction of economic development. And no wonder, with half of Tory funds coming from financial institutions based in the City.

The Darlington Labour expressed the right approach to economic recovery and deficit reduction - one based on securing living standards and boosting employment. Though the power of local government is limited, and will be further limited by the cuts, the determination of the party is not constrained. As the results of the local elections show, we can and will give people hope in these hard times:

Labours Vision for Darlington 2011 - 2015

Setting the Scene
Darlington is a town which delivers an excellent quality of life to its residents. It is ambitious, with a good mix of public and private initiatives which have transformed the town. Under a Labour administration since it became an all-purpose Council in 1997, the Borough has been committed to tackling the inequalities which blight society in this country. Townspeople have seen their economy, their school and college buildings, and their health services, transformed for the better.

But the world downturn has hit Darlington hard, in common with communities nationwide. Unemployment has increased, and businesses of all sizes have struggled.

This is precisely the wrong time, then, for the Coalition Government to so savagely cut public spending, on which so many businesses rely. Over £24 million will be stripped by the Government from the Borough’s economy in council cuts alone. Many will lose their jobs right across the public sector. The private sector’s ability to grow again will be seriously delayed.

Our Pledge to You
Labour WILL:
Stand up to the Coalition – locally and in Government.
Work to try to protect the most vulnerable from the worst of the cuts
Help get the town back on its feet
Work in new ways to make the council open, fair and accountable.

Speaking out for our Community
Whilst the Coalition nationally has slashed public sector budgets, abolished our regional development agency and taken money away from the North East, Coalition councillors locally have either supported the cuts or stayed silent.

The Tories and the Lib Dems have broken their promises on tuition fees, VAT and protecting front-line services. The police and fire services are under enormous pressure, and the Government now plans to waste over £100 million on introducing police commissioners.

The young are being unfairly targeted. By tripling college course fees, abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and cancelling the Future Jobs Fund, young people are being made to suffer. It is completely unacceptable that the number of 18 – 25 year olds in Darlington forced to apply for Jobs Seekers Allowance now stands at 30% - and is rising. The Coalition is wasting Darlington’s young talent.

Every vote for the Tories and the Lib Dems in these elections will be taken as an endorsement of Coalition policies back in Downing Street. Only a vote for Labour will send a message for change – and hope. We must make the Coalition think again.

Protecting the Vulnerable
Under Labour, Darlington Borough Council will continue to invest in high-quality public services. We will also continue and grow our strong partnerships with other public sector bodies;

• Children’s Centres will provide help to parents to give children the best possible start to life.

• Darlington’s older people will receive the support they need to enable them to continue to live at home.

• We will continue to invest in activities for children and young people to help reduce ill-health and care needs later in their life.

• Labour will continue to make sure that vulnerable and frail older people needing extra care have a wide choice of residential homes, including the Councils own extra care homes which give support for independent living.

• We will forge stronger links with voluntary organisations and community groups to help make a difference in people’s communities, including opportunities to receive Council help with their activities

Helping Darlington get back on its feet
• Labour will fight for jobs and better living standards. We will take action to grow the local economy so there are more jobs. We will continue our help for business infrastructure projects including Central Park, Feethams and Lingfield Point.

• Labour has been at the heart of the successful campaign to bring the massive Hitachi investment to our doorstep. It’s great news for Darlington. We will take every opportunity to grow Darlington’s economy and businesses as Hitachi’s plans develop.

• We will tackle the deficit through increased economic growth, provide more apprenticeships and do everything possible to help those who find themselves out of work.

• We will build on our successful collaboration with Stockton Council and save more money by sharing functions between local authorities.

Working for an open, better, fairer Darlington
• Our work to secure the best value for money in the council will continue. Senior officers’ pay and councillor allowances will be independently scrutinised following the Council elections.

• Labour councillors pledge to make themselves truly accountable to the communities they serve.

• We will work sustainably, leading the fight locally against global warming. We will investigate promoting sustainable forms of energy generation across the Borough.