Sunlight is the best disinfectant

January 14, 2024

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Last week I said that honesty is more than the absence of lies. Sadly I was proved right almost immediately.

On the Post Office Horizon scandal it turns out not just Conservatives and Lib Dem Ed Davey have questions to answer, but so too Tony Blair. He was warned in 1998. Memos show their concern was around “political fallout, no matter how carefully we try to handle it”. I think the truth should have come first.

Closer to home, a Labour PCC and Labour Councillor tried to grab some headlines by dishonestly blaming other people.

What did they say? That “the Government froze Durham out of a key transport fund” that will cause “two-tier devolution.” There’s more, it was reported in the Northern Echo. I’ve put a link to the article below. In short, Carl Marshall did his level best to stop Durham joining the deal, which led to other Labour Leaders freezing Durham out of some of the transport money. To blame it on the Government is just untrue.

These were not misguided comments and garbled words. They must have sent out a press release.

In my 2019 manifesto I promised I’d work to get transport devolution or the full North East. I worked with Treasury, Transport, Local Government, Education, and Business Ministers to make it happen. That deal is now worth £6.1 billion, and I’m immensely proud of it. The North East needs investment. You can read the history of it in the links, below.

Durham was originally part of the negotiations from 2020. They then chose to negotiate their own deal in 2021. Government said they would not get transport money if they did that, so in mid-2022 I proposed they rejoin the rest of the region.

In August 2022 Durham Labour leader Carl Marshall launched a campaign to stop Durham joining the North East deal. He approached all the Labour council leaders asking them to block Durham. He campaigned against it on social media.

I persuaded Government Ministers to leave the door open for Durham. But after Carl Marshall’s campaign, I had a hell of a battle with the Labour council leaders to persuade them to agree to let Durham back in. In the end it was agreed that Durham could join, but the Labour leaders insisted that Durham should not get part of the first £475 million of transport money. After that, Durham gets its full share of all future transport investment – including all the new money coming from the cancellation of HS2. This only applies to capital investment, by the way. Durham still gets its share of bus revenue support and pothole money from day 1. And a full share of the next £1.85 billion of devolved money.

Kim McGuinness claimed that Government should confirm Durham will get its share of the next round of transport money. That too is a dishonest call – it’s been confirmed in writing for over a year!

Paragraph 110 of the North East Devolution Deal states unequivocally that spending decisions are made by the new Mayor in conjunction with the council leaders, not by central Government. It’s there, online, in black and white, and in the devolution deal I signed with Ministers and Council Leaders.

But here’s the question: what motivates two senior local politicians to put out a press release based on claims they know are untrue? Do they think it is okay to mislead people? Do they think the truth is irrelevant in politics? What other dishonesty can we expect in order to further their careers?

More worryingly, how would they ever be able to win the trust needed to work cross-party with different governments and other leaders? I’d say it shows they are unfit to hold office. As Amanda Hopgood, Durham’s coalition leader says, it’s “more than worrying that she [Ms McGuinness] is not aware of the terms of the deal.”

I hope local democracy journalists press them for answers.

This is not peculiarly a Labour Party problem. Dishonesty is spread around politics. As are high standards of integrity. I know that many in the Labour Party are appalled by the untruths from Ms McGuinness and Mr Marshall.

As I said last week, we need politicians to subject themselves to scrutiny, not hide behind spin and lies. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

On Wednesday just gone I was in Ponteland. A full hall of local people asked me questions from transport to education, and even to tell a joke!

I’m in Berwick on Monday (15th Jan), link to future meetings below. I’ll always listen to your questions, and give you a full and honest answer.

Link to my Bylines article calling them out HERE

The Northern Echo article of their claims HERE

The devolution negotiation article HERE

Find out about my upcoming meetings HERE