The people just want someone to fix it

April 7, 2024

I was in Barnard Castle yesterday, talking to people in the Market Place. The owners of a catering business. A teacher. A retired surveyor. An engineer in renewable energy. Dozens more. They had one thing in common: no one trusts political parties.

Some had been Conservative voters. Some Labour. For one woman “climate change is my number one concern”. The cost of living was high on everyone’s list. Every one of them was persuaded to vote for me. Which I was chuffed about, because I was also trying to eat a tray of loaded hash browns. Campaigning means food on the go.

The ex-Tories liked the pragmatism. The fact I get things done. Everyone likes the fact I haven’t charged a penny in council tax, and claimed £0 in expenses.

“It’s a time for independents, especially for Mayor,” said one woman, a lifelong Labour voter, “But I’ll vote independent in the General Election if there is one.” Her husband, a trade union member, nodded in agreement.

Next up was the Railway Institute in Shildon. Most politicians do a “launch” with handpicked guests and a glossy backdrop. I put a social media advert out, and anyone of any politics can come and ask me any question.

I ask them questions, too. “When was the last time a politician in power came to speak to you?” I asked. “Never,” they answered.

We spoke about their food bank, and food poverty. The worries of the Hitachi workers – Shildon has never recovered from the loss of the wagon works forty years ago. Crime. Buses. Lots on buses. Domestic abuse. Local newspapers. Poor housing. Crime again, especially drugs. And underlying it all, the fear that yet again Shildon would be left behind.

“We have no secondary school here,” said one woman, to much nodding and agreement. “What are you going to do about that?”
“I’m not going to make false promises,” I said, “I can’t set up a school. What I can do is get a bus system that’s fast and reliable, and under public control. And I’ll make transport free for under 19s and students. Would that help?”

What struck me is that everything they wanted was reasonable. They didn’t want a premier league football club or an international airport. They just wanted secure jobs that paid a decent wage, and the means to get them. That’s the core of my political philosophy – Britain should be run in the interests of the people who do the work.

Someone approached me afterwards. “I found that quite moving,” he said. “No one comes to places like this and listens. You didn’t just listen, you gave them answers in detail. You didn’t patronise them, either. You trusted them to understand what you were saying. And you were honest about what you could and couldn’t do.”

Part of the reason the people don’t trust political parties is because political parties don’t trust the people. We get spoon fed sounds bites and platitudes.

Part of the lack of trust is weasel words. “I will look to…” is a classic. “I would like it if…”. Or the go to, “I will launch a consultation on fixing this very serious problem.” The Mayoral election is less than a month away. If you haven’t got a plan, or can’t show where the money is coming from, you’re not ready to take office. We can’t have a Mayor who spends their first year running consultations.

But mostly it’s a complete refusal to take responsibility. I’m standing on my record. I’ve done the job for five years. I can point to thousands of people picking up a pay packet this month as a result of my successful policies. The tens of thousands of people who are matter trained, and earning more money. The people who’d lost confidence and are now earning good money. I’ve met hundreds of them, it has changed lives. I’ve seen the homes built. The schools where we’re helping tackle child poverty. The new railway line opening from Ashington to Newcastle.

Yet all we get from most politicians is, “it’s someone else’s fault.” The people have had enough. They just want someone to fix it.