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ON A cold Saturday afternoon in a packed our room in Consett Laura Pidcock, shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy launched her parliamentary election campaign for Labour MP in North West Durham.
The rally was packed out, standing room only and the atmosphere was electrifying with an audience of all ages. Pidcock has served as an MP for North West Durham since the 2017 general election where she won with a majority of over 8,000 votes.
She has already made a lasting impression on the constituency and the people of North West Durham. A huge geographical constituency including many different and diverse communities from rural Weardale to the ex-industrial town of Consett. An area that over the last 30 years has suffered, first, at the hand of Thatcher that saw off the mining industry and the destruction of the steel industry — followed by the last 10 years of the cruel austerity-driven policies of the current Tory party.
North West Durham suffered the roll-out of universal credit during the harsh winter of 2017, seeing thousands of families go without income over the Christmas period. The area faces severe lack of affordable and reliable public transport. The people of North West Durham have seen their health services are under attack with the threatened closure of Shotley Bridge hospital and the removal of the “out of hours” emergency GP service in Weardale — residents’ closest out of hours is 15 miles away where there is no public transport after 8pm or on Sundays and bank holidays.
The closure of Wolsingham sixth form, the only sixth form in Weardale, forces students to travel up to an extra 10 hours a week. These are all results of the austerity driven policies pushed by a Tory government and reflect a situation prevalent in many constituencies up and down Britain.
Consett, once home to Consett steel works — a once thriving industry in north-east England— now has a 25 per cent higher rate of benefit claimants than the national average. These are mainly “in work” benefits which shows that along with issues of unemployment there are massive problems with underemployment, zero-hours contracts and low-paid work, all part of the “gig economy.”
The North West Durham constituency is in desperate need of investment and infrastructure.
Pidcock, in her campaign leaflet titled Hope, sets out her plans under a new Labour government to make this happen.
Since being elected in 2017 Laura has campaigned fiercely for the people of North West Durham. Fighting against hospital closures, the closure of Wolsingham sixth form, helping and advising constituents on universal credit, closure of post offices, justice for Waspi women, reducing rural crime and for prison officers’ pay and safety at work.
As Labour activist Liam Young says: “Laura has acted on behalf of the many, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but she’s bloody good at it.”
Liam talked about the abuse working people have faced at the hands of this Tory government, how the attacks on our class from foodbanks, homelessness, poverty to warehouse workers’ exploitation shows that the Tories cannot be trusted anywhere near power.
In the fifth richest country in the world 4.1million children are in poverty, 1.9million elderly and 14 million families live in poverty
Teacher Holly Rigby, NEU and Labour Party activist, travelled from London to address the rally.
“Tories and mainstream media are trying to silence the voices of public-sector workers,” she argues, and adds that the Labour Party has the only manifesto that will offer hope and change for millions of people across our country. “I don’t know about you, but I’m dreaming of a Corbyn Christmas.”
Labour Party chair and parliamentary candidate for Wansbeck, Northumberland, Ian Lavery emphasises that “the problems facing our country are not a result of Brexit. The Labour Party is not a Leave party, nor is it a Remain party. The Labour Party is a socialist party.”
Lavery speaks of how of communities like North West Durham have been totally fractured by Tory rule. How people in the de-industrialised north have been left behind and the suffering that working-class people have faced in the last 10 years of austerity has been unbelievably damaging.
He points to some hard truths: in the north, 48 per cent of children are living in poverty, kids go to school with no breakfast as their parent cant afford to feed them, not only are they starving, this seriously impacts their ability to learn.
In the fifth richest country in the world 4.1million children are in poverty, 1.9 million elderly and 14 million families live in poverty.
“We cannot keep turning up at these rallies like this and patting each other on the back, we have to get out there and tell the people what the Labour Party stands for. We have the best manifesto, the 2019 manifesto, is the best the Labour Party has ever had,” he argues.
Pidcock believes that we have now arrived at the long-awaited opportunity to remove this cruel and harsh government from power.
We must never forget that “this is not an individual experience of personal mismanagement of your lives. It is a collective experience and failure of the system,” she points out.
This constituency has a rich industrial heritage and beautiful countryside that Pidcock pays tribute to — the areas of outstanding natural beauty, rich agricultural network and the remnants of productive industry, the brilliant schools and the best people.
But she shares harrowing stories of people on low pay, zero-hours contracts, damp properties and the survival, resilience and bravery that she has witnessed in the communities she has served.
Ignore the polls, ignore the negativity, ignore the lies and hate, it is a waste of your precious energy. We will win this election
“This has to stop, and it is within our power to make that happen, this is our opportunity. Because every single problem has a solution,” she argues.
The struggle we will face in the coming weeks will see the Tories throw everything at us. No doubt we will hear nasty comments.
But despite all this it is perfectly possible that Jeremy Corbyn will be our next prime minister.
Laura advises us to “ignore the polls, ignore the negativity, ignore the lies and hate, it is a waste of your precious energy. We will win this election, and it will be our positivity, our confidence, our hope and vision, it will be us standing tall and firm through the battering rain and howling gales as a beacon of light, leading the way for what is possible and how different things can be. We are not a group of individuals but a collective, we are one, we go forward as one, to victory.”
That got a standing ovation.
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