100 years of heroes and villains in North East politics – Chronicle Live
The North East’s political figures haven’t just had an impact on the region. They’ve also changed Britain.
For the past 100 years, the Sunday Sun has been there to cover it. The North East’s Sunday newspaper is celebrating its centenary this week.
Here are some of the heroes from the past century – and one or two people the North might prefer to forget:
More than half the North East’s MPs are women – and ours was the first region to achieve that.
Today’s pioneering female politicians are following the footsteps of those who came before them.
Mabel Philipson was the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1923 to 1929, making her the UK’s fourth female MP and the third to take her seat.
She was an actress, but gave up life on the stage to marry Hilton Philipson. Her husband was elected as Berwick’s MP in 1922, standing for the National Liberal Party, but the election was declared void – and he was barred from standing again.
So she stood in his place at the by-election, and won. However, she insisted on standing as a Conservative candidate.
Margaret Bondfield became the UK’s first female cabinet minister when she was named Minister of Labour in 1929, She was MP for Wallsend at the time, although she had previously been MP for Northampton.
Her reputation within the Labour movement is mixed. She was criticised, while in office, for supporting cuts to unemployment benefit and later for expressing “deep sympathy and admiration” for Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister who went on to lead a Conservative-dominated Coalition government.
Held in higher regard is Ellen Wilkinson was MP for Middlesbrough East from 1924 to 1931, and then MP for Jarrow from 1935 to 1947.
In 1936, she joined 200 men on a march from Jarrow to London, where they petitioned Parliament to protest against mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east. The Jarrow March, or Jarrow Crusade, helped pave the way for social reforms enacted after World War II.
She served as a Government Minister in Winston Churchill’s coalition government during the second world war. When it was over, she became an education minister in the Labour government led by Clement Attlee and helped implement the 1944 Education Act which, among other things, abolished fees for state secondary schools.
We’re going back a little more than 100 years, but one of the most famous campaigners for women’s suffrage, Emily Davison, is closely associated with Northumberland. She was born in London in 1872, but moved to her family’s home in Longhorsley near Morpeth after her father died in 1893.
Emily Davison died four days after being trampled by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
An architect of peace
Mo Mowlam, born in Hertfordshire, was a student at Durham University and returned to the North East to work at Newcastle University. She was MP for Redcar from 1987 to 2001.
She was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the early years of the “New Labour” government led by Tony Blair, and her time in office saw the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998.
Mowlam has been credited with overseeing the negotiations that led to the historic agreement being signed, and helping to restore an IRA ceasefire.
Her relationship with the Unionist parties became strained, and she was eventually sidelined before being moved to a different role. Despite this, she’s generally credited with making a major contribution to peace in Northern Ireland.
She was also respected for speaking plainly, at a time when Labour prided itself in its ability to “spin” a carefully-controlled message to the media, and for the bravery she showed after she was diagnosed with the brain tumour that eventually killed her.
Heroes of the Labour movement
Tom Burlison, later known as Lord Burlison, is a hero of Nick Brown, the current MP for Newcastle East and Labour’s Chief Whip.
Born in County Durham, the son of a miner, he was a professional footballer from 1953 to 1965, playing for Lincoln City, Hartlepool United and Darlington. It makes him the first professional footballer to join the House of Lords.
But it’s his contribution to the Labour Party and wider labour movement that he’s remembered for today.
As regional secretary of the GMB union and later deputy general secretary, chairman of the TUC northern region and Labour treasurer, he played a powerful role behind the scenes – and is said to have helped the party through a difficult period, when it faced fierce internal battles and struggled to respond to Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Men who changed Britain
William Beveridge, who drew up plans for the welfare state, was MP for Berwick in Northumberland between October 1944 and July 1945.
A Liberal politician, he is known for his 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services, more commonly known as the Beveridge Report, which served as the basis for the post-World War II welfare state put in place by the Labour government elected in 1945.
His contribution to the nation is immense although, despite serving as one of the region’s MPs, his connection to the North East is arguably limited.
Geoffrey Rippon, the MP for Hexham from 1966 to 1987, was a British Conservative politician known for drafting the European Communities Act 1972, which took the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973. The EEC, as it was known, is what became the European Union.
They weren’t all heroes. One of the North East’s most famous political figures was T Dan Smith, the leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965. Known as Mr Newcastle, he helped oversee dramatic changes to the city and demolished slums.
But was jailed for six years (serving three years) after pleading guilty in April 1974 to accepting bribes connected to a redevelopment scheme. Despite his plea, he always protested his innocence.
Andy Cunningham, the former Durham County Council chairman who was jailed alongside Smith for his part in accepting corrupt payments.
The scandal helped inspire the play Our Friends in the North, which was adapted to become a celebrated TV drama.
Antony Lambton was the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1951 to 1973. He also inherited the title of Earl of Durham in 1970, but disclaimed the title so that he could continue as an MP.
He became a defence minister – but resigned both from his Government job and as an MP after tabloid newspaper the News of the World revealed he had been paying prostitutes for sex.
The husband of one of the prostitutes secretly took photographs of Lambton in bed with his wife, and attempted to sell them to the tabloids. Police also searched Lambton’s home and found a small amount of cannabis.
Lambton gave a number of explanations for his behaviour, including claiming that the pressure of his job as a minister had driven him to procure the prostitutes.
His resignation caused a by-election in which Liberal politician Alan Beith, now Lord Beith, won the seat. He held it for 42 years.
And what about Tony Blair?
There was a time when the North East appeared to run the Labour Party – and the country.
The most famous local politician of modern times is, of course, Tony Blair, the MP for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007, and Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007.
But some of the region’s Labour politicians are reluctant to lay claim to him.
They have similar mixed feelings about Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary and Blair’s close ally, who represented Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, and about David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary who represented South Shields from 2001 to 2013.
One said: “Blair didn’t have the North East in his blood. He used the Sedgefield constituency as his base to run for power, and he wasn’t of the North East partiuclarly.
“There were too many of them in that Government – Mandelson used Hartlepool, and I dare to say even our former colleague from South Shields – they just used North East constituencies.”
This article originally appeared here in https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/100-years-heroes-villains-north-16833796