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News focus: Making election history

Voters making their mark on polling forms this Thursday will be making history as a new dawn in local politics breaks in County Durham.

While people elsewhere in the country head to their polling stations to vote for who they want to see elected on to existing authorities, people in Easington, Durham and Chester-le-Street will be among those having their say in a contest which will make a real difference.

In a year's time, a new single super-council will take over, replacing each of the seven district councils and Durham County Council, as part of Government plans to bring in one authority.

It will be responsible for all services and will have offices based around the county.

Each of the two councillors elected in the 63 wards on Thursday will have a dual role for the next year, running the county council, but also developing and finalising proposals for the new unitary council.

Until the takeover, the services will continue to be run as they are, with the existing 312 district councillors to remain in post up to that date.

But will taxpayers see any difference in how things are run?

Dr Gidon Cohen is a lecturer of politics at Durham University and editor of the Socialist History Journal and co-organiser of the Modern British Studies Seminar Series.

He said: "It could make a huge difference to the politics of local government.

"The people it will affect most are the councillors, because they're going to be directing a new form of opposition in terms of a political challenge and how the council is organised.

"It also means that people who previously found they were dominant could be involved in a different political composition."

Although regarded as a Labour stronghold, with the county council and Easington led by this party, the North East has previously seen the Liberal Democrats make gains to take over the ruling of Durham City Council and the county council, showing a change can be made at the polls.

Those behind the move say the new council will have a number of financial benefits.

These include:

l Savings made by having one organisation instead of eight councils.

l Equalisation of council tax for main services, so all areas are charged at the same rate as the current lowest area.

l A reduction in the number of chief officers, such as one chief executive instead of eight.

The cash saved will be used to pay for improvements to services, making more available for spending and cover the cost of the reorganisation.

They say it will also become the biggest council in the North East and represent the county's interests regionally and nationally.

VOTERS can watch the election results come in live thanks to a special website at

www.elections08.durham.gov.uk which will access the results as they are announced, with the pages designed to be simple to navigate.

Users will be able to view the information on a county-wide basis or look at individual districts. It will also offer automatically-updated state of the parties information.

THE first Durham County Council elections were held in January 1889. It had 72 electoral divisions and in 32, candidates were unopposed – 43 of them were magistrates. The results gave the Conservatives a majority with 28 places, followed by the Liberals with 26, Unionists with eight, Working Men with four and others with six. It was 1919 before Labour first won control of the authority, with Peter Lee elected as its chairman. The political composition of the council today has 53 Labour members, five Liberal Democrats, three Independents and two Conservatives.

BEFORE 1968 the structure of County Durham looked very different from today. It had five boroughs, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland, West Hartlepool and Darlington, and four municipal boroughs, Durham, Hartlepool, Jarrow and Stockton-on-Tees, plus 20 urban districts and nine rural districts.

THE current structure of County Durham was formed in 1974 with the two-tier system. One of the eight, Darlington, became a unitary council in 1997.

The party's have their say...

LIB DEMS

THE Liberal Democrats are the only party offering a real alternative to decades of Labour neglect in Easington.

Local people are angry that the referendum of last year, in which 76 per cent of residents voted against this new giant council, has been ignored by Labour.

They also feel let down by labour's betrayal of the working classes, illustrated most recently by their plans to double tax for the lowest paid and to close local Post Offices.

The Liberal Democrats have a proven track record of working hard and putting local people first. We have won control of the councils in Newcastle and in Durham, where people have seen their neighbourhoods transformed by their local Lib Dem team.

It is at the grassroots level that the work of the Lib Dems is most apparent.

In cutting antisocial behaviour, in protecting local schools and in efforts to make our towns and villages cleaner and greener, the Liberal Democrats have led the way in fighting for local people.

LABOUR

THURSDAY is an important day in the history of County Durham. Voters across the county will be choosing the councillors who will lead us into a new era of local government.

Labour councils across the county are already among the best performing in the country and we promise to maintain those high standards as we move to one single unitary council for Durham. Labour's vision is of a new council providing top quality services for every community at the lowest possible level of council tax.

As individuals Labour councillors work hard all year round. Working with the Labour Government, we're investing over 400million to build new schools or refurbish existing ones. We introduced Sure Start and are committed to care for the elderly.

Albert Nugent

TORIES

CONSERVATIVES in the Durham County Unitary Council elections are dedicated to speaking up for the people of County Durham.

Last year 76 per cent voted in a referendum against this new unitary authority and in favour of keeping the local district councils.

The Labour Government ignored the wishes of local people. Labour has taken the votes of the people of County Durham for granted and it's time to make our local voice count.

Council tax bills in County Durham have doubled over the past 10 years and the new local government re-organisation will ensure that these bills continue to rise.

Like Labour's abolition of the 10p tax band, their rise in council tax bills hits hardest those who can least afford it. We would campaign to reduce council tax bills.

Michael Bates

IND

THE word Independent means that one does not depend on another person or political party when endeavouring to win a seat in an election.

Candidates have no wish to be accountable to any of the major political parties, to do so would seriously curtail their function as an efficient representative for those voters who choose Independent to see their wishes and views to the fore in council decisions.

As Independents, councillors are responsible to those who elected them, and also to those who voted against them. This is how the most important element of political life is seen – democracy – something we see less and less of in the major political parties.

For example, the ignoring of referendums, local and national i.e retention of district councils and the arrogant dismissal of the EU result.

Brian Wilson

BNP

THE BNP has gone from zero candidates to 16 last May and are now standing a record 30 in the up and coming unitary authority elections in the county.

Sedgefield and Wear Valley BNP Group, Tony Blair's old constituency, is now County Durham BNP Branch.

This inexorable rise has been achieved in less than one year and the branch even has a number of other sub groups in development, operating around the county.

This success is due to the sheer dedication, hard work and good-old British patriotism of the branch leaders.

We believe historically that May 1 will be a pivotal point in the success of the Party, from London upwards, we, County Durham BNP, are in it to win it and we will never, ever give up until democracy is restored in this land.

People are turning to the BNP because they are fed up of the lies and spin of the mainstream parties.

It's not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness – it's commonsense.

EASINGTON

Blackhalls

Alan Cox – Labour

Rob Crute – Labour

Ray Gibbon – Liberal Democrat

Chris Hindson – Liberal Democrat

Dawdon

Bob Arthur – Independent

Tom Baxter – Liberal Democrat

Annette Crooks – Liberal Democrat

Edwin Mason – Labour

Charlie Walker – Labout

Deneside

Edward Bell – Labour

Steven Colborn – Independent

Carole Harrison – Liberal Democrat

Albert Nugent – Labour

Neil Shaw – Liberal Democrat

Easington

David Boyes – Labour

Richard Burnip – Labour

Bill Graham – Liberal Democrat

John Lightley – Liberal Democrat

Horden

Pat Hudson – Liberal Democrat

Dennis Maddison – Labour

Mona Riley – Conservative

Paul Stradling – Labour

Murton

John Hudson – Liberal Democrat

Alan Napier – Labour

Alice Naylor – Labour

Mary Nolan – Liberal Democrats

Peterlee East

Sidney Huntington – Independent

Audrey Laing – Labour

Brian Quinn – Independent

Gordon Tennant – Labour

Margaret Wells – Liberal Democrat

Peterlee West

Ralph Liddle – Liberal Democrat

Geoff Pinkney – Labour

Barbara Sloan – Liberal Democrat

David Taylor Gooby – Labour

Seaham

Geraldine Bleasdale – Labour

Derick Dixon – Conservative

Dan Myers – Labour

Margaret Reid – Conservative

Shotton

Edward hall – Independent

Eunice Huntington – Labour

Christopher Saville – Liberal Democrat

Rob Todd – Labour

Stuart Walton – Liberal Democrats

Thornley

Morris Nicholls – Labour

Margaret Norman – Liberal Democrat

Terry Unsworth – Labour

Brian Wilson – Independent

Wingate

Joan Maslin – Independent

Kevin McGonnell – Labour

Len O'Donnell – Labour

Barry Solaimon – Liberal Democrat.

DURHAM CITY

Belmont

David Marshall – Labour

Kenneth Lloyd – Liberal Democrat

Trish Johnston – Labour

Eric Mavin – Liberal Democrat

Tom McCall – Conservative

Jenifer Wakefield – Conservative

Arthur Walker – Independent

Brandon

Colin Clark – Liberal Democrat

Heather Clarke – British National Party

Henry Hudson-Evans – Conservative

Ronnie Rogers – Labour

Selina Ross – British National Party

Maureen Smith – Liberal Democrat

Paul Taylor – Labour

Coxhoe

Christine Holt – Conservatives

Sarah Millerchip – Liberal Democrat

Dennis Morgan – Labour

Maria Plews – Labour

Dennis Smith – Independent

Carole Wigham – Liberal Democrat

Deerness Valley

David Bell – Labour

Jean Chaplow – Labour

Kathleen Currie – Conservative

Peter Gray – British National Party

Paul Guy – Liberal Democrat

Kirtsy Morton – British National Party

John Wilkinson – Liberal Democrat

Durham South

Jan Blakey – Labour

Rhys Burriss – Conservative

Patrick Hague – Conservative

Katherine Lloyd – British National Party

Martin Ridley – Independent

Maggie Robinson – Independent

Adam Walker – Liberal Democrat

Mac Williams – Labour

Robert Wynn – Liberal Democrat.

Elvet

Chris Arthur – Conservative

Katie Ford – Labour

David Freeman – Liberal Democrat

Tim Hughes – Conservative

Jonathan Lovell – Labour

Anji Rae – Independent

David Stoker – Liberal Democrat

Framwellgate Moor

Michael Bates – Conservative

George Burlison – Labour

Simon Carey – Independent

Rev Crooks – Liberal Democrat

Terry Moderate – Independent

Ralph Musgrave – British National Party

Mark Wilkes – Liberal Democrat

Marion Wilson – Labour

Pat Wynne – Conservative

Gilesgate

Henry Cartwright – Conservative

Pat Conway – Labour

Ed Hastie – Conservative

Kevin Lloyd – British National Party

Peter Mitchell – Labour

Dennis Southwell – Liberal Democrat

Les Thomson – Liberal Democrat

Robert West – Durham Taxpayers Alliance

Nevilles Cross

Christopher Allen – Independent

Stephen Ashfield – Independent

Nicola Heaton – Labour

Grenville Holland – Liberal Democrat

Nigel Martin – Liberal Democrat

Jonathan Roberts – Labour

Carolyn Smith – Conservative

Michael Smith – Conservative

Newton Hall

Sheila Emmas-Williams – Labour

Helena Ferreira – Labour

Amanda Hopgood – Liberal Democrat

Pierre Kirk – Conservative

Helen Osborn – Conservative

Mamie Simmons – Liberal Democrat

Philip Wolstenholme – Independent

Sherburn

Lesley Broughton – Labour

Michael Fishwick – Conservative

Nick Hallett – Conservative

Raymond Pye – Labour

Jo Smith – Green Party

Maureen Wood – Liberal Democrat

Carol Woods – Liberal Democrat.

CHESTER-LE-STREET

Chester-le-Street North and East

Beaty Bainbridge – Conservative

Lancelot Brown – Independent

Maureen May – Conservative

John Shiell – Labour

Tracie Smith – Labour

Chester-le-Street South

John Adey – Independent

Allan Bainbridge – Conservative

Keith Davidson – Labour

Brian Kinghorn – Liberal Democrat

Heather Liddle – Labour

Philip Nathan – Liberal Democrat

Nick Varley – Conservative

Chester-le-Street West Central

Jacquelyn Butler – Conservative

Simon Henig – Labour

Linda Marshall – Labour

Lumley

Alan Bell – Independent

Rita Carr – Labour

Geoffrey Cutting – Liberal Democrat

Lucille Nicholson – Conservatives

Florinda Rowe – Liberal Democrat

Brian Walker – Labour

Julie Watson – Conservative

Audrey Willis – Independent

Ouston and Urpeth

Colin Carr – Labour

George Gardner – Liberal Democrat

Jeffrey Gray – Conservative

Denis Jackson – Liberal Democrat

Oliver May – Conservative

Maureen Potts – Labour

Pelton

Jim Cordon – Labour

Peter May – Conservative

Mike Sekowski – Labour

Sacriston

Lynne Cowan – Liberal Democrat

Allen Turner – Labour

Mark Watson – Conservative

Ellen Waugh – Liberal Democrat

Anne Wright – Labour.

What the voters think

SHOPPERS in Seaham were undecided as to who would get their vote.

John Adams, 61, from Stanley Street, Seaham, thinks council elections are a bit of a waste of time.

The retired miner said: "It doesn't make any difference, they're all the same.

"I don't think the new County Durham council is a good idea, it means services will be too far away."

Alexander Brewster, 65, a retired joiner from Sophia, Seaham, is undecided as to whether the new council is a good idea.

He said: "I think we need more police walking around to stop these kids from hanging around. We need something to stop them playing football down Church Street; maybe more youth clubs or something like that."

Enid Kerton, a housewife from Station Road, Murton, says she would like councillors to do more in the village.

She said: "I would like to see something done with Woods Terrace; it's disgusting.

"I also think we need something for the people of Murton. We have the Glebe Centre, but not a lot goes on now like there was in the old days, such as evening classes and things like that."

Claire Campbell, 25, a full-time mum-of-two from Dawdon, thinks more needs to be done to clean up the streets of East Durham.

She said: "There's always dog muck on the floor, it's disgusting, especially when I'm walking my daughter to school.

"I think we also need more youth groups and more police on the streets."

Melissa Horsley, 26, from East Shore Village, Seaham, would like to see the council investing more money into Seaham.

Melissa, who dresses mannequins at Marks and Spencer, said: "I think the new council is a good idea.

If anything, I think it'll make things better and may allow more money to be put into Seaham. The town centre could do with some better shops.

"I also think there should be more nurseries in Seaham, because Sure Start is full. I've been on the waiting list for five weeks and I'm still waiting."

John Lambert, 40, from Camden Square, Seaham, said: "At the moment I'm not happy with some of the service. No one is collecting the recycling bins and they're starting to overflow.

"I'm not keen on the new council coming in because I think it's to large an area to control. The services are not fantastic and I just think they will get worse."