At the start of the year, like most of us, I made some resolutions. I even wrote them down to give them a little more impetus. It’s hard to deny something once it is in writing. One of them was to ‘Become a little more politically active, how I am not yet sure.’
I can certainly say that I have achieved this resolution. Since leaving the public sector, where I was in a politically restricted position, I have the luxury of being able to be as political as I like. It is a luxury that many people don’t realise they have and it is a wish of mine that more people were more politically engaged. The lack of understanding of politics, in the main seems pitiful and perhaps this is why we are in such a mess today.
One area in which I was able to work on my resolution was the recent campaign for a new North of Tyne Mayor. Following the agreement to set up a North of Tyne Combined Authority, comprising the areas covered by Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, a process was coming to elect a mayor.
I was concerned by two things. Firstly, most people I spoke to had no idea what the Mayor would do. Understanding went from none at all to a belief that they would be opening supermarkets and kissing babies. The Mayor would have clear, specific powers that would potentially affect the lives of everyone in the area.
Secondly, in previous mayoral elections the turnout has been dreadful. I have nothing against Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor but he was elected on a majority of a 21% turnout. In effect he was elected by around 11% of the possible electorate and this is hardly a damning indictment of democracy. If apathy had stood as a candidate it would have got in by a landslide.
With two friends, James and Steve, we set up our NoT Clear campaign, to raise awareness, improve engagement and allow people to understand and compare the candidate’s policies in the areas they had responsibility for.
Over a month or so up to the election we bombarded social media with information about the candidates, the role and drew people to the website.
What success did we have? We will never know. It is almost impossible to tell the direct outcome of any work that we did. What we can say is that turnout, at 32%, while still poor was significantly higher than any regional mayoral campaign. No doubt these figure were helped by the local elections that were taking place on the same day, though there were none in Northumberland, the largest of the three local authority areas. Turnout there was 27%, again high in comparison with any other regional mayoral campaign.
Whatever happened, we tried. We put in the effort and people took notice. It was also great fun and I would like to thank James and Steve for their support. The website can be found here.
We would also like to thank all the candidates for their part and wish Jamie Driscoll, the first North of Tyne Mayor, every success.