|Issue 13 - June 1973|
|The Bigger They Are ....|
|Power has taken
a turn for the worse in the north-east over the past few months, with
the much honoured and admired Alderman Andrew Cunningham falling off
the pedestal from which he's ruled much of what has gone on in the
area for so long.
In December 1971, Muther Grumble No.1 carried an article about the man. He was at the height of his power then, being, among other things, a member of the National Executive of the Labour Party, the Chairman of both the Chester-le-Street and the Northern Region Executive of the Labour Party, the head of the Northern Region of the General and Municipal Workers Union (the biggest union in the north-east), an Alderman of the County Council and a member of the Chester-le-Street council, Chairman of the Durham Police Authority, Chairman of the Newcastle Airport Consultative Committee, a member of the Northumbrian River Authority, the Peterlee New Town Development Corporation and the planning and education committees of Durham County Council. Last, but not least, he was also Chairman of the Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority. Quite a bundle of positions.
His position as GMWU boss gave him power in some of the local Parliamentary constituencies over who was to be the Labour candidates (and in this area that means MPs) for the elections. So this, together with his influence in the national Labour Party, gave him many powerful friends in Parliament. This influence pervaded local politics as well, where many Labour politicians saw him as the guiding light firmly controlling the entrance to the ladder of national and power-based politics.
So, a year ago, Godfather Cunningham was a force to be reckoned with. But now his empire has crumbled due to some illegal, or (to be safe) at least highly sensitive dealings he had with a certain architect - Mr John Poulson - a few years back which have only recently come to light. Any intrepid reader of Private Eye or of the more informative press will know all about Cunningham and Poulson, and Andy's wife, Freda, and his buddy Dan Smith who, until the Poulson hearing began, was Chairman of the Northern Economic Development Council, and another north-east strong (arm) man of how Poulson paid Smith who paid Freda; of how Poulson sent the Cunningham family for free holidays; of how all this was done in the hope that our friends Dan and Andy might be able to push some contracts Poulson's way. This they did. Smith put pressure on members of local councils to accept Poulson as consultant architect for various developments, while Cunningham used his position to get tenders for Poulson to design houses, offices for the Tyne River Authority (which subsequently weren't built but Poulson got paid for), blocks of flats and a police station. In some instances, the contracts were not even put out to tender - Cunningham just persuaded the council or committee in question to accept Poulson's offer without considering any others.
But alas, all came to an end, Poulson started going bankrupt and cut the money available to Dan Smith who had to release Freda Cunningham (a teacher by trade) from her obligation to him as an interior design consultant. Finally, Poulson did go bankrupt and in the resulting court hearings the muck started to soil the respectability of the power elite, among them Smith and Cunningham. Smith disappeared immediately from public life but Cunningham, who made a strong stand, is finally beginning to be overwhelmed. Both will come under investigation by the police to see if they've done anything wrong (sic).
This is an account of Cunningham's downfall. Soon he'll almost certainly
lose his seat on the National Executive of the Labour Party; he'll
also almost certainly lose his chairmanship of the Northern Region
Executive and already has on the Chester-le-Street one. In April,
he failed to secure nomination as Chester-le-Street candidate for
both the County Council and the local district council; this means
that he'll lose all his positions on these councils. Soon he'll be
replaced as Chairman of the Police Authority and he's to be asked
to leave his post as Chairman of the Tyneside Passenger Transport
Authority, the Transport Minister says he would prefer a chairman
who was a member of the Tyne-Wear Metropolitan Council which takes
over responsibility for the TTA next April, and the Metropolitan
Council, believe it or not, is one of the few institutions that Cunningham
is NOT a member of. Funny how this didn't seem so important last