Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A wasted vote for Ron Woodley?

I have to say that I was surprised to discover that the Southend Independent councillor Ron Woodley had decided to stand in the General Election and even more surprised at rumours that he believed that he actually had a chance of winning!

On the back of his control of BERA, the resident's association in Thorpe Bay, Ron has build a strong majority in local elections in Thorpe for himself and his Independent colleagues and I assume that he believed that he could transfer and build on that support in a General Election.

I was interested in how he would run a campaign as at a local level he has relied on Bera support and then concentrated on primarily negative campaigning and simply suggesting that as an Independent he could do better without party ties.

This is in my view a pretty unattractive approach in local elections, which I prefer to see fought on positive alternatives, but even more unsatisfactory at a national level. It involves the candidate asking the electorate for a blank cheque with no indication on how they feel or will vote on a massive number of important issues. There is no safety net of a clear and defined political ideology or a manifesto as is the case with party candidates. If he had been elected in the current situation there was no indication as to who he would support as Prime Minister and on what basis.

One election leaflet from Ron dropped through the door of my office but concentrated solely on the issue of the Southend A&E. How was he intending to deliver his pledge to prevent any downgrading and why was a vote for him, a inexperienced and naïve politician at national level, going to achieve the shared aim of protecting our A&E department better than voting for the Conservative or Labour candidates who have also commented on their concerns on the issue.

It gave the look of jumping aboard an issue of concern and on which he had played no obvious and apparent leading role to that point.

In the event he received 2924 votes out of the 47,323 cast and only just avoided losing his deposit.

It would be nice to think that this democratic and policy vacuum would also be recognised in the next bout of local elections with the rejection of Independent candidates who have no clear manifesto or ideology and who have failed to deliver in the Chamber or wider council.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Should she stay or should she go now?

Well in the famous words of The Clash (almost) should our embattled Prime Minister hang on in there or fall on her sword. It is really an amazing story of hero to apparent zero and yet.

I have little doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing any occupier of No 10 Downing Street is that you are caught in a bubble, supported by those who perhaps do not always want to spell out mistakes and without as close a link to the reality outside as is needed. If the political press is to be believed then she has not been well served by her closest advisors and ended up attempting to defend some proposals which even a GCSE student in political studies would have realised would go down like a lead brick with the very voters whose support she needed.

She did not give the impression of enjoying the cut and thrust of the campaign - always slightly surprising for a front line politician - perhaps being more focussed on the challenges of government rather than getting elected in the first place.

Having said that she has proved herself a capable and resourceful politician. We face the enormous challenge of the Brexit negotiations and, perhaps rather more be default than design, she has a well balanced and capable cabinet behind her. The last thing the country needs now is the distraction of a leadership fight or second general election.

So my view is that she must stay, and learning the lessons of a difficult campaign, she can still deliver an effective Brexit and reposition the party remembering the voters who supported us but also offering a vision of hope and progress for the young.

Let's get back to a confident, progressive and optimistic Conservatism, building on results which in terms of the number of seats won and percentage vote is not as disastrous as might have been and let our Prime Minister show her strengths and abilities.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Another General Election campaign over

So after a short and uninspiring national campaign we have an unexpected outcome and uncertainty - still I suppose it keeps the political media happy!

In Southend West I was again delighted to act as Sir David Amess' election agent - my second time in the job. As usual David was tireless throughout the campaign canvassing for over six hours most days and covering massive parts of the constituency.

My personal experience "on the knocker" was very strong support for David personally with recognition of his tireless work for the Town but frustration and annoyance that we were having an election at all together with a poor manifesto and the absence of any clear and positive message for the future.

The Labour campaign locally seemed well run and hardworking and got the result it deserved. The Lib Dem campaign was pretty non existent with a candidate with no apparent link with the Town or its people and got the result it deserved. 

So now the challenge of moving forward and the need to develop and communicate a clear and positive message which reconnects with the young and the centre ground whilst simultaneously dealing with the massive challenge that is Brexit. 

I had been hoping not to repeat the job of General Election agent (if at all!) not for another five years but now I have a nasty feeling but before doing so the party needs to have addressed the problems of the last couple of months.

In he meantime where is that damn election expense return......

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

An interesting week

Well they say that a week is a long time in politics – it certainly has been this week. So I thought I would throw in my views for what they are worth!

Europe – I have always regarded myself as generally pro the European ideal but admit to voting leave. My main reason was the complete lack of any real democratic accountability, and the clear view of the those at the centre of European power that they can ignore the concerns and wishes of the millions of people they are employed to represent.

Just as the current EU bears no relation to the free trade area we originally voted for, there can be no doubt that an In vote would have resulted in us being tied to an organisation which was set to become larger, more controlling and unified without adequate democratic controls in place. The view of the “powers to be” was demonstrated by their complete failure to give David Cameron any meaningful concessions during the pre referendum negotiations in apparent ignorance of the tide of anti EU feeling sweeping across the continent, and then being surprised at the resulting outcome.

Notwithstanding my own vote (and my immediate family was split down the middle on the issue) I was surprised and, at least for the short term, a little apprehensive when I woke to discover the result.

David Cameron – I don’t believe that he should have resigned. He fought an election campaign offering a referendum and must have anticipated the possibility of a leave vote. If it was a wholly unacceptable option then why agree to a referendum in the first place. He was elected to do a job and should using his experience in leading the country through the challenging negotiations yet to come. One of my family described his resignation speech as akin to a child throwing its toys out of a pram. If he cares as much about the country as he says, and I am sure he does, then how does he think the uncertainty of a change of leadership will help the situation.

Labour – I get that large parts of the parliamentary party think that Corbyn is an electoral liability. However this is hardly a new revelation. I fail to see how it helps anyone to precipite this crisis in the leadership of the main opposition party at this challenging time. If Labour MPs did not want him then why not all resign en mass earlier?

Westminster – will some of our MP’s ever get it? The public have been making their distaste with some of the attitudes adopted by the “Establishment” increasingly clear. So now, at a difficult time when our politicians should be working together to stabilise the markets and forge an exit from the EU is a constructive way which works to the benefit of the UK and our former partners, what are they doing? Concentrating on in fighting and leadership elections and point scoring. The irony is that one of the outcomes of the referendum is to give our MPs proper control of our destiny so isn’t it about time they started stepping up to the plate.

Scotland – it was inevitable that whatever the outcome the SNP would try to manipulate the position to support their ongoing calls for independence. This is hardly a surprise as it is their raison d’être. However if my maths are correct, and if you take the percentage of Scottish voters who actually bothered to vote in the referendum, it demonstrates that about 4 in 10 of the overall Scottish electorate voted to remain. I appreciate that elections are correctly decided on the votes of those who bother to turn up, but if the SNP is now claiming that Scotland is massively committed to staying in Europe how do they explain that only about 4 in 10 of them bothered to vote remain.

They also fail to comment on the fact that the practicality of Independence was based not on Scotland continuing to receive the oil income being generated at that time, but o a massive increase in oil income. In reality oil receipts have gone through the floor. The case for independence as previously outlined in not economically viable – unless they are hoping that rather being subsidised by the rest of the UK they will rely on handouts from the EU!

Friday, 27 May 2016

M&S till receipts

Without wishing to descend in to the role of a grumpy old man I do not understand the current M&S stance on till receipts.

On the basis that I am not sufficiently organised to bring a packed lunch to work I usually stroll round to M&S in the High Street for a sandwich and an apple.

As the humans on the quick tills have continued to disappear I am increasingly forced to use the self service tills.

I am more than happy with the current rule on plastic bags and have no intention of chipping in an extra 5p so inevitably leave the store simply holding my purchases openly in my hand.

What I am surprised about is the change to the machines which asks whether the customer wants a till receipt – whatever means of payment has been used. It is almost as though we are being encouraged to save paper and go without. I usually request a receipt but today, distracted by a fragrant lady on the next till, I hit the wrong button and found myself leaving the store with my goods on open display and without bag or receipt.

I am not quite sure what I would have been expected to do if I had been stopped by security querying whether I had paid as I had nothing to evidence that I had. The absence of automatically issued receipts, particularly in the absence of free bags, does seem a rather strange development.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

C2C @ Leigh - how annoying!

I have to say that in general terms I am a great supporter of C2C. Whilst not a daily commuter, I do travel to London reasonably regularly for work and pleasure and always travel on this line. I also have clear memories of the atrocious service pre C2C and there can be no disputing the massive improvements in train quality, cleanliness and punctuality.

As a non daily commuter I have not been greatly affected by the recent timetable change argument although generally found the old timetable fine except the frustration of 4 carriage trains being used at times when demand meritied more carriages.

But, and there was always going to be a “but”, there are some really annoying things which bug me every time I travel.

Firstly the car park at Leigh on Sea. When I travel to London during the week I usually drive back from Southend to Leigh to make my journey home shorter after the return trip. By the time I arrive the car park is pretty full but with occasional spaces. Ignoring the ridiculously high charges for a car park serving their customers who are already paying quite hefty fares bearing in mind the distances involved, and the very tight spaces which means that even getting out of a relatively small car like mine is dependent upon the cars on each side being parked towards the middle of their spaces as well as demanding the flexibility of a Caribbean limbo dancer to manoeuvre out, what is going on with the ticket machines?

The last time I went there appeared to be only 1 machine working in the entire (quite large) car park with the others covered with black bin bags, and this machine not only required some technical ability almost beyond a technophobe like me to operate but was also rejecting cash. What is going on? – do they not want people to pay the extortionate parking fees they are charging? The reaction of the few people who arrived with me wavered between frustration, anger and disbelief.

If we are going to encourage commuters to park in railway car parks and not the adjoining residential streets these car parks need to be reasonably priced and user friendly which regrettably in my opinion Leigh on Sea is not.

And whilst on the subject of tickets there does seem to be a deliberate policy of ensuring that at times when large numbers of customers want to buy a ticket there should only be one person on duty selling them, and equipped with the slowest ticket technology that it is possible to contemplate. And I know about the automatic ticket machines but the last time I tried to use one of those I could not get the best value ticket available at the counter. Surely those ticket printing machines are long past their sell by date.

So come on C2C – let’s sort these problems out!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Aylen Election Leaflets

I always think that it is quite interesting, after the dust has settled on the election results, to look back at some of the material circulated by candidates. I know that regrettably it is increasingly usual for candidates to claim credit for things they have not done or to try to frighten voters with scare stories about policies which have no chance of being implemented, but some seem to have elevated this approach to a fine art.

In Southend Belfairs Independent Steve Aylen has proved particularly adept at this. We are all used to his sudden spate of items and letters in the local press in the months leading to his election which demonstrate a great skill for self publicity but this is nothing to some of the election material he distributes.

Having looked at his latest batch of election material, and ignoring the frankly insulting and unpleasant references to the Conservative candidate, he has truly excelled himself this year.

In one particular leaflet he identifies 19 things which he claims would not have been done without him, and 13 issues where he has stepped in to save Belfairs.

I am not sure what is more concerning – that he actually believes these claims to be true or that he realises that the majority are complete hogwash and is therefore setting out to mislead the electors as to his involvement.

The actions he takes personal credit for include improvements to Belfairs Golf Course, retention of weekly refuse collections, modern street lighting, the existence of the Woodland Centre (which at the outset he was strongly opposed to!), a reduction in “flooding issues”, grass verges being cut, street trees being protected etc etc. At best he can claim a part in some of these whilst a member of the Conservative Group by supporting the Leadership who had developed these policies with others. Following his election as an Independent he voted against a number of these policies and in any event they would have been delivered irrelevant of his position on the Council.

He then suggests that without him Fairway would have been widened with a 40mph speed limit, houses would have been built in the park, the golf course would have been closed, Prittlewell Brook would have been closed to pedestrians, dog walkers would have been banned from Belfairs Park at weekends, there would have been a travellers site on the corner of Eastwood Old Road and the Fairway, there would be no bus service to Belfairs, and so on.

I am surprised he stopped at that and did not claim to have saved the residents from the spread of plague and pestilence, an oil refinery in Woodside, the construction of Heathrow’s new runway in Belfairs Park and the introduction of the compulsory viewing of X Factor!

For those of us who know what rubbish this is then it is difficult to avoid a wry smile but it is the unacceptable face of local politics. Even more remarkable that this Independent Councillor was being championed by the Leigh Times.