Friday, 8 December 2017

West Leigh catchment dilemma

I can only sympathise with the Council as it tries to broker an acceptable resolution to the problem on junior school catchments. This is a problem that has been building over recent years and reflects that with anticipated growth in school numbers the Town’s most popular schools, which are already bursting at the seams, will not be able to accommodate the children in their catchment area.
The problem is particularly pertinent in West Leigh which as the most westerly ward in the Borough has its nearest primary school (West Leigh) located towards the most easterly side of the ward.

Even in my years on the council this meant that in years with higher admission numbers the school could not cope with the numbers in its catchment area resulting in “distance” becoming the deciding factor. However because the school is not located in the middle of the ward this meant that the children living towards the borough boundary with Castle Point did not receive a place notwithstanding that they were “Southend” children and lived in catchment.

Their only options were then to attend a school in another area or, if they wished to attend a Southend school, journey past West Leigh and on to Darlinghurst or Fairway even though this journey was far longer than it would have been for many of the children actually allocated places at West Leigh.

This must be wrong and it seems to me to be right and courageous of the Council to try and address the problem – particularly when quite rightly the issue of school catchment areas is so emotive to parents.

My preferred solution in the short term is that in years where numbers allow the children in the current catchment take priority, but when this is not the case the priority runs from the Borough’s western boundary towards the school until all available places are taken.

I appreciate that this will create a situation where some children who live quite close to West Leigh will be forced to attend another school, but that must be fairer than expecting the children towards the boundary to undertake an even longer journey.

In the mid-term the issue of primary places in the west of the town does need to be addressed and it is a pity that the previous idea of a new school at Belfairs could not be pursued.

It is the kind of problem that makes life as a local councillor challenging but potentially rewarding.

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......