Recall

I have been contacted by a number of Southend West residents regarding the proposals to enable the recall of a Member of Parliament. These are addressed to the Southend West MP, and vopied to me for my comments. The emails include this:

I think voters should have the power to vote out MPs who let us down. It should be a decision for us, the voters. It shouldn’t be up to a Westminster quango or other MPs.

So I’d like you to vote for the real recall amendments being tabled by Zac Goldsmith MP. These changes to the government’s plan would put the power in the hands of local voters. Please can you tell me how you will vote? And please will you contact your party leader and express my views to them?

I am all for making MPs truly accountable, but I am not sure the Recall Bill entirely does this. The problem of super-safe seats would still exist, and any Member of Parliament who is a dead cert for re-election is not truly accountable. As a long-standing member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform I want to change the voting system so that very vote counts. Every MP should have to work for every vote.

That being said, MPs must liable for the sack – especially when they wield this power over so many public sector workers.

So I do support a recall act (with safeguards to stop frivolous or overtly political manoeuvrings), and I hope that this will be followed with some wider ranging reforms that would ensure every voter has equal merit.

Leigh and Westcliff Times article October 2014

In about half a year’s time the people in Southend West, and beyond, will have a very important decision to make, which is who will run the country for the following five years.

The General Election is scheduled for May 7th and on the morning of the 8th of May we will wake up to either another five years of David Cameron and his Conservative-led Government, or we will have a Labour Government. Of course there will be other choices, but ultimately it boils down to this. And what of those other choices? We now know that the Liberal Democrats are content to rubber-stamp all of the Tories plans , even if this means breaking just about every promise they made in the run-up to the previous election. UKIP out-Tory the Conservatives, and seem to principally campaign on their aversion to Europe and immigrants. There may be other candidates, but until we change the way we vote (and I am a long standing member of the Electoral Reform Society) the reality remains of effectively a Lab-Con contest.

However, there is no denying that politics in Britain is changing. If I am elected to represent Southend West I hope to promote the modernisation of our democracy. A good starting point would be votes at sixteen, which proved so successful in the recent Scottish referendum.

In recent weeks there has been quite a lot of chatter about our relationship with Europe and immigration. I am pro-Europe, but I also firmly believe that the EU must change. It has to be made more democratic, it must be able to account for what it spends, and it must not be an excuse for wasteful agricultural policies.

As regards to immigration it strikes me that the debate is marred by misinformation and prejudice. Whilst there are issues with the significant numbers who have arrived in the last fifteen years, we must not lose sight of the benefits that we have gained from immigration. However, mistakes have been made, although for some there will be nothing right about any immigration policy. I think that Labour has learnt from the past and has a different approach. Local people should not be denied the opportunity to get work and so Labour’s plan to ban recruitment agencies that only recruit overseas workers, and to ensure that every large firm hiring a migrant worker from outside the EU must offer an apprenticeship in return is welcome.

Of course, the ratio of workers to the retired is going out of kilter to the extent that we may be faced with a choice between more immigration or penury for the old. Retirement age has already been advanced, and may have to be pushed further back at some point.

UKIP are getting a lot of publicity at the moment, particularly because of their rhetoric about immigration and the EU; yet UKIP cannot stand up for working people. From privatising our NHS to cutting taxes for the richest, they will not serve the working people of Britain. They are more Tory than the Tories.

Labour has recently announced six ambitious national goals for the next decade. These goals will be there to raise people’s sights for what can be achieved . We must be prepared to make our country work for all people again:
1. Giving all young people a shot in life: Ensure as many school-leavers go on to apprenticeships as go to university.
2. Tackling the cost-of-living crisis: Help working families share fairly in the wealth of our country so, when the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people grow at the same rate.
3. Restoring the dream of home ownership: Meet demand for new homes for the first time in half a century – doubling the number of first-time buyers getting on to the housing ladder each year.
4. Tackling low wages: Halve the number of people on low pay in our country, changing the lives of over two million people.
5. Leading the world on green jobs: Create one million more high-tech jobs by securing the UK’s position as a world leader in green industries.
6. Saving our NHS: Build a world-class, 21st century health and care service.

The Labour plan is to cut taxes for millions on middle and low incomes. Labour will bring back the 10p starting rate of tax. Labour will also save and transform the NHS with 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. The NHS improvements will be paid for by an Our NHS Time to Care Fund, and this will be funded by asking the wealthiest to pay a little more, tackling tax avoidance and asking tobacco firms to pay their fair share.

Southend West needs an MP and a Government that will work for the many, not the few, who will protect cherished public services, giving everyone a stake in our society.

Wishing the horse was a camel – Cabinet versus the committee system

It does seem at times that the topics that most engages councillors are those that directly affect the way they do their job. Item 25 on last night’s Full Council agenda was entitled: Possible Changes to the Constitution.

At this point I should issue a spoiler alert; the result was no change – we will maintain the status quo.

It is not often that I find common cause with Nigel Holdcroft, former Conservative leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, but I did find last night’s proceedings odd. The irony here is that the debate boiled down to whether there are some councillors who are more equal than others, and in the debate itself this was a self-evident truth when Group Leaders’ utterances are considered to be more important than the rest of us.

We had a number of contributions, me included, before we concluded with a somewhat farcical (and twice taken) vote. Cllr Moyies evidently has troubled understanding the meaning of ‘or’.

In the vote we saw both UKIP (those that were present) and the Liberal Democrats (including their Cabinet member) voting en bloc to investigate the possibility of moving back to the committee system.

In the end it was a tight vote: 21 in favour of retaining the Cabinet, 19 for the committee system. Two abstained (Cllrs Flewitt and Woodley), and I wonder why. They were elected to make decisions, not sit on fences. The Mayor voted, which was also unsatisfying – I think chairs should only cast in the event of a tie.

The vote was carried by seven of the nine Labour councillors siding with the bulk of the Conservatives and a couple of Independents. I think us and the Tories wanted to maintain the status quo for differing reasons: they liked the model, we did not want valuable money diverted when so many cuts are to be made.

The keen-eyed will note that there were 42 councillors present for the vote, meaning nine were absent. Labour and the Liberal Democrats had a full complement; UKIP had two missing (commented on by Matt Dent here), the Independent Group had three absent, and the Conservatives were down by four. Whilst there will always be the occasional absence, last night’s was the most sparsely attended that I can recollect in my two and a half years as a councillor. It is not just at Full Council where absences occur, many of the committees are seeing gaps. I do not keep a track of who attends what, although I am tempted to begin doing so. It is noticeable that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are ever-present, yet the other groups, especially UKIP and the Tories, are less than assiduous in being present when requested.

Here is (roughly) my contribution to the debate:

When this council voted to broadcast its meetings on the internet I expressed my opposition to this – not on the principle (I am in favour of opening up our democracy) but because in a time of cuts this was a frivolous expense. I felt then that this was essentially a vanity exercise when many vital services were being squeezed.

I am ambivalent about the prospect for a return to the committee system. I have not experienced this system first hand, but my experience of the Cabinet system has not been unfavourable. I am more vexed by decisions made in this place than I am with the mechanics of how those decisions are reached.

We are facing yet more cuts this year, indisputable even if we can haggle over the precise figure. To consider making a change, invisible to all but a tiny minority of the electorate, at times of austerity is to navel gaze. This exercise comes with a cost, and one or more services that we provide will suffer because of it.

It is not a doorstep issue in my ward – residents have far bigger issues to animate them. As to the issue of councillors not doing their jobs that is for the electorate to judge; I only hope that Cllr Terry was not thinking of me when he made this judgement. I do find it ironic that there is a pressure group locally who complain about a lack of democracy – yet are self-appointed unelected spokespeople themselves.

I encourage all to think on this when casting their votes.

Trading Standards Institute

Ella Vine (board member), Mike Le-Surf (Labour Candidate, South Basildon and East Thurrock), Melissa Dring (Policy Officer), Julian Ware-Lane (Labour Candiadte, Southend West)

Ella Vine (board member), Mile Le-Surf (Labour Candidate, South Basildon and East Thurrock), Melissa Dring (Policy Officer), Julian Ware-Lane (Labour Candiadte, Southend West)

I recently spoke with the Policy Officer for the Trading Standards Institute. Amongst the things that the TSI is interested in is the subject of food, product and toy safety. They are a useful friend when it comes to consumer protection, and the protection of the elderly and vulnerable from scams and doorstep nuisance.

Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Southend West, Cllr Julian Ware-Lane, is backing CAMRA’s wish for community pubs to be protected

CAMRAjulian ware-laneppcCAMRA are saying: Our community pubs matter and deserve to be protected.

However, weak planning laws in England are failing to protect them. This weak planning system is contributing to the closure of 31 pubs a week in the UK: two pubs are converted to supermarkets alone every single week.

Pubs currently fall within the A4 planning use class. This means they can be converted to any of use classes in the table on the right, or even demolished, without planning permission or any community consultation. The current situation is ludicrous and is encouraging the loss of pubs.

At the end of 2013 Cllr Ware-Lane submitted a motion to Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, hoping that it would signal a desire by the council to protect its community pubs. (See http://warelane.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/my-motion-on-community-pubs/)

Julian says: “Pubs are disappearing across the country, and our borough is no stranger to this phenomena. Pubs can be demolished without planning permission; they can also be converted without having to seek permission. Our pubs could easily become betting shops or cafes, for example.”

“People are concerned about a loss of community identity. The required law change only means that planning consent must always be sought. This does not prevent pubs being converted or demolished, but it does mean that community leaders will have a voice in the matter” added Julian

“The Government’s Localism Act did nothing to address the issue. Local Authorities need the tools to protect their communities.”

The Facts

Pubs support over 1 million UK jobs and inject an average of £80,000 into their local economy each year.

31 pubs close every week.

Research by CAMRA found that 2 pubs are converted to supermarkets every week between January 2012-2014.

69% of all adults believe that a well-run community pub is as important to community life as a post office, local shop or community centre.*

75% of all adults believe that pubs make a valuable contribution to life in Britain.**

*TNS CAPI Omnibus Survey June 2010 **TNS CAPI Omnibus Survey June 2012

Checking if a vehicle is taxed

Occasionally councillors and local authorities have to deal with abandoned vehicles. These were usually spotted by examining the tax disc. An absent or expired one was a good indicator as to whether the vehicle really was abandoned. The law changed earlier this month and it is no longer required for tax discs to be displayed. Anyone renewing the road tax will not be sent a disc, and I imagine that the old ones will gradually disappear from windscreens as and when their renewal comes up.

Those who suspect that a vehicle has been abandoned will now have to use the internet. Armed with the vehicle registration number (number plate) and the make of the vehicle they can access the new Check if a vehicle is taxed web page.

You can also check to see your old cars are still on the road.

Who gives a damn anyway? Inertia, electoral fatalism, or just not enthused by the choices on offer

Total votes at each General Election since 1935 for Labour, the Conservatives, the rest, and those who did not vote

Total votes at each General Election since 1935 for Labour, the Conservatives, the rest, and those who did not vote

This graph shows the votes for Labour and the Conservatives for every General Election since 1935. It also shows the number of votes cast for other parties, and the number of people who did not vote.

What does this tell us?

It shows that for every election both Labour and Conservatives poll somewhere between 8 and 14 million. It shows that in 2010 they polled very similar numbers to what they polled in 1935. Since this is the number of votes (as opposed to vote share), and the electorate has clearly grown since then, where are all the new voters?

Well, the votes for third parties has grown, but this growth has been pretty steady since 1974. The biggest chunk of votes in this category goes to the Liberal Democrats, although nationalist parties also score pretty highly in their respective nations.

What has significantly grown, especially since 1992, is the number of abstentions. The really significant date is 2001, for this is when non-voters outnumbered those who plumped for the governing party.

There were be many reason for abstention, but it broadly divides into two camps: those who could not vote and those who chose not to.

If one looks at the Government party’s vote share as a percentage of all voters (whether cast or not) then one finds the last three Government’s elected with the consent of under 30% of all voters (although ‘consent’ is open to interpretation – abstention can be viewed as consent in some ways). Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide came with just 30.8% of all voters, and you have to go back to 1979 before you find more than a third of the electorate backing the winner.

Interestingly, the largest vote share was for Labour in 1951, an election they actually lost. This is the only occasion since 1935 than any party broke 40% (with 40.3%).

Abstainers accounted for 40.6% of the electorate in 2001, and 34.9% in 2010. Some could argue that those who want a ‘none of the above’ option are already winning.

I think this demonstrates a couple of things. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is that voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the choice on offer. This would also include those who feel that the alternatives have no chance of being elected, a kind of electoral fatalism gripping vast swathes of the electorate.

I also believe that voting on Thursdays, in polling booths, with pencils, is way past its sell-by date.

Whilst the two big parties are still acquiring far more supporters than the others, the growth in not voting must be cause for concern. When one factors in the numbers of those not registered (perhaps another 3 million) then it becomes a picture of a country being run by a party selected by fewer than one in four people.

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