Switcher Toby’s blog

Toby Mountain is a Rochford District Councillor, elected as a Conservative and now serving as an Independent. He has a blog, the not self-effacingly titled Rayleigh View (does he really speak for all of Rayleigh?)

Under About Us is this: A view of Rochford District from the perspective of a Rayleigh resident

The use of the plural is either a mistake, or Cllr Mountain has royal pretensions. He also refers to himself in the plural under Comment (Contact Us Please feel free to contribute comments to any of our news items)

He writes: Toby is committed to increasing openness and transparency – but apparently this does not extend to allowing his voters a say on his change of party allegiance.

Second (of two)

A comment made by Neil Monnery got me thinking (yes, that happens occasionally). I have tried to find out who is the top ranked political blogger in Southend-on-Sea (and nearby).

It turns out that Neil has the top raking political blog in the area, and I am second. And that is it. I could find no-one else ranked by eBuzzing, and I cast the net pretty wide. If I have inadvertently forget to check someone out then please forgive me.

Ranking amongst political blogs Ranking amongst all blogs
156 1696 The Rambles of Neil Monnery http://neilmonnery.co.uk/
185 2243 Julian’s musings http://warelane.wordpress.com/

 

 

The electronic window – who is writing the commentary

Bloggers blogging about blogs, online navel-gazing at its best/worst. So, what follows will either bore or excite.

Political blogging does affect elections; this is not disputed. Blogging often drives the news agenda, and those that get all their news and information from the internet are going stumble across blogs, whether deliberately or not. Those of us who blog regularly see a spike in hit rates at election times and when something really newsworthy is written about. This is no accident.

What is less certain is just what effect local blogging about local elections has. The reality is that however seemingly Herculean our efforts may be we are swamped by national news. But when what separates victory from defeat is numbered in handfuls of ballot papers then clearly an influence is magnified.

The blogosphere in Southend-on-Sea does not mirror the local power balance; it does approximate the national balance though. I am biased, but I think the best blogging comes from Labour, but the Tories do have a reasonable presence. The Tories have more bloggers, but their writing is not regular, and the quality is decidedly mixed.

I am somewhat embarrassed by my own numbers – which can be interpreted in a number of ways (for instance, do I actually have a life?) I think my blog has the most visitors, and this is a guess. I am not the most assiduous tweeter, and maybe I ought to do some sort of research there too.

Here is the state of play as regards to political bloggers in Southend-on-Sea – my apologies if there are any omissions.

author Party posts since elections address Last post
Cllr Julian Ware-Lane Lab 63 warelane.wordpress.com 21 July
Tony Cox Con 26 shoeburyblogger.blogspot.com 16 July
Nigel Holdcroft Con 25 nigel-holdcroft.blogspot.com 21 July
Matt Dent Lab 25 matthewsdent.wordpress.com 21 July
Cllr Mark Flewitt Con 18 markflewitt.wordpress.com 18 July
Neil Monnery Lib Dem 8 neilmonnery.co.uk 15 July
Paul Collins Lib Dem 6 paulcollins.mycouncillor.org.uk 10 June
Cllr James Courtenay Con 5 jamescourtenay.wordpress.com 18 July
Gray Sergeant Lab 5 graysergeant.blogspot.co.uk 22 June
Southend Fox Unaligned 3 southendfox.wordpress.com 2 June
Cllr Anne Chalk Ind 2 anne-chalk.blogspot.com 29 May

No UKIP bloggers, only Anne Chalk for the Independent Group. Paul Collins has retired his blog, so Neil Monnery is the sole flag-flyer for the Liberal Democrats. The field really does belong to the two major parties.

As the Tories adjust to life in opposition it will be interesting to see how their online presence develops.

My favourite non-Labour blogger in Southend? It has to be Nigel Holdcroft at the moment, whose writing is both intelligent and perceptive. I certainly do not agree with much that he writes, but I value what he contributes to the debate.

Done undone

In my travels around the political blogosphere in my corner of Essex I noticed that Jonathan Hodge’s blog is no more. The following message is now shown: This user has elected to delete their account and the content is no longer available.

Jonathan was the unsuccessful Conservative candidate in St Laurence ward last month. Does this mean his retirement from local politics, or is he setting himself up for a challenge away from St Laurence next year? I guess we will have to wait and see.

I also note that former Liberal Democrat councillor, Paul Collins, is also retiring his blog, although he is, for the moment anyway, allowing the content to remain visible.

Some bloggers just allow their blogging to lapse, making no announcement of a cessation of activity, whereas others give the appearance of death (through long periods of inactivity) only to come to life after months of doing nothing.

These periods of quiescence are annoying – as I like to read, and occasionally comment, on the writings of others I visit them in the vain hope that something has been added. Politiical commentary and debate is important, and for some nowadays their entire political education comes from the web.

The View from the Pier is a frustrating example of the ‘is it/is it not’ dead blog. I have no idea who was behind it, but it certainly looked very promising for a while. Some seven months have elapsed since the last posting, which is either a long holiday or they have given up.

Fuzziness

A couple of things strike me from reading a recent post by Independent councillor Anne Chalk (Heisenberg Rules Unfortunately). She complains: It is now time to let them vote and it is normal practice to visit the ward polling stations just to let those residents who have never met you in person know that you really exist before they finally cast their vote. The fact that there is no Labour or Lib-Dem presence anywhere doesn’t surprise the Independent or Conservative candidates who have now become accustomed to their quantum mechanical behavior.

She continues: these virtual Lib-Dem and Labour Candidates managed to appear on the ballot paper but disappeared before anyone had a chance to see them or ask them what they were going to do for Shoebury.

Firstly, I rarely visit polling stations – on polling day I have far too many other jobs. This year I managed to get to two out of the six that are in Milton. I do not understand Cllr Chalk’s criticism here. I usually do a short stint first thing on polling day, but I never seek to persuade people when doing in so – I think the polling station is not the place to do this.

Secondly, it was she, Cllr Chalk herself that stopped a Labour voice being heard at the badly organised Shoebury hustings.

Thirdly, Cllr Chalk appears to want to limit the choices available to Shoebury’s residents. I do not think democracy is at all served well if there is no socialist alternative on the ballot paper.

One thing Anne ought to be raging against is the virtual party – her Independent Group being a prime example. There is plenty of uncertainty, and very little principle, in that organisation.

Whilst mentioning the Shoebury hustings; I note that Cllr Nick Ward is a now a member of the Independent Group – despite stating that he would do no such thing.

At the hustings he was asked the direct question about whether he would join any group. He said he would not. The chair asked him to clarify: “So, you are saying that you will not join any group?” “That’s right” was Nick Ward’s reply.

This matters. It matters because if Cllr Ward cannot manage to keep to this relatively simple promise, how is anything else he says to be trusted? It also matters because of the proportionality arrangements that affect committee representation – and this is based on group numbers.

Other voices

As you would expect, Southend’s political bloggers have their individual takes on what happened last Thursday, and have offered up their views.

Southendfox writes (Southend’s hangover – A black day for Southend) : “the biggest losers were Southend residents and it is only this morning as they are waking up for the morning after the night before that they will realise this.

Clearly no fan of the Independents (whoever southendfox is they appear to be a St Luke’s resident).

Nigel Holdcroft (whose blog is now styled ‘a view from Nelson Street’ – I joked with him at the count that I should retitle mine as ‘a view from Nelson Road’) has written a couple of posts since Thursday. In A hung council he begins: “Well there we have it – every council officer’s worst nightmare, a hung council with no obvious grouping or pact to deliver a working majority.

Politics is the art of compromise, and we shall see who is most adept at this. Politics is also about pragmatism, for both politicians and the public servants they work with.

Mark Flewitt’s unique take on local issues leads him to describe the result as Ukipped!. He writes: “As the Agent for the St Laurence candidate, Jonathan Hodge, i have to accept some responsibility for not taking the seat”.

At least this is an honest appraisal of his role – I suspect too many will be looking to blame someone else for the failure to succeed on Thursday.

Tony Cox gets it. He writes (Vote UKIP Get Labour?): “The message from Thursday’s poll however, is that people want to see a change of administration here in Southend.

James Courtenay, whose Blenheim Park ward now enjoys councillors from three different parties, writes (Blenheim Park election result) : “From a Southend perspective it was a bad night for the Conservatives and I saw some hardworking colleagues including fellow Cabinet member Tony Cox lose their seats, at least in part, due to the national swing.

The part bit is correct – the Conservative decline in vote share has been a feature of the last decade. In 2004 they polled 49.5% across the borough, this year saw it drop to 30.3%. This cannot just be explained by the rise of UKIP, for in 2010 they polled 36.4%, and this against the backdrop of the General Election. Their decline has been a feature since 2000, with just small rises in 2003 and 2004 breaking a sequence of shrinking vote shares.

Paul Collins records the result (Westborough Ward Result; Borough Council Election 2014), thanks those who voted for him, and makes no attempt to deconstruct the result. Neil Monnery looks at the national picture (A tale of the type of voter the Lib Dems need to speak to) and states: “As a party and as activists we need to decide whether to embrace what the national party are doing or not.

I think the contradictions implied in Neil’s post are not the problem – it is the type of politics that allowed the Lib Dems to promise whatever they liked without thought of the consequences – and usually they were never held accountable for these promises. In the aftermath of 2010 they were exposed, in 2015 they will have to be more cautious in writing their campaign promises.

I finish this round-up with Jonathan Hodge. Under UKIP win St Laurence he writes: “Of course I am deeply concerned that the residents have voted for a party which essentially has two policies – ‘no more immigrants’ and ‘leave the EU’ – neither of which are even close to being within the control or mandate of a Southend Borough councillor. But actually even more that this, I am deeply concerned that the residents have voted for a candidate who none of the other candidates from the major parties have met at any point during the campaign (and I have now been working in the ward for around 20 hours a week for at least the past 12 months on local issues to help the residents). And the cherry on the cake is that the winner did not even bother to turn up to the count; a generic UKIP ‘spokesman’ accepted the victory on his behalf moments after leaving him two quite panicky voicemail messages.

Handbags at dawn

One or two councillors are in a tizzy over blogs. It seems that opposing councillors have been rather uncharitable about each other, possibly guilty of terminological inexactitudes even. This has led to a reminder being sent to all councillors to play nice.

I don’t think it is my turn to occupy the naughty step. I try to play the ball, but I confess to hitting the player on occasion.

There is a heavy hint of double standards at play here, though. Those doing the complaining today have been guilty of ungentlemanly (and ungentlewomanly) conduct in the past. Those living in glass houses etc.

I, unsurprisingly, am a fan of new media and its role in politics. Blogs allow interaction between politicians, activists and voters. Sometimes it can be combative, but on the whole it is well behaved. It also allows the spread of information in a way impossible before the advent of the world wide web.

Of course, there has to be some form of code of conduct for councillors and it is beholden on everyone to not knowingly misinform. But the occasional robust commentary is to be expected. I fear that too much interference in what is put online will produce an anodyne blogosphere for Southend-on-Sea’s bloggers and its followers.

I will try to play nice, but I cannot guarantee strict adherence. Politics should not be personal, but as in so many things there is a considerable amount of grey. In the meantime I suggest to those who have mounted their high horses to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

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