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.

Chalked up for the monkeys

Chalk123Is there discord in the Independent camp? Have Cllrs Assenheim and Chalk fallen out? I ask because Cllr Anne Chalk now refers to her Shoeburyness colleague as the fourth wise monkey.

She has re-worded her original post – where she now has “And yes the one on the right is covering himself up!” – it originally stated: “And if you didn’t notice straight away, yes the one on the far right is covering his genitals!” Not sure if the re-wording is an improvement or not.

The one “on the far right” is Cllr Mike Assenheim.

I’d prefer more buses

Cllr James Courtenay compares his blogging to buses, which whilst a flippant remark speaks volumes about the quality of service in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea. Now to what the Blenheim Park Conservative councillor has written recently ….

In a post entitled Children’s Centres: listening to residents is this: “… the Council to review its proposals and re-consult parents and residents …”. This seemingly innocuous remark hides the truth that the original consultation was flawed and that they have to re-run it to establish what the users and residents want. The original survey cost £2,774 – and whilst this is not a large sum it is another example of wasted money.

James also addresses the issues surrounding the proposed closure of Deanes School in Thundersley by Tory controlled Essex County Council (interesting timing that announcement, after the local elections). A number of the Borough’s children cross the Castle Point boundary to attend that school (I do not have the figures, but I personally know some pupils). You can imagine that some parents in Castle Point will be considering schools in Southend – I suggest that there should be room at the town’s grammar schools as these already import most of their intake from outside of Southend (and, in some cases, outside of Essex). The closure announcement is shocking news and it shows that Government cuts, eagerly mirrored by Tory local authorities, do strike at the heart of communities and do attack essential services.

James writes in his latest post that “It has been said, usually by the same few opposition councillors to be fair, by those who like to put down our town that our schools are doing badly, getting worse or we are falling asleep at the helm.” I am not sure whether he was thinking of me when he wrote this, but I have certainly been critical of his performance as portfolio holder for Children and Learning. This is not a criticism of schools or pupils, but rather of their political leadership at the council. I do believe James has been complacent, and he gives the impression of being unconcerned that Southend lags behind national averages in many measures of educational attainment. I am pleased that progress in some areas is evidently happening, but there is a long way to go.

Try a little logical discipline Anne

Dear Anne

An accidental benefit of sorts gained from being irregular with your blogging is that I eventually respond to an article, having grown fed up with seeing the same article day after day and your misinformation unquestioned.

I refer to your three week-old post entitled “Stop Kidding us about the Spy Car Councillor Cox”.

I am not minded to defend Cllr Cox in particular, for as charming as he is he is still the political enemy. What I do not like is lazy assumptions and policies that will ultimately undermine the council’s ability to deliver for its people.

So, to your article: You produce evidence that indicates that the rate of parking notifications has changed markedly. I do not deny this. What I struggle with your assertion that this is because “the traffic penalty adjudicator James Richardson ruled the use of the vehicle to be out of line with government recommendations”.

This irks me, not least because you have no proof that this is the case. Whilst what you say could be true, so could the following

  • The Spy Cars operated in fewer hours
  • Motorists behaviour has modified
  • The operators of the Spy Cars have responded to concerns over their application of commonsense
  • Different routes were employed
  • There were fewer vehicles on the road

I make no special claim for any of these; I only state that any have as much chance of being true. In fact, my money would be on a combination of factors.

I am not sure why the Spy Car being used to raise revenue is such a bad thing. The council has to find money and I cannot see why this could not come from stupid and irresponsible motorists. Ultimately, motorists who obey the law pay no fines.

As for targeting – again isn’t this to be commended? There are parking black spots in our town and to focus on these makes sense to me. I know that you, for instance, have requested that these vehicles visit places in your ward – isn’t this targeting?

I have no special knowledge of Shoeburyness but I have seen no evidence to back up your claim that Cllr Cox is “kidding” anyone. You may be opposed to the idea of enforcement by these vehicles, but you cannot deny that bad and irresponsible parking is both a hindrance and a hazard. Perhaps we should abandon all traffic enforcement in your ward – I suspect your ears would soon be burning if this was to happen.

Instead of scaremongering you should come up with good argument as to why your ward should be exempt from traffic rules that the rest of us have to obey.

As for your blogging in general – tell Bernard to pull his finger out!

Sincerely

In breathless anticipation

Southend’s political blogging community is a decidedly mixed bunch. Some are assiduous in regularly updating their blogs whilst others are intermittent in their contributions. Conservative councillor Louise Burdett is in the latter category. Her contributions resemble annual entrants in a floral competition; she blooms in August, where she has a spurt of activity. She then goes into hibernation, seemingly building up her reserves for eleven months before once again regaling us with her world view.

Her last contribution (August 23rd) is a real tease: entitled My thoughts on education Part 1. This is more than a hint of things to come, although when part 2 does finally arrive will we be left wondering whether this is the middle instalment of a trilogy? Does the Kursaal Tormentor espy a career as a serial writer whilst she develops a penchant for the cliff-hanger? Will she reveal the remainder of her thoughts on education – did the butler do it?

My metaphorical breathe-holding continues …

Do the Independent Group know who their councillors are?

It is more than five months since the last lot of local elections in Southend-on-Sea, more than enough time for even the busiest of website administrators to update the most basic of information – or so you would have thought.

The Independent Group’s website has a page dedicated to its councillors, and this shows Anthony Delaney as one of their number. He retired from the council chamber in May.

The page also omits to mention their three new councillors: Stephen Aylen, Brian Ayling, and Ric Morgan.

I have maintained party websites and so I know the amount of work involved. No-one expects instant updates, but five months is pretty poor, especially as some of the Independents have been known to criticise the council website. Still, wouldn’t want to accuse them of double standards.

Not yet muzzled

Some Independent councillors are seeking to limit councillor blogging. Cllrs Terry, Chalk and Woodley are arguing that blogs, such as this, stifle debate. Their argument runs that people like me, by exposing confidential emails, interrupt discourse. Their argument falls down when it is pointed out that I have actually published nothing that can be described as confidential.

Cllr Chalk has even argued that by publishing information I have muddied the waters – I am guilty, she asserts, of attempting information overload.

These Independents are seeking to amend the councillors’ code of conduct in an attempt to muzzle voices that they do not approve of.

Whilst attempts have been made to have my conduct disciplined I have yet to be placed on the naughty step.

What have I written, you may inquire, that has caused such a stir? Well, much councillor umbrage was taken over my opposition to Council Teas, and I published Cllr Crystall’s wish for the privatisation of the meals on wheels service (with his permission). I was called a bully for stating that no Independent representative was present as a shadow portfolio holders meeting.

Call me insensitive, but I do not see that any of these are particularly inflammatory (or, to use Cllr Terry’s words – “anti-democratic”).

I like to think that I am enhancing debate. This blog is a mixture of news, debate, and self-indulgent twaddle. The news bits, I hope, inform. If the Independents wish for a secret society then I guess they are entitled to hold that view – I, however, like to think that my blog is a small window into the way my town is run. Imperfect and biased, all too true – but I have no objections to my opponents putting their versions out there.

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