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!


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.

A hammer, some nails, and a plate of jelly

Councillor Anne Chalk

24 August 2012 A Challenge for Councillor Cox Tony Cox
22 August 2012 Wacky Leaks Me
21 July 2012 Gone but not forgotten
3 July 2012 Massive Announcement after 50 Years Me
31 May 2012 Exposing internal emails Tony Cox
23 May 2012 Campaign to stop Beach Huts on East beach Peter Ashley
18 May 2012 Spy Cars forced to use common sense Tony Cox

Councillor Martin Terry

12 April 2012 Find your Polling Station

The above two tables show the posts that are currently on the front page of two Independent councillors’ blogs. The third column indicates who they have had a swipe at in these posts.

Now, I am not above having a swipe at my opponents, although I hope this is at their words and deeds and is not personal. Yet any perusal through this blog will find that I mostly concentrate on issues.

I get off lightly compared to Tony Cox and Anna Waite; I expect criticism if for no other reason than that I write more than most. What I do object is when these Independents cry foul over the merest hint of a slight and then indulge in obsessive personality politics themselves.

I can object to much in the politics of Tony Cox and Anna Waite, but at least I know what they stand for. The Independents write little that can be interpreted as policy, largely as their disparate group find it hard to have a fixed opinion on anything. Being anti-politics is a nice shield to hide behind when you have nothing to contribute to the issues of the day.

I do allow two exceptions amongst the Independents. Claire Bibby may mutilate our beautiful language at times, but she does at least try to tackle the issues of the day and I am not afraid to admit I am a regular reader of her blog. Brain Ayling writes little, but we are comrades-in-arms against some of the maddening development decisions taken by Southend-on-Sea Borough council.

For the rest, arguing with the Independents is rather akin to nailing jelly to a wall.

A lack of confidence

I accept that there is bound to be mud-slinging in politics, but I would hope that some attempt at accuracy would be attempted.

A number of people, most recently Cllr Chalk, have accused me of publishing confidential emails – this is a lie. I have leaked one email, that on Council Teas, and I felt (and still believe) that there was public interest in this. This email was not marked as confidential, and I would hope that the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council would be open and honest on what it spends its money on.

I get many emails, most of which remain private. I have sought permission to publish on the rare occasion when I have wanted to.

The problem is is that some people think they can say stupid things and get away with it, and be hypocritical and not have this exposed.

As to whether putting information out is “bombarding the public” – I would rather do this than operate as a secret society.

Various and vicarious

Having a voice online, and holding anything like a high profile position in the Labour Party, means that one’s utterances are often taken as the Voice of Labour. High profile means any officer position within the local organisation, or being elected.

I am not the Voice of Labour, not always anyway. I have had that role; being a Parliamentary candidate (twice) meant that I have been the Labour voice in Rayleigh (2005) and Castle Point (2010).

I can be the Voice. My (gradually reducing) roles mean that I can speak authoritatively on some matters. Otherwise, my views are the mere opinion of someone who happens to be a member of the Labour Party.

There are a number of Labour-supporting blogs in my corner of Essex. We do not all sound the same, and sometimes we disagree. We are not clones of each other, and debate and disagreement is an essential part of the political process. Actually, Labour in my corner of Essex is pretty united, but differences of opinion are there from time to time.

The official voice of the party locally is usually through the office of press officer. Each CLP, the LCF, and the Labour Group has a press officer and it must happen one day when they all express contrary opinions.

The web is a newish battleground politically, growing in importance but not yet the deciding factor in elections. However, I can attest that this blog, for instance, becomes a lot more popular in the few weeks before polling day and I am sure this is true for other blogs.

It is noticeable that some politicians create blogs just for the short campaign. The quality of debate is mixed, although I accept that what I like to read is a matter of taste. I do read the blogs of my opponents, and some of them I actually enjoy. Some of what they write makes me wince, but I can imagine that my occasional forays into absurdity must make my opponents wonder about my sanity (and to be honest I do wonder myself).

So, what blogs would I recommend? I still think Tony Cox is best amongst the Tories. He ticks a number of boxes for me: he writes regularly, speaks his mind, and comes across as a decent (if misguided) human being. The Independents give the appearance of having taken to the internet just for the short campaign, and too many are identikit copies of each other. Claire Bibby may be in desperate need of a proof-reader, but at least she sounds genuine and does not bang on about Anna Waite all the time.

Neil Monnery is guilty of being over-wordy, and occasionally maudlin, but his blog does include some real gems. He has little competition amongst Liberal Democrats in Southend, but if one also includes Online Focus (from Rochford) he would still stand out as the best from the yellows. I used to really enjoy Online Focus, but it has rather lost any political content of late.

I am an unashamed fan of Jack Monroe, but if I was to pick another Labour blog I would go for Ian Gilbert’s. He writes well, but not frequently enough for my liking. I am convinced that if anyone wants to make an impact as a blogger than one thing they have to crack is to have regular new material.


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