Continuing a Blenheim Park theme ….

It is no secret that I enjoy doorstep campaigning. It suits my personality. It also serves my ethos of taking politics to people. It is often a platter of surprises, and sometimes a dish of repetition. However it is served, pavement politics is where it matters for me.

Today’s plate was a dish of surprises in many ways. It began with a conversation that included “you look very handsome in your photo”! That is something that I am not often told, often I get quite the reverse. Pretty soon I bumped into one of my teachers from secondary school, a teacher who still remembered me some forty years later. I shan’t repeat the praise he gave me – I was a little puzzled because I am sure I was quite a naughty boy in those days. However, it was good to see him, and pleasing that he remembered me.

I met a cousin – someone who I knew little of and had never met before. On recognising the surname, after introducing myself I inquired of the young man “was your grandmother called Pauline?”. After an affirmative response I added “I think she was my aunt”. He fetched his dad, I was invited in, and a family reunion of sorts ensued.

I also met someone I had refereed on many occasions over the years. I don’t think I ever sent him off, at least he couldn’t recall such an occasion either.

As to the politics; it was a mixed reaction. There were Tories, although outnumbered by those confirming support for UKIP. Labour just about won in my small sample, although some of this will be down to my presence. No Liberal Democrats or Greens, despite Cllr Graham Longley’s name coming up more than once. As for issues, it was largely the NHS, immigration and the economy.

One resident was displeased with all his councillors who he felt had let him, and his neighbours, down. I suggested that he had the power to remove them, as all voters do. If your elected representatives are not cutting it then vote them out.

Matt Dent, standing in Blenheim Park - and standing in Blenheim Park

Matt Dent, standing in Blenheim Park – and standing in Blenheim Park

Are last orders looming for our traditional pubs?

I was pleased to see that the Southend Echo carried an article recently on the subject of traditional pubs (Closing time – last orders looming for our traditional pubs?)

Traditional community pubs are under threat, and this was why I introduced a motion to Full Council last December to help protect them. I wanted to ensure that planning permission and community consultation are required before community pubs were allowed to be converted to betting shops, supermarkets and pay-day loan stores or other uses, or allowed to be demolished.

My motion was backed by the Labour Group, and rejected by the then ruling Conservative Administration.

The Echo article showed that some historic pubs have already gone. Pubs are not only landmarks, they often are valuable community assets that have rich histories stretching back through the centuries. I think communities should have a say in what happens to them.

Why politics?

I once uttered, partly tongue in cheek, my disappointment at being elected – I was used to campaigning. My solution was to continue campaigning, and whilst not in pursuit of votes it was with the resolve that I would try my best to ensure the residents in Milton ward got the best representation I could manage.

You see, I do not engage in politics for the simple aim of being in power. I am trying, in my own small way, to help create a world where everyone is treated as equals and where peace abounds. I am also in it for the debate; I do not know all the questions, let alone the answers, in Rumsfeld-style it is unknown unknowns. I do not knowingly choose ignorance or the wrong path; I am just aware of my fallibility.

Just yesterday I had more conversations. One or two mutterings about all politicians being the same, all in it for themselves. “Of course, you are paid for doing this” said one, referring to my canvassing and campaigning activities. I happily informed said resident that I have never been paid for this – I doubt that any political activist of any persuasion is paid to knock on doors. Whilst elected politicians do receive recompense – for the last two and a half years I have had a councillor’s allowance – the majority of us are engaged in voluntary activity.

In part there is selfishness. I want a better world for me and my family. In large measure it is altruistic: I want a better world for everyone.

I have had a number of Conservative councillors in my home town tell me how easy opposition is. I think that six months into this new experience for them they have yet to really understand what has happened in Southend-on-Sea, and what they need to do improve their party’s fortunes locally. If opposition is easy then I suggest that they are not doing it properly. Whilst they may like to blame a whole range of factors, they cannot escape from the fact that they were given a comprehensive thumbs down by voters in Southend-on-Sea last May. They have been shut out of wards that until recently were considered Tory strongholds. I put this down to complacency, and if they think you can just turn up and do opposition with little effort or consideration of what it really takes to hold an administration to account then I suggest this as further evidence of complacent attitudes.

Complacency, or rather fear of it, also drives my compulsion to continue campaigning. It drives my desire to examine the world and my attitudes to it. Politicians should be alive to the issues that affect those elect them, they should also show leadership. I am not merely a conduit between Milton residents and the borough council, although there is an element of this in my role as a councillor. However, I do try to understand what is going on, what I can do about it, and also what is likely to affect people going forwards. It is not just the street-level parochial, bread-and-butter pavement politics issues – as this blog attests I take an interest in national and international issues.

Oooh, lukewarm but found at last

There we have it. It has only taken five hours, but I have found my first Tory.

I became cast-free a week ago, and since then I have managed just over five hours on the doorstep. Towards the end of today’s session I met my first Tory since returning to campaigning after injuring my foot. To be honest, though it was not a ringing endorsement.

I inquired how the resident was going to vote in next year’s General Election. “Probably Conservative” came the reply. Probably!

I inquired what he thought of the Cameron premiership. He thought he was “about 50%, no make that 60% good, 40% bad.”

So far, mostly Labour, a smattering of UKIP, and nothing else declared (sole Tory aside). Quite a few undecided though, which must include wavering Tories (and some unconvinced Labour supporters too). This is across three wards, and whilst I may have just stumbled on areas where the Conservatives (and Liberal Democrats) are weak, two of those wards have both Tory and Lib Dem councillors.

Doorstepping apres interruptus

The first door I knock on after returning from an injury-enforced lay-off from canvassing was not an auspicious start, for no sooner than I had announced myself as someone from the Labour Party when the resident said “I’m not interested” and shut the door firmly in my face. Welcome back!

Fortunately it got better.

I did stints in Kursaal and Chalkwell wards today. Not especially long stints, for not only was the weather indifferent but I am still limping. However, it was good to be out again.

Unusually I did not have a single conversation about dog poo, parking, or fly-tipping. Instead it seemed to me that minds were definitely tuned to the coming General Election as national topics were discussed. The top three items today were the cost of living, the National Health Service, and the European Union.

I found one Tory, or perhaps more accurately one former Tory as this resident was definitely undecided who to plump for nowadays. Now, not finding a Tory in Kursaal is not especially unusual, but I expected to find some in a ward that is represented by three of the species.

I spied no Liberal Democrat or Green supporters either; it was all UKIP or Labour, with Labour winning by a ratio of three to one. I know that some when confronted by a Labour activist will either say what they think the activist wants to here or keep their allegiances secret – some. Finding no-one prepared to express a preference for either of the governing parties was quite a revelation. Green support is quite weak in my home borough, and they barely register at the best of times; so no surprises that I came across no-one declaring for them.

UKIP are gaining some traction, but I did find that those opting for them would at least chat, and some said they would look into the Labour offer for Southend-on-Sea.

Does this mean very much at all? Not really, because in truth despite my best endeavours it was still a fairly small sample. Nonetheless, I really sense a Conservative Party in trouble, at least in parts of the town. It also suggests that what we saw in the local elections six months could easily be repeated next May, that is even more Conservative losses in the council chamber.

Parliamentary candidate breaks foot whilst canvassing!!!!

Modelling the latest must-have accessory!

Modelling the latest must-have accessory!

I am asked what it is like going out and knocking on strangers’ doors. I always reply that it is great fun and the best bit about being a political activist.

Of course there are drawbacks; I am always cautious of dogs. As a child I suffered from cynophobia – fear of dogs – something that I am not entirely over. I encounter many, of course, and I have to say that the overwhelming majority of dog owners are very considerate. I like walking dogs that I know and trust, and I am only really troubled by large or aggressive dogs. I have twice been bitten whilst politicking; both times on Canvey Island, and both within a week of each other in the run up to the 2010 General Election. The first occasion the very small dog only managed to sink its teeth into trouser fabric before being chased off by its embarrassed owner. The second was when delivering an out card; the silent dog managed to draw blood from my right middle finger.

I nearly had heart failure when chased out of a front garden by an alsation (again on Canvey Island!) I also got chased out of a garden in Rayleigh – although that was probably my fear rather than the dog’s fault. I did once get trapped by a couple of dogs in Pitsea when leafleting for Angela Smith and had to be rescued by a passing motorist. These dogs were left to roam in their front garden, and leapt the wall as I approached – quite where the owners were and why that did not have control of their dogs are unanswered questions.

I have had numerous cuts from letterboxes – I cannot be the only campaigner who prefers those wall-mounted letterboxes, which are both discreet and allow leaflets to be delivered without injury to either hands or the material being delivered.

I can only recall two truly aggressive residents, and both were in Milton ward. I am usually unfazed by people – in twenty-eight years as a football referee I had to deal with the occasional aggressive individual. As a referee you have the full majesty of the Football Association behind you, as a politician retreat is the best option.

Last Sunday I was canvassing in Princes Street (Southend-on-Sea, in Milton ward). Despite giving much of my time over to my Parliamentary campaign in Southend West I still have responsibilities in the ward I represent on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, which I am determined not to neglect. Anyway I turned my ankle on someone’s concreted drive, I failed to spot a slight slope. As I reported this was very painful. As I can work from home I took this option for the first four days of last week.. By Friday I decided I had to get to the office (I am not very good at hanging around indoors for any length of time). Driving was alright provided I did not have to brake hard, and I managed to park close enough (using the visitiors’ car park) to make it reasonably short hobble to my desk. A long day in the office was a mistake, and by the time I limped back to my car I was quite uncomfortable. Despite several minutes with my foot immersed in icy water when I got home it did not look great.

Hence to A&E at Southend University Hospital and the x-ray that confirmed that it was not just bruising; I had broken a bone in my foot. I am now wearing a velcro cast, and have an appointment with the Fracture Clinic on Tuesday. I cannot drive and am condemned to being largely housebound for four to five weeks, unless I can find people willing to chauffeur me about.

I must mention my A&E experience. The staff were very good, and I was seen far faster than I had anticipated. It was almost disappointing – so quick were they that I made little headway with the Lenin biography that accompanied my visit.

Campaigning does not stop, but it certainly pauses as far as I am concerned. Drat!

Labour aghast at road damage payouts – and promise to work for better roads in future

My latest press release:

Reg Copley and JUlian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

Reg Copley and Julian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

When it was revealed recently that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had paid out over £300,000 in compensation because of defects with its poorly maintained road, Reg Copley (Labour’s spokesperson for St Laurence ward) was aghast.This large amount was paid out during the last five full years of the previous Conservative administration.

“This compensation, presumably paid out to recompense for the damage to vehicles caused by Tory neglect of our roads, is money that ultimately comes from the pockets of tax-payers,” says Reg. “One wonders what else this money could have been used for,” he added.

“I suspect that this only reflects the most serious cases – one can imagine many not bothering to claim. As it is it amounts to more than £1000 per week on average, every week of the year.”

Labour’s spokesperson for Transport, Public Protection and Waste, Clr Julian Ware-Lane, has frequently highlighted the poor state of Southend’s roads, a real nuisance for motorists, cyclist, and pedestrians.

Julian said: “This is more financial waste from a Conservative controlled council, at a time when budgets are under pressure. I will work with the new administration to promote the needs of road users.”


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