Tory councillor forgets he is complicit in the neglect of cliffs slippage

Sole remaining Milton Conservative councillor Jonathan Garston appears to be suffering from amnesia. This is the only conclusion one can arrive at after reading his comments about the cliffs slippage by Clifton Drive in Westcliff-on-Sea.

The cliffs slipped here after the August 2013 deluge – some twelve months ago, not the seven or eight that the deliberately forgetful Tory councillor asserts. Ten of those twelve months saw the borough run by the Conservatives, with Jonathan as Cabinet portfolio holder for planning. His legendary underperformance in this role was even acknowledged by his own party as they scrapped the post.

His wish for funding did not extend to his forcefully asking for this at any Council meeting I attended. This area sat largely neglected, and any tidying up it received came about through my intervention.

The area will require cash to fix it; and thanks to cuts imposed by Conservative-led Government cash is in short supply. Cllr J Garston may now hope “the area would have been opened up two months ago”, but this wish was unvoiced at the time (when his party still held the reins of power locally). Perhaps he can now remind us (since this is in a conservation area) why he failed to fulfil his promise of more regular Conservation Working Party meetings during his tenure in charge of this area?

Definitely uncertain – the problem for the Dud

The Rochford and Southend East constituency consists of ten wards, eight of which lie within the Borough of Southend-on-Sea and two are in Rochford District.

In all its incarnations this constituency has seen nothing but Conservative candidates returned to Parliament in the last hundred years.

If you add up the votes from May’s elections in these ten wards you get this:

26.6% Independent (9 candidates)
23.2% Conservative (10)
17.9% Labour (10)
12.5% UKIP (6)
3.4% Liberal Democrat (8)
1.5% Green (2)
0.1% National Front (1)

No Conservative victories (unprecedented as far as I can recall) in the local elections coupled with a reducing activist base means that James Duddridge MP has a problem, a very big problem. He remains favourite for next May’s General Election when increased turnout and a decision about who occupies 10 Downing Street should see him scrape in. However, it is far from clear cut, and from what I have seen he will be hoping that his party’s popularity improves because his own standing in the constituency is plummeting.

Mr Duddridge will hope that many who voted Independent in local elections will swing behind him in the national election, yet this is far from certain, and with a dwindling pool of helpers he will have to find reserves of energy not seen in his tenure so far. His ability to shoot himself in the foot with alarming regularity has also got to be reversed.

If he reads his political history he will take no comfort from the 1980 by-election result in the then Southend East constituency which saw Teddy Taylor crawl over the finishing with a mere 430 vote majority – in large measure due to Liberal candidate. As Clegg could not catch a cold at the moment this is not going to help the Dud this time.

The 1980 result:

36.8% Conservative
35.6% Labour
25.1% Liberal
2.5% others

Nice try!

Nigel Holdcroft is employing his best seduction techniques in an attempt to make this idiot even more useful (The trials of an Administration supporting blogger). He woos me when I take a swipe at other parties, and plays hurt when my faculties are either trained on the Tories or not employed at all.

I am not yet at the stage of sitting cross-legged in my garden, pulling petals off a daisy to the mutterings of “he loves me, he loves me not”, but I can imagine Nige thinking this day is not far off.

It is true that moving from Opposition to Administration does present challenges, more so when one is shackled with partners that ordinarily I often disagree with. However, let me reassure those viewing from Nelson Street that I have lost none of my fire when it comes to issues of equality and fairness.

The truth, though, is that I am signatory to an agreement and that what has mostly been announced emanates from policy enshrined in that agreement. Whilst I was critical of how some announcements were made (and the language employed in one or two instances), nonetheless I do welcome what was announced.

Of course, I am wary that we may be seeing the beginnings of a jam tomorrow strategy – promising to fix everything is laudable, but dangerous. Whatever good news is being delivered today, I cannot see any way to avoid delivering a lot of pain later. Every promise to purchase a failing hotel, for instance, must mean something being cut elsewhere. However, as I said to Nige (when he was important): “if Labour had managed a landslide in Southend and wrested control from the current administration last May then we would be facing the same difficult choices. We would, though, be lambasting the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government that is forcing these cuts on us.” (March 2013)

I note, though, that even Mr Holdcroft cannot resist asking for more expenditure, asking for Scrutiny Committees to be webcast is not a cost-free exercise (I remind him that the webcasting of Full Council costs about £3000 a meeting).

Weak analysis by Mr Rejected

Nigel Holdcroft’s psephological writing has left me wondering whether he really does not know his stuff, or is deliberately choosing the blinkered approach. Either way, his attempt to explain away the May election results in Southend-on-Sea as some sort of short-term blip is wide of the mark – very wide.

He is bound to defend his record, but this obstructs objective analysis of what went on. His party’s rejection this May needs to be looked at in context.

Before we look at the facts I feel obliged to offer Nigel, and his fellow Southend Tories, a bit of advice. If you continue to act and speak as if this year’s rejection was a one-off and that things will return to normal (i.e. Southend back in Tory hands) in pretty short order then you will be disappointed. You have got to face up to one obvious fact: Southenders did not like what you were doing to the town. Unless you admit this and change tack you will suffer further losses.

Nigel has written: As it was the Conservatives polled aprox 30% of the vote acroo the Town, well ahead of UKIP with 19% and the rest from 18% downwards

This is broadly correct as it is, although it avoids the most obvious conclusion from these numbers. First, though, a reminder of what happened in May:

30.29% Conservative
19.10% Independent
18.99% Labour
17.50% UKIP
12.96% Liberal Democrat
1.23% Green
0.04% National Front

The Conservatives, it could be argued, won in the Borough. I think a more accurate telling of the story is to state that with 69.71% voting for other parties it was quite a rejection.

The context of these elections is of a town that has only ever elected Conservative MPs since 1906 and has seen the local authority run by the Tories for far more years than they have sat in opposition. The fracturing of the anti-Tory vote in many ways emphasises the desperation of residents keen to see anyone without a blue rosette elected. I accept that this does not really account for the UKIP surge, which in many ways demonstrates that even the Tory faithful have begun to lose their faith.

I have always said, though, that any election taken in isolation can only tell part of the story. Thus, we should look at the story over a number of elections, and this shows a steadily declining Conservative vote in the town. 2014 was no one-off, but rather a continuation of a trend begun in 2005; a trend that shows the Conservative vote dwindling year after year.

To be fair, during the same period there has been only a modest growth in the Labour vote (from 16.6%). It is the vote of the ‘other parties’ (other than Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) that has grown considerably over the last decade (from 7.8% to 37.8%). To complete the story the Liberal Democrat has halved over the same period.

So Nigel, you may think that in the “ West … the picture looks strong” and you maybe “looking forward to a strong blue fightback in the East” but unless things change in your party I do not see why you think as you do. It is somewhat arrogant to think that any rejection was a blip and that the electorate will suddenly change their minds and think you were alright all along.

Mind you, perhaps I should encourage you to continue thinking this way. After all, your loss is my gain.

Perhaps ambiguous

All of Southend-on-Sea’s councillors have a page on the Borough Council’s website. This page includes details about their occupation; mine shows ‘IT Consultant’

Cllr Mark Flewitt’s (Conservative, St Laurence) page shows this: Credit Controller and Library Assistant

Libraries are run by the local authority. You cannot be a councillor if you are employed by the Council. Therefore, I find this distinctly odd – I shall make inquiries.

Of course, this may be a mis-description, or I may be mis-reading what is put here. At the very least, though, it is ambiguous.

A look at the Tories in opposition

This week has given us an opportunity to see how Southend’s Tories are shaping up in Opposition. It is early days, yet some trends are already developing. The most obvious is just how isolated the Tories are, and how crushing the defeats of recent years have been.

They decided to go for a named vote in yesterday’s Full Council, which served only to show just how big a job they have to get anywhere near power in the next few years (they lost this 15 – 28). Nominally there are two opposition parties in Southend-on-Sea, but UKIP are developing a tendency to vote with the Joint Administration.

The Conservatives have nineteen councillors at the moment, and I think that there is still some way to go in their retreat. They have a very fragile hold on some wards in the east of the borough, and can only claim a clean sweep in just three wards (Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and West Leigh). It was telling that they were overlooked by the Mayor on occasion as most of the business was being undertaken on ‘our’ side of the chamber.

Former portfolio holders are showing some mettle at the moment and some intelligent questioning is coming from them. When they stick to the detail they are worth listening to, but some cannot resist grandstanding, and giving every appearance of thinking the electorate wrong and they were right. If I can offer any advice I suggest a little humility should be practised.

Cllr James Courtenay is intent on rescuing his reputation, somehow believing that we will all suddenly believe in the reverse of what the evidence has shown us in recent years. This is not going to happen, and if he continues to attempt this hopeless salvage operation he will only make himself look ridiculous. Cllr Lamb put in a measured performance, as did others. Some have given the impression this week of jostling for position in an anticipated leadership contest, although this may be my fevered imagination.

It is no good complaining about the cost of reviews and then in the next breath attempting to trap the Joint Administration into committing money elsewhere. Cllr Flewitt’s somewhat lacklustre plea for wider consultation, for instance, deserves an explanation about its funding just as much as any second look at flood defences, etc.

I am also minded to remind those who once reigned supreme that if they had not made so much of a hash of things in the first place then these reviews would not be needed.

I am uncertain whether the Tories will ever regain power in Southend’s Council chamber, although the cyclical nature of politics suggests their time will come again, one day. One thing I am certain of, though, is that this is not going to happen any time soon. The race back to the top is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and unless they start admitting to their failings in office it will be a long run marathon.

Defeat is a time for reflection, a time to take stock and to admit to failings. To think that you have nothing to learn is to fail to listen to the electorate, and this is the road to nowhere.

Inconsistencies (jumping on any passing bandwagon)

Some of Cllr Mark Flewitt’s posts require close reading, if only because of the grammar defying nature of much that he writes. The Conservative member for St Laurence is currently hopping onto the Thornford Gardens action group’s bandwagon. See TAG is getting it’s point across

Two thoughts struck me on reading this. Firstly, Cllr Flewitt has been vociferous in his objection to a speculative garden grab, yet is objecting to a brownfield development. Quite where are we supposed to build houses is beyond me. Oh yeah, the answer is always ‘elsewhere’.

The picture of TAG (Mark has a predilection for TLAs) shows the SKIPP triumvirate (Mark, Patsy and Sheena). It occurred to me that they (SKIPP) are campaigning for a museum to hold the Saxon burial articles to be built in Priory Park (instead of on the Cliffs). This museum will generate traffic – which begs the question as to why traffic associated with housing is bad in their eyes, but museum traffic is good?

South Thanet

I cannot pretend to have a great deal of knowledge about South Thanet. I think my paternal grandmother was born there, and many years ago I twice visited Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park. I have some ancestors (Goldsack, on my maternal line) from Deal, which is not too far away.

It is a politically interesting place. It was a safe Conservative seat until Jonathan Aitken perjured himself. It went red in the Blair landslide of 1997, and stayed that way until 2010.

year Con % Lab %
1983 56.5 19.4
1987 54.3 20.9
1992 51.7 28.1
1997 39.8 46.2
2001 41.1 45.7
2005 38.8 40.4
2010 48.0 31.4

Laura Sandys is the current MP, but she is standing down. There will be no incumbency factor for Craig Mackinlay who CCHQ hope will replace her.

In 2005 a certain Nigel Farage stood, getting a modest 5% of the vote. In 2010 UKIP’s vote share leapt (sic) to 5.5% (not Farage this time). Nigel has expressed an interest in contesting this seat again, leading Mike Smithson of to state: My money’s now going on LAB in this tight 3-way marginal

Will Scobie is Labour’s candidate here.

Another take on that West Shoebury result

On a personal level I get on very well with the former West Shoebury Conservative Councillor, Tony Cox. Our politics are some distance apart, although there will be some things we can agree on. I like him because it is easy to know where you stand with him – he speaks his mind. This does not endear him to everyone, but at least you cannot accuse him of saying one thing whilst doing another.

For some he has become a bogeyman because his portfolio, when in office, covered sea defences and the CCTV enforcement vehicle. This attracted all sorts of ire, some of it justified. This is cited as being the principle reason why he was unseated. I disagree with this analysis, although I accept that this was a contributing factor.

I think his fall came about largely because of the unpopularity of his party in Southend-on-Sea, and in large measure this is driven by the poor record of the David Cameron-led Government. Austerity and cuts to public services, in my experience, have not gone down well with voters. Add into the mix the switching off of supporters once their party achieves power nationally, and you begin to understand what really happened in West Shoebury (and this will explain Tory losses across the borough too).

The graph shows the votes attracted by local government candidates in West Shoebury in 2010 and since.WestShoebury2010-2014

Two obvious things stick out: the steady decline of the Conservative vote, and the steady rise in UKIP’s fortunes. Tony Cox managed to turn around the decline in the Conservative vote, although this is likely to be caused by his hard work as any real increase in love for his party.

If you add together the 2010 votes for UKIP, BNP and the Independent you will see they collectively attracted 1265. The BNP and the Independent did not stand in West Shoebury this year; and whilst it may be speculative, there is some logic in assuming that their votes transferred en bloc to UKIP in their absence. UKIP’s James Moyies (now Cllr Moyies) got 1226 – which in context is not as wonderful as first appears. True, it is a significant improvement on their previous polling, but given my assumption about vote transfers you could credibly claim his vote has gone backwards.

My analysis is crude and should really be backed up by some proper fieldwork. However, I am attempting to show that some assumptions about what happened last month can at least be challenged. My analysis is crude, but is it any cruder than other claims about what happened and why?

My obvious preference is for a Labour victory in West Shoebury, and this is something we will continue to work for. Ordinarily I would cheer a Conservative defeat, but not here. This has nothing to do with Mr Cox, and everything to do with the fact that I see UKIP as being far worse than the Tories.

Onwards into battle men, I am right behind you

The Member of Parliament for Rochford and Southend East has made it known that he now believes the Council’s plans for the sea defences in Shoebury should be dropped. The Southend Echo headline in today’s edition says: Now Shoebury’s MP says seawall should be axed

I wonder what former Conservative councillors Roger Hadley and Tony Cox will make of this? They backed the Council’s plans, and this brave decision certainly had a big impact on the elections they fought. It could be argued that they were unseated because they backed the Council’s plans for a seawall. Now seeing this decision rubbished by James Duddridge surely rubs salt into the wounds.

It cannot be encouraging to see your troops sent into battle, annihilated, then announce the battle was fought in vain.

For the record I backed the Council’s plan, as did most Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors. We need to improve sea defences, and the Council’s plan looked most cost effective. However, there are a number of questions that need answering and a review does make sense. What I cannot imagine is a review deciding not to make any improvements to Shoebury’s sea defences.

Of course, this is not really an argument about sea defences at all – it is the fear of new housing on a green area. I do not think that whatever plan is approved necessarily means that housing must automatically follow, and if new homes are to be built then the Council must fulfil its obligations in respect of social housing.

Anyway, Tony and Roger must feel deep satisfaction in sticking to their principles, and seeing their hapless Parliamentary representative make their selfless sacrifice look totally unwarranted.

I had to laugh at this quote from hapless James: I have gone from a 5,000 majority to an 11,000 majority by working hard for my 21,000 constituents.

There are over 71,000 voters in Rochford and Southend East, plus thousands who cannot vote or who are not registered. James is way short of the mark in estimating the number of constituents. Doh!


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