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 Politicalbetting.com 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!

Another in a long line of dodgy leaflets from Milton’s Conservatives

VicLee2Milton’s Conservative candidate thinks Southend residents are fortunate to have first class Sporting facilities available to them – I think the real picture is less than rosy.

Sporting facilities in the borough are indifferent in my experience. In the thirty years I have been involved with local football, for example, the quality of pitches and changing facilities has declined, and this against a trebling, if not quadrupling, of hire charges.

Vic Lee apparently finds it acceptable to rob Milton residents of their swimming pool and make them travel to Garons (which has an inadequate bus service). The swimming pool should have remained in the town centre.

There is only one skateboard park in the town, by Leigh rail station. There should be more.

The Olympic mountain bike course that he boasts about is actually in Castle Point.

Whilst I do not claim it is all bad in the borough, it could be better.

It is Vic’s party that has consistently dumped on Milton. Will he oppose the plans to move the Seaway Coach Park to Warrior Square? Does he recoil in disgust at the ugly architecture that has been foisted on the town centre? Is he appalled by the wasted millions spent by his party on vanity projects in the town?

And what, precisely, does he mean by local? OK, he lives in the borough – just. His Shoeburyness residence is a stone’s throw from the borough boundary. By his definition every candidate is local, which makes the phrase meaningless. He is no more “The local choice” then any of the other four on the ballot paper. Yet more misinformation.

Unlike Mr Lee, I have no qualms about encouraging residents to support my party in both local and European elections. Use all your votes for Labour, please.

The truth is putting its trousers on

VicLeeVic Lee is being somewhat less than truthful when he claims that the changes to the traffic island outside of the Cliffs Pavilion were due to “a hard fought campaign by Milton Conservatives”.

The idea that either Cllr Caunce or Cllr J. Garston would fight hard for anything might stretch credibility in some people’s eyes – they certainly have done very little to arrest the over-development that is endemic to the area.

However, the changes to this traffic island and adjacent road layout came as a result of funding from the Better Bus Area Projects, and I was as involved in discussions as the two Conservative councillors.

I must say, though, that the changes to the traffic island are not entirely to my satisfaction: I would have preferred to see a third pedestrian crossing (going east-west) and bee-friendly shrubs (instead of the palms that the Council has a fetish about).

This leaflet also mentions the Milton Neighbourhood Meetings (which Mr Lee calls a Police Action Panel). At the end of last night’s meeting Mr Lee decided to show some residents his election campaign material. He only put this away after I objected, but I wonder how he could think it at all acceptable to tout for votes at these sort of meetings.

Vic is another who likes to show his local campaigner credentials – except that he lives five miles from the ward, and has only been seen doing anything in the last month or so.

I note that this is yet another Conservative leaflet with councillor email addresses on it. I can say with some certainty that it looks like it is only the Labour Party in Southend-on-Sea that plays by the rules.

Two peas in a pod

PeasPod

Alex Kaye – about to be retired by her voters

AlexKaye

When Alex Kaye left the Independent Group last year to join the Conservative Party it clearly was a move not inspired by thoughts of political survival. Hers is the most vulnerable Conservative seat this year. In 2012 (Southend-on-Sea had no local elections in 2013) the Independent candidate triumphed with a 1342 majority over the second-placed Tory. If Alex survives it will be a huge shock – though doubtless she believes it is possible. She has incumbency on her side, at least.

I think the banning of dogs on the beach during the warmer months is a good idea, Alex does not. It is a central plank of her re-election campaign. That, and issues around road safety and parking dominate her leaflet.

I note that she uses her councillor email address – this is wrong. You cannot use council resources when fighting elections.

Wot she ain’t learn’d

LadnerIt is not until you reach the bottom of the leaflet that you see a mention of Jane Ladner’s (Conservative) party. There definitely is a theme developing here. Another is that she is somewhat confused as to what election she is contesting (q.v. Cllr Cox) – she “loves the town she hopes to represent”. Jane will be elected to represent Kursaal ward if she manages to defy electoral gravity, not Southend.

That number she quotes for those who “need a lift” looked suspicious so I tried it – yup, 01701 600460 is an invalid number. She also manages to get the times that the polls open wrong (polling commences at 7am). Jane is a former teacher – she gets a D minus for this pitiful effort.

Among the reasons Jane gives for voting Conservative is education – yet education in the borough is a disaster. Southend schools are often in Special Measures, and we fall below national averages in all areas of educational attainment. She boasts of working as a “Manager within the Department of Children and Learning at Southend Borough Council” – something I would have been inclined to have been quiet about.

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