A box of delights

Amongst the happy tasks that befell me this week was my attendance at the REACH Christmas Party for the Roma community. This was held on Monday at the Balmoral Community Centre in Westcliff-on-Sea. My host was a Polish Streets Ahead Community Worker; apparently many of the Roma community in Southend-on-Sea originate from Poland. I was given a small parcel of hand-made chocolates – truly a box of delights.

Also on Monday I attended the inaugural Southend Central Local Community Meeting – this replacing the Neighbourhood Action Panel. This is an interface between the local police, councillors, community groups, and residents – and Southend Central covers three wards: Kursaal, Milton, and Victoria. The twenty-four attendees included four councillors and four from the police. Anyone can attend these meetings, which cover policing issues for the wards concerned. The next meeting will be on 23rd February, 2015.

I returned to Chalkwell ward for my Parliamentary campaign this week where in pretty short order I had conversations with a self-confessed fascist and a communist. Both were pleasant enough; even the somewhat surreal conversation with the fascist was without rancour.

December’s opinion polls

The table below shows the state of the opinion for the first half of December.

Lab Con LD UKIP Grn
15/12/2014 Populus 36 34 10 12 5
15/12/2014 YouGov 34 32 6 14 8
15/12/2014 ComRes 32 29 12 16 5
14/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 7 16 7
14/12/2014 ComRes 34 33 8 18 2
08/12/2014 Populus 36 33 8 15 4
08/12/2014 Ashcroft 31 30 8 19 5
08/12/2014 YouGov 33 34 6 15 6
07/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 6 17 7
07/12/2014 Opinium 34 29 6 19 6
01/12/2014 Populus 35 32 9 14 5
01/12/2014 Ashcroft 32 30 7 16 6
01/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 8 15 5
01/12/2014 ComRes 31 28 9 18 7
average 33.1 31.4 7.9 16.0 5.6

It is a dangerous thing to assume that these numbers will mirror the outcome come May’s likely General Election, but whilst some movement is to be expected these at least give us an idea of the mood in the country at present.

These polls show a small Labour lead, a lead that has gradually shrunk throughout this year. The occasional poll shows the Conservatives just ahead, and I imagine they will be reasonably content with this. As the election draws nearer it is the norm to see polling numbers improve for governing parties, which suggests that we could see a small lead for the Tories come May.

The polls also show significant numbers for UKIP, though not as high as some of the chatter would suggest. They are registering at around half of what the two main parties are getting, although some way ahead of the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are engaged in a battle to stay ahead of the Green Party, which they are just about managing. One would not bet, though, that this will remain so, although equally the Lib Dems could benefit from improved numbers as the election draws nearer.

It is obvious I guess that these number represents the views of the mainland as a whole, and that there is much regional variation. For instance Labour are struggling In Scotland, which suggests that they are doing better in England. UKIP’s polling appears to be much better in the south and east of England than elsewhere. The Lib Dems vote seems to be holding up in some areas, whilst being decimated in others.

If these numbers are repeated in the General Election then we would see a governing party with the lowest vote share in modern times (I have checked back to 1935 and the lowest percentage for a winning party in a general election was Labour’s 35.2% in 2005). It would be miraculous for either Labour or the Conservatives to hit 40%, which was the norm up to 2001 (the two 1974 elections excepted). The rise of the Liberal vote put paid to both main parties going over 40%, and their collapse (they are back to 1950s vote share levels) has merely seen the votes redistributed all over the place rather than moving straight to Lab and Con.

Does UKIP’s presence signal a new, four-party, politics? Maybe, but it could also signal the replacement of the third party. It is difficult to judge based just on vote share – I expect to see the Lib Dems still managing to win more MPs than UKIP, despite polling around half of what UKIP look set to get. This goes to the our heart of our old-fashioned electoral system, which favours efficient tactical voting patterns.

This is all guesswork. What this means for Essex is another matter. My home county remains far more Conservative than the country as a whole, and whilst UKIP will be eyeing the coastal constituencies I still expect most of Essex’s MPs come May will remain Tory. Of course, ultimately this will be decided by the voters, who may decide to wholesale change – we shall see.

Essex Parliamentary Constituencies – August 2014 Spare Room Subsidy Indicators

Here is the data showing the numbers subject to the Bedroom Tax in Essex for August for all eighteen Parliamentary constituencies in the glorious county of Essex. I have ordered them with those having the highest numbers at the top.

Constituency Reduction applied No reduction applied Not applicable – private rented
Thurrock 898 5868 3612
Basildon and Billericay 765 4869 1529
South Basildon and East Thurrock 740 4625 2254
Harlow 728 6386 1852
Rochford and Southend East 574 5197 6547
Colchester 567 5276 3207
Braintree 418 3624 1686
Chelmsford 401 4237 1545
Witham 358 2989 1270
Epping Forest 342 3746 1551
Clacton 293 2439 6251
Saffron Walden 284 2999 1049
Brentwood and Ongar 260 2975 1193
Maldon 236 2271 1507
Harwich and North Essex 227 2179 2511
Southend West 178 1920 3874
Castle Point 161 1406 2938
Rayleigh and Wickford 128 1709 1519

Whilst Southend West is towards the bottom of this list, 178 households who have had their Housing Benefit reduced because they are considered under-occupied is 178 too many in my opinion.

(The numbers are for Housing Benefit Claimants)

Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas

Parliamentary Candidate Julian Ware-Lane is urging MPs from all parties to back Labour’s attempt to scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas. Labour has forced a debate and vote in parliament on Wednesday 17th December on the Bedroom Tax.

Since the Bedroom Tax was introduced around half a million low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £700 a year. In Southend West 178 people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax.

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane said: ‘This winter 178 people in Southend West will struggle to make ends meet, many relying on food banks to survive because of the Bedroom Tax David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s government introduced in April 2013. The Bedroom Tax is wasting people’s money, time and talents, it’s another example of Tory Welfare Waste.

‘This Wednesday Labour is forcing a vote to scrap this failing policy once and for all. I urge MPs from all parties to do the right thing and back Labour’s attempt to scrap this cruel and unfair tax.”

Rachel Reeves said: “Around half a million people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, forcing many into debt and to rely on food banks. It’s a cruel, unfair and costly tax with two thirds of those affected are disabled. Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax and get rid of this failing policy which is leading to more Tory Welfare Waste.”

1. Latest DWP figures on number of people hit by the Bedroom Tax:
NORTH EAST – 36,126
NORTH WEST – 74,031
EASTERN – 30,036
LONDON – 48,247
SOUTH EAST – 32,232
SOUTH WEST – 24,896
WALES – 31,217
SCOTLAND – 70,291
TOTAL – 471,887

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/number-of-housing-benefit-claimants-and-average-weekly-spare-room-subsidy-amount-withdrawal

2. Two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax cannot find the money to pay their rents, according to new research from the National Housing Federation. Source: http://www.housing.org.uk/media/press-releases/two-thirds-of-households-hit-by-bedroom-tax-are-in-debt-as-anniversary-appr#sthash.Ljy35ky2.dpuf

3. Housing benefit set to rise by £1billion over four year in March 2014 Budget (pg 132) http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/economic-fiscal-outlook-march-2014/
Figures contained in the Budget have shown the housing benefit bill will continue rising not falling, with an increase of £1billion forecast over the next four years.


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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

Procurement of services to provide Minor Oral Surgery procedures in the community

I was sent the following, and advised to “… distribute this Briefing Note, as a matter of urgency, to whoever you feel appropriate.” So, I distribute it to the world:-

Briefing Note to HOSC/MPs/Local councillors/HWBB/CCGS/Secondary Care Providers/Healthwatch/LDC

Procurement of services to provide Minor Oral Surgery procedures in the community

NHS England is responsible for commissioning primary and secondary care dental services in Essex.

A number of dental procedures can be safely and effectively delivered by specialists or dentists with enhanced skills who are based in general dental practices within the community.

These procedures, which include wisdom tooth extraction and removal of retained roots, are generally referred to as minor oral surgery procedures.

In some areas of Essex patients are already referred to a specialist or dentist with enhanced skills in a community based practice for their minor oral surgery procedure. These services have been established and operating successfully for a number of years. Some of these service providers were established on a pilot basis.

We now wish to re-procure these services on a permanent basis to ensure that we have the best Providers to deliver minor oral surgery procedures across the whole of Essex and to ensure value for money.

The funding for these services is already in place in the existing community based minor oral surgery service.

There will be improved access for patients as a result of this procurement; however, the oral surgery services may not be provided in the exact same locations. The Essex Area Team is expecting to commission a minimum of two providers in each of the five main localities in Essex.

The benefits of this change are;

  • Patients will be offered a choice of appointment time for their minor oral surgery procedure
  • Improved access for patients by having community based provision across the whole of Essex
  • More cost effective use of NHS resources
  • Patients will benefit from more availability and therefore less waiting time


It is intended to commence the new service from 1st April 2015.


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