A year in books – 2015

Here is what I read and listened to in 2015. If nothing else, I hope 2016 is a bit more productive in this field.

The best I tackled? Definitely A Child Called “It”, a remarkable (and awful) story, very moving. Honourable mentions also go to The Wasp Factory and Little Gypsy.

A. L. Morton The English Utopia
Agatha Christie Crooked House
Anna Sebba That Woman : The Life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor
Catherine Aird Henrietta Who?
Charles Dickens Great Expectations
Colin Brown Whitehall : The Street that Shaped a Nation
Dave Pelzer A Child Called “It”
David Attenborough Life Stories
Dawn French Dear Fatty
Guest edited by Karen Celis and Sarah Childs Representation : Journal of Representatove Democracy Volume 44 Number 2 July 2008
Iain Banks The Wasp Factory
Jay Rayner The Apologist
Jesse Armstrong Love, Sex & Other Foreign Policy Goals
John Mortimer Rumpole at Christmas
John O’Farrell The Man Who Forgot His Wife
Marina Lewycka Various Pets Alive & Dead
Max Hastings Bomber Command
Mick McDermott Speaking With Forked Tongues : An amusing & revealing insight into the modern bookmaking industry
P. D. James The Private Patient : An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery
Patricia Cornwell Portrait Of A Killer
Peter Millar All Gone To Look For America
Robert Peston Who Runs Britain? …. and who’s to blame for the economic mess we’re in
Robin Harris The Conservatives – A History
Roxy Freeman Little Gypsy
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger
Simon Louvish Stan And Ollie The Roots Of Comedy : The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy
Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic & Sister
Tom Holland In The Shadow Of The Sword : The battle for global empire and the end of the ancient world
Vince Cable Free Radical
Winston Churchill The Second World War : Book Four: Triumph and Tragedy

Latest opinion polls

Here is a table showing the latest opinion polls. If these are to be believed then it is a decent set of numbers for the Conservatives, and a reasonable showing for UKIP. The Liberal Democrats and the Greens are showing no progress, which can also be said for Labour whose numbers remain unchanged from the General Election,. Jeremy Corbyn is doing no worse than Ed Miliband, but no better either – at the moment.

Lab Con LD UKIP Grn
28 December 2015 ICM 34 39 7 10 3
20 December 2015 Opinium 30 38 5 16 5
20 December 2015 ComRes 33 37 7 11 5
18 December 2015 ComRes 29 40 7 16 3
averages 31.5 38.5 6.5 13.25 4


Local authority by-elections Q4 2015


party vote share % seats won candidates nett gain
Conservative 26.7 32 77 2
Labour 22.7 17 69 0
Liberal Democrat 15.7 16 65 -1
SNP 12.1 8 11 -1
UKIP 5.8 2 46 -1
Independent 5.0 4 28 -1
Green 4.2 2 46 1
Plaid Cymru 1.8 3 8 1
No description 1.4 3 5 3
Others 4.6 2 20 -3

89 contests in all, and as ever, not likely to be representative of the whole country. However, it is a significant sample, a good snapshot that provides something to mull over.

I am always disappointed when Labour does not field a candidate in every contest. Boast as much as we like about being the biggest party in the UK, bigger than all the others combines some claim (and I doubt) but we rarely best the Tories in contests fought. In fact the struggling Liberal Democrats almost match us in this yardstick. There are, the candidate numbers suggest, still only three truly national parties. Both UKIP and the Greens still have some way to go before they can justifiably make this claim.

David Cameron’s party are still enjoying a post-General Election honeymoon. At some point though, and sooner rather than later, Labour has got to start eating into the Tory councillor base. It is too early to start worrying about no nett gains for us yet, but if this continues through next year then we will have to rethink our strategy.

Helping refugees does not mean ignoring poverty at home

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an ever changing feast. It has been ever thus, since before the UK came into existence. Our islands have been the target of successive waves of migration.

My surname is Anglo-Saxon, and those peoples came to these shores as immigrants, refugees even. They assimilated, as did those that came before, and those that have come since. As a genealogist I know my family tree has a fair sprinkling of persons from outside of these shores; this will be the case with almost everyone who calls themselves English, or British.

To deny migration and the positive outcomes it delivers is to deny in many ways what it is to be British. Not only have we imported people, we are one of the more successful exporters of our people. Grab an atlas and look at the many places our cousins have settled in.

I have a son and two brothers in Australia, and a sister in South Africa. If I include my extended family the list grows. My siblings and others have taken partners from abroad too. My typical Essex family is a veritable United Nations if one peers closely.

I am the grandson of a refugee. My Belgian grandfather fled his home in 1914, returning to fight the German invaders, but eventually choosing England as his home after falling in love with my grandmother.

I have had a small number of people contact me because of fears about the settlement of refugees in Southend-on-Sea, often citing that we should look after our own first. Of course we should, but it is not an either/or situation. I would hope we could tackle the blight of poverty at home as well as offering succour to those caught up in the unfolding tragedy that is Syria.

The solution to housing shortages and deprivation at home is not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those beyond these shores. This wealthy nation can and should meet its international responsibilities.

Don’t walk by (Street link)


Ridiculous drivel – Daryl Peagram’s idiotic latest leaflet that commits Southend West Conservatives to lavish expenditure at a time their government is making swinging cuts

Poor leaflet content is hardly news when it comes to the output from Southend West’s Tories, but I struggle to recall anything as bad as the latest offering from their Westborough team. It is beyond awful; frankly it is embarrassing.

It so poor I take delight in reproducing both sides here. Quite how their candidate can call himself competent after authoring this is beyond me.

Mr Peagram likes to dish out slurs. His descriptions of Southend Labour include Old Labour and hard left. Clearly he has not met many of us.

The Joint Administration is variously described as: socialist, coalition of the unpopular, communist, left-wing. Again, Mr Peagram’s knowledge of the members who make up the JA is woeful.

Daryl’s idiotic spending plans include reinstating a five-day a week rubbish collection, which means scrapping the million plus savings per year. He will reverse cuts to the school improvement budget. He is also opposed to assisting local small businesses which employ local people, complaining about the council forwarding grants to a couple of restaurants. I look forward to him explaining where the money for all this is going to come from.

Still, since he is the voice of Southend West Conservatives (one of them at least) he handily provides us with enough ammunition against him and his ridiculous party.

Someone ought to remind Southend West’s Conservatives that Cllr Velmurugan readily, and often, describes himself as Conservative-minded.westboroughInTouch2

The attack on Cllr Anne Jones is so inaccurate as to be almost laughable. Cllr Jones is “not seeking re-election in Kursaal ward after what she did to their vulnerable kids.” Quite frankly, I’d be embarrassed to be in the same party as Peagram.

Daryl states that the “Conservative are the largest party in the UK & Southend“. Wrong on both counts. That they accept someone as delusional as Daryl merely highlights just how desperate the Tories are in Southend West.

I could almost applaud this drivel insofar as it does nothing for the Conservative cause. I do not because it actually demeans politics. If Mr Peagram survives as the Tory candidate until May I will only presume that any semblance of quality control for their candidates has been abandoned.

Full Council: Joy, beautiful spark of Gods, Daughter of Elysium, We enter, fire-imbibed

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane with friends from Southend Welcoming Refugees

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane with friends from Southend Welcoming Refugees

That council meetings can sometimes be very dull will surprise no-one. Yesterday I had more than one person inquire of me “is it always this boring?” Not always, not often in fact, but sometimes, yes, they can be very tedious.

The agenda for Full Council appeared quite light, yet somehow we managed almost three hours. The Conservative Group seem intent on criticising processes that were put in place when they were in administration. Don’t they realise just how ridiculous this makes them look?

Cllr James Courtenay (Conservative, Blenheim Park) put up an impressive display of petulance. He is an affable guy outside of the chamber, but inside, last night, he not only had a go at the Joint Administration, he also decided that the Town Clerk was fair game. He also adopted a tactic of intervening in almost every debate, which was a real treat for the fans of his somewhat whining style.

Six motions were presented, including two of mine. Amongst the six was one proposed by the Leader, and seconded by Cllr James Moyies (SIG, West Shoebury). This was entitled Changes in Electoral Arrangements. This proposes a reduction in the number of councillors from fifty-one to thirty-four, and these to be elected in all-up elections beginning in 2018.

I am no fan of all-up elections, particularly with the first past the post system. I am even less keen on a reduction in member numbers. Thirty-four is less than what Southend-on-Sea had before becoming a unitary authority, and the increased workload that entails. Whilst the cuts mean all sorts of unpleasant things have to be put up with, I regret that we now have to consider diminishing our democracy.

The evening began with lobbying by Southend Welcoming Refugees.