Carrying on conversing

Such delighful company, young and eager Matt and Gray in Blenheim Park ward yesterday

Such delighful company, young and eager Matt and Gray in Blenheim Park ward yesterday

“So” says I to a resident, “why did Labour lose the election?” “I have no idea” responds the resident, “I have always voted Labour”. As the conversation developed it became clear that this particular voter could not understand why anyone would not want to vote Labour. It is not always like that. Whilst the prevailing opinion appears to be that either an unlikeable leader or poor economic performance when last in led to our downfall, there are those who venture alternate views.

One person was convinced that Tony Blair’s involvement, albeit limited, caused our failure. Some thought we were too left wing, others say we are not left enough. A number of voices did not want the SNP and believed, despite the denials, that a Labour Government would end up in coalition with Nicola Sturgeon’s party. Welfare is mentioned, and immigration in some quarters is seen as primary; the forthcoming EU referendum is also mentioned.

Is there anything more frustrating than being told that they wanted a Labour Government, and then following it up with either “but I didn’t vote” or “I voted for XXXXXX instead”. How anyone expects a Labour Government to materialise unless they vote for it baffles me.

And one must not forget the abstainers. These, despite an increase in turnout, still amounts to one in three voters. The “they are all the same” argument is widespread, as is the view that all politicians are liars/cheats/in it for themselves (delete as applicable). However, you do get the occasional “oh I forgot” and “I was too busy”. And you would be surprised at the number of those who admit that they just do not understand politics or what the parties stood for.

In amongst conversations about Labour’s woes I did have several people tell me about crime and anti-social behaviour issues. I do not believe that the prospect of more policing cuts is going to be welcomed everywhere. For some reason crime has come up quite a few times recently, in one guise or another. I am not suggesting that general fearfulness has risen, but whilst I promise to speak with the local policing teams about whatever is troubling said resident, I am mindful that increasingly scarce police resources are bound to mean a devaluing of the response.

Oh, and whilst my re-election campaign swings into action (yes, I could be an ex-councillor in eleven months time) I am also helping out elsewhere when I can – this weekend in Blenheim Park ward. Now, if it would stop raining I might get more done …..

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A sunny afternoon in Blenheim Park

Chris, Kevin, Matt, Ashleigh - out delivering the Labour message

Chris, Kevin, Matt, Ashleigh – out delivering the Labour message

A beautiful warm and sunny afternoon in Westcliff-on-Sea, and what better way to spend it than in the charming company of four Labour friends.

Our pledges, Labour’s pledges:

1. A STRONG ECONOMIC FOUNDATION
Balance the books and cut the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS. None of our manifesto commitments require additional borrowing.
2. HIGHER LIVING STANDARDS FOR WORKING FAMILIES
Freeze energy bills until 2017 and give the regulator the power to cut bills this winter, ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, raise the minimum wage to £8 and provide 25 hours free childcare a week.
3. AN NHS WITH THE TIME TO CARE
20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. We will join up services from home to hospital, guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within one week.
4. CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION
People who come here won’t be able to claim benefits for at least two years and we will introduce fair rules making it illegal for employers to undercut wages by exploiting workers.
5. A COUNTRY WHERE THE NEXT GENERATION CAN DO BETTER THAN THE LAST
Tuition fees reduced to £6,000, an apprenticeship for every school leaver who gets the basic grades, and smaller class sizes for 5, 6 & 7 year-olds.
6. HOMES TO BUY AND ACTION ON RENTS
Biggest house building programme for a generation with priority for first-time buyers and their stamp duty cut to zero. Secure three-year rents capped by inflation.

The excitement builds in Blenheim Park ward …

… as voters realise that in just under eleven weeks they will be able to vote for Matt Dent to be their new councillor.018

It is a simple choice in Blenheim Park – either the failed Tory policies as represented by Cllr James Courtenay, or changing Southend for the better with Matt Dent.

Street spirits

After a day doing stuff in St Laurence and Milton wards I paid an overdue visit to Street Spirit Southend. They set up every Saturday evening in the Clarence Road car park, from 8pm. They do this to provide hot drinks and food to some of the many homeless in Southend-on-Sea. I had a good chat with a number of those who help, including Caroline Fricker who set up Street Spirit Southend last February, although she said that it was April before they were properly established. Caroline told me that the name of the organisation comes from the incredible ‘spirit’ shown by the homeless.

More about them can be found on Facebook. I was joined by Cllr Kevin Robinson (Labour, Westborough), and I think we both took a lot from our visit. Clearly a small and dedicated band of helpers are doing a great deal for some of the most vulnerable people in the borough. I would not have described last night as warm, but it was sobering to consider that as chilly as we were after our hour’s visit, we have had a reasonably mild winter thus far.

Earlier in the week ….

Out delivering leaflets in Blenheim Park ward. As I was wandering up one footpath, out pops a man in a white van. “Is that rubbish?” he asks, referring to the leaflet I am about to put through his letterbox. “No”, I responded, handing him the leaflet “it is from your local Labour Party”. “It is rubbish then” he replies. At that, I grabbed the leaflet back and said as I turned to go to the next door “I will give it to someone else who will read it then.” By contrast, later I was delivering to his neighbours across the way, when one pops out “Julian!” says he, “how nice to see you”.

Solid Gold Blenheim Park Action

006I was out again this morning, delivering leaflets. This time it was in Blenheim Park ward, and our team included Matt Dent. Whilst it was certainly fresh, it was dry and the sun was out.

If I make a list of wards where we have been delivering recently I get to a healthy seven: Belfairs, Blenheim Park, Milton, Prittlewell, Shoeburyness, St. Luke’s, Westborough. Since I know that there is further campaigning going on this week I know this list will grow. You could get the impression that it is only Labour that is taking the impending elections seriously in Southend-on-Sea. I accept that my information will not perfect, but I believe that the Conservatives have done a bit in Blenheim Park and Milton, and UKIP have been out in Prittlewell and Milton. I have seen no evidence of recent activity from either the Liberal Democrats or the Independent Group.

Milton is shaping up to be a real bun fight in May. We are hopeful of completing a Labour hat-trick, but the Tories will be desperate to retain the seat and UKIP (and possibly an independent) will certainly make the contest a close call. I do not expect much of a Lib Dem presence.

Blenheim Park has a history of marginality, and I sense that despite a low profile here UKIP will be hoping to double their presence in the ward. This is being defended by Conservative Cllr James Courtenay, who cannot be sitting comfortably. It could go any one of four ways, and I know that the Labour candidate, the aforementioned Matt Dent, is determined to make a big impact.

Prittlewell ward is another where the result could go any number of ways. Cllr Ric Morgan was elected as a Liberal Democrat in 2011, and if he defends his seat he will do so as a member of the Independent Group.

It was mentioned to me the story of canvassing a while back when a colleague was discussing the local elections with a Milton resident who said that they had always been Labour until they had had a conversation with me. I recall this because it does illustrate that you cannot please everyone. Politicians inevitably fail their residents at some point; this is not to say that you should not try to accommodate all views – and seek compromise. What has frustrated me over the years is that whilst I try to be honest, I am aware that there are those who will say whatever they think the resident wants to hear. I mention this because as the elections draw ever nearer we will seeing a lot of politicians engaging in doorstep conversations, some of which will be designed to seduce a promise to vote for them. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se, I do have concerns about what is being said. This is one of the reasons I commit my thoughts to this blog – no-one can accuse me of saying one thing and doing another.

Blenheim Park’s Labour Candidate is also an assiduous blogger, and Blenheim Park voters will have at least on candidate whose views will not change from door-to-door.

Hanging and limping

Wishes do come true. Well, in some respect they do. The political blogosphere is a moving feast, and the Tory portion has seen Mark Flewitt become its leading exponent. His Tory bedfellows, Tony Cox, Nigel Holdcroft and James Courtenay, are only intermittently contributing to the online debate – their blogs see weeks elapse with nothing added. I am no fan of Cllr Flewitt’s writing, which I find muddled at the best of times, but he does at least ensure his blog is updated regularly.

There is a new kid on the Southend-on-Sea political blogging front – UKIP’s candidate for Prittlewell ward has entered the fray. I hope he expounds his political philosophy online so that the rest of us can understand what he stands for. Paul Ryder does need to get a grip on constituency boundaries though, his understanding of what constitutes Southend West appears to be wrong. He writes “… delivering leaflets in Milton ward for the Parliamentary Candidate for Southend West, Brian Otridge“. If he really was delivering candidates in support of Mr Otridge’s campaign then he was doing it in the wrong constituency – Milton ward belongs to Rochford and Southend East constituency!

In amongst today’s conversations the sole UKIP advocate was someone for whom the return of capital punishment was the prime motivator for voting for the anti-Europe and anti-immigration party. Capital punishment is not normally a party issue – as it is a matter of conscience it is always a free vote in Parliament. I am opposed to capital punishment, primarily because I am opposed to all killing. I am not sure whether UKIP have an official line on it, although Louise Bours MEP is certainly advocating its return.

Other conversations for this limping canvasser failed to unearth any support (again) for the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. At least the Lib Dem councillor for Blenheim Park ward was known to some of his residents – the Tory and UKIP councillors were unknown, and many were unaware that UKIP actually had a councillor in Blenheim Park ward.

The ever so keen Blenheim Park Liberals

The Liberal Democrats in Blenheim Park ward must be keen – this is the second time they have leafleted me five weeks. Their latest Focus introduces Duncan Russell, who will probably be the new councillor for the ward come May 6th.

When the ward was last contested in 2008 this was the result:

Graham Edwin Longley – Liberal Democrat – 966
Raymond Frederick Thomas Davy – Conservative – 950
Barry John Harvey – BNP – 269
Simon John Morley – Labour – 220

I think the Liberal Democrats will comfortably hold this seat. The Tories in Southend West are struggling at the moment. Labour was a disappointing fourth, in a ward where I believe that we could do well in if nurtured for a few years.

Although the Conservative MP, David Amess, has underperformed for years in Southend West, he benefits from an opposition vote equally divided between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. His poor expenses record and his refusal to stand and argue his case will dent his majority, but I suspect he is safe.

Mind you, I am notoriously wrong when making predictions, so it could be Tom Flynn MP!