Now is the time to listen

And so, back to those doorstep conversations. A beautiful, sunny afternoon – an opportune moment to get back out there after the rigours of the General Election campaign.

Even if only nine days after the big event I still found a welcome. And after conversations that were often centred around the much mentioned problems with parking in Westcliff-on-Sea I inquired of each person why they thought Labour had been rejected on May 7th.

It was only a small snapshot, but I have to say that Ed Miliband was the most cited reason, followed by huge doubts over Labour’s ability to manage the economy. Whilst I may have privately wanted to counter some of the comments, I realise that now is not the time to argue, but that now is the time to listen. And so, listen i did.

Outside the vacuum

“I’m voting UKIP, and you know why” – that was it, the entire conversation. A quick utterance, then a disappearance behind a closed door. I did not know why. It is possible I had spoken to this voter before, and they were referring to an earlier conversation. This encounter was the complete opposite of another. A young man leapt out of his white van: “excuse me, are you the Labour candidate” he asked before adding “you’ve got to stop UKIP, they are maniacs.” A few more exchanged pleasantries and then he was back in his van and off.

At another door I was confronted by someone exclaiming: “oh no, not a politician – you are all cheating on expenses”. Again, they were not inclined to discuss. They had their views and were not prepared to see their prejudices challenged in conversation. For the record, whatever people may make of my politics, I do not cheat on expenses – I have yet to claim any anyway. Few politicians do cheat, which is why I find people like Lord Hanningfield so infuriating. He is a serial cheat who is giving all politicians a bad name (and highlighting the absurdity of an unelected second chamber – he will return to the House of Lords after his suspension).

Two gentlemen stopped me on my rounds and we had a good debate. They were working class lads whose frustrations were leading them towards UKIP. At the end they said they appreciated that I was prepared to engage in debate and was honest, and said that they would have voted for me – pity I am not up for election this year. Debate is important and one of my fears is that there is an absence of debate across the borough – a small clutch of hustings excepted. It could be the many votes will be cast in a vacuum, many voters not seeing much, if anything, of the candidates. I could understand the decline in public meetings and doorstep engagement if this was being replaced by the new media. Find me a UKIP supporting blog in Southend-on-Sea, aside from the appalling Southend Patriot. If the blogosphere in Southend-on-Sea is anything to go by we are in for a Labour landslide. Much that I would hope that would happen, I strongly suspect it will not.

The local UKIP Chair may think I am a fool for trying to engage with everyone, I find this rather insults the voters.

Are you Jonathan Garston? and other themes

I do not attempt to record every action undertaken for residents in this blog, It would be plainly ridiculous. Important as each individual thing is, a long list of pot holes reported, broken streetlights fixed, etc would not be much of a read (some might argue that this blog is not much of a read anyway). Sometimes, though, I think it is interesting to report on some of my conversations.

So, in no particular order, here follows a selection from my recent chats in and about in Milton ward.

“Are you Jonathan Garston?” asked one resident. I had to disappoint this particular lady. I am not sure how we could be confused – I am some twenty years older, fat, and grey (almost white) haired. “No, I’m the Labour councillor” was my reply.

One resident had mould in their living room. They’ve had it for four years. Four years! A partially collapsed kitchen ceiling added to their woes. Litter and dog waste are still a feature of doorstep conversations. I managed recently to persuade a reluctant council official to give me a dog bin in Leonard Road (Westcliff-on-Sea). It is not there yet, but it has been promised. Untidy front gardens and the wish for wheelie bins, bad pavements (again, and again, and again), overdevelopment, wasteful spending by the council, and potholes. On that issue I could at least claim to have asked for Canewdon Road to be re-surfaced; I will keep my fingers crossed for that one.

Overgrown bushes, lack of streetlighting, more bad pavements, and more worries about over-development. Pity that the portfolio holder for Planning wasn’t in Milton ….. oh, hang on ……

I have had a couple of conversations recently about CRB checks, in particular the fact that nothing ever gets dropped from them. I am not sure what the new DBS checks bring, but these checks were introduced because of fears for the protection of children. Yet, these checks can create problems for people who have committed offences some years ago. A spotless record for more than two decades does not remove old offences, and can therefore cause problems and embarrassment. I remember when CRB checks came in because all football referees had to have them. A number of referees quit because of this, and not because they had suspect pasts, but because they felt this was an unnecessarily intrusive.

No-one mentioned the Cliffs Museum, the old Central Library, or the Shoebury flood defences. No-one mentioned the Cabinet system either.

One or two claimed they did not understand politics and so they did not vote. Some were unsure what they would do in May, except that they would not be voting Labour; fortunately they were outnumbered by those who were definitely “not Tory”.