Soon it will be time to decide who our country works for

We are now just four months away from the general election, perhaps the most significant in a generation.

On May 7th voters in Southend West and across Britain will have an opportunity choose who will run the country. Will it be Labour and their positive vision that puts working people first, deals with the deficit and protects our NHS; or will it be the Conservatives whose record shows that only a few at the top succeed and public services are threatened?

Fundamentally, it comes down to who we want our country to work for – the many, or the few. For everyday working people and their families, or a privileged few at the top.

The Conservative experiment has failed and their record – on living standards, prospects for our children, protecting our public services and dealing with our nation’s debts – is one to run from, not run on.

Last May Southend-on-Sea passed judgement on the local Conservative administration who had run the town for more than a decade; they did not like what they saw a rejected them. I, elected in 2012 into opposition at the Civic Centre, am now a proud member of a Joint Administration that is already showing how the town should be run. We are listening, and we are working for the many. But the job is only half done.

Southend has been a one-party state as far as Parliament is concerned, electing nothing but Conservative MPs since 1906. This can change. Southend does not have to put up with an uncaring Conservative Government, and the alternatives that are Conservative in all but name. Only one party represents real change in Southend, and that party is Labour.

A Labour Government will balance the books as soon as possible, rewarding hard work through an £8 minimum wage and an end to exploitive zero-hours contracts. Labour will provide more opportunities for young people. Labour will control immigration and protect our NHS through a guaranteed GP appointment within 48 hours and a £2.5 billion Time to Care fund for thousands more health staff.

If you want a fairer and more equal society you can help make that happen on May 7th.

Who gives a damn anyway? Inertia, electoral fatalism, or just not enthused by the choices on offer

Total votes at each General Election since 1935 for Labour, the Conservatives, the rest, and those who did not vote

Total votes at each General Election since 1935 for Labour, the Conservatives, the rest, and those who did not vote

This graph shows the votes for Labour and the Conservatives for every General Election since 1935. It also shows the number of votes cast for other parties, and the number of people who did not vote.

What does this tell us?

It shows that for every election both Labour and Conservatives poll somewhere between 8 and 14 million. It shows that in 2010 they polled very similar numbers to what they polled in 1935. Since this is the number of votes (as opposed to vote share), and the electorate has clearly grown since then, where are all the new voters?

Well, the votes for third parties has grown, but this growth has been pretty steady since 1974. The biggest chunk of votes in this category goes to the Liberal Democrats, although nationalist parties also score pretty highly in their respective nations.

What has significantly grown, especially since 1992, is the number of abstentions. The really significant date is 2001, for this is when non-voters outnumbered those who plumped for the governing party.

There were be many reason for abstention, but it broadly divides into two camps: those who could not vote and those who chose not to.

If one looks at the Government party’s vote share as a percentage of all voters (whether cast or not) then one finds the last three Government’s elected with the consent of under 30% of all voters (although ‘consent’ is open to interpretation – abstention can be viewed as consent in some ways). Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide came with just 30.8% of all voters, and you have to go back to 1979 before you find more than a third of the electorate backing the winner.

Interestingly, the largest vote share was for Labour in 1951, an election they actually lost. This is the only occasion since 1935 than any party broke 40% (with 40.3%).

Abstainers accounted for 40.6% of the electorate in 2001, and 34.9% in 2010. Some could argue that those who want a ‘none of the above’ option are already winning.

I think this demonstrates a couple of things. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is that voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the choice on offer. This would also include those who feel that the alternatives have no chance of being elected, a kind of electoral fatalism gripping vast swathes of the electorate.

I also believe that voting on Thursdays, in polling booths, with pencils, is way past its sell-by date.

Whilst the two big parties are still acquiring far more supporters than the others, the growth in not voting must be cause for concern. When one factors in the numbers of those not registered (perhaps another 3 million) then it becomes a picture of a country being run by a party selected by fewer than one in four people.

Labour in Essex after the election

 Essex became a sea of blue on Thursday when sixteen of the seventeen constituencies returned Conservative MPs in the General Election. Colchester was the exception, returning its incumbent Liberal Democrat.

 In 1997 Labour won six seats in Essex (Basildon, Braintree, Castle Point, Harlow, Harwich and Thurrock). Boundaries have changed and a new seat has been created, but this does not mask a poor night for the reds in Essex.

 Thurrock is now highly marginal and could easily be won back. Harlow and Basildon South and Thurrock East will be targets as well. Beyond that, regaining other seats will be a big ask, and improbable in one go. Still, good campaigns could put us back in touching distance in a number of places. In many places converting a third place finish into runners-up spot will be the aim at the next election.

 The table below list the Essex constituencies, Labours position in the recent poll, and the number of votes we have to gain to achieve victory.

Constituency

Position

Votes behind winner

Thurrock

2nd

92

Harlow

2nd

4925

Basildon South and Thurrock
East

2nd

5772

Rochford and Southend East

2nd

11050

Clacton

2nd

12068

Basildon and Billericay

2nd

12398

Castle Point

3rd

13197

Harwich and North
Essex

3rd

13227

Southend West

3rd

14236

Witham

3rd

15792

Braintree

2nd

16121

Colchester

3rd

16471

Epping Forest

3rd

18507

Chelmsford

3rd

19227

Maldon

3rd

22591

Brentwood and Ongar

3rd

23800

Saffron Walden

3rd

24867

 I am far from despondent though – merely a realist. Essex is Tory heartland, but I think that good campaigning will see us rewarded. Electoral reform would make our task easier.

 The Tory proposal to reduce the number of MPs by ten percent would likely see two of the seventeen Essex constituencies disappear, and redrawn boundaries for the others. Any suggestions for which two MPs people would like to see go?

Squeezed and defeated in Castle Point

Rebecca Harris, winner in Castle Point

The electorate has spoken, and in Castle Point mine and Labour’s message has been comprehensively rejected. However, I am not downbeat – one cannot seriously take a role in politics without being willing to accept defeat.

This battle lost does not mean the war is over. I am a conviction politician and will continue to argue for what I believe in. I believe I fought on the issues, on Labour’s record over the last thirteen years, and our promise for the future.

My congratulations go to Rebecca Harris who won with a good majority. I also pay tribute to Bob Spink, a man whose views were opposite to mine in almost every issue. Nonetheless, he has represented Castle Point for fourteen years and is an acknowledged hard worker.

My vote exceeded the combined efforts of the Liberal Democrats and the BNP. I was victim to a squeeze between Harris and Spink, as is often the case in an electoral system designed for two party politics. I believe there are votes to be won out there, and this will be achieved with more hard work.

I am slightly disappointed with the turnout. Although there was some improvement here on 2005, there are still three out of every ten voters who choose to sit at home. Politicians all of colours will have to work on engaging this significant body.

Here is the result

name party votes % change
Rebecca Harris Conservative 19806 44.0 -4.3
Bob Spink Independent Save Our Green Belt 12174 27.0 +27.0
Julian Ware-Lane Labour 6609 14.7 -15.7
Brendan D’Cruz Liberal Democrat 4232 9.4 -0.9
Philip Howell BNP 2205 4.9 +4.9
spoilt 73
turnout 45099 66.9 +1.0

Almost done

The campaign is almost over. I do not know how many miles I have covered, letterboxes I have put things in, doors knocked, or words written, but I know it is a lot.

I was selected in July 2007, and felt privileged to be chosen to represent Labour in Castle Point. This feeling has grown in the months and years since, and however the good people of Benfleet, Canvey, Hadleigh and Thundersley cast their votes tomorrow I can honestly say I have enjoyed the experience.

Although keen to do well in my election, my biggest concern will be how Labour does nationally. I am really hopeful that this election is the last to be held using the first past the post system, and that a fairer system where all votes matter will replace it.

I know not whether I will make a good MP, I only know that my intentions are honourable.

Review of the St.Andrew’s hustings in Southend West

I have been involved in a number of hustings over the years (I think the total stands at seven), as well as many as a spectator. Last night I attended the Southend West event in the latter capacity.

This was held at St.Andrew’s church in Westborough ward, and was well attended (I would guess at about 200). Five of the eight candidates were present, and here are my views on each of them.

David Amess (Conservative) – The incumbent had a certain amount of polish in his performance, to be expected from an MP of some 27 years standing. That he felt compelled to answer a number of questions by quoting from his party’s manifesto was bizarre – surely we can all read the manifestos? I thought hustings were an opportunity for constituents to ascertain the individual views of the prospective candidates. I accept that we all stand on manifestos, but surely he could have invested his own take on the stance of his party. 4/10

Barry Bolton (Green) – Turned up some half an hour into the proceedings, with the excuse that he was ‘busy’. This faux pas aside, his was a curious mix of good and bad answers. Sometimes he appeared to answer a different question from that actually asked. However, he had a certain warmth to his personality, and would have benefited from being a little more coherent on some issues. 5/10

Garry Cockrill (UKIP) – An execrable performance enlivened by misinformation. 2/10

Thomas Flynn (Labour) – A solid performance, although I have seen him do better. Tom was particularly effective when addressing workers’ rights and the subjects of fairness and equality. He gave by far the best summing up at the end. Although the youngest participant, he often came across with the most mature views. 8/10

Peter Welch (Liberal Democrat) – A good performance delivered with admirable understatement. I found much that I could agree with, and some that I did not. I like his unexcitable manner and his obvious intelligence. 7/10

As to the format; five candidates did not allow for much time for each answer. The organisers have no control over the number of candidates, but they could have changed the format. What was missing was any interaction between the combatants. The hustings closed at 9pm and I sensed some disappointment that it did not continue for a little longer. However, perhaps I am being over-critical, and the mingling of candidates and constituents at the end made up for this to some extent.

Overall it was a good event, enjoyed by those who attended.

Julian Ware-Lane looks forward to the campaign

My latest press release can be read here – Labour’s Castle Point candidate calls for change in the way MPs are elected

And here – Julian Ware-Lane looks forward to the campaign

The choice in Castle Point

Perhaps uniquely amongst Labour candidates at the coming General Election, I will be facing two Conservative candidates. Unlike my two opponents I was not parachuted into south Essex, neither have I had a career in politics.

Yorkshireman Dr Spink is now describing himself as ‘independent’ (after a flirtation with UKIP), and has claimed that his is the real face of Conservatism – we shall see whether the electors in Castle Point agree with him. Conservative A-lister Ms Harris is already familiar with the Westminster Village and if successful will not have to face much of an upheaval when moving desks.

Perhaps the reported decline in Conservative Party membership in Castle Point is the reason they have not been able to select from amongst their number since Bernard Braine retired. Maybe there are other reasons; whatever, if I win I will be the first Essex-born MP for the area.

The Liberal Democrats have no real presence in Castle Point. Yet to select a candidate, County elections aside they have not put up a candidate in any local elections for three years. Their commitment to Castle Point or rather lack of is self-evident.

The choice in Castle Point will be either the authentic Essex voice of myself, or two alien right-wingers. Living and working locally gives me a perspective absent from my two Conservative rivals. After more than two and a half years of campaigning I am ready for the contest.

A referendum on electoral reform a possibility on election day

If true, there is some excellent news via LabourList (Commons vote on electoral reform referendum)

This is only a first step towards electoral reform. The Commons vote has yet to be won, and then there will be the general public to convince. Nonetheless this is a pivotal moment.

Electoral reformers, and I include myself here, must rally behind the most winnable argument. We do not need diversions over the relative merits of the various proportional systems available. We need a unified voice, a simple message, and come out with a system that not only better serves democracy but is also simple to understand.

The current, first past the post, system has two main advantages: it is simple to understand, and has largely delivered a clear result. The main reason that I, and many others, oppose it is that it delivers little in the way of accountability and does not reflect the genuine will of the people.

Let the debate commence!

Rayleigh

Me and colleagues in Rayleigh High Street

Me and colleagues in Rayleigh High Street

In Rayleigh High Street yesterday morning supporting Mike Le-Surf‘s campaign. Mike is my successor in that seat (although the boundary has been re-drawn and the constituency is now called Rayleigh and Wickford). I came second there in the 2005 General Election.

It was very warm, and we had a mixed response to the street stall with some very positive feedback, some negative, and all places in-between.