Better off in, and fighting for change, than being out and isolated

As Labour re-evaluates its offer to the electorate last month I expect we will see some policy changes. This will doubtless receive mixed reactions, but however you look at it what we offered was rejected by the electorate – and changes have to be made.

The first significant re-think has come in the guise of the referendum on whether the UK remains in the EU.

I confess that I was not keen on the idea of a referendum. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a minority view, and any sensible politician should always be mindful of public opinion.

I still think that the debate will create an air of uncertainty in the business world, especially if it looks like those who want a UK exit might be getting their way. Nonetheless, the referendum lies before us, and those of us who want the UK to remain in the EU must make the argument.

I am in no doubt that the EU is in need of reform; almost two decades of accounts not signed off is but one area of concern. However, I am in no doubt that our prosperity is bound up with Europe. I also believe that the British have a long and proud history of reaching out to the world, and exit would signal a reversal of that approach.

We no longer have the Empire, and the world has moved on considerably since our entry into the Common Market in 1973. New economies now challenge for supremacy, and if we give up our seat at the big table of Europe, we will only blunt our competitive edge in the economic battles to come.

We also have the challenges of climate change, terrorism, and international crime to deal with, and being part of the EU makes us better able to do this. A small island state does not have the clout of a large chunk of continental Europe, and our voice and standing in the world would undoubtedly diminish should those who want exit win the referendum.

By all means let’s change and improve the European Union, but please do not gamble with our place in the world, our prosperity, and the future of the generations to come. We are better off in.

The horse as ridden by Jes

One of the long-standing opinions is that in a General Election independent voices are squeezed out of the picture, a voice in the wilderness so to speak. Almost everyone will go to their local polling station on Thursday 7th May with one thought uppermost in their mind. Voters will be choosing their Member of Parliament, and by extension stating which Government they would prefer.

This is a generalisation, but I think it will be true in the overwhelming number of cases. Local elections are being held on the same day, and it certainly used to be true that votes cast in a council election would invariably be for the same party as was chosen for the Parliamentary election.

Add in the increased turnout, likely double or more of what is normally cast in local elections, and it becomes obvious that any independent, who also has to contend with a backdrop of blanket coverage for the national parties, is going to struggle to make an impact.

Cllr Paul Van Looy should be facing a fight to the death in his St Luke’s ward. Whilst Labour are giving it a go, both the Conservative and UKIP candidates seem to be asleep. Neither the Greens, nor the Liberal Democrats, have selected (or announced anyway); this is going to be a late show for them.

The Tories made a big show of announcing their slate in the East last year, and by selecting a Rochford Parish Councillor (James Cottis) they were making a statement. Judging by the amount of campaign time Cllr Cottis has put in since selection I do not think it was of the “you really matter to us” variety. Either James is a poor campaigner, or the Conservatives really have given up on St Luke’s.

Roger Weaver’s fanfare was about as far as it got for UKIP in St Luke’s too. He has perhaps been hampered by having a local party more willing to fight amongst themselves than to take it to the opposition; Paul must be enjoying that spectacle.

I fear that it might be an over-used phrase in the coming weeks, but the campaign in St Luke’s is (for the present at least) a two-horse race. It is Phillips versus Van Looy; big party candidate or independent.

In any other year Paul Van Looy would be the favourite. Elected with a handsome majority, an incumbent who is a member of the new, and popular, administration. However.

Jes Phillips, a young mum, has the benefit of a national campaign running aside her own personal one. Usually reluctant residents will come out, and whilst little thought will be given to her campaign, she will be the beneficiary of a vote to banish Cameron from Number Ten.

It promises to be an intriguing contest ….



Housing and more affordable homes for first-time buyers

It ought to be crystal clear to every politico in the urban paradise that occasionally is Southend-on-Sea, that this town is in desperate need of affordable housing. This manifests itself in a number of ways – youngsters still at home, families overcrowded, aspirant home-owners trapped in expensive rental agreements.

Homebuilding would also be a driver for employment for the local builders and craftsmen who assemble and furnish these new homes.

Recent announcements by Ed Miliband are welcome news; to remind readers, these have included giving local communities power to build where people want to live, enabling councils to plan properly for homebuilding, and giving access rights to first time buyers.

This Government has a frankly terrible record on home ownership and house-building, including the lowest levels of house-building in 90 years and home ownership levels at their lowest in 30 years. Those houses available are too expensive for young families, pushing back the age at which people can own their first property. Our children face a grim future unless the housing market is made to work for them.

I applaud the Labour commitment to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020. I also applaud the aspiration to see the number of first-time buyers doubled by 2025. I was in my twenties when I first owned my home – and I wish this for all in their twenties, in Southend and in the rest of the country.