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.

Thank you, all

A number of thoughts race through your mind on being told you have been selected as a Parliamentary candidate; amongst these is the enormous responsibility that has been placed on your shoulders. Your members want a campaign that makes them proud to be a part of a political organisation, and regardless of your chances your owe them to have at least given it your all.

I was selected last August, and I hope that I have worked hard enough. Despite the political climate that prevails in Southend West I think Labour did well. We finished a good second, hauling ourselves past the Liberal Democrats, as well as seeing off UKIP. Whoever follows in my footsteps, they will have the mantle of main challenger. Labour did well in the local elections, too, in this part of the borough of Southend-on-Sea, and we are well-placed in many wards now.

I must thank all my opponents and their workers for their campaigns. There is no democracy without choice, and despite my disagreements over what they each stood for, I at least acknowledge that the Southend West election would have been less diverting without their presence.

I wish Sir David Amess well in his role as my representative for the next five years. I also promise to play my part in challenging what he and his Government will be doing over that period.

I have the memory of a foot broken whilst canvassing, many charming and inspiring conversations, hours toiling over a keyboard, and the encouragement and hard work of all those who gave their time to help in my campaign.

I would finally thanks all those who voted, both for and against me. Democratic engagement is essential, and we only have to look to where in the world there is no democracy to see what a treasure we all have.

Polly Billington: Labour’s candidate to be Thurrock’s next MP

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The Tories will raise VAT. Again. Labour won’t.

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My latest Leigh and Westcliff Times article

On the first Thursday in May there will be nineteen contests in Southend-on-Sea. The towns two Conservative MPs will be battling to retain their party’s Parliamentary stranglehold locally, a stranglehold that has seen Southend-on-Sea elect nothing but Conservative MPs since 1906.

At the same time there will be contests in each of the seventeen wards as a third of the council chamber is also up on the same day.

In some ways these two sets of contests are contrasting. Obviously, the two MPs have a say in how our country is run, whereas councillors only directly affect their own town. In recent years we have seen the inexorable eating away of the Conservative edifice that for so long ran Southend-on-Sea, until last May when they were finally toppled from power. Looking at the results in the borough since the last General Election I am reminded of comments made to me when I first tried to get elected in Milton ward: “only Tories get elected around here”. I soon proved that wrong.

Voters will be able to look back at almost a year of a Joint Administration when deciding who to vote for, and perhaps they will be impressed. The “they are all the same” argument cannot be applied to the council chamber; in the short period since the Tories were ejected there has been significant progress made. The Priory House closure is to be reversed, there will be full-time staff at every library, and the Shoebury sea defences issue is being looked at again.

Southend-on-Sea has just seen its first new council house in decades, and new LED lights and road resurfacing programmes are renewing our street scenes. And, despite Conservative scaremongering, we will still have a weekly rubbish collection after the waste contract renewal. However, the budget, which is still be debated as I write this, is not without its challenges. How could it not be, what with another huge hole blasted into local authority finances by the Government?

It is likely that we will see a modest rise in council tax. My experience is of tax-payers who want to know that their taxes are being spent wisely. When it is wasted (and the MPs expenses row allowed voters to see how some of their tax money was wasted) then people are rightly indignant. However, I hope that the Joint Administration will be seen as prudent, and that Southenders will be mindful of the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. Essential public services have to be maintained, and this against the backdrop of £11 million cuts to be made this year, and in addition to the equally punitive cuts in recent years.

The National Health Service is a frequently discussed topic at the moment, and there can be little doubt that it is struggling to cope. The local hospital is missing its A&E target with alarming regularity – the latest statistics I have seen show that it failed to hit the four-hour target in thirty-nine weeks of the last year.

I am pretty clear in my mind as to why targets are being missed at the hospital, and I believe it is a combination of staff shortages and the ever increasing intrusion of a market-based philosophy that is being imposed on public healthcare. The National Health Service has always had an element of private enterprise, but not until recently has this become pervasive.

I was a home-birth baby, and home in 1959 was 401 Fairfax Drive in Westcliff-on-Sea. I could see the hospital from my home (as well as Fairfax High School that I attended in the early 1970s). The hospital has been a feature of my life ever since – sometimes good, sometimes sad. The good including the birth of my two youngest there, and a granddaughter last year. Whenever I have had scrapes I have been patched up speedily, and with great professionalism. I have seen the place change quite a bit too. Throughout , though, it has been a wonderful public resource, a refuge for those in need of being made better. It has welcomed all, regardless of the depth of their pockets. I fear, though, that another five years of a Cameron-led government will see the NHS, and our hospital, changed beyond recognition, changed for the worse.

It was a remarkable thing that was done by Clement Attlee’s Government in 1948 when setting up the NHS; possibly the most remarkable British achievement of the whole of the twentieth century. Prior to this it really was the case for many of whether they could afford a visit to the doctors; I hope those days are not revisited.

Labour Candidate Julian Ware-Lane supports Labour’s one-week cancer test guarantee

julian portrait_01Cllr Julian Ware-Lane, Labour Candidate for Southend West, is backing Labour’s new pledge for a one-week cancer test guarantee.

The next Labour government will ensure that NHS patients in England will wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020. Early diagnosis is a critical tool in the fight against cancer and this pledge could make a huge difference to those at risk from the disease.

The cancer test guarantee will be made possible by £750 million of new investment over five years, raised through a new levy on tobacco firms which make huge profits from their products which cause so much ill-health.

Julian also welcomes Ed Miliband’s wish that our health service have the best cancer survival rates in Europe, which could save up to 10,000 lives a year. The number of people waiting too long to get cancer tests are going up in Essex. In August this year, 63 patients waited longer than six weeks for cancer tests compared to 34 in the same month last year.

Julian said: “Many people I have spoken to in Southend West are concerned about David Cameron’s plans for the National Health Service. An expensive top-down reorganisation is not what is wanted at the moment, and the privatisation agenda sits ill with many. The Tories haven’t just destabilised our health service; they’re holding it back from meeting the challenges of the modern world as well. Only Labour can be trusted to protect and improve the NHS.”

“I am backing Labour’s pledge to guarantee that NHS patients in England will wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020. Early diagnosis means treatment is more likely to be successful so this is an essential pledge if we’re going to lead the fight against cancer and save more lives in our area.”

We need an NHS that meets the challenges of the modern world. We need a modern health and care service that offers the best cancer survival rate in Europe. Only Labour can be trusted to protect the NHS and with the Time to Care Fund and the one-week cancer test guarantee, we’ll ensure we have a health service fit for the 21st century.

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.

Dean Trotter for Blenheim Park

p1000714cDean Trotter was, earlier this week, selected as the Labour candidate for Blenheim Park ward for this May’s local elections. What follows are some words from Dean:

I’m standing for Labour because I believe in Labour Party values of Equality and Social Justice and I strive for a community where all have the opportunity to contribute. I believe in a community that offers help to those that need it and one that is compassionate and fair.

It appears to me that these values are not the values of the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, I have seen little compassion during their tenure and we have endured cuts on a national and local level that have hit those that need them the hardest…..that is not the Labour way and it is not my way.

I’m from Lancashire and moved to Westcliff 15 years ago and during my time I have served my local community in various ways, I managed the YMCA for eight years and was with the Homeless Action Resource project for a shorter time. I’m currently a specialist foster carer and in addition I vice chair foster panels for Essex County Council and have recently accepted the Chair position for a local Fostering Agency. I also work closely with the Fostering Network and Chair their East of England Regional Meetings. I’m a freelance trainer and have delivered training to teachers, social workers, foster carers and health professionals.

A look into the crystal ball

Despite the assumptions in some quarters about the fragility of the coalition, the best information any of us have suggests that the next general election will be in 2015. This is what the coalition has committed to, and with an 80 seat majority I see no reason why they will not succeed in this endeavour.

It then follows that Labour’s alternative must acknowledge this, and our response will be based on the situation in the country as it will be then, not as it is today.

No-one can paint a complete picture of what the UK will look like in four and a half year’s time, but we do know where some of the change will be.

We will be living in a different democracy. I cannot judge whether we will be electing our MPs under AV or FPTP – I reckon the referendum will be a close-run thing. But we can see that we will have fewer MPs and that there will be wholesale changes to the shape of constituencies. We may well have an elected second chamber, and there is some danger that party funding will be amended in a way that damages Labour. What seems likely is that there will be a fall in the numbers eligible to vote with the introduction of individual and optional registration.

Labour will have to campaign to get voters registered as a drop in registration will disproportionately affect us. If the election is fought using the Alternative Vote then a plea for second, as well as first, preferences will form part of the backdrop. If my fears about funding come to fruition then we will be fighting an election with at least one arm tied behind our backs. Our manifesto should include reforms on the voting system as we head towards a proportional system, and I expect the introduction of new technology should be acknowledged.

We can imagine that crime will once again be on the rise. This is a regular feature of Conservative governments and our manifesto should respond to this. I can predict a commitment to more bobbies on the beat and a restoration of local police support officers will be included.

Our public services are about to take some hits and, as in 1997, we should be promising to re-build important areas. Fundamental services such as the NHS will feature, and our commitments made earlier this year should be carried forward. These included the two-week cancer guarantee and weekend access to GPs.

Whether Labour will be able to undo the damage done to schools is unanswerable, but it is already looking likely that university numbers will fall away. I can easily imagine a re-commitment to the 50% take-up, and a funding solution will have to be found.

I doubt that the current government will see much action taken on the environment. Many believe that this is the biggest issue facing us, and I would expect, given Ed Miliband’s green credentials, to see this feature. I predict that green industries will be promoted, that further commitments to reducing our carbon footprints and more work on alternative energy resources will also be prominent. Our roads will be more crowded in 2015, and I would imagine that initiatives on fuel efficient cars, as well as some big plans for public transport, will see promises to transform the way we get around.

I could also speculate that the housing shortage will not have eased by 2015, that immigration will still rankle in some quarters, and that nothing will have been done on the long overdue local government reform.

The biggest issue will be economy. We ought to be into recovery by 2015, although much pain will have been endured by then. The pain will still be a recent memory, yet how much a hit is taken by the government will in many ways be determined by how clear we have been in our alternative. This will be mapped out in the coming weeks.

What has Labour done for pensioners?

The Budget announced further support for pensioners:

• Additional pensioner payment alongside the Winter Fuel Payment in winter 2010-11. This additional payment is worth £100 to households with someone over 80 and £50 to households with someone aged over female state pension age.

• Government also remains open to considering proposals for further simplification to the tax rules, following the announcement in Budget 2008 that enabled small occupational pension pots to be taken as a lump sum

• From April 2011 the Working Tax Credit will be available to people over 60 who work at least 16 hours a week, rather than 30 hours as currently.

From the Pre-Budget Report:

• Increases the full basic state pension by £2.40 to £97.65 a week in April 2010.

• Increases the full couples pension by £3.85 to £156.15 in April 2010.

• Boosts the pension guarantee – from April 2010, a single pensioner will be guaranteed an income of £132.60, a rise of £2.60, while a couple will be guaranteed £202.40, a rise of £3.95 a week.

• Extends the increase in Cold Weather Payments to £25 a week to this winter.

In addition to these recent announcements, the following is also true

• A million pensioners have been lifted out of poverty since 1997.
• Winter Fuel Payments have been established (£400 for the over 80s, £250 for the over 60s).
• Free TV licences for the over 75s.
• Free eye tests.
• Free local bus travel.
• Free off-peak national bus travel.
• Over-65s income tax allowances have risen by over 80% (up to 2009).
• Basic state pension has had above-inflation rises.
• Free swimming.
• More people qualify for full state pensions – Labour has reduced the qualification for full state pensions from 44 years for men and 39 for women to 30 years for both.

Further information

Pension credit

Winter Fuel Payments

Free bus travel and other services