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 …..

I want a squirrel

At last night’s Milton hustings a resident interrupted Tammy Cooper (Independent) as she was saying how she would work for all residents; “yes, but what do you actually stand for? We want to see some leadership from those who represent us”.

That, folks, is as good a riposte to those who seek to be all things to all men as you will likely hear.

I am not picking on Ms Cooper, she was merely the one who attracted the resident’s comment – many who put themselves up see their roles as merely to mirror whoever they last spoke to.

I am grateful for the increased Green presence in the borough in one aspect. They are clearly a team, and are sticking to their script. For them, being in a party is important, and in that I can wholly concur. Where the Greens fall down is that their cheerleader-in-chief thinks it is part of his job description to take over a residents’ meeting.

Simon Cross appears in constant need of a soapbox; I pity the poor resident for whom he inflicted earache last night, said resident having the misfortune to have sat directly in front of Mr Cross. Simon claims he was presented to support his candidate. Fine, but that does not mean he must hijack the meeting.

As it was, Vida Mansfield acquit herself very well; she was not in need of a Sir Galahad. Her problem is that her party is attacking and attempting to attract Labour support. In Milton this will make the Tories’ job easier. What gain is that for centre-left and environmentally aware politics?

Gray Sergeant gave an assured and mature performance, and was prepared to be realistic about some of the tough choices that face councillors in the current economic climate.

Bob Howes, who arguably had the trickiest job of the lot as the Liberal Democrat representative, did at least make me laugh when he declared that the current Government is the best we have had since the war (1945). The trouble is that he was not joking.

Jonathan Garston was Jonathan Garston; as usual seemingly oblivious to the damage his party have done to Milton ward. He should be replaced by the clear winner in yesterday’s event in St Mark’s church hall, and that winner was Gray Sergeant. I hope Milton will give Labour its Milton hat-trick on May 7th.

On Wednesday evening I went to an altogether different hustings in Westborough. This was slightly better attended than its Milton counterpart (about fifty present). I do wonder why, for the second year running, it clashed with Chalkwell’s event.

Charles Willis won by a country mile, a result I expect to see mirrored at the ballot box. He will be a welcome addition to the council chamber.

The questioning began with a question on TTIP and ended with asking the candidates how they find out what was going on in the ward. In between were some searching inquiries, and to be frank some candidates come up short.

Unlike in Milton, there was no audience participation. This did not stop Simon Cross wildly applauding whatever Paul Mansfield said, even when he said he knew next to nothing about a particular subject!

David Webb persisted in describing the local council administration as an Independent one. Afterwards I asked him directly who ran the council, and he had to answer me honestly (it is the Independent Group, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Joint Administration); I then said that he had effectively lied several times to the audience. He mumbled something about it being how you chose to describe them – no, the description is taken from our agreement, of which I was one of the signatories.

Both hustings showed that there is some appetite for politics, and that people do care about what is going on in their area. Oh, how I wish for such an event in Blenheim Park.

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.

Two selections

Two more ward Labour parties have selected their candidates for this May’s elections; Gray Sergeant will be contesting Milton and Charles Willis will be contesting Westborough. Both are experienced campaigners who will make fine additions to the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council chamber.

Carrying on

010Cllr Cheryl Nevin is not allowing the dust to settle after the recent campaign, she is already out and about trying to improve the environment in Milton ward for its residents and visitors.

She accompanied me to a well-known black-spot for litter and fly-tipping, an area that we are forced to report to the Council on many occasions. Once again we have requested rubbish and weeds to be cleared here.

A councillor for only nine days, Cheryl is determined to be as good as her word and strive for a cleaner and better Milton.

Milton now has two Labour councillors – we are hoping to complete the hat-trick in 2015. In the meantime if you wish to contact one of Milton’s Labour councillors you can do so by emailing either cllrnevin@southend.gov.uk or cllrware-lane@southend.gov.uk.

Is this the best you can do?

It’s big and glossy, but otherwise disappointing. The Conservative Party across Southend is not afraid to spend money on high quality print, the shame is is that there is little worth reading. Lots of colour and large fonts are not enough.

The latest In Touch from Milton’s Tories headlines on the expansion of London Southend Airport. The local Labour Party has supported the expansion on the grounds that local jobs are very much needed. There are environmental concerns and we all hope that the increase in air traffic does not ruin lives of the airport’s neighbours. The local Tory administration with the assistance of the coalition government has seen the local economy nose-dive. The airport expansion is a rare piece of economic good news for my corner of Essex.

Councillor Folkard is reported to be supporting Boris Johnson’s re-election aspirations in London yet opposed to his plans for a Thames Estuary Airport. The local Tories have a problem here – they know that the only guaranteed way to stop this mad plan is to elect a Labour Government, yet they cannot advocate that. Instead, they are left looking foolish – both backing and opposing Boris in consecutive breaths.

Councillor Folkard is a patron of the SOS Bus; he is also responsible for seeing the scrapping of the cumulative impact strategy – an important tool is trying to limit the number of licensed premises in our town centre. Labour wants this reinstated as although we welcome those who seek night-time entertainment we also are aware of the needs of those who reside in and around the town centre. Limiting the number of drinking places would also lessen the need for an SOS Bus.

I find it somewhat depressing that Tory aspirations for Southend seem to return to a desire to see a Las Vegas-on-Sea established. I do not gamble, but my Puritanism in this regard is not my driver for opposing this Tory wish. I accept that people gamble and have no objections to a limited number of casinos. What I do object to is the idea of gambling taking over our town. I would prefer to see a Southend at the forefront of arts and education, and engaging with non-avaricious forms of culture. I do not understand how anyone could want a university and gambling dens sitting cheek by jowl. If anything sums up the utter stupidity of Tory plans for Southend it is these.

A Boxing Day walk through Milton

Ingenious gaffito

A site for learning

Underwear under the weather

Here are three photographs from my walk through Milton ward today.

The first image is of some graffiti, remarkable for its location. I do not know what “*MEA:T” is meant to mean, but whoever did this managed to write this at the top of a tall structure. I am no fan of graffiti but I could not help but be impressed by the ingenuity of its author.

The second shows the site of the new town centre library. This will be a place of learning for students and residents alike. The backdrop is the Rubik’s Cube like halls of residence for the university; I do not think the design fits in with the character of the surrounding area and I hope that whoever designs the new library has a more sympathetic eye.

The third picture was of a photo-shoot session on the beach. The subject was a young lady clad only
in underwear – far from ideal for this time of year. As I strolled along the promenade the palm trees struck me as similar insofar as they are well-suited to the warmest of our summer days, but for most of the year they look a sorry sight.

Can Jonathan Garston assure me that he condemns voter bribery?

You hear interesting things when canvassing …..

I was beaten by Jonathan Garston, Conservative, in the May elections, he being returned to represent Milton ward.

I would be interested in hearing his view of candidates who offer to pay parking tickets in order to persuade someone to vote for them. I would also like his take on councillors who arranged to have parking tickets rescinded.

If not actually illegal, it is certainly underhand.

I am sure Jonathan would join me in condemning any such activity. I am also sure that if anything of this nature came to his attention he would notify the authorities.

I can assure everyone that I will not be offering any financial inducements in an effort to secure votes. Treating voters is not only illegal, in my view it is anti-democratic.

Grass where once was a pool

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the site of where the Warrior Square swimming pool once stood has now been turfed.

This turf is currently surrounded by a fence; I presume this is to protect the newly laid grass. I would hope that the fullness of time would see free public access to the green space, and perhaps the council will find sufficient funds so that much needed play equipment for the younger citizens of Southend who would then enjoy this green space the more.

Of course, I echoed the woes of my fellow Labour activists who did not want to see the town centre swimming pool demolished. It made little sense to remove this amenity from where it was able to be enjoyed by the many. The Garon’s site is not accessible in any meaningful sense, being beyond those not within walking distance or outwith of motor transportation. It can scarcely be considered a public facility if the public find it difficult to access.

The Warrior Square pool needed refurbishment and its closure removed a cherished means of acquiring fitness and life preservation skills.

In moments of cynicism I wonder how long the new grassy area will remain. Could it be a means of covering up what would otherwise resemble a building site until such time as a developer is able to submit plans for the high-rise accommodation sought by local Tories? I cannot know for sure. What I can state is that I do campaign for more youth facilities in the centre of the urban sprawl that is Southend-on-Sea, and this site provides an opportunity to provide a playground, skateboard park and the like.