Silly season in Nelson Street

Nigel Holdcroft is a clever man who likes to give the impression of being a very silly one from time to time. His post on the legitimacy of a Cllr Woodley led administration (Southend Council – a question of legitimacy!) is a good example.

I shall skirt over the leadership vote in 2012, when the then Cllr Holdcroft held onto power despite his group being one short of a majority – although one could question that administration’s legitimacy. I shall not because within the limitations of the electoral system current in Southend-on-Sea, he won a fair election.

This does not change this year. The Independent Group is some distance from having a majority on its own, and so some sort of coalition has to be cobbled together. If this is achieved then Cllr Woodley continues to lead. Nigel can bleat all he likes, until his party has enough councillors they will be condemned to opposition. (One could question why they are devoid of friends – four groups look set to reach an accommodation, whereas the Tories are left on their own.)

Our Nige quotes the latest set of election results in Southend-on-Sea, and correctly points out that those adorned with blue rosettes saw thirteen victories out of a possible maximum of nineteen. However.

I counter this with a look at the votes each party attracted.

Only 39.3% voted Conservative. Whilst this is more than any other party, it is some way short of a majority, and leaves 60.7% of the borough choosing to avoid the Tories.

Legitimacy?

Labour, the Independents, and the Liberal Democrats attracted a combined 43.5% of the vote – 4.2% above the Tories. I call that a mandate.

If the Conservatives can persuade both UKIP and the Greens to back them then the debate takes an interesting turn. Until then, please shut up.

Again, Southend Tories snub Southend people

It is no news for me to restate that my election agent this year is Southend West resident Cllr Kevin Robinson. My Conservative opponent cannot make the same claim.

David Amess has opted for Castle Point resident Nigel Holdcroft. Southend’s Tories make a regular habit of choosing from outside of the borough – three of the last four Tory council leaders have not resided in the borough (Latham, Waite and Holdcroft). Only one-year leader Murray Foster was a Southend resident.

One can only speculate as to why they hold Southend people in such low regard. They regularly choose to have councillors from outside of the borough (Ann Holland and Adam Jones at the moment), which whilst not against any rules does leave wondering what they really think of the town and those that inhabit it.

Still, Nigel Holdcroft’s retirement from politics lasted less than a year.

Kursaal Record, and elsewhere

013The one bit of praise I feel I can bestow upon Southend’s Conservatives is their willingness to experiment when it comes to their literature. The experiments are not always good, but they at least are sold on the idea of variety.

Sometimes their output borders on the surreal, sometimes it is very good. They like glossy, which does not always work. There is also a noticeable lack of coherence across the borough – which for some illustrates their independence of thinking. For me, though, it is a weakness; voters want a strong team to run the borough, not a bunch of individuals with competing agendas. This is the Independent Group’s weakness, although in output they actually manage to be more consistent than the Tories.

The Tories latest offering defies their usual strategy – they have opted for identikit leaflets across the borough, altering only the ward and candidate in each locality. They have also offer up some policy, for a change, which allows those of us who value debate a chance to dissect and discuss.

The leaflet is almost good. It lambasts cuts, and regrets increased charges and taxes – things that I can endorse, sort of. For you see, whilst I too can express disappointment, my ire is trained on those that have forced the Joint Administration’s hand, the Conservative-led Government.

The XXXXX (insert ward name here) Record blames my party and our partners for the budget. Fair enough, we authored it, we supported it, and we won the vote to carry it through. However, local authorities, Southend-on-Sea included, are facing a tsunami of cuts in recent years, cuts caused by central Government.

Whilst we can argue over where we choose the axe to fall, we cannot disagree that however we juggle the figures the cuts are going to come.

To ameliorate some of the shortfall the local administration has opted for a modest rise. This amounts to about 42p a week for a Band D property. This modest rise has consequences beyond the immediate year, for it helps boost our council tax base too. This is important as we face the axe for a few more years to come.

Car parking charges has seen a rise, offset to some extent by a reduced charging period in parts of the town. This has been a difficult decision, but I suspect the extra few pence per hour this means for motorists will not be the disincentive the Tories are claiming for it. Tony Cox likes to cry ‘hypocrisy’ – but has conveniently forgotten the rises and suggested lengthened charging periods of recent years when his chums ran the town.

Toilets closure were headed off by me, and I acknowledge that some will claim that victory here had little to do with me. It is a strange ploy to big up a cut that never happened.

I accept that the removal of 54 litter bins is contentious. Cuts have to be made, much that I wish it were otherwise. I have argued for new bins in Milton ward, and so to see that some will be removed is not enjoyable. I blame Eric Pickles.

I must say I do find it distasteful to see the dead being used as a political football. Cremation charges are being increased, but this one-off charge merely aligns us with nearby authorities – and I again repeat that we have to find the money from somewhere.

The former local Tory leader (who does not pay his council tax in Southend-on-Sea) has written some interesting pieces on the budget. For an alternate take on what is happening they are worth a read. Whilst I admit to finding much to argue with, I am grateful for his intelligent (sometimes) contribution to the debate. Now, it only remains for Nigel to see that all this misery is a direct consequence of electing a Government intent on an ideological attack on local authority finances.

Oh come on Nigel!

Former Conservative councillor Nigel Holdcroft has had his eye caught by one of my posts. Our Nige, it will be remember, was Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council before he sought pastures new and left the chamber last May (not that he the anticipated Tory rejection in the Borough that he nearly resides in).

He notes that I voted against the Conservative budget (in successive years) whilst seemingly endorsing some of what was in it. Well, I am not going to pretend that everything Conservative is bad, and neither will I concede much is good. However, Nigel will know that the Budget vote is on the thing as a whole, and not on any individual part of it.

So, his jibe about the action being taken on Victoria Avenue can be dismissed as just that – a jibe. Nigel may be able claim some credit, but I do wonder why a decade elapsed before his administration did much at all – in contrast to the Joint Administration which is getting on with the job.

I do not think I have pretended that Labour is alone in championing anything (although in some cases that is the truth) – I merely point out that Labour is taking action as ‘part of the Joint Administration‘. We were successful in campaigning to keep Hamstel Children’s Centre open, despite it being earmarked for the chop by Nigel and his pals.

Nigel, in reference to the library review, dismisses the changes we have made as merely ‘simply moved the chairs‘ – which will not be a view shared by those who love and cherish Southchurch and Westcliff libraries.

As to the Shoebury sea wall plans. I did vote with the Conservative administration and would vote the same way again if presented with the same facts. He should know that his administration failed spectacularly in presentation here, resulting in a massive lack of confidence amongst residents in what the Council were trying to do. It is right that this decision be reviewed (something I think the Tories would have been forced to do if they had retained control) and that alternative be considered.

To avoid ambiguity: I think we need to strengthen the sea defences in the east of the Borough, and this should be done using the most cost-effective solution. I happen to believe that what was the Council preferred option delivered – and if this still proves to be the case then I will support it again.

I cannot apologise for Labour Party rhetoric – after all, I am hoping to be part of a Labour Government. I hope, though, that there is enough of me in this blog to satisfy Nigel. I can return compliments – Nigel’s blog is definitely a worthwhile read, probably the best Conservative blog in Southend. This does not mean he is always (or often) right, although always on the Right.

I’d rather be in Ed’s shoes than Mr Cameron’s (a myopic view from Nelson Street)

At the moment Southend’s Conservatives chief blogger is their former leader, the man who stepped down from the Council in May. Nigel Holdcroft is someone I can profoundly disagree with much of the time, can agree with some of the time, and can almost always look forward to his writing. If politics is the battle of ideas then we need people like Nigel to at least counter what is coming out from the centre-left along the northern edge of the Thames estuary. Tony Cox appears to be enjoying being away from the chamber too much, Cllr James Courtenay is an infrequent writer, and Cllr Mark Flewitt is a better advertisement for his opposition than I am sure he intends.

Occasionally Nigel name-checks me, most recently just over a week ago. He writes of The challenge for Labour candidates, an article that also mentions my fellow Labour parliamentary aspirant, Cllr Ian Gilbert.

I have noticed recent tweets from our own candidates Cllrs Julian Ware-Lane and Ian Gilbert questioning the existence of any leadership challenge or doubts as to Ed’s performance.” Thus wrote Nigel. He adds: ” We are told that it is all mischief making by a couple of disenchanted mps and the wicked national media. Oh come on boys you know as well as the rest of us that Ed’s leadership is doing a good impression of a car crash. You would garner far more support if you were honest and accepted that there is a problem.

Of course I am a loyalist, and I am bound by my loyalty to support the leader. But, as far as I can see, there is no widespread discontent with the leadership of Ed Miliband. The Conservatives may wish for an unhappy Opposition, but it is just not happening.

Whilst we may wish for better polling, for instance, the flux that we are witnessing in national politics means that whoever was in charge would see only narrow leads.

Where it matters, in actual policy announcements, Miliband is doing as well as anyone could.

When talking about Labour leaders it is often said that Michael Foot was the worst; this ignores his major achievement – holding the party together when the SDP was gaining a lot of traction. In 2010 Labour suffered a dreadful defeat, and the fact that within one term we are seriously in contention again speaks volumes for Ed’s leadership. We have not fractured, we are not riven by splits, and we are determined to end the catastrophic Cameron premiership.

Mr Holdcroft may wish for a “malaise affecting the Labour Party“, yet I think there are real problems a lot closer to home for Nigel. This Thursday we are likely to see UKIP make its second gain from his beloved Conservative Party, and one can only guess at the jitters this will create within Conservative quarters. The leader with real problems is David Cameron, and there are serious questions being asked of his leadership. Whilst there will always be isolated individuals questioning Labour Party tactics and policy, there is no debate regarding the job in hand. This is not true of the Tories for whom there is a battle royal between those who wish for one-nation Conservatism and those who favour a rightwards lurch towards policies hostile to Europe, immigrants, and human rights.

The West Leigh Question

The view from Nelson Street is always going to be tarnished with a blue-tinted hue, its correspondent unable wash away his prejudices. Last Thursday Mr Holdcroft gave forth the view that it was ‘A bad week for Labour‘. (I await his verdict on this week and whether it has been a good one for the Conservative Party.)

In amongst his attack on Labour his gives his opinion on the West Lothian question (a question originally asked by a Labour MP). He writes: that the principle of English votes for English laws was fair.

I get a strong whiff of hypocrisy here. Nigel lives in Castle Point, and yet was unabashed in leading Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. He even voted on measures that clearly would have no impact on him. For instance, as a Castle Point resident he would be paying his Council Tax to Kiln Road, yet was able to write and vote for a budget affecting every resident in Southend-on-Sea.

Three of the last four Conservative leaders in Southend have been strangers: Charles Latham was also a Castle Point resident, and Anna Waite lived in Barling. Only Murray Foster lived in Southend, and his reign was mercifully short.

The Tories in Southend like to import their talent. We still have Barling Parish councillor Adam Jones in the chamber (although he is not seeking re-election), and Wakering resident Anne Holland is her party’s deputy leader. In case their quota of foreigners drops they have selected James Cottis, who was a Rochford District councillor until ejected by the electorate in May (and he still is a parish councillor in Rochford).

If you think that only those affected should vote on issues then surely this applies every bit as much at local authority level. There is no credibility in insisting that those in Parliament should only vote on issues affecting their constituents if you are unaffected by what you vote for in the council chamber.

For the record I am unconcerned by the fact that Scottish MPs vote on laws affecting England only; as I am unconcerned by MPs representing rural constituencies voting for matters affecting urbanites, or inland MPs voting on coastal issues. I live in Blenheim Park ward and represent Milton ward, and yet vote on issues affecting other wards.

I support regional authorities, and in terms of size Northern ireland, Scotland and Wales are the equivalent of English regions. I would have regions and unitaries, and scrap counties and districts. However, I should also add that I am prepared hear all sides on this issue and am prepared to compromise – it is not a matter of principle for me.

Nice try!

Nigel Holdcroft is employing his best seduction techniques in an attempt to make this idiot even more useful (The trials of an Administration supporting blogger). He woos me when I take a swipe at other parties, and plays hurt when my faculties are either trained on the Tories or not employed at all.

I am not yet at the stage of sitting cross-legged in my garden, pulling petals off a daisy to the mutterings of “he loves me, he loves me not”, but I can imagine Nige thinking this day is not far off.

It is true that moving from Opposition to Administration does present challenges, more so when one is shackled with partners that ordinarily I often disagree with. However, let me reassure those viewing from Nelson Street that I have lost none of my fire when it comes to issues of equality and fairness.

The truth, though, is that I am signatory to an agreement and that what has mostly been announced emanates from policy enshrined in that agreement. Whilst I was critical of how some announcements were made (and the language employed in one or two instances), nonetheless I do welcome what was announced.

Of course, I am wary that we may be seeing the beginnings of a jam tomorrow strategy – promising to fix everything is laudable, but dangerous. Whatever good news is being delivered today, I cannot see any way to avoid delivering a lot of pain later. Every promise to purchase a failing hotel, for instance, must mean something being cut elsewhere. However, as I said to Nige (when he was important): “if Labour had managed a landslide in Southend and wrested control from the current administration last May then we would be facing the same difficult choices. We would, though, be lambasting the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government that is forcing these cuts on us.” (March 2013)

I note, though, that even Mr Holdcroft cannot resist asking for more expenditure, asking for Scrutiny Committees to be webcast is not a cost-free exercise (I remind him that the webcasting of Full Council costs about £3000 a meeting).

Weak analysis by Mr Rejected

Nigel Holdcroft’s psephological writing has left me wondering whether he really does not know his stuff, or is deliberately choosing the blinkered approach. Either way, his attempt to explain away the May election results in Southend-on-Sea as some sort of short-term blip is wide of the mark – very wide.

He is bound to defend his record, but this obstructs objective analysis of what went on. His party’s rejection this May needs to be looked at in context.

Before we look at the facts I feel obliged to offer Nigel, and his fellow Southend Tories, a bit of advice. If you continue to act and speak as if this year’s rejection was a one-off and that things will return to normal (i.e. Southend back in Tory hands) in pretty short order then you will be disappointed. You have got to face up to one obvious fact: Southenders did not like what you were doing to the town. Unless you admit this and change tack you will suffer further losses.

Nigel has written: As it was the Conservatives polled aprox 30% of the vote acroo the Town, well ahead of UKIP with 19% and the rest from 18% downwards

This is broadly correct as it is, although it avoids the most obvious conclusion from these numbers. First, though, a reminder of what happened in May:

30.29% Conservative
19.10% Independent
18.99% Labour
17.50% UKIP
12.96% Liberal Democrat
1.23% Green
0.04% National Front

The Conservatives, it could be argued, won in the Borough. I think a more accurate telling of the story is to state that with 69.71% voting for other parties it was quite a rejection.

The context of these elections is of a town that has only ever elected Conservative MPs since 1906 and has seen the local authority run by the Tories for far more years than they have sat in opposition. The fracturing of the anti-Tory vote in many ways emphasises the desperation of residents keen to see anyone without a blue rosette elected. I accept that this does not really account for the UKIP surge, which in many ways demonstrates that even the Tory faithful have begun to lose their faith.

I have always said, though, that any election taken in isolation can only tell part of the story. Thus, we should look at the story over a number of elections, and this shows a steadily declining Conservative vote in the town. 2014 was no one-off, but rather a continuation of a trend begun in 2005; a trend that shows the Conservative vote dwindling year after year.

To be fair, during the same period there has been only a modest growth in the Labour vote (from 16.6%). It is the vote of the ‘other parties’ (other than Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) that has grown considerably over the last decade (from 7.8% to 37.8%). To complete the story the Liberal Democrat has halved over the same period.

So Nigel, you may think that in the “ West … the picture looks strong” and you maybe “looking forward to a strong blue fightback in the East” but unless things change in your party I do not see why you think as you do. It is somewhat arrogant to think that any rejection was a blip and that the electorate will suddenly change their minds and think you were alright all along.

Mind you, perhaps I should encourage you to continue thinking this way. After all, your loss is my gain.