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.

Thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence

I am grateful for Tony Cox’s latest contribution to the Shoebury sea defences debate (Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review). Whilst I will often find fault with his views on things, Tony is an intelligent debater. I miss our verbal jousting in council committees and meetings.

Let me cut to the chase: I admit to having little knowledge regarding what makes for an effective defence against rising sea levels. I am not able to pass judgement on the relative technical merits of the schemes being proposed.

I have no real opinion on building homes in the east of the borough beyond wishing to see the local housing shortage addressed somehow, and not wanting this solved by cramming them into the centre of town.

Firstly, I do not think I have described “wanting to protect people’s homes, lives and livelihoods” as a “vanity project“. I try to pick my words carefully. However, to choose a scheme in defiance of cost is (arguably) an exercise in vanity.

Tony then makes comment about the toilets. He should know that I have asked for the decision on toilet closures to be revisited – and I suggest he watch this space for developments. I hope I have been successful in my entreaties.

My decision at the time was not just on cost but other factors including aesthetics and environmental impact” writes Tony. I cannot refute that. But he will remember the debates we had. He will remember that cost was a factor for me, and for other councillors too. Costs are important – we are spending tax-payers money here. Besides, we are seeing local government finances under duress at the moment.

The reasons for choosing one scheme over another are largely irrelevant to my latest contention though. I have contended that we, the council members, have been misinformed. I have yet to see anything to disabuse me of this idea.

We have been presented with figures on the costs of the relevant schemes, and at every turn these costs change. This, in itself, leads to a destruction of confidence in what we are told.

Not only do the numbers vary. Up to the production of the Mott MacDonald report we were informed that the council’s preferred option was the cheapest. That was the consistent message in 2013. The numbers changed, but the preferred option was always shown as cheapest.

The Mott MacDonald report stands in distinct contradistinction to reports delivered when the decision on flood defences was initially made.

I value the work of our officers. I trust their impartiality and their wisdom. I respect other councillors, even if I profoundly disagree with them. But, but. Something has gone terribly wrong.

At the moment I see nothing but thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence. I actually hope that I have been a dullard here, because the alternative is less than pleasant.

Another take on that West Shoebury result

On a personal level I get on very well with the former West Shoebury Conservative Councillor, Tony Cox. Our politics are some distance apart, although there will be some things we can agree on. I like him because it is easy to know where you stand with him – he speaks his mind. This does not endear him to everyone, but at least you cannot accuse him of saying one thing whilst doing another.

For some he has become a bogeyman because his portfolio, when in office, covered sea defences and the CCTV enforcement vehicle. This attracted all sorts of ire, some of it justified. This is cited as being the principle reason why he was unseated. I disagree with this analysis, although I accept that this was a contributing factor.

I think his fall came about largely because of the unpopularity of his party in Southend-on-Sea, and in large measure this is driven by the poor record of the David Cameron-led Government. Austerity and cuts to public services, in my experience, have not gone down well with voters. Add into the mix the switching off of supporters once their party achieves power nationally, and you begin to understand what really happened in West Shoebury (and this will explain Tory losses across the borough too).

The graph shows the votes attracted by local government candidates in West Shoebury in 2010 and since.WestShoebury2010-2014

Two obvious things stick out: the steady decline of the Conservative vote, and the steady rise in UKIP’s fortunes. Tony Cox managed to turn around the decline in the Conservative vote, although this is likely to be caused by his hard work as any real increase in love for his party.

If you add together the 2010 votes for UKIP, BNP and the Independent you will see they collectively attracted 1265. The BNP and the Independent did not stand in West Shoebury this year; and whilst it may be speculative, there is some logic in assuming that their votes transferred en bloc to UKIP in their absence. UKIP’s James Moyies (now Cllr Moyies) got 1226 – which in context is not as wonderful as first appears. True, it is a significant improvement on their previous polling, but given my assumption about vote transfers you could credibly claim his vote has gone backwards.

My analysis is crude and should really be backed up by some proper fieldwork. However, I am attempting to show that some assumptions about what happened last month can at least be challenged. My analysis is crude, but is it any cruder than other claims about what happened and why?

My obvious preference is for a Labour victory in West Shoebury, and this is something we will continue to work for. Ordinarily I would cheer a Conservative defeat, but not here. This has nothing to do with Mr Cox, and everything to do with the fact that I see UKIP as being far worse than the Tories.