Thurrock is just down the road from Southend. About fifteen miles or so from my door, as the crow flies. And to go there, to listen to UKIP it’s already theirs. They did indeed do well in the local elections in May, but then they did well in Southend without much of an idea of what they were standing for.
Tim Aker, the UKIP MEP for the East of England and candidate for Thurrock, is even going on Newsnight and describing Thurrock as “his seat”. Which is presumptious, given that it’s a three way marginal which he hasn’t won yet.
But it illustrates a point: they think they’ve got this sewn up. So in a by-election in a Labour council seat, a week after coming within six hundred and twenty votes of winning a safe Labour parliamentary seat, they’d look to storm it and win in a landslide.
Funny that they lost, and by a considerable margin.
I’ll lay my cards out straight off here; I’m not much of a fan of party leaders debates in the run up to general elections. We have a parliamentary, not a presidential, system in which we do not elect our heads of government. We elect our representatives to parliament.
What would, in my opinion, be more helpful would be 650 individual debates, one in each constituency in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That way people can see the candidates that they can actually vote for going head to head, and make the best choice for their local area.
Time was, these were called hustings.
That, however, isn’t going to happen. Unless David Cameron feels he can somehow chicken out of the debates completely, some variation upon the head-to-head party leaders’ debates of 2010 will be happening.
Only last night I was talking to a member of the Labour Party in Southend about housing in the borough. Fourteen years of Conservative rule saw not a single new council house built — and all the while the housing crisis grew worse. Since the Thatcher government sold off social housing stock on mass and foolishly failed to invest the proceeds in new housing to replace what was lost.
I’m not going to pretend that the new social housing secured by Labour after only a few weeks in power in Southend well since the problem alone, but I remain convinced that it signals a chance in attitude. Under the new joint administration, steered by Cllrs Ian Gilbert and David Norman, Southend Borough Council is taking housing provision seriously.
And this is extending to the private sector too. The announcement of a plan by developers Randall Watts to build 27 houses on a disused brownfield site — 100% of which to be affordable, housing association homes.
The plan goes before the Development Control (“Planning”) Committee tomorrow, so it’s not a done deal. But it is a good sign, there’s no escaping that. The solution has to be a combination of outgoing of public and private, and the public has been neglected for too long. The fact, though, that the private sector too is recognising the need for homes that people can afford to live in.
In May, Labour promised we would build housing. In July those promises are already being delivered.
Earlier this morning , at a press conference, it was announced that a deal has been reached between the Independent, Labour and Lib Dem groups to form a coalition administration on Southend Borough Council, under the leadership of Ron Woodley.
News this may well be, but to anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention it won’t come as a surprise.
In the jfilm Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World, there is a terrible joke in which Russell Crowe’s character challenges Paul Bettany’s to pick between two weevils on the tablecloth. Paul Bettany’s physician analytically picks the larger if the pair, provoking gales of laughter from Crowe, who tells him, “Don’t you know, doctor, in the service you must always choose the lesser of two weevils!”
A terrible joke. But somewhat illustrative of the choice facing Southend Labour following the local elections.
The votes have been counted (or, in Martin Terry’s case, weighed) and there were a whole host of new councillors waking up this morning.
I was at the count myself live-tweeting — and live-blogging, when I could keep up — and I saw events as they unfolded. If you haven’t seen the results yet, you can take a look here. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Done?
So the big story is the one that the BBC are currently trailing; the surge of UKIP across the country. But it wasn’t just UKIP, so how did everyone else do?
The below letter was sent to the Southend Echo on Wednesday 14th May 2014. See these previousposts for the background.
On Monday evening I attended the local election debate at Hinguar Primary School for West Shoebury and Shoeburyness candidates, advertised in your pages (Southend Echo, 9th May). You can imagine my surprise, then, where upon arrival and with no notice I was informed that the terms had been changed and it would be just for Shoeburyness candidates.
The effect was to create a debate only between the sitting Conservative councillor and the Independent candidate (whose group had been involved in organising the event). It was a shame that the debate was so needlessly constrained, particularly given that the main subject of discussion (the sea wall) is primarily in West Shoebury ward, where I am campaigning to represent the residents after the election.
But what angered me greatly was the assertion that the Labour candidate for Shoeburyness had “decided not to turn up”. This was absolutely not true. Maggie Kelly was unable to attend due to the short notice and her working commitments, which is the very reason that I – as the candidate for West Shoebury – was to take part in the debate.
Labour’s voice was deliberately cut out of the debate and I am very disappointed that the organisers resorted to this, as Labour is the only party in Southend with an optimistic and forward-looking plan for the borough. A cynic might wonder if this was the reason I was not allowed to participate.
Matthew S. Dent Labour candidate for West Shoebury
Firstly, an apology. It is, I suspect, not an apology owed by myself, but I will give it nonetheless. To anyone who attended the hustings last night at Hinguar Primary School in order to see and listen to me, you would have been disappointed.
I arrived at Hinguar at ten to seven, only to be told by Cllr Anne Chalk that I wouldn’t in fact be speaking. It had changed, apparently, from the West Shoebury and Shoeburyness hustings that had been advertised, to a Shoeburyness only debate. And as such, only Conservative Cllr Roger Hadley and Independent candidate Nick Ward would speak.
Now, I don’t know when this decision was made. I do know that I had discussed my intentions today and last night with senior Labour councillors, and no such communication had reached any of us. I do however know that the decision served to make it an Independent vs Tory battle, and that the accusation that the Labour Shoeburyness candidate had not turned up was entirely spurious. Maggie Kelly was never intended to come, as she was working.
But actually, having sat through the spectacle ensued, I’m not sure I’m not glad to have been little part of it.
Voting day is almost upon us, and the date to remember for the local elections across England is 22nd May. In Southend-on-Sea, there is everything to play for. For the first time in many years, control of the council hangs in the balance. In 2014, your vote counts more than ever to shape the future direction of the town. The main parties pitching their platforms are the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Independents, UKIP, and of course Labour.
So what are the Labour Party offering the voters of Southend in 2014?
We at Castle Dent (n.b. not an actual castle) had an interesting caller yesterday afternoon. Whilst the sun beat down on Southend, the doorbell rang, and I was the one to open the door.
And it opened onto a strange gentlemen, with a clipboard in hand, and a look I knew well. He introduced himself as the Conservative candidate for Victoria Ward. When he asked about my own politics, I was honest — a simple Google search would have told him the truth any how. It was a little different to how I would have canvassed someone on the doorstep; a lecture on the follies of François Hollande and the Parti Socialiste.
His name was Denis Garne, and less than half an hour later I learnt that he was a former councillor on Southend Borough Council. Representing the, erm, Labour Party.