I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t. The idea of a response to UKIP’s election literature seems like the epitome of daft. But I know that some people like their ideas, and what seems silly to me doesn’t to everyone else. But the rubbish that came through my door, from UKIP candidate Andy Heape, was more than rampant euroscepticism. It was just barmy.
I’ll confess that I haven’t seen much of UKIP’s election literature before, apart from a few national leaflets which were exactly what I would have expected. This is the first local leaflet I’ve seen, and it seems to be mostly waffle. Really, there are a few problems I see with it.
Firstly, it seems to have no bearing on the Ward. This is a by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, with a very specific cause behind it. Now, the main people UKIP would be aiming to take votes from are the Tories, whose fault this by-election this is and all of the other parties are hitting them over it. But strangely not UKIP.
Equally, all of the pledges made seem horribly general. For example, saving hospital services. The nearest major hospital is the Royal Berkshire Hospital. To the best of my knowledge it isn’t under threat, and even if it was, it’s outside of Wokingham Borough Council’s jurisdiction, and so is irrelevant to this election. The only pledges with any locational specificity are for a purpose-built library, and regarding green belt and urbanisation in East Berkshire. The latter is very general, and the former doesn’t make any sense. Wargrave library is perfectly adequate, and a fantastic old building. It most certainly doesn’t need to be replaced.
But maybe he means Twyford library. For the uninitiated, Twyford library is a series of portacabins, which isn’t really fit for purpose, and does need replacing. Plans have even been approved by Twyford Parish Council for the building of a new Community Hub, incorporating the library. But there’s one slight problem: it’s not in the ward.
Now, I’m sure plenty of people in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe do use Twyford library. I’ve used it myself. But this is indicative of something bigger. Mr Heape is not a resident within the ward. It doesn’t even seem that he knows much at all about the ward and the concerns of the people there. And this sort of thing seems very close to the problems with Cllr Stretton, to whom the concerns of local residents didn’t matter.
But beyond Mr Heape himself, there are problems with some of his ideas. Leading the UKIP local agenda is the suggestion that local people should be able to call a binding referendum on local issues. It’s a nice idea on paper, giving local people a direct say over local issues. But that’s what we elect representatives for. And elections (including referendums) are expensive. A parish election costs in the region of £3,000. This by-election will cost £9,000. Do we really have the money to call a referendum over every planning permission request?
I agree that there needs to be greater transparency and representation in local government. But the turnout in the AV referendum was painfully low. The turnout in this by-election probably won’t be high. Local people will be too apathetic to troop to the polling station every week to vote on an incredibly minor issue, and it will end up costing a fortune to achieve nothing at all.
The ironic part is that the leaflet header bears the legend “Straight talking”. This tosh seems anything but.