Day: 20/04/2012

My Response to Cllr John Halsall


So I finally have a copy of the Conservative leaflet for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (thanks to the generosity and sense of fair play of Cllr Halsall himself), and can thus make my response to it.

At last year’s by-election there were five candidates, and so plenty of rival literature for me to blog about. This year only the three main parties are fielding candidates, and if my suspicions that the Lib Dems are focusing their attentions and resources elsewhere are true then this could be the only leaflet (other than my own) that residents see.

So on that note, what does it say?

[Here’s a slightly lower-tech download link, if Scribd isn’t working for you, or a link to the leaflet on ElectionLeaflets.org if you’d prefer not to download]

The first page has the usual ode to [insert local area here], which to be honest is more or less universally unobjectionable. An interesting addition is a vote of confidence from Theresa May, who “looks forward to working with him over the next four years“. I imagine she’d look forward less to working with me, but given her apparent failure to grasp elementary timekeeping, I might choose to take that as a compliment.

John is also described as “the LOCAL & EXPERIENCED choice”. Which presumably is a shot at my age. I’ll grant that he is more “experienced” than I am, but I’d dispute that age necessarily makes a better councillor. I’d counter that what the council needs is an injection of radical new ideas, that are a bit more grounded in common sense and reality than what the council has been producing lately.

Inside, we’re treated the usual (possibly obligatory?) refrain about how poor Wokingham is. This is the Tories’ first, last and only line of defence against criticism. They have to sell off the libraries/sell off social care/stealth tax residents/treat voters like mugs, because they’re the worst funded local authority in the world. I won’t take up words here dispelling that particular myth, but suffice it to say it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Moving forward, John has identified three key areas where he intends to focus his efforts if re-elected:

  • Roads and traffic: John has correctly identified parking as a problem, especially around the centre of the village. This has been a problem since before I moved to Wargrave, and boils down to two simple facts: too many cars, not enough space to park them. There isn’t a quick or easy fix to this one. Restrict parking, and whilst making residents happy you make local businesses unhappy. Leave it unrestricted, and residents have to compete with customers for parking space. This one is going to run and run.
  • Green belt and planning: John is concerned with the preservation of green-belt land around the village(s). This is a pleasant, rural area, and I imagine a lot of people would agree. I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the “build” and “don’t build” camps. I accept that there is a need for increased housing provision across the borough, but would rather not see my favourite views and walking routes paved over. Of course, what John doesn’t mention is that it’s actually the Conservative-led national government’s planning reforms that are threatening green belt land. Don’t just take it from me; that’s the opinion of the Daily Telegraph.
  • Wargrave library: I’ll admit, this made me giggle. “The Conservatives are committed to the Library service by improving the efficiency of service delivery whilst maintaining and bettering what is offered.” Oh really? Then why are you selling it off? And why, John, are you failing to address the concerns over privatisation, by offering only a bland, manufactured non-statement?

Have you noticed what’s missing though? For the last couple of months, the local press has been alive with the complaints of residents that the new waste scheme is unfit for purpose. I’ve written plenty on this, and have conversed with John himself on the matter by email. But all his leaflet has to say on the matter is that if elected he will:

Address the concerns of the new waste collection scheme

And that’s it. How, John? I’ve quite clearly laid out what I think the council should do. The scheme hasn’t just had teething problems, it has been conceptually flawed from the start. People on the doorstep are angry that this has been sprung on them and that no one is listening to their complaints. This won’t address anyone’s concerns- though I confess it’s a little better than a certain Winnersh candidate’s adamant insistence that the scheme is perfect.

As I’ve said before, I like John Halsall. He is a very nice man, and every time I have had occasion to converse with him he has been polite and a joy to talk to. Sadly, though, this election comes down to policy. I strongly suspect that John himself is displeased with the waste scheme, and the library plans, and a host of other WBC policies. But he’s been left no choice but to try to defend them.

Cllr John Halsall represents the status quo. I can’t promise that I will be able to right all the wrongs in Remenham, Wargave and Ruscombe, because I won’t. But I am the candidate for change, and a change is very definitely what is needed.

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