When I blogged about Monday’s Shoebury hustings, back on Tuesday, I focused on the questions (question?) asked, and the answers given (or not) given by the two candidates. In short, I focused on the debate that actually happened.
What I didn’t dwell on, and perhaps I should have done, was the debate which didn’t happen.
As I said on Tuesday, the initial intention had been that I would represent Southend Labour Party on the panel. This was the working assumption until ten minutes before the start of the debate, where Independent Party Group councillor Anne Chalk informed me that it would be only the two Shoeburyness candidates who were there.
After the hustings I sent a letter for the Echo’s letters page (which I will post here when it is published), but for now the whole affairhas been written up in the Echo in a pretty disappointing way:
“Labour and Lib Dem candidates, Maggie Kelley and Jane Dresner failed to turn up for the meeting at Hinguar Primary School on Monday leaving Mr Hadley to take the full force of public anger.“
Which begs a few points of clarification (including one from the my inner editor: the omission of the comma following Maggie and Jane’s names is the Echo’s not my own).
- Firstly: When we were informed of the hustings back on the previous Wednesday, we knew then that Maggie would not be able to attend (she works shift work, and anyone who has done that knows it isn’t as simple as deciding not to work). This is the very reason which I was participating in the first place, and Anne Chalk knew and agreed to this.
- Secondly: Having been told that I wouldn’t be allowed to speak on the panel, I was told that the chair would read out a statement from Maggie/Southend Labour Party. This might have been a reasonable solution if we had known in advance that the agreement for me to sit on the panel in Maggie’s stead would not be honoured. But we didn’t. I don’t carry around such statements in my back pocket, and scribbling a statement in my chicken-scratch handwriting on the back of a leaflet ten minutes before the start felt like a bad idea in every sense.
- Thirdly: This was not made clear to the audience. In fact, the phrasing used in the Echo is the phrasing which was used by the chair. The audience was told that the Lib Dem and Labour candidates hadn’t turned up, and hadn’t issued any statements to be read out. No mention was made of the alternative arrangement that I would participate, and no mention was made of the last minute change to proceedings. I should have probably shouted up at this point, but I’ll tell the truth; I was a little shell-shocked. I was definitely a little naive, and that’s on me. Lesson learnt. But the organisers, nonetheless, misled the audience.
Fourthly: As I have previous said, my exclusion was utterly spurious given that the main topic of discussion was the sea wall, which is a West Shoebury issue.
So there. This was, I am certain, a deliberate effort to pare down the debate to Independent candidate Nick Ward and Conservative councillor Roger Hadley. Mr Ward was supremely unimpressive, so it’s clear to see why Anne Chalk wanted this debate, but the lies about myself, Maggie and Labour in order to get there are exactly the worst kind of party politicking that the Independent Party Group claim to eschew.
So what would I have said had the Indies allowed me to participate? I’m glad you asked…
- The Sea Wall: This was the hot-button question, and my answer wouldn’t have been a particular crowd-pleaser. Sea defences are essential, and the two main deciders should be effectiveness and value. However, the Tory administration have completely bungled the consultation, and alienated residents. I won’t pledge to scrap the whole thing (as I do suspect that contracts may already have been signed, and I won’t promise to spend hundred of thousands to unpick them), but the decision does need to be reviewed.
- The Gunners Park housing: We need more housing. I’m sorry, but it’s true. My concern over the Gunners Park is twofold: firstly, can the infrastructure handle it? Public transport links could bear improvement, and this should be a requirement placed on any developer. Secondly, there is a lack of affordable housing in the present proposal. Cllr Hadley said that money for affordable housing will have to be provided, but it won’t necessarily be in Shoebury. That is, in my opinion, not permissible. Any affordable housing resulting from this should be built in Shoebury.
- Health Centre: Both Nick Ward and Roger Hadley supported the long-running ambition of a health centre in Shoeburyness. Labour is the only party where all candidates across the borough have promised to get it built in our manifesto.
- Cllr Hadley: Roger has to stand accountable for the failures of an administration he has loyally supported. This has included the closure of Friars library in Shoeburyness, and the complete failure to build any social housing. Nobody challenged him on this, which was disappointing. The problem with Cllr Hadley isn’t that he supported the sea wall; the problem is that he has supported uncritically everything that the councillor has done.
- Nick Ward: Mr Ward was a sponge, a vacuum shaped like a politician. He had nothing to say other than that he was against building a sea wall and building houses. He had no solutions aside from scrapping those, and the only positive things he had to say were about building the health centre, reopening East Beach, and the meaningless “doing what residents want”. All policies which we can assume all candidates support, and no reason to vote for Mr Ward in particular.
There is more, but those were the main points I prepared/picked up on as the debate progressed. Those are the points that the audience didn’t hear, because Anne Chalk decided (rightly) that her candidate was too weak to stand up to scrutiny himself. And all of the above is why I have absolutely no time for the Independent Party Group and their farcical claims to be free of party politics.