Why should Liz Kendall give up?


An interesting thing seems to have cropped up of late; here and there, the suggestion that Liz Kendall should drop out of the Labour leadership race.

I say interesting, what I mean is utterly perplexing. So far as I can see, there is not much reason why should even consider it.

The theory seems to go that she should drop out of the race and endorse Yvette Cooper, in an effort to stop Jeremy Corbyn from winning the leadership and leading Labour to their biggest catastrophe since 1983. And whilst I do hope that Yvette wins and believe that Jeremy Corbyn would not be good for the Party, the idea that Liz’s presence or not on the ballot paper can have any influence on this is simply ignorant of the facts.

Read on…

On the Rochford & Southend East election hustings (Bell Vue Church)


I like to leave a little space between a debate and giving my thoughts on how they went.

Partly, that’s related to my attempt to more widely document such debates, by recording and publishing them. As I discussed with fellow local politics blogger John Barber recently, I think my own views and commentary should remain separate from the actual recording itself, so that people can make their own minds up.

But also, I do like to digest what I’ve witnessed, to give a more thoughtful analysis (Some may disagree on that point -Ed). To that end, getting on for five days later, let’s take a look at the Rochford & Southend East hustings on Wednesday 22nd April 2015, held at Bell Vue Baptist Church.

The first thing I’d like to say, before looking at the candidates, is how well hosted I thought it was. The candidates were mic-ed up, it was all clear and audible, and the questions were wide-ranging and challenging. The evening was, in total, attended by somewhere between 100-150 people, if I had to guess. Most even lived in the constituency, I believe.

If you haven’t had a listen yet, I implore you to do so before reading my own views. Make your own mind up.

Read on…

LISTEN: Rochford & Southend East parliamentary hustings 22/04/15

(Note: This is an ambient recording, and as such won’t always be fantastic. Luckily, Bell Vue made their own recording of the microphone feed. So if there’s bits of this which are inaudible, try listening to theirs.)

Southend Election Hustings 2015


I really meant to get this post together earlier than this; one of the symptoms of election time being that there never seems to be enough time to get everything done!

Nonetheless, after the Rochford & Southend East hustings hosted by the Echo last night, here is a list of all the hustings and debates of which I am aware, in the Southend area — i.e. the two Parliamentary constituencies and the local elections.

If I’ve missed any (which I doubtless have) please let me know via the comments or my contact form and I will update.

Read on…

Finchampstead Police Commissioner debate – a review

So, last night saw a very well-attended public debate between the six Police & Crime candidates at Finchampstead Memorial Hall, at which I was present. I was, actually, very impressed with the whole arrangement. I had feared initially that only the three main party candidates would be there, but fortunately all six were present. And the audience as well as being numerous (I’d estimate something like fifty in attendance) were also involved and engaged.

Each candidate was given ten minutes to give an initial pitch of who they are and what the want to do in the job, before the floor was opened to some very well-thought out and interesting questions.

A number of issues came up. One was cross-border co-operation between police forces, to which Cllr Stansfeld responded that he thought having a single figure at the top of the police force would help increase such co-operation. He seemed less than happy with my question, though, on the confusing differences between his various declarations of financial interests (which you can read more about here).

The issue which really got the debate going, however, was arming the police. Most of the candidates were very much against routine armament, with Tim Starkey saying that he would be willing to look into more widespread use of tasers. UKIP’s Barry Cooper, however, went against the grain and said that it was an operational matter (as opposed to political), that if Thames Valley Police wanted it he would say yes, and that he personally favoured routine armament.

Beyond that, there was a lot of concern from the audience along the lines of “Why do we need a Police & Crime Commissioner?” and “Who will hold them to account?“. To which the answers seemed to be that, to the first, the previous Police Authorities were indirectly elected and unaccountable, and that the Police Commissioner would answer only to the electorate and the indirectly elected Police and Crime Panels.

Tim Starkey was the only one who would admit that there were still pretty huge accountability problems with this system, and stressed (as I have) that although we may disagree with this policy, after 15th November we will have a PCC, and so need to make the best of it that we can.

So now I’ll summarise the performances of each of the candidates, and my thoughts on them.

  • Patience Awe (Independent) – Very disappointing, if I’m honest. Her main selling point seemed to be her IT experience, though its relevance to the role seems fairly limited. She repeated herself a lot, didn’t manage to say anything that someone else didn’t say better, and overall was a chore to listen to. I couldn’t discern any policy from her speech or from her leaflet.
  • Barry Cooper (UKIP) – One of the stronger candidates, actually. Mr Cooper actually seemed to have some idea what he’d do with the role, though in something of an embryonic stage. I disagree pretty strongly with his policies (particularly his attacks on “political correctness“, a line which always seems to mask something altogether darker and more sinister), but he came across at least as competent. Though his misstepped hard and lost the room with his comments over arming the police.
  • Geoffrey Howard (Independent) – The second independent came across reasonably well in his opening speech, though his only real qualification for the job seems to be serving as a magistrate. Like Patience, he was big on rhetoric and low on policy. I wish I could say more, but he uttered not a word beyond the initial speech. He seemed to forget he was there — and honestly, so did I.
  • John Howson (Liberal Democrat) – John came across as being fairly sensible. I don’t really believe he stands a chance, but for what it’s worth he didn’t seem to have any objectionable ideas. He didn’t have any leaflets at the debate though, so I can’t refer back to any particular policies, and none really were mentioned.
  • Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative) – Ah, the great Cllr Stansfeld. He played big on his experience in the army and as a business leader, and not being the Home Secretary’s candidate of choice. Which is a point in his favour, I suppose. But he was convinced that this role is definitely a positive thing, which put him at odds with many at the debate (and many of the electorate, I suspect). For such a major candidate, though, I am very much alarmed to have no idea what he would do if he wins.
  • Tim Starkey (Labour) – Personally, I think Tim came across best. You might say that I would say that, but he was frank about the position, and that although Labour voted against the policy it is going to happen, and actually mentioned specific areas of crime beyond what the candidates had all read off the internet about Finchampstead (burglaries and anti-social behaviour). He said he would focus on domestic violence, which is an important area which has been neglected by candidates and central government alike. And he was calm, personable and confident. Which always helps.

So there we go. I’m not going to pretend that I’m unbiased, but several other (neutral) people I spoke to thought Tim came across best. But what struck me most of all was just how poor a slate this is. The independents were useless, Cllr Stansfeld still seemed to me like he was already ordained as PCC, and it was a fight between Tim, Barry and John as to who was the most sensible person in the room (something which preferences for giving police guns didn’t help).

Those three were the only ones who had anything resembling policy, and were willing to contemplate a rise to the police precept (an element of council tax) in order to maintain essential services in the face of cuts. Overall, however, the candidates were big on vague statements and lacking on real ideas.

The elections are two weeks away now. As I’ve already said, they will be happening even if you think that the position is idiocy. So please, read my views, read the candidates’ websites (bare though some of them may be), and ask questions of the candidates on social media. Make your decision, and go down and have your say at the ballot box on November 15th.

Thames Valley Police Commissioner Hustings in Wokingham

The most common thing I hear from people when I talk to them about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections —  now less than three weeks away — is that they have no idea who the candidates are, or what policies they are standing on.

It’s an understandable problem, really. The Thames Valley is a big area, and the elections have been both terribly timed and remarkably unpromoted, given that they’re for a major new public office. Unless voters have specifically gone looking for candidates’ positions (or maybe not even then) or they have been canvassed by activists then there is little chance they will have much idea what each candidate is proposing.

So local hustings have been of primary importance in this campaign. There have been several already, but Wednesday will see the candidates coming to Wokingham for a public debate. The Finchampstead Society will be hosting a debate at 7:30pm at the Memorial Hall (Wokingham, RG40 4JU) where the candidates will be speaking and available to answer questions.

As far as I’m aware, only the three main party candidates have confirmed attendance: John Howson (Lib Dem), Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative), and Tim Starkey (Labour). Which leaves the two remaining independents and the UKIP candidate may well not be there. But it’s better than nothing.

I shall be there, and I urge any residents of the Thames Valley area who can make it to join me. This is a serious and major public office, and we are running a real risk of allowing a candidate to sleepwalk into it with no real scrutiny or democratic process. Come along on Wednesday evening, and put your questions to the people vying to be your first Police & Crime Commissioner.

A Pot to Piss In

The boarded-up toilet block in Twyford, and the sign pinned to the door.

The elections are over, but the problems assailing Wokingham borough are still here. Despite the fact that local Tory leader Cllr Lee reckons that the results were terribly unfair on his party, they are still in control and their unpopular, controversial and unworkable policies roll on unhestitatingly.

And we’re still resisting them.

Case in point, the closure of public toilets across the borough. Despite the problems raised, despite the objections from the elderly, the disabled, those with children, the council remain convinced that the local loos scheme is an adequate replacement for the closed public toilets blocks.

We, the local Labour party, have raised in conjunction with other local community groups a petition against the policy, calling for the council to reconsider. Attention has largely been focused, so far, on Wokingham town centre and Woodley. But recently the prospects for public conveniences in those places have increased: Woodley Town Council have their eye on money from development to re-open the toilets, and certain executive council members have been hinting that the Wokingham town centre regeneration will include new toilets.

So with these developments, the petition appears to have more significant for other areas of the borough: for Winnersh,  Finchampstead, and Earley- and the northern parishes. Twyford and Wargrave, which I consider “my patch”, also have closed-down toilet blocks. They sit, boarded-up and half-derelict, whilst an inadequate agreement with local businesses replaces them.

The petition has crossed the requisite number of signatures, and will be presented to the council at its meeting next Thursday (24th), and will trigger a debate at the meeting on 19th July. It will be interesting to see whether this follows the pattern of the previous debate, on library privatisation, where the Conservatives were disdainful and dismissive of the signatories. I don’t suppose they will change their minds, but at least they won’t be able to ignore it.

I fully expect that Cllr Lee’s favourite excuse will make an appearance. It’s already seen an outing this week in the Twyford Advertiser, which referred to “Cllr Lee’s cash-strapped council“. I’ve already laid out how Wokingham’s “worst-funded” status is more than mitigated by its high council tax take. And the idea that we are too poor to provide public toilets is patent lunacy.

I will be there in the public gallery of the council chambers both on Thursday, to see the presentation of the petition, and in July, for the debate. I would urge any residents who have become disillusioned and sceptical of the Tories’ methods and attitudes to join me there. You never know, we may even force them to deal with Wokingham’s problems, rather than simply insult its people.

UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that, in much the same manner as their Woodley counterpart, Winnersh Parish Council are planning to build a public toilet. The difference here is that Winnersh is doing it out of its own budget. So it seems that the the slack left by the borough council’s cost-cutting abdication of responsibility is being taken up further down the chain at the parish council level. Wonderful.

No Platform for Racist Men?

Today's EDL protest march in Brighton was met with an overwhelming counter-protest by anti-fascist groups.

What do we do about far-right, neo-fascist groups, campaigning to bring down our democracy and our society from the inside?

It seems a particularly pertinent question at the moment, for a number of reasons. Firstly the leader of the France’s Front National, Marine Le Pen, looks to have achieved around a fifth of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election. Secondly, a “March for England” held by EDL supporters in Brighton was met by an overwhelming counter-protest by anti-fascist groups. And thirdly, though a little out of date now, Ken Livingstone dramatically quit the BBC’s London Mayoral debate in protest at the inclusion of the BNP candidate, leading to all of the other candidates apart from independent candidate Siobhan Benita to follow him.

The BNP themselves are, really, a dying force in this country. Sadly, this form of racist far-right politics isn’t. The EDL still seems to be able to draw people from the outskirts of society to its flag. Partly I think that this is due to the difficult times, and the attractiveness of finding a scapegoat.

There is a long-standing tradition of “no platform” policies when it comes to fascist parties and candidates, with the NUS as I recall being particularly tenacious when it comes to theirs. I understand the reasoning behind it: that to accept and debate with such policies is to legitimise them.

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable around this. For example, when Nick Griffin appeared on the BBC’s flagship political debate program Question Time, anti-fascist protesters caused havoc outside the studio. At the time I was embarrassed about this, and on reflection I still am. As it was, Griffin was soundly bested in the debate.

Did the protesters outside not think that he would be? Did they think that if given a platform he would work a Hitler-esque hypnotism and have us all Nazi saluting as he goose-stepped into Downing Street? I think that shows a lack of faith in our own arguments.

The thing is that the ideology that the far-right espouses is intellectually bankrupt. That the true British people (read “white”) are superior to [insert convenient category of “different” people here] is clearly nonsense. It will always attract a limited number of supporters, because there will always be those who want someone to blame for their bad luck, and think they see someone who they can pick on.

The EDL came to Maidenhead last year. It wasn’t apocalyptic, it wasn’t a great disaster, but it was a massive inconvenience. It was deliberately timed to coincide with a major family and community event, for maximum disruption, and it was staffed by people bused in from outside the area. It was met by a counter-protest by local Islamic groups, which was counter-productive to be honest. It was clear that nobody but the occasional nutter supported the march.

One of the things I resent is the corollary of Unite Against Fascism and the like, that if we don’t actively declare ourselves against these morons we must be for them. I’d argue that the opposite is true, and that this mentality belies the fact that they command only a bare minority of support.

In the local elections, I’m not standing against a BNP candidate, or anyone from the National Front, English Democrats, or any variation thereupon. I wasn’t last year, either. What would I do if I was? I couldn’t say for absolute certain until it happened, but honestly I think I trust my own beliefs, ideology and arguments enough to take them on directly.

Wokingham Borough’s Library Shambles

The shambles I witnessed at Wokingham Borough Council tonight only motivates me to fight harder for a local democracy that works for local people

Well that was certainly illuminating!

I am just now back from Wokingham Borough Council’s full council meeting, at which the petition to save library services from privatisation was presented and debated. Those readers who followed my twitter feed (using the #WokinghamLibraries hashtag) will know something of the debacle, but I’ll relate it in full here for everyone else.

The libraries debate came at the end of the meeting- though it was pointed out to me that it needn’t have, and that maybe the Mayor chose to leave it ’til the end in order to try and empty out the public gallery. Regardless, it didn’t work. Myself and Roy Mantel were there, along with Greg Bello from Woodley Labour, and various Lib Dems and other interested parties.

The Tories’ argument against the petition was chiefly that they were not, in fact, privatising the libraries. Their reasoning varied slightly, but seemed principally semantic. The word that they used throughout was “outsourcing”. This, we were told, was not privatisation as they would not be selling the buildings.

Now, this doesn’t hold water to my mind. I didn’t campaign in the Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe by-election to protect the library buildings, I campaigned to save the services. This is, as I understand, what the petitioners wanted. The argument that it isn’t privatising if you still own the physical assets is nonsense- the train franchises don’t own the trains and rails, but does anyone describe the railways as being “outsourced”?

Beyond that there was some quite spectacular rhetorical-nonsense-on-stilts, particularly from my old friend Keith Baker, who remarkably managed, in the course of a brief speech, to interpret a petition against the Tories’ plans as a ringing endorsement.

But the real fun came at the end of the debate. You see, once the speeches had been made, the council had to vote on a proposal. It fell to Councillor UllaKarin Clark, executive member for internal services, to put one forward. But unfortunately she was almost immediately told that it didn’t meet the requirements.

And then it all went a little bit mad. The Lib Dems, credit to them, had prepared a proposal in advance, and had it written up and ready to distribute throughout the chamber. Whilst Prue Bray, Lib Dem leader, tried to make herself heard, the Mayor pointedly ignored the opposition whilst the executive quickly tried to write a new proposal on the floor of the chamber.

Eventually, sanity prevailed; the Lib Dems’ proposal (that the executive reconsider their decision) was made, and voted down by the Tories (to cries of “Shame! Shame!” from the public gallery). Then, a slightly amended version of the same proposal was moved by a Tory councillor (that the executive reconsider their decision after the tendering process is completed), and passed unanimously.

The end result is that I’m not sure what has happened. Prue Bray is claiming victory on twitter, which is frankly a little optimistic in my opinion. The Tories run such a monopoly in Wokingham that they can do what they like, and something as ideological as the privatisation of the libraries is very definitely something they’d like.

But what I take away from this, the first council meeting I have observed, is the image of the council in chaos after Cllr Clark’s first proposal was found unsuitable. Such rampant disorganisation, from a major organ of local democracy, was a disgrace. The executive should have known what the borough constitution required of them, and their utter lack of preparation and competence is shocking- regardless of what the passed proposal means, I certainly don’t trust the library service in their hands.

I’m not sure who it was who said that are two things that you shouldn’t watch being made, but judging from tonight I’d have to agree. What an utter shambles!

Socialism and Socialising

This little piece of genius is not, unfortunately, my own creation, but the Twitter profile picture of the Sussex Uni Creative Writing Society

I’m a third year Law student. I’m fairly sure I should have done the whole society thing in the first year. But whatever, I’ve never been one for doing things conventionally.

Last night I jumped off the deep end, and went to two societies in the same night. The first was the Labour Society, which was a particularly enjoyable hour of debating how Labour should move forward in terms of campaigning. The debate went a little off-topic, but it was all very interesting, and had a real feel of socialist camaraderie since we were locked out of the designated room and held the meeting sat on the floor of the corridor (and offering directions to the various lost people wandering past).

But as much as I enjoyed that, it’s not what I want to focus on. After the Labour Society meeting, I attended my first meeting of Write (the Sussex Uni Creative Writing Society).

Now, anyone who knows me or who has looked at this blog before will know that I’m a writer. It’s kind of hard to get away from with me. So it might seem odd that I’ve never been to any sort of writing group before. But I haven’t. And I really hadn’t any idea what to expect. So when I found myself in a crowded, stuffy room, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

But I had a really good time. After an initial writing exercise, in which I attempted to write a morning routine in the voice of Jeremy Kyle, I kicked things off by reading out a piece of my writing. Now, this isn’t something I’ve ever done before. I read stuff out that I’d written when I was in school, but I don’t really count that. This was the first piece I’d read allowed to anyone since I became what I refer to as a “serious” writer.

It was nerve wracking. It wasn’t a particularly short piece, either. A 4,500 word short horror story, which once I’ve posted this I will be polishing up to submit to Murky Depths. It was fairly well received, which was a relief because I’m not sure what I would have done if they didn’t like it. And immediately afterwards I felt like an absolute moron for labouring over the damn thing all day to get it perfect. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was a bit rough. After all, the people in that room were only the same as me; people who enjoy writing, and who want to have a go at it.

So in conclusion, if you can find a good group of like-minded writers, with whom to meet, discuss, and trial your work on, then I would very much recommend it. Being a writer can be a lonely thing, and whilst Twitter and other social networking ideas can help bridge the gap (and there are a number of fellow writers I count as friends who I have never met in the flesh), there’s nothing quite like a face to face meeting with other people who share your interests and passions. I think that goes for most things in life, really.

And I have a whole new level of respect for those on creative writing courses. Reading your work for the critique of others is not an easy thing to do. But definitely worth it.