Democracy

Why should Liz Kendall give up?


liz

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…

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Southend Election Hustings 2015


debate

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…

UKIP – Taking the money, not doing the job


nigel farage on the take

Imagine I had a job (which I do), and that job required me to work five days a week (which it does). Imagine, then, that I only attended two days a week of that work. Or two. Or even one day. Imagine I did not show up for the majority or working days without a single good reason. You would expect me to be fired, surely?

I don’t, of course. I am, rain or shine, at my desk 45 hours a week, Monday through Friday. I also earn below the average wage, and pay my own train fares.

I am pointing this out not as some sort of “poor me” sob story — I enjoy my job, and consider myself very lucky to do so. No, I am saying this because I want to make a contrast with another job. This job is paid three times the average wage, alongside a plethora of expenses to cover travel and living costs.

This job is, of course, Member of the European Parliament, of whom, UKIP have nine. It is therefore striking that UKIP MEP’s record of turning up for work is so — frankly — abysmal.

Read on…

An update – James Duddridge and the Halifax surgery


james duddridge halifax surgery

Well, it’s certainly been an odd week. I started out blogging a photograph I took on my phone at the weekend, and ended up at twenty to seven this morning on BBC Essex talking to James Whale. It even reached LabourList, my old haunt at Political Scrapbook, and even the BBC News website.

Hardly your average week.

James Duddridge’s “Halifax customers only” community surgery seems, at first glance, like a fairly trivial issue. But really it goes to the heart of the idea of representation. With concerns about corporate and large scale lobbying diluting the access of voters to their MPs, Mr Duddridge putting himself in a position where he seems to be turning his representation into a service for sale to corporations looks about as wise and well informed as Grant Shapps’ latest Twitter campaign.

Read on…

The Emperor of Southend


GoT-Iron-Throne

It’s been a while since I blogged about local politics. When I moved out of Wokingham, it was difficult impossible to stay connected with the local political scene in which I had become established. In Reading, I simply wasn’t there long enough to get acquainted.

But now, as some of you will know, I’m now living in sunny Southend-on-Sea. This is somewhere that I already have local knowledge, given that I spent four and a bit years visiting Ashleigh here most weeks. I also wrote this, back in the day, so I already have a bit of a beachhead in the local politics.

For the month and a bit that I’ve been living by the Thames Estuary, I’ve kept fairly schtum. I’ve been reading the blogs of the local politicians and fellow political geeks, reading the local paper, and watching the latest council meeting on their nifty webcast — which is one hell of an innovation.

Straight off the bat, what I notice is something right up my street: a debate on how to elect the borough’s councillors, all at once every four years, or a third at a time in consecutive years?

Read on…

Why you need to vote for your Police Commissioner


The below is the text of a letter I wrote, published in the present Wokingham Times, in response to an earlier letter written by Green Party activist Marjory Bisset. In it, Marjory calls on Wokingham residents to boycott the Police Commissioner elections in protest against their imposition.

As you will see below, this is not a position with which I agree.

I was, I must admit, somewhat surprised to read Marjory Bisset’s letter in last week’s Wokingham Times advocating, on behalf of the Green Party, a boycott of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Whilst I share her scepticism about the new position, hers is, unfortunately, a position lacking pragmatism.

That these elections are going to happen is an unavoidable truth. Elected police commissioners are a Conservative policy and the Conservative Party has its eye on taking control of as many police forces as possible – including in the Thames Valley.

Over the last two and a half years I think we’ve seen all we need to of Tory policing policy. Budget cutbacks, accompanied by nonsense about not cutting the “front lines”, even as we see those front lines suffering. The former Chief Whip’s comments have shown just what the Tories think of police officers – and, indeed, the rest of us “plebs”.

As for the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley, Anthony Stansfeld, his website demonstrates he is a man bankrupt of ideas to improve policing, and with neither the experience nor the imagination to have any. Indeed, his one policy that I have been able to find so far is that the new Police Commissioner should have a dedicated car and chauffeur. Whose priorities are these?

Residents of Wokingham should think carefully about whether this is a man, and a party, they want in control of their police force. If not, then the answer is not to boycott the vote – an action which can only hand victory to the Conservatives – but to read the policy pledges of the other candidates, and turn out to vote on November 15th.

Matthew S. Dent

Twyford & District Labour Party

You’ll only get one chance to make this choice. After November 15th, you’ll be stuck with the winner for three and a half years. Take this opportunity. Use your vote to choose the best candidate.

Glass Houses and Throwing Stones


Owen Jones — a man talking an enormous amount of sense in the debate on trades union and strike ballot thresholds.

There was an interesting moment on last week’s version of Any Questions, Radio 4’s political panel show (think Question Time, but on the radio and with a different Dimbleby), there was an interesting little exchange regarding strike ballots.

In response to a question about the PCS trade union calling a strike for the day before the Olympics begin, and coming immediately after a spout of reactionary, right-wing nonsense from Kelvin MacKenzie (if not the most insufferable and repugnant men in the media today, then certainly one of), the microphone came to Owen Jones. After he had corrected Kelvin on the reasons for the strike, and doing a sterling job explaining why the workers had no choice, Jonathan Dimbleby asked him this question:

JD: “Does the fact that only 20% were balloted, and only 50% of the 20% were in favour of strike action, weigh with you or not?

OJ: “That would strike out a lot of elected politicians in this country including Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Which, aside from being very true, is an interesting point. If we take practising what they preach as the standard that our politicians should be aspiring to, then the people calling for the introduction of strike ballot thresholds should, themselves, surely be commanding a majority of the overall electorate in their constituencies. Right?

So I decided to check. I started with the elected politicians in the cabinet, calculating how much of their electorates voted for them. I’ve put the turnout for each MP’s constituency there too, just for added context, and have colour coded the results: green for half or more of the vote; orange for less than half but more than a third; and red for less than a third. All results are rounded to one decimal place, and you are welcome — nay, encouraged — to check my maths:

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

David Cameron Prime Minister

73.3

43.1

George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer

70.6

38.5

Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister

73.7

39.4

William Hague Foreign Secretary

67.2

42

Iain Duncan Smith SoS for Work and Pensions

66.5

35.1

Vince Cable SoS for Business Skills and Innovation

74.8

40.7

Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury

64.9

26.4

Theresa May Home Secretary

73.7

43.9

Michael Gove SoS for Education

70.0

40.3

Eric Pickles SoS for Communities and Local Government

71.9

40.9

Justine Greening SoS for Transport

64.4

34.1

Ed Davey SoS for Energy and Climate Change

70.4

35.1

Andrew Lansley SoS for Health

74.8

35.5

Ken Clarke SoS for Justice

73.6

37.7

Philip Hammond SoS for Defence

66.4

37.1

Caroline Spelman SoS for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

63.3

32.7

Owen Paterson SoS for Northern Ireland

65.7

33.8

Cheryl Gillan SoS for Wales

74.6

45.1

Jeremy Hunt SoS for Culture, Media and Sport

73.4

43.1

Michael Moore SoS for Scotland

66.4

30.1

Andrew Mitchell SoS for International Development

67.9

36.7

Francis Maude Minister for the Cabinet Office

72.1

38.0

Oliver Letwin Minister of State in the Cabinet Office

74.6

35.5

David Willetts Minister of State for Universities and Science

63.0

32.2

Sir George Young Leader of the House of Commons

69.6

40.6

Patrick McLoughlin Chief Whip in the House of Commons

73.8

38.4

Dominic Grieve Attorney General

70.0

42.8

There’s a distinct lack of green in that table, isn’t there?

And bear in mind that these are cabinet ministers, the leading politicians of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Most of them represent “safe seats” where they far outstrip the nearest rival candidates. Backbenchers who represent more marginal constituencies are going to command even less support.

So, after this enlightening little revelation, I thought I’d do a bit more. Below is a second table, showing the same information with a number of other elected politicians who have called for or expressed support for introducing a rule requiring a ballot on industrial action to reach a threshold level of support in order to be valid.

(N.B. Aidan Burley is the chairman of the “Trade Union Reform Campaign”, an organisation dedicated to attacking the trades union, and staffed by a variety of comic characters, of whom Burley is by far the most tragically hilarious.)

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

Boris Johnson Mayor of London

38.1

19.6

Matthew Hancock MP for West Suffolk

64.6

32.7

Aidan Burley MP for Cannock Chase, Chairman of the TURC

61.1

24.5

Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton

72.0

42.4

Priti Patel MP for Witham

70.2

36.6

Nick de Bois MP for Enfield North

67.1

28.4

Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West

58.1

26.2

Damian Green Minister of State for Immigration

67.9

36.7

Still no green. And a good deal more red.

Now, I actually agree that there’s a problem with the turnout in the PCS ballot. But the solution isn’t curbing the democracy of the unions, but trying to encourage better participation in the democratic process. Owen Jones himself went on to suggest a number of good, constructive ideas:

What we need to do is change our very stringent anti-union laws to allow workplace based balloting, to ensure as many workers can take part as possible. Text balloting, email balloting. At the moment the problem is with the postal ballot system, is that most people don’t get round to filling out their postal ballot and sending it off.

Maybe I’m just a dangerous lefty subversive, but I think there’s a certain irony in people who don’t have majority support complaining that the unions don’t have the support of the majority of their members. This kind of hypocrisy could be stemmed with the introduction of a more proportional voting system — but none of the Conservative politicians listed above supported such a move when it was put to a referendum in 2011.

There is a well-known proverbial saying, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones“. And I think there are a lot of politicians on the government benches in the House of Commons who should think very carefully upon it.

Why I’m a (Reluctant) Monarchist


God has been saving the Queen for over 60 years now- and she’s done a pretty good job.

Well, sort of. A reluctant monarchist, maybe.

Despite appearances, republicanism really does seem to be the dominant flavour on this issue with the British left. But, of course, being British it tends to manifest mostly through the quiet tutting, as well as not hanging bunting out come the Jubilee and royal wedding malarkeys. And, if Republic are anything to go by, really boring press releases.

But sadly, I cannot find myself supporting calls for an elected head of state. I find the idea of a President of Britain slightly unsavoury, and not simply for sentimental reasons. Having viewed the cavalcade of egotists, narcissists and idiots that other countries have managed to elect as heads of state (not to mention the motley crew who staff our own political ranks) it’s hard to see the advantage a president would have over, say, a Queen.

I know all the arguments. Why should someone hold overwhelming (even if it is largely theoretical) power simply by dint of birth? As much of a problem as this is (and, honestly, is the reason for the titular reluctance), I struggle to get nearly as incensed about it as I do over cabinet ministers with actual power and less regard for the common good.

The complaints about the costs of the monarchy (around 51p per person per year) seem equally fanciful from where I’m sat. It’s not so much that it’s peanuts, or that the money couldn’t be used elsewhere, but the idea that a president would be cheaper. Now, others may disagree, but I would have said the presidents of the US or France, for example, were exactly retrained and austere in their public lives. And how much would it cost rebrand the entire country- or would re remain the United Kingdom?

I’m not anti-democracy, but I do think that it has its time and place. Democracy hasn’t always stopped tyrants in the past, and in modern times it is more the media and personal freedom of individuals which has felled them (often, I’d point out, masquerading as presidents rather than monarchs). I hold similar opinions, too, about the prospect of an elected House of Lords,  which puts me somewhat out of step with a great chunk of my political fellows. I won’t go into detail on that here, but it basically boils down to the fact that although democracy is incredibly important, it need not and should not be extended to every part of life and governance.

So this weekend I have enjoyed the jubilee. Specifically, I’ve helped the 1st Twyford Scouts BBQ at Jubilee events, and gotten variously soaked and scorched in the process. I haven’t painted myself red, white and blue, I haven’t gotten “God save the Queen” tattooed across my forehead, and I will never agree that Cliff Richards is anything other than a pestilence- or that Fearne Cotton’s involvement with the BBC’s Jubilee coverage was a good idea.

But the Queen has done a good job for the last 60 years, and if only he can keep his opinions about architecture to himself it looks like Charles might not utter mess it up either. Yes, the Duke of Edinburgh’s comments are often inappropriate. Yes, the Royals’ personal are often just as much of a car crash as everyone else’s. And yes, one thousand times yes, everyone needed to get some bloody perspective last year about the Royal Wedding.

But on the whole, I think we’re doing pretty well. And so is the Queen- long may she reign.

Are You Registered to Vote?


It’s that time once again. On May 3rd, the polling stations across Wokingham Borough will open and there will be ballot papers waiting for your cross on them. This year there are 18 seats being contested across the borough, and there are real issues at stake.

I am not a neutral party in this, I would like to make that perfectly clear from the start. I am the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Remenham Wargrave and Ruscombe. In the coming weeks, I will be asking for the votes of residents, and explaining why they should say yes.

The democratic process, whilst not without fault, does put ultimate decision-making power in the hands of those ultimately affected by said decisions. And with residents angry at the moment over bin bags, planning decisions, libraries and a host of other complaints, the power to choose your representative has never been more important.

Any UK citizen over the age of 18, who is not incarcerated, is eligible to vote. In addition, EU citizens resident in the UK can vote in local elections, as can Commonwealth citizens who have leave to remain. But you have to be on the electoral roll.

Most people are on the electoral roll automatically, but you can check with Wokingham electoral services either

By phone: 0118 974 6522 / 0118 974 6523

By email: electoralservices@wokingham.gov.uk

Or in person: at the council offices, at Shute End, Wokingham, RG40 1WH

They’re very nice, and don’t bite. I promise. And if you aren’t register you have until 18th April 2012 to register in time to vote on May 3rd.

The reason that I’m posting this here, is because I can’t find it at all on the Wokingham website. I don’t care who you vote for, me or someone else. But people died so that we could vote, so the least you can do is turn up on the day and mark the paper. If you don’t like anyone who’s standing you can spoil your ballot- that way your vote will be recorded without you giving your support to anyone.

The important thing, though, is that you can’t use your vote if you’re not registered to

(If you’re not a resident in Wokingham borough, it is just as important that you exercise your vote. Apathy and low turnout defeat democracy. If you want to find out how to check whether you’re registered, the About My Vote website is a fantastic place to start)

Matthew S. Dent for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe


Matthew S. Dent, Labour and Co-Op candidate for Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

With nominations closed, all of the forms in, and the full list of candidates to be officially announced next week, I think this is as good a time as any to make my own announcement: I am standing on May 3rd as the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe.

This has been something of a given for a long while now, but my nomination forms went in last Wednesday without hiccough, and so pending Tuesday’s announcement everything will be official.

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting leaflets through letterboxes, and talking to people all across the ward about the issues they are concerned about, and what I can offer them if elected. The advantage of being involved in local politics all year round, not only at election time, is that I’m already familiar with most of the issues.

On a national level, the economy is still in the doldrums and the Conservative-led economic strategy seems only to be making things worse. There is a real risk that we will shortly be back in recession- officially; many households will testify that the struggles they face day to day already speak of recession- and what are the government focusing on? Taxing pasties; taxing pensioners; snooping in our emails; shutting down transparency; cutting tax for millionaires; ending child tax credits for ordinary working families and a whole load of other unhelpful and regressive measures.

One thing is becoming very clear- we are not all in this together.

But this is a local election, and whilst the national picture cannot be discounted or ignored I want residents to cast their votes based on local issues. So here is an overview of some of the issues I will be campaigning on:

  • Bin collection: the new scheme has proved disastrous. The scheme is a stealth tax on residents, and even central government has serious concerns that the council have no legal basis for doing this. Residents are in uproar, and the councillors who implemented this scheme are nowhere to be seen. My view on this is simple. We are calling for three things: firstly, the scheme should be suspended immediately; secondly, there should be an inquiry into what has gone wrong with the scheme, particularly the problems besetting the launch; thirdly, the consultation with residents that the council didn’t think was necessary should be conducted, and no new scheme introduced without public approval.
  • Libraries: the plan to privatise libraries across the borough was central to my campaign in the July by-election, and since then it has dropped off the agenda a little. I am not happy about this; the council dismissed residents concerns when a petition triggered a debate, and have done nothing to mitigate the damage that I believe this plan will cause. Privatising libraries will lead to corners being cut in the pursuit of profit, and our currently great libraries will be at risk of decline. The decision is due to be made in May, so this is a vital issue on the doorsteps.
  • Real democracy: At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents. Time and again, they do exactly what they want with concern neither for the views of voters or whether it is a good idea. There is little to no debate, and a sense of aloof disdain for disagreement. They have even admitted that they don’t think they need to listen to residents. I believe that the way to solve this is by putting different voices, of different parties, on the council. If elected I will make holding the council to account my primary business, and pushing for better policies for the borough.

I will be expanding on and adding to these points as the election grows closer, and as I receive more feedback from residents on the doorstep. If you live in the ward and want to get in touch with me, I welcome any and all contact, and you can do so by:

Or simply wait until I knock on your door.