Henley Standard

A Correction – John Halsall and the Henley Standard

On Saturday morning, I posted a blog entitled “The Sincerest Form of Flattery“, in which I highlighted a portion of (my Conservative opponent in the upcoming election) Cllr John Hallsall’s statement in the Henley Standard  this week.

In the blog, I highlighted a sentence which was identical to my campaign line. It has since been brought to my attention by the journalist who wrote the piece that my own words were misattributed to Cllr Halsall, and he did not in fact say the statement in question.

So, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, I withdraw my accusations that he had “borrowed” my line. The blog in question will not be deleted (you’ll find no memory holes here), but I will add an update to the beginning linking to this post. I apologise to Cllr Halsall, and assure him that my mistake was made in good faith in the belief that the attributation was correct.

However, I stand by some of my conclusions in that blog, and I quote them here for ease of reference:

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

I hope that this correction and apology will draw a line under the matter, and will be satisfactory to all involved- in particular John Halsall.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm taking John Halsall's apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

[UPDATE: Subsequently to publishing this blog, I have discovered that the premise of this blog is based upon a mistake in the Henley Standard article. As a result, I have published this correction of my own claims]

This week’s Henley Standard (published yesterday) contains a “Local Elections 2012” page, in which they give an overview of the candidates standing for election in the areas they cover. Since this includes Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, there are profiles of myself, Cllr Halsall and the Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Alder.

This is the first sign of direct campaigning from Martin, which is strange for a candidate who put out three leaflets at last summer’ by election. But since it’s been confirmed to me by a neutral resident this week that the Lib Dems haven’t even distributed a leaflet this time, I’m pretty confident that this is part of a strategic concentration of resources.

But it’s Cllr Halsall’s bio that interests me. It’s nothing particularly new or ground-breaking, but there is one line which particularly grabbed my attention:

Both [the bins problem and the libraries issue] show a dangerous disconnect between the council leaders and ordinary people.

Which sounds…familiar. Very familiar, in fact. And looking back through the archives on this very site, I come across this line, from the blog where I declared my candidacy back on April 6th:

At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents.

In fact, the fact that the council leadership isn’t listening has been the central point of my campaign. Time and again I’ve pointed out serious failings that stem from this simple truth. From the libraries, to the disaster that is the new bin scheme, to the borough’s development “plan”, the message has been clear: the Conservatives don’t care what you think. And it’s very odd to hear my songs sung by others.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m taking John Halsall’s apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

John is a very smart man. I would never seek to deny that, and surely anyone who has spoken to him will recognise it. He’s clearly been knocking on doors, and been hearing the same views from residents as I have. He recognises that his party has a poor record for competence at the moment, both nationally and locally, and that clinging to indefensible positions will only lose him votes and support.

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

Vote for the original, not the tribute band.

What is the Co-operative Party?

The below letter was sent by myself and Finchampstead North candidate Tim Jinkerson to the local press. published in this week’s Wokingham Times, and a slightly edited version in last week’s Henley Standard. With luck, it will also be in tomorrow’s Twyford Advertiser.
The local elections in Wokingham are drawing closer, and as voters in Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe and Finchampstead North look to the candidates on their ballot papers, they will see a “Labour and Co-operative Party” candidate.
The Co-operative Party is the sister party of the Labour Party and the political arm of the cooperative movement. Readers may recognise this from the cooperative supermarket brand, and other well-known groups.
Co-operativism is about working together, about groups and communities dedicated to each other’s mutual benefit. In these difficult times it is an antidote to selfishness and a path towards a better, fairer and more sustainable future.
Such principles are of particular relevance and importance in Wokingham at the moment. Too often local government has been dictating to residents, rather than working with them. Instead of consulting with the public, and trying to reach the best possible outcome, they make decisions behind closed doors and impose them from above.
Anyone who wants to know more about the Cooperative Party and its values can find a wealth of information at http://www.party.coop/, and as voters consider their choice on May 3rd, they should keep in mind what Labour and Co-op means for them.

Tim Jinkerson

Labour and Co-op candidate for Finchampstead North

Matthew S. Dent

Labour and Co-op candidate for Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe

Council Tax Revisited

Cllrs Bob Pitts and John Halsall were full of praise when Tory Wokingham Borough froze its share of council tax. Will they be criticising their parish-level colleagues in Wargrave for raising theirs?

The other week, as Wokingham’s local budget drew closer, I had a look at the fallacy inherent in the Conservative obsession with council tax cuts/freezes at all cost. There were a lot of things I had to say about it, chiefly calling for a more nuaunced look at the issue than the “cuts good, rises bad” dichotomy that they stick to.

But in my holding forth on Wokingham’s budget, I’d overlooked this little gem in The Henley Standard. Henley has a town council, under South Oxfordshire District Council, so it makes sense that the Standard would focus on town/parish council level. Here’s what they say (emphasis added):

“The biggest rise is in Sonning Common at 20 per cent, or £6.67 a year extra. Other rises include Peppard at three per cent, Wargrave (2.49 per cent) and Watlington (one per cent). Benson Parish Council is reducing its precept from £69.14 to £68.57 per household.”

I reckon a lot of readers will be particularly shocked at the percentage figure for Sonning Common, but I’m not going to pass judgement on it directly, as I don’t known enough about the parish’s situation. The fact that Wargrave faces an increase interests me.

The thing is that council tax has a number of constituents. There’s the part that goes to the local authority, but for Wargrave residents there are also the precepts charged by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the parish council, as well as the likes of police authorities. It’s already widely known that the Borough Council have taken a one-off government grant to freeze their share, and so have RBFRS.

But parish councils get no such grant, so if they are to freeze or cut their precepts, then they have to bear the pain of it themselves. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t cut or freeze precepts, but it does seem a bit of a cheek for the Conservatives in power at grant-gifted Borough Council level to be laying into Woodley Town Council for not cutting their precepts.

I don’t really know that much about Wargrave Parish Council’s activities and expenditures. They did have a non-functioning website, but that now seems to have died off completely. As such, I’m not going to lash out with fire and brimstone at them for daring to raise precepts, as I suspect they play a significant role in the excellent biennial Wargrave Festival, and there may be very valid reasons for a minor increase.

However, the two Conservative councillors who represent the village at Borough Council, Bob Pitts and John Halsall (both of whom live outside of the parish, though still within the ward- in Ruscombe and Remenham respectively) both lent considerable rhetorical support to the local budget, praising Wokingham for freezing its share of council tax. Given that Wargrave Parish Council is conservative with a small c if not with a capital C, and given that Mr Halsall will be standing against me for re-election in May, I wonder whether they would support the parish councillors, or damn them as their colleagues did Woodley Town Council?

There is room for both hypocrisy and idiocy here.

The Henley Standard on Wokingham Libraries

The Henley Standard's article on the Wokingham Borough Council's library privatisation debate

And here we come to the last of the local papers to cover Wokingham Borough Council’s petition-triggered libraries debate, but blimey it’s a fairly heavy article.

They’ve taken the time to get quotes not only from me, but from Cllr UllaKarin Clark (the executive member for internal services) and my old friend Cllr Keith Baker (executive member for whatever he feels like at the time, it seems), as well as Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe’s own Cllr John Halsall.

The result is what feels like a fairly well balanced article, and I’m glad that it touches on the disorganisation of the debate as that was something I really felt let residents down. It’s not just the fact that the Conservatives are prepared to steamroller the privatisation (or “outsourcing”, if you prefer Keith) through over public objection, but that they are so unused and unprepared for democratic challenge that they fall to pieces when it raises its head.

At any rate, I’ll quote a portion of the article text for you here:

…Matthew Dent, of Newalls Rise, Wargrave, who attended the meeting accused the council of misleading the public.

Mr Dent, who was the Labour candidate in a by-election for the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe seat on the borough council in July, said: ‘The council claims that it is outsourcing rather than privatising the library service as it will not be selling off the buildings, only the service.

‘However, any private comany to come in on a contract with the council would be looking to make a profit and if it hasn’t the control to close libraries then it will look for other ways to save money.

‘This, I suspect, will mean reducing opening hours, increasing fines and fees and cutting staff wages or staff themselves. Any of these would result in an inferior service.

‘If a company finds that a profit is impossible to make, it will walk away from the contract, leaving the council with an extra financial burden to take it over again.’

Mr Dent, an author, added: ‘The executive had evidently not prepared for the debate, clearly relying on the fact that their overwhelming political majority to force through anything they wanted and vote down any challenge, which indeed happened.

‘Given that this was the first debate triggered by public petition, it was a frightening mixture of arrogant disinterest and witless incompetence’

I presume that, with all of the local papers now having had a say, the Tories hope this will fade away as an issue now. They may be right, but I don’t intend to let this go.

Come May, I intend to stand in the local elections, and I intend to make this the central issue of my campaign again. I’m not sure how much difference I can make, but I remain convinced that if the people of Wokingham Borough speak up for their interests, even the Conservative Party cannot stand in their way.

Letter in the Henley Standard

"Less Cynical Candidate" - My Letter in the Henley Standard

Yes, following the lead of the Reading Chronicle and the Maidenhead Advertiser, the esteemed Henley Standard have included me within their pages this week.

The letter they have published is the same as that which I sent to the Advertiser, but once again I will reproduce the text of it here, as I haven’t been able to take a startlingly good photograph.

Sir, – On July 21 there will be a by-election in the Wokingham Borough Council ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. The election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative councillor Claire Stretton after she stood successfully for Windsor and Maidenhead Council in a shocking display of arrogance and disregard for the people she was supposed to be representing. The by-election, however, gives the people of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party, which arrogantly expects that its candidate can still breeze to victory after its previous councillor has caused an expensive by-election for her own political gain. It also gives residents the chance to make their feelings known on other local issues, such as the planned privatisation of the local library, which puts a vital local service at risk. As the Labour Party candidate, I will be fighting all such cynical and ideologically motivated moves by Wokingham council and, if elected, will always put the people of the ward first. I will be campaigning throughout the ward in the coming weeks and I strongly urge residents with any questions or issues they would like to raise with me to email matthewsdent@gmail.com, or write to me at the address below. – Yours faithfully, Matthew S. Dent, Labour candidate for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, Wokingham Borough Council. 3 Newalls Rise, Wargrave.”

As I said, it’s the same letter I sent to the Advertiser, so it’s intersting to see how the editor has chosen to change it about a bit to fit their style and requirements. Still, it’s the same letter at heart.

I will be beginning my pavement canvassing and campaigning later this week, as soon as the leaflets are ready, so I’m looking forward to that. So far this campaign has largely been one of printed words, whether in newspapers or on the internet. I’m very keen to hear what the local residents have to say, and talk to them face to face. The Tories and Lib Dems both already have leaflets out, but as I’m planning to knock on doors all across the ward I feel I have the personal touch, as well as a more ambitious challenge ahead.

Still, I’m ready and eager to get out there. If anyone is interested in helping me campaign (and don’t worry, you don’t need any experience, and I promise you won’t be asked to do anything you’re not comfortable with) then please get in touch. I’d love any and all help and support on this, and I reckon it’s gonna be fun. And, of course, you don’t need to be a party member. Anyone who wants to help is welcome!