Southend doesn’t usually get big name politicians visiting. For one thing, it holds two safe Conservative parliamentary seats (Nominally safe… -Ed). But it is, without any doubt, a town crying out for radical innovation and change. Just look at the growing rejection of the Conservatives at a local level.
I was delighted that Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, on Thursday concluded his #shapeyourfuture road trip along the A13 in Southend.
In Liam’s own words, the road trip was about listening to young people.
“Last week Ed Miliband launched Labour’s #shapeyourfuture consultation. We want to hear what from young people about their hopes and aspirations and what they want from a Government that represents them.
“I am helping get #shapeyourfuture on the road, listening to young people and encouraging them to speak up, register to vote and make their voice heard.“
Yesterday morning saw the Labour team, including myself, out in Blenheim Park ward putting the below leaflet out across the ward. It was a bright and clear day, but as with last week the wind was bitter and biting. Not that that stopped us.
Over a few hours, we covered five counties: Kent, Norfolk, Surrey, Suffolk, and Middlesex. I am, of course, talking about the avenues within Blenheim Park ward bearing those names.
The weather won’t stop us this morning either; there are more leaflets to go out, and only 102 days left until the election. Labour are serious, nationally and locally, about offering an alternative that will work. We’re working hard for Southend, and I‘m out every weekend talking to Blenheim Park residents, listening to what they want from their local representative.
Vote Labour for a better Southend. Vote Matt Dent for a better Blenheim Park.
The Cabinet committee of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council met yesterday afternoon, at the Civic Centre. Which doesn’t sound all that exciting, right?
But as I said at the start of this week, it is exactly that sort of committee (Particularly this committee -Ed) at which the bulk of the Council’s work is done. So although I wasn’t able to actually attend, and it sadly isn’t webcast like meetings of the full council are, the agenda and papers for the meeting are certainly worth having a glance over.
Which is how I noticed agenda item 13, “Community Energy Project”, and the attached report. At paragraph 1.1, said report outlines its purpose as a particularly exciting and radical project to be undertaken by the council:
“To seek approval to create a Southend Energy company to provide a direct offer to residents and businesses within the Borough.“
The image above shows the state of a Labour-run NHS street stall in Corringham, run today by Labour candidate for South Basildon & East Thurrock Mike Le Surf, after a group of thugs identifying themselves as from UKIP attacked it.
The group apparently came out of nowhere, shouted insults, trashed the stall, and disgracefully kicked an elderly woman on a mobility scooter. Interestingly, they were reportedly recording the whole thing; a classic BNP tactic from their heyday.
I have always thought that the Kippers who claim that they exclude far-right BNP/National Front/etc elements protest too much. Certainly there should be no place in modern politics for this sort of base, violent intimidation and thuggery.
Today South Basildon & East Thurrock UKIP have utterly disgraced themselves, and given voters another reason to steer well clear.
UPDATE: The chairman of Eastern Region UKIP has apparently disavowed this, and claimed that he:
“…cannot believe they were representing UKIP, we do not promote this kind of attitude.
“I am 100 per cent sure it has nothing to do with our party members – who have had very good discipline through very tough circumstances themselves.“
100% sure is a bold claim. For myself, I can’t see how anyone can be certain of this. It seems unlikely that it’s a frame job, as some kippers seem to want it to be, and I struggle with the idea that this is not connected to UKIP in some way. I just don’t see who would try to frame UKIP, and why.
Thurrock is just down the road from Southend. About fifteen miles or so from my door, as the crow flies. And to go there, to listen to UKIP it’s already theirs. They did indeed do well in the local elections in May, but then they did well in Southend without much of an idea of what they were standing for.
Tim Aker, the UKIP MEP for the East of England and candidate for Thurrock, is even going on Newsnight and describing Thurrock as “his seat”. Which is presumptious, given that it’s a three way marginal which he hasn’t won yet.
But it illustrates a point: they think they’ve got this sewn up. So in a by-election in a Labour council seat, a week after coming within six hundred and twenty votes of winning a safe Labour parliamentary seat, they’d look to storm it and win in a landslide.
Funny that they lost, and by a considerable margin.
I’ll lay my cards out straight off here; I’m not much of a fan of party leaders debates in the run up to general elections. We have a parliamentary, not a presidential, system in which we do not elect our heads of government. We elect our representatives to parliament.
What would, in my opinion, be more helpful would be 650 individual debates, one in each constituency in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That way people can see the candidates that they can actually vote for going head to head, and make the best choice for their local area.
Time was, these were called hustings.
That, however, isn’t going to happen. Unless David Cameron feels he can somehow chicken out of the debates completely, some variation upon the head-to-head party leaders’ debates of 2010 will be happening.
So what would be the best arrangement?
Only last night I was talking to a member of the Labour Party in Southend about housing in the borough. Fourteen years of Conservative rule saw not a single new council house built — and all the while the housing crisis grew worse. Since the Thatcher government sold off social housing stock on mass and foolishly failed to invest the proceeds in new housing to replace what was lost.
I’m not going to pretend that the new social housing secured by Labour after only a few weeks in power in Southend well since the problem alone, but I remain convinced that it signals a chance in attitude. Under the new joint administration, steered by Cllrs Ian Gilbert and David Norman, Southend Borough Council is taking housing provision seriously.
And this is extending to the private sector too. The announcement of a plan by developers Randall Watts to build 27 houses on a disused brownfield site — 100% of which to be affordable, housing association homes.
The plan goes before the Development Control (“Planning”) Committee tomorrow, so it’s not a done deal. But it is a good sign, there’s no escaping that. The solution has to be a combination of outgoing of public and private, and the public has been neglected for too long. The fact, though, that the private sector too is recognising the need for homes that people can afford to live in.
In May, Labour promised we would build housing. In July those promises are already being delivered.