Letter

James Duddridge’s response to my letter about his expenses


Regular readers may recall that I wrote to James Duddridge, MP for Rochford & Southend East a few weeks back, about his having claimed over £11,000 of expenses for hotels and rent in London, despite his constituency being less than an hour from the capital. Below is his response (received on Friday).

Dear Mr Dent,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding my expenses.

Since 2010 MPs expenses have been reviewed and quite rightly, for understandable reasons, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created in order to form an autonomous oversight of expenses, seperate to MPs.

Please find below the website for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who set the framework for what can and cannot be claimed. I know, having spoken to the Chief Executive, Marcial Boo, that they are keen to receive feedback from everyone regarding how MPs should be paid and how state money should be used to support parliamentary activities. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr Boo with any concerns you may have regarding my expenses.

http:\\parliamentarystandards.org.uk/About%20US/Pages/default.aspx

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

James Duddridge MP

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.

5 Reasons the Wokingham Bin Debacle isn’t Labour’s Fault


It seems hard to place the blame for the mess WBC have made of the new bin scheme at anyone's door by the Tory council leaders.

I’m a great fan of the letters page of the Wokingham Times. It is one of the few places that the opinions of the general public of Wokingham can be found pretty much uncensored. This week, a letter from a Mr Patrick Smith caught my eye. It was a response to my own letter about the ongoing bin collection mess, and he had a somewhat different idea of who was to blame:

…what did make me laugh was reading the letter from Mr S Dent of the Twyford & District Labour Party criticising the Conservative-led borough council regarding the waste collection farce (The Wokingham Times, Wednesday, March 28).

The reason that councils all over the UK are struggling with finance and so need to raise more funds is because the Labour Government left this once great country with billions of pounds of debt.

So Mr Dent, perhaps you should stop trying to score silly little political points against the Conservatives.

So here it is. My response, and explanation of blame for this mess cannot be left at the door of the Labour Party.

  1. Labour are not in power in Wokingham. I don’t believe they ever have been. Maybe someone knows otherwise and can correct me, but certainly they have not during my lifetime. I cannot even find the last time that Labour even had a councillor in Wokingham, and that informational warehouse Wikipedia has the council exclusively blue and yellow as far back as 1999, and under Conservative control since 1997.
  2. The deficit only exists because of the neccessity of dealing with the economic crisis. Mr Smith’s argument seems to be that Labour caused the deficit, the deficit is why there’s no money, which is why we’re facing the new bin scheme. Even following his logic, he ignores why the deficit is there in the first place. When the banks went into crisis in 2008, a £500bn bailout package was necessary to save the economy. At the same time, the tax take plummeted, resulting in an increasing gap between spending and income. I’m not going to say Labour got everything right (we didn’t), but the deficit was a product of necessity, not as the Tories claim due to Labour profligacy.
  3. The scheme is (ostensibly) not about money, but about recycling. Despite Mr Smith’s accusation that the deficit (and need to cut it) is to blame, the claim from the council has consistently been that we’re doing this to increase recycling, not save money on collection. From the very start, I’ve said that they are going about this the wrong way, limiting landfill whilst not notably expanding recycling provision. I have argued for a massive expansion in the range of materials recyclable, and changes to make it easier for residents to recycle.
  4. The Tory-led coalition has chosen to front-load cuts to local government. Given that Labour are in power neither in local nor national government, Mr Smith should take a look at how Eric Pickles and chums are dealing with local government budgets. The cuts to budgets have been “front-loaded”, meaning that the majority of cuts had to be made at the beginning of the 5 year electoral cycle. If Mr Smith still believes the changes to bin collection are down to money, then maybe this political decision is where he should be looking to.
  5. The local Labour party have been trying to sort out this mess. Since the genesis of this scheme I have been arguing that it wouldn’t work. I (and many others) have pointed out many of the problems that have come to beset it, and have been trying to pressure the Conservatives to address them (to no avail). When it all went Pete Tong, the Tories went into hiding, whilst Labour and other opposition parties were arguing for solutions.

I don’t believe I have been making “silly little political points” against the Conservatives. As Mr Smith himself admits, the scheme is a farce. It is, I am afraid, a farce entirely of the Conservatives’ own making. It is real, it is happening, and it is affecting residents. Whilst the points I have been raising are undoubtedly “political”, the feedback I have had from most residents is that they neither “silly” nor “little”- and all the Conservatives have done in response has been run and hide.

Letter in the Twyford Advertiser


My letter in the Twyford Advertiser (3rd November 2011)

This week’s Twyford (or Maidenhead) Advertiser sees a letter from yours truly, adorning the letters page. It’s a bit of a cheeky one, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

For those of you who can’t read my tacked-together-in-Paint image (sorry, it was over two columns), I will relate it in full:

ON TUESDAY morning I browsed the Hansard records of Monday night’s House of Commons debate on an EU referedum, I was surprised to find Theresa May listed among the No’s.

This, one would assume, is the same Theresa May who called so vocally for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, until that pledge was quietly dropped from the Conservative manifesto.

Given her vote on Monday night, and her response reported by Ken Wight in last week’s letters page to a UKIP activist, is Mrs May perhaps becoming something of a Europhile?

And will Maindenhead Conservative Association be deselecting her in punishment for toeing the Government line, as numbers other local parties across the Country are reported to have threatened?

Only time, one presumes, will tell.

Matthew S. Dent

Firstly, I would like to highlight that the abombinable apostrophe mistake in the first paragraph was not mine, but that of the Advertiser’s editorial staff. I know how to us an apostrophe, and I know (because I sent it to them as) “noes”. Sadly, the Advertiser seem to have stopped posting letters on their website, so you can’t comment angrily about it there. Feel free to do so here, instead, though.

Secondly, this is just a lighthearted jab at my local MP. I know Maidenhead Conservative Association won’t deselect her, no matter how annoyed many of them may be about the government’s stance on the EU. Probably, if they tried to, Mrs May would be given a different safe seat, and the whole lot of them would be suspended. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But what it does show, is that Mrs May might be at risk of splitting her vote. I don’t think we’re likely to see an upsurge of grassroots anger dethroning her (she had a majority of 16,769- even split, she won’t lose her seat), but these things always start small.

The incident I’m referring to in the letter, is when she was approached in the street by a UKIP campaigner who tried to offer her a UKIP DVD to watch, and she responded “I don’t need anything from UKIP, thank you.”

I probably would have said the same (or similar…), but this is different for two reasons. Firstly, I’m not an elected MP. Surely Mrs May would want to listen to the views of all constituents (apart from me, of course, I’m a Labour MP).  Secondly, the Tories have been hemorrhaging voters to UKIP for a while now, and following the government’s performance on the EU referendum motion, even more quickly.

Maybe that’s something Mrs May should be concerned about. Or maybe not, what do I know?

UPDATE: My ego insists that I point out that the misplaced apostrophe was not the only sin of the Advertiser editorial staff, and that the butchered thing which they printed, whilst carrying the true content of my letter, bares little resemblance in structure.

Letter in the Wokingham Times


As I predicted, so has it come to pass!

Actually, my claim to Cllr Baker that I am not in fact blessed with clairvoyance is still accurate, as I was more or less told by the team at the Wokingham Times that my letter would appear in the paper this week, after an inundation of letters last week kept it out. Actually, their letters section this week goes over one (broadsheet) page, so it seems they’re fairly busy still.

"Make Tories pay for costly by-election

Predictably, it’s the same letter as was sent to the Maidenhead Advertiser and the Henley Standard, and hopefully will appear again in the Reading Chronicle tomorrow. Then, potentially, begins the fun of replied from Tories, and whoever else, which I look forward to, and will faithfully report here. But once more, I will relay the text below:

ON JULY 21 there will be a by-election in the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. This has been triggered by the resignation of Cllr Claire Stretton (Con) after her election to Windsor and Maidenhead Council, in a shocking display of arrogance and disregard for the people she was supposed to be representing. The election, however, gives the people of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party, who arrogantly expect to breeze to victory even after their previous councillor has caused an expensive by-election for her own political gain. It also gives residents the chance to make their feelings known about 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 Borough Council, and, if elected, I will always put 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 make me aware of to contact me by email at matthewsdent@gmail.com, or by post at 3 Newalls Rise, Wargrave. Matthew Dent, Wargrave.

By and large, it seems to be free of any editorial jiggling. But take a look at the title they’ve given it: “Make Tories pay for costly by-election“. Compared to the titles given by other papers (The Advertiser: “By-election candidate pledges to always put people of ward first“, and the Standard: “Less Cynical Candidate“), this seems to be coming down rather aggressively on my side. So good on the Wokingham Times! My campaign is very much a moral one, so it’s good to see subtle support coming down from various quarters.

As a final note, my letter rather ironically appears directly beneath one from Cllr Philip Houldsworth (Con, Winnersh), in which he does what Wokingham Tories are becoming very good at, and flat our refuses to admit that there’s any risk to the libraries. Admittedly he did so in order to beat the Lib Dems, which may or may not be a worthy aim, depending on how you see it. But the fact is that with the libraries, the Tories are doing the political equivalent of putting their fingers in their ears and shouting “LALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING!”

UPDATE: I’ve been made aware of this impressive site, which follows library privatisation plans across the country. It’s a fascinating, if somewhat chilling, read, and if libraries are something, like me, you care about, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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!

Read All About It


So, after being disappointed yesterday that the Wokingham Times hadn’t printed the letter I sent in, about the by-election and myself as the Labour candidate (never mind- there’s still a few weeks ’til the election, maybe it’ll be in next weeks), today I’m mentioned in both the Maidenhead/Twyford Advertiser and the Reading Chronicle. As some might say: result!

"By-election candidate pledges to always put people of ward first" - My letter in the Maidenhead Advertiser

The Advertiser has very kindly printed my letter, of which I have included a photograph. Since it’s a little on the small side (the picture), I’ll quote here the text:

On July 21 there will be a by election in the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. This election has been triggered by the resignation of Cllr Claire Stretton (Conservative) after her election to Windsor and Maidenhead Council, in a shocking display of arrogance and disregard to the people she was supposed to be representing. The election, however, gives the people of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party, who arrogantly expect that they can still breeze to victory, even after their previous councillor has caused an expensive by-election. It also gives residents a chance to make their feelings known on other local issues, such as the planned privatisation of the library, which puts a vital community 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, I 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 make me aware of to contact me by email at matthewsdent@gmail.com, or by post at 3 Newalls Rise, Wargrave.

Not bad eh?

And the Reading Chronicle article, rather than being a letter in which I spout my positions, is a

"Library Plans Slammed" The article on Wokingham BC's plans to privatise the libraries, in the Reading Chronicle

piece on Wokingham Borough Council’s plans to privatise the library service. The reporter contacted me after my comments on their website criticising the plans, and the article includes a couple of choice quotes with my feelings on the matter. Again, since the photograph is rather small, I’ll quote the relevant text:

…Matthew Dent, who lives in Wargrave and uses the library regularly, said: “Once the libraries are outsourced to a private company the focus will be on profit and if it all goes wrong it will be the smaller libraries which suffer- even though they do more for the community. Mr Dent, the prospective Labour candidate for the village’s vacant borough council seat, added: “Wargrave’s library gets very involved in the annual festival and other activities, but I can’t see that staying a priority if a private company steps in”…

Again, not bad? Although, I didn’t say that the festival was annual (it’s biennial), but I think we can excuse them that? Neither piece is up on the papers’ websites yet, although I will add links when they appear.

Other than that, it’s a very busy period for me. In an hour or two I’m off down to Brighton, to collect my University results tomorrow (on which there will certainly, be a blog). And from there, it’s up to sunny Scunthorpe for a family gathering, to which I will alas not be the person who has travelled furthest (we have some Australian relatives joining us, for a rare treat). And then next week I will be hitting the pavements, and starting canvassing. So if you live in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, you can expect to see me very soon. I look forward to it!

(Oh, and I now have a Facebook page. I’ll keep it updated with everything that’s going on with the election and my campaign, so if you want to keep up with it all, please click “Like”)

 

UPDATE: Here is the link to the letter on the Maidenhead Advertiser website, in case anyone wants to see/comment on it in its natural habitat.

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student